Intuitive eating is the idea that we can “naturally” eat the “right” kinds and amounts of food to lose weight and maintain leanness, and it’s insidiously enticing because it implies that it’s possible to lose weight without actually needing to exert conscious effort. Think about how often the word “effortless” is used in fad diet marketing.
But is it actually possible? In my experience, no it’s not for the vast majority of people, and “intuitive eating” is generally a really bad strategy for weight loss.
First of all, true subconscious human intuition is still stuck in the stone ages. Eat anything and everything we can to hopefully survive long enough to reproduce. The evolutionary imperative. Worked great for getting us out of the food chain, but definitely way too turned up in the era of drivethroughs. Clearly evidenced by the fact that most people in the first world who eat ad libitum are overweight.
Second of all, using a “natural” approach with an unnatural food supply simply doesn’t make sense. It’s a lot easier to overeat cheeseburgers and ice cream than potatoes and apples. There are literal scientists employed to engineer food that makes you want more.
The meal isn’t over when I’m ‘full,’ the meal is over when I hate myself.
– Louis CK
The fundamental flaw with the intuitive eating concept, such as it’s typically discussed in mainstream Health and Fitness™, is that it’s oxymoronic. Allow me to explain:
Intuitive eating calls for the rejection of “external” strategies such as meal templates or calorie counting, and even goes so far as to call them psychologically dysfunctional. However, good intuition is acquired through successful experience. And how does one get said prerequisite experience to develop good intuition in the first place? You guessed it: non-intuitive external strategies such as food-type elimination, meal templating, calorie counting, etc. That’s when people realize how many calories are actually in their favorite organic trail mix, or how much fuller food X makes them feel than food Y.
External diet systems are not inherently dysfunctional or dichotomous to intuitive eating – they are the in fact the exact thing that are needed to eventually become a successful intuitive eater. In my experience, successful intuitive eaters who have previously lost weight almost always used some sort of non-intuitive system to start. That’s how they’re able to reconcile their feelings with the actually “correct” types and amounts of food explicitly planned out.
Consider riding a bike – most people can do it without thinking about it. But when you first learned, you had to actively practice, and chances are your starting “natural” intuition screamed “we shouldn’t be moving on this unstable, wobbly apparatus!” You probably had to initially use training wheels or a spotter.
The same logic applies to effective modern day dieting – it’s not some “naturally” intuitive feeling that can be “discovered” within one of the countless Health and Fitness™ fads that promises “effortless” weight loss. Rather, it’s cultivated experience that’s reconciled with successful practice, practice which, again, generally must start with non-intuitive methods.