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Trying to Lose Weight? Eat What You Want, Says Study

Counting calories isn’t the best way to lose weight, according to a new Brigham Young University pilot study suggesting that an approach toward food called “intuitive eating” is better than restrictive diets for producing lower cholesterol levels, body mass index scores and cardiovascular disease risk.

According to a press release from Brigham Young University:

“The basic premise of intuitive eating is, rather than manipulate what we eat in terms of prescribed diets — how many calories a food has, how many grams of fat, specific food combinations or anything like that — we should take internal cues, try to recognize what our body wants and then regulate how much we eat based on hunger and satiety,” said lead researcher Steven Hawks, a BYU professor of health science, who adopted an intuitive eating lifestyle several years ago and lost 50 pounds as a result.

In a small-scale study to be published in the Nov. 18 issue of the American Journal of Health Education, Hawks and his team of researchers — Hala Madanat, Jaylyn Hawks and Ashley Harris — identified a handful of college students who are naturally intuitive eaters and compared them with other students who aren’t. Participants were then tested to determine how healthy they were.

As measured by the Intuitive Eating Scale, developed by Hawks and others to measure the degree to which a per –on is an intuitive eater, researchers found that intuitive eating was significantly correlated with lower body mass index, lower triglyceride levels, higher levels of high density lipoproteins and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Approximately one-third of the variance in body mass index was accounted for by intuitive eating scores, while 17 to 19 percent of the variance in blood lipid profiles and cardiovascular risk was accounted for by intuitive eating.

“In less developed countries in Asia, people are primarily intuitive eaters,” said Hawks. “They haven’t been conditioned to artificially structure their relationship with food like we have in the United States. They’ve been conditioned to believe that the purpose of food is to enjoy, to nurture. You eat when you’re hungry, you stop when you’re not hungry any more. They have a much healthier relationship with food, far fewer eating disorders, and interestingly, far less obesity.”

Hawks says that “normal” dieting in the United States doesn’t result in long-term weight loss and contributes to food anxiety and unhealthy eating practices, and can even lead to eating disorders.

It’s a fascinating article, which goes on to comment on body acceptance and recognizing that dieting is harmful. I cannot comment directly on the specific results of the pilot study, but from a philosophical perspective, and from a perspective of promoting mental health, I find it pretty hard to disagree with what Hawks is suggesting. This doesn’t strike me as just another weight loss fad, but rather as a conceptually sound way of looking at the problem.