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The ‘anti-diet’: When intuitive eating is not recommended

This nutritional approach is only sensible when there are no eating disorders or diseases like diabetes

Enfoque antidieta
Image that groups different healthy foods.Florin Ciobanu (Getty Images)

Intuitive eating, also known as the “anti-diet” approach, focuses on healthy eating, without the goal of body modification. It emphasizes a neutral and respectful view of individuals, free from impositions, restrictions and extreme dieting. The principles of intuitive eating promote nothing more than a healthy and flexible approach to nutrition.

While it doesn’t explicitly forbid certain foods, it doesn’t necessarily promote consumption of those with poor nutritional value. It simply doesn’t penalize them and respects individual freedom by offering information. It also doesn’t endorse obesity or discriminate based on body size. Every body is respected, regardless of its size, simply because it exists.

The anti-diet neither encourages nor condemns the consumption of ultra-processed foods. Instead, it takes a different approach focusing on personalized nutrition. For instance, choosing to eat a supersized muffin can be a step forward for someone with an eating disorder. At the same time, it acknowledges the circumstances of families with limited financial means. They may be aware that processed foods aren’t the healthiest, but it’s all they can offer their children.

For this very reason, the anti-diet disconnects health from personal achievement. Numerous factors beyond one’s control impact health, such as place of birth, socioeconomic conditions and healthcare access. It advocates for inclusive global health policies, ensuring well-being is accessible to all based on a common measure rather than purchasing power.

This approach centers around reconnecting with our innate intuitive eating habits. It means eating when hungry, stopping when satisfied, and listening to our body’s signals. It’s about prioritizing our biological needs rather than suppressing them in pursuit of the societal ideal of thinness. Taking care of your body and health should stem from respect, not fear. It’s important to avoid feeling guilty about enjoying food and not use it as a reward or punishment. The approach is to reconnect with our bodies and make dietary decisions based on nutritional principles.

Although the anti-diet has its benefits, it is not a universally applicable model. Like everything in life, it has both advantages and disadvantages, and is not recommended for individuals with the following conditions:

  • Eating disorders: When hunger and satiety signals are altered, an anti-diet is often contraindicated. For instance, people with anorexia, who often suppress hunger signals and experience early satiety, would barely eat anything if instructed to eat when hungry and stop when satisfied. In such cases, a conscious-eating practice is not recommended as these individuals already exhibit excessive awareness while eating. Instead, they require a more systematic approach to eating, as applying the anti-diet can be highly risky for these patients. However, intuitive eating has shown excellent results in preventing eating disorders and fostering body acceptance.
  • Bariatric surgery: When stomach capacity is reduced by means of a surgical procedure, it’s vital to follow a nutrient-rich diet and establish proper macronutrient intake to address anatomical and metabolic changes. Intuitive eating may jeopardize the health of people who have undergone bariatric surgery. It’s crucial to seek guidance from a nutritionist specialized in bariatric surgery, along with regular medical check-ups. In some cases, psychological follow-up may also be necessary.
  • Type I and Type II diabetes: Blood glucose cannot be properly managed through intuitive eating. It requires much more structured and precise dietary guidelines.
  • Digestive pathologies: Medical conditions like ulcerative colitis require a much more demanding and controlled nutritional approach that the one offered by the anti-diet.
  • Kidney disease: Kidney patients generally have very strict dietary guidelines since regulation of some minerals like potassium is very important.
  • Cancer: Cancer patients often experience malnutrition and a decrease in energy and appetite due to treatments. Nutritional support should provide specific guidelines for their recovery and address the reduced appetite problem. Eating only when hungry may further weaken and malnourish cancer patients.

Generally, an anti-diet approach is not recommended when strict dietary guidelines are necessary for nutrient control, or when hunger and satiety levels are affected. It can be a useful tool for nutritionists, but the patient’s individual situation must always be considered. But for many people, this is a way to learn how to relate to food and their bodies, and can spare us from body concept distortions, illness and guilt. If you have a skewed relationship with food and your body, an anti-diet may be ideal. And it’s never too late to start.

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