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How To Transition From Dieting To Intuitive Eating, From A Nutrition Expert

JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
Nutrition Specialist & New York Times best seller By JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
Nutrition Specialist & New York Times best seller
JJ Virgin is a certified nutrition specialist, board certified holistic nutritionist, certified exercise physiologist, and New York Times best-selling author.
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You've probably read statistics that something like 95% of all diets fail. While actual percentages vary, the underlying reason is quite simple: Diets take you out of the equation. Diets do not account for biochemical individuality, which is a fancy way of saying that everyone is unique—and the way you eat should be, too.

What is a diet?

I've written two books (The Virgin Diet and Sugar Impact Diet), both of which clearly have the word diet in their titles. But those diets are never meant to be implemented long term; they're meant to provide people with knowledge that can help them develop healthy lifestyles.

Access cutting edge nutrition information from top experts.

With the Virgin Diet, I target seven foods that can cause issues related to gut health, weight maintenance, and energy levels, in many people. When you eat these foods repeatedly, you get what functional medicine expert William Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., calls "a storm of imbalances." That includes things like unstable blood sugar levels, hormonal imbalances, and inflammation.

An elimination diet can work short term to help you figure out what's causing these imbalances and reset. But in the bigger picture, you need to take that information and connect the dots between what you're eating and how you're feeling.

Summary

Diets are intended to be short-term plans that help you learn something about your health so that you can achieve a therapeutic result, such as rebuilding a healthy gut microbiome or managing blood sugar spikes. In other words, diets are a tool kit of sorts to help target intolerances or sensitivities.

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Intuitive eating vs. dieting.

Intuitive eating is a healthier, long-term alternative to dieting because it focuses on your body's internal cues to determine whether you're hungry and how much you eat. Intuitive eating recognizes you as the expert of your body.  

Dieting, on the other hand, can lead to weight loss and regain—along with mental and physical distress—if you continue to rely on it, even when it no longer benefits you. Studies show that when used correctly, intuitive eating works well compared to dieting.

One study published in Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention looked at 192 women and 180 men who completed online self-report measures of eating behaviors and weight patterns. Those who used intuitive eating had greater weight stability, whereas those who practiced more rigid eating patterns were more likely to have greater weight instability (such as yo-yo dieting, or otherwise losing and regaining weight).

Summary

Intuitive eating helps people learn to eat in tune with their body's natural hunger and fullness cues while also developing a more peaceful relationship with food.

4 ways to make the transition easier.

Mastering intuitive eating may feel like a challenge, especially if you've been on the diet roller coaster for years, or even decades.

As you move from dieting to intuitive eating, be patient with yourself—it takes time—but, I've found these four principles can make the transition smoother:

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1. Incorporate your unique self-care needs.

As you establish a new relationship with eating, you might discover that you've used food to manage your feelings and emotions. Many times, we substitute food for genuine needs. Maybe you want a piece of chocolate cake to assuage your nerves after a super-hectic day. Ask yourself: Would a hot bath with some chamomile tea work just as well? The important thing is to find what works for you and use it.

2. Reestablish communication with your hunger signals.

Genuine hunger (when, say, you haven't eaten in seven hours) is different from what professor of psychology Michael Lowe, Ph.D., calls "hedonic hunger." This kind of hunger often shows up as cravings for sugary, empty-nutrient foods. I've found that hedonic eating can be triggered by feelings like boredom or stress. As you master intuitive eating, you'll be able to better dial in to those hunger signals. Sometimes, you may discover that hunger is actually something else, such as thirst.

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3. Keep a journal to track progress.

Mastering intuitive eating can feel like trial and error in the beginning. Even if you "fail" at first, if you learned something along the way, it wasn't a failure. And tracking in a journal is the best way to learn what works and doesn't work, for you.

4. Maintain lifestyle hygiene.

Transitioning into intuitive eating will be much easier to master if you're paying attention to lifestyle foundations. That includes getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night, managing stress, keeping a healthy mindset, and maintaining a consistent and well-rounded exercise schedule.

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JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN, is a celebrity nutrition and fitness expert who helps clients lose weight fast...
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JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN
JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN, is a celebrity nutrition and fitness expert who...
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