Public Health Nutrition

Research Papers

Review Article Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review

Nina Van Dykea1 c1 and Eric J Drinkwatera2

a1 Director, Social Research Group & Senior Research Consultant, Market Solutions, 17 Norwood Crescent, Moonee Ponds, Victoria 3039, Australia

a2 School of Human Movement Studies, Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia

Abstract

Objective To review the peer-reviewed literature on relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators and suggest areas of inquiry for future research. We define the fundamental principles of intuitive eating as: (i) eating when hungry; (ii) stopping eating when no longer hungry/full; and (iii) no restrictions on types of food eaten unless for medical reasons.

Design We include articles cited by PubMed, PsycInfo and Science Direct published in peer-reviewed journals or theses that include ‘intuitive eating’ or related concepts in the title or abstract and that test relationships between intuitive eating and physical or mental health indicators.

Results We found twenty-six articles that met our criteria: seventeen cross-sectional survey studies and nine clinical studies, eight of which were randomised controlled trials. The cross-sectional surveys indicate that intuitive eating is negatively associated with BMI, positively associated with various psychological health indicators, and possibly positively associated with improved dietary intake and/or eating behaviours, but not associated with higher levels of physical activity. From the clinical studies, we conclude that the implementation of intuitive eating results in weight maintenance but perhaps not weight loss, improved psychological health, possibly improved physical health indicators other than BMI (e.g. blood pressure; cholesterol levels) and dietary intake and/or eating behaviours, but probably not higher levels of physical activity.

Conclusions Research on intuitive eating has increased in recent years. Extant research demonstrates substantial and consistent associations between intuitive eating and both lower BMI and better psychological health. Additional research can add to the breadth and depth of these findings. The article concludes with several suggestions for future research.

(Received September 11 2012)

(Revised June 18 2013)

(Accepted July 08 2013)

(Online publication August 21 2013)

Keywords

  • Intuitive eating;
  • Normal eating;
  • Adaptive eating;
  • BMI

Correspondence

c1 Corresponding author: Email nvandyke@marketsolutions.com.au

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