Relationships between Intuitive Eating and health indicators: literature review
Cambridge University Press (CUP)
School of Exercise and Health Sciences / Centre for Exercise and Sport Science Research
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.