Internally regulated eating style: An ode to body wisdom

It’s true. Maintaining a healthy and balanced nutrition is a difficult task for most of us; especially in modern societies where access to high caloric, cheap, and tasty food is so easy! Rates of obesity and overweight increase, but weight is not the only issue. Even normal-weight individuals engage in unhealthy eating patterns such as eating in the absence of hunger or past the point of satiation with whatever physical or psychological consequences this may have in the short and long run.

Researchers and health practitioners have been making serious efforts to identify and change aspects of the environment that can aid individuals in sticking to healthy eating patterns (e.g., nudging, consumption norms, eating atmospherics). These efforts are valuable but contribute only partially to the solution. Attention should also be paid to the internal resources that individuals can use to help them eat with moderation.

In our research we investigate characteristics that predispose individuals towards eating in response to bodily signals (sensations) of hunger and satiation (i.e., internally regulated eating style). People who have this as their dominant eating style have a general tendency to start eating when they experience early signals of hunger and stop eating once they experience early signals of satiation. This results in a narrower control of eating with frequent but small meals and evidence shows that adoption of this eating style has several positive consequences.

Sounds easy? Well, it’s not.. There is a series of pre-conditions that need to be met for someone to adhere to this eating style. First, one should be able to perceive internal bodily signals of hunger and satiation and to find it easy to use them in deciding when and how much to eat. Sensitivity and self-efficacy are core competences of the internally regulated eating style. Furthermore, one should trust that the body can do it for itself, without the need for external or cognitive control. This sense of trust supports the main competences mentioned above. Finally, one should have a relaxed relationship with food (food legalizing) but also a tendency to appreciate the sensory qualities of the food while eating (food enjoyment). These two elements set the scene for a person to be able to eat according to internal signals of hunger and satiation.

In our paper, which was recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition, we present a comprehensive theoretical framework that describes how the characteristics of the internally regulated eating style emerged from prior literature, why they are considered adaptive, how they relate to each other, and the potential mechanisms by which they contribute to healthy eating.

Researchers with interest on alternative (non-diet) approaches to healthy eating may find this work useful because it brings together and synthesizes several yet unconnected research lines on the topic, it can be used to explain research findings, and at the same time generates hypotheses to be tested in future research. This work may also be relevant for health practitioners and policy makers because it highlights the most important areas to intervene in order to promote the internally regulated eating style. Furthermore, the self-report scale that we developed to assess the internally regulated eating style (Multidimensional Internally Regulated Eating Scale – MIRES) is a reliable and valid tool that can assist both researchers and health practitioners in their investigations.

Read our theoretical paper: Palascha, A., van Kleef, E., de Vet, E., van Trijp, H.C.M. (2020). Internally regulated eating style: A comprehensive theoretical framework. British Journal of Nutrition. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1017/S0007114520003840

Read our scale development paper: Palascha, A., van Kleef, E., de Vet, E., van Trijp, H.C.M. (2020). Development and validation of the Multidimensional Internally Regulated Eating Scale (MIRES). PlosOne, 15(10): e0239904. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239904

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