Aug. 11, 2006 -- Teaching women to accept and trust their bodies may be the key to treating eating disorders, Ohio State psychologists find.
Eating disorders are at one end of a continuum, argues researcher Tracy Tylka, PhD. At the other end is what she calls intuitive eating. This means eating the foods your body truly desires, eating to satisfy physical hunger rather than emotional need, and stopping eating when you're sated.
Rather than tell women to avoid the negative habits that lead to eating disorders, Tylka says, it would be better to teach the positive habits that lead to intuitive eating. Intuitive eaters, she has shown, tend to weigh less than women who follow restrictive diets.
True, most intuitive eaters don't end up looking like fashion models. While some achieve their ideal body type at lower weights, others achieve their ideal body type at higher weights. What they have in common is their health.
In two studies presented at this week's annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Tylka and colleagues show that women who come to appreciate their bodies are most likely to be intuitive eaters.
These women are more likely to focus on how their bodies feel and function, and less likely to worry about how their bodies appear to others.
The studies found that women who accept their bodies in this way got a lot of social and family support.
"When women feel that the people in their life accept their body, they don't feel like they need to lose weight or tone up to be worthwhile," Tylka said, in a news release. "That seems to be directly related to eating intuitively."
Tylka and colleagues also found that intuitive eaters have high levels of self-esteem, coping ability, optimism, and the ability to deal with stressful situations.
"By teaching intuitive eating, we can help people learn how to eat adaptively, and not just tell them what not to do and what to avoid," Tylka says.
SOURCES: Tylka, T.L. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, New Orleans, Aug. 10-13, 2006. Avalos, L.C. Paper presented to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, New Orleans, Aug. 10-13, 2006. News release, Ohio State University.