Intuitive eating is an approach described as eating controlled by physiological hunger and satiety cues, rejection of dieting mentality and restriction, and unaffected by emotional cues or external factors. College students are a population of interest regarding intuitive eating due to an influx of sudden changes: newfound food autonomy, changes in physical activity level, and increased stress levels that are all risk factors associated to weight gain. This is a critical time to prevent forming poor eating habits, emotional eating, and body dissatisfaction that could lead to obesity, eating disorders and chronic disease. The following collection of studies utilize different populations of college students to collect data important to understanding intuitive eating, and the associated effects on other aspects such as physical activity motivation, body composition, health indicators and body acceptance.
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A study conducted by Oh et. al. (2012) investigated the Acceptance Model of intuitive eating among college athletes to understand how acceptance of the body affected intuitive eating. The acceptance model is the idea that although acceptance from external sources do shape a woman’s view of herself, her own attitude toward her body and its functionality has a more direct effect on her eating behavior. The Body Acceptance by Others Scale (BAOS) was used to collect data of external acceptance from friends, family, people whom they dated, people in the media, society in general, coaches/athletic trainers and teammates. The results confirmed the hypothesis that those who received positive external body appreciation had a tendency to eat intuitively. Results also concluded that the athletes who appreciate their own bodies and focused on body functionality over appearance were able to eat intuitively even when they experienced less acceptance of their body by others. The study supports the notion that acceptance from coaches and teammates does have an impact on college women athletes that in turn affect their eating style and how much they appreciate their own body as well that leads to increased intuitive eating. Another study also analyzed female athletes but this time how retirement from sports changed intuitive eating behavior.
A study was conducted on female college athletes and eating practices post retirement and how they fell into different components of intuitive eating (Papathomas, Petrie & Plateau, 2017). The different themes were used to collect data: “permission to eat”, “recognizing cues”, and “eating to meet physical and nutritional needs.” The participants reported that before retirement the permission to eat was constrained due to self-inflicted and external forces such as avoiding certain foods, caloric intake restrictions and rigid eating schedules. After, the retired athletes felt reduced stress when it came to eating, but were also concerned with new physical appearance changes due to changes in physical activity level, so they reported they were more conscious of the types of food they were consuming and opting for healthy choices. The college retired athletes reported it took time to retrain and calibrate the body to learn and recognize hunger and satiety cues which was reported beneficial in avoiding binge eating behaviors. To summarize, this study concluded that the subjects felt a new found freedom with eating, learned physiological cues and began choosing healthier foods which are key components of intuitive eating. As discussed in the two articles above intuitive eating is linked to beneficial effects on women college athletes but what effects does it have on non-athlete women?
Researchers Gast, Hunt, Leiker and Nielson (2015) conducted a study with two objectives: first to determine if motivations for eating correlated with motivations for physical activity and secondly to examine the relationship between intuitive eating scores and BMI in college women. 200 college women with healthy weight according to BMI were used as the population for this cross-sectional study. Researchers used two methods to obtain data. The Behavioral Regulation in Exercise Questionnaire (BREQ), determined the relationship between motivation and physical activity based on the Self-determination theory (SDT) that states motivation is on a continuum ranging from amotivation, no motivation to extrinsic motivation, due to external pressure or intrinsic motivation those motivated in participating in physical activity due to pleasure and being part of the lifestyle. Researchers also used the Intuitive Eating Scale (IES) which measured the levels of intuitive eating behaviors and cognitions presenting in individual eating styles. The data was analyzed and participants were subdivided into tertile rankings based on intuitive eating scores: low intuitive eater (0-79), medium intuitive eater (80-92), and high intuitive eater (93-126). The results showed that the participants that showed high intuitive eating scores meaning more internally motivated, also showed high tendencies to be internally motivated to engage in physical activity for pleasure. Those with high intuitive eaters also reports lower BMI scores when compared to participants with low or moderate intuitive eating behaviors. This study supports the idea that higher intuitive eating behavior relates to more motivation to participate in physical activity which are vital in preventing weight gain and obesity. Rejecting a dieting mentality is a major theme in intuitive eating and if so how effective would a college course be in reducing dieting behavior and improving intuitive eating behavior in college students?
A study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of a Health at Every Size (HAES) general course on intuitive eating, body esteem (BES), cognitive behavioral dieting scores and anti-fat attitudes on college students (Humphrey, Clifford & Morris, 2015) . HAES is a non-diet approach that strives to deviate the focus from weight to health, advocate body acceptance, giving attention to hunger and satiety cues, and learning the underlying benefits of physical activity. The three lectures with HAES concepts were compared to a course with Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) constructs which is the idea that an individual’s behavior is influenced by both personal and environmental factors, and to a control group (basic nutrition course). Results showed that IES-2 total scores and sub scores for unconditional permission to eat and reliance on hunger cues significantly increased from pre to post assessment in the HAES intervention group. Students in the HAES courses also experienced a significant decrease in Cognitive Behavioral Dieting scale (CBDS) scores when compared to the control group (P=.005 v. P=.02). Other notable collected date in the HAES group was an increase in body esteem appearance subscale, a significant increase in body esteem and decrease in anti-fat attitude when compared to the SCT group and control group. Students in the SCT comparison group had scores lower from pre to post testing of reliance on hunger cues. The collected data shows that the HAES concept when compared to standard weight focused curriculum, has an effect on several components of intuitive eating, anti-fat bias and dieting behavior. Although this study did not provide long term data, it revealed the positive effects on eating and dieting attitudes from the HAES intervention that could be implemented by more colleges and universities. Nutrition college courses offer a final opportunity to teach and foster healthy eating patterns for students before entering the workforce, so finding the best approach to provide long term sustainability is detrimental to providing students with the tools needed to succeed in living a healthy life. Another study was done to test intuitive eating intervention among college students but in a more accessible manner.
A study analyzed the effects of an intuitive eating (IE) text messaging intervention on IE habits, recognized stress and perceived self-efficacy of college students in comparison to an electronically emailed handout with the same information. Participants completed a pre assessment, divided into a control or intervention group randomly and completed a post intervention survey. The intervention group received five weeks of intervention with IE texts twice a week and the control received the same IE information in a single email handout. The results showed the total IES score within the texting group increased significantly more compared to the control email group. The Reliance on Hunger and Satiety Cue scores significantly increased among the intervention group and decreased in the control group. Surprisingly, both groups reported an increase in stress levels, this may be due to the population being 75% first semester freshman, but the intervention group did have a smaller increase than the control group. This study provides supporting evidence that texting is an effective method to increasing IE behavior in college students and may play a role in moderating stress. Research needs to be done to see the long term effects and if adding an interactive component to the texts further increases IE behavior that leads to healthy eating habits.
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In conclusion, intuitive eating is supported by the articles above to positively affect college students by motivating physical activity, instilling body acceptance, and decreasing dieting mentality. Despite the research already published, intuitive eating in college students still has an area that could be further investigated. A long term study still needs to be done to examine the intuitive eating changes in college students, and how effective it is at mitigating weight gain, establishing a healthy relationship with eating and promoting physical activity when compared to other eating philosophies.
- Gast, J., Nielson, A. C., Hunt, A., & Leiker, J. J. (2015). Intuitive Eating: Associations with Physical Activity Motivation and BMI. American Journal of Health Promotion, 29(3), e91–e99. https://doi.org/10.4278/ajhp.130305-QUAN-97
- Humphrey, L., Clifford, D., & Morris, M. N. (2015). Health at Every Size College Course Reduces Dieting Behaviors and Improves Intuitive Eating, Body Esteem, and Anti-Fat Attitudes. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 47(4). doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2015.01.008
- Loughran, T., Schumacher, J., Harpel, T., & Vollmer, R. (2017). Effectiveness of Intuitive Eating Intervention through a Text Messaging Program among College Students. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 117(10). doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2017.08.065
- Oh, K. H., Wiseman, M. C., Hendrickson, J., Phillips, J. C., & Hayden, E. W. (2012). Testing the Acceptance Model of Intuitive Eating With College Women Athletes. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36(1), 88–98. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684311433282
- Plateau, C. R., Petrie, T. A., & Papathomas, A. (2017). Learning to eat again: Intuitive eating practices among retired female collegiate athletes. Eating Disorders, 25(1), 92–98. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=s3h&AN=120264688&site=ehost-live
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