You may know what it's like to live on carrot sticks and rice cakes. You may not know that eating intuitively—paying attention to your inner satiety meter—is far more likely to lead to a healthy weight than dieting. After assessing the eating habits of 1,260 female college students, Tracy Tylka, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University, found that those who relied on internal hunger and fullness cues to determine when and how much to eat had a lower body mass index than women who actively tried to control their weight through calorie restriction.
In another study, published in 2005 in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, women who practiced intuitive eating over the course of two years maintained their weight and achieved lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, and greater levels of physical activity—while women who dieted over the same period regained any weight they managed to lose and experienced no improvements in their physical or mental health. Further research has shown that intuitive eaters are less likely to think about how their body appears to others, and more likely to spend time considering how their body feels and functions.
Tune In: Becoming an intuitive eater requires the willingness to sit and listen to your stomach's signals. Eat every three to four hours, before extreme hunger sets in, and stop when you feel nourished and energized, not stuffed. Imagining the portion you want to consume before a meal—and what that will physically feel like afterward—is another way to start trusting your gut.
On The Nose
There's a reason we say that a bogus idea doesn't "pass the smell test": Research suggests that our nose plays a major role in certain of our judgments, even if we're not aware of the scents we're detecting. In a recent Israeli study, men were asked to sniff a jar containing either fresh women's tears or saline. The participants who smelled tears rated photographs of women as less sexually attractive, and when the researchers tested the men's saliva, they discovered lower levels of testosterone, which correlates with decreased aggression. The scent of tears may have physiologically prompted the men to be more nurturing and appeasing, and less interested in sex.
But scents don't just shape our impressions of a person; they can sway our behavior as well. Research shows that particular odors encourage shoppers to linger over a product and may even make them willing to spend more money. In one study carried out at a clothing store, the scent of vanilla doubled the sales of women's clothes.
Tune In: While no one has found a way to increase the number of receptors in the human nose, new research suggests that smelling sweat (your own or someone else's) may increase your nose's sensitivity (thanks to chemicals in the steroids naturally produced by sweat glands). More reason to get moving: Exercise itself temporarily improves your olfactory sense, because adrenaline constricts blood vessels in the nose, increasing nasal airflow. Smell receptors that line the inside of your nose regenerate roughly every three weeks, but if you live in an urban area, air pollution can damage the receptors, meaning countryside vacations may temporarily boost sniffing prowess.
Next: Tapping into the intuitive power of your brain