So What's the Deal With Intuitive Eating?
Updated: Jan 10
Intuitive Eating, coined by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole in the 90s, has gained a lot of popularity in the media recently. There are people who are advocates for it (hi, it's me) and those who are against it or use the word 'intuitive' or 'lifestyle change' as a way to promote their newest diet without making it sound like a diet. Alternatively, there are people who say intuitive eating is just an excuse to eat whatever you want (it's not). Whether you've never heard of intuitive eating before or are wary of the idea, this post will hopefully give you a better understanding of what it is all about and my thoughts on the anti-diet space.
I'd also like to point out that I am always learning and intuitive eating is a nuanced beast. It assumes a level of privilege and assumes you have safe and consistent access to food which many people do not. This article is based off research and books I have read and includes some of my opinions as well. I appreciate any constructive conversation regarding this topic, because as I said, I will always be learning!
Intuitive eating is based on the idea that our bodies know what we need to eat at any given time. This includes ALL foods. Not just fun foods and not just "healthy" foods. ALL foods. When we were born, we had intuitive hunger signals. We cried when we were hungry and stopped when our bellies were full and we were happy. However, as we got older, we were told by well-meaning parents, teachers, or other family members to clean our plates or watched our mothers and grandmothers try diet after diet or refuse dessert or even sadly, often make comments on our bodies. And it isn't completely their fault, because they are a product of diet culture too and it unfortunately passes from generation to generation.
While we didn't know it at the time (or maybe still don't know), these comments and behaviors affected our relationship with food and we learned that we must rely on external factors to know what to eat and when to eat it. The diet industry has made billions of dollars preying on people and telling them they need to eat a certain way, and that they cannot trust these intuitive signals we were born with. The book Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch, now on it's fourth edition, dives further into detail on finding your hunger cues again and describes 10 principles of intuitive eating (not to be mistaken with rules) that make a wonderful guide for anyone who is tired of trying diet after diet.
One point that mainstream media and diet culture often leave out is that intuitive eating does NOT guarantee weight loss. The desire for weight loss is another product of diet culture and anti-fatness. We are taught that we need to be as small as possible to be socially acceptable, and that just isn't true. Study after study has shown that dieting rarely leads to long term weight loss and it can even lead to a higher setpoint weight than the individual was at prior to dieting. There are also numerous studies showing that a lower weight does not indicate a healthier body. Anyone at any size can practice healthy habits without the need to restrict their intake or give up certain foods. Undereating in itself can often cause more harm to the body including preoccupation with food (which can lead to binging), muscle loss, fatigue, and amenorrhea (loss of a period). Weight stigma and biases in healthcare can also lead to adverse health outcomes (which I could write a whole other post about), due to practitioners ignoring patient concerns, blaming concerns on their weight, and patients avoiding their providers due to fear or embarrassment. This is another area where thin privilege comes into play.
Intuitive eating, if we removed diet culture, would just be called eating. I have heard variations of this quote over and over again. We do not have to be miserable and preoccupied with food. Instead, we can learn to listen to our bodies and nourish it based on our needs at that point in time. It takes practice, patience, and grace, but it is worth it.
If you want to read more of the science behind intuitive eating, weight inclusivity, and racial disparities in the diet space, here are some resources I love!
Intuitive Eating, 4th edition by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison
Gentle Nutrition by Rachael Hartley
Unapologetic Eating by Alissa Rumsey
What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon
The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings
1. Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal. 2011;10(1):9. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
2. Wilson RE, Marshall RD, Murakami JM, Latner JD. Brief non-dieting intervention increases intuitive eating and reduces dieting intention, body image dissatisfaction, and anti-fat attitudes: A randomized controlled trial. Appetite. 2020;148:104556. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2019.104556
3. Sutin A, Robinson E, Daly M, Terracciano A. Weight discrimination and unhealthy eating-related behaviors. Appetite. 2016;102:83-89. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.016
...and many more! There is a plethora of information on intuitive eating, weight stigma, and the anti-diet space. Reach out to me for more information or leave a comment with any questions or feedback.