Why Intuitive Eating? It Works!
Updated: Aug 14
This post in the second in a series on the topic of intuitive eating. Where Intuitive Eating is capitalized and italicized, it refers to the text Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Where intuitive eating is in plain text, it refers to a more generalized non-diet nutrition framework or style of eating.
I’m back this week with the second intro post in my series on intuitive eating. Does “second intro post” seem a little extra? Yeah, well . . . I envisioned this series of posts being something of a crash course, with one post dedicated to each of the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. But as it turns out, I can’t seem to embrace “crash course” mentality.
Intuitive eating offers an appealing approach for people who are burned out on dieting - and nutrition influencers and wellness culture have caught on. But that means there’s a *ton* of misinformation about intuitive eating floating around. And social media only compounds the problem. A text slide or seven second video simply can’t offer meaningful guidance on how to practice eating intuitively.
This is the part where I highly recommend you read the actual book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by dietitians by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I totally get that it may feel easier to absorb intuitive eating passively, in small bites, via social media or podcasts. But Intuitive Eating is a structured, evidence based approach. Yup, there’s structure – it’s not eat whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s not f*ck it mentality. All that passive, surface level understanding may feel helpful at first, but it often leaves people feeling confused and uncertain about intuitive eating.
If you aren’t ready to sit down with your own copy of Intuitive Eating just yet, that’s ok. I’m glad you’re here reading along! But yeah, I need a second intro post. Because there’s a lot to cover.
Before I go on, here’s my standard disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for individualized medical on mental health care. It does not constitute a patient-provider relationship. The content in this post might not feel useful to you right now – please take the information that serves you and leave the rest.
In my last post, I explored how many of us come to intuitive eating because we’ve realized diets aren’t working. It’s not that we’re so interested in intuitive eating, exactly. It’s that even the thought of one more diet feels impossible. The good news is intuitive eating works where diets fail. So maybe it’s not another diet that we need, but something entirely different.
Intuitive Eating Does Work! (for weight stabilization)
I want to be clear that intuitive eating is not a tool for intentional weight loss. Some people lose weight with intuitive eating, some gain weight, especially in the short term. I’m wary of the social media version of intuitive eating for many reasons. But I especially worry that intuitive eating has been co-opted by thin, conventionally attractive wellness influencers using images of their bodies to subtly reinforce that “you too can be thin!” with intuitive eating. I know it looks good on your feed, but it’s just more false promises. Remember that we all come in different sizes. Those thin-fluencers were gonna be thin with or without intuitive eating.
So if it’s not for weight loss, why bother with intuitive eating? Because unlike dieting, intuitive eating is associated with weight stabilization. People who eat intuitively tend to experience fewer weight fluctuations and less weight gain as they age. I recognize that if you really want to lose weight, “weight stabilization” might not feel like a big prize. But as you’ll read below, weight stabilization can help to improve body image and health outcomes. And remember, diets don’t work for weight loss anyway. I know how uncomfortable it can be to start letting go of the idea of losing weight. But wouldn’t it be nice to not be constantly stressed about food, weight, and body? It’s possible with intuitive eating.
Intuitive Eating Does Work! (for better body image)
Dieting may promise better body image, but intuitive eating delivers by encouraging us to trust our bodies’ cues and treat ourselves with compassion. While dieting relies on external metrics of success (calorie intake, diet rules, weight), intuitive eating is all about tuning in to hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Honoring these internal cues enhances positive body regard.
To put it another way, it’s easier to feel better about our bodies when our bodies actually feel good! If you’re stuck in the cycle of chronic dieting, you probably know the feeling of being hungry all day and thinking about food constantly. You probably also know the feeling of “giving in”, eating to uncomfortable fullness, and all the guilt and shame that follows. Imagine setting this cycle aside and simply eating in a way that feels good. When you spend your day adequately nourished and comfortably satisfied, your physical body feels better. And when your body feels good, you’re more likely to feel good about it.
Intuitive Eating Does Work! (for improved health outcomes)
But what about health?? Can we really improve our physical and mental wellbeing without losing weight or dieting? Yes, yes, yes!! This might blow your mind, but basically everything we’ve been taught about weight and health is based in anti-fat bias, not rigorous science. What does the research say? People with BMI’s in the “o” categories live longer than people in the normal and underweight categories. Being at a higher body weight is protective against cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Eating carbohydrates consistently throughout the day improves insulin sensitivity. And healing your relationship with food decreases stress which in turn can reduce chronic inflammation.
Remember that many of the health concerns we associate with higher body weight are better explained by chronic dieting and weight cycling. Our bodies perceive dieting as a famine and our metabolisms and nervous systems respond accordingly – with a cascade of stress responses that are harmful to our long-term wellbeing. Frequent dieting or losing and gaining weight repeatedly put undue strain on our bodies. Instead, intuitive eating offers weight stabilization and balanced, adequate nutrition to promote health throughout the lifespan.
I’ll be posting regular updates to this series every few weeks. Take the time in between to process all this. Reflect on your past experiences of dieting. Or sit with the idea that healing your relationship with food and body might be a more meaningful goal than losing weight. Maybe even allow yourself to image your life without dieting . . . how wonderful could that be?!