Should I try Intuitive Eating?

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It seems like every day there are more posts and hashtags on intuitive eating popping up on Instagram and other social media. As a dietitian that specializes in intuitive eating, this is super exciting and points toward a trend that we are looking for something beyond dieting and weight loss.

Yet, when something becomes popular, it also is subject to being coopted by people trying to make money off of the intuitive eating concept, who may not totally understand it and reduce it to the “hunger and fullness diet.” For those of us that have been on our own IE journey, we know it is so much more than that.

Because of this confusion, you may be asking yourself if intuitive eating is right for you. Intuitive eating is right for you if:

-You still have the desire to lose weight or have conflicting feelings about whether you can be healthy at every size. While intuitive eating is a weight neutral approach and does not advocate or focus on weight loss, intuitive eating focuses on body respect and learning to take care of your body by feeding it at regular intervals, allowing all foods, and most importantly building that inner awareness so you can make decisions on what YOU really need.

-You have a chronic condition like Type II Diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, or any other medical condition. One of the principles of Intuitive Eating involves Gentle nutrition, which means choosing foods that honor your health and provide nourishment and satisfaction.  So for someone that may be paying attention to how carbohydrates affect their blood sugar, it may mean adding in some more fiber and protein rich foods that are enjoyable or shifting portions around. It does not mean cutting out all carbs and sugar, or measuring out servings of foods. Doctors often prescribe weight loss as a miracle cure; with intuitive eating we know that weight loss not only fails but is harmful, and we work on health behaviors that align with individual goals.

-You have food allergies. If you have to avoid things like dairy or peanuts, through intuitive eating we work on adding foods that you can eat.  Can’t have a PB&J sandwich? Let’s try a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich. Allergic to milk proteins? Now there are so many dairy alternatives available that ice cream doesn’t have to be given up.  The key is to add variety and pleasure to the diet, not restriction.

-You are a person of color. Contrary to what we may see on Instagram when we look at messages of intuitive eating- young, white, thin, white women eating doughnuts- there are tons of POCs that write about, practice, and preach intuitive eating.  Diet culture affects us POCs as well, but unfortunately we are still often left out of the conversation.  Studies have shown that people of color are often not asked about engaging in eating disordered behavior, and yet Black and Hispanic adolescents are more likely to engage in binge eating or purging behaviors compared to white adolescents.

-You’re a busy parent and you don’t have time and are concerned about t your own child’s nutritional status and health. Intuitive eating can be a helpful tool for parents. We are flooded with messages/pressure of how we should be cooking every night, serving X amount of vegetables, avoiding sugar at all costs etc. With intuitive eating, the focus is your needs. Want to spend more time with your kids or get in some movement after work? Then maybe picking up fast food or setting up meal delivery makes more sense. Or, if cooking brings you and your family pleasure, then figuring out a way to streamline the process in the midst of the chaos is important. You can do a mix of both– rigidity is the antithesis of intuitive eating. Perhaps children have the most to gain from intuitive eating.  Most kids are born natural intuitive eaters, however they are flooded with messages on good and bad foods, how much they should eat, or are fat shamed by their peers and community if they are in a larger body.  Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has released guidelines on how dieting can lead to eating disorders.
Children are constantly watching the adults in their lives and often imitate their behaviors. Creating an environment where are all foods are allowed, where there is no diet talk or constant food restriction, allows children to learn how to self-regulate how much they eat of all types of foods, as well as fosters positive body image.

G eating her favorite food- Nutella

Hopefully, this post encouraged you to give intuitive eating a try as it is something that anyone can do. I would caution that folks in the early stages of eating disorder recovery, that are struggling with consistent access to food, or are in acute medical treatment are probably not at the stage of being able to actively pursue intuitive eating (this is another post in and of itself), however would benefit from reading the book. The authors of the book recently released the Intuitive Eating workbook, which can be helpful if working with a dietitian is not an option. In other posts, I will dive more into the core principles of intuitive eating, and go over misconceptions of what intuitive eating is and isn’t.

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