Intuitive Eating: Myths Debunked
There are many problems with the dieting industry and the culture it has been creating since the 1800s. While it’s still very much alive, things are beginning to shift and change. It’s a slow change, but women are beginning to embrace the very bodies they’ve been conditioned to hate, and anti-diets are gaining popularity. It’s almost as if surviving on nothing but SlimFast shakes isn’t a sustainable way to live—weird, right?
The Groundwork for the Anti-Diet
In 1973, a woman by the name of Thelma Wayler created a program for weight management known as the Green Mountain at Fox Run. Wayler believed that diets didn’t work, and that the focus should be on self-care and lasting lifestyle changes.
In 1978, Susie Orbach published Fat is a Feminist Issue, which focused on the idea that women use food as a coping mechanism to deal with gender inequalities. While men are not immune to the dieting industry’s pressures, there’s no denying that the industry’s advertising has primarily targeted women since its conception.
Finally, in 1995, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch co-wrote a book called Intuitive Eating and coined the phrase. The book lays the groundwork for a healthy eating approach where food is recognized not as good or bad but as a life-sustaining substance that all humans need. It’s about getting in touch with giving the body what it needs and shedding the shame that is often at the root of eating problems.
Ten Principles to Intuitive Eating
There are ten main principles for eating intuitively. They are:
- Rejecting dieting mentality.
- Honoring your hunger.
- Making peace with food.
- Challenging the “food police.”
- Respecting comfortable fullness.
- Rediscovering satisfaction in eating.
- Honoring emotions without using food to cope.
- Respecting and, yes, loving your body.
- Exercising in a way that’s enjoyable and shifts the focus from changing your body.
- Honoring your health.
Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating
When you look over the principles of eating intuitively, it might sound familiar if you’ve read about mindful eating. In fact, many people use the terms interchangeably. Mindful eating and intuitive eating are both ways to get in touch with your body and permanently close the door on restrictive yoyo dieting. The two methods overlap and share many similarities, but they’re not identical.
According to The Center for Mindful Eating, the term means: “Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection... Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body. Acknowledging responses to food… without judgment. Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.”
Mindful eating is turning inward and healing your relationship with food. Intuitive eating is mindful eating plus actively rejecting diets and the dieting cultures, all while learning to love and honor your body. Essentially, if you’re eating intuitively, you’re engaging in mindful eating. However, if you follow mindful eating practices, you aren’t necessarily following the intuitive eating framework.
The Benefits: Intuitive Eating Studies
Preliminary research and intuitive eating studies are mainly focused on women, but as the lifestyle continues to make its way into the mainstream, we will likely see more intuitive eating studies verifying what we already know.
One intuitive eating study shows that this way of life is correlated with lower body mass indexes, weight management, and better psychological health.
Another intuitive eating study indicates that participants had improved self-esteem, body image, and quality of life and experienced lower depression and anxiety levels. This study also showed that these changes were lasting and that women who engage in intuitively eating are less likely to present disordered eating behaviors.
Three Intuitive Eating Myths Debunked
The intuitive eating studies are clear, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t skeptics. Many people form opinions without looking into these intuitive eating studies. Others are so jaded by the diet industry that they ignore anything that remotely challenges the way they think about food. In case you have doubts creeping in, let’s bust some common intuitive eating myths.
1. Intuitive Eating Only Benefits Those with Disordered Eating Habits
While intuitive eating studies like the ones we mentioned indicate that women are less likely to present disordered eating habits, this method can benefit anyone. Whether you have a diagnosed eating disorder or not, chances are food struggles have touched your life in one way or another. If you have any shame about food, or if your parents ever withheld dessert as punishment, applying this framework might improve your life.
2. Intuitive Eating won’t Work for Me—I Binge
Many people simply don’t trust themselves. They believe that if given the freedom to “eat whatever they want,” they will go all out, binge, and end up gaining all the weight they’ve tried so hard to run from. The truth is this: Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder in North America. Eating disorders are complex, but a big part of it is the relationship between food and shame. Intuitive eating studies show its effectiveness in eating disorder recovery, and it can change the way participants think about and engage with food.
3. Intuitive Eating Means Eating Anything at Anytime
Technically, this is true. Intuitively eating means that when you really want an ice cream cone, you eat an ice cream cone! But eating intuitively also means that if your eyes are a bit bigger than your stomach and you order two scoops but you’re full after one, you stop. It also means tuning into your body and hearing when it says it needs good, whole, nutrient-dense food. So yes, eating intuitively means you eat what you want when you’re hungry for it. However, intuitive eating studies prove the link between body weight management. You’re unlikely to gain weight when you follow the framework—the same goes for mindful eating.
Mindful eating and intuitive eating are excellent ways to shed the shame that so often surrounds food, and permanently close the door on dangerous fad diets that don’t work and teach women to hate their bodies. While many myths have surfaced, the practices are straightforward and natural. There are plenty of intuitive eating studies that show us the truth. Making a lifestyle change and resolving to eat intuitively can change your mental and physical health.