10 Intuitive Eating FAQs
Maybe you’ve seen it in a hashtag, maybe you heard a friend mention it, or maybe you read an about it in article on the internet—I'm talking about Intuitive Eating.
aka: the anti-diet
aka: “eat whatever you want.”
Intuitive Eating is one of the three pillars of Hot & Healthy Habits—along with self-care and common sense fitness—and the secret sauce behind our mantra, #OMGNeverDietAgain.
1. What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive Eating is eating and thinking about food in a neutral, “normal” way. For most people, it’s how they ate and thought about food before dieting. With Intuitive Eating, you understand that food is not good or bad. You are not good or bad because of what you ate. Food is just food and it has a lot of functions and benefits. You decide when, what, and how much to eat based on your body’s hunger and fullness cues, and desire to experience pleasure.
You can read the longer, official definition here.
2. Where did Intuitive Eating come from?
The founders of Intuitive Eating are two bad-a, trailblazing dietitians who literally wrote the book on the subject. There is no one-way, step-by-step guide to becoming an intuitive eater, but it boils down to 10 principles that you can read about here.
3. What’s the purpose of Intuitive Eating?
The purpose is to put you back in touch with your body so that you can eat for satisfaction without being consumed by diet rules. With Intuitive Eating, you can heal your relationship with food, or strengthen an already healthy relationship with food. If you feel like you’ve been at war with food and/or your body, Intuitive Eating is the ultimate end goal.
4. What happens when people eat intuitively?
It turns out, there are over 60 studies that support Intuitive Eating (go here and click "studies" to read some). According to the research, intuitive eaters eat a higher variety of foods, have a better sense of well-being, experience lower rates of eating disorders and disordered eating, have better sense of self-esteem, and have a lower body mass index (aka: BMI, one tool used to assess weight, however not an accurate measure of health). This is consistent with what we’ve seen in ourselves, and also working with hundreds of women.
5. Do you really eat whatever you want?
Yes. Intuitive Eating is about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat (you read that correctly) while listening to your body’s needs. It’s often put in the “too good to be true” category because there are literally no diet rules. In fact, we thought Intuitive Eating was too good to be true for about two years. But then we read the book, Intuitive Eating, and then we got our hands on the research. We were blown away by the research, and shocked to find that eating intuitively is exactly what we had been doing since we said seeeeee-yahhh to diets several years ago.
6. How on earth could this actually work?
(Hang in there—this one is long but really good!)
When food is forbidden it becomes irresistible. Even crappy food starts to seem dreamy. Conversely, when food is freely available to you, it loses its magic. This loss of magic that occurs because you have access to food over and over again is called habituation.
The massive problem with dieting is that when you restrict food, you do not experience habituation.
This means food is always magical and always irresistible.
Here’s the cycle: You start a new diet/challenge/cleanse/fix/nutrition system/eating lifestyle (there are a million names for diets) on Monday. The week leading up, you eat everything that’s not allowed on your diet. You’ll start your diet with such zeal! Then the rush eventually wears off, you realize you can’t sustain the diet, and you start eating your “forbidden” foods. But you don’t eat them like a “normal person” who experiences habituation. These foods are still irresistible to you! Because they’ve been deprived from you, you eat them in a much greater quantity and with a lot more passion than someone not on a diet.
This nose dive into forbidden food world then reinforces the false idea that food has to be tightly controlled and you can’t be trusted with it unless you have a plan. Which means you’re going to look for a new diet. Again. And go through the same cycle that leaves you feeling disempowered and defeated. Again.
Once you allow habituation to take place by getting off the diet train and accepting unconditional permission to eat, your mind and body will start to settle into a comfortable place where food is just food. It’s not scary. You can be trusted around it. You won’t obsess about food, track it, count it, weigh it, and seek it out 24/7. You’ll simply eat.
7. What about nutrition?
The reason we have the “chill out, it’s just food” vibe instead of yelling “eat these vegetables or suffer the consequences!!” is because as you start eating intuitively, you will want to eat nutritious foods. That’s because eating nutritious foods actually feels good.
The idea that if given the freedom, you’d spiral into a perpetual junk food binge for all of eternity, is a lie told by the diet industry. It is NOT a tenant of good health or nutrition. The truth is, you don’t need a set of nutrition rules to eat nutritious foods. As you learn to connect with your body and re-establish trust, your body will come to desire these foods on its own. With intuitive eating, you can enjoy all the benefits of nutritious foods without the battle of dieting!
8. What if I need to change what I eat for a medical condition?
You can still work within the Intuitive Eating model if you have a medical condition that requires you to eat differently. When we say #OMGNeverDietAgain, we are referring to weight loss diets, not special diets for food allergies, diseases, or other medical conditions. The principles you learn through Intuitive Eating will help you to be more engaged with your body and better able to care for it.
9. What if I have an eating disorder?
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, Intuitive Eating is not an appropriate next step. Intuitive Eating can be a goal that you work towards, but it’s not an appropriate place to start. Eating disorder recovery requires individual nutrition counseling, therapy, and a medical team.
Think about eating disorders as a broken arm, and Intuitive Eating as physical therapy. If you break your arm, you do not go straight into physical therapy. You need a cast first. Once your arm has healed enough to remove the cast, you get to move on to physical therapy and regain full use of your arm.
10. Where do I begin?
There are a lot of ways to start eating intuitively, and there’s no right way to do it. If you decide to take on Intuitive Eating, you’ll no doubt carve your own unique path. Below are a few good places to start. Do one, a combination of two, or do them all!
Read the book.
We always recommend reading the book, Intuitive Eating, first. Buy the book, check it out from your local library, or download the audio version. A lot of libraries allow you to check out audio books as well!
Just stop dieting.
It’s easier said than done, but quitting cold turkey and figuring it out on your own might be the next best step for you.
Join a community of Intuitive Eaters.
Intuitive Eating is counter-culture to say the least. When you ditch all diet rules and give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it can feel like you’re swimming upstream. That’s why we encourage you to find and engage in a community that embraces Intuitive Eating.
The founders of Intuitive Eating have a free forum you can join here. You can find and follow other intuitive eaters by searching the hashtag #intuitiveeating on Instagram. You can also register for the next class of the Hot & Healthy Habits eCourse.
Whatever you decide to do, just start. Dieting isn't just ineffective. It's harmful. The sooner you can get off that crazy train, the sooner you free up the space in your brain and the time in your day to be amazing, make a difference, and get. stuff. done!
Ander Wilson MS, RDN
Ander Wilson is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Nutrition Therapist. She works with clients to create healthy, meaningful lives, without chasing diets and weight loss. Ander’s approach includes Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size (HAES).