Eat whatever you want, indulge in everything, who cares about nutrition? Everything should taste good! Food freedom means I’m free to eat all the candy all day! If I allow myself to eat whatever I want, I’ll never stop eating!
If you’ve heard about intuitive eating you may have heard these statements or you may have even thought them yourself (be honest, it’s ok). The idea that intuitive eating is a “junk food” free-for-all has become a popular misconception. I want to clear up these misconceptions today and talk about how intuitive eating is freedom to empower ourselves around nutrition and exercise which enables us to live
our best lives starting now.
Let me start by explaining what intuitive eating (IE) is. A definition taken straight from the IE website says, “Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought and was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995. Intuitive Eating is a weight inclusive, evidence-based model with a validated assessment scale and over 100 studies to date.” There are 10 IE principles that serve as guidelines that are designed to help us get back in touch with our bodies, honor what it needs with nutrition and movement.
The principles of IE serve as guidelines for a weight-neutral approach to health promotion. They give us a framework in which to work towards #1: rejecting the diet mentality and re-learning how to listen to our own bodies. Research has shown that some of the health benefits of practicing IE include improved body image, increased pleasure from eating, higher self-esteem, better overall body appreciation and acceptance, well developed proactive coping skills and higher psychological hardiness. Principle #1: reject diet culture is a great place to start because it encourages you to really examine the beliefs that you have around nutrition and question where these messages came from. You may discover that some things you’ve learned about nutrition may not be exactly healthy or helpful. You may have messages that actually serve to create feelings of guilt in association with “good/bad” foods, shame in association with emotional eating or anger at yourself for “failing” another diet or not having enough will power to eat “right”. These messages stem from diet culture. They are unhealthy ideas and the longer you practice the principles of IE, the easier it becomes to change your mental script. You will start to create new messages that come from a place of love and support. You will create new messages that are informed not only by nutrient content information but also by your emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. When we choose foods that meet our needs on all levels, we lower feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and overall body dissatisfaction. We quit yo-yo dieting and weight cycling. We experience better physical health outcomes such as lowered blood pressure, lower triglycerides, higher HDL, and improved cardiovascular risk. When we improve these health markers we improve the health of our hearts, lower our risk of suffering from heart disease and increase our chances to live longer, healthier lives.
Some of the principles will come easily at first while others may take longer. They are as dynamic as we are. There are no hard and fast rules to working on them but the longer we practice #8: respecting our bodies, the better our relationship with food becomes.
Does this mean that I’ll start craving only broccoli and kale all the time because I’m healthy? No! It means that you’ll be better at listening to your body tell you what it wants, and you will know how to honor it. Sometimes that will be lots of veggies and sometimes it will be more “play foods” like sweets, chips, or fried mozzarella sticks.
There are many factors that impact our journey to find food freedom, including daily stressors, past trauma, diet history and food insecurity. When we are coming from a place of survival, the idea of practicing mindfulness around food may seem extravagant. However, making peace with food and
removing judgment around eating can be beneficial to our survival, mentally and physically. If someone is facing food insecurity and accessibility barriers, they can start by being as gentle with themselves as possible-see principle #10: honor your (mental) health.
In her podcast, Food Psych Episode #261, anti-diet dietitian and certified IE counselor Christy Harrison discusses IE and food insecurity with Tribole. She says, “To me, it’s much more about doing the best you can with the resources in the situation that you have to meet your needs for food, to get enough food, to do whatever it takes to get that, right? To make that a priority and just do the best you can.” By letting go of guilt about food choices that may be the only foods available and removing food rules about whether they’re “good for you” (#4: challenge the food police), we will avoid adding stress onto an already stressful situation.
The SLO Food Bank mission is “to work with a network of community partners to alleviate hunger in San Luis Obispo County and build a healthier community.” If you or someone you know is facing any level of food insecurity, there are resources available such as neighborhood food distribution sites, “no cook” food bags, breakfast backpacks, nutrition education and more.
I will end this article with some words from the great IE pioneer herself, Evelyn Tribole: “Let’s break bread and just eat, you know? And share and relate to each other and so on. And not apologize about what you’re eating or explain why you’re eating what you’re eating, you know? I think we’d all have a lot more connection.”
Van Dyke N, Drinkwater EJ. Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review. Public Health Nutr. 2014 Aug;17(8):1757-66. doi: 10.1017/S1368980013002139. Epub 2013 Aug 21. PMID: 23962472.
Warren JM, Smith N, Ashwell M. A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutr Res Rev. 2017 Dec;30(2):272-283. doi: 10.1017/S0954422417000154. Epub 2017 Jul 18. PMID: 28718396.
Harrison, C (Host). (2020, November 23). The Evolution of Intuitive Eating Over Time and the Impact of Diet Culture with Evelyn Tribole (No. 261)[Audio Podcast Episode]. In Food Psych. Food Psych Programs, Inc.