I don’t know about you, but most women I know (and many men too) have struggled with eating, myself included. Whether it’s a full-fledged eating disorder, a disordered eating pattern, a history of yo-yo dieting, or an abysmal case of negative body image, it seems that all of us have fallen prey to a culture steeped in the idea that eating is something to be regulated and that our bodies aren’t good enough just the way they are.
But what if there was another way? What if you could just eat without questioning every damn thing that entered your body? Imagine for a second that there weren’t “good” or “bad” foods — that diets could go fuck themselves and your body was beautiful no matter what size it was. And what if this revolutionary concept was created and promoted by nutritionists?
Enter intuitive eating. Two registered nutritionists—Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch—wrote a groundbreaking book aptly titled Intuitive Eating, way back in 1995. Thanks to the emergence of the body positivity movement and a major pushback against diet culture, their ideas are making a comeback. And we are here for it.
“People are tired of feeling at war with their own bodies,” Evelyn Tribole recently told Real Simple.
Damn straight we are.
Virginia Sole-Smith, author of The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America, had some further thoughts about why so many of us are craving a new approach to eating and body acceptance.
“There’s been a backlash to all the rules about eating clean, which has created a space for intuitive eating,” Sole-Smith told Real Simple. “It’s less work, you give yourself permission to eat a range of foods, and you free yourself from weight-loss expectations.”
Okay, so besides giving diet culture the middle finger and allowing yourself to eat and enjoy the foods that you like, what exactly are the core philosophies of intuitive eating?
– Reject the diet mentality
– Honor your hunger
– Make peace with food
– Challenge the food police
– Respect your fullness
– Discover the satisfaction factor
– Honor your feelings without using food
– Respect your body
– Exercise — feel the difference
– Honor your health
So brilliantly simple, and yet, can you believe how far so many of us are from being able to do any of this?
When was the last time you made a food choice based on what you really wanted to eat and not what you “should” be eating? When was the last time you ate when you were hungry, sat down and enjoyed your food, and then stopped when you were full?
It’s bonkers how foreign these concepts are for many of us.
According to Tribole, intuitive eating isn’t so much about doing something in particular as it is about unlearning all the bullshit we’ve been fed all our lives about the right way to eat.
“It’s all discovery,” Tribole tells The Cut. The idea is to take the tenants of intuitive eating and then try to gradually integrate them into your life. It’s about going back to basics and questioning all the food “rules” you have been inundated with all your life.
“If you find that you’re counting things, that’s not intuitive eating,” Tribole explains. “If there’s something called a cheat day, that’s not intuitive eating. If someone’s promising weight loss, that’s not intuitive eating.”
Intuitive eating isn’t just about food; it’s very much about body acceptance. It’s about realizing that we all have different body types and that thin doesn’t always equal healthy. Healthy bodies truly can come in any size and we’ve got to honor that.
“Accept your genetic blueprint,” Tribole and Resch write on their website. “Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size.”
Now, when you talk about eating to hunger and getting rid of all the rules about eating (like “good” and “bad” foods), folks often assume that means you are going to eat nothing but chocolate cake and french fries and end up with diabetes or a heart attack.
Intuitive eating does encourage healthy eating and exercise, but not in any kind of didactic or shameful way. The idea is that once you get rid of all your baggage around food and begin to tune in to your hunger and how different foods make you feel, you will naturally gravitate toward healthier choices (plus eat chocolate cake and fries when the mood strikes, and without guilt).
Of course, this can take time, and if you are recovering from an eating disorder or years of disordered eating, it might be a painful and arduous process. Intuitive eating proponents encourage you to be very gentle with yourself, give yourself time to heal, and re-explore what food means to you and how you can form a healthier relationship with it.
Experts say that intuitive eating does work, in terms of healing your broken relationship with food and promoting healthy habits. (You can read the studies about intuitive eating outcomes here.)
However, if some kind of weight loss if what you are after, intuitive eating may not be for you. A major part of intuitive eating is accepting your body whatever size it is and letting go of the belief that certain kinds of bodies are better or healthier than others.
This is such a difficult one for so many of us, but learning to love the hell out of your body…well, it’s one of the most most freeing experiences in the world.
As Tribole describes it to The Cut, intuitive eating is one of the most empowering concepts out there: “You’re in charge. It’s about you connecting to your body. Instead of listening to all the outside experts and all these trends and things, it’s about ‘How does my body feel? What does hunger feel like? What is satisfaction? How does it feel to move my body?’”
Amen to that. Can you imagine what a happier and healthier world this would be if we all started loving the hell out of our bodies, really enjoying the food we eat, and quieting the voices that make us question all of this every damn minute?
I’m more than ready to live this way. You in?