Updated: Oct 29, 2020
There are many misconceptions about intuitive eating. For starters, IE (intuitive eating) does not mean disregarding your health and eating ice cream and cookies all day long.
In today's post, I am going to clear up the confusion of the most popular misconceptions about intuitive eating and show you how you can have a healthy non-diet approach to nutrition.
I shared this image on my instagram because most people think intuitive eating means eating junk food all day long and letting yourself go. This is far from true and as a dietitian, I would not be promoting such a lifestyle if this were the case. While sure, some days will include foods not necessarily as high up on the nutrition spectrum, other days will include salads and fruit, and more health conscious meals. It's all about following your intuition and listening to your body.
Intuitive eating is not another form of a diet.
It is a non-diet approach that allows you to reject the diet mentality and let go of the hope that Keto and gluten-free diets are a sustainable and healthy way of eating (unless you suffer from epilepsy or Celiac disease*).
Compared to restrictive fad-diets with an all or nothing approach, intuitive eating allows for flexibility and imperfection without guilt or judgement. This approach to eating does not apply rigid rules that leave you questioning what foods are left for you to enjoy. Life is way too short to not enjoy the foods you are eating, am I right? As far as I’m concerned, having a healthy relationship with food is part of a healthy lifestyle. While it has taken myself a few years to learn this, it now is a fundamental concept I value and am passionate about helping others apply in their lives. That being said, let's dive into some of the misconceptions about Intuitive Eating...
Intuitive eating has no structure.
While sure there is a lot less structure when compared to traditional diets with food lists and meal times, eating intuitively does not completely lack structure and routine when it comes to your daily eating. Adopting a flexible structure when it comes to when, what, and how much you are eating allows you to tune into your body's cues for when, what, and how much you eat. Believe it or not, our bodies are pretty smart about letting us know these things. The key here is actually learning how to pay attention to these signals.
I’m going to eat everything if I follow intuitive eating.
If you are someone who has followed a pattern of diet cycling or restrictive eating for a prolonged period of time, then yes, you may overeat and find yourself eating a good amount of the so-claimed “forbidden” foods you hadn’t allowed yourself to have when you initially start intuitive eating. Once you learn to give yourself unconditional permission to eat these foods, they will start to not seem as taunting. You will also find yourself craving these foods a lot less because you are actually allowing yourself to have them. Sounds pretty logical, right?
Once you start to tune into your body’s internal cues of hunger, fullness, and satiety, it is unlikely that you will find yourself overeating. Our brains trigger a primal drive to overeat when we think there is not going to be food available for much longer. Think about it, when you are dieting, do you find yourself giving into temptations and overeating? If you were to allow yourself an adequate amount of food in the first place, this likely would not be the case.
I will gain weight.
As with the misconception of eating everything, weight changes with intuitive eating are dependent on if you have followed a pattern of diet cycling or restrictive eating for a prolonged period of time. Some people see weight gain, others see weight loss, and then there are those whose weight will remain the same.
Weight changes also depend on the weight at which you start intuitive eating at. Perhaps your body was not at the right weight for you when you started intuitively eating. Our bodies have a very comfortable set point weight. If you haven't heard this term before, it basically means that we all are different and require different body compositions to function optimally. Set point weights are typically a weight range between 5-10lbs where your body will comfortably maintain when you are fueling yourself properly.
You might have noticed that at your ‘lowest weight ever’ you felt pretty miserable and tired all the time. This likely wasn’t the appropriate set point weight for your body and this is your body's way of telling you so. The same goes for being at your highest weight if you have felt lethargic and unable to complete daily functions without struggle, you may have been higher than your body's comfortable set point. You've also likely by now noticed that if you workout and eat the 100% exact same way someone else does, your body still doesn't look like theirs and never will and this is why.
When you are honoring your hunger and fullness, exercising as appropriate, getting enough sleep, and managing life's stress the best you can, your body will likely end up at a comfortable weight for you, individually and uniquely. If you are someone that views weight loss as success, the concept of not focusing on the pounds on the scale will take some time to understand. As you start to focus on how you are feeling with eating, working out, and appreciating your body for all it does for you, this realization becomes easier and easier.
There is no concern about nutrition.
If you search intuitive eating on social media, its true you’ll see a fair amount of doughnuts, burgers, and ice cream.I understand why those who don't know much about this concept would think it is all about eating desserts 24/7.
Like I mentioned earlier, as being a dietitian who studied nutrition for 5+ years, it would not be ethical for me to promote an approach to eating with no evidence-based concept of nutrition involved.
If you have read the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, you would know that the last principle in the book is titled “Honoring Your Health Following Gentle Nutrition”. They define healthy eating in as having a healthy balance of foods and having a healthy relationship with food.
Intuitive eating is learning how to be inclusive with your diet while framing it around what foods we know to be nutritionally important for our health. It is not about fear-based messaging some diets promote leading people to avoid gluten or dairy like the plague (again unless this is medically necessary for you).
The fact of the matter is that intuitive eating basically goes against everything we’ve been taught to believe about food and our bodies from the dieting culture we live in. Diets give clear cut rules to follow, which some find appealing for the structure and expected result. While sure, following a diet sounds easier in the short term, intuitive eating will bring you freedom with food for the long term and is a lifestyle approach to eating where you won’t ever have to feel deprived again.
The principles of intuitive eating are plain and simple, its putting them into practice is what takes time and effort, especially when we are trapped in a world that revolves around diet culture and values thinness. However, I will say that personal experience has shown me by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to learn new concepts when it comes to food while unlearning the harmful ones, is well worth the time and effort to live a life free from food restriction.
Remember, there is no one right way to become an intuitive eater. Everyone's process will look a little different and that is OK! If you are someone who has been struggling for so long with diet after diet, feeling lost where to turn to next, trust me when I say that taking the first step towards an intuitive eating approach will be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself. You can do this!