Sorry for the click bait title, but this post isn’t about how to melt fat off or drop 2 dress sizes in a week. That would make it a diet, and I’m not about that life. Nope, this post is about all the ways people are using disordered eating behaviours, calling it intuitive eating and pretending like no one’s gonna notice. Well, I seen’t it.
Let’s just start by clearing a few things up. Intuitive Eating is a concept that was designed to help people have better relationships with food, ditch the weird rules that makes us afraid of eating and to stop dieting (spoiler: clean eating is a diet, even if you call it a lifestyle). The central concept is eating according to your hunger and fullness cues (although there are circumstances where you’re not hungry but you wanna eat cake with your friend on her birthday, that doesn’t mean you’re fucking up at intuitive eating, that just means you’re enjoying life).
There are ten principles of intuitive eating – hunger and fullness are only 2 of them. So really, it’s about so much more than just listening to hunger and fullness. Intuitive eating isn’t a thing you just wake up and do like so many bloggers want you to think. It’s a structured programme based on this book, and there are lots of non-diet nutritionists and dietitians whose sole job is to help people put it into practice; because that shit is hard and when people go around telling you to memorise portion sizes, that makes it harder and more confusing.
The very first principle of intuitive eating is ditching the diet mentality. It comes first because if you’re always tryna lose weight and get chiselled abs, you’re making your decisions based on weight loss NOT on hunger, fullness, satisfaction, pleasure, functionality, or whatever will sustain you most for the day. However you look at it, you’re still buying into diet culture BS that erodes our self-esteem and tells us our worth is based on how our body looks. Fuck that shit.
Intuitive and mindful eating are tools to help heal our relationship with food; to help us get out of disordered eating patterns and give a big FU diet culture. Counting calories, tracking macros, and monitoring portion size are all external tools used to control our eating in some way or another. In other words, diet mentality.
I’ve said it a bunch already, but intentional weight loss is antithetical to eating intuitively, and is associated with risks. But let’s talk about what that actually means.
When you start eating intuitively and unrestricting foods that were previously on your shit list, it can be scary and overwhelming and there’s a good chance that you might overeat foods because they taste so fucking good (this blog gives you a helpful structured way to do it that might be less scary). Eating past the point of comfortable fullness is a totally normal response to deprivation. But it may mean your weight fluctuates a little bit; don’t worry about this, it will settle out at a healthy weight for your body once the feelings of deprivation subside and you learn to tune into hunger and fullness (you need to be totally rid of the diet mentality for this though – if you still feel restricted in some way, it’s likely that you will keep eating past the point of comfortable fullness).
The thing to keep in mind though is that the weight you have in mind for your body, might not be the weight your body has in mind for your body. You may lose weight, you may gain weight, your weight might stay the same! It all depends on if you’ve been restricting (which can mess up your metabolism), regularly bingeing/overeating, emotional/comfort eating, overexercising (which can also mess with your metabolism), not moving your body for fun, and not paying attention to hunger/fullness. There’s no way to know which way it will go.
But one thing’s for sure, focussing on weight, fat loss or ‘gains’ are a big part of what damages our relationship to food in the first place, so how can having this outcome in mind help us make peace with food? It keeps us tethered to diet mentality and the thin ideal. It keeps us obsessed, anxious, and stressed out about food choices. It makes us scared of carbs and sugar. And for what? When we consider our definition of health, does that exclude mental health? When we talk about a healthy diet does that come at the expense of a healthy relationship with food?
When you are an intuitive eater, you don’t need to keep tabs on every morsel of food you eat. You don’t need to measure portions or track protein. By paying attention to your innate hunger and satiety cues, letting go of weird food rules you read in Women’s Health and getting out of the binge/restrict cycle, your body will figure everything else out for you and your weight will even out at the point that’s healthiest for you. This doesn’t mean that you don’t pay attention to joyful movement and gentle nutrition; these things are important to help promote good health; it just means we set them aside in the short term to make sure we’re totally done with diet culture, to give us a little breathing room while we figure our food shit out, then we can layer them back in. And if health is something you aren’t actively trying to pursue, no pressure, we all have other shit going on that means we’re not focussing on health right now.
The amount of energy (or calories) you need varies and fluctuates day to day, depending on a whole bunch of variables like how active you are, your age, genetics, physiology, if you are ill or stressed out.If you’re trying to hit a specific goal, day in, day out, it’s unlikely that it will consistently meet all your nutritional needs anyway. Gentle nutrition takes into account that balance is achieved over time and that if you skip your 5-a-day one day that you’ll probably feel crappy and naturally make up for it over time. No need to flip and switch and go into ‘be good’ mode.
Studies show that intuitive eaters have less food restrictions, I.e. carbs, sugar, and gluten are no big deal, but they also have less uninhibited eating aka. binges. What this tells us is that, when you make peace with food and allow a wider variety of foods in your diet, you’re a lot less likely to feel batshit crazy around cookies, cakes, and ice cream. This is because restriction almost always leads to bingeing. Obsessing about macros, portion sizes, and carbs is restrictive and keeps you in that disordered eating pattern; intuitive eating can help you get out of that, but ONLY once you ditch the diet mentality.
If you wanna learn more about ditching the diet mentality, then listen to this podcast episode. If you want some help with this whole intuitive eating thing, my programme Food Fight helps walk you through the steps one by one and we have a great supportive community where we go deeper into challenging topics like body image and permission to eat foods that used to be on your shit list. I also wrote a post on my top 5 IE resources which is a great place to start if you’re new to this whole IE thing!