Misinterpreting Intuitive Eating

As a proponent of intuitive eating, I’m often presented with challenges to the model that seem to misinterpret its basic premise. I’ve heard some interpret intuitive eating to mean that we’re advocating that people eat cake each and every time they’re hungry.

But that’s really missing the point. Intuitive eating is a flexible practice that encourages you to trust your body – but it encourages you to be mindful of the signals your body is sending before, during, and after you eat.

In her piece, “Why I’m Not an Intuitive Eating Coach,” Isabel Foxen Duke offers some additional misconceptions around the practice of intuitive eating. While she’s right – that many will turn intuitive eating into a diet – the premise of intuitive eating is based on rejecting the diet mentality, so if you’re turning it into a diet, you’re not doing intuitive eating. If you’re creating rules related to intuitive eating, then you’re still interacting with the food police.

Intuitive eating, as discussed by Tribole and Resch, offers a set of 10 practices that are just that – practices. They aren’t rules, rigid guidelines, or anything else so structured as to invite rebellion and dissent.

That said, they offer a decent blueprint for developing a healthy relationship with food. Note that only two of the ten practices involve how people normally define intuitive eating – eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full – “Honor Your Hunger” and “Respect Your Fullness.” When someone turns intuitive eating into a diet, she’s really ignoring the rest of the principles and overly, rigidly focusing on these two.

What’s more, intuitive eating, in my understanding, was developed as a compassionate approach toward healing disordered eating. If people eat past fullness or use food to cope with feelings, they aren’t shamed or berated by their counselors; rather, the information is used as a learning opportunity. The spirit is of collaboration and compassion, diametrically opposed to the diet mentality.

Intuitive eating promotes eating for nourishment and pleasure, a balance, which, as a delicate dance, is fluid, evolving, and forgiving.

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