The book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elysse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND
A directory of certified intuitive eating counselors
The intuitive eating website
January, official dieting month forced upon us since the beginning of time (or the beginning of dieting at least), is the perfect month to talk about the tools that have helped me and hundreds of thousands of others, step away from diet culture and into a place of true peace and happiness with food. As we discussed in last week’s episode where I answered a listener question all about the feelings of guilt that sometimes follow eating certain foods or overeating, today we’re going to embark upon a few episodes where I introduce you to the book and framework that completely changed my life, intuitive eating.
I’m always sharing why I think it’s such an important framework to dive into within vegan spaces, as there is so much added and unnecessary restriction and perfectionism within the vegan community. Often leading people who initially decided to go vegan as an ethical choice, into very rigid ways of eating that don’t serve them or the animals, and can even lead to more serious restrictive behaviours or disordered eating with food.
Through the many years I’ve been an ethical vegan (aka due to animal rights and welfare reasons), I’ve seen so many restrictive food trends come and go within vegan spaces, I’ve seen lots of students of ours come to us because a previously very restrictive approach made them turn away from veganism, or gave them so much anxiety when it came to food. I’ve seen just how prevalent the dieting message is, even though it sometimes comes with other names, within vegan spaces and ways of eating. I’ve seen how in many ex vegans it is these very restrictive approaches that have sadly and dangerously given people a very disordered relationship with food, and in some cases, even full blown eating disorders. Not because veganism and a love of animals or the environment created these habits, but because additional restrictions were placed where they don’t need to be, and where a very strong emphasis on weight and the pursuit of thinness, can ironically keep us in a dieting loop without even realizing it.
Although intuitive eating wasn’t created from a vegan perspective, and in fact only very briefly mentions vegan and vegetarian diets, I feel it is such an important framework, and today, by learning about it through some common misconceptions about intuitive eating, we’ll talk about how you can put it into practice even as an ethical vegan, looking into the slightly grey area where these two can intersect.
As always, I will be sharing these resources in the hopes that you find them, read them, take them in, and learn from the creators of this framework and also find qualified health professionals that can help guide the way, should you need some additional support after reading the book, everything we’ll be talking about is for informational and educational purposes only.
First, a Brief Rundown: What is intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a framework created by two registered dietitian nutritionists Elysse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, who after years of seeing how traditional weight loss plans (even those supported and created by qualified dietitians), weren’t giving the clients they were seeing in their practice any longterm relief or a healthy relationship with food.
Intuitive eating as a framework includes 10 basic principles, which we’ll be talking a bit about and introducing you to in upcoming episodes, most of which stem from the idea that in order to find peace with food, we need to say goodbye to the restriction that leads us to an unhealthy relationship with food, even when our goal is the exact opposite. Within the 10 principles we’ll learn how to recognize the diet mentality and leave it behind, how to begin making peace with food by not labelling food as good or bad, seeing it as neutral, understanding and developing the interoceptive awareness that will help guide our food choices, aka, how hungry we are, how full we are, how stressed we are, how thirsty we are, how tired we are. We’ll learn how to honor our hunger and our health, how to make peace with food and challenge the food police, feel our fullness, cope with emotions with kindness, incorporate movement that feels good and much more.
Another way I love to see intuitive eating, and that the creators of Intuitive Eating help explain within the book, is that it’s a way of eating that integrates the three different aspects of our brain structure that make us human, and that should be present when making food choices: the reptilian, instinct-based part of our brain, the limbic part of our brain which regulates emotions, and the rational part of our brain or neocortex that has all the information we have on food, nutrition and our bodies in these sort of mental filing cabinets. As opposed to making food choices with just one of these aspects of ourselves and our biology, we use all three to inform our eating and learn from, for future situations with food.
Another way to describe it is by saying that we are all born intuitive eaters, and before any social pressures or learned behaviours kick in, we’re able to notice when we’re hungry and when we’re full, notice what foods we enjoy and which ones we don’t, we are able to enjoy our food, feel nourished by it, get more when we need more, and move on to other activities until it’s time to eat again.
Another way I love to explain it to people is that it’s a framework that helps you, when following all of its ten principles and truly leaving dieting rules behind, truly turn inward for your own cues on what, when and how much to eat, as opposed to external agents, plans or rules and regulations when it comes to food.
In all my years as an expert dieter, I can tell you, without this jacket feeling too big, that intuitive eating saved my relationship with food. It removed the food rules, food fears, food guilt, food worry, food perfectionism, body obsession and brought peace.
Aside from my intuitive eating journey, I am also an ethical vegan (aka vegan for the animals) and have been for many many years now, and this, for me, is a very separate although related piece of my personal puzzle and journey into merging these two worlds together, but more on that later.
Now that we know a bit of what intuitive eating is, let’s go over some common misconceptions, nothing like learning what it isn’t to understand what it is.
Common misconceptions about intuitive eating
1) Intuitive eating is a weight loss plan
This is the most important myth to bust, because it is at the core of what intuitive eating teaches us. Intuitive eating actually encourages us to put weight loss on the back burner, and place the focus on finding attunement, and learn to relate to food in a new way.
We are all genetically predisposed to have a certain weight range that is very individual and varies from person to person. It is the range at which our body is in its most comfortable and safe place of equilibrium. You’ll find that by practicing intuitive eating your weight will naturally go to the place that is best for you. For some that means weight will remain the same but you will finally have experienced peace with food. For those who have been overly restricting, overexercising, and pushing their bodies to an unrealistic body weight goal, you might find that you gain weight to bring you back to a place of homeostasis. For others whose dieting journey has lead them to binge eating, overeating or always eating without attunement, it could mean that weight loss occurs. But here’s the deal folks, the idea behind intuitive eating is to find a healthy relationship with food based on peace, not on fear or restriction, and the way we do that is by eliminating the focus on weight entirely, and placing it on the back burner while we go through the process this framework teaches us.
2) Intuitive Eating is Anti-Weight Loss
Having talked about where weight loss is put during this process, a lot of people think that intuitive eating or the professionals that can guide you through this process, are anti-weight loss. This is surely not the case. You’ll be able to read through the book and hear from the many professionals that work through the lens of this framework how they created it understanding and acknowledging that many if not most of the people that arrived at its doorstep were chronic dieters, yo-yo dieters and people who had weight loss as their main motivation.
The framework acknowledges this and understands, probably more so than any other framework out there, just how present this mindset is. It simply offers another way, a different way, because when weight loss is front and center, we are still stuck in the dieting mindset, still unable to tune inward instead of outward for cues on how to eat.
On another note, it is also not anti-weight loss in the sense that if you do lose weight after going through this process, then that’s where your body naturally needed to be, same as if you’d gain weight or your weight didn’t fluctuate.
Imagine a big bright spotlight that was always shining on our pursuit of weight loss, now with intuitive eating, we shift the focus and shine it on something else (mainly this new way of eating and the 10 principles). It doesn’t mean the desire to lose weight won’t still be there in the back of the stage somewhere, we can acknowledge that it’s there and still focus away from it in order to heal.
3) Intuitive eating means you will never eat mindlessly or emotionally ever again
Although intuitive eating teaches great practices when it comes to mindful eating and finding tools to self soothe other than food, it is also about helping you become a “normal” eater, and “normal” eaters sometimes eat answering an email, they sometimes eat during a stressful situation even when not hungry, or when bored. It will not make you a perfect focused Jedi master of your hunger and fullness signals so that you’ll never eat outside of that again, things happen, and emotional eating is also part of normal eating. We learn from these experiences and don’t stress out about them, because apart from nourishment, food is also about pleasure, community and comfort and the dance these all create together when we’re at a peaceful place with food.
4) Intuitive eating is about only eating when you’re hungry and only stopping when you’re full
The hunger-fullness diet it ain’t!
If we overly obsessed over our internal signals and put very rigid rules around these two, we’d again be creating a teeny tiny diet within intuitive eating.
This framework does help us find attunement and internal wisdom, but we will sometimes want to eat when we’re not hungry if we’re, for example, going to a meeting that will keep us busy for hours, or boarding a long flight where food won’t be served. We will also have special meals in incredible restaurants where we just felt that blissful joy of eating every morsel. We will have days in which we’re sick and even though our hunger signals are nowhere to be found, we decide to eat anyway because we know we need nourishment in order to recover. There will be days in which we got distracted and ate past fullness, or times in which we weren’t that hungry but said yes to the office birthday cake because we want to share in the celebration and decide to eat a piece. All of it can be managed within intuitive eating so that these moments don’t produce guilt afterwards or the sensation of failure.
With each food situation we encounter and what we decide to do, we are adding to those food and eating files in our rational brain, so all experiences help inform future experiences, and we treat them like a kind and compassionate observer, more than a judge.
To finish today, I have one great big ask, go get the book, go visit the website. Buy the accompanying workbook and let the original intuitive eating pros guide you through this process, or find a qualified dietitian nutritionist or nutritional therapist that specializes in intuitive eating through this great directory of health professionals. My goal today and in the upcoming episodes is to guide you to the resources that have helped me, and lead you to the pros that will maybe give you that long desired peace with food, even if veganism due to ethics or your beliefs is part of your eating world too, or you’re somewhere in between, or nowhere there yet but curious about how these two worlds can be merged together.
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