Enjoy the rest of our intuitive eating series
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
In last week’s post and episode we talked about the big question I framed all this series of episodes around: “what is intuitive eating?”. We discussed different ways of answering that question, I introduced you to the fantastic book “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet approach” by registered dietitian nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and we especially talked about 4 very common misconceptions about intuitive eating. Today in part 2 I’ll share a few more, and within them, we finally get to talk about two aspects I know you’ll be especially curious about: “is there any science behind intuitive eating and its principles?”, as well as whether or not we can be ethical vegans or have other philosophical or religious dietary choices and practice intuitive eating, and much more. Let’s get straight to it! I highly recommend reading or listening to part 1 first before continuing on with today’s post and episode.
Just for easy reference in the future, I’ve created a special page where you’ll be able to see all of the posts within our Intuitive Eating Series in the podcast, with more episodes to come that will be added.
Let’s continue where we left off, with our misconceptions about intuitive eating from last week:
5) Once I practice intuitive eating I will never overeat again or never feel drawn to restricting and dieting again
Since this is not a quick fix, or even a diet, it will hopefully accompany you as a way of eating for the rest of your days, and it’s a long process, not a short one. To be rid of such firmly instilled food beliefs, body image beliefs and weight beliefs takes time, especially as we’re still surrounded by a very weight obsessed culture. It is a process and a journey, more than a pass or fail test or a destination you arrive at.
I like to see it as a daily re-commitment to myself and my own internal wisdom and the wonderful knowledge I have learned from its teachings. Some days will be easier than others, some days you’ll hear about a new fad diet a colleague is trying and feel curious, that’s just the old dieter in you being curious. Remind it that there’s a new way, one that is kinder and sustainable through all stages of life.
6) Intuitive eating means I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want
With this, one of the most common misconceptions about intuitive eating, I’d like to read an excerpt from the booK:
7) Intuitive eating disregards health
To date, intuitive eating as a framework has undergone more than 125 published scientific studies showing its countless benefits. The book (especially in its new 4th edition) includes a very comprehensive list of all the specific studies done to date on intuitive eating, both described within the book and as a reference list towards the end of the book.
Some of these findings, as stated within the book include:
A 2005 study by Steven Hawks of Brigham Young University in which after exploring intuitive eating among female college students, women scoring high in an intuitive eating scale (which has in itself gone through so many rigorous studies and the process of validation), were shown to have lower fat levels in the blood and a reduction in the overall risk of heart disease when compared to participants scoring low.
In 2006 Dr. Tracy Tylka of Ohio. State University published a very comprehensive study on almost thirteen hundred college women, a massive study which included a series of four studies within it. Women scoring high on the intuitive eating scale were found to have higher body satisfaction without internalizing the thin ideal, and showed positive associations between intuitive eating scale total scores and self-esteem, satisfaction with life, optimism and proactive coping.
A meta analysis review of 24 studies published between 2006 and 2015 found associations between “intuitive eating and greater body appreciation and satisfaction, positive emotional functioning, greater life satisfaction, unconditional self-regard and optimism, psychological hardiness, greater motivation to exercise when the focus was on enjoyment rather than appearance. It was also inversely related to disordered eating, dieting, poor interoceptive awareness and internalization of the thin ideal.” (from the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch).
In regards to worries that unconditional permission to eat (a core principle of intuitive eating) will lead to a mostly unhealthy diet and to weight gain, a study published by Smith and Hawks in 2006 which evaluated the health properties of the foods chosen by intuitive eaters, showed that participants who scored high on their Hawks Intuitive Eating Scale ate a more diverse diet and had a lower body mass index. There was also no association found between Intuitive Eating and the amount of “junk food” eaten. All showing that intuitive eaters in spite of having unconditional permission to eat were not eating an unbalanced diet.
Another scholarly review by Van Dyke & Drinkwater in 2014 evaluated the relationship between intuitive eating and health indicators and showed that intuitive eating was associated with improved blood lipids, improved blood pressure and improved dietary intake.
Other studies have linked intuitive eating with lower incidences of disordered eating, lower triglycerides, less emotional eating, less “loss of control” eating, less binge eating, less weight bias internalization, lower body dissatisfaction and higher self esteem, body appreciation and acceptance, higher HDL or good cholesterol, higher pleasure from eating, higher life satisfaction, among others.
All of these studies and the remaining 120, can be found in the Reference section of the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elysse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND, fourth edition, 2020, St. Martin’s Publishing Group
They show just how much the framework honors positive health outcomes, without relying on specific weight outcomes.
8) I can’t be vegan, vegetarian, kosher, halal, or make any food choice based on my own personal, philosophical or religious beliefs and practice intuitive eating
Well, this is my favorite thing to talk about, as an ethical vegan of many years and an intuitive eater of many years as well.
Of course there is space for ethics and personal religious choices within your intuitive eating journey. The key lies in our motivation. Especially within veganism, we have to be very clear as to what our motivation is.
Wanting to create a more sustainable way of eating to help animals because we are huge animal lovers, or doing it because we want a more sustainable way of eating for the health of our planet, or because it is at the core of our personal or religious values and beliefs? Welcome aboard! Going vegan or vegetarian as a means for weight loss, or because we have deep fears about specific foods, is still keeping us within the dieting cycle and could potentially be very harmful, as our daily choices won’t be coming from a neutral place with food, but from a place of added restriction on top of the inherent restriction present within a vegan diet because of the exclusion of animal products.
This is, in my personal opinion, why many people who go vegan for weight loss purposes (often masquerading as the pursuit of wellness or health when it’s in fact the pursuit thinness), end up with very disordered habits with food, a very restrictive approach to veganism, and sometimes, in the far end of the spectrum, with an eating disorder.
Intuitive eating doesn’t discount health, in fact it helps boost it without relying on specific weight outcomes. Veganism also doesn’t discount health, but it was originally created as a movement to help animals and as a way to protect our precious environment.
We are now seeing that veganism no longer means the simple use of plant ingredients and alternatives to animal-based ones as far as is practical and possible for you. It now means a slew of additional restrictions in some circles, that are not only unnecessary, but that keep us away from a peaceful relationship with food, our bodies and our health. If it still keeps us within a rigid set of rules, rather than a philosophical preference that can be integrated with all the inner attunement developed with intuitive eating, then it isn’t a true release of the dieting mentality and that way of being vegan would fall outside of the scope of intuitive eating. It is why the authors recommend not including these philosophical preferences too early on in the process, especially when there has been a previous struggle with disordered eating. It’s ok if you need to push the pause button on veganism or vegetarianism to heal from a disordered relationship with food first. There are many actions you can take to help animals that aren’t dietary centric, until it is the appropriate time for you to include these dietary preferences protecting your mental health along the entire process if this is a place you eventually want to reach.
So can I be Vegan and Practice Intuitive Eating?
Yes, of course you can, I do it every day! But I am always clear about my motivation, as well as about not piling on more restriction on top of the already inherent restriction present because you’re keeping animals off your plate.
It means that because of my ethics, even when no one is looking and when I’m truly honest with myself, and regardless of my body size or weight, I’d rather not eat the beef burger and eat the Beyond burger (or insert your favorite meat alternative here). I do it with all the fixings, making sure that I’m 100% satisfied with the yummy food I have in front of me. I pay attention to my inner signals and eat with mindfulness and presence to maximize the enjoyment and experience. I also pay attention to cravings I have, and I cook and make both what is healthy and nourishing AND what is satisfying and fun, simply viewing vegan choices and options as the substitution of a meat-based ingredient for a plant-based one, to make all the favorite foods I love, get all my nutrients in (that’s an important part of those files we’ve stored away that we discussed in part 1 remember?) and honor my personal beliefs, without a focus on perfection.
In the next few episodes I’ll be sharing a brief rundown of some of the intuitive eating principles that are at the core of this framework, not as an expert, but as a reader and a person whose eating life was changed when I found intuitive eating.
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