How many myths and misconceptions are there about intuitive eating? Let me count the ways.
Because dieting (even if it doesn’t use the word “diet”) is the dominant framework out there, these misunderstandings are understandable. It can be difficult at first to grasp the fundamental difference between intuitive eating and the mainstream paradigm. Even when you want to, it’s damn hard to shake diet culture. So errything gets viewed through that lens.
This goes not only for the average person who is weary of dieting. It also goes for professionals in fitness, wellness, and healthcare. We professionals are not exempt from cultural beliefs, so are likely to reinforce them if not otherwise educated.
This is not harmless! On the milder end of the spectrum, a shallow understanding of this nondiet approach means people miss out on a transformative experience. Or they believe that they will “let themselves go.” On the other end, people who mentor and teach intuitive eating without deeply understand the philosophy can make clients feel even worse about themselves.
Here are some of the most common misunderstandings about out there:
Intuitive Eating Ignores Nutrition and Health
Holy Mother of Ho Hos, this is probably the number one assumption when people first hear about intuitive eating. If you search #intuitiveeating on social media, you’ll see a fair number of photos of ice cream, cookies, cake, and donuts. No wonder, then, that newbies think this is all about diving headfirst into a jar of sprinkles.
Legalizing sweets signals a departure from the Eat This! Not That! culture that reveres green smoothies and demonizes ice cream shakes Relatively early in the process, new intuitive eaters learn to Challenge the Food Police and Make Peace with Food. This means incorporating previously forbidden foods. But that is not all intuitive eating is about.
Nutrition is definitely important to the philosophy. After all, the last intuitive eating principle is called Honor your Health with Gentle Nutrition. Why is it last? Because it is very easy to get caught back up in a dieting mindset. If the nutrition angle is introduced too soon, it makes it more difficult to give yourself unconditional permission to eat any food, and you’ll stay stuck in the mindset of “good” and “bad” foods.
Wellness culture teaches that you’re just one bite away from death – or at least one bite away from bad health. Fear-based messaging leads people to avoid substances like gluten or food groups like dairy, even when it’s not medically necessary. This can extend to avoiding entire macronutrients such as carbohydrates. To reduce fear and anxiety around food, intuitive eating therapists, coaches, and dietitians often encourage clients to eat those foods.
This is how intuitive eating gets perceived as something like all donuts, all the time.
It’s about identifying what feels good in your body.
The misconception of all donuts, all the time leads many people, including registered dietitians, to believe that intuitive eating is not for everyone. They argue that it is inappropriate for those with diagnosed medical conditions who would benefit from certain eating patterns.
However, intuitive eating and nutrition therapy are not mutually exclusive. For conditions such as celiac disease and food allergies, of course certain foods are limited. It would be wholly inappropriate to insist that someone with celiac disease should eat pasta with gluten.
Intuitive eating encourages you to tune in to your body’s cues. This includes hunger, fullness, and satiety. It also includes being aware of physical discomfort and energy levels. So while a cookie is delicious, attuned eaters may choose something else for an afternoon snack if they discover that eating sweets in the afternoon makes their energy dip, or negatively influences their blood glucose.
That is the beauty of intuitive eating, as opposed to eating plans with external rules. It is flexible, and unique to each person. This means it can be adopted by virtually everyone, including those with diabetes and other medical conditions.
With Intuitive Eating, You Eat Anything You Want, Anytime You Want
OH, THE HORROR!
This is fundamentally true, but in a different way than the the pearl-clutchers fear.
Yes, intuitive eating is exactly about eating anything you want, anytime you want. But it doesn’t mean you are left totally at the whim of your cravings. This is not like the old joke about the guy running out to get pickles and ice cream for his pregnant wife at 4:00 in the morning.
The belief underlying this myth is that intuitive eating promotes gluttony. And gluttony is, after all one of the seven deadly sins. So morality about eating goes waaaay back.
With this belief entrenched, the fear is that if eating rules are removed (AKA no dieting), people will walk around with quadruple-scoop ice cream cones in one hand and fried butter in the other. But that’s just silly. Everyone knows that fried butter goes much better with a liter of orange soda than with ice cream.
With intuitive eating, those forbidden ‘naughty” foods lose their power and are demoted to being Just Ordinary Food. Still delicious, but no longer served up with a helping of “OMG, I have to eat the entire box of Thin Mints before I start fresh on Monday!”
It’s not just about what you’re in the mood to eat this exact second.
It may be hard to believe, but giving yourself unconditional permission to eat any food leaves you less likely to overeat, binge, or be at the mercy of your cravings.The shift to a nondiet approach acknowledges that your food choices will be guided by many factors: what you’re hungry for, budget, time, food availability, cooking skills, dining companions, etc. With intuitive eating, each family member can enjoy a communal meal even if each individual would have preferred a different entree.
However, when making food choices, diet mentality will no longer be one of those factors. For example, you might not order lobster at a restaurant because it’s out of your price range. That contrasts with diet mentality, where you avoid ordering lobster because you’re anxious about the drawn butter and baked potato it’s served with.With intuitive eating, those forbidden 'naughty” foods lose their power and are demoted to being Just Ordinary Food. Still delicious, but no longer served up with a helping of “OMG, I have to eat the entire box of Thin Mints before I start fresh on Monday!'Click To Tweet
When You Adopt Intuitive Eating, You’ll Lose Weight
Nopity, nope, nope. This is one of the most destructive misunderstandings, because it can really leave people feeling like they failed. Will some people lose weight when they learn to trust themselves around food? Magic 8-Ball says, “Without a doubt.”
However, that cannot be the expectation. In short, weight loss is irrelevant to becoming an intuitive eater. This can be hard to comprehend, since weight loss is so widely used as a (misguided) measure of health and happiness. Instead, the goals of intuitive eating are learning to trust your body, to feel peaceful around food, and to improve health and wellbeing.
There is no way to predict who will lose weight. Or who will gain. Or who will gain, then lose. Some people will stay the same weight. That covers about all of the possibilities. And by the way, it’s just a good idea to get rid of your scale altogether.
So we can’t predict where your weight will settle. What is likely, though, is that your weight will stabilize. Which is a good thing, in and of itself, because there are health risks associated with weight cycling. And ironically, repeatedly dieting to lose weight typically results in weight gain.
Turning to Intuitive Eating Means You’ve Given Up
Yes, it’s means you’ve given up – but not on yourself! Adopting intuitive eating means giving up on diet culture that tells you you are flawed. Giving up false promises of happiness. And self-criticism. It means no longer sacrificing your emotional health in pursuit of the physical.
In other words, it’s not letting yourself go; it’s letting yourself be.