Confused about intuitive eating? Busting the top 10 myths

10 principles of intuitive eating diet culture intuitive eating intuitive eating and dieting mindful eating Aug 31, 2020

It seems like every time we hit our social media feed, a new diet, cleanse, detox, healthy lifestyle or wellness plan has entered the scene.

Each one brings with it hopes of being "the One." The one that will make us lose weight (finally) and "get healthy." The one that will make us fit, attractive, look younger, and attract the partner of our dreams.
 
Trouble is, it's all crap, wrapped in an expensive price tag, tied with a ribbon of inevitable failure and self-loathing
 
If you've exhausted the diet-lifestyle-wellness hamster wheel, you might have encountered intuitive eating. Not to mention the legions of diet-weary (and wary) fellow travelers.
 
Even though intuitive eating has been around for decades, developed by Registered Dietitians Tribole and Resch, it continues to skyrocket in popularity.
 
More and more people are losing faith in the *need* to siphon their time, money and energy into size conformity. As such, many are turning to body positivity, fat acceptance, and Health at Every Size (HAES®). In the midst of this revolution, intuitive eating appears as the solution to dieting madness.

Making peace with food and your body is the new call-to-action, and many are responding to that call. 

In contrast to the life-changing, scientific benefits of intuitive eating, a list of myths has many confused. Not only are people asking, "What is intuitive eating?" And, "How does intuitive eating work?" But also, many wonder how an anti-diet can be "effective," while others try to turn it into a weight loss diet.
 
To help you get clear on intuitive eating, let's bust those myths right now.
 

Myth #1 – You can lose weight with intuitive eating if you mix it with keto, Weight Watchers, intermittent fasting, or another healthy lifestyle plan.

One of the most common questions about intuitive eating is this: Can intuitive eating help me lose weight?
 
No diet or lifestyle plan can guarantee weight loss, no matter what. 
 
While some people initially lose weight on diets, studies show that weight loss is short-term and rarely maintained. This means that most dieters end up gaining all the weight back and often more than they originally lost.
 
Each failed dieting attempt profits the dieting industry, raking in billions each year. Same with the medical industry, which promotes diets even without any scientific evidence that diets work. Zero proof shows that weight loss alone will make you healthier...or happier.
 
Restricting food (i.e., dieting) slows down your metabolism and triggers food cravings or feeling obsessed with food. It also increases the likelihood of bingeing, feeling shame and guilt, as well as increasing the risk of acquiring an eating disorder. 
 
This means that intuitive eating and intentional weight loss through dieting are incompatible.
 
So, intuitive eating and keto, intuitive eating and intermittent fasting, and intuitive eating with any other “healthy lifestyle” protocol, just doesn’t workThat’s because wellness plans have weight loss built into their philosophies.
 
Instead, intuitive eating is a weight neutral system of eating that doesn’t focus on the scale. It completely removes the goal of weight loss. Healing the dysfunctional relationship to food created by dieting and a dieting mindset is the goal of intuitive eating.
 
 

Myth #2 - You can’t start intuitive eating until you give up on losing weight.

Many who discover intuitive eating come from a lengthy history of dieting with a perpetual desire to reach and maintain a “goal weight.” Many have reached diet “rock bottom,” fed up with food restricting, body shame, bingeing, and following a laundry list of food rules.
 
While searching for a change, many still cling to the hope of weight loss even with intuitive eating. This is normal, especially since we’re saturated with diet culture. 
 
Diet culture tells you that it’s your fault if you can’t lose weight, so there must be something wrong with you if you “can’t” do it.
 
It says that giving up on weight loss is equal to giving up on your health, giving up on your dreams, and giving up on yourself. This leaves many people who may be successful in every other way to question their “true” success. They may then doubt their abilities, their worth and even their value as a spouse, parent, professional, citizen, and even as a human being.
 
Intuitive eating kicks the scale to the curb and supports the Health at Every Size (HAES®) philosophy of body weight neutrality. 
 
For those who cling to a weight loss goal, intuitive eating suggests placing weight loss on the “back burner.” Rejecting the diet mentality and challenging the food police (both principles of intuitive eating) take time. Because the root problem is diet mentality and food rules, this is where intuitive eating starts.
 

Myth #3 – You can’t be a vegan or someone who avoids gluten and practice intuitive eating.

Some question whether you can have a food-related identity and fully engage in intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating encourages you to examine why you adhere to restrictive dietary practices. This includes vegetarianism, veganism, or avoiding gluten, dairy, or sugar.
 
If the reason is due to “health concerns,” these often stem from diet culture's listing of foods as “healthy” vs "unhealthy," or "good" vs "bad." Intuitive eating approaches all foods neutrally and removes the labels. Similarly, calories and macros such as carbs, fats, and protein are not tracked or restricted with intuitive eating.
 
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan due to moral or ethical reasons, then you might feel conflicted if you notice your body craving animal products. Yet, some vegetarians and vegans do not experience this with intuitive eating. Instead, they may notice that eating vegetarian foods is in alignment with what feels good to their bodies.
 
Individuals with celiac disease, lactose intolerance, or other medical conditions related to certain foods are also able to practice intuitive eating
 
 

Myth #4 - Intuitive eating is another diet trend

A diet is a restricted eating plan that has weight loss as its goal, whether stated or implied.
 
Certain diets come and go and even cycle around after years or even decades. Some of these fads include low-fat diets, low carb diets, green smoothie or juice diets, as well as a variety of detoxes, cleanses and fasts.
 
Besides not being a weight-loss diet, intuitive eating is not a fad. It’s a proven revolutionary system that transforms the way people relate to food, eating, health, and their bodies. 
 
More and more scientific studies show the effectiveness of intuitive eating as an evidence-based practice across several cultures and groups.
 
An 8-year study of 1491 participants was recently completed by Hazzard and Colleagues (2020). It shows intuitive eating offers long-term positive psychological and behavioral health outcomes. These include a decrease in depressive symptoms, weight control behaviors and binge eating. Self-esteem and body satisfaction also increased.
 
The consequences of chronic dieting highlight the opposite effects. For each failed attempt at weight loss, the risk of disordered eating increases.
 
Intuitive eating interrupts the negative psychological and behavioral outcomes of chronic dieting. 

Myth #5 - Intuitive eating is just about following your hunger and fullness signals

Tuning into your body's hunger and fullness signals is a key practice of intuitive eating. This involves relying on your internal guidance about what, when, and how much to eat. With unconditional permission to eat, eating occurs for biological rather than emotional reasons.
 
While hunger and fullness are important, there are 10 principles of intuitive eating (Tribole & Resch, 2020): 
 
Principle 1: Reject the diet mentality
Principle 2: Honor your hunger
Principle 3: Make peace with food
Principle 4: Challenge the food police
Principle 5: Discover the satisfaction factor
Principle 6: Feel your fullness
Principle 7: Cope with your emotions with kindness
Principle 8: Respect your body
Principle 9: Movement—feel the difference
Principle 10: Honor your health with gentle nutrition
 
Attuning to hunger and fullness signals replaces common diet-based practices. This includes eating by the clock, portion control, and restrictive eating that triggers bingeing.
 
By listening to your body's own instincts, intuitive eating helps you discover what feels nourishing to your body. 
 
Yet, this doesn’t mean that you’ll always stop eating when satisfied or that you’ll only ever eat when you’re hungry. Intuitive eating doesn’t have the rigidity of a diet plan that tells you if you don’t commit to eating exactly a certain way then you’re doing it wrong.
 
Rather, the body is resilient and ever-changing, with different needs at different times. Listening to your body takes practice. So does learning what foods, movement, and other forms of self-care feel satisfying and pleasurable to your body.
 
 

Myth #6 - Intuitive eating is about eating whatever you want, whenever you want it. 

Intuitive eating’s unconditional permission to eat is not the same thing as eating anything at any time. 
 
When you listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, you also tune into what your body wants to eat and what feels good and nourishing to your body. Gentle nutrition is part of this. It also means paying attention to fullness and honoring the times when your body isn’t hungry for food by not eating.
 
"Eating anything at any time" can bring up concerns of being out of control around food. Some worry that they'll never be able to stop bingeing or emotional eating.
 
The antidote is the self-compassionate practice of unconditional permission to eat. 
 
If you’ve had restrictive behaviors around food, including bingeing, it’s normal to want to eat foods “forbidden” by dieting. These include tasty and satisfying foods that are rich, fatty, creamy, sweet, salty, high calorie, and other foods labeled as “bad” for your health.
 
Learning to trust yourself and your body around food without food rules takes time.  
 
Building body-confidence and self-confidence is a process. Fortunately, the 10 principles of intuitive eating support this journey of trust and freedom.
 

Myth #7 - You’ll gain weight by intuitive eating

The biggest fear that most people have about intuitive eating is the fear of gaining weight.
 
First, our fatphobic society is laser focused on weight and socializes us to fear weight gain. Larger or fat bodies thus become problems to be solved. 
 
Smaller bodies are socially privileged and valued as worthy, healthy and good. Larger or fat bodies are labeled as unhealthy, an economic burden to society, and judged as morally bad and deficient. This means we are socialized to pursue thinness to either maintain or achieve certain social privileges. For this very reason, it can be difficult for some to let go of the desire for weight loss.
 
Second, you might lose weight with intuitive eating. You might also gain weight, have weight fluctuations, or maintain your current weight. 
 
Intuitive eating recognizes that you can’t dictate your body’s weight. Over time, your weight will likely reach a set point that is unique to your body and its physiology.
 
 

Myth #8 - I have to love my body to practice intuitive eating

Diet culture teaches that smaller bodies deserve love, respect and care. In contrast, larger and fat bodies are not accepted “as-is.” Discipline, deprivation and criticism are viewed as appropriate forms of weight loss motivation.
 
Often, this means that many who first discover intuitive eating feel frustrated with, dislike or even hate their bodies. 
 
It isn’t necessary to love your body to practice intuitive eating. That said, there are more choices than body love.
 
Some find it easier to embrace body appreciation. This form of body respect honors your body as your means of physical experience and expression. 
 
Others choose body acceptance or body neutrality. These view the body without judgment and without the need to change the body’s appearance or characteristics.
 
You might begin your intuitive eating practice feeling uncomfortable with your body. Over time, practicing self-compassion and body respect can help you move toward body acceptance or even love.
 

Myth #9 - Certain people just can’t do intuitive eating

Aside from active eating disorders, there aren’t limitations on who can practice intuitive eating. That said, you were born an intuitive eater. And, unless something interferes with that ability, you will likely remain an intuitive eater for life.
 
Unfortunately, most of us have had our intuitive eating disrupted. Coming from diet culture, food scarcity, illness, trauma, or other factors, it is possible to reconnect with intuitive eating. 
 
Believing that intuitive eating is only for certain people supports two more myths. First, thin people don't need intuitive eating. Second, intuitive eating is only for those who can't stick to a diet (i.e., people in larger or fat bodies).
 
Society conditions us to believe that thin people are healthy and must know the right way to eat, otherwise they'd be fat. We are also taught to think of fatness as evidence of being unhealthy and overeating. Thus, people in larger or fat bodies must need to learn how to eat "correctly." These beliefs are flat-out false and harmful.
 
Plus, it's impossible to tell by someone’s appearance if they have an eating disorder, are preoccupied with food, or if they enjoy a peaceful relationship with food and their body. 
 
These myths fail to recognize that intuitive eating is not a diet. They also discount the fact that people of all sizes can have challenges relating to food and their bodies.
 
Since intuitive eating is a weight neutral system, it works for all body shapes and sizes.
 
 

Myth #10 – Intuitive eating is the same thing as mindful eating

When it comes to intuitive eating vs mindful eating, they are both mindfulness-based practices.
 
Mindful eating and intuitive eating center on being present while you eat and eating without judgment. Both also focus on eating according to cues of hunger and satisfaction.
 
The main difference between these two methods may be in the 10 principles of intuitive eating (see Myth #5).  
 
Mindful eating does not offer the same type of principled system.
 

Feeling clearer about what intuitive eating is and is not? 

Ready to take the first step to taking your life back from dieting?
Find out how by checking out Intuitive Eating and Intuitive Eating Groups. 
Or, if you have a burning question or two, let's find a time to chat.
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