Is it Really Intuitive Eating… Or Is It Actually A Diet In Disguise?

Intuitive eating is enjoying a well-deserved media moment in the sun!

"It’s been labelled as “un-dieting”, and often distilled into soundbites like “just eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full”. (There’s a little bit more to it than that!)"

We love the concept of intuitive eating at Bloom Nutrition – in a sense, it is the opposite of disordered eating. When engaged with authentically, intuitive eating is calm, flexible eating that is guided by the body. Unfortunately, the flip side of intuitive eating being popular on the internet is that it’s led some people to use the phrase to catch people’s attention… even if they’re not actually describing true intuitive eating. In fact, some ‘wellness’ influencers are actually using the concept of intuitive eating to sell us yet again another diet in disguise! So although everyone is talking about intuitive eating, it feels like there’s never been so much confusion about what it really is!

A quick guide on how to spot fake intuitive eating advice.

Be on the look-out for any nutrition or eating advice that:

  • Promotes any pursuit of weight loss or promises weight control
  • Counts macros or calories to allow for ‘all foods to be included’
  • Includes lists of food rules e.g. labels food as ‘good or bad’ or uses apparently neutral language to describe strict rule-based advice, such as ‘clean eating’
  • Restricts any foods or food groups e.g. no carbs at dinner
  • Allows for only eating when you are hungry and stipulates that you must stop when you are full
  • Includes ‘cheat days’
  • Includes periods of fasting e.g. not being allowed to eat after 8pm or before 12pm
  • Uses a point system for measuring or ranking food intake
  • Includes cleansing or detoxing language

The points above are not part of true intuitive eating!

What does 'real' intuitive eating actually look like?

Intuitive eating is a series of guidelines designed to promote self-care. The premise is to help heal your relationship with your body, mind and food. It is much more than just ‘eating when we are hungry and stopping when we are full’ – it is a skill which is developed over time, that incorporates a dynamic relationship between your thoughts, feelings, instinct (intuition) and physical sensations to help determine what your body needs or wants.

For example, using our knowledge and thoughts about ourselves we may choose to eat lunch before we get physically hungry at lunchtime if we know we have a busy afternoon full of meetings and won’t be able to eat for several hours. This might mean going to grab a sandwich at 11:30am instead of 12:30 or 1pm when we might typically have our lunch, and we are probably not very hungry at that time because it’s so early. Is this in line with intuitive eating? Yes! This is self-caring, as we are noticing that the best way to meet our needs here is to be flexible around meal times so we avoid over-hunger later on that day.

You can see how this scenario would be treated very differently if a person were being guided by some of the ‘fake’ intuitive eating points listed above. Let’s take the guidance which wrongly says that intuitive eating means only eating if you are hungry. Following that advice, we would not have eaten before our busy afternoon and might then have experienced intense hunger pangs, fatigue, decreased concentration, been irritable with co-workers and been thinking about food all through the meetings. Then, after finally finishing work and getting an opportunity to eat, we would likely be feeling intense hunger, and this could very likely be when we might finish off the entire packet of biscuits that was left by a co-worker earlier that day. Far from making choices to best meet our body’s needs, our food choices have actually left us feeling hungry, tired, irritable, and finally, out of control around food.

Intuitive eating is a self-discovery journey that take a bit of time and patience but is well worth it. By tuning in to your body, you can better interpret and understand the signals your body is sending to you and how to meet them appropriately. A wonderful bonus of the process is that the self-awareness often also trickles into other areas of your life and can be a truly empowering process.

Further reading:

Intuitive Eating, 4th edition. E Tribole & E Resch. 2020.

If not dieting, then what? Dr Rick Kausman. 2004.

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