If you’re not familiar with intuitive eating at all, you can read the basics about it here. In this post, I want to address some of the misconceptions I often hear about intuitive eating.
Myth #1: Intuitive Eating is a Diet
Intuitive eating is not a diet, although, unfortunately some people approach it that way. Intuitive eating is about having unconditional permission to eat all foods, which requires rejecting diet mentality and making peace with food. The goal of intuitive eating cannot be to lose weight because that will inevitably conflict with listening to and honoring your body.
Myth #2: Intuitive Eating Means Eating Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want
This is an oversimplification of intuitive eating, which does teach having unconditional permission to eat all foods and honoring your cravings, as we’ve already discussed. However, intuitive eating teaches ten principles that work together, so it doesn’t work well for a single principle to be applied without the others.
For example, principle #8 is “Respect your body.” To do that, you have to be attune to how your body feels and what it is communicating to you. If you eat nothing but ice cream, your body will not function optimally and will tell you so through stomach discomfort, blood sugar fluctuations, or a number of physical symptoms. (Interestingly, research shows the ability to perceive these sensations—called interoceptive awareness—is higher in intuitive eaters.) So the question when considering what and when to eat is not just what will taste good, but also, what will feel good to my body now as well as later?
Additionally, I’d like to point out that because intuitive eating rejects restriction and food policing, cravings for “junk” food typically decrease in frequency and intensity. Studies have shown that intuitive eating typically ends up with people eating a wider variety of foods. Yes, at first, you might find yourself eating a lot of the foods you previously restricted and that’s normal. As the Intuitive Eating book says,
“When you first begin the healing process, you may find that you’re eating more of the foods that you had previously restricted. This restriction has led to deprivation, and you may end up eating more of these foods for a while. Once the deprivation has healed, these foods will take a balanced place in your eating life.”
Myth #3: Intuitive Eating Just Means Eat When You’re Hungry and Stop When You’re Full
While two of the principles of intuitive eating are honoring hunger and fullness cues, that can be more challenging than it sounds. Which is why the other eight intuitive eating principles are just as important! Recognizing and responding to hunger and fullness is complicated if you’re still steeped in diet mentality, aren’t truly satisfied by your food choices, or are habitually using food to cope with feelings.
Myth #4: There’s No Care About Nutrition with Intuitive Eating
“Honor your health: is #10 of the principles, so definitely, nutrition is a factor in intuitive eating, and is often referred to as “gentle nutrition.” Being attuned to your body while making food choices will naturally lead to some care in nutrition, because while no foods are “bad,” some are obviously more nutrient-dense than others. Our bodies do not feel good eating less nutrient-rich foods all the time, so being attune to our bodies means we will notice that and want more nutritious foods as well. I’ve seen people swear they hated vegetables and they’d never want anything but cookies and cake if they let themselves eat intuitively who actually end up craving sugar less and wanting salads sometimes!
Myth #5: You Will Gain Weight with Intuitive Eating
I think this fear comes from the belief that letting go of food rules means eating high fat and/or high sugar foods all the time. We’ve already talked about how once feelings of deprivation are healed and principles of gentle nutrition are learned, intuitive eaters actually eat a variety of foods. Several studies have associated intuitive eating with having a lower BMI, though please, please don’t take that to mean you’ll lose weight eating intuitively. (Remember, this is NOT a diet and trying to lose weight will always undermine true intuitive eating!)
The truth is everyone will have a unique experience in regards to weight as they transition to intuitive eating. Some will gain weight while others will lose weight, and some will stay exactly the same. It depends on what weight your body wants to be at as well as how responsive you were to your body’s food and movement needs before versus how responsive to those needs you become as an intuitive eater.
Intuitive eating really is simple in theory, but it can be hard to put into practice. It’s a completely different relationship with food and your body than most of us have had since we were very young. While it does take time to unlearn diet culture and become an intuitive eater, it’s totally doable! If you’d like to talk with me or someone on my team about learning intuitive eating, please contact us.
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works (3rd ed.). New York: St. Martins Griffin.
Herbert BM, Blechert J, Hautzinger M, Matthias E, Herbert C. Intuitive eating is associated with interoceptive sensitivity. Effects on body mass index. Appetite. 2013;70:22-30.
Gast, J., Madanat H., & Nielson A. (2012). Are Men More Intuitive When It Comes to Eating and Physical Activity? Am J Mens Health, vol. 6 no. 2 164-17.
Madden C.E., Leong, S.L., Gray A., and Horwath C.C. ( 2012). Eating in response to hunger and satiety signals is related to BMI in a nationwide sample of 1601 mid-age New Zealand women. Public Health Nutrition. Mar 23:1-8. [Epub ahead of print].
I’m Cherie Miller, MS, LPC-S, founder of Nourished Soul Center for Healing and @foodfreedomtherapist on Instagram. We offer therapy and nutrition counseling for chronic dieting as well eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, ARFID, and other food issues. As anti-diet professionals, we are passionate about intuitive eating and Health at Every Size philosophies. Contact us here to schedule a therapy or nutrition appointment.