All posts by Isabel

Are you making “thin” your “God?”

Too many of us have mistaken thinness with the “power of God,” believing that weight control is the answer to all of life’s fears and discontents.

While it’s true that for the price of thinness—whatever that may cost us,

our culture sells us status (masquerading as love),
and social power (masquerading as acceptance),

these privileges are not enough to fill what some might call the “hole in my heart.”

Of course, when we treat our weight “like God,”

when we turn our weight into the thing that makes us “okay” or “not okay,”  “complete” or “incomplete,” 

our weight (and food) quite literally rule us—we become a slave to whatever we need to feel safe and whole. 

If we need weight control or thinness to feel safe, we will be ruled by, and obsessed with our food and the scale.

If we need money or “success” to feel safe, we will be ruled by, and obsessed with our work.

If we need a human relationship to feel safe, we will be ruled by, and obsessed with our human relationships.

The only way out of the chains of food and weight obsession…or any other material obsession for that matter (work, relationships, etc.),

is to start seeking safety and wholeness in something we cannot lose—something immaterial—something less vulnerable than physical form.  

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When feeling “full” isn’t enough…

Fullness is what happens when your stomach pouch is full of a certain volume of food—when your stomach pouch is stretching or distended from being literally filled up.

Satisfaction, on the other hand, is a statement about desire. 

To be satisfied means, “I truly do not want any more food…I feel physically and emotionally complete with my meal.”

Sometimes satisfaction will require becoming very full—even uncomfortably full—while, other times, satisfaction will demand less.

Early intuitive eaters often shoot for some “acceptable” amount of fullness—rather than shooting for true satisfaction,

and then wonder what is wrong with them when they “can’t stop” at their own imaginary line of “acceptable fullness.”

The reality is, fullness alone is not always enough. If fullness isn’t accompanied by satisfaction, you will need—and you will eat—more

(…and that’s “normal”).

Satisfaction results from a complex combination of chemical and emotional needs being met in the body and mind,

including things like pleasure and relaxation, as well as adequate calories and macronutrients…none of which is guaranteed by a feeling of fullness alone.

For instance, you can fill your belly up to the brim with food…but if you’re anxious and fearful (of weight gain or disease) while doing so…satisfaction is unlikely.

Similarly, you can fill your belly up with all the vegetables and protein in the world…but at some point you will feel wholly unsatisfied without adequate carbohydrates and fat…and vice versa.

Of course, allowing yourself to become truly satisfied means making peace with the possibility of fullness beyond what diet culture has told you is “okay.” 

Allowing yourself to become truly satisfied means making peace with where ever you happen to land on the fullness spectrum when satiation occurs. 

PS—if you’re having trouble reaching “satisfaction,” this blog may also help.

Health At Every Size (HAES): A Guide for Binge Eating Recovery

Before I discovered Health At Every Size, my relationship with food and exercise had one mode: will this make me thin or fat?

And that was pretty much it.

There was no “will I truly enjoy this?”  There was no “how will this make me feel?”

And there was very little concern for my actual health and well-being outside of the “thin-is-good” / “fat-is-bad” paradigm.

My weight-centric view of eating and exercise became obsessive very quickly…ultimately leading to a variety of disordered eating behaviors, including but not limited to:

  • Chronic attempts at under-eating/restriction,
  • followed by binge-eating,
  • weight-cycling (aka “yo-yo dieting”)
  • food obsession,
  • low self-esteem,
  • (A LOT) of emotional eating,
  • and generally feeling “crazy” around food.

While I clung tightly to the hope that I could “recover” from diet-binge cycling and still casually try to lose weight,

I was never able to truly heal my relationship with food—including my binge-eating behaviors—until I put all the attempts at dieting down and started pursuing “health” in weight-neutral ways.

Ultimately, the core concepts introduced by Health At Every Size (combined with Intuitive Eating and some deeply important self-acceptance work) eventually helped me find the “off-ramp” of the diet-binge cycle.  

 

What is Health At Every Size (HAES)?

Health At Every Size (“HAES”) is a weight-neutral approach to healthcare that promotes the pursuit of healthful behaviors (like eating vegetables, moving your body, getting enough protein, etc.) for the inherent health benefits of those behaviors, rather than for the explicit purpose of weight manipulation.

For instance, HAES-inclined wellness professionals may suggest that clients move their bodies for the sake of its cardiac or mental health benefits—rather than for the purpose of thinness.

Health At Every Size additionally promotes the pursuit of health outcomes (like balanced blood sugar, blood pressure, heart health, etc.) through the pursuit of healthful behaviors, rather than through the pursuit of weight loss.

For instance, HAES advocates may suggest that patients manage diabetes or heart disease through movement or nutritional therapy, rather than asking patients to lose weight as a proxy for healthy behaviors.

Additionally, Health At Every Size is a grassroots political and social justice movement, advocating for the adoption of weight-neutral health care in all health and wellness spaces.

On that note,

HAES is a movement made up of many different people, voices, and ideas.

I cannot speak for the entire movement—I can only share my own understanding of these concepts, and for the sake of simplicity and efficiency, I’m choosing to distill that understanding down into what I believe are the most crucial introductory points.

 

Why Health At Every Size (instead of dieting)?

At its most fundamental level,

Health At Every Size is an alternative to our current weight-centric approach to healthcare—an approach which has been largely proven ineffective.

Below are some reasons why our current weight-centric healthcare system—meaning, healthcare that aims to make people thinner as a means to improved health outcomes—doesn’t work and is probably making people sicker long-term.

 

#1. Diets don’t work.

The Health At Every Size approach was developed in response to an ever-growing body of research showing that diets for weight loss are unsustainable and do not result in improved health outcomes for most people long-term.

health at every size

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may have heard the statistic thrown around—that 95% (ish) of diets fail over time.

What this statistic actually means is that no peer-reviewed weight loss research—of any kind or by any method—can demonstrate consistent “weight loss success” for more than a small fraction of participants in the long term.

While most people are able to lose weight temporarily through dieting—

typically no more than 5% of research participants (give or take a few points depending on the study) are able to maintain “significant” weight loss—by any method—for more than 3-5 years. More on this here.

These numbers diminish even further in the rare cases that weight loss lasts more than 5 years, and those rare people who DO maintain “long-term, significant” weight loss often exhibit attitudes and behaviors that would be diagnosed as eating disordered in lower-weight people

(i.e. they must stay vigilantly obsessed with food and exercise and not much else—more on this in a moment).

This all to say, most people do not succeed at forcible attempts at weight loss in the long-term—no matter how, or why, they are trying to do so.

While HAES advocates typically reject the idea that “health” should be defined by body size (since many fat people live perfectly healthful lives in the bodies they have, and thin people are not immune to “weight-related” illnesses like heart disease or diabetes),

most agree that it is irrelevant whether or not your personal definition of “health” includes thinness—because there is simply no safe or “proven” method of weight loss that exists when you consider sustainability and long-term probable outcomes.

 

#2. Diets lead to weight gain.

Additionally, research suggests that forced attempts at weight loss lead to long-term (rebound) weight-gain in about a third of instances.

In other words,

every time you lose weight on a diet—you have about a 30% chance of ending up bigger than when you started, after going through a full diet-rebound cycle.

As it turns out, dieting (or trying to lose weight) is the number one predictor of weight gain over time.

On the flipside, non-dieters—or those practicing HAES and size acceptance—maintain their natural set point weight effortlessly with relative stability over time.

 

#3. Diets may be unsafe (even for those who are “successful”)

Not only does dieting as a “treatment” for fatness not usually work, but it comes with a long list of side effects—including but not limited to:

binge eating, emotional eating, low self-esteem, food obsession, eating disorders, depression/anxiety, and a wide variety of physical ailments that may result from malnutrition or weight cycling.

Weight cycling—that is, losing weight and gaining it back over and over again—is a known stressor on the body and is associated with some of the same chronic illnesses that are typically blamed on fatness.

Some research suggests that certain negative health outcomes associated with fatness (e.g. diabetes and heart disease) may be a result of chronic yo-yo dieting, or weight cycling, which is disproportionately encouraged in larger bodied people.   

Additionally, the psychological impacts of chronic dieting are bleak—irrespective of maintenance or “success.” Malnutrition and disordered eating are common and serious threats to anyone attempting or maintaining significant weight loss, irrespective of their starting weight.

 

What “works” about Health At Every Size

While many feel hopeless about their prospects for dieting—worried they are doomed for ill health and disease if they’re unable to achieve or maintain long-term weight loss,

there is an alternative to dieting that is more effective in improving health outcomes AND has fewer side effects—including less binge-eating, weight-cycling, and less feeling “crazy” around food.

And this approach is surprisingly simple…

Pursue a healthy lifestyle—including things like eating vegetables, getting regular movement, managing stress or [insert healthy behavior of your choice]

…without worrying about the weight part.

Voila!

There are several reasons why this strategy is more effective (and less harmful) than dieting “for health,” but I’ll review some big ones below for your review.

 

HAES is more sustainable

As it turns out, people are more likely to sustain healthy behaviors (like eating vegetables, and moving their bodies) when those behaviors are NOT motivated by weight-related goals.   

There are a couple reasons for this—

First off, thinness may motivate people to work out or eat vegetables on “Day One”

…but the second a dieter perceives themselves as “off the wagon,” or becomes frustrated when they don’t get the weight results they were hoping for, they tend to throw in the towel on whatever health behaviors they attached to dieting…until their next diet of course. 

On the flipside, health behaviors that are motivated by immediately tangible benefits (e.g. endorphins, better sleep, generally feeling better, etc.) are intrinsically rewarding and are thus more likely to be continued—irrespective of perceived “performance” or judgments of those behaviors.

Secondly, eating restrictions are biologically difficult to maintain—even for the most strong-willed or “motivated” people. 

Limiting calories or major macronutrients (e.g. fat, carbs, etc.), which is often encouraged by diets “for weight loss” sends our bodies into starvation mode and our biological instincts quickly rebel—leading to binge-eating, rebounding, and other complications of malnutrition (eek!).   

While diets tend to focus on taking things out—that is, limiting amounts or types of food consumed—the HAES approach focuses on adding in healthful behaviors, like exercise, vegetables, etc.

Adding “healthful” things into our life is significantly easier for our human brains than taking “unhealthful” things out. After all, we’ve evolved over millions of years to seek food rather than resist it.

When limiting certain food types IS necessary for “health” (e.g. physical allergies, etc.), folks are more likely to succeed long-term—and are less likely to fall into binge eating behaviors—when pursuing these restrictions in a weight-neutral way.

More on this here.

 

Weight is a flawed indicator of “health”

The second reason that HAES is more effective than weight-centric health strategies, is that not all bodies are genetically “designed” for thinness.

Some people’s healthiest possible weight—the weight they end up at when they’re at the top of their personal “health” game—is higher than current medical BMI “recommendations.”

Advocates of Health At Every Size recognize that bodies—including “healthful” bodies by metabolic standards—naturally occur in a range of sizes.

Some data suggests that more than half of “overweight” people are “metabolically healthy” (meaning healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) while about a quarter of thin or “normal weight” people have at least two risk factors typically associated with “obesity.”

While our medical system assumes that thin is unilaterally healthy and fat is unilaterally unhealthy, this is a highly flawed assumption—one that is largely based on correlational data and is un-useful in predicting individual health outcomes.

This all to say, naturally occurring body diversity is a thing…and it’s been a thing for thousands of years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAES reduces weight-bias in healthcare settings.

One of the biggest problems with our weight-centric healthcare system is that it encourages weight-bias in almost every aspect of our medical system.

The existence of weight bias in our medical system is well-documented, and has dangerous (even fatal) implications for larger-bodied people.

For instance, fat people are told to lose weight (aka diet) in response to just about every health problem, ache, or pain, they could possibly present with—while their thin counterparts are treated with actual evidence-based medicine.

It’s not uncommon for serious medical threats (think: tumors, blood clots, broken bones, etc.) to go undetected in larger patients because doctors assume their symptoms (everything from knee-pain to chest pain to trouble breathing) are no more than simple side effects of fatness that would go away if they just lost weight.

Larger bodied patients are viewed by doctors and nurses as “lazy” or “non-compliant” (when diets inevitably don’t work) and patients hesitate to pursue medical care to avoid being shamed and judged for their size.  

Higher-weight people are regularly denied medical care—especially surgeries and insurance coverage, “unless/until” they lose weight.

In other words, patients have to WAIT to receive basic medical services until they do something that may not be healthful or possible for them.

WHAT THE ACTUAL F*CK.

what is health at every size

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many HAES advocates have pointed out that the only real way to close the “health gap” between larger and thinner bodied people is to eliminate weight-based stigma and oppression in our health-care system and throughout the world.

Repairing social inequalities that affect healthcare has thus become a quickly growing priority for the HAES movement.

 

“Health At Every Size” Title-Confusion

There are a lot of misunderstandings about HAES—and it’s easy to understand why.

The title is controversial (even amongst HAES and other body-positive activists), simply because it lends itself to gross misunderstanding about what HAES actually is.

Most of what you’ll read about “Health At Every Size” on the internet is a product of simple misunderstanding…so let’s clear up the most common “objection” to the HAES approach once and for all.

OBJECTION: “But fat bodies are unhealthy”

While it seems pretty clear from research that this is NOT unilaterally true—there are plenty of fat people that live long, disease-free lives, and there are plenty of thin people who die from “weight-related” illnesses like diabetes and heart disease—

it’s important to note that HAES advocates are not making ANY claims about what bodies are, or are not, “healthy,” however you may define that term.

HAES advocates are not claiming that “everyone is healthy at every size,” or that “every size is equally healthy” or any version of this sentiment.

HAES advocates are simply promoting a weight-neutral approach to health-care—one that focuses on the promotion of healthy behaviors and lifestyles, rather than trying to make people universally thin as a proxy for good health.

In other words, HAES advocates are promoting a more effective way of pursuing health—while warning against the dangers and ineffectiveness of forced weight loss attempts.

 

Getting Started with Health At Every Size

When you finally come to terms with the realistic prospects of dieting (I know…there may be some mourning involved…), here are some steps that you can take to pursue your happiest, healthiest life in whatever body you’re realistically working with.

#1. Set Weight-Neutral Health Goals (aka “Plan B”).

Instead of obsessively trying to lose weight for years on end with no lasting results,

think about the health or fitness goals that matter to you—the things you think you’ll get through weight loss—and start pursuing those goals directly in the body you have right now.

For instance,

  1. Do you want to work on mobility? Awesome, let’s do some strength training and stretching…that’ll help whether you lose weight or not.
  2. Do you want to walk, run, or climb up the stairs more easily? Awesome, let’s get some more cardio in…that will also help whether you lose weight or not.  
  3. Do you want to manage your blood sugar or blood pressure more effectively? Great! Let’s work on getting enough protein and fiber at meals and snack times—a little cardio helps here too!

…all of which helps whether you lose weight or not!

There are loads of things you can do to improve pretty much any “weight-related” health condition…that have nothing to do with diets-that-don’t-work-anyway.

In other words, start thinking about Plan B:  weight-neutral actions you can take to achieve the health outcomes you’re looking for…regardless of what happens with your size. 

Additionally, set weight-neutral health goals that are reasonable for your unique body and lifestyle.

If a particular form of movement isn’t available to you—for weight or non-weight-related reasons—you have to meet yourself where you are.

Similarly, if a particular dietary change isn’t realistic for economic, lifestyle, mental health or any other reasons—work within your life circumstances rather than against them.

There is no “right” way to do health…and all health pursuits should be realistic, practical and most importantly feel good to the individual pursuing them.

(Otherwise…what’s the point?)

 

#2. Be okay with what you can’t control.

Recognize that like weight, “health” outcomes are not fully within your control either.

Although focusing on behavioral change is more effective than dieting when it comes to long-term health outcomes—behavioral change itself can only go so far.  

When we honestly acknowledge the role of genetics, environment, social inequality, and an infinite number of unknowable factors—it becomes clear that we are only “in control” of a small fraction of our own “health” inputs.  

Arguably our own behaviors are not even fully within our control, because our behaviors are impacted by our environment, energy levels, attitudes and beliefs, etc.

This all to say, you can take some of the pressure off yourself.

Despite what most health blogs would have you believe—it’s not all on you, and you don’t get to choose the day you die.

 

#3. Don’t forget about mental health.

Since there is NO dietary or health choice that will make you immortal—and there is no point in trying if you have to be miserable to achieve it—don’t forget to enjoy life now.

Physical health has little value if you can’t enjoy your life in this moment.

Even if I could “misery” my way into longevity—I’d gladly take a few years off my life if it meant that I could have fun and live well in the years I had, rather than spend my life an anxious, food-obsessed wreck.

Additionally, there is strong research suggesting that people who are relaxed and happy are better protected from a range of illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes.

This all to say—mental health and well-being is an equally important piece of our overall “health” equation.

If your pursuit of physical health is destructive to your mental health—it’s probably not sustainable and almost certainly not worth it.

 

Find support and resources.

What I’ve shared with you today is the tip of the iceberg of problems associated with a weight-centric (and weight-biased) healthcare system, and we all need as much help as we can get to manage the shitstorm of problems that result from a culture of widespread fatphobia.

If you’ve had enough of diets-that-don’t-work and are ready to pursue a weight-neutral, body-positive approach to health—seek out support in whatever ways are realistic for you.

Arm yourself with education—check out the book, Health At Every Size, by Linda Bacon, as well as the Intuitive Eating book to learn core concepts of the “non-diet” approach.

Make sure to review HAES informed blogs like Dances With Fat, for an ongoing conversation about how people of all sizes can pursue weight-neutral health and support people in larger bodies who are suffering at the hands of weight-bias in our culture.

If you’re struggling to let go of dieting, diet-mentality, or are healing from diet-binge cycling, check out my free video training series, which outlines my own binge eating and diet recovery philosophy by clicking here.

Lastly, seek out HAES informed health professionals in your area through the Association for Size Diversity and Health.

ASDAH equips wellness professionals with research and other resources that support a size-inclusive health philosophy, and only accepts members that represent as non-diet, size-inclusive and HAES-informed.

If you’re not already on my email list, make sure to sign up above for HAES-informed, diet-recovery blog posts and support.

Lastly, if this post was helpful to you, I hope you’ll share it on FB so we can get these important distinctions out into the world. 

 

 

What is Intuitive Eating? A Guide for Binge-Eating Recovery

If you’re a reader of my blog, you’ve likely heard my story before—

I was a “low-bottom” binge-eater—meaning, I would make myself so sick and so full with food that it was not uncommon for me to call in sick from work or leave work early after raiding the corporate kitchen. 

More than that, I was OBSESSED with food. My entire life revolved around what I was going to eat that day, how I was gonna get my steps in, how I was gonna track my points or carbs or macros or whatever-the-fuck-it-was-that-month

…in essence, a near constant stream of food-and-body NOISE in my head all day long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to lose weight—or maintain weight loss—was a full-time job

…that to be honest…I wasn’t very good at…the binges always found me eventually.  

ENTER: INTUITIVE EATING.

Now, before I get into the role of Intuitive Eating in binge-eating recovery,

please note, that Intuitive Eating was only ONE PART of my healing process (albeit a pretty important part), and there were several other steps I had to take mentally, physically, and emotionally to fully recover from binge-eating and my generalized obsession with food and weight.

That being said, in this post I’ll be talking specifically about the role of Intuitive Eating in binge-eating recovery, as well as what you can do to make these changes in your own life.  

What is Intuitive Eating?

what is intuitive eating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intuitive Eating is the process of making decisions around food based on your bodies internal hunger cues and other physical sensations—rather than trying to adhere to externally prescribed meal plans, food rules, etc.

In other words, Intuitive Eating is the process of choosing to eat what makes you feel good on a moment-to-moment basis, rather than trying to follow “shoulds” dictated by an external authority—or by your own obsessive dieter mind.

There are many reasons to eat intuitively,

the most obvious being that most people can’t sustain “food rules” for very long, and “shoulds” often lead to rebellious rebounds or binge-eating in the long run.

We’ll talk more about how to get started with Intuitive Eating in a moment, but for now, consider this:

when a dieter makes decisions about what to eat—they might ask:

“What should I have for lunch?” or, “What can I have for lunch?” and try to stick to whatever rules or boundaries they have set for themselves in the name of “health” (or more typically, in the name of weight control).

An Intuitive Eater, however, may ask—

  • “What do I want to have for lunch today?”
  • “What would feel good to eat right now?”
  • “What am hungry for?”
  • “What would satisfy me?”
  • “What would be pleasurable to me?”

In other words, Intuitive Eating is about pleasuring and caring for the body you have in this present moment—while dieting, meal plans, “rules” and “restrictions,” are more typically about controlling your body (especially trying to control your body’s size).

It’s worth noting that all humans (and animals!) are naturally designed for Intuitive Eating—and struggle with dieting and food restrictions—hence the phrase “diets don’t work.”

We humans—like all other animals—have evolved to regulate our food and weight naturally through instinct, feeling, hunger, etc.,

NOT calorie counts, nutrition facts, food labels, or “food rules.”

When we deny our natural instincts around food (through dieting or restriction), dysfunction around food ensues very quickly.

Common symptoms of chronic dieting and food restriction include:

  • Binge-Eating,
  • Weight Cycling (or “yo-yo dieting”)
  • Food Obsession,
  • Compulsive Eating,
  • Emotional Eating,
  • and pretty much any kind of clinical *eating disorder* you can think of.

Yikes.  

Why Does Intuitive Eating Help Stop Binges?

At its core,

Binge-Eating is a biological reaction to deprivation around food.

Binge-eating may be a response to physical deprivation (e.g. hunger, dieting, weight suppression, etc.) or it may be a response to emotional deprivation, which you can read about here.

Binge-Eating is eating because you haven’t had bread in 3 weeks and you can’t hold back one second longer…(aka “falling-off-the-wagon eating”)

OR it’s eating because “fuck it…I’ve already screwed up…I might as well eat EVERYTHING that isn’t nailed down…and get back on the wagon starting tomorrow” (aka “last supper eating”).

In other words,

binge-eating is what happens when we deny—or threaten to deny—our natural, biological instincts around food.   

Intuitive Eating—on the other hand—is the practice of responding to our hunger signals (and other bodily sensations) as they arise.

In so doing,

Intuitive Eating eliminates the most pressing and common cause of binge-eating—which is physical dieting or restriction around food.  

Will I lose weight from Intuitive Eating?

Unlike diets—which I define as forced attempts at weight loss through restricting or trying to “control” food,

the goal of Intuitive Eating is NOT weight loss, but to have a healthful relationship with food both physically and mentally.

In other words, the goal is to stop feeling like a crazy person around food—not to be thin at all costs.

As you heal your relationship with food—both physically and mentally—your body will arrive at its unique “set point weight,” which is the weight your body sustains effortlessly when you are not dieting and bingeing (i.e. when you’re eating “normally”).  

While some people advocate Intuitive Eating “for weight loss,” it is dangerous to pursue this path, and can easily trigger binge-eating just like any other diet.

There are both physical and emotional reasons for this, but the primary reason why “Intuitive Eating for Weight Loss” usually backfires is that effective Intuitive Eating depends upon letting go of diet-mentality (more on this later).

The pursuit of weight loss is the #1 trigger—and possibly the defining feature of—diet-mentality, which you can read more about here.

Intuitive Eating and Weight Set Point Theory

When you are eating intuitively AND have a healthy relationship with food (physically and mentally) you will eventually arrive at your unique set point weight.

This is the unique body weight that you maintain effortlessly when eating “normally” (aka not dieting and bingeing).  

Everyone’s set point weight is different and may be higher, lower, or the same as your current weight—depending on where you currently are in your “yo-yo” dieting cycle.

This weight may or may not line up with your dreams and visions of permanent thinness—which are largely dictated by unrealistic beauty ideals—but it will be the body that you can sustain effortlessly without dieting, binging, or obsessing about food.

Most people are not capable of maintaining weights below their set point for very long (hence: binge-eating)—and for the few who are “able,” there may be grave physical and mental health consequences to suppressing your natural size.

In other words, the weight you arrive at when you’re eating intuitively is probably the healthiest weight YOU can be.

This weight is largely genetically determined—although it may be affected by environmental, biological and other factors, most of which are outside of our conscious control.  

How to get started with Intuitive Eating

There are several books that teach the core principles of Intuitive Eating—or more specifically, there are several books that teach people how to listen to their bodies for information about what to eat, rather than externally prescribed diets.

Some of these books actually use the words “Intuitive Eating” and some don’t. For instance, I’ve heard the words “attuned eating” or “hunger-directed eating” used to describe very similar concepts, with some differences from book to book.

Most of these books focus on listening to hunger and fullness signals specifically, although they may also discuss other bodily sensations (e.g. “how does a particular food make you feel, physically, after you eat it?”)

I personally have my own unique way of teaching Intuitive Eating, which I discuss at length in my coaching programs.

The core themes, however, are the same—which are (in short) tips, tools, and “how-to’s” for learning to listen to your body for information about what to eat, rather than relying on diet rules.

The Intuitive Eating Book & Workbook (Review)

The most widely read book about these concepts is likely the original “Intuitive Eating” book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch—for which the term was coined in 1995.

intuitive eating book

Their particular take focuses on their own “10 Principles of Intuitive Eating,” which include:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Respect Your Fullness 
  6. Discover the Satiation Factor
  7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food (FYI—I find this particular principle a bit problematic for reasons explained below).
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise: Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

I’m hesitant to go through and review each “principle” because it would take a lot more writing than a single blog post can provide—however, I will say:

while this book is far from perfect (for reasons I’ll explain in a moment), I do generally recommend this book as a starter guide to Intuitive Eating principles and the non-diet approach.

This book explains in great detail how your body’s hunger signals work, what they feel like (ish), and why they are a much safer (and more dependable) guide for making choices around food than traditional diets.

If the actual “how-to’s” of noticing signals like physical hunger or fullness elude you (or simply overwhelm you, which may well be the case after years of dieting),

this book can provide pretty in-depth support in your transition to trusting your body’s hunger signals around food.    

That being said, there are parts of this book that I think can be problematic for clients in recovery from diet-binge cycling or other disordered eating behaviors.

Below are a few common “challenges” or “pitfalls” that my clients often fall into when reading (or possibly misreading) this book, or when pursuing other versions of hunger-directed eating.

Intuitive Eating Challenges & Pitfalls

The 3 most common challenges/pitfalls that people struggle with when they first begin Intuitive Eating are the following:

  1. “The Hunger & Fullness Diet”  (or the “Don’t-Eat-Emotionally Diet”)
  2. Underestimating hunger (read this even if you don’t think it applies to you)
  3. Trying to control weight through “eating intuitively”

The “Hunger & Fullness Diet” (aka The “Don’t-Eat-Emotionally” Diet)

The “Hunger & Fullness Diet” (aka the “Don’t-Eat-Emotionally Diet”’) are terms I coined to describe the single most common pitfall I see clients fall into when they beginning Intuitive Eating.

This happens when people turn “hunger and fullness” into RULES to follow—

for instance, when people turn “eating when physically hungry” or “not eating emotionally” or “not getting too full” into things they “should” or “should not” do.

The “Hunger & Fullness Diet” is problematic for a few reasons:

First off,

trying to eat ONLY within certain “acceptable” boundaries (e.g. “hunger and fullness”) can trigger binges when you inevitably “give in” or “fail.”  

When I first started practicing Intuitive Eating, I used to feel incredibly guilty (or even ashamed) when I would eat emotionally, or get really full. In other words, I thought my “emotional eating” was a “screw up.”

Of course, whenever I thought I “screwed up,” I would then binge my face off, because…

“I’ve already ruined my day—so I might as well binge my face off and try ‘Intuitive Eating’ again tomorrow.”  

In other words, I turned Intuitive Eating into a “wagon” that I could fall on and off of.

When you turn Intuitive Eating into a “wagon” that you can fall on or off of, you’re almost guaranteed to “fall off” of it eventually—and probably binge your face off in the process.

Underestimating Hunger (Don’t Skip This)

It’s clear in retrospect that I highly underestimated the amount of food I really needed in my early days of Intuitive Eating.

This is likely because diet-mentality (especially the “hunger & fullness diet” or the “don’t-eat-emotionally-diet”) got in the way of my trusting my natural instincts around food.

For instance, if I didn’t feel a “growl” in my stomach or other physical sensations that I personally labeled hunger, I would put that urge into the “emotional eating” category.

The reality, however, is that I may have been experiencing signs of appetite…which is simply a “drive to eat” that may—or may not—accompany specific physical sensations in the body.

Thinking about food is often the first sign of physical hunger we experience,

which is why trying to draw a narrow line between “emotional eating” and “eating for hunger” is actually more complicated (and less reliable) than you might think.   

This is one of many reasons dieters and restrictors spend so much time thinking about foodthinking about food is a “symptom” of hunger.

Additionally, it is quite normal to want (and need!) to get very full when recovering from restriction or weight suppression.

Your body may legitimately need much more food than your definition of “acceptable fullness” might suggest.

Why trying to lose weight through “eating intuitively” usually backfires

Another common pitfall people fall into when attempting to “eat intuitively,” is practicing Intuitive Eating in an attempt to control weight, rather than as a method of weight-neutral self-care.

This fails for very similar reasons as the first two common pitfalls—

DIET MENTALITY.

When you pursue any particular “way of eating” for the purpose of weight control, it’s almost inevitable that you will judge your “performance” every step of the way, probably try to undercut your needs, and as a result, you may very well continue binge-eating too.

You can read more about why this doesn’t work in my post “How to Stop Binge-Eating” by clicking here.

Instead of using Intuitive Eating as a form of “weight control,” try using it as a tool for taking care of the body you have right now, and for the purpose of living your mentally and physically healthiest life (rather than your thinnest-at-all-costs life).

Binge-Eating Recovery takes more than Intuitive Eating…

In my opinion, learning to listen to your body about what to eat is only ONE part of the total recovery equation.

Making the necessary mental and emotional shifts to truly let go of dieting (and diet mentality) is the “real challenge” that most people face in healing their relationship with food.

While the Intuitive Eating book addresses some of these challenges, most people need more support to combat diet mentality—especially through the perspectives of Fatphobia, body image concerns, or a general desire to “control” food or weight.

If you’re feeling like,

“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong! I’m trying to eat Intuitively, but I just keep binge-eating!”

You are almost certainly still struggling with unhealthy attitudes about food and weight, or are trying to use Intuitive Eating as a form of food or weight control.

Diet Mentality is complex, can take many forms (e.g. the “hunger & fullness diet”), and typically reflects a person’s body image, fatphobic beliefs or societal ideas about what eating “should” look like.

Resources for Healing Diet-Mentality (& Diet-Binge Cycling)

In addition to the Intuitive Eating book,

I highly recommend checking out the book Health At Every Size, which describes the importance of pursuing a weight-neutral approach to health—rather than the traditional “diets-for-health” approach, which is almost certainly hurting our collective health (and sanity) long-term.

Additionally,

if you’re struggling with binge-eating, emotional eating, chronic dieting or food obsession—

make sure to check out Stop Fighting Food (my free video training series) that teaches folks how to heal the underlying thinking patterns behind all common “food issues.”

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