Top 6 myths of intuitive eating debunked
Posted August 20
If you’ve ever experienced the yo-yo effect diets have emotionally and physically, you might have looked into an idea called intuitive eating. There’s a book, a website, trainings for health professionals, and many online communities all revolving around this approach to nutrition and health. At the core of this philosophy is making peace with food by ditching dieting and honoring your body’s innate ability to regulate hunger and fullness.
Intuitive eating can change lives — it brings peace and decreases anxiety around food for people who can correctly and honestly implement its practices into their life. Maybe you’ve already tried applying it and have seen improvements in your relationship with food. Or maybe you’ve never heard of it and are curious to find out more.
Unfortunately, there are some misconceptions about intuitive eating. Let’s discuss and debunk the top six most common myths of intuitive eating so you can rest assured you’re doing what’s best for you if you’re choosing to go the intuitive eating route.
It’s a diet
Fundamentally, intuitive eating is non-dieting. The first principle in the book is all about learning to reject the dieting mentality and letting go of any hope that a fad diet will work to solve whatever problems you’re experiencing nutritionally and/or mentally.
Many people who are so used to fad diets and their rigid, all-or-nothing rules struggle with intuitive eating. Intuitive eating, by nature, is flexible and allows for imperfection. Dieters often have to grapple with the abstract nature of intuitive eating and may even fight against the urge to try to turn it into yet another diet. Some people mistakenly turn it into a diet by applying rigid rules and all-or-nothing thinking. But intuitive eaters are non-dieters (or at least striving to do the best they can to reject that mentality).
There’s no structure
It’s true that there’s less structure with intuitive eating than a fad diet with black and white rules. But trying to eat intuitively doesn’t need to mean you have an absolute lack of structure with your eating routine and schedule. Adopting the idea of flexible structure can actually open the door to be able to provide a framework to start eating intuitively.
You have to obey every craving instantly.
It can feel like intuitive eating is encouraging you to eat whatever you want whenever you want it. However, intuitive eating has a core principle of honoring what your body wants and needs, and through time and experience, most people will realize that they truly don’t want an entire package of Oreos or an entire loaf of bread, for example. Some people experience some pretty intense carb cravings when they’re new to intuitive eating, but with time, things level out. If you can keep your head on straight through the emotional roller coaster that can be your relationship with food during the beginning stages of eating this way, you will see so many wonderful results.
Honoring hunger and fullness and making peace with food doesn’t need to mean that you never override an urge or craving for a food. Sometimes, when you really try to understand where the desire to eat a certain food is coming from, it can be easy to see you’re driven to eat the food out of an emotional reason rather than a physiological hunger.
You let yourself go
As one of my favorite dietitians says, “It’s not letting yourself go, it’s letting yourself be.” You don’t have to absolutely stop caring about life to be an intuitive eater. Looking inward for guidance about what, how much and when to eat leaves room for the most important things in your life. All in balance, of course, with a gentle concern for nutrition and health.
There’s no concern about nutrition
Speaking of a gentle concern for health, this is a common myth that really trips people up. Intuitive eating does not ignore basic principles of health and nutrition. With intuitive eating, you can and should still think about how to balance your plate to have variety and nutritious foods in your meal. Intuitive eating is simply not a weight loss plan, but instead, a philosophy to put health first and let your body’s weight reflect your genetic endowment and lifestyle as you adopt and implement a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
A 2014 study showed that a mindful, intuitive eating intervention was actually more effective than traditional weight loss programs in improving individuals' views of their bodies and decreasing problematic eating behaviors. Many people find they make better nutrition choices as a result of intuitive eating, rather than the common assumption that intuitive eating leads to complete chaos and poor nutrition.
You’re going to gain weight
Some people gain weight when they start eating intuitively. Others see weight loss. Some see absolute stagnation with weight. So yes, it’s true, you might gain weight with intuitive eating. But perhaps you weren’t at the right weight for you before you began eating that way? When you honor your hunger and fullness, exercise adequately as you are able, get enough sleep, drink enough water, manage stress as best you can and engage in other areas of self-care to your best ability, your body will naturally end up at the right weight for you. That can sometimes be hard to take for some people, but it can also bring great peace in the very tumultuous world of weight, food and body image.
In the end, we should be looking inward for cues of when to eat and how much. Some people prefer to stick to diets, and that’s OK — we all have to do what feels right for ourselves individually. Others don’t like the label of yet another nutrition philosophy and prefer to do their thing without labeling it. I’d encourage anyone who’s struggled with their relationship with food to at least give intuitive eating a try. Who knows? Maybe it will be just what you’re looking for to finally make peace with food.
And, if you’d like a free guide to intuitive eating, click here.
Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in helping people heal their relationship with food. She hosts Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City.