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What Is Intuitive Eating & Common Misconceptions

Hello Elevate + Empower Community,

My name is Rachel Nannola and I’m a Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. I’m excited to share some information with this community about Intuitive Eating and the type of work I do with clients.

I have been a dietitian for the last five or so years and am passionate about taking a compassionate and all-foods-fit approach to food. This means that no food is off-limits. Let’s go over some Intuitive Eating (IE) basics and then some common misconceptions.
What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is a framework developed by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch MS, RDN, CEDRD-S in 1995 and has been gaining popularity ever since. This framework is founded on the principle that diets don’t work for the majority of people long term and that we are all born knowing how to eat intuitively.

While eating intuitively can mean different things to different people, in this framework it means to learn how to listen to our bodies again and let our bodies guide our eating and movement.

If you’re familiar with diet culture (aka the 71 billion dollar industry that sells us everything under the sun to “fix” our bodies), IE might sound a little off-the-wall. It goes against just about everything our society believes when it comes to dieting and health. Diet culture loves a quick-fix (think “how to lose 10 pounds in 5 days”) while IE doesn’t and instead can give people who work through the principles sustainable results. How does not losing and regaining the same 5 pounds for years sound?
The Ten Principles

Intuitive Eating is founded on ten principles that people will work through to unlearn what diet culture has taught us and re-learn how to listen to our inner wisdom.

Reject the Diet Mentality
Honor Your Hunger
Make Peace with Food
Challenge the Food Police
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Feel Your Fullness
Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
Respect Your Body
Movement- Feel the Difference
Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Some Common Misconceptions
As Intuitive Eating has gotten more popular, a lot of misconceptions have arisen (thanks social media influencers). Let’s go through some common misconceptions:

Intuitive Eating is the Hunger Fullness Diet
As with most ways of eating, diet culture has attempted to co-opt IE as another diet. The “Hunger-Fullness Diet” says that we can only eat when we are hungry and we have to stop when we are full. In real IE, we learn how to listen to and honor our hunger and fullness cues but we also give ourselves permission to eat at times we’re not hungry (like when we know we’re about to go into meetings and won’t have a chance to eat for awhile) as well as sometimes eat past fullness (like when your grandma makes your favorite dish that is oh so delicious).

Everyone will gain weight if they stop dieting and start eating intuitively
One way IE is radically different from a lot of quick-fix diets out there is that there is no guarantee what will happen with a person’s weight when they adopt IE. All we can say is that when you start eating intuitively, your body will do one of three things- you could lose weight, gain weight or your weight will stay the same.
It can be scary to adopt this way of eating not knowing how our body will respond. When clients share these concerns with me, we chat about set point weight theory- which says that our body has a genetic predetermined weight range that it is most comfortable at. We can continue fighting our bodies’ set point or we can work to accept it and live a more peaceful life around food.

If I give myself permission to eat all the foods, I will never stop.
This is one of my favorite misconceptions to chat about with clients. Part of Principle 3: Make Peace with Food is to reintroduce any previously off-limits foods (maybe that’s ice cream, pizza or bread for you). Dependent on how long we’ve been dieting or restricting these foods, this process can take varying lengths of time for each person. One of my favorite concepts to chat about here is habituation- or the idea that if we have something often enough, it will become less exciting over time. My go-to example for this is if you get a new car, at first it’s so exciting. We revel in the new car smell and get to drive around with our favorite tunes playing. Over time, that excitement diminishes. Sure we might still love the car, but it’s no longer something we think about- it just gets us from point A to point B. The same thing will happen with food items. When we allow ourselves unconditional permission to eat a food, over time it will have less power over us (read: we will stop thinking about it all the time and can keep it in the house without binging on it.)

I hope this was helpful to learn a little bit more about intuitive eating. I love getting the chance to walk clients through this process. It isn’t an easy or quick fix, but it’s so worth it to get to live a life free from food and body obsession.

Want some extra support on your intuitive eating journey?

I recommend checking out the Intuitive Eating books and workbooks. You can also chat with your therapist (luckily Rachael and Julie are all familiar with IE and can support you with this). If you would like to work with a dietitian for additional support, I would love to help you on your journey to food freedom. You can find out more about working with me here: https://www.mindfuleatsnutrition.com/

Rachel Nannola MS, RD, LD
Mindful Eats Nutrition Counseling