Today I want to talk through very common misconception about Intuitive Eating. When people ask me what IE is I struggle with answering in a way that addresses all of it. There are 10 principles, and they’re all so important! It’s hard to compress that into a short elevator pitch, but I’m working on it. If you have a good one, let me know. When I get to the part of giving yourself permission to eat food you enjoy whenever you want, I often get blank stares and confused faces.
“If I ate what I wanted, when I wanted, I would just eat pizza/cookies/cupcakes all day.” I hear this so often. And I totally get it, because I know I would have said the exact same thing a few years ago. In our diet-obsessed world saying something like “full permission to eat” can be really jarring and confusing. It’s so common to label things like cookies as off-limits and create rules around when and how to eat them. Surely that’s all we would eat if allowed, right?
In short, the answer is no. Let me break it down into a few points to avoid excessive rambling.
Have you ever made a dinner that was delicious, but by day 3 of leftovers you’re like, “OMG I cannot even look at this food anymore!”? That’s because of a lovely thing called food habituation. Our taste buds get bored of eating the same food over and over. If I ate pizza all day, or salads all day, I would eventually crave something different.
Let’s say you are restricting cookies right now. Cookies, I’m so sorry to pick on you. I do love you, it’s just one that comes up commonly in my conversations with people. It was hard for me to pick a food for this blog post because I don’t want to villainize any foods, so please know that I’m not doing that. Anyway, what if I told you “Hey, eating a cookie is totally fine and doesn’t mean you are unhealthy or being ‘bad.’ You can have a cookie whenever you want. Nobody is ever going to take them away from you again.”
Woah, is it me, or did cookies just get a lot less sexy!? Please don’t misconstrue this and think that it’s some type of diet trick, because y’all, IE is not a diet. Giving yourself permission to eat all foods can make some foods less attractive than they once were. Of course you’ll still eat them because hello you’re human and you can. My point is that you may find you don’t actually want to eat that certain food all day every day once you give yourself permission. Knowing you won’t have another diet in the future means you won’t feel that desire to get em while it’s hot.
My friend and classmate Grace wrote a great post on letting dessert being dessert, and she included some fab research about this phenomenon. Go read her post, but here’s the gist: Two groups of participants were given the exact same milkshake. One group was told it was a “sensible,” low-cal shake, and the other group was told it was “indulgent”. People who ate the “indulgent” shake reported feeling more satisfied, while the ones eating the “sensible” shake reported feeling less satisfied and had a higher level of ghelin (a hunger hormone). Taking away these labels of food puts them on the same playing field, and now you can make a decision about what sounds best to you and what will satisfy you without all that noise clouding your head.
Sure, I could eat cookies/dessert all day, but I probably wouldn’t feel great. Similarly, I could eat broccoli all day but I would likely be starving and have an incredible stomach ache.
Your body craves variety and balance. It really does! This absolutely looks different person to person, but in general our bodies get bored eating the same foods. See my point above. And they want to feel good. Following your body’s cues and the guidance of gentle nutrition (when you are ready) means you will eat a wide range of foods that make you feel your best. And yes, that will include cookies at times! And you might go through times where you eat more foods like that, whether it’s because it’s a holiday or for no reason at all. That is normal, too.
There has been a lot of research conducted on IE-I’ll just highlight one study here. In 2006, a study of 343 male and female college students found that those who scored high on the Hawks Intuitive Eating scale ate a more diverse diet. There was no association between IE and the amount of “junk food” eaten in the diet. I hate that phrase, but I include this because I want to show that IE does have positive effects on health and nutrition-not to mention body image and less preoccupation with food, among other markers of health like lower cholesterol. As a reminder, it’s important to go through the process and save gentle nutrition for when you are ready to revisit it and can do so with no judgment/without turning it into a diet. My point is that overall, IE is an evidence-based, ethical approach to nutrition education and counseling.
That’s totally normal. Think about giving a baby a fake phone to play with and then giving them the REAL DEAL. It’s exciting and new and they aren’t going to give it up easily. That might be a bad example. My point is that it’s normal to eat, and even overeat, foods you’ve kept yourself from eating for a long time. I know that can be discouraging and feel chaotic. I would encourage you to work with a professional if you want or need to. Please keep in mind I am not yet a nutrition professional or credentialed to give individualized advice on this! Everything I’m saying here is from personal experience as well as my own research and education.
I want to end by acknowledging that moving away from food rules and embracing Intuitive Eating takes time. Months, years even. I don’t want to come across as “yeah just ditch the diet and then tomorrow you will be perfectly in tune with your body and eat in a way that feels great and all those guilty thoughts will be gone!” Because it is hard. But it’s so worth it to be free from thinking about food all the time and wondering if you’re doing it “right.” You have all the information you need to feed yourself well and take care of your body. If you’re interested, you can search for an intuitive eating counselor near you here, order the Intuitive Eating book here, and find the Intuitive Eating workbook here.
Most of you probably know that I’m currently pursuing a Master’s degree and doing all the coursework and hours to be eligible to sit for the RD exam. What you might not know is that my Master’s degree will be a Master’s of Public Health in Nutrition. Whenever people hear about this, I get lots of questions! My dad asks me about it at least once a month. 🙂 He’s always like, “Okay, so why public health? And does it help you get a certain type of job? And is this class for public health or nutrition?”
As part of the public health part of my degree, my classmates and I went to DC for a Nutrition Policy Seminar. It was a whirlwind, but I learned a lot and garnered a greater appreciation for policy work. As Grace and I drove home, she said that this trip really made her appreciate being in a public health program and I totally agreed. So I thought this was a great time to write this post!
TBH I would have enrolled in UNC’s program if it was a Master’s in Science as well. UNC has the only coordinated dietetics program in the state, and I didn’t want to move. So, I kind of landed in public health by chance, but I was still excited about it! I’m sure even if you enroll in a program that isn’t in a school of public health, you could probably find some courses with a public health focus. Plus, I bet that some of the same concepts are brought up in other programs and weaved into curriculum.
From UNC’s website: “Our mission is to improve public health, promote individual well-being and eliminate health inequities across North Carolina and around the world.”
That can look like…
Basically if an issue relates to health in any way… it falls under the umbrella of public health.
Right. Dietitians just tell people what to eat, right!? (I hope you can hear my sarcasm.) In addition to courses like Medical Nutrition Therapy and all the biochemistry classes every student takes to become a dietitian, our program requires courses like epidemiology, biostatistics, health behavior, health policy and management, and environmental sciences. In addition, our first of three dietetic internship rotations was specifically focused on public health. Most of us spent the summer in health departments across the state, although a few of my classmates worked in other parts of public health.
We learn about amazing public health programs and new solutions to overcome some of the barriers that are in the way of pursuing health (and how that differs based on the population). Overall, I feel like taking these courses gives me a lot of context for thinking about nutrition and health. I can zoom out and see the big picture of where someone is coming from. As we know, nutrition is about so much more than just food. Your life experiences, job, salary, amount of leisure time, stress levels, the amount of discrimination you face and the amount of agency you have in your life… all of that impacts how we experience food and health.
Although I do not plan on working directly in a public health program or on policy, I think that this background will serve me well wherever I end up. It also makes me take a hard look at what I think I want to do eventually-private practice-and how I can also serve people who typically have less access to those services, as well as ways I can be involved in public health in my community.
I think sometimes public health gets a bad rap from the HAES/Intuitive Eating crowd (which I’m 100% a part of and can understand). Many public heath programs and research focus so much on weight loss and seem to pathologize certain body sizes. I totally get that and sometimes I grapple with being a public health student who promotes body acceptance and self-compassion. It is frustrating when a conversation or lecture equates health and weight, when it is about so much more than just one number. However, I do have to give a hand clap to my school, because we actually have learned about things like weight stigma and even had exposure to the concepts of Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size.
My instructors are very respectful and are great at putting things into context and treating our patients (made up ones lol) as a whole person. A person with a life, who is so much more than their BMI. I am immensely thankful for the exposure and the attention these important issues get at my school. Plus, I feel like we have a pretty well-rounded education on all different aspects of public health, from childbirth to older adult care, so I don’t feel like we are bogged down in weight talk all the time!
So even though sometimes I grapple with being a huge proponent of intuitive eating and HAES while being a public health student, I’m actually don’t think those things are at odds. Health at Every Size is really about giving everyone the opportunity to pursue health as they wish. Intuitive Eating is a framework for nourishing your body in a way that feels good and is sustainable.
For me, it boils down to this: I believe in and support the right of every single person to pursue health to the degree they choose. I believe everyone should have access to nourishing foods. I think it is wrong to discriminate on any basis, including weight. I do wish we could change some of the focus in public health in general and move away from things like calorie labeling on menus and weight loss programs and shuttle that energy into more positive (and sustainable) ways to talk about food and bodies. As a whole, I think the tide is shifting and I’m excited about that. After all, there’s plenty of evidence to support this more positive approach! So that is encouraging. I’m really excited to see where public health goes during my career and I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get started.
Today I’m finally heading back to my place in Durham. But only for about 24 hours! Tomorrow I leave for our class trip to DC. I’ll be there until Wednesday, then start classes on Thursday. I’m kind of in denial that class is about to happen again, but it’s my last semester (of classes–I have internships until December) so maybe I’ll have some extra motivation once it starts.
Anyway, I’ve been at home for the past THREE weeks! It has been such a wonderful break and I feel like it flew by. There was a lot of sitting on the couch cuddling the dogs, and a lot of Livi sitting on Bella (see above). Here’s what I was up to and some exciting things that happened.
Wedding planning felt so much more manageable since there was no studying to be done or classes to go to! I feel like I got a lot done, but not much to show for it lol. I finished setting up all the hotel room blocks, booked hair and makeup, and worked on our website and save the date. We picked a rehearsal dinner location and got the ball rolling on that. My sister and I shopped for bridesmaids dresses-we didn’t end up picking one that day, but I figured out what style and color I like. So that’s something!
I cannot believe it is finally our wedding year! We still have a lot of things to do, but I feel really good now that most of the big stuff is out of the way.
I’m kind of cheating here because I haven’t made anything from this cookbook yet (I got it for Christmas). But I have heard awesome things about it and her writing is hilarious. My goal is to make something from this cookbook every 2 weeks or so. I totally fall into the rut of making the same meals over and over, so this will be great to help me switch it up and learn to make some new things.
In the past few weeks I almost read as many book as I read in all of 2017. Which isn’t saying much at all. I read Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and now I’m working on What Alice Forgot and Body of Truth. Looks like it will be time for another book review soon!
Chip and I went to Raleigh for NYE and had to stop at our favorite biscuit place the next day. I totally blanked on my order and got cheddar cheese instead of American. It was good, but not as good as American cheese, which I quickly remembered is my usual order.
I enjoyed pestering my parents to eat with me during their lunch break. Pro tip: when your parents are buying, order multiple things because you might end up with leftovers and can stretch it into another meal.
Of course I had to go get my most favorite meal when I am home: jerk chicken pita and salad with all the ranch dressing. I really should see if that restaurant will give me a gallon of their ranch to take back with me.
Sarah Beth and Cody got an adorable puppy named Ruby a couple days after Christmas. She is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the cutest little nugget! She currently weighs about 2 pounds and alternates between 5 minutes of play time and 3 hour naps.
I met her the first day they got her, and then a few days later we went to visit them in Charlotte and took Livi so they could meet. Livi is much bigger (although still small at 7 pounds) and funny enough, Livi was scared of Ruby! Pretty soon they were playing and running around and it was very cute. They are going to be best buds for sure. On the first day that SB and Cody both went back to work, I eagerly volunteered to puppysit.
She’s currently pottying in this little box because she’s too little to go outside where other dogs go. Clearly she wasn’t having it here, but word on the street is that now she goes into the box by herself and does her thing! Go Ruby!
Ok, a cute puppy seems like a great place to end this post. I hope you have a great weekend!