It’s been a banner month for Intuitive Eating in the press! First, we heard that Cosmopolitan magazine would be featuring an article by Caroline Rothstein about Intuitive Eating in the July issue – WIN! Then NYPost.com featured the article “Intuitive Eating is for People Who Have Given Up” by Brandon Drenon, personal trainer and holder of a nutrition certification from a Cracker Jack Box Precision Nutrition, which on first read seems asinine in its conclusions…and continues to seem so on the second and third read. But I’m of the mind lately that for HAES® and intuitive eating (and all other means of internally regulated, non-diet eating), there is no such thing as bad publicity. Let’s get these ideas into the minds of the people who need them.
That said, this article is in serious need of rebuttal, to be sure. Some of it gets it right – well, at least the parts he quotes or summarizes directly from the book. The incredulous tenor of the article is established right away, however:
“For anyone who has ever struggled with a conventional diet rigid with rules and restrictions on what you can eat and when you can eat it, the Intuitive Eating diet might sound very attractive. The guidelines of this eating philosophy are about as strict as the cool mom who smokes weed with her high school-age children — #bestmomever.”
I’ll forgive the ridiculous comparison to moms who might actually do this (do these moms really exist??). The major problem is the missing context for why some people find intuitive eating so appealing and even necessary. That context is a food-and-body-obsessed world that tells us 1. Whatever we look like now is not okay, and we must look a certain way to gain societal acceptance and optimal health and 2. We can do that by manipulating our diets in such a way that does not honor our instincts (which turns out to be, statistically speaking, a very short-term solution for most people often resulting in even more weight gained as a final result). Prolonged food and/or calorie restriction can really mess with a person’s perceptions of hunger and fullness, and intuitive eating helps them find those cues again. The very idea of intuitive eating exists simply because of the astounding failure of dietary restriction for body manipulation for the majority of most people.
The next part of the article describes the basic concept of IE, taken pretty much right from the book. A former diet-junkie he interviewed even sings the praises of intuitive eating. So far, so good.
And then this:
“Eat what you want, enjoy every guiltless bite, and be happy with the way your body looks. If that’s all you want, the Intuitive Eating diet works flawlessly, [oh Brandon, please stop your sentence here!] but it stops there [dang]…If you want to look average, then go on an average person’s diet and eat whatever the hell you want. However, if you have concrete weight loss or physique goals, then definitive actions need to be taken that control your appetite and guide your food and exercise selection.”
Well now, here’s something we’ve never heard before! Oh wait, we have heard it. Brandon, you had me at “works flawlessly” because yes, those of us who practice intuitive eating do want to enjoy what we eat and be happy with the way our bodies look. That is exactly at the essence of intuitive eating! But then he goes on to let us know what he thinks of having, god forbid, an “average” body, and I’m reminded again of how hard it can be to like our bodies when we are surrounded by a world full of people who think this way. Haven’t you heard Brandon? Oppressive beauty ideals – like, say, the bikini-ready beach body – are soooooo 2015!
“The message of Intuitive Eating is self-acceptance and self-awareness, but what seems to be lost is self-discipline and self-control.”
Brandon, you have so missed the point. Not to mention, you forgot to read Traci Mann’s definitive and very scientific book on this stuff, Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, The Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again, which includes actual science on how when it comes to our diets, self-control and willpower are definitely not the most reliable eating strategies (especially for weight loss), and the body’s physiological and psychological processes almost always win out to keep our weight right where it is or was (unless you develop an eating disorder. I do not encourage this.). If they did work, then most diets (or at least some) would be successful and we’d all be thin. But they don’t, and we aren’t. But since you asked, the discipline in intuitive eating comes from truly listening to and honoring your hunger and fullness cues – you know, just the cues we’ve been equipped with to guide our nutrition since cavepeople days.
“What else in life do you leave to the whim of your intuition and expect positive results?”
Oh, just bowel movements, urination, breathing, sleeping and most of my other bodily functions. I heard that eating was also a bodily function, so I’ve decided to trust what my body is telling me on that, too. Turns out leptin and grehlin are wiser than my vanity.
“If we are to get anywhere in life worth going, the rules can’t be ‘Do whatever you want, whenever you want.’”
They can’t? Last time I checked, Brandon, as long as I’m not breaking any laws or hurting people, I can kind of do exactly what I want, when I want. Fun fact: once I decided to do exactly what I wanted with my body and how I fed it, I had so much time to do things other than plan my diet and worry about my weight all day that my life became filled up with awesomeness (like writing this blog, getting published in a magazine and doing a podcast). My life is WAY more fulfilling now than when I followed the body-police rules. Rules which I didn’t make in the first place, and for which I was not awared a ceremonial cookie when I followed them. Don’t get my feminist hackles up, now.
Brandon makes a few other ridiculous assumptions (that we would all blow our money on “Italian luxury items and Michelin-starred restaurants” if it were not for ignoring our intuition. Um, no. My intuitive desires fall more along the lines of self-care such as eating well and getting plenty of relaxation, sorry to disappoint) and sums up with
“If you have specific physique goals, you need to eat with intent and make conscious decisions to bring you closer to those goals. Whether it is counting calories, watching your carbohydrate and sugar intake, or eating Paleo, all of these mechanisms have the framework in place to help guide you toward weight loss.”
So here’s where we just need to go back to the science. Some people will be able to alter their physique significantly through exercise training, this is true. It will probably take up a lot of time and have to become the equivalent of a full-time job, this also seems true. But for many people with weight loss goals who aren’t able to dedicate their lives to the diet and exercise regime of an Olympian athlete (ie, pretty much most of us), the chance of making weight loss stick beyond 5 years even with diet and exercise is a paltry 5%. I wish people would put half the energy they spend on shaping their physiques into shaping themselves into actual interesting or good people, but I guess we’ll leave that for another, future epoch.
Perhaps Brandon’s nutrition certificate precludes the need for scrutiny of all the available science on weight loss (his B.S. from the University of Texas is in cinematography and film/video production, not nutrition). I feel like such a fool for taking all those silly classes like general chemistry, organic chemistry, physiology, anatomy, biochemistry and advanced nutrition (hello, metabolic pathways!) for four years that help me to understand the science I read regularly on this subject. Life would have been so much easier if I’d just gotten the 500 page Precision Nutrition textbook! (PS – My chemistry textbook was like 800 pages alone). What a friggin’ waste of time!
Listen, if people want to work out and manipulate their bodies into whatever they want, that’s cool. My concern is for the legions of people whose diets have failed them, and who then blame themselves for that failure only to get sucked into the whole cycle again. Intuitive eating isn’t about diving into a hill of donuts or a pile of calzones and eating until you are ready to explode (that’s called disordered eating). It’s not about eating junk food all day/every day (because our bodies actually crave diversity naturally in the absence of dietary restraint). These are gross misunderstandings about IE. In reality, many people have found that once they achieve a more intuitive relationship to food, they have improved diet quality. Here’s the latest research on intuitive eating so you can separate fact from fiction.
“Restrictions are necessary for balance. Although Intuitive Eating suggests otherwise, eating calzones until you spontaneously discover the desire to eat salads just seems very unlikely…Are you going to be happier following Intuitive Eating, or would you rather apply some discipline and eat a salad?”
The first part of this is simply incorrect, again, based on the science. High dietary restraint is actually associated with higher weights and poor diet quality. People who eat according to internal signals tend to have lower weights and better diet quality, not to mention they feel better about themselves which also happens to be good for your health (imagine that). The idea that we need to hold our noses to eat a salad is ridiculous. I like vegetables. Lots of people I know like salads. Why would this require any sort of discipline…oh, unless you were so damn hungry or deprived from restricting all the time that you only craved calzones.
Brandon got one thing really right though: intuitive eating is for people who have given up. It’s for people who have given up the futility of following yet another weight loss diet that inevitably fails. Given up feeling bad about themselves because their body doesn’t fit into a particular society-approved mold. Given up on living and breathing their diet every second of the day. Given up on feeling crazy around food. Given up on a bad relationship to eating and their bodies. I gave all that up and my life opened way up. Want to give up with me?