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Intuitive Eating: Can You Be Healthy

and Eat Anything?

Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD

How do you honor your health when • Unconditional permission to eat. between meals.”
you have permission to eat anything? Being able to eat intuitively takes
• Reliance on internal hunger and
How can french fries or a candy bar, practice. How long depends on many
satiety cues.
for example, be considered adequate factors, such the length of time you
choices? These questions are a source • Eating for physical, rather than have been at war with food and your
of confusion for many of my patients, emotional reasons. body, and your motivation to change.
their families, and even practitioners. Ultimately, recovery from an eating
Although most chronic dieters and
My message to them is that healthy eat- disorder means learning how to eat
disordered eaters have lost touch with
ing includes having a positive relation- normally, which includes the ability to
these skills, the good news is that they
ship with food of all kinds. This means eat a variety of foods, including “fear
can be relearned through attunement—a
that meals are not a moral dilemma foods,” which are perceived as fatten-
process of listening and responding to
resulting in feelings of guilt and shame, ing and/or unhealthy. It’s important
your body cues, rather than focusing
but rather a place to practice tuning into to work with your treatment team to
on rigid food rules. This means making
one’s inner needs and fulfilling those determine when and how to implement
decisions about eating based on what
needs in a healthy, nurturing way. In intuitive eating.
your body is experiencing. For example,
my work, I call this practice, intuitive
upon experiencing a grumbling stom-
eating. Intuitive Eating Research
ach (one of many hunger cues), you
While there are many ways of incor- Many people fear that intuitive eat-
might respond by eating a snack, rather
porating this process, there are three ing is synonymous with a junk food
than withholding food because of a
core characteristics: diet and poor health. On the contrary,
rigid rule stating, “It’s not okay to eat

Eating Disorders Recovery Today • Winter 2009

studies show that trusting and satisfying have also demonstrated that anxiety periences will also help you build trust
one’s physical hunger causes an increase increases stress chemicals in the blood, with your body.
in well-being, both physically and which has a wide-range of negative ef- When you are attuned to your body,
mentally. For example, Brigham Young fects on the body, from inflammation as well as armed with the knowledge
University researchers looked at the to depression. that you can truly give it what it needs,
relationship between intuitive eating you will possess the clarity to make ef-
and the quality of the diet in 343 col- Applying Intuitive Eating to Your Life fective choices. You will be able to ask
lege students. Their results did not in- yourself: If I am meal-hungry, would
dicate poor nutritional choices. Rather, So, how do you balance creating a bags of potato chips truly satisfy and
these stu- positive re- feel good physically? If I am ravenous,
dents had lationship would only a salad meet my body’s
a greater Intuitive eaters were more optimistic, with food, needs? If I have a sweet tooth, would
diversity had better self-esteem, and were less while also raspberries really curb my craving?
in eating, consider- When you can enjoy food with uncon-
likely to internalize our culture’s
more sat- ing nutri- ditional permission, the process of eating
unrealistic thin ideal. tion? Sev- becomes emotionally neutral—and you
and health- eral factors do not feel good or bad based on what
ier body come to you eat. You also understand that one
weights. mind: meal will not make or break your health,
In 2006, a larger study on nearly or your weight. All too often, there is
1,300 college women by Tracy Tylka • Getting in touch with your in- a negative perception regarding eating
from Ohio State University, demon- ternal satiety cues of hunger and certain foods, resulting in guilt. But
strated similar findings. Intuitive eat- fullness. when judgment (and guilt) is removed,
ers were found to be more optimistic, • Discovering satisfaction in eat- if you’ve eaten the wrong thing or too
had better self-esteem, a lower body ing. much, it is not a catastrophe from which
mass index (BMI), and were less likely to recover and/or perform nutritional
• Using nutrition information with-
to internalize our culture’s unrealistic penance. You are no longer caught up in
out judgment.
thin ideal. these thoughts. Ultimately, intuitive eat-
While these results may seem surpris- Many times, “healthy eating” or ing feels good, which is self-reinforcing.
ing, it is something that the French “better nutrition” is code for dieting. Remember, when you can truly eat in-
are well known for—they regularly Consequently, if you focus solely on tuitively, it doesn’t take much chocolate
consume foods considered “fattening” these factors, without considering your to satisfy a sweet tooth.
or “unhealthy” by American standards. internal body cues of what would best
Ironically, the French also have some satisfy hunger, you can easily feel de- Sources:
of the lowest rates of obesity and heart prived. This in turn may increase crav- Hawks, ST et al. The relationship between
disease. intuitive eating and health indicators
ings and thoughts of food, overeating,
In 1999, Paul Rozin from the Uni- dieting, and heighten anxiety around among college women. Am. J. Health
versity of Pennsylvania explored how snacks and meals. Try to answer these Educ. 2006;26:322-324.
food functions in the minds and lives of questions when considering what to Rozin, P. et al. Attitudes to Food and the
people from four countries: USA, Japan, eat: If I eat this food or meal now, will role of food in the life in the USA, Japan,
Belgium, and France (Japan was chosen it satisfy and sustain me? Is my body Flemish Belgium and France: Possible
because the Japanese have the longest meal-hungry or snack-hungry? How Implications for the Diet-Health debate.
life expectancy). Rozin found that do I want to feel physically afterwards? Appetite, 1999 (33):163-180.
Americans have the greatest concern What have my past experiences shown Tylka, TL. Development and psychomet-
about health and the most dissatisfac- me? ric evaluation of a measure of intui-
tion with eating. They worry the most Answers to these questions will guide tive eating. J Counseling Psych, 2006;
about fattening effects of food and asso- you on making the best food choices 53(2):226.
ciate it most with health and least with based on your body’s needs. Whatever
pleasure. But the French were found to you decide to eat, take note if it met m
be the most pleasure-oriented and least your expectations, which helps to cre-
health-oriented (hence the popular ate a meaningful learning experience. Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, is co-author of
term French Paradox). These attitudes For example, if you were meal-hungry Intuitive Eating 2nd ed (2003) and the new
may be an important, yet overlooked and choose to drink a smoothie—did audio companion with added material and
contributor to overall happiness. it sustain you until your next meal? guided practices: Intuitive Eating: A Practical
Rozin concluded that worries and Given the same circumstances and what Guide, released in January 2009.
obsessions regarding diet might be you learned, would you make a similar
counterproductive. Several studies choice? Paying attention to these ex-

Eating Disorders Recovery Today • Winter 2009

Pregnany Problems according to a study in
Women with a history of eating disorders Sweden that was reported “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by
are at higher risk of major adverse perinatal in the journal Nature. Fat every experience in which you really stop to look
outcomes. A study at King’s College Lon- cells can only change in fear in the face. You must do the thing which you
don that compared adjusted birth weight, size, not in number. Obese
think you cannot do.”
preterm delivery, and miscarriage history people who underwent
has concluded that individuals with bulimia weight loss surgery had — Eleanor Roosevelt
nervosa had significantly higher rates of past as many fat cells two years
miscarriages and individuals with anorexia after surgery as before it. Teen Boys at Growing Risk
nervosa delivered babies of significantly lower Eating Disorders rose significantly among
birth weight than the general population. American boys between 1995 and 2005,
Forgiving Feminists? according to a study that examined weight
In a New York Times article, dated March 25, control behaviors among high schoolers.
2008, the author reports that women who The increased weight control behavior
Fat Cells Die and Are Replaced describe themselves as feminists are more noted in males suggests growing social
It does not matter if you are fat or thin or have pressure for males to achieve unrealistic body
forgiving than other women when assessing
gained or lost weight, 10 percent of your fat expectations, thus increasing the risk of body
the attractiveness of women who are either
cells die and are replaced with new fat cells, dissatisfaction and eating disorders, the study
very underweight or very heavy. This finding
added evidence to the argument that these authors said.
—International Journal of Eating Disorders
Nibbles, by Hunter women also might be less likely to be taken
in by the idea that
the most important m
thing for women
is to be thin. His
conclusions were Barbie’s won a TOADY!
based on a 2008 On the eve of the world’s most famous
study led by Viren doll’s fiftieth birthday, the Campaign for a
Swami of the Uni- Commercial-Free Childhood announced that
versity of Westmin- Mattel’s Barbie Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader
ster in London. The Doll won its inaugural TOADY (Toys Op-
author of the article, pressive and Destructive to Young Children)
Eric Nigourney, as- Award for the worst toy of the year. In an
serts, “If beauty is online vote by more than 6,000 members,
in the eye of the Barbie handily beat four other nominees.
“If you hold for a minute, the doctor will beholder, then try For more information on why these
carefully choose the best diet for you.” to be beheld by a toys were nominated, visit www.commercial-
© 2009 by Eating Disorders Today


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