Photo by Jenny Havens Photography
There’s a small, yet mighty, movement happening in the world of health and nutrition. The concept of intuitive eating (IE) has been around for a long time, but only until recently, it’s started to get the attention it deserves. Last year I finished my training to become a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and signed a book deal to write all about intuitive eating for families. The concept of IE is still a little divided in the dietitian community, so I thought I’d share a little about my story and how I found this path.
I was originally a psychology major in college. Around my sophomore year, I started to realize that I didn’t want to actually work in the psychology field, and started brainstorming other career paths. At the time, I worked at a nutrition supplement store. While I loved talking to the customers about nutrition, my sales numbers were really bad because I didn’t believe in the products I was being forced to push — crazy protein powders, weight loss pills, etc.
Photo by Jenny Havens Photography
I dived right into nutrition and began learning everything I could about eating healthy. I ate as clean as possible and forced myself to do exercise I disliked. At the time I may have looked healthy on the outside, on the inside, I was anxious about my health and body size. But dieting didn’t do much in terms of alleviating my anxiety, and food comforted me when I was feeling lonely or anxious. While I was never officially diagnosed with an eating disorder, I definitely had disordered eating habits. What’s ironic is those disordered habits (restricting calories, over-exercising, eating clean, occasional binging) looked healthy on the outside.
After graduating from college and becoming a dietitian, I started my first job at a heart hospital. I also started a small private practice on the side. I saw quite a few clients for initial visits, which all seemed to go well. People were interested, enthusiastic, and motivated, but very few of them scheduled a follow-up visit. At the time, I saw this as a failure. I could get clients in the door so I could do the initial counseling, but then they’d disappear.
I was also experiencing weight fluctuations while I yo-yo dieted. I thought this was an issue with my self-control and wanting to remain in a smaller body. After every diet, I’d gain all the weight back plus more. I couldn’t keep certain foods in the house or else I’d binge. Something just wasn’t right.
In the middle of all of this frustration, I stumbled upon intuitive eating, a concept created by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. They describe intuitive eating as a whole different way to approach health by paying attention to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals, which helps create a healthy relationship with food, your mind, and your body. It can be a massive shift in mindset for many people who have been stuck dieting their entire lives, but it’s a key to becoming healthy and happy that doesn’t involve restriction or dieting. As you learn to eat intuitively, you listen to and reconnect with your body’s hunger and fullness cues, learn to trust yourself to make decisions regarding what or how much to eat, reconnect to your body’s inner voice to determine the right amount of food for you, develop self-trust for eating “forbidden” foods, and practice being more mindful at mealtimes in a safe and supportive environment.
Diets don’t work for many reasons — the main one being that our bodies react to restriction by holding onto everything. Dieting lowers our metabolism, increases the risk of developing an eating disorder, and does harm to children who see their parents and other adults diet.
I realized that what I was promoting to my patients and clients was nothing more than restriction. I began reading everything I could get my hands on about intuitive eating and stopped seeing clients until I felt comfortable promoting the right thing. Now I know that health means so much more than a number on the scale.
Everyone can learn to eat intuitively. We can become our healthiest without a single step on the scale. By eating more at home with your family, teaching them about the importance of a balanced meal, and how to eat without restriction, we can be healthier and happier.
To learn more about intuitive eating for families, don’t miss my upcoming book, now available for presale!