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What Diet Culture Teaches Us

“You have forgotten what you really like to eat and instead eat what you think you “should” eat.” Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works

Diet culture has manipulated our brains to make us believe that our body size defines our self-worth. We’re taught (by diet culture) that someone who consumes green juices, perfectly pictured smoothie bowls and avocado toast should win some kind of morality award. Our culture idolizes people in certain (smaller) bodies. And discriminates against other (larger) bodies. We’re taught to feel guilty about eating certain foods and to criticize our bodies and what we eat. The fact of the matter is, food is FOOD! Food is fuel for our bodies. Food  makes sure that we can live, grow, and flourish. I’ve written other posts about diet culture, so I encourage you to check our March’s post about Unlearning Diet Culture.

Effects of Diet Culture

“Dieting may cause stress or make the dieter more vulnerable to its effects. Independent of body weight itself, dieting is correlated with feelings of failure, lowered self-esteem, and social anxiety.” Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works

One huge effect of diet culture is well dieting. People begin to feel unworthy in their bodies and we start to make the connection between food and body image. We think, well if I can just change my food intake a bit, that will help me to get the body I want, and then, I’ll feel better about myself. And who doesn’t want to feel better about themselves?! This then causes people to restrict intake, try to suppress cravings, avoid eating when hungry, exercising when sick… [insert other disordered eating behavior here]. But the catch is, none of this is sustainable.

Research shows that when people follow even flexible rules around the food they eat, they have a higher risk of developing eating disorder symptoms. When someone is underfed, they tend to be preoccupied with food, which can take away from other life experiences and interfere with social relationships. Not to mention when the diet ends, the dieter is very likely to regain the weight that they lost. Because our bodies want to stay comfortable at its setpoint instead of starving at a lower weight.

I believe, as does my lovely associate believes, humans are more than our bodies. We do not owe it to our society to look or eat a certain way. Our goal is to support our clients in finding that body peace. We support our clients in breaking out of a disordered dieting cycle and learn how to respect their bodies needs through an Intuitive Eating approach. And we’re actually hosting a webinar through the DC Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on May 20th to discuss the topic: “Disordered Eating to Intuitive Eating: Supporting your clients in repairing their relationship with food.

All About Intuitive Eating

My lovely dietetic intern, Allie Hosier, helped me to write this blog. And for that I am very grateful 🙂 She goes into a brief overview of intuitive eating. And I’ll discuss transitioning from disordered eating to intuitive eating.

“Having a healthy relationship with food means you are not morally superior or inferior based on your eating choices.” Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating was first coined by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in the first edition of their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. Intuitive Eating is based on making food choices that nourish and fuel our bodies, following internal hunger and fullness cues, and allowing oneself to eat unconditionally.

Tribole and Resch developed 10 principles that outline the idea behind intuitive eating:

  1. Rejecting the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with food
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Feel your fullness
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor
  7. Cope with your emotions without using food
  8. Respect your body
  9. Exercise. Feel the difference
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition

“We define healthy eating as having a healthy balance of foods and having a healthy relationship with food.” Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works

In addition to having freedom from diet culture, research has shown that individuals who are intuitive eaters are consistently linked to positive health outcomes,  lower levels of disordered eating, and a more positive body image.

Please note: Intuitive Eating is absolutely NOT a weight loss diet. Using it in that way is extremely harmful. It’s so important to understand this before supporting your clients along this journey or beginning the journey yourself.

How does intuitive eating work?

Intuitive eating is recognizing your body’s own hunger and satiety cues, and allowing them to guide when and how much you eat. Following intuitive eating involves eating outside of a scheduled meal plan if you feel hungry, allowing second portions at meals, and honoring any and all food cravings without feeling guilty. Following intuitive eating does not mean you are automatically going to “overeat,” because the purpose of intuitive eating is that you are trusting your body to tell you how much energy it needs to perform to it’s top potential.

The transition of going from disordered eating to intuitive eating will involve allowing yourself to eat outside of a structured meal plan and eating frequently (every 2-4 hours), so that your body can relearn its own hunger cues. This may take some time, but after you can recognize and honor your own hunger and satiety, then the magic of intuitive eating can begin.

“Call a truce; stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat.” Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works

So, intuitive eating sounds great, but how do you get there after many years of disordered eating? We got together for our presentation and came up with some “phases” throughout the intuitive eating journey.


Phase 1: Nutritional Healing

We provide the majority of our clients a flexible meal plan to use as “training wheels.” When someone is far removed from intuitive eating, they have to take baby steps to re-train their bodies and to re-build our bodies’ trust in them to feed it regularly. It’s so important in the early stages of this journey to eat enough, aka providing the body with adequate fuel during the day. Typically, we encourage eating every 2-4 hours and making sure meals and snacks have multiple food groups.

During this stage, we actually advise our clients to eat more mechanically instead of listening to hunger/fullness cues. Why? Because it’s very likely the body’s hunger/fullness cues are suppressed. So, if we told our clients right off the bat to listen to hunger/fullness, it’s very possible they wouldn’t be eating enough! The body has to get used to getting fed every few hours in order for the body to start producing those cues. In session, we’ll process with clients if eating this amount feels like too much or not enough food. It’s possible we adjust the meal plan accordingly.

During this phase, we also may work with clients to eat outside the meal plan and challenge the mindset of “the meal plan is my new diet.” Because that’s not it’s intention! Again, it’s supposed to be a flexible way of eating and there are no food rules. If the meal plan feels to diet-y, we will adjust and decide on a better strategy.

Phase 2: Embodiment

Please note that all these phases are fluid and they don’t have to go in order. People may move throughout the phases at any given time, but that doesn’t mean they are moving “forward” or “backward.”

We’ve noticed one theme with clients is challenging their food rules and working with them to let go of the “diet mentality.” During this phase, some of our clients may go through a mourning process in giving up something they have held onto for so long, and that’s totally normal. We also begin to have the conversation about weight stigma.

One common theme we see with our clients across the board is a fear of letting go of controlling their body’s shape and size. Which is something we really can’t control from the beginning. But, diet culture sells us on the idea that we can. And if we change our bodies just enough, we’ll be happy and life will be easy. The reality is, dieting only brings more body shame and guilt. Micromanaging our bodies actually brings us further away from being connected to our bodies. During the embodiment phase, we work to bring back that connection. We’ll discuss how food feels in the body. How movement feels. And we’ll reinforce the idea of eating unconditionally.

Dancing shadows

HAES advocates for health at every size, in every body

Phase 3: Transition

During the next phase of the intuitive eating process, our clients work to gain some autonomy. There are often instances where they can eat more freely without relying on the structure of the meal plan. Generally, individuals might find themselves more at peace with their bodies. And please note, this doesn’t mean they love the way their bodies look, but they are accepting the body they have and working on respecting it’s needs and wants.

What do we challenge/discuss in this phase?

  • Food rules (like eating past a certain time, having the same food twice in a day, having dessert twice in a day, eating more than your “normal” amount of snacks to honor hunger, eating lunch or dinner earlier…etc)
  • Internal and external weight/food bias
  • Participating in life (not letting food/your body stopping you from avoiding events)
  • Gentle nutrition
  • How to honor hunger/your body in times of change (sickness, vacation, business…etc.)

Phase 4: Intuitive Eating

Again, a reminder that this process could take 1-2 years to achieve when you’ve worked through the other 3 phases. It’s a continuous journey.

Check out our webinar through DCMAND on May 20th to learn more in depth about this topic! It’s free and RDs get a CEU 🙂 Here is the link: Disordered Eating to Intuitive Eating: Supporting your client in healing your relationship with food

If you’re a client, give us a call at 240-670-4675 or email us at admin@empoweredeatingrd.com to set up a 15 minute discovery call to learn more about our services.


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