Intuitive Eating Myths

Intuitive eating is often misunderstood. Of course, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about what intuitive eating actually is. We hope to clear them up with this post about intuitive eating myths and how to avoid them. 

Curious observer: “You are a dietitian? Say, what diet do you recommend? What do you eat?”

Me: “I eat whatever I want. I practice intuitive eating.”

Cue the stare. Cue the confusion.

Practicing and promoting intuitive eating requires a lot of explaining to those curious observers. I get it…at first, intuitive eating sounds like it means acquiring knowledge about eating from a mystical source within us. The concept of ditching diet rules to follow our own intuition is very foreign to us. Intuitive eating brings up a lot of feelings with those recovering from disordered eating and chronic dieting. Intuitive eating is often misunderstood on many different levels with a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding what intuitive eating actually is. My hope is to bust some of those myths so you can learn a bit more about what intuitive is and is not!

Intuitive Eating Myth #1: Intuitive Eating is so Easy

No, intuitive eating is not easy. The concept is simple, but simple…does not mean easy. When we think about what intuitive eating actually entails, it is a much more complicated matter.

Intuitive eating requires us to take a hard look at ourselves. It requires us to dig deep in order to really understand our relationship with food. Most of the time, as we begin to explore our relationship with food, we begin to see that there are many feelings, emotions, and beliefs that also need contemplation.  Intuitive eating requires us to explore and address other important relationships we tend to ignore, such as our relationship with our bodies, exercise, and ourselves. When we diet, these relationships tend to go ignored and disregarded. Therefore, after years of dieting and neglecting these relationships, we enter a whole new ball game.

Intuitive eating forces us to ask ourselves hard but necessary questions: what is my current relationship with food bringing to my life? What is it taking away from my life? Why am I eating this way? Why do I have these eating behaviors? Is this food provoking joy, anxiety, fear? What kind of relationship do I want to have with food? What do I fear about giving up dieting?

Intuitive eating takes so much more time, effort, and introspection than any diet out there.  However, after we become comfortable with intuitive eating, we will no longer have to (or want to) diet ever again. We no longer have to miss out on wonderful meals and foods we should be enjoying or miss out on experiences because of our fear around food. All of this hard work will pay off, time and time again, when we are able to live our life free of unnecessary anxiety and worry, freeing up our world for far better things.

Myth #2: Intuitive Eating Means Ice Cream and Pizza All Day Every Day

Mhmm, this is the number one misunderstood idea that I hear about intuitive eating. “If we are eating intuitively, we are going to want all of the “bad” foods all of the time. If we have a choice, we will want to eat brownies and fries all day long!”

Okay, first of all, yes, there may be a phase like this where we allow ourselves all of the foods that we have restricted for so long! However, that is all it is, a phase. When we think about letting go of restriction, we can imagine a child who has forever been forbidden to eat candy, who is set loose for the first time in a candy shop. We can imagine that it is like letting our pet out to play after we have kept them cooped up in the house all day. This phase is a normal reaction for many and may be what our bodies need at that time.

When we first free ourselves from the shackles of dieting we may eat all of these foods and only these foods and that is okay!

There is no “failing” in intuitive eating.

When we are on this cycle of dieting, falling of the bandwagon, and dieting again, we tend to have these cycles. When we “fail our diet” we tend to stock up on all the forbidden foods before we feel we have to start our next diet and start restricting these foods again, saying “I will start tomorrow.” When dieting, we don’t know when that piece of cake is going to be gone and forbidden again. This idea of a forbidden food only makes it all that more crave-worthy.

So yes, we may go through that initial phase of eating more of these types of foods and that is normal. Although it may be scary, it is normal and it is temporary. Soon, we start to realize that these foods aren’t going anywhere and that we can have them whenever we crave. Our bodies start to eventually understand, “hey, so you aren’t going to deny me this food anymore? I can have this food anytime I want? Okay good, because I can not take another bite of this. Can I get a peace of broccoli in me already?”

During this initial phase, our bodies just want to make sure we won’t restrict these foods from them like we have in the past and we need to remind our bodies of this by exposing ourselves to them. We need to “de-charge” the foods we charged up until they become neutral. This is the most uncomfortable and scary part for people who embark on intuitive eating. But we aren’t scared, we know the end result- food freedom and no more charged up foods.

Intuitive Eating Myth #3: Intuitive eating is a diet

No, no, a million times no. Although the 60 billion diet industry is trying to jump on the bandwagon and steal it away to turn it into yet another way to make money off of our insecurities through lies, true intuitive eating is not a diet!! Intuitive eating is neither restriction or designed for the purpose of weight loss. Intuitive eating brings you to the weight that your individual body needs to be at at that time. It is never the focus or the purpose. If you see intuitive eating and weight loss in the same sentence, RUN!

Intuitive eating is a way to learn to eat outside the diet mentality. You’ll learn to create healthy relationships with food, FOREVER. It frees you from the chains of diet culture and body ideals, to a more lovely life. It is how you learn to disconnect food from all those diet-based rules, to help you to start looking at it in terms of satisfaction.

On a diet, you might look at a bowl of cereal and ask yourself: How many carbs or calories are in this? Should I eat this now or would it be better to eat it later? Will eating this mean I am being good today or bad? If this is bad for me, I might as well eat two bowls and top it off with some ice-cream.

Now, with intuitive eating, it becomes simple. You simply look at the bowl of cereal and ask yourself: Do I want it? That is the simple question it all starts with. (Then naturally you will learn to consider other factors as well, but we can get into those at another time.) So all in all, with intuitive eating, a bowl of cereal is just that…a bowl of cereal. In dieting, it can be a million and one things from a bad food, an off limits food, an eat sparingly food, a high-carb food, and so much more…depending on the diet you chose to plague yourself with.

So no…it is not a diet. It is everything a diet is not. 

Myth #4: Nutrition doesn’t matter.

First of all, let me start off by saying a few things here before I go in and bust the myth. Number one: Intuitive eating was created by dietitians. 2. Intuitive eating is adopted and coached by dietitians everywhere. If you are unfamiliar with what a dietitian is, let me tell you one thing about them. They all have a very similar passion…yup, you guessed it, nutrition! So yup, if nutrition isn’t a factor, then why is it that these professionals believe in it so much? The bottom line is that intuitive eating was created with nutrition as one of the most important components.

However, the goal with nutrition in intuitive eating is to learn to stop thinking about nutrition in such a restrictive, dogmatic, anxiety-ridden, restrictive, fad-based, end-all be all wall.

Diets take the concept of nutrition and they make it so unnatural and just so NOT enjoyable. Nutrition becomes this responsibility and with all of the other practices that come with dieting, nutrition becomes punishment!

Now, listen, our bodies have biologically needs.

It craves nutrients! Intuitive eating just helps you to pay attention to those signals that your body is sending saying “hey, gimme some of those nutrients.” Intuitive eating helps us listen to all that it is saying, rather than ignoring it like we do when we are dieting.

With intuitive eating, it’s not about “eat this, not that,” and “good food, bad food.” Instead you are thinking about what makes your body feel good. Intuitive eating allows you to honor your hunger, tastes, and cravings, but it also helps you to honor the fact that a balanced plate makes our bodies feel fueled, full, and satisfied.

Myth #5: Always listen to your body, no matter what.

The “intuitive” in intuitive eating is indicating intuition…and the definition of intuition is to be attuned. To be attuned means to make aware. Awareness means awareness of ALL parts of your body. Everything in our body is connected with one part affecting the other, so when using one part, we can’t just disregard another. Take self-care and stress management for example, when you consider doing some self-care but have a huge to-do list, your body may not want to quit moving, but your mind is saying, hey chill out take a break, it will benefit your body even though your body may not know it yet. 

Now, let me give you some examples.

Example 1: When catching a flight or a long road trip, what do you do? You THINK. You consider the fact that you are going to get hungry and should pack some satisfying foods. Or you may THINK, hey, I am not hungry now, but if I don’t eat, I will be starved by time I can have time to eat. I better eat now.

Example 2. When you go for ice-cream and your body says yum but your mind reminds you that you are lactose intolerant.

Example 3. When you are putting your meal together and you know that adding some good fats and veggies on top of that pasta will keep you satisfied longer.

Your body and mind cannot be separated. Everything in our body is connected with one part affecting the other, so when using one part, we can’t just disregard another. 

As compared to dieting however, if we still want the ice-cream or if we make the choice to skip the veggies on the plate, that is all it is. It is a decision that we made. With intuitive eating, we consider that eating that extra serving may make us too full but it also says that it is okay to be too full. It is not a moral choice. It doesn’t make us good or bad. And it doesn’t need anymore unnecessary thought or consideration. So, the answer is no. We aren’t mindless creatures. We can’t separate our brain from decisions. And we shouldn’t.

Myth #6: Intuitive Eating Means No Structure

Compared to rigid dieting, yeah, I guess you can say that intuitive eating looks like there is no structure to it at all! With all of rules, guidelines, meal plans, to-do lists, and responsibilities that come with dieting, when we are told me can have food freedom, intuitive eating looks like a free-for-all! Sad, but true.

Unlike dieting that tells you exactly what you are allowed to eat and what foods are forbidden, with intuitive eating, we have to make our own food choices. We do not get black and white rules. We are forced to think for ourselves while considering our own unique individual needs! So yeah, intuitive eating has you do a very scary, rebellious, taboo thing in the nutrition world…do you know what that is?

Get ready for it….drumroll please…it makes you THINK FOR YOURSELF! Hey, get that, a way of eating that doesn’t make you feel like you have no qualification to make your own choices! A way of eating that doesn’t tell you that you have no idea what you are doing! Now, with you at the steering wheel for the first time, things get a bit intimidating. You can get really nervous without structure. However, although diets may seem like they may have a lot more structure, the fact is that intuitive eating has a lot of structure as well.

The difference between diets and intuitive eating is that dieting is structured with rules whereas intuitive eating does not have any rules. The structure of intuitive eating is just a more FLEXIBLE, individualized structure. The ten principals of intuitive eating provide a framework. They help guide you and allow you to be free of any kind of rules or moral dilemmas attached to food choices.

Intuitive Eating Myth #7: Intuitive Eating Means Letting Yourself Go

To me, this is a sad one. I believe that it says a lot about our world and the pressures we put on ourselves, and this need to control uncontrollable areas of life. This need for control is unhealthy and unnecessary. Intuitive eating doesn’t mean that you are letting yourself go. It is that you are just letting go of controlling and analyzing those things that are unnecessary and unhealthy to try and control. Intuitive eating allows you to let go of that tireless ritual of following a diet rule book and counting your calories.

Giving up this control allows you to just be and to learn to trust your body. Giving up control as you become an intuitive eater does not mean that you just stop caring about nutrition and health! In fact, it is the opposite. Intuitive eating is caring for your WHOLE BODY health, the health of your mind, body, and soul. It is letting go of control that allow you to be able to start creating a healthier balance with all of these aspects of live that we  value. When you ditch the diet and learn to eat intuitively you become your own best nutritionist, gaining more time for more important things in life. We let go of one thing, to gain so many more.

I truly believe that there is no greater way to lose control than to try to control everything. Letting go can be very scary and foreign, but letting go is what opens many doors that would have otherwise, been unable to open.

Disclaimer- every journey is unique and if you are struggling with an eating disorder, you may not be ready for intuitive eating quite yet. Chat with your dietitian to learn more.

Jamie Magdic, RD, wrote this post. She is a Registered Dietitian and the founder of Side By Side Nutrition, a group of fiercely passionate HAES, weight-inclusive, registered dietitians. Jamie is passionate about providing accessible, expert, quality care. She helps people fully recover from disordered eating and to learn body trust and acceptance. You can learn more about her and download her free e-book here.

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