5 Common Myths about Intuitive Eating and the Real Deal
There are so many myths about Intuitive Eating. Relying on these myths and misconceptions can prevent you from becoming an intuitive eater.
I think the biggest myths about Intuitive Eating arise because we view Intuitive Eating through the lens of our dieting minds. So, we naturally turn the principles of Intuitive Eating into a rigid set of rules, and we assume that external rules are better than our innate knowledge.
It makes perfect sense!
You’ve lived in diet culture all your life!
But, Intuitive eating asks us to stretch our boundaries beyond the actual words of the Intuitive Eating principles to look deep into them as guidelines that are meant to bend.
Here’s something you might relate to:
You set a daily schedule (or at least try to!). It’s an incredible tool that helps your life run pretty smoothly. But, unexpected things happen! That’s life. (Snow day, even though your kids are in Zoom school, anyone?!) When we are living in a way that takes all of our needs into account, we can shift and do the next best thing for today.
That degree of flexibility, given your current constraints, is a skill that we may use with Intuitive Eating too!
Say you have a meeting from 12 – 2 pm. If you are focused on only eating when you’re hungry, you might go into your meeting without lunch. But, if you can be flexible in considering our needs, you might realize that eating lunch or a snack at 11:30 am may be the option that works best. You’ll avoid that hanger, headache, or lack of focus that will likely set in around 1:30 – right in the middle of your meeting.
See that little mindset shift?
That wouldn’t be possible if you were rigidly following Intuitive Eating principle #2 – Honor Your Hunger. But, if you actually took the time to dig deeper into the nuances of the principle, you might realize that eating at 11:30 am can be a way to take care of your body.
Here are the most common 5 myths about Intuitive Eating and the reality of each:
1. Intuitive Eating Myth: We only eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full.
Reality: As Intuitive Eaters, we use our hunger and fullness signals as guides, but it’s so much more than that. Above all things in Intuitive Eating is the idea of self-care. And rigidity around food is not self-care at all. We do strive to eat when our hunger signals arise, but we also know that it is sometimes helpful to eat before we are hungry, especially if our schedule (like a work meeting) gets in the way. Similarly, we also know that humans occasionally eat past fullness, perhaps during a special occasion or on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Most importantly, we use curiosity over judgment whenever we have an eating experience that doesn’t leave us feeling well physically.
Remember, all of the Intuitive Eating principles are rooted in self-care.
2. Intuitive Eating Myth: We only eat burgers, cake, pizza, and candy.
Reality: Research actually shows that intuitive eaters eat a more diverse diet than non-Intuitive Eaters. When an individual first starts Intuitive Eating, they may indeed eat a greater quantity of ‘play* foods.’ This shift in what a person eats is a necessary part of making peace with food.
If you’ve been avoiding a beloved food as part of a diet or wellness plan, you will eat more of it – at first. But, the key part is permitting yourself to eat it. This permission allows you to tune into what you love, which may or may not be this food that has previously held power over you.
*See what I did there?
We don’t moralize food in Intuitive Eating so we use language that is judgment-free. I love the term ‘play foods’ coined by the Intuitive Eating authors because it speaks to the nature of these foods. Just like in our lives, play is necessary and appropriate but it’s not the only thing we do.
3. Intuitive Eating Myth: We don’t care about health.
Reality: Self-care is at the heart of Intuitive Eating. We know that we take care of the things we cherish. But we also know that health has several domains: physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual. When someone begins a rigid diet in the name of health, they often fail to realize that their mental and spiritual health suffers.
With Intuitive Eating, we recognized that the pattern of weight loss and gain (weight cycling) is not healthy. We also believe that health cannot be defined by weight. We believe that when a person begins to respect their body, they will choose things that enrich their life. It means different things to different people. But, we know that when someone lives according to their values, they have great mental health.
4. Intuitive Eating Myth: We only do exercises like walking and yoga.
Reality: We do whatever movement we enjoy.
For some it’s running, weight lifting, a team sport, or pilates. For some, it’s walking and yoga.
We choose to move our bodies because it makes us feel good: flexibility, a sense of accomplishment, strength, wanting to be able to pick up our nieces, spinal health, improved mental health are all reasons intuitive eaters choose to move.
We also honor our body’s need for rest as well. We are in tune and know that exercising to earn food or while injured is not self-care. But we get rid of the metrics that make us feel bad like calories burned, etc.
5. Intuitive Eating Myth: You can’t do Intuitive Eating if you have a health condition like diabetes, PCOS or high cholesterol.
Reality: The greater body awareness that intuitive eaters develop means that it’s a perfect complement to the management of chronic conditions, like those above.
This has to do with Intuitive Eater’s superpower: interoceptive awareness.
Interoceptive awareness is our ability to sense what is going on inside our bodies: like being able to sense your pulse when sitting quietly (without using a finger to measure.) This increased awareness allows us to feel other things in our bodies, like variations in blood sugar levels, and how certain foods make us feel.
So, unlike non-Intuitive Eaters who feel like they need to restrict and control their food and movement, we have the benefit of trusting our bodies to tell us what they need.
If there’s one thing I hope to convey about Intuitive Eating, it’s that it is so much more than the 10 principles when taken literally. It’s the nuance and the curiosity when we dig deeper into the meaning of the principles.
I hope this list of myths and realities of Intuitive Eating has opened your eyes just a little bit to how Intuitive Eating can benefit your total health. If you’re new to Intuitive Eating and want to learn more, check out my article, What Is Intuitive Eating?
I’ll be the first to admit that identifying and reframing our myths is hard when we first start Intuitive Eating.
So many women call me when they’ve been trying to learn Intuitive Eating skills on their own for 6 months, or 2 years.
It’s a new skill and sometimes we need help.
I want you to know that it’s ok to ask for help.
Whether you want the individual support of 1:1 coaching or you’re craving a group program with other women, I have something for you.
Schedule your Take Action Call with me today to learn more about what it’s like to work with a professional on your Intuitive Eating journey.
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”