How to Support Your Family or Friend Who is Working on Intuitive Eating
Are you struggling because your family or friends don’t understand Intuitive Eating? Here’s how to get their support for Intuitive Eating.
If you’re reading this at the request of a loved one, it’s likely that they’ve decided to start working with me to heal their relationship with food and their body through Intuitive Eating. (Or maybe they’re just thinking really hard about doing it.)
When I work with women to guide them on their Intuitive Eating journey, one of their biggest frustrations is the reaction of their family and friends. In our diet and health-obsessed society, so many people don’t realize how much they talk about dieting, bashing their body or giving unsolicited advice to others about the same.
Because Intuitive Eating requires a deep level of introspection, to discover what is going on inside your own body, all of these external messages can frustrating and undo so much of my client’s hard work.
So, What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is a non-diet way to heal one’s relationship with food and their body.
Most broadly, Intuitive eating is based on an individual’s:
- Unconditional permission to eat all foods;
- Eating for physical rather than emotional reasons; and
- Reliance on internal hunger/satiety cues (body trust).
It has been scientifically validated by peer-reviewed research that spans more than 20 years.
This is how Intuitive Eating principles play out in real life….
- Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full;
- All foods are allowed – we don’t classify foods as good and bad;
- Treat your body as if it were the only one you had: enjoy movement AND rest;
- Use all your senses when you eat (i.e., pay attention!);
- Ignore other people’s thoughts about your food choices;
- Learn other ways to manage emotions in addition to food;
- Food and your body are only one part of your life and your health;
For an in-depth description of Intuitive Eating, check out my blog “What is Intuitive Eating?”
There’s often a big disconnect:
And a family member might have trouble understanding another’s “food issues.” Maybe they think ‘most women have baggage around food.’ And sadly, many do. But, just because it’s so common doesn’t mean that there’s no real frustration, sadness, and shame that goes along with it.
So what can you do to support your loved one as they walk this road towards becoming an intuitive eater? Here’s my advice:
1. Don’t be the Food Police.
Sometimes you might comment on what your loved one does or doesn’t eat. “Do you really want another cookie?” Don’t you want some vegetables?” Food policing can take on many forms, but hear me: It will not make your friend healthier or happier. Perhaps it’s even hard for you to understand why this might be a problem because you personally don’t mind others commenting on your food choices. If that’s the case, remember that you have a drastically different lived experience around food.
So, what will this well-intentioned policing do? It will make them feel resentful and will often result in disordered eating behaviors like fasting, restriction, excessive exercise and binge eating. It takes a relationship between two adults and puts one in the parental position, while removing body autonomy from the other. I know this is hard and counter to everything in your being. But, just don’t do it.
2. Don’t Talk about Your Diet.
You may have found a way of eating that works for you. And if you have, that’s great! But, it hasn’t worked for your friend, who is now trying to focus on what is happening in their unique body. Remember, different bodies need different things! So, please save your sharing for someone else, regardless of how great you personally may feel.
3. Don’t Eat their Challenge Foods.
Part of Intuitive Eating is learning to eat ALL foods. So, I ask my clients to start eating foods that they might consider forbidden, and I assign that as between-session homework. In order for my clients to decrease their fear while increasing their awareness around these foods, I do ask them to order or purchase enough food so that they know they’ll have enough. Please, don’t take this opportunity to eat their foods. It will only increase their anxiety and frustration which is just counterproductive.
If you would also like to enjoy some of this food, please buy some more for yourself and keep it separate (while they are experimenting with that food). Similarly, if you’re eating out, don’t be offended if they want to order their own portion or immediately cut it in half to share with you. It’s nothing personal! They just want to enjoy their food at THEIR pace.
4. Trust the Expert.
There are going to be things I ask your family member to do (like in the paragraph above) that might make you nervous and go against your beliefs. I want you to know that I take my recommendations and my clients’ well-being very seriously.
For the skeptics among you, here’s some data about Intuitive Eating from research*:
- Intuitive Eating is associated with a more positive body image, greater emotional functioning, and overall life satisfaction;
- Intuitive Eating is associated with decreased BMI and disordered eating;
- Intuitive Eating practices are inversely associated with a number of harmful outcomes, including binge eating and eating disorders behaviors.
*(All the above are from research published in peer-reviewed journals. Citations available at IntuitiveEating.org)
5. Give Them Time for Self-Care.
Part of the work in Intuitive Eating is learning to take care of and respect your body. That’s in all things, including leisure, relaxation and rest. So, one of the first things I ask my clients to do is to find time for themselves. And that can mean different things to different people. Some might want to move their bodies more, some might want to take a nap, or read a book, or find a hobby, or get take out, or start meditating.
You might be thinking, “Aren’t you a nutritionist?” Yes, I am. But Intuitive Eating takes the whole person into account. You see, I’m going to ask them to do lots of reflection. While they were rigidly following their diets their fixation on food didn’t allow for much exploration of their emotions or actions. And they need to do this internal work to move forward to becoming a healthier and happier person. Don’t worry – this is a good thing that will ultimately make them happier and more engaged with you. It just might feel a little different for a while, so hang in there.
If you’ve stuck it out and read this far, thank you!
I hope this article was helpful for you and that it can help you grow closer to your loved one as they work on becoming an intuitive eater.
Do you have someone in your life who could benefit from this list?
New to my blog??
If you’re a new visitor here, welcome!
Please check out my prior articles on Intuitive Eating to get you caught up.
- What is Intuitive Eating?
- Principle 1 of Intuitive Eating – Ditch the Diet Mentality
- Principle 2 of Intuitive Eating: Honor Your Hunger
- 5 Steps to Make Peace with Food: Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating
- Principle 4 of Intuitive Eating: Challenge the Food Police
- Intuitive Eating Principle 5: Learning To Feel Your Fullness
- How To Discover The Satisfaction Factor with Food: Principle 6 of Intuitive Eating
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.”