Remember social media 2011-2016? If you were well-versed in the health and wellness space during this time, you most likely found every other post to showcase a list of foods with calorie counts and corresponding exercises that burn the same amounts. Alternatively, they could have depicted healthy swaps to conventional foods to cut fat, sugar, or carbohydrates. Many YouTube videos from these diet and fitness gurus publicized full day of eating documentations most likely comprised of 70% vegetables, 20% low fat protein, 2.5% healthy fats, 2.5% starches, 2% low calorie alternatives to conventional food products, 1% protein supplements, 1% fruits, and 1% vitamins, and 1% miscellaneous. Weigh your food, track your meals in MyFitnessPal, and workout 5-7 days a week in a very precise manner. Only indulge on a planned cheat day or cheat meal. God forbid you gain an extra two or three pounds! Like many, I adopted this lifestyle very much in my own.
These were a few of my diet staples in 2015! (I mean…I love purple carrots and all, but man)
Fast forward to 2017-present, there has been a gradual emergence of a retaliation against this somewhat restrictive and toxic way of dieting. Many dietitians, personal trainers, health coaches, and nutritionists now promote the practice of intuitive eating and healing one’s relationship with food and body image by encouraging clients and their audiences to eat whatever they feel like on a physical and mental standpoint. In turn, this positively reinforces people to no longer view certain foods in such a “black and white” manner and tune into their true hunger cues. Weight gain is no longer stigmatized and all bodies deserve to be touted as beautiful and worthy no matter what the size or shape (often associated with the Health at Every Size movement). Even though I personally do not intuitively eat 100%, my diet is MUCH closer to intuitive eating than it was just 5-8 years ago.
Most of the feedback received from this new wave of health professionals and practitioners who stand for intuitive eating is favorable. People are sick of following extremely restrictive diets (some I’d argue eating disorder formulas in disguise) that are too low in calories and vital nutrients or spending thousands of dollars on products that do NOT work. However, there has been some criticism against intuitive eating as a mechanism for becoming obese and gaining too much weight as a result. Some of the most popular intuitive eating registered dietitians have faced backlash against neglecting basic physiological and scientific principles of calorie balance and nutrition to further emphasize their intuitive eating dogmas.
In short: the movement of more intuitive eating registered dietitians and other medical professionals in the dietetics and nutrition fields are quite positive for reshaping the toxicity of diet culture, but this wave does not come with its potential hazards. Just like many sectors within the diet culture, this new movement is not entirely bad nor is it entirely good. Personally, I think intuitive eating is not for everyone at all given time periods because some medical conditions would benefit from weight loss, but intuitive eating is fantastic for you if you naturally crave healthy foods and have a somewhat neutral or positive relationship with your body and your diet. But if you want a more skeletal breakdown of the pros and cons, here are just a few observations I’ve listed below:
- Promotes a more flexible approach to food categorization
- Encourages mindfulness when eating
- Cultivates a more compassionate environment for people who may be considered fat or physically unacceptable based on social media’s aesthetic standards
- Expresses full transparency on physical and mental symptoms when embarking on intuitive eating, doesn’t sell a diet program or ingestable product with this lifestyle
- Dismantles the notion that one needs to look a certain way or weigh a certain number to be healthy
- Respects all body types, shapes, and sizes
- Exposes the dangers of crash dieting, yo-yo dieting, eating disorders, and disordered eating behaviors
- Debunks the validity behind BMI (hint: it’s actually misleading)
- Normalizes a diverse variety of foods–nothing is “off limits” unless one has a specific allergy or intolerance
- May neglect basic nutritional guidelines for people who are trying to eat more healthily
- Brings shame to those who want to lose weight or look a certain way
- Questions the validity of certain biomarkers such as body fat percentage and obesity (this is not necessarily a problem, but it ultimately depends on context)
- Subject to systemic racism and privileges–intuitive eating is more acceptable and appealing when marketed by a thin, young White woman rather than someone who is touted as “fat” and/or a BIPOC
- Can very well be profit driven–after all, we have books and coaching programs dedicated to spreading the word on intuitive eating!
Below are some of my personal favorite registered dietitians who encourage some of the best messages when it comes to dieting. All of them do not promote diets or diet programs that are made to fail or deteriorate your health, none of them shame anyone for trying to lose weight, and all of them tell it like it is. While not all of them claim to be part of the intuitive eating movement, their information is just EXTREMELY refreshing considering how many programs and brands push agendas that propel people to not listen to their real hunger cues and starve themselves to look a certain way.
Like I said before, intuitive eating is an extremely positive force in the right direction to combatting diet culture, but it is not perfect. Here is my BIGGEST concern–while we do have BIPOC individuals promoting intuitive eating of many shapes and sizes, the top dogs seem to share three common traits: thin, White, and young. This creates the notion that intuitive eating is only suitable and acceptable for people of those demographics. It sucks that people who are overweight and/or obese walk into a doctor’s office in fear because of the negative stigma associated with excessive weight and how they are mistreated by the medical system on an emotional level. Therefore, it is paramount to further highlight the need to honor and respect all shapes, sizes, and demographic parameters. Lastly, once more, we do need to respect individuals who would like to lose some weight but just want to do so in a healthier and more gradual and moderate manner, which allegedly can be demonized in the intuitive eating and HAES communities.
Finally, I only chose to highlight registered dietitians because, by default, they are the most credible source of nutrition knowledge and information to turn to. Having said that, there are more than plenty of awesome nutritionists (with the exceptions of RNs from other countries that have more thorough education programs) and holistic health coaches who provide valuable gems on physical wellness with some medical professionals and registered dietitians whose principles and practices aren’t so great. For the most part, I am thrilled that we have more registered dietitians that signify mindfulness in cravings, hunger cues, and more self-love and compassion when it comes to dieting and body image. There’s no need to allocate so much energy towards appearing a certain way or consuming X amount of calories!
Who are your favorite intuitive eating RDs? Do you follow any of the intuitive eating principles?