You’ve probably heard or seen the term intuitive eating many times on social media or in magazines. But what does that really mean?
Intuitive eating is not a diet. It is a weight-inclusive approach to nutrition that focuses on improving your relationship with food and your body. It involves listening to and honoring your body’s cues when nourishing yourself. And no foods are off limits (unless there are medical reasons, such as food allergies).
We know that our bodies are smart and yet, society has convinced us to ignore them and adhere to a diet’s arbitrary, rigid rules.
But weight cycling — big shifts in weight up and down, often as a result of dieting — can do a lot of harm. It’s associated with higher risk of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and more. These big shifts in weight are not due to a lack of willpower in dieters, but a reflection of the fact that diets do not work.
Yet these diets keep getting repurposed into new trendy solutions that cause more stress, shame, guilt, and self-loathing. There’s where weight stigma, or the strong anti-fat bias present in our society, comes in. It’s associated with increased risk of anxiety and depression; increased allostatic load (a measure of stress on the body), which increases risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality; greater eating in response to stigma; and more.
These factors are likely a big part of the picture when it comes to poor health outcomes for those in large bodies. They demonstrate that health is not just about the number on the scale.
We both experienced the weight-centric, Eurocentric approach to nutrition in our dietetics schooling and knew it wasn’t how we wanted to practice.
We know that health does not have to be centered around weight. As “anti-diet” dietitians, we practice a health-at-every-size approach. That means we help clients improve their relationship with food and their bodies in order to find authentic health for themselves — mental, physical, and emotional. We help clients ditch diets by moving the focus away from weight and toward health-promoting behaviors.
We also acknowledge that there is so much more to health than what we eat, so we hold space for other factors that impact health, such as an individual’s access to high-quality health care and food, genetics, work environment, sleep habits, stress levels, and more.
We know that cultural foods — those that are connected with an individual’s traditions and family — are not inherently “bad” and that the lack of diversity in our profession is reflected in the lack of inclusive nutrition recommendations out there. We help clients build trust with their bodies and learn to notice and honor their cues.
Ultimately, we strive to help our clients get to a place of well-being and self-respect that isn’t rooted in deprivation and body distrust. When you stop dieting, you can start to embrace a fuller life where you don’t have to obsess over everything you eat or how much you move.
With this mindset, we are excited to help Inquirer readers attain joy and pleasure with food and movement, and with other areas of life. To start, we’re sharing six intuitive eating tips for navigating the holidays.
Isabel Vasquez is a registered dietitian with Nutritiously Yours, a Philadelphia-based bilingual nutrition counseling service offering virtual consultations. You can find her on Instagram at @isabelvasquezrd. Dalina Soto is a registered dietitian and founder of Nutritiously Yours. Find her on Instagram at @your.latina.nutritionist.