Intuitive Eating: The Answer to Diet Culture?

Edited by: Tanmaya Ramprasad

It’s often confusing and frustrating navigating your way through the maze of body image stigma and social media telling you to try some XYZ diet to get a flat stomach in two weeks. What if the healthier way to eat or even feel comfortable in your own body was to listen to your body’s wisdom?

With an increase in rates of overweight and obesity and the social stigma surrounding heavy body types, the world witnessed the emergence of a toxic “diet culture” which perpetuates the idea that one has to restrict their food intake i.e. go on a diet in order to lose weight. Research has shown that the diet approach is not only unsuccessful in reducing body mass over long periods of time, but it also damages physical and mental health. Furthermore, it has resulted in an increase in eating disorders, particularly in younger generations. 

To tackle this spread of diet culture, clinicians and nutritionists began to introduce a new approach to eating and weight management known as “intuitive eating”. This approach involves eating when one is hungry and stopping once one is satisfied, with no restrictions on types of food during consumption. Intuitive eating inspires a deep connection with the body, such that the body knows how much food it needs to maintain nutritional health and appropriate body mass. Society has long discouraged this intrinsic connection through diet culture, meal-times, and food advertisements. For example, your body may crave dessert but your stigmatized mind will start shaming you for it. Intuitive eating principally works towards regaining this bodily wisdom and independence from social whims. Research shows that intuitive eating is associated with positive psychological health, positive eating habits, and improved dietary intakes; however, there appears to be no relationship with increased physical activity.

However, diet culture seems to have leached onto this approach with its latest plan: Intuitive Fasting. The diet combines intuitive eating with intermittent fasting, hence restricting the intervals one can eat in. This is highly problematic because it not only constricts hunger to certain periods of time but also interferes with the “intuitive” aspect of the approach: what should one do if the body needs food during non-eating intervals? Moreover, intuitive fasting serves as an opportunity for the diet culture to advertise its “healthy” products and indirectly continuing with its toxic perpetuation of restricted eating. 

It is important that we do not give in to this trap. We need to make peace with food and honour our feelings. We need to challenge “food policing” and respect our hunger and fullness. Moreover, we need to rediscover our body and learn to rely on its' wisdom. To do so, we cannot let diet culture triumph yet again; it's time that we reclaimed ourselves from society and let our appearances be the representative of our health.

Sources

Van Dyke, Nina and Eric J. Drinkwater. “Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review”. Public Health Nutrition, vol. 17, no. 8, 1757-1766, 2014. doi:10.1017/S1368980013002139. 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/eating-mindfully/201406/the-evidence-intuitive-eating

https://www.wellandgood.com/myths-about-intuitive-eating/