Intuitive Eating: Review, Summary, and Key Takeaways
Yesterday, I finished reading Intuitive Eating, a book that claims to provide a “Revolutionary Program that Works.” I wanted to take the time to share the key takeaways from the book and discuss my own experience with the book’s advice thus far.
An Overview: How Revolutionary Was It?
In an era of inflated sales pitches and countless articles that claim they can “blow your mind,” it’s hard to believe that in any program’s self-proclaimed hype. Despite that, however, this book is indeed “revolutionary.” It espouses a philosophy of radical self-acceptance, of never weighing yourself again, of stopping all the calorie counting and obsession over weight loss, and of otherwise throwing the current cultural rulebook out the window.
Those of you who follow my blog are probably aware that this philosophy of health is one that I already believe in. Health and weight are not the same. The U.S. diet mentality creates a dangerous culture of shame. The constant obsession with looking like hyper-toned celebrities or Photoshopped role models is destructive—and shifts the focus away from health and onto weight. The two are not the same thing.
I was thrilled to find a program that agreed with me on that. More importantly, the program presented in Intuitive Eating doesn’t stop at rejecting the diet mentality. In fact, that’s just the first step. For me—a person who had rejected the diet culture but had no idea what to implement in its place—this book felt like a rope being thrown to me while I struggled against the riptide. It gave me a way out, and it gave me hope.
The book also did a great job of including verifiable studies to back up its central points. Its claims are not merely theoretical, and in the twenty years since the book’s original publication, the program has been clinically tested and demonstrated as an effective method for managing health, weight, and psychological well-being. I also appreciated that this book was written for both men and women—a trend I wish more health and weight management books would follow; it’s a bit annoying to constantly run into messages that were clearly written specifically for women.
Of course, this is far from a perfect book. It’s often repetitive and long-winded, its sections on raising children to be intuitive eaters were irrelevant to me, and its section on eating disorders (while totally understandable as a segment to include) wasn’t particularly applicable to my situation. I feel like I could have gotten nearly as much out of this book in about half the time—and that’s quite a shortcoming. Beyond that, one of my major areas of struggle—emotional eating—felt like a footnote. I needed more on that front than what this book provided.
I like this program so much that it will be the basis of my blog in the coming weeks (discussed further here).
Summary of Intuitive Eating‘s Core Ideas
The book begins by hammering in one of its central messages: Dieting just doesn’t work. After reviewing a substantial number of studies that demonstrate dieting is an unrealistic and ultimately unhealthy way to manage one’s eating patterns, the book begins exploring an alternative: intuitive eating.
Intuitive eaters eat when they’re hungry and stop eating when they’re satisfied. They don’t eat for emotional needs, they don’t restrict food, and they seek satisfaction from their eating experience. Statistically, these types of eaters actually have a healthier lifestyle, the sort of weight that is typically considered preferable, and greater psychology health.
The Journey Toward Intuitive Eating
Many non-intuitive eating styles are common: careful eaters, who aren’t technically on diets but can be highly restrictive on what food they eat; the professional dieter, who is constantly chasing the latest weight-loss fad; the unconscious eater, who consistently eats when distracted and fails to pay attention to their body’s signals of hunger and satiety; the chaotic eater, whose busy schedule as opposed to physical appetites run their eating patterns; the refuse not and waste not eaters, who can’t bring themselves to turn down or throw away food; and the emotional eater, who uses food to soothe their anxiety, worry, sadness, loneliness, and boredom.
By the end of this section, it’s often clear which type of eater you are. (Me? I’m an emotional eater and an unconscious eater, with the remnants of some “careful eating” patterns.) The book then gives an overview of the philosophy of intuitive eating and the process of becoming an intuitive eater. It makes it clear that this is not an overnight fix: It’s a skillset that will be gradually developed as you work through several phases in the learning journey. The following phases were specifically identified:
- Readiness: Hitting diet bottom.
You’ve rejected—or are ready to reject—the diet mentality.
- Exploration: Conscious Learning and the Pursuit of Pleasure
You’re working through a process of de-criminalizing food and rejecting the moralistic element that our culture imposes on food. You pay a great deal of attention to your body signals as you try to figure out what hunger and fullness feel like for you. During this stage, you may veer toward previously forbidden foods that you’re re-learning—which is fine, so long as you’re paying attention to hunger and satiety.
Your feelings of hunger and fullness no longer require your hyper-vigilant attentiveness. You successfully honor your hunger and satiety cues a substantial amount of the time. Your thoughts about food are no longer obsessive, and you really believe that the previously forbidden foods will not be forbidden again—so you don’t have to eat them out of fear of no longer having the opportunity to do so.
- The Intuitive Eater Awakens
You start to fall into a rhythm of “comfortable, free-flowing eating.” Eating according to hunger and fullness, while seeking satisfaction from food, is a consistent practice. Stopping eating when you feel full is an easy task; you trust that you will eat again as soon as you’re hungry. You have developed more positive self-talk toward yourself, especially in the realm of food, health, and body shape.
- The Final Stage: Treasure the Pleasure
You have overcome any guilt you once experienced over your eating habits. It feel easy and natural to eat according to body signals—regardless of what that means in quantity and type of food. You have no issues with avoiding or discarding unappealing foods, regardless of why that food is unappealing. You are able to experience nutrition and movement in a more positive way because they become tools for pleasure and satisfaction rather than rules and modes of self-restriction.
For me, this established a strong sense of hope, partially because the learning journey seemed realistic and like a road I could walk on myself.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
At this point, the book dives into 10 Tenets of Intuitive Eating that make up the philosophy and practice of the program. Here’s a brief summary of each principle:
- Reject the Diet Mentality
Reject dieting: Dozens of studies have demonstrated that it simply doesn’t work. Get angry at the lies you’ve been told in this destructive dieting culture. Stop blaming yourself for the fact that dieting attempts haven’t worked. Put concerns about your weight on the back burner.
- Honor Your Hunger
When you’re hungry, eat! Eat the sort of food that will actually satisfy your hunger rather than limiting yourself to the foods you think of as “healthy” or “light.” Don’t wait until you’re ravenously hungry to eat; eat when you start to notice your hunger, and stop taking pride in driving your body to the point of intense hunger.
- Make Peace with Food
Give yourself unlimited permission to eat. Stop restrictive eating, calorie counting, and carb watching. Don’t tell yourself you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat certain foods. Thinking of foods as forbidden sets you up for overeating these foods when you do eat them.
- Challenge the Food Police
When you have thoughts that you’re “good” for eating certain foods and “bad” for eating others, reject those thoughts. Take out the moral element of food: Food is not “good” or “bad.” Food is meant to feed you, and it’s either food your body wants or doesn’t. Morality has nothing to do with it.
- Feel Your Fullness
Listen for the body signals that tell you you’re no longer hungry. If you’ve lost touch with satiety signals, re-learn your body’s signals. Practice by pausing in the middle of meals to check in with your hunger and satiety levels.
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Seek out pleasure and satisfaction as part of your food experience. Pay attention to your food experiences to see which foods provide satisfaction. Eat slowly and without distraction so as to thoroughly enjoy your food. When making food choices, pay attention to your body signals to figure out what food will satisfy you; pursue that food without self-judgment.
- Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food
Find ways to comfort, nurture, soothe, and otherwise help yourself through challenging emotions without the use of food. Food can be an effective distraction for your emotional issues, but using food in this way disconnects you from your appetite and comes with health and emotional risks.
- Respect Your Body
Accept your body shape. Intuitive eating will guide you back toward a natural, healthy weight for your body type, and it’s crucial that you accept hat body shape rather than trying to force your body to mimic the unrealistic expectations of our culture.
- Exercise—Feel the Difference
Don’t exercise to burn calories or lose weight. Reject the militant exercise mentality that says exercise “only counts” if it’s specific types of exercise, happens for specific durations, and otherwise meets stringent conditions. Instead, get involved in movement and physical activity because it feels good, improves energy, improves focus, and boosts your mood.
- Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
Make food choices that honor your tastebuds and your health. Pay attention to the foods that help you feel good. Explore nutrition studies as a way to give yourself tools for finding foods that make you feel good. Don’t view nutrition studies as hard and fast rules or moral imperatives, and remember that it’s what you eat consistently over time that influences your health.
As you can probably tell from this description, several of the sections have large areas of overlap. The 10 principles could probably have been simplified down to six or so. Nevertheless, the principles represent a new philosophy of food that honors health, focusing on staying connected with the body, and that pushes back against our destructive culture of shame.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be going through these principles and sharing more in-depth information, my own thoughts, and my experience as I try to implement this eating philosophy in my life.
Other Sections of Intuitive Eating
The book also has some specialized sections meant to help people in specific situations. If you’re a parent trying to raise kids with intuitive eating habits, there’s a long segment on how to do that effectively. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, this book describes ways that an intuitive eating program can be helpful—and how the program must be modified to account for the complexities of that situation.
For people in these specific situations, I imagine those segments would be wildly valuable. For me, these segments were loosely valuable in that they reinforced the philosophy and value of intuitive eating. Considering that these segments took up nearly the last one-third of the book, though, it felt like a less than worthwhile detour for me personally.
Your body is not your enemy. This book guides you through making peace with food and starting on a better path toward health, psychological well-being, and feeling connected with your appetite. It’s not a perfect book: it takes its time hammering in some of its points, it can be repetitive at times, it has several long section that may not be applicable to you, and it failed to give me a satisfying amount of information on how to address emotional eating.
Despite these flaws, however, the book is tremendously valuable. While I can’t yet testify to the long-term effectiveness of the program it presents, I can tell you that my experience so far has been positive and I feel very hopeful about what this philosophy will lead me to in the future.
I give Intuitive Eating a 4.5 / 5. Highly recommended for anyone who is looking to improve their health and develop a better relationship with their body.
Here’s a link to buy the book. (A small portion of your purchase goes to funding this blog.)
Take good care of yourself,