Two days ago, Jillian Michaels (you know, the former Biggest Loser coach who regularly overworked, underfed, berated and “diet pilled” her contestants) posted a YouTube video sharing her thoughts on intuitive eating.
I’m not going to link to her video. It’s out there and you can find it if you want. But I’d recommend NOT willingly throwing yourself into her line of fire. She makes money when you feel shitty enough to buy her latest workout or subscribe to her app.
And the intuitive eating video markets accordingly, it’s fatphobic and predatory.
I don’t have anthing to say about Jillian, specifically. She’s already shown us who she is. But, I would like to break down some of the problematic ideas she presented around this inherently normal way of eating. Because while I’m sure much of her confusion was actually just performance, gaslighting the audience into self-doubt and altered perceptions of reality –
YOU might be genuinely confused about what intuitive eating is (and isn’t).
And YOU deserve honest answers, not just hostile conjecture meant to keep you stuck in a yo-yo dieting, weight-cycling, self-blaming “lifestyle.”
So here are a few common intuitive eating myths, exposed:
1. THERE’S A WEIGHT OR SIZE AT WHICH INTUITIVE EATING NO LONGER APPLIES
Maybe you’ve wondered if you’re exempt from the promises of food peace and self-acceptance touted by intuitive eating because you’re in a larger body and “should” lose weight. Perhaps you’ve imagined there’s some threshold at which intuitive eating no longer “works” because of things like waist circumference, clothing size or cellulite.
It’s possible you’ve heard trainers and fad diet peddlers claim that intuitive eating can’t work for people like you.
But, none of that is true. Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to whole-person health that promotes knowing and responding to body signals, breaking the cycle of chronic dieting and healing your relationship with food – for good. It’s not size or weight specific and there are no prerequisites for entry.
If you’re a human, then you were born eating intuitively and it’s your birthright to restore those skills.
2. 1200 – 1600 CALORIES IS A SUFFICIENT DAILY INTAKE FOR WOMEN
Yea, no. Actually that calorie range is what the American Pediatric Association recommends for preschoolers, not adult women.
The diet industry regularly (and arbitrarily) recommends this range despite evidence that prolonged adherence to such a limited energy intake results in symptoms of starvation like malnourishment, hormone dysregulation, emotional instability, heart and kidney damage, social detachment, muscle wasting, depression, anxiety and more.
Calorie deficits are unsustainable at best and catastrophic at worst. Not to mention, they often lead to reactionary binge eating.
3. BINGES HAPPEN BECAUSE OF ALLOWANCE AROUND FOOD
Actually, binges occur (most often) because of restriction around food – not allowance. I’ve written extensively on this topic RIGHT HERE. But, suffice it to say, binge eating is a psychobiological response to restrictive thoughts or behaviors around food, over-exercise and other causes of prolonged and consistent physical energy deficits.
It’s not the result of having too many options or too much liberation around eating.
It’s scarcity, not availability, that leads to compulsivity with food.
4. UNCONDITIONAL PERMISSION TO EAT MEANS YOU’RE DESTINED TO EAT ALL THE FOODS, ALL THE TIME
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat is a component of the 3rd principle of intuitive eating, “Make Peace with Food.”
Of course, permission doesn’t mean that you’re destined to eat ALL the food, ALL the time. It simply means that you’re allowed to eat ANY food, ANY time, for ANY reason – without shame.
I have unconditional permission to sleep all day, Netflix marathon my life away, dye my hair, take a jog around the block and internet shop. Does that mean I do all of those things, all of the time, without end? No. It means that when I’d like to participate in any of those activities I can do so, without consulting an app, checking the time, or seeking approval from a thin-privileged celebrity trainer.
It means that I can make my own choices, free of guilt and moralization.
And you can too.
5. DIETS WOULD WORK IF ONLY WE DEALT WITH OUR EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL “BAGGAGE”
I’ve discussed the importance of diversifying coping mechanisms HERE and it’s something that I teach regularly in my courses and mentorships.
But no amount of coping diversity will change the fact that diets don’t work. And Jillian shares this very point in her intuitive eating video when she concedes the widely known statistic that 95% of dieters gain the weight back, usually more. (Oops, I guess I did have something specific to say. But, really – how could I not address the fact that even she knows the dismal diet “success” rate?)
To believe that restriction would work if we simply “dealt with our emotional and mental baggage” implies that every individual who loses weight through disordered eating behaviors is mentally and emotionally well, an excellent coper, adept at processing and responding to discomfort. But we know this isn’t true. Just like we know that every fat person isn’t mentally and emotionally unwell.
Adherence to strict rules around eating says little about our mental or emotional health (and vice versa).
We humans are way more complicated than that.
6. SELLING WEIGHT LOSS IS COMPATIBLE WITH BODY RESPECT AND ACCEPTANCE
Oh, but it’s not.
Promoting the idea that your body needs to be fixed and should be starved into submission to the cultural standards of beauty is not acceptance.
“Acceptance” means to be deemed as adequate and suitable, enough.
It doesn’t mean, “You’re OK for now but you really should lose twenty pounds and I’ve got just the program to help you do it (painfully and temporarily, then I’ll sell you something else).”
So then, it’s impossible to market weight loss and also claim you’re a respecter and lover of all bodies – the two are mutually exclusive.
For this reason, it’s important to choose recovery resources wisely. Not every coach, trainer, or dietitian is anti-diet and weight-neutral.
7. DIET CULTURE ISN’T THE PROBLEM, YOU ARE
Ever thought YOU were the failure when it came to regained pounds, weight plateaus and increased cravings?
Yep, you and every other dieter.
Because the diet industry is quite skilled at making you believe that if you could just try harder, workout longer, eat less, deprive more – their product would have worked and you’d be living your best life in a skinny, little body forever.
But the problem isn’t the people (like you and me) it’s the products. The majority of diets and weight loss programs fail, and that’s precisely why so many diet companies are still in business. If their “revolutionary plan” provided the outcomes they advertised (in the long-term) they’d have no more customers. Everyone would be satisfied. Diets and weight loss apps would be obsolete.
Instead, these companies rely, almost entirely, on repeat customers to uphold their 70+ billion-dollar industry.
You’re not the problem and your body isn’t trying to ruin your life. It’s just working as designed, and so are most weight loss programs.
8. INTUITIVE EATING DOESN’T ADDRESS THE “REAL” SCIENCE OF WEIGHT LOSS
The real science of weight loss is quite simple. Many people have some level of success losing weight temporarily through an energy deficit (calories out > calories in). Most people, like 95% of them, gain that weight back within 5 years.
The real science is that intentional weight loss is temporary and weight cycling (the pattern of weight loss and regain over time) causes more negative health outcomes than maintaining a higher weight.
Intuitive eating is a response to the fallibility of dieting.
It’s an alternative to intentional weight loss that works to provide the sustainable, achievable outcome of food and body peace.
But what about intuitive eating science?
A recent study (Burnette and Mazzeo, 2020) utilized the Intuitive Eating Workbook, authored by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and concluded that this intervention decreased disordered eating behaviors, body dissatisfaction and internalized weight-bias in subjects all while increasing body and life satisfaction.
Intuitive eating works.
If you want even more proof – just ask these amazing humans.
Or, better yet, give it a try for yourself.
But whatever you do, don’t ask Jillian.
Have more questions about intuitive eating? Comment below and I’ll be sure to answer.
Or enroll in the Mend Sessions course to learn how to become an intuitive eater and mover, make peace with your body, overcome binge eating, navigate emotional eating and practice shameless self-care and compassion.