The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

What is INTUITIVE EATING? A Special Pre-Event Q&A with Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD (Part 1 of 2)

On November 21st, The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt will  host registered dietitian and bestselling author, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD  as the 2010 keynote speaker at our annual Fall Outreach  Event. Tribole will be speaking at the free event where she will be de-bunking diet myths, sharing important nutrition information and discussing practical ways individuals and families can move toward becoming Intuitive Eaters (even as the food-focused  holidays approach).   Over 200 people have already registered to attend next Sunday’s event, and its created a lot of intuitive eating buzz here in Baltimore.  In case you don’t know what all the excitement is about, Evelyn agreed to answer some of our general questions about Intuitive Eating in advance of  her presentation.  Consider this a sneak peak, come back tomorrow for Part II, and then join us for the main event…Intuitive Eating: Making Peace With Food on Nov. 21st.  

Q &A with Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD (Part I)

What is Intuitive Eating, and what are some of the general benefits for individuals?  For families?

Intuitive Eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body–where you ultimately become the expert of your own body.   You learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and gain a sense of body wisdom.  It’s a process of making peace with food–so you no longer have constant “food worry” thoughts.  This means that meals are not a moral dilemma resulting in feelings of guilt and shame, but rather a place to practice tuning into one’s inner needs and fulfilling those needs in a healthy, nurturing way. While there are many ways of incorporating the process of Intuitive Eating, there are three core characteristics:

  • Unconditional permission to eat.
  • Reliance on internal hunger and satiety cues.
  • Eating for physical, rather than emotional reasons.

There are many benefits for individuals and families who eat intuitively. Unfortunately, one of the myths or misconceptions about intuitive eating is that it is unhealthy because people often fear that if you allow yourself to eat whatever you want, you’ll just a eat lot of “junk food” and you won’t be able to stop.  The truth is, there are studies that show Intuitive Eaters are actually healthier, both physically and mentally.  Here are two that illustrate these conclusions:

In 2006, Dr. Stephen Hawk, from Brigham Young University evaluated 343 college students and found that Intuitive Eating does not lead to poor nutritional food choices.  To the contrary, he found that Intuitive Eaters consume a greater diversity of foods, take greater pleasure in eating and have healthy body weights.

A larger study on nearly 1300 college women by Tracy Tylka*, from Ohio State University, found that Intuitive Eaters are more optimistic, have better self-esteem, and a lower body mass index (BMI), but without internalizing culture’s unrealistic thin ideal.  (That part is important, because if you desire or value an unrealistically thin body, it increases your risk for eating disorders).

How does Intuitive Eating compare to our current societal norms and cultural messages around food/eating?

The pleasure of eating has become a lost art in the USA. Instead, eating is commonly viewed as something that will kill you, cure you, or make you fat. This is where we can take a lesson in the pleasure principle from France. An international study found that Americans worry the most about their health and enjoy eating the least. In contrast, the French are the most food-pleasure-oriented and least food-health-oriented. [1] Notably, France has nearly half the obesity rate compared to the USA, for both adults and children [2].

When food restrictions are placed on a chronic dieter, or on a person who chronically feels guilty about eating, it increases the “forbidden food” burden. Consequently, rigid food rules interfere with the individual’s ability to “hear” or be attuned to the eating experience of his or her body.

Can you briefly explain the “diet mentality” you refer to in your book?  From a nutrition perspective, how do diets affect weight and health?

Many times, “healthy eating” or “better nutrition” is code for dieting. Consequently, if you focus solely on these factors, without considering your internal body cues or what would best satisfy hunger, you can easily feel deprived. This in turn may increase cravings and thoughts of food, overeating, dieting, and heighten anxiety around snacks and meals.

There are compelling studies, which indicate that dieting actually predicts weight gain (and often binge eating). While most people know that diets don’t work, not many are aware of the weight-gain hazard. For example, a team of UCLA scientists reviewed 31 long term studies on dieting and concluded that [1]:

  • Dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain.
  • Up to two-thirds of the people regained more weight than they lost.
  • Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.

A prospective study on nearly 17,000 kids ages 9-14 years old, found that dieting predicted binge eating behavior and concluded that, “…in the long term, dieting to control weight is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain” [2]. Recently, a five-year study on teens, found that dieters had twice the risk of becoming overweight, compared to non-dieting teens [3]. (Notably, at baseline, the dieters did not weigh more than their non-dieting peers.)

I consider dieting a form of “nutritional trauma”. It might sound a bit dramatic, but once your body experiences the biological and psychological deprivation from dieting, your body gets smarter. Consequently, it gets harder to stick with each new diet, because your cells know what to do. When dieting, hunger becomes a feared sensation, rather than a natural process that gears up and down, depending on when, and how much you ate. And if you eat just until the hunger goes away, you will likely be hungry sooner, which sets up a cycle of constantly thinking about food and what to eat. This is a big part of the “diet mentality”. Conversely, if you learn to eat intuitively and feed your body on a regular, consistent basis, by honoring your hunger, it will help build “body-trust”.

…part 2 is now available here:  “Body Image, Eating Disorders & Intuitive Eating”…A Special Pre-Event Q&A with Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD

In Part II of this Q & A, Evelyn answers questions about body image and eating disorders as they relate to Intuitive Eating.  Follow CED on Facebook for additional updates about our blog and upcoming events.  You can also visit our Events Page for more details on how to register for the Intuitive Eating event on November 21, 2010.

In addition to co-authoring the groundbreaking bestseller, Intuitive Eating, Evelyn is also an award-winning registered dietitian in private practice in California and a nationally recognized nutrition consultant;  She has appeared on hundreds of interviews, including: CNN, Today Show, MSNBC, Fox News, USA Today and the Wall St. Journal.  For more info about Evelyn Tribole, click on her picture above or visit her website at

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