Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Intuitive Eating, 3rd Edition

Intuitive Eating, 3rd Edition, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

Note: I did not buy this book. A review copy was sent to me at my request.  

Recently, I heard an interview with Elyse Resch on Koren Motekaitis's great podcast, and everything Resch said made sense to me. After so much time in the weight blog community, I'm really coming around to the idea that dieting doesn't work.  I kept thinking that my failure to achieve long-term success with Weight Watchers or other programs I have done was a personal weakness. But enough other bloggers have the same struggles that I know it's not just me.

This isn't my first time around the block with Intuitive Eating. I read one of the older editions of this book and somehow misunderstood the concept. I thought it was basically "eat whatever you want, whenever you want." When I do that, I gain weight like crazy. In theory, I believe in accepting a wide range of body types but I really didn't (and honestly, don't) want to give up on the idea that weight loss is possible for me, and I feared even more the idea of continuing to gain. As bad as dieting felt, this distorted version of IE felt even worse. I also hated, hated the idea that I would always be expected to sit and eat without any distractions (an Intuitive Eating "rule" echoed by Geneen Roth). Sometimes I enjoy having a snack at the movie theater, or glancing through the news with my breakfast. I didn't want to give that up either.

There were also other gurus of Intuitive-Eating-like strategies that hinted that once you became an intuitive eater you would never again eat sugar or, for that matter, anything but vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. I like those foods, but I also want to be able to have a piece of birthday cake or a margarita once in a while. Life without bread doesn't sound like freedom to me.

This new edition makes it clear that IE is not "I eat whatever I want, and as much as I want, whenever I feel like it!" The whole point of the process is to tune into the body's signals of hunger and fullness. They also addressed my concerns about distracted eating. They say that many others have taken this perceived rule to heart but remind readers that, "Intuitive Eating is not another diet with rules to be broken."
They also reject the idea of "good" foods and "bad" foods, steering readers instead toward "gentle nutrition," quoting a Julia-Child-led task force on nutrition that concluded, "In matters of taste, consider nutrition and in matters of nutrition, consider taste."

Before readers consider nutrition, though, they need to put weight loss and nutrition "on the back burner" and start to discover a saner relationship with food that honors their own preferences and their signals of hunger and satisfaction.  Even when not dieting, most people walk around with a system of food rules in their minds.  Rules against eating fat, or carbs. Rules that say that vegetables should always be the first choice or that snacking is bad.  Observers, even strangers, are likely to chime in if we violate these rules. The authors explain how to politely challenge the food police and how to turn internal negative voices into allies.
The thing that stunned me about this book is how much it called me out on what I thought were my own personal neuroses.  They understand that for readers who have been pinning all their hopes for a better life on reaching a perfect weight, this strategy could represent a loss. The inability to use food just as a distraction or numbing agent is also going to feel strangely sad.  I know from experience that both of these can happen. When I was at goal weight the last time, I remember feeling unsettled and not knowing what to think about.  Their discussion of obedience and rebellion reminded me of my Weight Watcher days, when I felt an alternating need to "be good" and to tell everyone, especially the weighers who commented when I gained, to stuff it. There is also a discussion on pseudo-permission. I remember the last time I tried IE, I only gave myself pseudo-permission to eat what I wanted. I immediately rescinded even that when the scale started to creep upward.

Unlike HAES, there is not the ultimate prohibition on weight loss as a goal, just a nudge to put it on "the back burner" and to get rid of scales and other "body-checking" devices. It seems likely to me that most people, I would have a natural weight that is lower than my current weight. I'm not completely confident that I can chuck the diet voices out of my head and find my inner Intuitive Eater, but after reading this book, I really want to try.

Though I only skimmed them, this edition has new chapters on "Raising an Intuitive Eater," and "The Science of Intuitive Eating." I'm not a parent and I have read plenty of research on diets. There is also a new free online community for people who still have questions after reading the book or who want to connect with other would-be Intuitive Eaters.

This review only scratches the surface, so I encourage readers to check out the community and the articles and see if this book might help them find their inner food wisdom. I'm hoping it will help me. Even if I am one of those people who can't lose weight, I'm ready for some sanity around food.


  1. lauramich12:57 PM

    Thanks for this review, Jen! I have the second edition, but it may be worth checking out the third just for the new material on raising a child to be an intuitive eater. I'm ~26 weeks pregnant, and I'm already thinking about how to raise our son to have a healthy relationship with food, free from the struggles that my husband and I have dealt with our entire lives. (I'm also familiar with Ellyn Satter's work.) I maintained a ~145-pound weight loss for about two years, gained back 10 before getting pregnant*, and this pregnancy has made me realize that I still have not dealt with all of my issues regarding food and eating.

    *This 10-pound bounce seems pretty common among those who have lost substantial amounts of weight, and in my case, it was not entirely a bad thing; I may have actually gotten a little too thin for my frame. I've already decided that after I give birth, I am not going into hyperdrive to try to "lose the baby weight." I'd rather focus on what my new relationship with food and exercise will be with a child in the mix, aim to maintain my current metabolic fitness (rock star blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels), and let my weight stabilize from there.

    1. Congratulations! I think it's worth looking at the material on raising intuitive eaters.

      You sound like you have your priorities in order. I'm impressed!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07