I can’t stop thinking about this Reddit post asking for clarification on “intuitive eating nutritionists.” It perfectly sums up the challenges of promoting intuitive eating, and being an advocate without centering yourself. Here’s what the OP (Reddit-speak for “original poster”) wrote:
What is up with “intuitive eating” nutritionists on social media?Hi! I used to be active on this sub, I lost about [*bleep*] pounds with the help of this sub. I took a bit of a pause, gained some weight back, now lost what I gained back, and now heading towards losing the next [*bleep] pounds for my next goal weight.I’m back because I want to ask, what is the deal with these nutritionists?
My feed is filled with them, telling us to stop counting calories, stop worrying about losing weight, and just eating healthy. Which I totally get, since they’re all skinny/in shape and don’t need to lose weight, but what about people that DO need to lose weight? How is this a healthy thing for these nutritionists to be telling us? Has anyone followed the intuitive eating diets, and has anyone lost weight? Is there any science backing up that this is a healthy way to lose weight? Otherwise, how do we block out that noise?
Maybe you see why I was so eager to discuss this. The OP, knowingly or not, gets at so many hot-button issues of intuitive eating and Health at Every Size. Basically, they’re saying, “intuitive eating sounds great for ‘skinny’ people, but what about me?”
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Intuitive eating is rooted in body acceptance and is meant for people in ALL bodies, but I understand why that might not come across.
Scroll through the #intuitiveeating tag on Instagram, and…it does make it seem like intuitive eating is just for thin (and usually white, able-bodied, cisgender) people. It looks something like this. (These are the first three images that came up when I searched “woman happy eating” on a stock image site.)
Pretty homogeneous, right? As the Reddit post points out, many of these thin people are the dietitians and nutritionists who say they’re spreading the message of intuitive eating and body acceptance for all. It’s a complicated problem. Dietitian training would likely be extremely triggering for anyone who isn’t thin. So much of it is about shrinking people in fat bodies. (Imagine sitting through years of classes and internships where a main topic of conversation was getting rid of, or “preventing,” bodies like yours. It doesn’t sound great.)
It’s not that thin dietitians shouldn’t promote intuitive eating.
Of course they should! The more experts that get on board with Health at Every Size, the better. And unfortunately, the general public is conditioned to seek out nutrition information from people who look a certain way. But I think we need to do better.
If we want to show that intuitive eating is for everybody, our goal should be to diversify the movement. (By “our,” I mean white, thin dietitians in particular, but really anyone advocating for intuitive eating.) I wanted to add another photo of what I wish the hashtag looked like. But I can’t find a single stock image of a larger-bodied person eating food. except for a few where they’re staring at salad and looking sad. WTF.
What I can do is recommend a diverse range of Health at Every Size-aligned accounts to follow.
Some of these are written by intuitive eating nutritionists and dietitians. Some are not. But, all of them are written by people who don’t identify as thin, white, cisgender women. Here are a few:
…I could go on. All of these accounts share fantastic advice and wisdom. Getting information from people with varying experiences, bodies, and backgrounds can go a long way. Hopefully, it broadens your own view of intuitive eating and Health at Every Size.
The second part of the OP’s question is: “what about people who do need to lose weight?”
This part is even more complicated, and I’ll first acknowledge that I’ve never been where this person is. But the truth is that you don’t need to lose weight. That’s different from what you often hear from media, your community, and even your healthcare providers. But the idea behind Health at Every Size is that health is attainable at every size.
HAES doesn’t deny that there’s some relationship between weight and health. I interviewed Jennifer Gaudiani, MD, an internal medicine physician and certified eating disorder specialist, for a few articles recently, and here’s what she said: “I’m a completely passionate HAES supporter, and yet as an internist, scientifically, [weight and certain health outcomes] are causally linked.”
Weight isn’t a good indicator of health.
Lindo Bacon, researcher and author of the book Health at Every Size says the same thing. Bacon told me recently: “Health at Every Size is not suggesting that everybody is at their healthiest best at every weight. What it is suggesting, though, is that regardless of what your weight is, we can all make good choices to support health, and that’s all we want to do.”
I should also add that this link between weight and health is extremely complicated. It’s not as well understood as some experts would have you think. Many people at higher weights medically “ideal” levels of blood glucose, cholesterol, and other biomarkers. A 2015 study of over 100,000 Danish adults found that “overweight” individuals (BMI 25-30) lived the longest, on average. That’s correlation, not causation, so it doesn’t mean that being in this category automatically makes you live longer. There are so many other factors to take into account. But still, it proves that the weight debate, and that people at lower weights aren’t automatically healthier.
The crux of the matter is that the pursuit of weight loss just doesn’t seem to work.
Here’s another thing that the OP unknowingly illustrates in their post: Weight loss efforts almost always fail. Notice how they say: ” I lost about [*bleep*] pounds with the help of this sub. I took a bit of a pause, gained some weight back, now lost what I gained back….” (I removed numbers so as not to trigger anyone, but they gained back almost everything they lost.)
That’s the story for most people who lose weight. Diets work for several months to a year, but eventually people end up at their original weight, or heavier. This happens even if they stick to the diet. A 2011 study and found that almost no one was able to sustain significant weight loss for more than five years. They also found that weight loss often led to weight cycling, which is bad for your health. (And, it’s stressful!) A more recent study, published in 2020, looked at 121 clinical trials (with nearly 22,000 total participants) and found that although most diets lead to weight loss in the first six months, that weight loss essentially disappears at the twelve-month mark.
And, no, it’s not for lack of willpower. A 2015 review study explains that intentional weight loss leads to many physiological adaptations. Fewer calories are burned. Less stored fat is used for energy. Levels of the hormone that signals fullness (leptin) decrease. Levels of the hormone that signals hunger (ghrelin) increase. In a nutshell, trying to lose weight signals to your body that it must adjust its processes in order to maintain weight. Or, to gain more weight and protect against this kind of weight loss in the future.
Intuitive eating is for everybody.
Social media often makes it look like it’s just for people who are already thin. I promise not to fuel this fire with endless photos of myself dancing in a reel or eating cupcakes. My face may pop into your feed from time to time to say hello! But I won’t make this work all about me. If the people you’re getting your wellness advice from are giving you the sense that you must look a certain way in order to practice this approach, consider unfollowing or muting them. Go find others who prove that wellness is attainable in the body that you have.