Maybe you’ve noticed, but intuitive eating is getting really popular. So of course, loads of diet companies and “wellness” influencers are taking anti-diet concepts and using them to sell diets. For example: Gwyneth Paltrow promoted an Intuitive Fasting book on her Instagram by describing it as a “clear, but flexible, four-week plan [that] combines intuitive eating with intermittent fasting and Ketotarian foods.”
There’s talk of metabolic flexibility, “recalibrating your hunger signals.” The author says that this way of eating can benefit patients by improving all kinds of health markers. Except, there’s no evidence to back this up.
This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, where I answer reader questions about intuitive eating, Health at Every Size, and how to live your anti-diet values.
Obviously, fasting is not intuitive.
It’s not even worth debunking the reasons that Gwyneth thinks (or, claims) it is! (And if you’re wondering, I think “Ketotarian” is a made-up term that she herself helped popularize.) Gwyneth Paltrow promotes fasting in various forms, from juice cleanses to detox diets. No surprise that she’s now calling it an “intuitive” approach to food.
This kind of co-opting of anti-diet language is harmful. Dietitian Cara Harbstreet‘s Tweet about it is my favorite:
She’s right: Gwyneth Paltrow and intuitive fasting are two peas in a pod. Both go out of their way to make bunk science sound legit with nice imagery and a twisted presentation of the facts.
Stealing concepts from intuitive eating and using them to promote diets is unethical and icky.
For a recent article about intuitive fasting, I spoke with dietitian Evelyn Tribole, co-creator of intuitive eating and co-author of the original book (and many others). She had a lot to say about all this. Here’s what she told me over the phone:
“It’s misappropriating our work and using it in a way that was never intended. It’s a mindfuck for the consumer. What ends up happening is, someone’s doing someone else’s version of intuitive eating for weight loss, and that’s not sustainable. We know that, there’s a body of research on this. And they’re going to end up internalizing that there’s something wrong with them. That creates harm. They’re turned off to the whole model when they’ve never been exposed to it properly.”
Intuitive fasting won’t make you feel good. Plus, there’s no significant evidence for health benefits of intermittent fasting. Most research has been done on rodents. The small number of human studies show that fasting isn’t anything special, and can be harmful in some cases.
A small June 2021 study published in Science Translational Medicine found there’s nothing magic about intermittent fasting when it comes to weight loss. A November 2020 study published in JAMA found that intermittent fasting actually led to muscle loss, which is bad for health.
“Intuitive fasting” and “intuitive eating for weight loss” are making promises that they can’t deliver on.
Here’s the thing about all the programs out there that promise “intuitive fasting for fat loss” or “intuitive eating for weight loss”: There’s no evidence to back up the claims they’re making.
Still, I understand the appeal of so-called “easy weight loss.” We’re constantly told fat is bad and weight loss should be the goal. Anyone selling a diet or weight loss program, even when they claim it’s not a diet, is taking advantage of our insecurities. There’s no reason to feel guilty or wrong if you’re tempted by these things!
A true anti-diet approach is antidote to these things. It’s for people know diets don’t work.
Tribole and fellow dietitian Elyse Resch created intuitive eating because they came to realize in their work with clients that weight loss isn’t sustainable, and that diets cause people deep anxiety and frustration because they never work. So the fact that people are now using it to market diets is insulting, and really twisted. “We created it as an antidote to dieting, as an antidote to suffering, and they have the audacity to go slap that on their product,” Tribole said.
Healing your relationship with food means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. That’s impossible when you’re avoiding food during a “fasting window.” This particular fasting plan also tells you to avoid certain foods, which is counterintuitive.
If you want to try intuitive eating, get your information from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
Don’t fall for anything that claims to be “intuitive” while also telling you to eat a certain way. Or, that tells your to avoid certain foods. If you want to quit dieting for real, you must stop restricting food. You must stop aiming for fat loss and body transformation.
Instead, look for experts who focus on body acceptance. These experts take a weight-neutral, Health at Every Size® (HAES)-aligned approach. They don’t promise weight loss, because the research shows that permanent weight loss just isn’t possible for most people! (In fact, dieting and fasting often leads to weight gain!)
My intuitive eating coaching program helps you quit dieting and avoid scams like this one.
I’ve already said this, but I’ll say it again: You’re not dumb if you fell for “intuitive fasting.” A celebrity sold it to you! A naturopath who calls himself a doctor told you it would solve all of your problems! It seems like a good idea, because diet culture says we must control our weight and eating habits!
But, “it’s not a diet” diets end up doing far more harm than good. For all the reasons listed above, it’s time that we stop falling for them. If you’ve tried to quit dieting on your own but always fall back into old habits, I can help! My intuitive eating coaching is all about taking small steps towards food freedom. We’ll work on body acceptance, no food rules, and gentle nutrition. I’ll provide structure to your journey, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re riding blind. To schedule a free consultation, fill out the form here!
Intuitive eating is for everyone. No matter your history with food, weight, or body image, you can quit dieting and heal your relationship with food. Just be sure not to fall for the “it’s not a diet” diet nonsense out there.