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Intuitive Eating and Weight Loss – Can They Go Together?

Kim: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 73 of the Fitness Simplified podcast. I’m your host, Kim Schlag. On today’s episode, I’m going to be tackling a listener’s question. The question I received is, “What are your views on intuitive eating for weight loss?” 
[00:00:18] Now, this can be a bit of a dicey question, a little bit of a controversial question, because many of those who are in the intuitive eating community do not approve of the idea of using intuitive eating for the purposes of weight loss. This is the subject we’re going to tackle today. Let’s go.
[00:00:39] So I want to make sure we get a few things straight right at the outset of this chat. There is a book called, “Intuitive Eating” written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I sure hope I said those names right, I have only read them. I’ve never actually spoken them or heard them spoken. 
[00:00:55] It outlines the 10 principles of intuitive eating. They created this framework, these principles in writing this book. Now I am familiar with the principles, but I have not read the book. My reading list is sky high and it has just simply not made the cut yet. 
[00:01:13] So when people talk about intuitive eating, many are referring to this set of principles as laid out in this book.
[00:01:22] Others are simply referring to the idea of eating without counting calories or following a structured diet plan or cutting out food groups, but rather honoring one’s hunger and fullness cues. 
[00:01:34] Now I’m going to talk briefly about the book, because as I said, I have not read it yet but the bulk of our conversation will not be about the principles of that book. 1) because I haven’t read it and have no business speaking on it, and 2) because most people aren’t necessarily referring to that anyway when they ask about intuitive eating and weight loss. 
[00:01:55] Okay. This does not sit well with many in the intuitive eating crowd. I have been attacked in comments of posts for even daring to use a hashtag with the words, “intuitive eating” if the post relates to weight loss. 
[00:02:09] The first principle of intuitive eating as laid out in the book by Evelyn Tribole is to, “reject the diet mentality,” which, in her words, “includes food restriction for the purposes of weight loss.” Though weight loss might occur, so might weight gain or weight maintenance.
[00:02:28] So, if we’re talking about this specific philosophy, that is this dance. It is not involving purposeful weight loss. 
[00:02:38] Let’s turn our discussion away from that specific philosophy to the idea that this questioner likely had in mind, which is, “can a person lose weight while eating intuitively?” 
[00:02:50] As in, “without counting calories or following a set plan or a structure that eliminates any food groups, but simply eating to fullness and stopping when satisfied.” 
[00:03:01] Another term we might use to distinguish this idea from intuitive eating as laid out by Evelyn Tribole is the term “mindful eating.”
[00:03:10] I tend to use that term now when I’m referring to intuitive eating for weight loss, but I certainly am not about to demand that others use it or police their language. 
[00:03:21] So, the statement is often made to the effect that we were born eating intuitively, so we should be able to just get back to that.
[00:03:30] Why can we not do it now? You know, babies cry when they’re hungry and they stop eating when they’re done. For many reasons, as we go through life, we don’t keep that up. Because we eat socially, we eat at certain times because that’s when our family is eating, or do to our schedule. We even do that when we’re not hungry.
[00:03:50] You know, it’s dinner time. “It’s five o’clock. Mom’s putting the food on the table. I’m not hungry, but this is when dinner is here, so we’re eating” 
[00:03:56] We learn rules from our parents like, “don’t waste that food,” “clean your plate,” “there are starving kids, you have no business leaving food on your plate,” and on and on.
[00:04:07] We begin to eat hyper-palatable foods. Yes, companies design foods in such a way that we actually want to overeat them. Think about the Pringles tagline, “Once you pop, you can’t stop.” That is not coincidental. They literally design the food that way. 
[00:04:25] Food is heavily marketed. Cinnabon, for example. Oh my gosh, I love them.
[00:04:30] They rely on its smell factor to get you to buy. It totally works, right? It works on me. You know how you’re wandering the mall and that scent appears and it’s just like, “ahhhh, so good.” That is not actually just a natural byproduct of the baking of the cinnamon rolls. It is purposeful. They actually have tested where to put them the ovens in the store to make the smell waft deeper into the mall.
[00:04:57] So, some stores will put them in the back, but now they have the stores put those ovens in the front of the store to make the smell stronger. They even use weaker oven hoods to keep this smells coming out into the mall instead of being lost up into the air ducts. And as though that is not enough, they also sometimes bake trays of cinnamon and brown sugar to intensify the smell.
[00:05:22] So, yes, we were born eating intuitively, but as grownups, it is likely a skill we have to practice to use successfully to lose weight — and even perhaps to maintain weight, frankly — for all of those reasons I just mentioned above. 
[00:05:37] And this is important: there is no shame in that. It’s not shameful that you need to practice to eat intuitively. Just because you started eating intuitively as a baby, doesn’t mean you should be able to do it now and there’s something wrong with you if you can’t. 
[00:05:52] So this brings me to my direct answer to the question posed: what is my view on intuitive eating for weight loss? 
[00:06:00] It is a higher-order skill. You need a foundation of basic skills first that you practice over time — often a long period of time — before you can successfully use intuitive eating for weight loss.
[00:06:15] I make the analogy to reading, to learning how to read. Now, I’m not sure if you know this about me, I’m sure I’ve talked about it at some point on this podcast, I homeschooled my children for many, many years. And I don’t mean as
in virtual school like now, but full-blown, I designed the curriculum, I wrote the daily lesson plans, I delivered the instruction. 

[00:06:36] I started when my oldest was in preschool, I added in number two a few years later, and then ultimately taught all three of them in my home up until the point that I had a mini mental breakdown in Target, triggered by a pink Zuzu pet that ended in me enrolling all three of my children in public school immediately. But that is this story for another day. 
[00:07:00] The point being that I taught all three of my kiddos how to read. And I did not start them with analysis of plot and character. I didn’t even start them with an understanding of what those things were. I started them with the alphabet. The sound each letter makes, combining those sounds. We read the “Bob” books. Do you know those? There’s just a few words on each page, all using a certain sound and the kiddo can quickly read the whole book, which builds a ton of confidence and, frankly, joy in reading. 
[00:07:33] Now how frustrating would it have been if I’d handed them a copy of, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and tried to teach them to read from there? 
[00:07:41] Now, eventually they all got there. They all read that book, but it was in high school, not in kindergarten. Intuitive eating is like high school literature class or even a college-level English course. We need to first learn and practice some basic information and skills to make it not only possible to understand, but even enjoyable. 
[00:08:02] Okay. So let’s talk about what information and what skills. The principles of energy balance, the various factors that make up and can influence the calories in-calories out equation, the three macronutrients — what are they? What do they do? What foods can they be found in? How much of each do you need? The energy impact of each, as in calories. Which particular sources work with your preferences and your local availability and your budget?
[00:08:31] How many calories do you typically eat in a day now? What is happening with your weight as a result of those calories? How many are a good fit for you in your individual goals and your activity level? What does a certain serving size of protein or carbs or fat look like? And can you consistently repeat that amount with just eyeballing? Weighing for a time is often critical to developing that skill.
[00:08:57] In my experience, a dedicated period of time spent counting calories provides an excellent education in all of those things that I just mentioned. You learn that information and you practice implementing it through calorie counting. 
[00:09:12] That is like the elementary school stuff. That’s like learning the letters and the sounds. And after a period of time, you can move on to the higher-level skills of eating intuitively. But trying to jump into intuitive eating without all of those foundational skills is like trying to take a course in 18th-century British literature when you haven’t mastered basic phonics. Does that make sense?
[00:09:37] Think about that for a minute. Like, with reading, that’s pretty clear. With food, it feels really fuzzy because we figure we’re humans and we eat, so we should know all of these things when in fact that is not the case. These are skills we need to learn and practice. 
[00:09:50] Now, what if you are someone who has spent time learning and practicing those foundational skills, and now you want to transition to intuitive eating for weight loss? How do you go about doing that? 
[00:10:02] One way that I have seen work very well is to transition a bit at a time. So instead of tracking calories seven days a week, track only six days per week and have that non-tracking day fall on a business-as-usual kind of day. So maybe a Tuesday or Wednesday, not a weekend with all kinds of activities going on that might involve food.
[00:10:27] Watch what your weight does in response to this new set up where you’re only tracking six days per week. Work to continue losing weight during that time. As you are successful at that, add in another non-tracking day. Again, on a non-weekend, business-as-usual kind of day. Continue to watch what is happening with your weight.
[00:10:50] If your goal is weight maintenance, make sure you’re maintaining your weight. If your goal is weight loss, make sure you are losing weight as you add in this extra day of non-tracking, and continue going at that pace. Add in another non-tracking day and then another until you’re not tracking more days than you are tracking, eventually leading to: you are not tracking at all and you are continuing to reach your goal, whether that be maintenance or whether that be weight loss. 
[00:11:16] So this assumes that as you were practicing all those skills I mentioned above you were also practicing understanding what hunger and satisfaction and all of the shades in between feel like. That takes practice.
[00:11:31] These are important skills, and I might add, they are not counter to calorie counting. You can and I would say should be working to learn to eat according to your hunger while you are tracking calories. 
[00:11:44] I have all of my clients work on understanding and honoring their body’s hunger and satiety cues. So if you haven’t spent time on those skills, there is no time like the present.
[00:11:56] So there you have it. Can you lose weight with intuitive eating? Yes. Is it the place to start? Not likely. 
[00:12:04] Can you count calories and practice some of the integral skills of intuitive eating? Yes. And I highly suggest that you do. 
[00:12:12] I hope that this discussion has helped you, I hope that it has given you some things to think about, about where you’re at in this journey.
[00:12:19] Have you practice some of those foundational skills? Where might you be lacking in skills? What might be the next step for you? If you’d like to move to intuitive eating, what is the next step? 
[00:12:29] I’m here to help you any time, please don’t hesitate to reach out. All right, catch you next week.
[00:12:39] Thanks so much for being here and listening in to the Fitness Simplified podcast today. I hope you found it educational, motivational, inspirational, all the kinds of -ational.
[00:12:51] If you enjoyed it, if you found value in it it would mean so much to me if you would go ahead and leave a rating and review on whatever platform you are listening to this on. It really does help to get this podcast to other people.
[00:13:05] Thanks so much.< /span>