Book review: Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

5/5 stars

As with Body Positive Power, I think this is a very important book that anyone who struggles with weight, food and/or body image can benefit hugely from reading.

It is an anti-diet book, but it does not promote being unhealthy. Rather, the basic principle of the book is making peace with food, and going back to the natural, intuitive way of eating that you would be living by if society, your peers, your parents, magazines and the diet industry hadn’t fucked you up.

Tribole and Resch are both experienced and qualified nutritionists and dieticians, who have come up with this sustainable and actually quite logical approach after being confronted time and time again by the fact that dieting does not work. Once more for the people in the back: dieting does not work. And it’s actually harmful to your body and your metabolism.

They argue (and they have tons of examples and scientific studies to back up their approach) that your body knows what it needs and how to eat intuitively, you just need to give it permission and listen to it.

I was already aware of the principles of intuitive eating, but reading the whole book was still immensely helpful as it expands in great detail on each step in the process and why it is necessary, with lots of real world examples. So I would urge anyone who wants to go down this path to read the book in full, and/or contact a dietician/nutritionist who works with intuitive eating (I will hopefully be one of those later this year, but I still need to get my studies and exams done).

The basic idea is that dieting and restrictive eating behaviours (or binging) have messed up our internal hunger signals so much that we no longer know how to follow them. Either we ignore them by not eating when we’re hungry, or eating too little, or the wrong sort of thing, or we just barrel past them and keep eating until we’re uncomfortably stuffed. Not only that, but because of what we know about food or what we hear or read, we classify foods as good or bad, and try to restrict “bad” foods, then we tend to binge on them because we’re craving what we cannot have, and then we feel guilty (which often leads to further restriction and binging).

So one of the first things you have to do is make all food equal. All food is just food. It is neither good nor bad. You may eat whatever you want when you want it. To anyone who’s been on the diet train this may sound terrifying. But it turns out again and again that when people truly give themselves permission to eat whatever they want, that intense craving and the desire to binge goes away. Because you know you can always have more whenever you want, you are often satisfied by just a little.

It is important to note that intuitive eating is not about weight loss, and for it to work you have to give up the idea of losing weight – that can never be your secret goal. However, if you are currently above your natural weight (what you would weigh if you’d been eating intuitively your whole life, given any other biological factors), chances are that you will eventually lose some weight if you learn to eat intuitively, and that your weight will stabilise. But this is secondary. The most important thing is that you will gain food freedom, and you will learn to give your body what it needs to keep it strong and healthy, while still being allowed to eat “play foods” (food that you eat for pleasure or social reasons, not purely for nutritional purposes). And that sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

So many women (and indeed men) spend so much time obsessing about their weight, their diet, their fat and muscle percentages, clothing size etc., when really what matters is that you are happy and healthy. And punishing your body by giving it too little nourishment or too many calories, or not nutritious enough food is just really pointless. Imagine what we could do with all that free time we had if we didn’t worry about these things and food was just something to enjoy and that gave us strength and nourishment.

And if you read through the book, what they are saying makes a huge amount of sense. If you strip everything else away and learn to eat when you’re hungry, eat things that are satisfying, stop when you’re full and stop policing yourself and passing judgement on food – why wouldn’t you be happy and healthy?

One last thing I will say is that you have to be patient with the process. It can take months or even years to internalise the principles completely. And you need to find a way to do it that works for you. You don’t have to follow every little thing in the book blindly, and it’s not as if you fail or fall off the wagon if you don’t. This is not another diet and there are no hard and fast rules. There is only you, the process, time and trust. You’ll get there eventually.

So, join me in saying no to the diet and yes to a brighter future where food is not the enemy.

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