Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN joined us for an interview on their book, The Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food. What follows are our questions in italics, and their thoughtful responses.
In her forward to The Intuitive Eating Workbook: 10 Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food, Tracy Tylka, PhD, FAED, notes, “We are born Intuitive Eaters, but cultural messages to diet and lose weight often infiltrate our minds and sway us away from listening to our bodies.” Can you please comment on the import of this statement?
Elyse Resch: The majority of babies are born with all of the information they need to know how to eat. If there is attunement between the baby and the caregiver in the first six months, the baby learns to trust that his signals of hunger and fullness are reliable, since the caregiver responds to the baby’s cries of hunger and to the refusal to eat more when full. This also reinforces the critical developmental task of trusting others to take care of the baby’s needs. During the introduction of solid foods, if the child is offered a wide variety of nutritious food and is not restricted when she becomes aware of play food, the child will continue to eat intuitively, according to her body’s hunger and fullness and taste preferences.
The problem begins when either a pediatrician becomes concerned that the child is gaining weight too fast and instructs the parents to “watch” what the child is eating, or when the parents hold the culturally thin ideal for themselves and then project it onto their children. As soon as children start to feel potential deprivation, as the parents begin monitoring their food, they can end up overeating out of fear of not getting enough or not getting what they want. They can also be reactive to parents trying to control them and begin to hide food, overeat at friends’ homes, or sometimes refuse to eat in order to express their autonomy.
Living in a culture that idolizes an overly thin body and does not promote body positivity and the radical acceptance that everyone comes in a different size and shape, promotes a societal trend of trying to change the body through dieting and restriction. With this, all bets are off, and people tend to discount or lose sight of their intuitive eating signals for their higher purpose of trying to change the body. Instead, they listen to external messages about good foods and bad foods and amounts of food needed to lose weight. Ultimately, with the failure of the diet, self-esteem and body-trust diminish.
You’ve incorporated a solid dose of education in this workbook. One of the concepts you explain is interoceptive awareness. What is this and why is this meaningful?
Evelyn Tribole: Interoceptive awareness is our ability to perceive physical sensations that arise from within the body. This simple but profound ability helps individuals to tap into a reservoir of information to help identify and get their needs met, which range from biological to psychological. There is a profundity of states that are linked to body sensations:
- Psychological states: Every emotion has a physical sensation, or signature fingerprint if you will. Reflect upon the last time you saw a scary movie. Do you recall how your heart felt? Perhaps it was throbbing hard, and felt as if it was about to leap from your chest. Perceiving your heart beating is an example of interoceptive awareness. In fact, perceiving your heartbeat, while at rest, is an objective measure of interoceptive awareness.
- Biological states: Sleepiness, hunger, and fullness are examples of biological states that have physical sensations. When you feel sleepy—how do you experience it in your body? Perhaps heavy eyelids? Think about the last time you took a long road trip and needed to make a pit stop. What was the physical sensation in your bladder? Again, these are examples of interoceptive awareness.
The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating work by either A) cultivating interoceptive awareness, such as Principle 2 Honor Your Hunger or by B) removing the obstacles to perceiving body sensations. Obstacles to hearing and responding to body sensations usually originate in the mind in the form of thoughts, rules, and beliefs. For example, Principle 4 Challenge the Food Police and Principle 8 Respect Your Body, are examples of principles that work by removing these obstacles.
Ultimately, listening and responding to the direct message from the body is empowering! Nobody, except you, could possibly know how you are feeling, both physically and psychologically. But in order to do this work, we need to cultivate trust, compassion, and respect for the body. To no surprise, studies show that Intuitive Eaters highly correlate with interoceptive awareness ability.
We know there are no easy fixes to making peace with food. Can you offer some thoughts on why the time and patience toward this goal is worthwhile?
ER: The driving force of Intuitive Eating is the goal of seeking satisfaction and pleasure in the eating experience. With a focus on satisfaction, people soon learn that eating when moderately hungry, stopping when comfortably full, and eating for the body’s needs, rather than for emotional reasons, will lead them to more satisfying eating. If, however, they have not made complete peace with food, it will be very difficult for them to truly enjoy eating. If they restrict foods, they’ll feel deprived. If they eat foods that they believe they shouldn’t be eating, they’ll feel guilty. Pleasure and guilt are not compatible feelings. Taking the time to challenge their old negative thoughts about food and make all foods emotionally equivalent is essential to reaching a level of freedom where they can fully experience the joy of eating.
What are some of the barriers that impair people’s ability to sense and experience fullness?
ET: One of the biggest barriers I see is distraction, which include doing ordinary activities while eating, like texting, watching TV, reading, or working. I liken it to distracted driving. Drivers often have the illusion that they are 100% paying attention to their driving while simultaneously talking or texting on the phone. Accident statistics show otherwise. Although humans can behaviorally engage in many tasks at one time, the mind can only place its awareness on one thing at a time. It’s all too easy to over eat when multi-tasking and still not feel satisfied.
Other obstacles include thoughts, rules, and beliefs. For example, I had a client who thought it was a sin to feel the sensation of fullness. His belief was that if you feel full, it means that you overate. Fullness=overeating! Consequently, his rule would be to stop eating the moment hunger went away. (That’s merely the absence of hunger, not fullness itself.) Consequently, he constantly felt hunger only an hour or two after eating a meal–he was chronically thinking about food and grazed a lot. He thought he had a food obsession. Yet, as he began to truly learn and experience what comfortable fullness and satisfaction feels like, he discovered he was merely hungry!
You present a section to help decipher what the source(s) of non-attuned eating may be. Have your workbook users been surprised to see questions on self-care in this section?
ER: I haven’t had any clients express surprise about this section, as the Intuitive Eating book addresses some of these issues throughout, and especially, in the section on self-nurturance in the chapter about coping with emotions without using food. The comments I have received have all been positive. Rarely, have people taken the time to evaluate the entire scope of their self-care, and they appreciate the opportunity to examine the areas in which they may need to be more pro-active. When they realize it’s essential that they honor all of the aspects of self-care in order to be available to stay present and attuned to their intuitive signals, they are eager to work through these exercises.
Can you speak to the connections between Intuitive Eating and physical movement/exercise?
ER: The concepts in Intuitive Eating can apply to a larger scope of life than only eating. Intuitive Eating is about trusting our internal wisdom to guide us to a healthier and happier life. This easily applies to movement. Paying attention to energy levels, which type of movement provides joy, the amount of food intake needed to cover exercise requirements, potential signals of injury, and simply feeling good are all consistent with listening to one’s intuitive signals, which come from the wise place within. Only the individual can truly access this private place. Any demands or “standards” put out by the media, a trainer, a parent, a coach, among others, are externally based and don’t honor the person’s self-knowledge. We could easily re-name Gentle Nutrition, “Intuitive Movement”, as they’re one and the same.
Each of the 10 Principles offered in your workbook is addressed and dissected from a number of perspectives – questions, rating scales, strategies, space for free writing, worksheets, and a “wrap-up,” etc. What guided you to use this multi-prong approach to illuminate the Principles?
ET: We wanted to engage a variety of learning and processing styles. Reflective writing can be very helpful in cultivating a healthy relationship to food, mind, and body. These writing exercises and self-assessment worksheets are similar to the types of questions that we ask our patients in a counseling session.
Yet, it’s important to have direct experiences or practices, or the process could simply become an intellectualization exercise. It’s really no different than when someone wants to learn to play a new instrument, such as a guitar. You can read about the guitar and you can analyze music theory—both of which are helpful. But eventually, you need to pick up that guitar and feel the strings. It truly takes practice. That’s why we incorporated experiential practices in our workbook too.
Each time a person has a positive experience with eating, self-care, or embodiment, it cultivates trust. Healing and trust takes place with one bite at a time, one experience at a time. Over time it becomes foundational–where the person cultivates direct evidence that his or her body ‘works’, which becomes more meaningful than any theory or study.
About the authors:
Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, author of 9 books, is an award-winning registered dietitian with a nutrition counseling practice in Newport Beach, California, specializing in eating disorders and Intuitive Eating. She enjoys public speaking and training health professionals how to help their clients cultivate a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body through the process of Intuitive Eating, a concept she co-pioneered in 1995. To date, there are over 600 Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors in 17 countries.
Evelyn qualified for the Olympic Trials in the first ever women’s marathon in 1984. Although she no longer competes, Evelyn runs for fun and is an avid skier and hiker. Her favorite food is chocolate, when it can be savored slowly.
Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND, is a nutrition therapist in private practice in Beverly Hills with over thirty-five years of experience, specializing in eating disorders, intuitive eating, and Health at Every Size. She is the co-author of Intuitive Eating and The Intuitive Eating Workbook, has published journal articles, print articles, and blog posts. She also does regular speaking engagements, podcasts, and extensive media interviews. Her work has been profiled on CNN, KABC, NBC, KTTV, AP Press, KFI Radio, USA Today, and the Huffington Post, among others. Resch is nationally known for her work in helping patients break free from the diet mentality through the intuitive eating process. Her philosophy embraces the goal of developing body positivity and reconnecting with one’s internal wisdom about eating. She supervises and trains health professionals, is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian, a Fellow of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals, and a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.