The intuitive eating workbook for teens: a non-diet, body positive approach to building a healthy relationship with food Interview
Elyse Resch, MS, RDN joined us for an interview on her book, the intuitive eating workbook for teens: a non-diet, body positive approach to building a healthy relationship with food, what follows are our questions in italics, and her thoughtful responses.
With your most recent publication, the intuitive eating workbook for teens: a non-diet, body positive approach to building a healthy relationship with food, you chose to “speak” to teens. What motivated this decision?
At the time that my co-author and I signed the contract to write The Intuitive Eating Workbook that was published in 2017, the acquisition editor at New Harbinger Press mentioned that as soon as the adult book was finished, he would very much like an Intuitive Eating Workbook geared at teens. My first reaction was “Well, teens are almost adults. They could use the adult book.” I didn’t think anything more about it until the request came once again upon publication of the adult workbook. I then realized how important it would be to write a workbook in “teen language” that would speak to the developmental stage of autonomy that most teens have to conquer, in order to be able to go on to becoming healthy, individuated adults. So, I decided to write the book with some “hip” phrases and references and to address the specific stressors that teens face. I also needed to put it in a language that would also be accessible to sophisticated “tweens”. It ended up being an exciting and fun, project. As I wrote, I focused on how teens might receive the information, helping them find a motivation to pull out of diet culture and venture into the world of Intuitive Eating.
Your workbook hits the road running with activities that target the diet mentality. Delightfully, you encourage the rebellious nature of teens to take action. Can you tell us how you linked these two?
I spent a good deal of time helping teens see that their need to assert autonomy was an appropriate pursuit at their age. I explained to them that it is natural for them to have rebellious feelings, because it’s their way to show they are individuals, who exist apart from their parents. I acknowledged there weren’t many healthy ways that they could rebel, since much of their lives were controlled by their parents and their schooling. I showed them how Intuitive Eating was a perfect match for this need, as Intuitive Eating is a fully autonomous process. In this way, I validated the rebellious kid in them and offered them a path for expressing their rebellion—that is by listening to their internal wisdom about eating—hunger, fullness, what foods are satisfying, and how their bodies felt in regard to their food choices. Only they could have the answers to these questions. So, by rejecting external messages from diet culture, and following their inner wise voices, they would be given an apt outlet for this natural rebellion.
What is “Food Jail”?
Living with the diet rules of “good foods” and “bad foods”, which foods you’re allowed to eat, and which foods are forbidden, puts you in “Food Jail”. Food jail is run by the Food Police who make up these rules. The Food Police encompass parents, spouses, social media, magazines, and anyone who thinks they have the right to tell you what to eat. Breaking out of food jail involves shedding any diet rules that have been introjected from the Food Police. It means a commitment to eating whatever foods are desired and as much of these foods as needed to feel true eating satisfaction. Rather than being restrained by the bars of the food jail, which are externally restricting, making full peace with all foods and staying present while eating will lead to true freedom and trust in the body’s internal wisdom about eating.
You suggest challenging the food police and the trap of perfectionism. How can language support your point?
We live in a perfectionistic culture. For teens, it’s about getting perfect grades or test scores to get into the “perfect” college and seeing images of “perfect bodies”, which are photoshopped on social media. The pressure of striving toward perfection is emotionally damaging and can lead to lowered self-esteem when the goal inevitably isn’t met. This perfectionistic viewpoint often extends to eating, whether it’s with an orthorexic bent, such as eating “perfectly healthy” for “optimal health”, or eating the “perfect foods” that are prescribed by diet culture. In terms of Intuitive Eating, it’s highly important to use the phrase “for the most part”. For the most part, eat in an attuned fashion to the body’s messages about hunger and fullness. For the most part, find satisfaction in eating. For the most part, find other coping mechanisms for feelings, rather than using food. The bottom line is that “for the most part” thinking will prevent the feelings of guilt and shame that often emerge when one breaks their perfect rules about food.
Embedded in Intuitive Eating is the principle of Honor Your Hunger. What are some of the physical cues of hunger?
The physical cues of hunger, range from a mild sensation anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract to a growling in the stomach, and, ultimately, to headache, dizziness, and brain fog that result from waiting too long to eat. It’s best to begin eating when comfortably hungry—it will lead to the most satisfaction from a meal.
If you begin eating when not hungry, there’s no marker for when you’re full, and the food just doesn’t taste as good. If you eat when ravenous or in “primal hunger”, the survival part of your brain is registering starvation and releases neuro-chemicals to seek as much food as you can to survive. You won’t be able to actually taste the food as you’re urgently pushing it into your mouth. Neither of these situations will lead to the joy and satisfaction that a delicious meal or snack can bring.
Thank you for reminding your readers of the various purposes food can serve. Please share some of these.
The primary purpose of food is to nourish the body and the mind. If living beings didn’t need food to survive, it wouldn’t exist. Without enough nourishment, the brain can’t function properly, and the body will show signs of weakness. But physical hunger is just the beginning. Food also serves the purpose of satisfaction and joy in the eating experiences. Life can be difficult—why not lighten the load by having pleasurable meals! Food can also serve as a means for social engagement—whether it’s the family eating together and sharing the events of the day or friends and other loved ones connecting with each other while enjoying a meal together. Food brings people together for celebration, for healing, and sometimes spiritual purposes. Sadly, there are too many people in the world who have food insecurity. If having sufficient food is possible, there can be enormous gratitude for this gift. Food also can serve the purpose of soothing and comforting when feelings become difficult. If eating comforting food is allowed, without judgment, it’s possible to stop when full and then go on to find other coping mechanisms. Shame and guilt in eating are not appropriate feelings. Pleasure, joy, compassion, and gratitude promote the beauty of Intuitive Eating.
What is common sense nutrition?
Common sense nutrition includes eating regularly throughout the day in order to nourish the body and mind on a consistent basis. Nourishment means getting a sufficient amount of protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber, and water. Common sense nutrition also means taking in a variety of foods, in order to get the various nutrients that different foods provide. It means being present when eating in order to find satisfaction, as well as noticing when fullness arises. Common sense nutrition also includes eating “play foods” that may not have nutritional value but that serve as a means of pure enjoyment. In other words, common sense nutrition is eating in a way that provides nutrition, pleasure, and sustenance, for the most part!
About the Author:
Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND, is a nutrition therapist in private practice in Beverly Hills, California, with over thirty-seven years of experience, specializing in eating disorders, Intuitive Eating, and Health at Every Size. She is the author of The Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens, the co-author of Intuitive Eating and The Intuitive Eating Workbook, a chapter contributor to The Handbook of Positive Body Image and Embodiment, and 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.