To understand just how broken the American relationship is with healthy, sensible eating, consider the recent interest in “intuitive eating,” a non-diet diet based on the radical idea that you should eat when hungry and stop when you are full.
The concept of intuitive eating was first proposed in 1995, in a book of the same name by dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. They were already disturbed by the ascendancy of eating disorders in the culture and the onslaught of ideas marketed to people about how best to take care of their bodies and themselves. Intuitive eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach is currently in its fourth printing, boosted by a recent surge in popularity as its followers have shown up here and there – Jessica Knoll wrote about it in a New York Times an editorial titled “Smash the Wellness Industry”, for example – but I suspect its popularity is linked to the growing number of people who are simply exhausted by the hamster wheel of food trends.
Really, if anything has changed these 25 years later, how much After people need to hear that eating a wide range of healthy foods in response to the body’s natural signals is probably a better way to go than eating like a caveman or a performance athlete (unless you be, of course, a performance athlete), or eat only raw foods, or only eat cooked foods, or only drink juice, or only eat at specific times of the day, or only eat only foods in certain combinations, then sign up for a weekly colon cleanse via a pulsed hose. (The diet-colic combination is just one of many increasingly popular “health” trends I researched for the book I’m writing about the origins and current shape of the industry. ever-extrapolating well-being in the United States, and it is, shockingly, regularly described by its followers as a “cure” for eating disorders.) And because the “diet” has passed fashion – it stinks of your mother, Tab soda and a hollowed-out cantaloupe stuffed with cottage cheese – many dieters have had to go underground, claiming to restrict food intake not out of vanity but because of another larger concern, something to do with health, or purity, or even the health of the earth. In this context, weight loss is often described as a sort of “oops” side effect. Raise your shoulders!
The need for intuitive eating in today’s food and wellness landscape is immense. The big trick here is not to think of this as just another diet, but rather to start by understanding how complicated your relationship to food is in the first place. Like almost every woman I know, I can list the diets I’ve tried: cut carbs, cut wheat, cut fat, cut nightshades, cut cut cut, and finally cut joy every time. (Even former Goop CCO Elise Loehnen recently posted online about leaving “punishing” cleanups behind when she quit her job in 2020 and “eating like a teenager” for two years to restore a healthy relationship with food.)
The principles of the intuitive eating movement seem quite sane in a world where the rejection of whole food groups has become synonymous with health: reject the dieting mentality, respect your hunger, make peace with food, challenge the food police (their post is too often your own psyche), discover satisfaction, feel your wholeness, and accept that your body is your body (its healthiest form may or may not match Kaia Gerber’s). There are as many body variations as there are people on this earth, and it’s crucial to at least begin to accept the one you have, which leads to the next intuitive diet maxim: think about your health. For many people, adhering to a traditional beauty ideal is not, in fact, the healthiest way to be. Not to mention a whole other scary diet and wellness side effect: the rise of an eating disorder called orthorexia. Orthorexia occurs when the desire to be healthy leads to obsessively controlled eating and ultimately malnutrition, much like anorexia. The term was coined in 1996, just a year after Resch and Tribole’s book was originally published, but also a good 20 years before a popular “wellness” blogger named Jordan Younger turned orange, lost his hair, and Hasn’t stopped menstruating after one year following a gluten-free, sugar-free, oil-free, grain-free, pulse-free, and plant-based Raw Vegan Diet in pursuit of superior health. In the end, Younger almost passed out rather than take a bite of the pizza. “It wasn’t even an option in my mind,” she wrote, “because I was so scared it would derail all the hard work I had done to clean my system and feel good. .… It was my first week on a plant, and there was no way I was going to give up that feeling of lightness and energy it gave me.
Younger is an extreme example, but anyone who has met the dietary needs of a small dinner party knows that restrictions have come to dominate the lives of too many people.
If this all seems obvious, consider that even the most medically astute doctors of functional medicine typically begin treatment by eliminating dairy, wheat, and sugar from all diets. Although foods are often reintroduced on a small scale, it is hard to imagine that a diet based on such severe restriction would lead to a serene relationship to food. Of course, intuitive eating also means that you will be honest with yourself about your body’s signals: although you may swear on the lives of your loved ones that your intuition was behind the consumption of a whole bag of Oreos, the idea is to calm your relationship to food enough that cravings don’t take such drastic extremes once the body is properly balanced, nourished, and well-nourished.
The rise of the body positivity movement – never before has there been so much size diversity in fashion editorials, advertising and on the catwalk – could go a long way towards the idea of ”respecting your body”, just as increased level of awareness. around eating disorders. Maybe in a world gone mad, with enforced social isolation and everything else we’ve struggled with, enjoying that pasta on your Italian vacation, tucking into the cheeseburger at that backyard barbecue, having ice cream on a hot after- summer noon, and then stopping when you’ve had enough is the not-so-radical idea whose time has finally come.
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