September 15, 2022

Intuitive Eating – What to Know Before Trying

Show Notes

On this episode, Chuck Gaidica is joined by Shanthi Appelö, registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Together, they explore intuitive eating and how to approach it.

In this episode of A Healthier Michigan Podcast, we explore:

  • What is intuitive eating
  • How to eat intuitively
  • The benefits and drawbacks of this approach to eating
  • Who intuitive eating is best suited for

Transcript

Chuck Gaidica:
This is a Healthier Michigan podcast, episode 114. Have you heard of the term intuitive eating? If you scroll through social media in your spare time, chances are good you’ve seen the trend pop up. Coming up, we find out what it is and if intuitive eating is worth implementing into your lifestyle.
Welcome to a Healthier Michigan podcast. This is a podcast dedicated to navigating how we improve our health and wellbeing through small, healthy habits we can implement right now. I’m your host Chuck Gaidica, and every other week we sit down with a certified expert and we discuss topics that cover nutrition, fitness, a lot more than that. And on this episode, we’re going to be talking about intuitive eating, to try to understand what it is and if there are any benefits, if it’s worth trying, and if that applies to you. With us today is registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Shanthi Appelö. Shanthi, good to have you back.

Shanthi Appelö:
Thanks for having me back. I’m excited about this.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well I’m excited to because you’ve got such a deep, rich history. Public health, clinical nutrition, teaching in a university setting and this idea of being a registered dietitian. So, let’s talk about this because when it comes to diet it seems like there’s a never ending list of diets, approaches, new things to try. Some are what’s old is new again, right? They’re tried and true approaches to eating. And others seem to be fads that don’t seem to sustain for the long term. But recently, non diet approaches have popped up. And one of the phrases that pops up big time is intuitive eating. Mindful eating pops up there as well. They seem to be gaining popularity. First, I guess definitions are appropriate here. What is intuitive eating?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, so intuitive eating is actually the opposite of a diet, it’s ditching the diet mentality in general that has been built up over time. It’s ditching the idea that there is an ideal weight to be, that there are bigger bodies and smaller bodies. The word overweight is not really welcomed in intuitive eating. But essentially it’s this empowerment tool to listen to your body, it’s a self care tool and it’s a way that you can ditch the idea that foods are good and bad and that you can trust your body to give it what it needs.

Chuck Gaidica:
This is interesting. So it’s not really a fad because fads kind of come and go. This seems to be building some steam because there are so many different prongs to it. There are a lot of components to it.

Shanthi Appelö:
So we think about the last, just, let’s just say 30 years because that’s about as long as I’ve been alive. You go to grocery source, you see the magazines, they’re loaded with weight loss tips. You’ll see celebrities, this is how they lost weight, this is how they are living their lives. You mentioned there are time and time again new diets, and one of the things about them is that they don’t seem to work because why are you coming back to it? Why are you looking for a new diet if diets work? So this is one of the foundations of intuitive eating, kind of making yourself feel better by ditching this pressure to be thin, this pressure to eat a certain way, to restrict yourself and instead be empowered. So instead of feeling guilty about foods after you eat them, you can enjoy them. And that’s where we all want to be, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, it is. And yet part of this idea of being intuitive means that I’m relying on myself. But what you’re saying is a large part of this is self care to begin with.

Shanthi Appelö:
It is. It is giving yourself permission to have the food that you want and enjoy, to remove the idea that restriction offers you benefits. In fact, the restriction actually can cause disordered eating more than anything. So in a few ways, intuitive eating can be a way to heal from disordered eating. When we think about binge eating disorder for example, people oftentimes end up binging because they’ve been restricting. So this idea of intuitive eating takes care of that.

Chuck Gaidica:
So the multi-prong approach, this idea that there’s kind of a list of things that fall under this umbrella of intuitive eating, what would those practices be that we should be thinking about?

Shanthi Appelö:
So the creators of intuitive eating, was created in the 1990 so if you went to intuitiveeating.org, you’d find these principles there. There are 10 of them. So the first one is to reject the diet mentality. So for example, if you are finding yourself intuitively eating, but then you’re like, I wonder if there’s a better diet, I wonder if there’s a better food plan that is going to make me lose weight? That is kind of that diet culture lurking back in. Because we’ve been conditioned, again, so many years of magazines and pressures to be thin, this idea that being thin is the best. So it’s ditching that. And that can take a lot of time. I think one of the things about intuitive eating is that it can’t necessarily be done overnight where you ditch all these ideas of how you’re supposed to be eating.
The second one is honor your hunger. So as babies, most babies are born with the ability to stop eating when they’re full. There are some exceptions to this rule, of course. But just trusting yourself that you have this ability to control or to understand when you’re hungry. Making peace with food, so you give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Challenge the food police-

Chuck Gaidica:
That sounds dangerous though. I’m going to give myself permission to just go for it. Be careful. I mean, I could go for three plates of that stuff.

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, and I think one of the things about intuitive eating is that it’s a process. It’s about finding a balance in yourself. It’s about when you remove that restriction, when you tell yourself you can’t have something and then all of a sudden you can have it, you might not actually overeat those foods. So, I think it’s something that you explore for yourself. Something too, key here Chuck about intuitive eating, is that the goal isn’t weight loss. Isn’t that interesting?

Chuck Gaidica:
Well, it is because I know there’s so many threads here about self love and positive body image, et cetera. But I think that’s a key because if you’re ditching anything, you are ditching the diet in this, aren’t you?

Shanthi Appelö:
Yeah, the goal isn’t weight loss. Now, some people who start practicing intuitive eating they might lose weight, they might stay the same weight or they might gain weight. It doesn’t matter because that’s not the goal. The goal is to make peace with yourself and to not let diets be this life thief.

Chuck Gaidica:
What else is on the list?

Shanthi Appelö:
Discover, the satisfaction factor. So this is kind of where that mindfulness comes in. If you eat what you really want in an environment that’s inviting, you get this pleasure from eating. Feel your fullness, so you need to trust that you give yourself the foods that you desire. Cope with your emotions with kindness, so I think this is a big one because we’ve all heard of emotional eating and whenever we’re feeling stressed or sad, often times we get this hormone cortisol is released, we’re probably craving some of these foods. And so in intuitive eating, it’s encouraging you to deal with the source of your emotion in a kind way. So it’s not encouraging, okay, because you’re feeling sad, go eat. It’s instead encouraging you to deal with that, whether that is going to see a therapist, whether it’s a coping mechanism that really works for you at home.
The eighth one is respect your body. If you respect your body, you can feel better about who you are. So if you have always had these unrealistic expectations of yourself, say that you’re in your 40s and you’re like I really want to be the weight I was when I was in high school, that could be extremely realistic and it could cause you to be really critical when you feel like you’re not achieving that. So it’s about respecting your body and where it is now too. Movement, to feel the difference in movement and not exercise solely to burn calories. You’re moving your body because it’s makes your body feel good and it makes your mental health feel good.
And then the last one is honoring your health with gentle nutrition. So, making food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. And I think this kind of brings us back to the point that you were making earlier about, well, if I can give myself permission to just eat cookies on cookies on cookies for an hour straight because that’s what I want, this idea brings you to what kind of self care is that? We still want to feed our bodies with the vitamins and the minerals that we need. If we have a health condition, for example, let’s say diabetes, we know that we have to think about carbohydrate intake in a different way. But that is not restriction in this case. It’s a form of self care because that’s what your body needs.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, this is really interesting to me because I think the other part of this that’s interesting is that there is so much about love and respect for yourself, which if you’re not giving it to yourself maybe sometimes it’s hard to give it to others. But the other part of this is that if you wanted to, let’s say for instance, add almond milk to your diet or you want to go on a diet, none of those things are prohibitive under the umbrella of intuitive eating. You can add a little something, you can take it away and still intuitively eat and not break the whole idea apart.

Shanthi Appelö:
Except the word diet, right?

Chuck Gaidica:
Right.

Shanthi Appelö:
And in intuitive eating for a lot of people that can be a really triggering word, and that’s a lot of the reason for ditching the diet culture too.

Chuck Gaidica:
Well that brings back to an interesting question then. Who is this really made for? Is this for everybody, you think? Or is it just intuitive eating design for certain people?

Shanthi Appelö:
I think there are some people that may benefit from it more than others. So for example, if you have disordered eating patterns, I’ve mentioned binge eating a couple of times, but it’s like for a lot of people food is all that they can think of throughout the day. For example, you wake up, what am I going to have to eat? But you’re also carrying this guilt inside of you. Well, I really want to have, let’s just say bacon and eggs, but I know that those are bad so I can’t have them. And then if you do have them, you feel guilt. And if you don’t have them, you have this longing for something that you want. So, it can be a way for people to feel free, especially if they have tendencies to binge or for example, if someone has bulimia and find themself compensating after a meal by vomiting, it can be a really good tool to kind of deal with your ideas about food and just trust yourself.
It’s really about letting go and not letting food drive your life. It’s about feeling good every day and not letting food dictate it. Because there are so many people who fear going to the doctor because they don’t want to step on the scale, because they are going to be told by their doctor that they’re overweight or this and that. So it takes a lot of that away for people, especially with disordered eating.

Chuck Gaidica:
It seems like there’s another upside here too, Shanthi, that we’re hearing a lot from you about self, right? That there’s self care, self image, and that leads to taking some time to maybe self reflect. What are those habits that lead you to binging and why do I do what I do? And I think that’s a healthful approach for all of us.

Shanthi Appelö:
Absolutely it is. And whether that means journaling to you, kind of exploring some of those same questions that you just asked, that can be a really good place to start. Some people it might be suitable to find a therapist to kind of talk through these things, maybe it’s kind of awakening something in you where you’re like, well, I have some things I really want to work through. And maybe seeking a therapist can be a good option here.

Chuck Gaidica:
It also allows you to do some experimenting. Some of what this requires, I think, is also taking some time with yourself. It takes a minute. So I know we’re in a fast paced world at times, but just to spend a few minutes, you mentioned exercise and maybe the whole point of exercising isn’t about burning calories. I’ve got a friend, he got a personal trainer, no big deal. And I just happened to be talking to him and I said, “So why did you make this change now and get a trainer?” He said, “It’s not for the obvious reasons. I have kind of a back issue. I wanted to get somebody to help show me how to do some exercises in stretching because we’re headed for grandkids and I just want to know I can get on the floor and goof around with them and I can have better balance.” It had nothing to do with getting bigger muscles, nothing to do with losing calories. You don’t hear people verbalize that very often. But I thought, wow, that’s pretty self reflective that you are doing. What’s your why? My why is I want to be able to goof around with grandkids and not go, ah, and I thought that was a pretty interesting discussion we had about why he’s doing this. Had nothing to do with the obvious.

Shanthi Appelö:
I like what you said about it takes time because it really is a journey because just as we have seen over the years this idea of diet culture taking over, we see it in the media, we see it in magazines. We’re told we live in a culture where weight stigma is very much alive. That’s why people feel so bad about their weight. And then this idea of self-acceptance. So because that has taken years to be nailed into our brains, it also will probably take some time to relieve some of those thoughts and feelings we have about weight and food and exercise.

Chuck Gaidica:
I don’t know if you do this, but my wife and I have started in recent time. The practice, we’ve always kind of done it with a dessert we’ll share. But the sharing idea of even an entree, you go out and you’re kind of program that in life, each of us should order an entree, we should get an appetizer, we should get a dessert a piece. And when you start to do a little sharing with the person you love and you’re really getting into conversation, whether it’s with other people, you tend to be able to cut back a little bit. So, that’s been a little hack that I’ve introduced into my life where I guess it’s intuitive, but I don’t really feel badly about it except maybe I’m not giving as big a tip because I’m getting less stuff. I actually do feel bad sometimes. Like, oh, I should have ordered something else-

Shanthi Appelö:
I know what you mean. Yeah. I’m like, Oh, I only got something that costs $12. So now it’s like the 20% tip. So anyways, I have those same thoughts. Yeah.

Chuck Gaidica:
What would you like to drink? I’ll just have water. And I’m thinking, oh, but that means… I feel bad for the wait person.

Shanthi Appelö:
But it’s all about the rules. Okay, maybe we have these rules that we’re supposed to do 20%, but maybe it is dependent on how the bill comes out. But also that’s the same thing about going out to eat, you were talking about the rules that you have in your mind, like each order an appetizer, an entree and this and this and that. We can break away from the rules in that regard to of just, hey, I’m going to order what I want and it’s not because it’s an entree and this and that. I’m going to go because these other things I want to eat.

Chuck Gaidica:
So is it important for us to talk about those points again? Do you think that would be good for us to go over those as we kind of lead toward wrapping things up?

Shanthi Appelö:
I’m going to just mention each of the 10, and I won’t go into much detail, but just to leave everyone some food for thought, if you will.

Chuck Gaidica:
That’s great. Oh, I love the pun. Go ahead.

Shanthi Appelö:
Reject the diet mentality, honor your hunger, make peace with food, challenge the food police, discover the satisfaction factor, feel your fullness, cope with your emotions with kindness, respect your body, feel the different movement, and honor your health with gentle nutrition.

Chuck Gaidica:
I like that. And you know, have such a kind voice. You really do. I think I may just listen to this podcast episode and just keep replaying the ending. It just sounds like a great thing, skip Chuck’s part and just go to Shanthi at the end and just give me the list over and over and over.

Shanthi Appelö:
Gentle, Gentle.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, it is. You do. You have a kind of gentle voice. Well, it’s great to see you as always.

Shanthi Appelö:
Thank you. It was great to be here. And I just as a last kind of mention here, if you know you’re listening and you’re interested to learn more about intuitive eating, there are people who are certified, intuitive eating counselors. So getting online and seeing where those are in your community can be a good idea.

Chuck Gaidica:
Yeah, that is a good idea. Well take good care of yourself, Shanthi.

Shanthi Appelö:
Thanks.
Chuck Gaidica
Shanthi Appelö joining us today. She’s a registered dietitian for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. We’re glad you’ve been with us listening to this, A Healthier Michigan podcast, brought to you by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. And if you want to know more about the show, check us out online at ahealthiermichigan.org/podcast. You can leave us ratings, reviews on Apple Podcast or Stitcher. We’ve got all the episodes lined up for you, including this one where you can just replay Shanthi’s voice over and over again with that top 10 list. And you can get all of those on your smartphone, tablet. You can listen to us as you go for a walk, however it works out. Be sure to subscribe to us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. I’m Chuck Gaidica stay well.