"The core of intuitive eating is coming to trust what your body is telling you about what and how much to eat rather than relying on external rules that may be too rigid.”
In this episode, we dive into a conversation with Carrie Dennet about the concept of intuitive eating. We explore the definition of intuitive eating, its underlying purpose, the numerous advantages it offers, and the specific individuals who can benefit the most from adopting this “anti-diet” eating style.
Carrie Dennet, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, nutrition therapist and certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She’s the nutrition columnist for The Seattle Times, the author of Healthy For Your Life: A Non-Diet Approach to Optimal Well-Being, and sees clients virtually through her private practice at NutritionByCarrie.com.
Shireen: In today’s episode, we dive into a conversation with Carrie Dennent about the concept of intuitive eating. We explore the definition of intuitive eating, its underlying purpose, the numerous advantages it offers, and the specific individuals who can benefit the most from adopting this anti-diet eating style. Stay tuned.
Carrie Dennent is a Pacific Northwest registered dietitian nutritionist, nutrition therapist, and certified intuitive eating counselor. She’s a nutrition columnist for the Seattle Times, the author of “Healthy For Your Life, A Non Diet Approach to Optimal Wellbeing”, and sees clients virtually through her private practice @nutritionbycarrie.com. Welcome, Carrie.
Carrie: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Shireen: A pleasure having you on. So, Carrie, tell us a little bit more about your own journey and share with us your story toward intuitive eating. In particular, we would love to know more about how you incorporate mindfulness into your eating habits, while also ensuring that your meals are nutritious. So tell us a little bit about your journey and then the approach you take.
Carrie: Yeah, well, my introduction to intuitive eating was very unexpected. I was going back to grad school to study nutrition and become a registered dietician. And when I started school, I was really fully immersed, fully subscribed in diet culture.
I was actively dieting. I thought what I wanted to do was become a dietician to help people lose weight, and then I was exposed to the book, “Intuitive Eating” and it was kind of like, you know, cue the record, scratch. It’s like, “wait a minute, what is this?” And as I kind of explored it more, I pulled both personally and professionally, further and further away from the idea of promoting intentional weight loss or pursuing it and myself. And that’s kind of how I moved down that path away from diet culture to intuitive eating.
And in terms of, you know, incorporating mindfulness into my eating, I think mindfulness is a wonderful thing for everybody, whether we’re talking about eating or even life in generally. And I find that being mindful about my eating helps me make food choices that are satisfying to me, leave me feeling good, and it also helps me tune into my hunger and fullness views cues. For example, I like to stop eating when I’m comfortably full, but not like, oh, I’m too full. And being mindful about eating makes it just easy to just be at ease with food and feel good in your body while you’re eating and after.
Shireen: That’s interesting. And so for our listeners here, help us understand a little bit more about this. What exactly is intuitive eating and can you tell us the purpose and really the focus for this eating lifestyle. So you certainly mentioned it and, and you know, how you view it. How does it, how does it really work for, for individuals?
Carrie: Well, intuitive eating is a model that was developed, it’s been over 25 years now, developed by two dieticians, Evelyn Triboli and Elyse Resch. And really the core of intuitive eating is about coming to trust what your body is telling you about what and how much to eat rather than relying on external rules that may be too rigid, too hard to follow, may have been, like, developed by somebody who’s never even met you.
You know, like you pick up a diet book, they don’t know you. So it’s really about, again, learning to trust your body’s wisdom, which admittedly is really hard for a lot of people who have been led to believe that they need to follow a certain set of rules or come to believe that certain foods are good and other foods are bad.
So it sounds kind of simple, just trust your body. But in practice, not so simple. You know, the purpose is not, some people hear about intuitive eating and they think it’s just a free for all. Great, I can eat cookies all day. That’s not what it’s about at all. And there is a principle, there are 10 principles in intuitive eating, and one of them is honor your health with gentle nutrition.
So really it’s a way of eating that is more freeing. It brings a lot of satisfaction. But at the same time, it is a way that we can nourish and care for ourselves in the ways that are important to us, whether we are currently healthy or whether we are currently dealing with a chronic health condition.
Shireen: And then, having said that, so when I think of intuitive eating, we’ve also heard the term mindful eating. Are they too mutually exclusive? How do they overlap?
Carrie: There’s actually a fair amount of overlap. There is a lot of mindfulness or mindful eating within intuitive eating because, you know, with intuitive eating, you learn to honor your hunger and that includes queuing into your body for signs that you’re getting hungry and you need to eat.
You’re paying attention to what foods satisfy you. You’re paying attention to feelings of fullness. Even though it’s intuitive eating, there’s a principle that relates to physical activities, so paying attention to what kind of movement feels good for my body, how do I feel when I’m getting enough exercise versus when I’m not.
So there’s a lot of mindfulness to it, but I will say that intuitive eating, really embedded in that is the idea of body positivity and it’s. Intuitive eating is a weight neutral approach. It is not about achieving a certain body weight. And I will say you do also see some of that with mindful eating in some pockets of the mindful eating world.
For example, the Center for Mindful Eating, which offers a lot of wonderful courses for professionals and for everyday people, they’ve really evolved to where they identify mindful eating as a weight neutral, weight inclusive approach. It’s not about dieting.
Shireen: And so having said that, then can you share some benefits specifically around intuitive eating?
Carrie: Yeah. I think one of the biggest benefits is, again, as you work to learn to trust your body, you realize that you are allies with your body. You and your body are partners for life. You are working together. You are not at war with your body, which unfortunately so much of diet and wellness culture really pits us against our bodies. You know, our body is something to control, to conquer. It’s something that might betray us, and that mindset, it’s not good for our mental and emotional health, but ultimately it’s not really good for our physical health either.
And another one of the core elements of intuitive eating is satisfaction. One of the principles is discover the satisfaction factor and the creators of intuitive eating, they really see that as the hub of the wheel around which all of the other principles kind of rotate. So you become more at peace with your body. You become more at peace with your eating. You really understand the importance and the limitations of nutrition. And helping us be healthy ‘cause nutrition is important, but it’s not the only thing that contributes to health.
We are able to make food choices that satisfy us. And when we have a food that we really enjoy that, okay, it’s not the most nutritious food, we can enjoy it fully and kind of not fall into the trap of I shouldn’t be eating this food, but here I am eating it, so I better eat as much as I can of it because who knows when I’ll let myself. Have it again. If you know you can have a cookie if you really want a cookie. Then when you have a cookie, you generally don’t feel the need to eat a dozen cookies. It’s like, I can have one. Yeah, that’s enough.
So again, it comes back to the idea of a more peaceful, grounded relationship with food. And as we explore pleasure with food, a lot of people realize, Yeah, there’s a lot of nutritious foods I really genuine in life and yes, I also enjoy chocolate.
Shireen: And so what I hear you’re saying is, you know, following this way of intuitive eating really allows for someone to take out that guilt, that shame, that they may otherwise associate with eating some of the less nutritious foods. And when you do that, you sort of come out of that mind frame of shame and guilt and you really start talking more positively about the relationship that you have with whichever kind of food there is, and you’re more mindful about those types of decisions for yourself.
Having said that, how does someone move from, you know, what you were talking about a little bit ago, like how does someone move from when they’re used to being in a very restrictive diet, like, this is all I can need and this is how I’m going to consume and this is what, you know, sort of it falls into a very like, black and white like this, that’s the relationship with food. So how does someone switch from a restrictive diet plan or restrictive eating to more of that, again, what you’re mentioning with intuitive eating?
Carrie: It’s definitely a process and the very first principle of intuitive eating is reject the diet mentality. And that really is where it starts for most people. And when I’m working with clients, often one of the things we’ll do is literally do an inventory of every diet somebody has been on. You know, did they lose weight? How long did they keep it off? Did they regain it? And it’s really like taking an inventory of what dieting has cost us, because as anybody who’s dieted knows, generally what happens is you lose weight and after a while you regain it. Sometimes you end up higher than where you started. And then you go on another diet and you repeat the process.
And if you really look at it, it’s like, wow, this hasn’t gotten me anywhere and so once you accept that, which is hard, it’s hard to invest a ton of effort and probably money and dieting repeatedly to realize this has done nothing for me. It’s unlearning and then from there you build from that in listening to your body and asking your body what it wants. Having an attitude of exploration and experimentation and, kind of, being okay with not having rigid guardrail, you know, the principles, intuitive eating kind of provide a framework.
They provide some guidance and as we make peace with food, one of the things that stops it from being a food free for all is attunement. Okay. Let’s say I wanted to eat cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Okay, how does that make me feel and am I getting bored of cookies?
I often think for anybody who’s watched the old show “I Love Lucy”, the episode where they’re working at the candy factory and they’re eating so much candy that they don’t candy anymore, which isn’t the idea of intuitive eating. It’s not like I’m going to each so much of my forbidden food that I don’t want them anymore, but it’s about getting rid of the guilt and the shame and seeing food as morally neutral.
Something one of the creators often says, Evelyn Tribole, often says is, an apple and slice apple pie aren’t nutritionally equal, but they’re morally equal. We’re not good people because we eat good food and we’re not bad people if we do so-called bad food.
Shireen: That’s very helpful and I think this, this also takes me to, and when we look and examine ourselves and we’re constantly so critical of what we’re eating and how we’re eating and how we’re looking and all that as a result of it. Can you explain, if there is, a relation between intuitive eating and perhaps how it could be used as a tool within eating disorder recovery?
Carrie: Yes, absolutely. Intuitive eating can really be helpful in eating disorder recovery, although depending on what type of eating disorder someone’s struggling with. All of the principles might not be applicable. For example, if somebody has a restricted eating disorder, such as anorexia, they are gonna be really out of touch with their hunger signals. They may not experience hunger. So you know, the idea, eat when you’re hungry, may not apply. But they could definitely, you know, explore many of the other principles, reject the diet mentality, challenge the food police. So there’s a lot of the principles that can be really instrumental in healing, even if some of them aren’t applicable, at least with the outset.
Shireen: Which then also takes me to, like, how does this approach really connect to our minds, to food, to our body? Just really help us have a better relationship with food.
Carrie: Well, when we can really listen to our bodies because our bodies are such a source of wisdom. And you know, when we tune into really not just our hunger and fullness signals, but there’s a term known as interoceptive awareness, and that is the ability to perceive our internal states and sensations. And that can really include everything from, sure, am I hungry? Am I getting full to, is my bladder full? Am I too hot? Am I too cold? And even to kind of gut, you know, sometimes we get a gut feeling about something. It’s really all of those internal states and sensations when we can be attuned to them and notice them and listen to the information it’s giving us.
I know Evelyn Tribole, she says, interoceptive awareness is our superpower. I do like to add that some people have a much harder time tuning into their internal states and sensations. People who’ve experienced trauma, people are, who are under a profound amount of stress. Some people who are neuro divergent, it’s harder for them. So I don’t like to say, oh, just practice your interoceptive awareness.
Most people, it’s a skill that they do have, even if they don’t really use it or trust it, but they can cultivate it. And when we are connected with our bodies, again, when we are in partnership with our bodies, it makes our life richer in so many ways.
And it helps us care for our bodies better, especially for, I think for women, it can help keep us safe. ‘Cause again, being able to trust our intuition, trust our gut feelings about situations, it can help keep us safe too. So this goes well beyond just the plate.
Shireen: That’s interesting and so as I think about in a receptive awareness and what you just mentioned, I feel like at the same time there’s so many distractions, right? There’s so many cues that we’re constantly getting bombarded with. So there’s tv, there’s news radio, and it can be kids at home and, you know, life and work. How does one reset that again, to say like, all right, I am now listening and I’m connected to my body again in those cues, and I’m aware of those cues.
Carrie: Yeah, it takes practice. If somebody is used to, let’s say, just eating by the clock, it’s X time, it’s time to eat. Maybe, you know, someone’s making a point of pausing periodically through the day and just kind of tuning in, seeing if they kind of notice anything.
You know, am I feeling any hunger or am I, am I, do I feel like I’m still satisfied from my previous meal and if we’re not accustomed to tuning into what’s going on inside, if we’re just used to relying on external cues, it often takes a real intentionality to shift that focus.
And yeah, it can be hard when there’s a lot of things pulling at our attention. I often have clients that are doing this kind of set reminders on their phone, just a reminder to check in with themselves. Kind of on the flip side, I have one client I’m working with, she realized when she has a real crunch time at work and it’s really busy, she does not notice her hunger signals at all. So we talked about being intentional about planning what you’re gonna have for lunch and then maybe setting some reminders on your phone that either time to stop or at least time to stop soon. And we just accepted. And again, intense times of stress, it can be harder to hear those internal cues.
Shireen: And then, so having said that then, how does one begin to practice that intuitive eating and like how can someone practice this approach while also ensuring that they’re meeting their daily nutrition needs, their dietary needs? How can we both get in tuned and then also make sure we’re nourishing?
Carrie: Yeah, I mean, part of being in tune is certainly practicing tuning into our hunger and fullness levels, and that helps us, you know, it helps us, number one, make sure we don’t wait too long to eat til we reach the point where we feel like we will eat anything that’s not nailed down. And that also increases our satisfaction because if we eat when we are comfortably hungry, then we can make food choices that are nourishing and we know will enjoy. And we’re also likely to not accidentally eat to the point of uncomfortable fullness.
And as far as nutrition, obviously nutrition is important and the creators of intuitive eating are dieticians, but often, especially people that have come from a cycle of dieting, there are a lot of people who have a lot of nutrition information in their head. Whether it’s stuff they’ve been explicitly taught or stuff they’ve just kind of absorbed, you know, cause we’re all swimming in this information. So by taking the time to tune into hunger and fullness and make peace with formerly forbidden foods and really pay attention and ask ourselves, you know, do I like this food?
And that goes for both nutritious foods and less nutritious foods. Somebody might have a certain sugary treat on a pedestal as this is a food I can’t have. It’s a forbidden food. They might allow themselves to have it and eat it mindfully and realize, oh, this isn’t even as good as I thought it would be.
Or they might realize that they’re satisfied with a smaller portion. And also as we pay more attention to what we’re eating and how much we’re eating, just by noticing, not by really orchestrating it, you notice things like, oh, when I eat this for breakfast, I get hungry really soon. Whereas if I eat this, it satisfies me all through the morning and maybe I need a mid-morning snack, but sometimes I’m fine till lunch.
So we know what kinds of foods we enjoy, which kinds of foods make us feel good, and also what combinations of foods often don’t eat foods just by themselves. So it’s this constant just exploring and listening and asking questions and getting answers and really developing the eating style that is right for us.
Shireen: And I like that you mentioned this last part about developing the eating style that is right for us. Which to my next question, which is, is intuitive eating then right for everyone? Is this really this anti diet approach ideal for all people?
Carrie: I, you know, I, it’s, I, I hate to speak in absolute, I would say it’s right for probably at least the majority of people. Questions I often get are, you know, well, I have, you know, this health condition diabetes is one that often comes up. You know, I cannot just eat whatever. And I remind people that, you know, intuitive eating isn’t about a food free for all. It’s about. Making peace with food, exploring things, but also attunement.
So somebody who has, say a health condition like diabetes, they would be paying attention to how do certain foods affect their blood sugar? And you know, getting to know that because it’s not a slam dunk. I’ve known people with diabetes who there are certain foods that you hear, you know, these foods are not good for your blood sugar, and those foods don’t affect their blood sugar, but these other foods that are supposed to be okay seem to affect their blood sugar.
So like by really paying attention, it’s like, oh, these foods are right for me. These aren’t. For another example, let’s just say somebody with celiac disease who has to avoid all foods that contain gluten, anything made with meat wire, barley, as well as many foods that use gluten as an ingredient. No, you can’t intuitively eat gluten because you have to avoid it, but you can kind of make peace with that and you can still explore all the other foods out there that don’t have gluten that are on the table potentially.
So, You know, some people do. I work with clients with irritable bowel syndrome and we explore, we do the low fraud map diet to kind of explore their personal trigger foods. But you know, we can explore all the other foods they can eat. And in that particular case, people can choose to eat the foods that trigger their symptoms because it’s not the kind of condition where it’s going to harm them.
So I say you can still choose that this is a food you really love. And you know it’s gonna give you some issues and you just maybe eat it when you don’t have any errands you have to run. So it can look a little different with somebody that has, you know, certain, you know, health issues. But intuitive eating can definitely work with those people just as it can work for people with eating disorders, maybe with a few caveats in the beginning. There’s nothing wrong with learning to trust our bodies. Nothing wrong effective. It’s beneficial, it’s wonderful, and everybody should get to have that trust, to build that trust.
Shireen: I like that relationship, right? It, it switches. It is such a positive one to where we’re like, oh, I’m craving this, but I can’t, versus I’m craving this and I can in moderation and, and just really understand like I just need a little bit of it, not the whole thing or not several servings of it. I can get away with just a little bit and that’s absolutely fine. And then speaking of, you know, you mentioned diabetes, you mentioned disordered eating as well. If someone’s goal is specifically to say, I wanna lose weight, like that’s what they’re motivated to do for whatever reason it may be. If the goal is to lose weight, gain weight, or just manage their weight in general, can they practice intuitive eating? I feel like I already know the answer, but I want to hear it specifically from you.
Carrie: Well, certainly they can practice intuitive eating, but I will say that if the primary goal is changing weight, then that pursuit is not really compatible with intuitive eating. So somebody would need to be willing to kind of, not really like to say set that aside because it implies that there, it’s gonna come back to the forefront at some point, but be willing to work on, as an aside, making peace with their body as it is.
And that’s why with my intuitive eating clients, so many of ’em, we also do body image work Because if you really wanna make peace with food and you really wanna let go of rigid rules, and if that means that your body may not change in a way you would like it to, then that kind of leaves this big gaping hole that, okay, we need to do some other work.
And when somebody approaches intuitive eating, some people they do gain weight. Some people they do lose weight. Some people, their weight stays the same. And a lot of that has to do with kind of where they’re at in their dieting cycle. If somebody has been weight suppressing, they’ve been actively dieting, and they’re still in that phase where their weight is down and they start intuitive eating, yeah, they’re most likely gonna gain weight but they probably would’ve anyway.
If somebody comes to intuitive eating and maybe they’ve been unconsciously overeating and they’re like, oh, I feel like too full every day. Or they’re struggling with binge eating disorder. They may see that they lose some weight as they’re eating kind of normalizes and they can trust themselves again.
Shireen: That’s interesting. I wanna take it to, I’m gonna try to squeeze one last question in here, Carrie. What are some common challenges people face when practicing intuitive eating and how can they really overcome them?
Carrie: Yeah. I think one of the biggest challenges is people who do feel like their eating starts to feel a little more chaotic. And often that’s what’s kind of known as a honeymoon period when someone starts to make peace with formerly forbidden foods. Let’s say ice cream is a forbidden food and they allow themselves to have it, they might find that they’re eating a lot of ice cream for a while, and that’s part of the process, and it’s okay, and it doesn’t stay that way.
Sometimes people realize, oh, I’m not actually paying attention to how eating this ice cream is making me feel. They’re not bringing in the attunement part of it. So that’s one thing, and it can kind of scare people honestly, but it does work out.
Another challenge is really letting go of the idea of losing weight. That could be a hard one for people. So many people, they want the food freedom. They want, you know, food and nutrition to feel more relaxing and less anxiety provoking, but they still idealize a thinner body and sometimes there’s a grieving process, breathing. Grieving the idea of attaining that body, that has always been the ideal.
I would say those are probably, two hardest things. And you know, with that, some people do have a harder time tuning into their internal cues and having patience, you know, as I tell people, if you haven’t asked your body what it wants, if you haven’t asked your body if it’s hungry, the body’s like, fine. I’m not gonna give you hunger cues anymore. You don’t listen to me. It takes a while for those sometimes to reawaken. So having the patience and continuing to ask and ask and ask, and giving the body the opportunity to start telling you.
Shireen: Mm, love it. So it’s just really resetting that relationship and then following on those. Love that we’ve, we’ve got, Carrie, this was a terrific episode. We are toward the end of it. However, at this point, can you tell our listeners how they can connect with you and then just learn more about your work?
Carrie: Yeah, my website is nutritionbycarrie.com and on Instagram, that’s my main social media platform, I’m @CarrieDennent and I have an author page on the Seattle Times. If someone wants to read what I write, they can just google my name in Seattle Times and my author page will come up. So I think those are the main ways.
Shireen: Lovely, and it was such a pleasure having you on. Carrie, thank you so very much for your time.
To our listeners, if you enjoyed this episode, head over to our social media. Let’s continue the conversation there. Tell us, give us your take on intuitive eating, what you thought you knew and what you know differently now. Head over to our Facebook. Head over to our Instagram. Find this podcast posts and comment below to let us know again, what you thought you knew about Intuitive eating and what you know now that you would do differently for yourself. Let’s continue the conversation there. Again, head over to Facebook and Instagram for that. With that, Carrie, thank you so very much again for your time.
Carrie: You are so welcome.