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What Even Healthcare Leaders Get Wrong About Intuitive Eating

In a recent newsletter, Kaiser Permanente promoted a page on their website about “Intuitive Eating” as part of their Thrive Program. The page has caused an uproar within the Intuitive Eating communities, so I reached out to Evelyn Tribole, who wrote (well, co-wrote) the book on Intuitive Eating, to get her reaction.

“They botched our model,” she said. “When they get it that wrong, honestly it makes me not want to read the rest of the article, but I did for my due diligence!”

Unfortunately, Kaiser doesn’t appear to have done the same. “My first thought was that if they were going to do this and they’re not willing to read the book, at least they could have read the website.” She continued, “Why couldn’t they talk to Elyse [the book’s co-author] or me, or at least someone who was trained in the model? (There are over 1,100 Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors in 29 countries.) Not to mention, there are 125 studies on this! It’s disappointing that they didn’t do their research, especially when they position themselves as healthcare leaders?”

This is, Tribole points out, a textbook example of companies coopting Intuitive Eating principles and trying to twist them into the exact diet culture mentality that the Intuitive Eating model seeks to end.

“What they really missed is that this is a model about self-agency and unconditional positive regard,” she explains. “The idea of not exploring your cravings or needs goes
against the Intuitive Eating model. In fact, the very act of denying your food cravings in conjunction with caloric restriction increases cravings.” She adds “They got that really wrong.”

She also vehemently disagrees with Kaiser’s repeated positioning of Intuitive Eating as being focused on never eating “too much.” Instead, she wants people to know that “Intuitive Eating is a dynamic interplay of instinct, thought, and emotion.” In other words, she says “we have a wise mind, and a wise body, and we get to use them.”

She describes many points in the Kaiser article as “entirely misleading,” elaborating, “It’s based on diet culture, which is antithetical to our model. Not honoring cravings, pathologizing emotional eating, eating to less than fullness, all of these fly in the face of the Intuitive Eating Model.”

Throughout the interview it’s clear that Tribole’s concern isn’t that Kaiser is stealing and distorting the model that she co-created (though, to be clear they are.) Her concern is for the people Kaiser is going to harm by perpetuating misinformation as a supposedly trustworthy source of healthcare information.

After years of study, as an expert in the field, and the literal co-creator of Intuitive Eating, Tribole wants us all to know that “Kaiser is creating doubt and confusion in a person’s ability to trust themselves around food. People need to be empowered to be the experts on their own bodies. That’s what the true Intuitive Eating model facilitates. Kaiser is doing is the opposite — villainizing the eating process and removing the pleasure from eating. Their advice is potentially harmful.”

If you want to learn about Intuitive Eating, Tribole suggests checking out these free resources: www.IntuitiveEating.org and for free peer-to-peer support there is the IntuitiveEatingCommunity.org with over 20,000 members.

Getty image via YakobchukOlena