The Art of Eating Well: Elyse Resch on Intuitive Eating

Elyse is a nutrition therapist in California, with 39 years of experience, nationally known for her work in helping people break free from diet culture, and reconnect with their intuitive wisdom through the Intuitive Eating process. She specializes in eating disorders, Intuitive Eating, and Health at Every Size. She is the co-author of Intuitive Eating - now in its 4th edition, The Intuitive Eating Workbook, a chapter contributor to The Handbook of Positive Body Image and Embodiment, and has published several journal articles, print articles, and blog posts. We spoke with her about her philosophy, the secrets of developing body positivity with the belief that all bodies deserve dignity, and how could one reconnect with one’s internal wisdom about eating.


Elyse, we are very curious to find out more about you What brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in college, I became very connected to a family who was obsessively focused on nutrition. Today, this obsession would be diagnosed as orthorexia. After college, I became an elementary school teacher — a lifetime dream of mine. I taught second grade for four years; then had my son. When I decided to go back to school, it was time for a career change, and the natural choice was to become a nutritionist.


What is "Intuitive Eating" and when was it developed? What do you see as the similarities and differences between “Intuitive Eating” and “Mindful Eating”?

Intuitive Eating is a revolutionary anti-diet approach to eating. It is a compassionate, self-care framework which helps people re-connect to their inborn intuitive wisdom about eating. It’s based on ten principles, which are guidelines, not rules. In addition, it can be viewed as a dynamic interplay of instinct, emotion, and thought, accessing three parts of the brain. The reptilian or survival part of the brain holds the instincts of hunger, fullness, and taste, while the mammalian or limbic brain is the center of emotions and social behavior. The neo-cortex or the cognitive part of the brain holds our thoughts. Intuitive Eating takes all three parts into consideration.


Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating have similarities, but they are two different philosophies. Mindful Eating is a process of purposefully paying attention to the actual eating experience, without judgment. Intuitive Eating is a broader philosophy, which includes physical activity for the sake of feeling good, rejecting the dieting mentality, using nutrition information without judgment, and respecting the body, regardless of how you feel about its shape.


Your philosophy embraces the goal of developing body positivity and reconnecting with one’s internal wisdom about eating. And you are the author of over 6 books on this topic. What drives you to write these books?

It all began in the eighties and early nineties when I found that what I had been taught in graduate school about counseling clients was not only unsatisfying but also appeared to be doing harm. The teaching was weight-centric, with a misguided belief that weight loss was the key to health. Wanting to do better for my clients led me to believe in a weight-inclusive philosophy, which would guide clients toward better attunement with their bodies and a more positive relationship with food and body. After co-authoring the first Intuitive Eating book, which was released in 1995, I continued unlearning some old thinking, which led to incorporating more advanced learning, especially connected to social justice, with the aim of eliminating the oppression placed upon people in larger bodies. I continued to co-author updated versions of Intuitive Eating (now in its 4th edition) and wrote or co-wrote two workbooks, a journal, and a card deck. Each of these books offers further reflection and practice of Intuitive Eating.

Some of Elyse Resch's Books


What are the misunderstandings and confusions around intuitive eating and eating disorders? What needs to change in the next 5 years? Or why still not enough has changed?

The main misunderstanding around Intuitive Eating is that it’s all instinctual. But our emotions can affect our instincts, and the cognitive part of the brain can make the best decisions for our well-being. The second misunderstanding is the thinking that Intuitive Eating is the “hunger/fullness diet”. Often people create rules that say that you can only eat at a particular level of hunger and must stop at a specific level of fullness. Remember, Intuitive Eating is the anti-diet. There are no rules! Finally, there is a misconception that the goal of Intuitive Eating is weight loss. This absolutely is not the goal. A person’s weight can change while embracing Intuitive Eating—it might go up or it might go down, or it might stay the same. There is no intentional focus on weight gain. What needs to change in the next 5 years is increased education in the media, schools, and the medical community to dispute these myths. This hasn’t changed enough because of the tremendous hold that the 72 billion-dollar-a-year diet culture industry has on the public, offering seductive, magical results.


"What needs to change in the next 5 years is increased education in the media, schools, and the medical community to dispute the diet myths."

- Elyse Resch


What are your thoughts on the false assumptions that people make about food and eating that hold them back and keep them stuck in the diet mentality? How are intuitive eating, our mood, and mental health-related?

The biggest false assumption is that one’s weight is the most important aspect of their being. Diet culture brainwashes them to believe that unless they achieve a culturally thin ideal weight, they are less than and must strive to lose weight. Secondly, some people believe that Intuitive Eating means eating mainly what they call “junk food” and that this will negatively impact their health. Through the process of making peace with food and making all foods emotionally equivalent, habituation will take place, leading to a balanced food intake. There have been over 150 scientific studies, validating Intuitive Eating as an evidence-based process that leads to increased physical and mental health—proactive coping skills, higher self-esteem, well-being and optimism, and psychological hardiness, to name a few.


How to raise intuitive eaters starting with responsive feeding in infancy?

Responsive feeding has a protective effect on maintaining a child’s ability to self-regulate, which is honoring their intuitive wisdom about how much to eat, when to eat, and when to stop. With this, the child’s autonomy is respected, and their intuitive signals are reinforced. Providing regular meals, letting go of control, and continuing to respect autonomy must be practiced throughout childhood to effectively raise an intuitive eater.


What do you envision the future of eating disorder treatment be like? What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

The most effective treatment for eating disorders involves teaching the importance of Intuitive Eating as the ultimate healing mechanism. Traditional eating disorder treatment controls what, when, and how much the client eats, often using the exchange system, calorie count, and weighing and measuring of food—all external methods. Intuitive Eating teaches interoceptive awareness so that the client can become reconnected to their internal wisdom about eating. Early on in treatment, hunger and fullness signals may not be reliable, but the other eight principles of Intuitive Eating can be taught and practiced. As the client becomes re-nourished, they can ultimately feel safe in responding to their eating instincts, while managing their emotions, and changing their thinking to that of curiosity, rather than judgment. More research studies must be pursued in order to change the beliefs of the eating disorder treatment community for widespread adoption of this philosophy.


Why is the topic of intuitive eating important for the future of society? Which role do nutrition experts play here?

For many people, the pressure to conform, which comes from diet culture, adds to the stress and anxiety of daily life. Stress contributes to a rise in cortisol, a stress hormone that is pro-inflammatory and is implicated in some disease states. Intuitive Eating offers freedom from obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, which lowers stress, and, thus, increases health measures. Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors are the best-qualified health professionals to deliver this message.

My advice to aspiring nutrition experts is to examine the impact of diet culture on the population, challenge it, and embrace Intuitive Eating as a path toward fighting this toxic force. I would encourage them to challenge the traditional learning they’ve garnered in their schooling, so they don’t promote harm to their clients, as well as become trained as Certified Intuitive Eating Counselors. In addition, I encourage them to look through a lens of social justice, so this understanding can inform the path they will take in their counseling.


And last question: Who is your role model?

My role model is Gloria Steinem. Her continued promotion of feminism deeply impacted my life back in the 70s. To this day, her social causes inspire me to do my best work to positively change this world.

 

If you’d like to find out more about Elyse or her work, you can connect and network with her via LinkedIn or via her website. This interview was conducted in writing by our Deep Dive curator Bastienne Neumann.

This interview concludes our focus topic "Nutrition, Mind, and Well-Being," and we hope you enjoyed reading them. Stay tuned for further updates!