Privilege and Intuitive Eating: A Few Thoughts

I am a huge fan of Intuitive Eating. 

Huge.

I cannot over-emphasize the healing that has come into my life since reading Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole (MS, RDN) and Elyse Resch (MS, RDN, CEDRD, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND) and diving into The Intuitive Eating Workbook. Receiving additional guidance from a registered dietitian has literally given me my life back, and I am grateful.

With all of that said, I have also given considerable thought through the years regarding some of the privilege that is necessary in order to access the full depth of healing that is possible through an Intuitive Eating approach to food that embraces all ten IE principles.

There are, of course, some aspects of IE that can be accessed by anyone who is interested in healing from the dieting mindset that permeates social media and so-called wellness spaces. Some of the principles of Intuitive Eating that I feel have the lowest barriers to entry in terms of economic privilege and absence of either ableism and cissexism are:

  • Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
  • Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
  • Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police

Each of these primarily involves an internal shift in thinking that is supported by unfollowing social media accounts that support dieting, food restriction, and healthism and connecting with communities of people (online or in-person) who are living by the principles of HAES and IE.

These are the principles that focus a great deal on unlearning toxic messages that favor dieting, food deprivation, and sizism. In fact, it could definitely be argued that these three principles are at the foundation of the HAES philosophy, which absolutely is accessible and beneficial for all people.

Living by these principles isn’t easy work, by any means; I don’t mean to imply that it is. I am simply acknowledging that the financial and physical barriers to practicing these principles are minimal enough that they remain accessible to folks with a wide range of circumstances.

Now, though, I want to take a glance at the other principles of IE, and explore some thoughts I’ve recently had regarding some of the ways that privilege impacts one’s ability to manifest them in one’s life:

  • Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
  • Principle 5: Feel Your Fullness
  • Principle 6: Discover the Satisfaction Principle
  • Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions without Using Food
  • Principle 8: Respect Your Body
  • Principle 9: Exercise—Feel the Difference
  • Principle 10: Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition

A few things come to mind when I examine what truly goes into living by these principles: poverty and food deserts, the ability to cook and/or enjoy cooking, absence of gender dysphoria, and access to therapy and psychiatric care that honors one’s intersections.

There is incredible privilege inherent in the call to honor your hunger by eating foods that provide satisfaction to your senses and body until one is full (i.e., without either needing to stop before one is full due to scarcity or to gorge when food is available and one is finally able to, uncertain about when another such opportunity will arise). This point should be obvious, but still needs to be said.

In fact, I would venture to say this is why those who are committed to IE must also be committed to eradicating social inequity, food insecurity, and poverty. Body liberation is truly a leftist commitment to fully liberating all people from food scarcity. Without this commitment, the body liberation movement is doomed to become a friendly mask worn only by those who are otherwise cloaked in social and economic privilege.

The topic of one’s ability to cook and/or enjoy cooking came up in a recent conversation with my partner. We were talking about how different our experiences with cooking are for us in our respective processes of healing from disordered eating—for me, it is an activity that brings forth healing, while for her it can often operate as a trigger.

To prepare the sorts of foods that would honor the satisfaction principle for her would be, quite validly, an emotional challenge and potentially traumatic trigger that couldn’t be understood by those who have never navigated eating disorder recovery.

However, when I prepare the foods that honor her hunger while providing us with sensory pleasure to the point of fullness and respecting our bodies, she is able to access a level of healing through food that is exactly the point of IE.

This conversation got me thinking about the number of people in recovery from eating disorders who struggle with cooking, as well as the number of people for whom cooking meals that will satisfy their needs and cravings is inaccessible due to disabilities and the ableist assumptions that go into a lot of kitchen designs (counter and stove height, knife design, etc.). Absent the access to assistance from others, the ability to eat what they want in a manner that is consistent with IE will be profoundly restricted.

Gender dysphoria is another very real barrier to being able to fully live by IE principles. As a trans person myself, I have had to navigate this in my own process of healing my relationship to food and movement. For example:

  • The ability to feel one’s fullness can be significantly more difficult for those who experience dissociation as a way of coping with gender dysphoria.
  • The call to respect our bodies as they are can operate as a form of gaslighting for those who experience gender dysphoria and need gender affirming procedures in order to be the shape that honors their true self.
  • The encouragement to feel our bodies while exercising becomes complicated by the very real emotional pain that can rise up in response to awareness of gender dysphoria.

Does this mean these principles of IE are completely inaccessible to trans people? Of course not: I am living proof that these principles can, over time, coexist with gender dysphoria. However, it is a much more complicated process, and one that often requires the assistance of a trans knowledgeable coach (such as myself, Ilya Parker, or Justice Williams) and/or a trans knowledgeable therapist.

Which, of course, brings me to the last point I listed above: access to therapy and psychiatric care that honors one’s intersections and needs.

For many people who have survived trauma, are in recovery from eating disorders, or who live with mental illnesses of any sort, the ability to cope with emotions without using food and to honor one’s health can be prohibitively difficult without knowledgeable, compassionate care from a therapist and/or psychiatrist.

And not just any therapist or psychiatrist, but one who understands and honors one’s full self. This may seem like an unnecessary clarification for folks who have significant dimensions of privilege, but it absolutely will ring true for many queer and trans folks, people of color, people who practice religions that have been marginalized, people in relationships that include polyamory and/or kink, et cetera. The therapeutic relationship absolutely demands an environment of safety that cannot coexist with the rampant implicit bias that many providers carry within themselves.

(One powerful example is provided in the post “Why I Left My White Therapist” by Chaya Babu.)

So when I talk about privilege in this aspect, I am not just talking about having health insurance that covers psychiatric care and enough money to pay one’s deductible: I’m talking about access to a therapist and/or psychiatrist who will actually be equipped to honor the fullness of your lived experience. This is not something that everyone can access, even if they are lucky enough to be able to surmount the financial barriers of accessing mental health care services.

With all of this in mind, I am going to circle back to an earlier statement I made that body liberation must be leftist if it is ever to be honest and accessible.

The path towards fat liberation and a world that honors HAES MUST actively combat racism, classism, ableism, heteronormativity, and cissexism.

Fortunately, many of the leaders within the fat liberation community recognize and honor this; my post is not to call out the folks involved with IE who are already involved in this important work, but rather to invite further progress within the community as a whole.

I do believe that we can live our way towards a world and society in which all people can access all ten principles of Intuitive Eating; however, in order to make that possible, we’ve got some work to do.

 

Are you interested in having me in to your school, fitness facility, or company to deliver an unforgettable presentation regarding accessibility and body liberation? Contact me through www.positiveforcemovement.org

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6 thoughts on “Privilege and Intuitive Eating: A Few Thoughts

  1. Rosie Qualtere-Burcher says:

    Wow. This is an incredible read. So spot on. Thank you for sharing and drawing light on a reality that is often over-looked.

    Like

  2. Emily says:

    Thank you for articulating this so well. I have often thought about the incredible privilege I have, as a white/hetero/cis/middle-class woman, to be doing my own work around intuitive eating/rejecting diet culture. This adds a new dimension that I hadn’t considered before. Thank you.

    Like

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