How Diet Culture (plus Dietitians) Mess Up Intuitive Eating

How Diet Culture (plus Dietitians) Mess Up Intuitive Eating

Today, I’m throwing my own profession under the bus – but hold on with me for a sec.

I wish I had heard this all a year ago.

Intuitive eating has become a trend.

Not a trend in that people are ACTUALLY eating intuitively, but it’s the new cool thing to say you’re doing. The research is there. A lot of dietitians are starting to get on board. But most people are still telling others how to eat. This is the opposite of intuitive!

Living intuitively means that you get to make your own decisions. It means listening to what your body wants and needs, then responding to it. It’s not following a list of what other people say you should be doing. You get to decide what you need. It’s INTUITIVE.

As dietitians though, we kind of secretly hate this. Our profession intrinsically requires us to tell people how to eat. Most of us still feel like everyone else knows nothing about nutrition, and we are the magical geniuses that will heal everyone with our nutrition knowledge. We want to tell people how to eat.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past year is that dietitians can be really snobby. (note: I say this as someone studying to become a dietitian. so not trying to make any enemies here!) We spend 5+ years studying the science of nutrition and think we know it all. We hate those “nutritionists” out there providing nutrition advice that isn’t rooted in science. I get that. But the problem occurs when we hold on so tightly to our degrees and status that we think we know a magical formula of nutrients that people can follow which will automatically lead to better health.

The problem though – we don’t. Research has shown us that. I have no idea what it feels like to feel good in your body. Only you can know what makes you feel your best. I know what makes me feel my best – but that’s likely not the same for you.


Intuitive eating (and intuitive living) is all about making choices that feel good in YOUR body. I can spend my entire life studying the science of nutrition, but I can confidently say that I’ll never know exactly what foods you should eat to help you feel your best. What I can say though, is that I can help you find it for yourself. Not by spitting out all my nutrition knowledge, but by working along side you to help you recognize what feels good to you. Without judgement.

There are a lot of nutritionists out there doing it better than us. I can think of SO many people who do not hold the registered dietitian card – that I personally would much rather work with than an RD who thinks he/she knows it all. Sorry if that’s harsh.

As dietitians and future dietitians, we hold a responsibility to help people live healthier, happier lives. This means helping a person in a way that will actually help them. Not elevate our own status.

So. This morning I’ve been doing some scrolling through Instagram and have caught a lot of intuitive eating bandwagon-ers that are actually promoting a diet. So here is how to spot some:

They’re still telling you how to eat.

If someone starts out the intuitive eating conversation by telling you “the principles of nutrition”, that is a diet. Different foods feel good to different people. Starting off the intuitive eating conversation with the principles of nutrition is not intuitive in the slightest – that’s someone telling you how to eat. There is a reason GENTLE nutrition is one of the very last points.

Weight loss is somewhere tied in.

While weight loss may occur with being more in-tune with your hunger and satisfaction cues, this is never a goal. Pursing weight loss and intuitive eating is not real intuitive eating. Pursing weight loss in and of itself promotes weight stigma and shame around food and our bodies. The entire point of eating intuitively is  honoring your body in whatever size it is at.

They’re making broad statements about “health”.

Things like – “Everyone can benefit from more exercise! Everyone should eat more fruits and vegetables! No one should eat that much fast food!” are not true for everyone. Many people have exercise addictions that our society deems socially acceptable. I know plenty of runners who eat so many fruits and vegetables that they’re malnourished. Fast food is often the only option for low income households – and any type of food is better than no food. Statements like these perpetuate the idea that dieting is acceptable.

Diet culture is tricky. It’s going to sneak in any way it can.

For anyone struggling and wanting to learn more about TRUE Intuitive Eating – check out the original book!

edit: I understand that not everyone agrees with me on this. I am studying to become a dietitian – I understand that nutrition is important. The point is that focusing so much on nutrition BEFORE legalizing all foods isn’t truly intuitive. We can agree to disagree 🙂

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