Is intuitive eating healthy? (part 1)
I was asked recently about how to deal with people who challenge the ideas within Health At Every Size and non-diet approaches. If you’re able and willing to have a conversation, there are 3 elements that are important to address: the scientific literature, social justice and your own personal experience. I’ll address the scientific in this post but will do a part 2 and 3 for the other aspects. We know from the literature that health cannot be determined by weight alone. Behaviours matter, wellbeing is important and the social determinants of health cannot be overlooked. Those in all different sized bodies can be healthy or unhealthy. We also know that weight stigma is an independent contributor to health, which particularly affects those in larger bodies. We know that this not only affects the healthcare they receive but also makes it harder to engage in health-promoting behaviours. We know that weight loss is not sustainable for the vast majority of people. Although exact figures vary, we are talking about at least 80% of people. For those who do lose weight and maintain it, we know that many of them have a disordered relationship with food and exercise. That typically isn’t picked up because they are at a ‘normal weight’ but it would be seen as problematic in people with a low BMI. We know that dieting in itself can cause disordered eating. The famous Minnesota starvation experiment clearly demonstrated that over 6 decades ago. We know that weight cycling (the likely outcome of dieting) is harmful, particularly in terms of cardiovascular health. Even if there were negative health implications of being in a larger body (which is not a clear cut fact), a person is better off maintaining their weight than cycling up and down. We know that people can improve their health without losing weight and this has been demonstrated in a number of interventions informed by Health At Every Size and non-diet approaches. On the balance of scientific evidence, a non-diet approach is what makes most sense to me.