Intuitive Eating is NOT Clean Eating!

Hi! Sorry to shout in my title, but I feel the need to shout that today, after noticing a real upsurge in the Intuitive Eating hashtag being adopted in the name of so called clean or healthy eating. Like a lot of body positive/self acceptance type philosophy, it seems that intuitive eating is pretty vulnerable on social media to being co-opted by people still on the diet train - sometimes it's just ignorance, but still. It seems very simple, and yet it is absolutely everywhere on the hashtag on Instagram.

Intuitive Eating is Not Clean Eating

A clean eating, heavily restricted diet is not intuitive eating. You can claim to be eating mindfully by only filling your body with "good, natural" foods, but unless you are allowing yourself to genuinely eat anything, you are not a part of this thing, so please don't misinterpret it to suit your own needs. Because with intuitive eating, shocker:

All Food is Good Food

It's so simple, and yet, it's seemingly a VERY slippery slope. I try never to give a wrong impression by posting a variety of foods I eat. But I have been craving fruit a lot, which unless you are on a low carb diet, is obviously not considered to be a "bad" food societally. But for me it is important to acknowledge that I am eating all the damn fruit I want right now, because I have tried several low carb diets in the past decade, and slowly but surely allowed myself to be brainwashed that fruit was somehow bad for me/only to be consumed in moderation.

Grapefruit, traditionally a "diet" food, but also, to me this week,  yummy good food

Homemade Quorn veggie "mcmuffin", complete with plastic cheese, also good food!

I have also been craving more vegetarian type meals. But I try my best to convey that that is not all I am eating. Of course grapefruit and watermelon are prettier to photograph than potato chips, but I am going to try to be better about photographing/Instagramming more of a variety of foods. The thing is I am not much of a food photographer really, and things that are naturally pretty are just easier to take pictures of.

I am listening to my body and if it really wants something I will eat it. I am learning to say no, both to myself and others. For example "I know I should eat those leftovers but I really don't want to/would rather have something else". I do know from experience that eating something because "I should/ it's healthy" or not my choice makes me much less likely to feel satiated and more likely to overeat later on.

Of course you can't ALWAYS eat exactly what you want, but I do find the more I try to eat what I genuinely crave the more satisfied I am. And yes, that means some days I eat lots of foods considered "healthy". But some days I want super noodles and soda, and that's ok, too.

I should point out this isn't completely new to me, it is something I dabbled with in my late teens/early twenties, when I was coming out of binge/starving eating disorder cycles, thanks to author Geneen Roth's advice in her books.

I also later did the Paul Mckenna hypnosis weight loss c.d. (which I don't recommend, if you are on the body positive/self acceptance train), where he does advise you to eat what you want, when you are hungry, until you start to feel full, which is sound advice. The reason I don't advise his stuff is it does have lots of "Imagine yourself thinner, you only crave healthy foods" blah blah blah type stuff in the hynosis as well. But I fully admit I loved listening to the c.d.'s for their relaxing quality and that has made me seek out other forms of meditation recently.

But in both instances, the "eat what I want" thing only lasted to a point - to the point of "Uh oh I gained weight" or "I stopped losing weight now what?" It's a whole different experience (trying to) embrace it wholeheartedly, as a lifelong thing, outside of the restrictions of diet culture or actively trying to lose weight.

I guess the reason that social media co-opting the phrase bugs me so much is that there are so few safe spaces when it comes to this stuff, so to have it infringed upon by mostly well meaning but misled (in terms of how they interpret the hashtag) people is frustrating.

If you want to eat "clean", that is obviously your choice. I just want to say PLEASE don't bogart the hashtags of people just trying to live life and recover from diets/restrictive and disordered eating. We are not on your path. Because intuitive eating, for real, is not a diet.

Intuitive eating does have 10 basic guidelines (I link to this one because I like the name of the page, but the "rules" are basically the same everywhere I look), aimed at helping people who have no idea how to just eat like a normal human, but essentially, it is saying:

Eat What You WANT!

I know, it's crazy. Trust me, I get it.

Another dubious misinterpretation of intuitive eating I am running into is the whole "Food is Fuel" thing. Food IS fuel, but that is yet another branch of the diet mindset. We are not robots. Sometimes food is pleasure, and that's ok too. This mostly occurs in the gym bunny area of Instagram.

If it sounds like I am overreacting, I apologize. But the same exact thing happened to "body positive", when a lot of women started using it to show off their thin and sometimes even before and after weight loss shots, which is exactly what the tag was invented to avoid. 

Women desperately need a place on the internet that doesn't tell them that thinner is always better, that diets are the only answer. We need places to learn that health at any size is a goal/hope, and a supportive and safe place if that is what they need to escape eating disorders, diets, and self loathing.

Other articles I enjoyed on the subject for anyone interested:

I like this Refinery 29 article and corresponding slide show about "Intuitive Eating Myths" very much, it spells out in simple terms what this thing is about, for me anyway.

Christy Harrison's weekly Food Psych podcasts are reliably moving, illuminating and make me feel much less alone.

Ruby Tandoh on the clean eating fad's emperor's new clothes/ "not a diet"diet.

*disclaimer: I am not an expert or qualified to give any nutritional advice, I am just sharing my experience of these things.

p.s. Do you like my new blog design? TOTALLY unplanned, another story for another day!


  1. Ruby Tandoh is a goddess and I adore her writing on food. I love what you say about the 'food is fuel' argument - damn right food is a pleasure too!

    1. She rocks doesn't she! It's so weird to me how twisted the intuitive eating thing has become on insta, it's like people just presume it means the same thing as clean eating, just NO, grr!

  2. You are right about instagramming certain foods, I'm guilty of this as well. Produce is just prettier to photograph!

    I've never heard of intuitive eating so the links you provided were a bit helpful to try to understand it.

    1. Yeah it takes a great photographer to make certain foods look good-I tried to take a picture of my fajita last night and it was not pretty! Intuitive eating is probably what you do naturally-most naturally slim people I know just do it without thinking. It's something people have to relearn when they've spent most of their lives restricting certain foods or on diets. Not saying it might not have some new ideas/perspectives for you, but it really is more of an emotional/psych based thing for people who have a fear of/rejection of getting fat ruling their lives for years. :-)