Can diet labels and Intuitive Eating co-exist? This is a question that I battled with for a long time. When you enter the Intuitive Eating (IE) space, it's normal to be surrounded by messaging around the harmful effects of diets and dieting. This isn't false at all, 95% of diets don't work and can often lead to problems with mind and body.
Another message that often is repeated in the IE space is that diets shouldn't have labels or food rules. This is something I completely understand and agree with in terms of dieting to lose weight and change the body. I found myself in a predicament when I started studying and practicing Intuitive Eating, I am a Nutritionist who is a Vegan.
I often wondered how can I promote and teach Intuitive Eating when I myself have food rules? I don't eat animals or their by-products. Which to many is THE biggest food rule of all, it's a restriction.
I honestly felt like a fraud. They didn't seem to work together. Veganism IS a label. On paper, it has all the things Intuitive Eating doesn't support. This was something I thought about for months.
Then one day I had a realization, my personal first act of eating intuitively as a child was to stop eating animals.
It didn't feel good to me.
It didn't feel right to me.
It had absolutely nothing to do with my weight, body or body image - THAT’S the key.
In order to really understand if the way I was approaching the world of IE personally and professionally was okay, I decided to ask this question on a supervision call I had during my IE certification. I nervously asked (thinking I would be told I really didn't understand the point of Intuitive Eating), can I be vegan and eat intuitively?
The answer way yes. It's all behind the "why" in how you chose to eat, and how you would feel if you happened to eat the food that you have rules around.
Phew! I wasn't a fraud! I realized that the way I approached veganism was from a political stance, it has to have a label because it is so much more than a way of eating. I don't eat plant-based to shrink my body, I am vegan and eat plant-based to make a statement, to not participate in a way of eating I ethically do not support. This is vastly different than someone who doesn't eat carbs because they fear them and feel they will gain weight.
Now, someone can call themselves plant-based and not be vegan hoping for weight-loss or allowing the food rule of no animal products to fuel deeper food control, that isn't eating intuitively – that’s a diet.
The amount of times I’ve heard “I was vegan but I didn’t lose weight” is not at all the point of veganism, however is often a result of the diet culture we live in.
We all choose to eat in ways that are unique to us. It’s the WHY behind your food rules that matter.
For example if you do not eat dairy: Do you avoid dairy because you think it’s full of saturated fat and will lead to weight gain?
Or do you not consume dairy because you do not support mass dairy production? Perhaps you are lactose intolerant? Or maybe you just don't like it.
See the difference?
Do you not eat carbs for fear of weight gain and you’ve heard they are “bad”?
Or do you not eat carbs because…. I don’t know of a reason not to eat carbs (unless you are allergic to them all!)
Some questions you can ask yourself:
Why do you eat the way you eat? Does your diet have a label? If so, why do you feel you need to eat in accordance to that label? We do need to be checking in with ourselves in order to be challenging our own narratives around food. Diet culture is very sneaky and having an open communication with our internal messaging is key, continually coming back to the why.
You can be an intuitive eater and be vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free or whatever else you want. Being an intuitive eater does not mean you have to eat all available foods; it just means the option is there. There is also a great difference between ethical eating and dieting.