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What is the difference between intuitive eating, mindful eating, HAES, and Am I Hungry?

By Michelle May, M.D.

brick wallI started writing this article about the differences between intuitive eating, mindful eating, HAES (Health at Every Size), and Am I Hungry? last week. I often come across confusion, misuse, and sometimes even abuse, of these concepts in the media and in the health and wellness field so I hoped that some clarification would be helpful.

As I was writing, I kept hitting a brick wall: There is confusion for a reason; it is confusing.

My son once told me, “When you hit a brick wall, focus on one brick.” (Wise advice from a 20 year old!) Yesterday, that brick fell on my head.

Through twitter and the blogosphere, I heard about an article by Jess Weiner, whose books promoted body-acceptance following her recovery from an eating disorder. The title of this controversial article was typically Glamour-dramatic: Jess Weiner’s Weight Struggle: “Loving My Body Almost Killed Me.” 

The brick? Weiner’s problematic article made it clear that I needed to start with what intuitive eating, mindful eating, and HAES (Health at Every Size) have in common – and rest assured, none of them will kill you! So let me start over…

What do intuitive eating, mindful eating, HAES, and Am I Hungry? have in common?

Intuitive eating, mindful eating, HAES (Health at Every Size), and Am I Hungry? (and others) are all part of a rapidly growing non-diet movement. For the record, I’m not a big fan of naming something by what it’s not, but while there are definite differences in these approaches, that umbrella title points to one of the areas of overlap:

Restrictive dieting that requires an individual to follow arbitrary rules created by someone else is ultimately futile, counterproductive, and even harmful.

I”ve been teaching workshops, speaking, and writing in this field (yes, I believe it has even become a field) for the last 12 years, and I am thrilled to say that this rejection of dieting as a solution for anything has grown louder and more urgent (can you say outcry?). Those of us laboring passionately in this field are no longer on the fringe; we are on the leading edge – and rapidly finding ourselves smack dab in the middle of an outright revolution!

Clearing the air

I do not speak for the entire non-diet movement (for lack of a better term), but what struck me about Weiner’s article was her obvious confusion on three major points:

  • Loving your body does not mean avoiding medical care or ignoring self-care, and it doesn’t mean abdicating personal responsibility for making meaningful and sustainable changes that are beneficial for your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
  • Weiner’s labs were in no way life-threatening nor was there any evidence that her “arteries were quickly clogging.” There is no such thing as pre-pre-diabetes and as Deb Burgard eloquently pointed out on the HealthAtEverySizeBlog, weight-bias is prevalent in the medical profession. My colleagues would have been unlikely to sound an alarm with labs like her’s in a thin person. Instead, they would have (hopefully) recommended sound nutrition and physical activity – good advice for health at EVERY size.
  • Since Weiner’s labs were mildly abnormal, improved nutrition and physical activity are the perfect prescription. Weight loss may or may not result from those changes, but they are still beneficial and worthwhile. Lecturing, restricting, depriving, obsessing, and shaming are the worst prescription I know of.

I applaud Weiner’s decision to take charge of her own decisions regarding her health, especially, “seeing a therapist to work on the emotional baggage I carry and how it plays a part in the way I turn to food for solace, not nutrition.” I’m just sad to hear that she thought that loving her body was preventing her from doing all that. And I certainly hope she’s not going to start trying to tell the rest of us how many ingredients and how much sugar we should be eating.

On one point, I think we can all agree with Weiner: “To truly love my body, I had to treat it better.” Now that is good advice for EVERY body!

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

2 Comments

  1. Kerry B says:

    Hi Michelle, I can upon this brick myself today too and felt much like you. Confusion certainly is a big issue for anyone trying to understand that there is a world beyond dieting…This is well written, clarify’s without the intense backlash I have read on various sites. I think it shows that even though we may agree on some things, ultimately health and weight are intensely personal and one size does not fit all. As a HAES coach my message is always always health focused. But that an individual has to make the call for themselves about what health is for them.

  2. “Ultimately health and weight are intensely personal and one size does not fit all. As a HAES coach my message is always always health focused. But that an individual has to make the call for themselves about what health is for them.”
    Well said Kerry!
    Michelle

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