Ep. 162: Intuitive Eating

Fed & Fit
Fed & Fit

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On today's episode, I'm chatting with Dr. Adrienne about Intuitive Eating, what it really looks like and how we can harness it.

Fed and Fit podcast graphic, episode 162 intuitive eating with Cassy Joy

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Episode 162 Transcription

Cassy Joy: Welcome back to another episode of the Fed and Fit podcast. I am your host, Cassy Joy Garcia. And I am thrilled to be chatting with you all today. And a very special guest. Her name is Adrienne Herrenbruck. She is a professor of exercise science. She lives in South Carolina. And she is joining me today to talk about intuitive eating. I’m really excited about this conversation. Welcome to the show, Adrienne.

Dr. Adrienne: Hi! Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, thank you so much for joining. Adrienne and I were chatting before we pressed record. I told her that there’s a good chance you’re going to hear babies and whatnot in the background. We have a full house over here. And even though I have one of the best editors, I think, in the world.

In case you don’t know; I’m going to give him a shout out. His name is Lang Freeman. He does this more as just a favor for me, but he’s a friend. But if y’all ever hear the band sounds under radio, they had a song. He’s probably going to be; I know he’s going to listen to this part. He’s going to be like; “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you talked about that!” They had a song on Spiderman; one of the more recent Spiderman movies. Anyway. Hey Lang! Thanks for editing!

But even though he’s amazing, we have a full house. So you're probably going to hear doors open. Dogs bark. Babies cry. And all that good stuff in the background. So welcome to real life today, everybody.

Ok, now that I have that disclaimer out of the way. I’m so excited to hear from you today, Adrienne. This is a concept, intuitive eating, that I think is become a little bit more of a buzz. And folks are getting a little bit more curious. We nod our hat to it in the Fed and Fit Project, but it’s of course with a slight variation. Because there’s all kinds of intuitive eating concepts out there, and practices. But I’m really excited to hear from you today.

So before we get to some of those questions, I would love it if you would share a little bit more about your background. What led you to becoming a professor of exercise science. And really how did you begin eating your own; this version of paleo?

Dr. Adrienne: Yeah, sure.

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Dr. Adrienne: So long story short, going way back I grew up playing sports. And just had a love for being active, being outside. My family always camped and stuff like that. So I knew going into college and into more of a career that I wanted to be around active people all the time. So exercise science was just a super natural progression for me.

A lot of people in my family are nurses. And I love the science. Physiology, biochemistry, all of that. But I didn’t want to work in a hospital. So this was just a super natural transition coming from an athletic background. And once I got into college, I did not look back. I knew going in what I wanted my major to be. I never questioned it. I just loved it the whole time.

After undergrad, I went immediately and got my masters. Then I started working in the field in various capacities. Some with professional athletes. Some with more like a cardiac rehab setting. So a big spectrum of activity in different populations.

Eventually, I got the opportunity to teach some courses at a small college. I remember actually the day. I went home and told my husband; oh my gosh! I never thought a job could be this fun. This awesome. So I decided after that experience to pursue a terminal degree, and become a professor full time. So I love that. So that’s the career side.

As far as my version of paleo. It’s a very long and windy story, to be honest. {laughs} Like a lot of people, I started dieting when I was young. Primarily it was for sport performance reasons, and then I realized I could manipulate my weight. And kind of went down the not so great road of restricting and then maybe binging after so long of restriction. And just had some disordered eating patterns.

Eventually, along the way, I just started eating real foods. I just decided I’m not going to be a slave to any of this. And as a disclaimer; I was even crazy overweight. It was always like 10 pounds here or there. It was never; it’s just funny to think that someone who doesn’t actually have a health issue can still battle some of those mindset issues.

So eventually I started eating more single ingredient foods, and really loved the way it made me feel. And this was before I even knew what paleo was. And just kept reading more and more. And got into more of the paleo community. Had friends that were paleo. And learned a lot about it. And almost took it a little overboard. I got a little obsessive about it. And now over the last few years I feel like I finally found my personal gray area of what paleo means to me. And it doesn’t need to look like it does for everybody else.

I feel like that was really long.

Cassy Joy: That’s a great; no. That’s a great introduction. It’s really interesting. And that’s so relatable. Because there are a lot of folks listening who are probably nodding their heads. And I’ve definitely been on that yo-yo. When I first discovered a paleo type way of eating; anti-inflammatory, it made sense. There was also the appeal, if I’m being very honest. Because I was addicted to, like you said, body manipulation, and dieting. And I though; oh, well this is a healthy thing to do. But I can also manipulate my body composition. {laughs}

Dr. Adrienne: Right. You say to everyone; I’m doing it for my health. But in your mind, you know why you're doing it. You're doing it so that you can manipulate whatever it is that you want to. But yeah, I feel like I’ve found; and I’m sure we’ll get into this topic as we go. Just a nice, I don’t even know the word. I don’t want to use the word balance. The way I describe it is a gray area. It’s a completely unlabeled way of eating that’s just how Adrienne eats.

Cassy Joy: Yeah.

Dr. Adrienne: Well, I think you call it the Perfect You Plan.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Adrienne: In your program. So yeah.

Cassy Joy: I love that. And you kind of already answered this, but how did you really get to a point where you wanted to marry a discussion of disordered eating and intuitive eating within the context of health and fitness. And has that come up in your classroom?

Dr. Adrienne: Yeah, it has. Before I answer that, I do just want to give a quick definition if that’s ok, of intuitive eating.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, please do. That’s a great idea.

Dr. Adrienne: And maybe even disordered eating. I just wanted to define them a little bit. Intuitive eating is a concept; it was originally a book by Evelyn Tribole. She’s a registered dietician. And it has 10 principles. And basically, the jist is; “Listen to your body,” Which is super vague and was very annoying to me for many years. {laughs} Because I didn’t know what people were talking about.

Honor your hunger and fullness cues, honor your health with gentle nutrition. Respect your body. And basically the whole concept is listening to your body and not listening to diet mentality and diet culture. So that’s intuitive eating.

Now, disordered eating, it’s any kind of behavior that could potentially progress into a clinical eating disorder. If taken to extreme. And this could be chronic restriction. So crazy restriction for a long amount of time. It could be restrict-binge cycles. If anyone has ever binged, one of the classics of a true binge is that you feel completely out of control. So it’s like you start eating and you look up 20 minutes later and have eaten all the contents of your pantry or whatever it is. And you literally are out of control. So that’s just to define those.

I got interested initially just curiosity about my own story. Because I did have that diet background. And I was like; this all or nothing mentality. That restrict or binge; I’m either on or off. It’s not working. And whatever working means; it’s not working for weight loss if you want to do that. But it’s definitely not working for my health.

So I started just kind of diving into the concepts of disordered eating. And read the book, Intuitive Eating, and realized; oh my gosh! This is more in line with my personal values and what I feel like, it actually is something that could work for everyone because it’s individualized.

And then, like you mentioned, it is something I’ve seen in my classroom. Primarily, it’s funny because; and you may have experienced this too. Being in the health field is actually really difficult sometimes. I feel like being in the fitness community, although I loved every second. And still love every second. It kind of perpetuates some of the thoughts of perfection and the fact that maybe we can find this perfect diet that’s good for everybody.

So I’ve seen that in the classroom, especially in the athletic population. So student athletes really struggle with this. Just anybody that has more of a perfectionistic mindset is definitely more prone, but that doesn’t exclude other people. I feel like I didn’t tie that up nicely. But I’ve seen it a lot. In people in the health realm. Even registered dieticians and nutrition therapists struggle. Because they know so much to not get obsessive.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. I was trying to mute my side so you didn’t hear my squeaky garage door downstairs. {laughs}

Dr. Adrienne: {laughs} It’s totally fine. Real life.

Cassy Joy: You hit the nail on the head. I was having a conversation; {laughs} so noisy. I was having a conversation with Amber Goulden, who works here with me at Fed and Fit. She is also a nutritional therapy practitioner. I’m a nutrition consultant. We are encumbered with the facts. And it’s part of our job to stay abreast of kind of all of the nutrition trends out there. And one of the trends right now, to your point, is of course keto. Keto is so hot right now!

Dr. Adrienne: It’s everywhere.

Cassy Joy: It’s everywhere! And my opinion of it has not really evolved over the years. As with all things; if it works for you, that’s great. But I do not believe in the magic pill for one-size fits all.

Dr. Adrienne: Right.

Cassy Joy: But it’s interesting, because it is so prevalent. And we’re having to answer to that because we’re being written to from so many readers asking questions. Doing more research; it is hard not to be tempted. Especially when I; me personally, have a past of disordered eating that I overcame. But it’s one of those things; you probably always still, it’s always still going to be a part of my life. And it’s very tempting to slip back into that.

I had a conversation with her on Monday. And she’s like; what are you talking about? Perfect You Plan is what you do. And I was like; you're right! I forgot! {laughing} And it makes so much sense. That’s why we did that. It’s so liberating. But anyway. Yes, it is a slippery slope. And I’m sure there are other practitioners listening that can identify with that.

So then how do you get the message out to love yourself but also strive to be healthy? That seems, for folks listening, that it could be a pretty fine line to toe.

Dr. Adrienne: And it is. It’s really hard. And I think, now, it’s harder than ever. We’re inundated with so many messages. Whether you're a practitioner or not. And I’m not dogging on social media, because I actually really love it. And I’ve made some amazing connections through social media. But we have information literally yelling at us all the time. Whether it’s the TV or different people on social media, or something we’re reading or podcasts. I love them, too, by the way.

But we’re just; and this is going to sound bad. But we’re kind of over-educated on some of these things. Maybe not over-educated; education is not the right word. We’re just inundated with messages all the time. So it becomes really confusing, because like you said, we’re supposed to love ourselves. But then we also want to be healthy. So how can we do that?

Kind of the question that comes to my mind is; can I actually be paleo but also be an intuitive eater. Or am I just dieting? But I’m telling myself I’m intuitive eating. For me, I think, it comes to; there’s a couple of different things. But it’s about listening to your own body. And being honest with yourself. Because you can love yourself and find value in your person. But also find value in feeling good and being able to do the things that you want to do in life. Things like that.

One way I would do that is disassociating how you eat to necessarily your size. So, some people have heard of the Health at Every Size movement. It’s kind of similar to the intuitive eating principles, but it’s more focused on, “It’s ok that we’re all shaped differently.” And it’s ok that exercise; actually exercise is something we want to be fun and fulfilling, not just the purpose of weight loss or calorie burn.

So I think figuring out what makes you able to do the things you want to do every day. Is one of the best ways to strive for health. Because if it’s not helping you live, then what’s the point? Because isn’t the point to live a really full life? I think at the end of the day, that’s what everyone wants. Because just getting smaller; then our story is, we were a small person. That’s not exciting, you know? {laughs}

But living a really full life, and being able to run around with your kids or go to Europe and walk around all these towns because you're fit enough to do that and you don’t have to take breaks. Or hike different places. Whatever it is that you want to do. Being able to do that, I think, focusing on what you can do instead of just an arbitrary number I think is one of the best ways to approach it.

Cassy Joy: I love that! It makes perfect sense. Absolutely.

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Cassy Joy: Something that we’ve talked about before here is long-term goals versus short-term goals. And I’m not here to vilify anybody who wants to lose body fat.

Dr. Adrienne: Not at all.

Cassy Joy: Yeah, I try to make that very clear. Because sometimes that is the pursuit of health. In order to actually be well, some body fat may need to come off. But that is a very individual claim. That’s not true for everybody. And there are folks, to your point, that they could keep shrinking. Again, I was having a conversation the other day. Keep shrinking following a certain protocol, but energy is zero.

Dr. Adrienne: Right.

Cassy Joy: So what’s the quality of life there? What’s the real goal, and what are at this? Is it to really fit into a size smaller pants, or is it so that we can live vibrantly, and be very healthy, and have lots of great energy. And those become our markers.

Some of us; I’m sure you're going to get to some of these how-to’s. But having lived this way for a while found, for example, my Perfect You Plan. Which is a moving target.

Dr. Adrienne: Sure.

Cassy Joy: As body changes; getting pregnant, nursing, and then just aging in general. That’s going to always going to be a moving target, what’s right for me. And there is some intuition that comes into that. But my champion thing that I’m constantly chasing is how does my mindset feel in this whole thing? Right? And that’s a true marker of my health. That’s the biggest piece. That’s the biggest part of the foundation. Is; “Am I happy, healthy, confident, and positive?” because if I’m all of those things, and I feel like I have good energy minus those random nights, like last night, where you get very little sleep. Because those will happen. But for the most part, are our energy levels high and do I feel good?

Dr. Adrienne: Exactly.

Cassy Joy: Those are the best things to celebrate. And once you do find a real food protocol that works for you. I call it a protocol. It’s not meant to be that prescriptive. But once you find a plan that works for you, you realize that; oh my goodness! The weight can come and go, I don’t even care. Because I feel awesome.

Dr. Adrienne: Exactly. And when you are actually listening to your body, your weight tends to settle where it’s just very natural. Do you know what I mean? It just tends to settle. I know some people that are like; “I can put on 5 pounds and drop it really quickly.” And over time, when you find a protocol, like you were saying, that really feels good. You tend to not have as much variation, too. Your body is just like; “I’m very happy here.” You know?

It’s very normal, to your point about having differences in days. It’s very normal to have some days where you feel like you want to eat more, and that’s going to give you energy. And then some days you don’t. And so yes, I love the idea of finding something that’s individualized. And focused on what you want to do. The function and those long-term goals. It’s very, very important.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely. Ok, so I would love to get to some of your tips. So if someone is sitting here listening and they’re like; Ok, Adrienne. This sounds awesome. I get it. I want to do that. I want to live that way. How the heck do I do it? What are some actionable things that someone can really put in their back pocket to try to chew on, think on, and remember?

Dr. Adrienne: Yeah, I’ve thought about this for a little while. And the first thing that comes to mind; and this seems kind of funny, but to drop everyone else’s rules. That doesn’t mean; I’m going to drop all the rules, and I’m just going to go eat pizza for every meal for the next two weeks. Or whatever it may be. Because I don’t have any rules anymore!

It’s not about going crazy. It’s just; I don’t have to live by anyone else’s rules. And how I kind of think through that in my own life is, what would you eat, or how would you eat. Not just what, but how. How would you eat if you had never been told how to eat? If you didn’t have these extraneous rules coming in from all sides, and all having different opinions. Which is super confusing. How would you eat?

I think a lot of times that’s going to look; like for us, that looks more paleo. For some people that looks more vegan or vegetarian. I think when you can start removing those rules, you can actually… until you remove those rules it’s going to be very difficult to listen to what your body is telling you about food. It’s going to be very difficult.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely. I think that’s a really good point.

Dr. Adrienne: So that would be number one. Number two; when you are kind of working through this, I always encourage people to be curious about foods instead of judgmental. And thinking of everything you take in; food, beverage, whatever it is, as an experiment. So I’m kind of a scientist at heart, so my brain thinks in experiments.

But thinking of everything as an experiment. And you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, and that’s ok. Because you're just curious to see what the outcome is. So you're going to eat this meal with this amount of meat, or veggies, or whatever. And how did that make you feel? And you're like; oh. That felt really good. I was super energized the rest of the afternoon after I had a really nice lunch. That’s interesting.

And then you can just move on. Or; oh, I ate a smoothie this morning and I was hungry like 2 hours later. That did not keep me full. It was good, but I’m still curious about it. Whatever it is, just being curious and trying to learn something from how different foods make you feel I think is a really good way to be more intuitive and figure out what works for you individually.

Cassy Joy: I love that. And that’s actually something that we do walk folks through after the Project. Working towards that Perfect You Plan, which, again, is a destinationless journey. But working them through that, we walk them through how to enjoy things. How to enjoy what others perceive as hiccups getting there.

I use this example a lot, because it’s one that’s actually come up several times. But my daughter is getting married, do I eat the cake at her wedding? What do I do? Is it going to throw me all off? Am I going to be off the bandwagon, have to start all over? And it’s, to your point, what we encourage is; if you want to eat that cake, eat that cake?! And don’t feel guilty about it. Use it as, to your point, a curiosity point. And see how is my body going to react from this. Let that empower your journey, not disempower it. And I think that’s really, really wonderful. Because having curiosity about foods definitely takes a huge element of that guilt associated with disordered eating out of the equation.

Dr. Adrienne: Agreed. Yes. Absolutely. So after those two, the final thing as far as listening to your body. Because to me, again, I feel like that’s very vague in some ways. It says exactly what you should do; listen to your body. But I heard that so many times over the years when I was in a diet mentality. And I was like; must be nice. I don’t even know what that looks like! {laughs}

Cassy Joy: Yeah.

Dr. Adrienne: And people will say; “Well if I listen to my body, I’d eat 10 cookies for breakfast.” It’s like; actually you wouldn’t. But I understand your viewpoint. So instead of using that, the word I like to use is honesty. And if you can be honest with yourself, it doesn’t matter how pretty or ugly the truth is. If you can be honest, you can really start to have some breakthrough.

Honestly, how does this cake make me feel? Honestly, how do these vegetables make me feel? Honestly, how full does this make me? Maybe I’m not getting full enough, so at the end of the day I’m very hungry. So of course I want to eat all the things. Just being honest about everything that you do throughout the day.

You can even apply this to working out. How does this workout honestly make me feel? Am I just doing this elliptical for an hour to burn calories? Or do I really enjoy it, and this feels really good to me? So I think at the end, if we can just be honest with ourselves and everything that we do. And I think we try to do that in other areas of our life, but for some reason, we want someone else to tell us what to do with our health and wellness. Because it seems easier. And it might be temporarily easier to follow someone else’s rules. But in the long-term, it’s going to be virtually impossible. So honestly would be my number one there, for sure.

Cassy Joy: I love that! That is so great, and that’s a great distinction between just listening to your body and being honest about what your body is telling you. Because absolutely; if you're in the throes of a sugar addiction, it’s very easy to justify, “Well my body is telling me I need to eat all the cookies.” {laughs}

Dr. Adrienne: Exactly. Or, if you're in the throes of disordered eating, and you're like; “I don’t want that food.” Or whatever it may be. That restriction could be your body saying that. But it could also be; I know people who have talked themselves into glucose sensitivities. Not glucose.

Cassy Joy: Gluten.

Dr. Adrienne: Gluten sensitivities. Most of us handle glucose ok. Gluten sensitives. And I understand that many people do struggle with that. But not every single person on this planet struggles with it. So I think it can be very easy to convince ourselves that something is bad for us, “bad” if we’ve heard it enough times.

And honestly, that’s a psychological thing we do, right? We read, listen, and follow people on Instagram that confirm our bias. Confirmation bias is a thing. Which I don’t think is necessarily bad. It’s ok to have beliefs and be in a tribe, or whatever you want to call that. But honesty, at the end of the day, I think is definitely going to help shed some light on it.

Cassy Joy: That’s wonderful. I think that’s great. At the end of the day, I think a good distinction too is the object of the game is to eat more foods, not less foods. It’s not to restrict down to the four things that are benign.

Dr. Adrienne: And that are “perfect.” That’s one of the problems; it becomes another term in disordered eating; orthorexia. Where you're pursuing a perfect diet. Science doesn’t know what that is, yet. And honestly, I don’t think it every well.

Cassy Joy: Absolutely.

Dr. Adrienne: I think, like you said with your Project, it’s an ever-evolving target. Right now, this is great for me. We’ll reevaluate as the days go on. And I’m going to continue to be curious about the foods that I eat and see how they react. And I’m going to continue to be honest. And continue to only do what feels good to me, and not be swayed by extraneous rules. So yeah.

Cassy Joy: That’s wonderful. Man, what a great conversation, Adrienne! This is perfect.

Dr. Adrienne: It was so much fun!

Cassy Joy: So much fun. And I think it’s coming out at a really good time. There’s a lot of very tempting programs out there. And I think it’s good. There’s a lot of people here; we know. Right? We probably have figured out by now that it’s most important to do the harder thing. Which is to follow a more intuitive type eating protocol, or eating program. Just eat for our bodies, and understand that there is no magic pill.

But it’s hard, because we also want to stay abreast of evolving science and see; did they actually come out with a perfect diet for the human race? And I still believe. I still hold true. Even with all of the things coming out about, for example, keto. This is not to dog on keto. I’m just hearing a lot of it because we’re getting a lot of questions. I still don’t believe that is the center of the bullseye for everybody.

So I think this was a really, really great reminder for everybody out there. No matter what the plan is that we want to throw ourselves into. I think it’s really important at the end of the day to remember that you are an individual in so many ways. And the things that are going to nourish you and have you feel the best are going to be very individualistic.

Dr. Adrienne: Yeah.

Cassy Joy: Awesome. Well I really appreciate you coming onto the call today.

Dr. Adrienne: It was so fun!

Cassy Joy: It was.

Dr. Adrienne: Thank you for having me.

Cassy Joy: Oh my goodness, it was so great. You have such a refreshing voice, from South Carolina. Is that where you're from originally?

Dr. Adrienne: I’m from Tennessee originally. But I’ve been in the south all of my life, so yeah.

Cassy Joy: I just love it. Well that’s so fun. I really appreciate you taking the time. It means a lot. And if anybody wants to continue the conversation when this post goes live, you're listening to it so it’s live! You can head over to Fed and Fit the blog. Feel free to leave a comment there, and we can start a conversation. But thank you again, Adrienne, I really appreciate it.

Dr. Adrienne: Thanks.

Cassy Joy: Everybody else; thanks so much. We’ll be back again next week.


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  1. Whitney says:

    This was such a GREAT podcast, and came at the perfect time for me! I am about 5 months out of completing the project, and still trying to balance restriction (for health reasons), and learning to listen more to MY body, instead of following rules! I loved what you said about your conversation with Amber, it was so incredibly relatable to me!!

  2. Kathleen Mezwicki says:

    Loved this podcast! Please do more about intuitive eating, it’s such an interesting topic!

  3. Amie says:

    Loved this podcast! It wasn’t until I started working with an amazing RD who specializes in eating disorders that I was able to really understand and begin to apply intuitive eating practices. She presented it in the same logical down to earth manner, and let me tell you it completely changed my life. Through a lot of hard work and honesty with my body, I’ve been able to overcome the cycle of bouncing back and forth between disordered eating and a clinical eating disorder. I just love that you continue to promote such a positive perspective because it really does change lives. Keep up the great work!!