Interview with Isabel
Have you seen Isabel's work? Although I originally started this interview series to feature only Registered Dietitians who utilize a non-diet approach to healing eating issues, Isabel is a force for those struggling with binge-eating or emotional eating. In a treatment setting, Dietitians, Psychiatrists, Medical Doctors and Therapist work together, and in a similar way, I like to bring in perspectives of any professional utilizing a non- diet approach. I hope you enjoy reading the interview I had with Isabel below!
Jaren: Current practice information, credentials and how you got started in nutrition?
I’m a sociologist by training, and look at food and body issues through a distinctively sociological lens. I run a program called “Stop Fighting Food” which trains women in challenging their belief systems around food, away from those of the dominant diet culture, and towards those of non-dieters/“normal eaters”/etc. 95% of my clients identify as binge-eaters and/or emotional eaters, and are struggling to let go of the belief systems that keep them trapped in these behaviors – including fatphobia/weight discrimination and ascribing moral judgement to food and food behaviors.
Jaren: When were you first exposed to the idea of intuitive eating and what was your reaction?
When I was first introduced to intuitive eating, I thought it was “the Answer” with a capital A. It made sense to me that traditional diets weren’t sustainable, and intuitive eating was originally posed to me as a “non-diet-solution” to my “weight problem.” In other words, when I first tried to take up intuitive eating, I was doing so as a form of weight control, rather than as a way of making peace with my body and feeding it what it most naturally called for. I jokingly refer to this attitude of applying diet mentality to intuitive eating as “the hunger and fullness diet,” rather than how I now believe intuitive eating should be used: as a way of taking care of your body, rather than trying to manipulate it. Most my clients’ greatest struggle in adopting Intuitive Eating is that they misguidedly apply diet-mentality to their attempts, and often end up with the same results they got with traditional diets. Intuitive Eating is so important, but it can’t really be effectively applied without addressing the underlying belief systems and diet mentality most women struggle with on a daily basis. I talk about this extensively in an article here.
Jaren: How has the practice of intuitive eating enhanced your personal relationship with food?
Ultimately, Intuitive Eating has taught me to get back to my biological instincts around food, and learn to eat like the human mammal that I am. I was so practiced at ignoring my body in my dieting days, that I couldn’t even tell when I was hungry towards the end. I had no ability to discern what my body wanted to eat, and had to be “told” what to eat in almost all circumstances — which of course, I would rebel against. It was kind of a nightmare, and one that I think the diet-industry is single-handedly responsible for.
Getting back in touch with my body has helped me make moment-to-moment decisions around food (i.e. I don’t need to go to a restaurant with a plan — I can eat what sounds good to me and feel confident my decisions are in line with my health for the most part). It’s taken the mental busy-work around food off my plate entirely. And, to be honest, it’s helped me connect with myself in other more spiritual and emotional ways in general. I trust my instincts in all areas of life so much more after having “practiced” with food.
Jaren: How has intuitive eating enhanced your professional practice and work with clients?
I work with diet-binge cyclers almost exclusively, so my work with clients always starts with transitioning to non-dieting through intuitive eating, and then we work through emotional blocks or beliefs that may be hindering that transition.
What suggestions do you have for dietetic student who are being trained in a traditional approach but who are aching to incorporate HAES® and intuitive eating work?
Challenge your professors and seek out alternative research. There is plenty of evidence to support the assertion that diets for weight loss are not sustainable solutions to chronic health conditions, and often come with a laundry list of negative side effects, including disordered eating, metabolic damage, re-bound weight gain, etc. I have yet to find a study that suggests a weight loss solution exists with any significant “success rate” over a period of more than five years.
Jaren: What suggestions do you have for dealing with colleagues who are not trained in the paradigm?
Know your research and compassionately share it. You can also encourage your colleagues to do their own research as well, and challenge them on the validity of the pro-diet research they recommend (e.g. Is there any evidence that a particular diet “works” for more than a small percentage of people over the long term? Were the studies cited of a period of time that’s more than 5 years - which is usually the relevant time frame for diet-relapse and rebound weight gain?)
Secondly, it’s important to note that people argue back and forth all day long about the dangers (or non-dangers) of fat. But very few people can argue that regardless of the health implications of fat, we simply don’t know how to make people permanently thinner, and most weight loss attempts run the risk of various negative health consequences, including long-term weight gain, in the long run).
In other words, if fat is inherently unhealthy (which is currently unclear), but the likely outcome of dieting is that I become fatter and/or yo-yo my whole life*— does recommending dieting really constitute ethical or effective weight-related intervention? I would say no. We have a much better chance of producing well-rounded health outcomes by focusing on health behaviors that can be controlled long-term, and don’t run the same level of yo-yo related health risks.
*It is well evidenced that “weight-cycling” (i.e. yo-yo-ing up and down) is more harmful to a person’s health and increases fatality risks more than being fat alone. Linda Bacon outlines research around this in depth in HAES.
I'm so grateful to have Isabel share! If you haven't connected with Isabel yet, check out her blog, isabelfoxenduke.com and be sure to check out her FREE video training series here.