Intuitive Eating: 5 Things To Know About The Method Katharine McPhee Used To Beat Bulimia

Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. It sounds radical but intuitive eating is a diet-busting plan that you need to know about. To mark National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we break it down.

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What if we told you that the key to freeing yourself from yo-yo dieting is to listen to your body? Not just listen to it, but pay attention to your hunger pangs, eat, eat what you want, and stop when you’re full. Sounds crazy, right? In reality it’s a method called intuitive eating, which has been around for nearly 25 years and which actress and singer Katharine McPhee, now 34, once said helped her to finally conquer bulimia.

Thirteen years later the groundbreaking book behind that treatment (“Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works”) is in its third edition and the co-author Evelyn Tribole is sharing details of the method with HollywoodLife to mark National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. “It’s a mind-body technique,” the 59-year-old registered dietitian nutritionist tells us about the method that she crafted with her colleague Elyse Resch. “It’s a self-care framework that has 10 principles in which you are the expert of your body. No one can be the boss of you. Not even me.”

More on those “10 principles” later but, before we get to those, Evelyn hits us with a few facts. “Dieting is not sustainable,” she tells HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY. “Dieting causes more weight gain in the long run.” Evelyn also claims that several studies have proven that “95 percent of diets don’t work” and that “two-thirds” of dieters will “regain more weight than they lost.”

So, what do you do if you want to be healthy or if you’re in the grips of an eating disorder? Here are five things to know about intuitive eating:

1. Make Peace With Food. “One thing that [Katharine McPhee did] that generated a lot of news was eating Snickers bars [daily during her treatment],” says Evelyn, who has not worked with the former American Idol contestant. “I call it the permission paradox and that is, when you finally have permission to eat something…you remove all that excitement and it’s phenomenal what it does.” The theory is, if you no longer ban a particular food from your life or label it as “bad” you’re less likely to want to binge on it.

2. Honor Your Hunger. “If you’re walking around and you’re starving…you’re putting your body on famine,” Evelyn says. “All your cells are like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s trying to kill me.’ So, what’s going to happen is, when you’re hungry, you’re going to have cravings that build up a life of [their] own. I call that primal hunger. That in itself could trigger compensatory overeating, because the body is just trying to save itself at all costs.” The solution? Eat when you’re hungry.

What is Intuitive Eating?
Author and nutritionist Evelyn Tribole (left) co-wrote the book ‘Intuitive Eating’ with her colleague Elyse Resch (right). (Courtesy of Mikel Healey)

3. Aim For Satisfaction When You Eat. Honoring your hunger is not the same as this next step – getting into that “sweet spot” between under-eating and overeating, neither of which is, Evelyn says, “satisfying.” So, she recommends that when you eat, whatever you eat, make sure that you connect with it. “What tastes, what textures, and so on,” she says. “How do I want to feel when I finish eating this meal or snack?” This step can include satisfying your cravings or something far simpler. “For example, when I’m getting ready to do a big talk, I want to be well-nourished, but I don’t want to be digesting while I’m speaking,” she says. “So I’ll probably end up eating a lighter meal, because that’s how I want to feel.”

4. Honor Your Fullness. This next step sounds easy but, again, it requires paying attention to your body. Hunger and fullness are “normal cues,” Evelyn says. “There’s nothing wrong with you having [them], but because of diet culture, people think they have to out-trick hunger, or they have to fake themselves into fullness.” However, if you’re battling an eating disorder these hunger and fullness cues may be off. In those cases, Evelyn recommends working with an intuitive eating trained treatment team on a more structured plan to nourish your body at a consistent time throughout the day. “I look at an eating disorder as like a broken arm,” she says. “When you have a broken bone you’re going to need a cast to support the healing, but the goal is not to have the cast on for the rest of your life.”

5. Respect Your Body. This last step is perhaps the most challenging for many dieters and eating disorder patients. Intuitive eating isn’t about forcing your body to be a certain weight or to fit into a box of what you or society thinks is ideal. It’s about respecting your body and its internal physical cues “regardless of what size it is,” says Evelyn who praises the work of body activist and actress Jameela Jamil whose I Weigh movement challenges people to not measure their worth in pounds and inches. “You are not your body,” the nutritionist says. “Your body is your home. You as a human being have a right to dignity and worth.”

What is Intuitive Eating?
Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch wrote the groundbreaking book ‘Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works’. (Courtesy of Mikel Healey)

These are just five guidelines, but Evelyn and Elyse list the full 10 principles in their book – reject the diet mentality, honor your hunger, make peace with food, challenge the food police, feel your fullness, discover the satisfaction factor, cope with your emotions without using food, respect your body, exercise, and honor your health with gentle nutrition. For more information about intuitive eating and certified counselors visit the Intuitive Eating website.

Evelyn notes that you can’t fail on this program. “There is no failure. It’s a journey of discovery, over and over again. It’s a blossoming.” She adds, “This is life-changing. I want people to come home to their bodies.”