Search
  • Paige Smathers

54: Getting EXTREMELY Practical about Intuitive Eating

Updated: Jan 9, 2020


I've worked for years to help people troubleshoot intuitive eating. I believe that intuitive eating can work for ANYONE: but, it's incredibly important to learn about how to make it your own, rather than just blindly following someone else's interpretation or black-and-white rules.

Join me as I talk with Jessi Haggerty from the BodyLove Podcast about the practical ways I approach intuitive eating for myself and my clients.

This interview was recorded originally for her podcast but she shared the audio file with me and I'm republishing on Nutrition Matters Podcast because I think you all will love our conversation! And, it's a little change-up because I play the role of interviewee here instead of interviewer.

Links mentioned:

Listen here:

Full transcript:

Well hello. Welcome back to another episode of nutrition matters podcast. As you know, I’m Paige your host and today I’m bringing you something a little different than normal. So I ...a few months ago actually recorded an episode, a podcast episode with Jessi Haggerty who has started a new podcast called The Body Love Podcast--or The Body Love Project--excuse me, and she interviewed me. She’s doing a series about intuitive eating and she interviewed me alongside a few other fabulous dietitians who I admire and really think are wonderful about my perspective on intuitive eating and I told her that, you know when she gets that finished if she wants to send it my way, I’ll republish the audio on my podcast, that way my audience can listen and kind of get familiar with her podcast. As well, I think it might be kinda fun for you all to get to know me a little bit differently because you obviously talk a little differently when you are the interviewer versus the interviewee. So I think it's a really fun conversation. We get really practical about how I approach intuitive eating and how I help my clients. What exact tips do I use to help people continue to move forward in their journeys to healing their relationship with food. So I truly think you’ll enjoy this episode. I really enjoyed making it with Jessi and I think she’s really awesome. I’m excited to see where her podcast goes.

Jessi: Okay, Paige. Let’s start at the beginning and tell me a little bit about your journey to becoming a dietitian and how you got involved with intuitive eating as part of your practice.

Paige: Yeah, so at age 14 I knew that I wanted to be dietitian. My mom is a really, really good cook and I’ve always really loved helping her in the kitchen and then I really enjoyed playing sports, so I was really active in basketball and volleyball. In high school, I played club volleyball. I was really into it and I’d have different people tell me different things about what foods to eat and I just felt like I really would love to feel like I knew the truth about food because I feel like there’s so much conflicting…

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: ...stuff out there and so I went to a career day in high school and listened to a dietitian talk and I was like sold that day. The crazy thing was I was kind of like, ‘You know, I might change my mind and I’m okay if I want to change my mind, but I think this is what I want to do.’ So, yeah. Here I am. (laughing)

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: Still into it. Still loving it. And it’s evolved throughout the years. At first I thought, ‘I’m going to help everybody lose weight and have the healthiest lifestyle ever,’

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: ... and I went through school and just kind of realized how hard it is to help umm...just weight loss is just kind of you know, a tricky issue…

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: ...in terms of does it even work...

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: ...is it even you know, does it even really help people long term or does it harm people long term to go through that work of trying to lose weight? Do I feel good about being involved in that world? and so you know my journey was sort of like...I took a clinical job out of school, which was great. I really loved the exposure I had to all kinds of different things. I was trained as a diabetic educator in the hospital setting, which was fun. I got to teach new and old diabetics about, you know, medication management and food and eating and carbs and all of that, and that was a lot of fun, and then I did you know other regular educations and regular clinical work. I really enjoyed working with doctors. I really enjoyed like the team aspect of the clinical environment…

Jessi: Sure.

Paige: ...but what I really kind of felt was missing was umm just the continuity of seeing someone, working with them, following up with them, checking and seeing what’s working and what’s not.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: So that whole behavior change process in the hospital is really not the best because….

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...because you’re talking to someone when they’re drugged up…

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: ...and after surgery and their family is there and they’re like super not in the mood to talk to you.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: So I just felt like, I felt like, ‘Man I feel like I could do so much more than this. I feel like I could really help people.’ So I...an opportunity came up to be the outpatient dietitian at the hospital, so I took that job and that was amazing and I was exposed to eating disorders for the first time which I had told myself I would never do…

Jessi: Uhuh.

Paige: ...all kinds of stuff that I was like, ‘Aughh! This is way out of my comfort zone!’ But, umm, you know on the shelf...I hadn’t heard about Intuitive Eating until I became the outpatient dietitian.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: So on the shelf of the office that I took over was that book and some...I know I had heard of it at some point. Someone had mentioned it. So I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll read that.’ So I read it the first few weeks on that job and I was like, “Oh, this is it!’ and it was actually..a lot of the concepts in there were things that I’d already come to intuitively, for a lack of a better word…

Jessi: Sure.

Paige: ...like on my own. So it was really great to sort of be validated by just this really you know great body of work.

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: So, that’s kind of it.

Jessi: I think that’s so interesting when you first saying you know I was really looking to find the truth about food because I have always felt like when I tell people why I got into nutrition, that’s like the reason. I wanted some answers because you hear so...and still so much conflicting advice.

Paige: Oh, if not way more now.

Jessi: Right! Oh yeah.

Paige: I mean this is a way different time. Yeah.

Jessi: Totally. Right, I’m like oh if I felt like that you know ten--over ten years ago--like imagine how people are feeling now.

Paige: Totally.

Jessi: But it’s so interesting because I think when you start learning about intuitive eating and that whole practice you’re like, ‘Oh, this is like where the truth is.’ And then you find out it’s just different for everyone. Like there’s no facts that it’s like that’s going to fit you and me and one of our clients, and you know…(laughing)

Paige: So true.

Jessi: ...like someone living on the other side of the world. So I’m like, this is so interesting.

Paige: It’s just nuance. It’s all nuance.

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: There’s no black and white answers. Yeah. (laughing)

Jessi: I had a similar experience not from reading that book, but I read along time ago this book--which I don’t think got a lot of attention or at least maybe because I read it before there was like tons of umm people sharing stuff like on social media and everything. But it was called The Jungle Effect and it was a doctor who studied people who were living in America but from like different parts of the world or like that’s where their nationality was from and so, she really discovered like what were these areas in the world and like where was there incident...what was their like lowest incidents of disease and like how are these people eating in their current environment, but like not… but are trying to I guess avoid like how their body like best assimilates food. I thought that that was really interesting because it kind of touches on a similar concept of like we’re all different, like we’re all going to process food differently. Now there’s so much information out there that tries to put everyone in these like little boxes of like well you should follow a vegan diet and you should follow a paleo diet and you should follow a sugar free diet or gluten free diet and everyone’s like ‘What am I supposed to do?’ (laughing).

Paige: Yeah. It’s so confusing. Totally.

Jessi: But it takes a little bit of work to figure that out. So after you read that book and started working...implementing that into your sessions a little bit more with clients and patients?

Paige: Yeah, yeah! Totally. Umm and like I said, it was a lot of stuff I had sort of come to naturally in my own eating journey and in my own life and so, it just...it felt ethical to help people…

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: ...instead of helping people you know learn about carbs, fats and proteins, or something like that, you know yeah you might have those conversations but it just felt a lot more sort of true to who I am as a human being to help people really heal what’s wrong and work on the problem at hand rather than just sort of like trimming at the limbs of the tree so to speak, you know. Sort of getting to that root and so yeah, I think we’re always learning, we’re always growing, we’re always changing and you know even now with my podcast that I have like I’m exploring issues and learning and kind of grappling with, ‘Well what do I really think about that?’ and so I think it’s fair to say we’re always you know trying to figure out how to apply this better and I think the more you learn…

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...and the more experience you get, you realize just like what you were saying earlier, gosh nobody…(laughing)

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: ...no two people are the same...

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...and nobody needs the exact same advice…

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...so, it’s tricky. Some people with intuitive eating, it’s...they...there’s such--and we can get into this later if you want, but there’s such black and white thinkers that...

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...it actually totally messes them up! (laughing)

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: So, anyway yeah.

Jessi: No, it’s so true! And I found that that was like a really, really hard thing for me when I started coaching people, like just when I started out as a dietitian or like before I was a dietitian I was working just as a personal trainer, so I was always working one on one with people and I was always trying to like help people be more moderate in their choices and there are some people who like just can’t wrap their heads around that and it is like I need to know exactly how many calories, exactly what time of day I’m going to be eating, like when I...like what time I should stop eating, like they really want all of these…

Paige: Rules.

Jessi: ...these rules. Yeah. And I actually was reading through your website a couple of days ago and I came across your blogpost that was like “6 Myths of Intuitive Eating” and one of them was that people always think there’s no structure, it’s like ‘Well I’m going to just eat whatever I want,’ and I know that umm this came up on another episode, but a lot of times people say, ‘Well I don’t trust myself...

Paige: That’s huge.

Jessi: I don’t trust myself to let myself “go.”’ So, can you talk a little more about that? About like if you're with someone who is like really black and white, how can you give them structure without feeling...well, also allowing them to tap into their intuition when it comes to eating.

Paige: Yeah, I think that’s like the name of the game when you’re trying to help people with intuitive eating, because that is...you have to sort of like meet them where they are and where a lot of people are is rigid, all or nothing, (laughing), used to dieting, used to rules, right. So, umm I really try to meet people where they are and even if it’s not perfect or ideal, I like to sort of start implementing and weaving in various aspects of intuitive eating. So, umm I’ll tell you kind of two things I do. So one thing is I kind of draw a little bit of a picture and I know this is kinda hard on a podcast, but on one end over here is food obsession…

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: ...and that’s where most people who find intuitive eating are coming from.

Jessi: Right.

Paige: They’re obsessed. They’re crazy. They’re just overboard and extreme with their concern about nutrition. And then over on the other end of the spectrum is food apathy and to a black and white thinker, intuitive eating can feel like it’s saying, ‘You need to go from food obsession to food apathy. You just can’t care anymore.’

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: You just can’t, right. So one of the visuals I like to draw for people is hey, let’s not be extreme on either end of the spectrum. Let’s come here to the middle. So like imagine my hands like you know still in a range but just closer together and on the food apathy side is flexibility.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: So it’s not apathy, but it’s flexible. And then on the other end of the normal...within the normal range of the spectrum is food concern or you know, you’re trying to really be aware and cognizant of getting you I know a balanced...well balanced meal and diet and all of that.

Jessi: Right.

Paige: And so I like to kinda paint this picture where it’s like, I’m not trying to bring you to this other extreme. I’m trying to bring you somewhat to the middle.

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: And it’s still a range. This is normal. It’s still a range, but you get to decide like do you feel more comfortable smack dab in the middle? Do feel a little bit more comfortable on the flexible end of the normal spectrum?

Jessi: Right.

Paige: Do I feel a little bit more comfortable on the more concerned end? And I think there’s space for that. Like I don’t think we all need to be you know eating donuts everyday for breakfast because that’s what sounds good and that’s what’s intuitive to us right?

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: I mean it just like...I feel like that’s what an all or nothing thinker tends to kind of do with intuitive eating, is it’s like, ‘Okay, there’s no rules and that means I have to just eat the thing that’s “not good for me” because if I eat the food that’s “good for me”....

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: ...that means I’m listening to the food police…

Jessi: Right (laughing).

Paige: ...which is one of the principles of intuitive eating not to do. So it can really mess with your head if you’re an all or nothing thinker.

Jessi: Uh, yeah. I can totally…

Paige: So that’s kind of one idea.

Jessi: Okay, what’s the second one? You said you had two.

Paige: The second one is umm, one of my favorite ways to help people apply some structure is umm to have structured times of day when you eat. And I know maybe not everyone would agree with me on this, but I like to use hunger and fullness as a way to decide how much to eat, not when to eat. So, for instance, you should have a normal sort of eating routine where like maybe you eat around 7-8:00 in the morning and then you eat again around 12-1:00 and then again around 5-6:00 and then maybe you eat another snack in the evening or something along those lines lets just say.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: So, for me I eat a really big breakfast. I just do. I love like getting really satisfied first thing in the morning and then a lot of times I show up at lunch and I’m just kind of like a little blah…

Jessi: Yes.

Paige: Like not that hungry yet, but I’ve noticed when I skip lunch or I go too long without eating lunch, then I end up getting way too hungry....

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...I don’t make the best choices, then I’m not hungry for dinner, which I wanna be able to sit down with my family and eat.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: And so I’ve noticed that like for a lot of people it’s helpful to say like here are your structured meal or snack times and some people need, you know snack time in the afternoon and some people don’t. Some people need a morning snack. Whatever. So, we figure that out together. Just a basic structure and then you make an assessment of how hungry you’re feeling when you show up to that mealtime and then that dictates how much you eat. So, for instance if I show up at lunch and I’m kinda blah, but I know it’s kinda time to eat, if I can identify, ‘Okay, I’m a little hungry but not as hungry as I would usually like to be for a meal, so instead of eating my sandwich and my yogurt and my apple and peanut butter and my carrots, lets just say…

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: ...I’m gonna eat half my sandwich and my yogurt and maybe a couple bites of the apple and see how I feel and try to get to that satisfied level…

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...even if I’m not you know super hungry.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: That just sets you up for being able to then be hungry at the next time you’re supposed to eat instead of just like…

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...bouncing to extremes of starving and then overdoing it kind of thing.

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: That’s my favorite way to help people apply some structure.

Jessi: I think that’s a really great tip because I think that I see that a lot as like people either well, like one, is just like eating kind of constantly throughout the day like not really thinking about it. Or two, like what you were saying before is like having breakfast or maybe even like skipping breakfast and then having lunch and then going like eight hours until dinner. Or maybe like not...some people I know don’t even eat until dinner and so there’s like all these different things that kind of...yeah, like your body...you’re gonna tell your body when it gets hungry if you kind of make that structured meal time.

Paige: Yeah. Sometimes you have to get yourself on that structure in order to start tapping into your intuition.

Jessi: Yeah, cool. And I love what you were saying about that spectrum is there’s...food obsession and food apathy and I think that, you know umm...I actually have a friend that we kind of joke about because he really, like I think he’s on that food apathy spectrum. Like he could care less about food, like he’s like just get...he like eats...he’s like one of those people who like eats for function. I’m going to have my chicken now so I don’t pass out tonight. (laughing) Like that’s...and I was like, I’m someone who really enjoys food, umm and I think that a lot of times, right people feel like, ‘If I’m obsessed with it, I now just either have to not care about it.’ And I like what you were saying about how it’s still a spectrum. You can still pick one side if you want to but just make the spectrum a lot smaller.

Paige: And a lot less extreme. Yeah!

Jessi: Yes.

Paige: Exactly and I love that because for so many people who try intuitive eating who are black and white thinkers, they do end up in that apathy and it’s just not them, right, and it just doesn’t jive with their personality or with who they are, so they're really unhappy.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: So sometimes--and I know this is like potentially controversial to say this for people who are really like rigid intuitive eater, you know what I mean?

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: Anyway, do you know what I mean?

Jessi: It’s just such an oxymoron it seems like, but go on.

Paige: It is, but there are like people out there who will totally judge you if you’re like trying to take a different approach.

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: So anyway, I’ve had it happen to me.

Jessi: No judgement here.

Paige: Okay, good.

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: You know I think sometimes people just do really well with a little bit of permission to care, you know…

Jessi: Right.

Paige: and a little bit of permission to say, ‘Hey it’s okay to choose the “healthier” option. It doesn't mean I’m listening to the food police…

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ...and all it means is that I’m just trying to kind of make a choice that’s going to lead to you know my body feeling great, my body functioning the way I want it to.’ I think sometimes people just need permission…

Jessi: Yeah.

Paige: ...who are internalizing that intuitive eating message in a really kind of like intense way.

Jessi: Yeah, I agree and I think that sometimes it does take being on both ends of that wide spectrum to really figure out how to get…

Paige: That’s true!

Jessi: ...to the middle because…

Paige: So true! Yeah.

And that’s kind of I feel like how we all are with everything. It’s like, I mean on one of the other episodes we were kind of like relating this to like money. You talk about like, well you can have like follow a really strict budget or a lot of times people decide well, screw it. I’m not going to follow a budget, I’m just gonna like do what I want and like you know “be moderate.”

Paige: (laughing)

Jessi: But there’s I think that there’s like always...you have to kind of experience both sides, ummm...

Paige: That is actually really wise and that’s often what the first you know weeks or months of intuitive eating look like for people, is just like, ‘Okay I guess I’m apathetic now,’ you know.

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: And I think like you said it’s an important part of the discovery of like where you like to sit and where you like to kind of land on that spectrum. So yeah, totally true.

Jessi: Have you found that that is difficult when you have people who are coming from this place of restriction or food obsession and I mean in my experience I know a lot of times I get people who like they expect to like, ‘Well, how fast am I gonna lose weight? How fast am I gonna see results?’ And you know, how do you kind of structure umm...I guess your program for a person like that and say, ‘Okay well maybe you’re not going to like lose weight, but you will see results in a different way.’

Paige: So, it starts on my website because I hate when people get actually into my office where they’re gonna have to pay me and…

Jessi: Sure. (laughing)

Paige: ...you know and then I’m telling them something like, ‘Hey, let’s not focus on weight,’ and it’s like that’s not what jives with them.

Jessi: Right.

Paige: Liek I get that my approach is maybe not what everybody’s ready for…

Jessi: Sure.

Paige: ...or willing to listen to, so I really try to make it super clear, like everywhere on my website, like everything I do is like you know really trying to be you know weight neutral. Yeah, I might talk about weight loss, but I’m always framing it in…’That is a wonderful consequence of positive behavior change for a lot of people, but not for everybody,’ right?

Jessi: Right.

Paige: So, umm I do try to have sort of like a weight neutral conversation. We talk about food neutrality a lot of times in that first session together, but then also like weight neutrality as well and so sometimes you know I’ll say, ‘Hey is it okay if I weigh you with your back turned to the number just so I can know what that number is and we can process this at one point together? But let’s just not make this about the number…

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: ...let’s make this about how you’re able to make some strides with your mentality and your relationship with food.’ Most of the people who come to me are actually sort of like on their last rope.

Jessi: Yep.

Paige: You know, they’re kind of like, they’ve tried it all and they like, ‘Fine, I guess I’ll try this professional. Whatever.’

Jessi: (laughing)

Paige: (laughing) And so, they you know…

Jessi: I guess I’ll consult a professional now.

Paige: Yeah, yeah. Exactly! I’ve talked to all these other people and now I’m gonna try a professional. Anyway, so a lot of times they’re sort of already on board with like, ‘Okay, yeah. Diets don’t work, you know I might lose weight with a diet, but I’ve always gained it back in the past. I don’t want to do that again.’

Jessi: Right.

Paige: So most of the time, it doesn’t require a ton of convincing, but it is sort of like a mentality thing--a mentality shift where you’re like, ‘Okay, weight loss is not our goal. Our goal is you know to improve your relationship with food and improve how you interact with food and if weight loss happens as a result of that, wonderful! If weight gain happens as a result of that, it’s probably what your body needed to do.’ And there are people who do gain weight as a result of that.

Jessi: Right.

Paige: Or if your weight stays the exact same, then that’s exactly what it needed to do. So we just try to develop some...a sense of trust with your body in this process. And I’ve seen that work really, really well for people is when they finally let go of all of that rigid control adn kind of umm, you know concern in that way. A lot of times that’s just, I feel like there’s an element that we just don’t understand…

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: ...about metabolism. Just so much of it…

Jessi: Yes.

Paige: ...has to do with our mindset and the way we think about things and the stress we put on ourselves and sometimes just letting go of that can free up a beautiful world, so.

Jessi: I totally agree with that and I almost like...it’s so interesting because I feel...this is gonna sound so woo-woo to some people...but I can almost see it like on people, like when I first meet someone--not anyone. Like if I’m actually coaching them and not like some person that I just met at a party. (laughing)

Paige: If you’re in this mode. Yeah. (laughing)

Jessi: Yeah. I’m in the mode and because you know I do meet a lot of women especially who like are so like what you were saying at their wits end. They’re like so frustrated and I feel like that frustration alone is like such a huge factor into like why they feel so stuck. But it’s such a hard thing to tackle, so like when you talk about weight neutrality, like what...how would you...like what would be the first step you take with someone to try and get there?

Paige: Umm, okay…

Jessi: One of the first steps.

Paige: ...uh that’s so individual right?

Jessi: Mhmm.

Paige: So, I think sometimes I try to sort of help...I think a big thing I use in my counseling style is trying to help people think things are their idea…

Jessi: Yes!

Paige: So, I hope none of my clients are listening right now. (laughing)

Jessi: (laughing) That also works with small children. (laughing)

Paige: Right. And husbands. (laughing)

Jessi: And husbands! Yeah! (laughing)

Paige: It’s a good life skill to acquire I think. So, I’ll say stuff like, ‘Okay so tell me about the last few diets you went on.’ And they’ll say, ‘Okay, well I did Atkins and it worked really well.’ I hear this all the time, ‘It worked really well.’

Jessi: Yeah. (laughing)

Paige: And I’m like, ‘Okay, well what worked about it?’ and then they’ll say, ‘Oh, well I lost twenty five pounds,’ and then the big, ‘Ugh, but it was way too hard to sustain, so I ended up gaining it back.’ Then my next question is, ‘Well, would you really define that as working for you? Do you really think that diet worked for you if it ended up in you gaining more weight than you had lost?’ right?

Jessi: Right.

Paige: ‘Now you weight more than you did when you started that diet. And how’s your relationship with food as a result? What’s changed there?’ and a lot of times they’ll be like, ‘Oh my gosh. You’re right. That diet didn't’ work. Yeah it worked in that moment, but it didn’t really work long term and now I’m actually more obsessed and more rigid and more mental....