Maintaining an Intuitive Eating/HAES Philosophy While In Nutrition School

Need a brush-up on intuitive eating? Watch this first!

When I declared a major in dietetics and nutrition at 19, I really and truly thought that nutrition boiled down to eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, condemning dessert, and giving up anything delicious. I steeled myself for the hard science classes and soaked up all of the huge medical words like a sponge (all while pretending I was on Grey’s Anatomy #truestory). All I can say is, thank the Lord that I discovered Robyn Nohling’s blog and was introduced to intuitive eating, because textbook nutrition can be a tricky and miserable path to walk.

I started implementing IE in my own life, starting with this book and later, this workbook. It helps that I’m part of some dietitian-only Facebook groups, many of which are focused on intuitive eating and living. IE has, over the past year and a half, developed into one of the pillars I use to maintain my happiness and mental health, as well as a better relationship with my body.

But there was one thing I could never rectify: I also love clinical nutrition. Love, love, love it. During my dietetic internship, I spent 16 weeks rotating through the departments of Children’s Mercy Hospital. I loved rounds, learning from my preceptors, and my staff relief in renal pediatric nutrition. But every time I had to calculate nutrition needs, recommend supplements, or regulate intake, I also had a pit in my stomach – how could I believe in IE while still ordering calorie counts for my patients?

I thought this might be a problem other nutrition students were facing, so I reached out to some of my favorite Instagram-turned-real friends for help. Meet Lindsay, Michelle, and Amy S (I’m quoting myself as Amy H here since there’s two of us!)!

ice cream and brownie on blanket

DISCOVERING INTUITIVE EATING + HAES

“Like I mentioned earlier, I discovered intuitive eating via Robyn Nohling’s blog during undergrad and it was a huge relief for me on a personal level. However, it didn’t really click for me as a practitioner until during my dietetic internship, where I was able to adjust my approach to be as flexible as possible. It also helped me branch out during my internship and be open to non-traditional rotations like a few weeks at a cake bakery! And now, as a dietitian with a new practice opening soon, I feel strongly connected to IE and HAES and excited to incorporate them with my clients!” -Amy H

“During my undergrad, I discovered the intuitive eating + HAES approach on my own after dealing with bout of disordered eating. A majority of my fellow nutrition students were pretty level-headed when it came to food choices, at least outwardly. We would have potlucks during final exam weeks and all foods were brought + embraced. I was also really lucky to have an awesome nutrition professor who spent a lecture introducing our class to the HAES approach through their video presentation [You can find that curriculum here]. ” -Amy S

“In my first semester I heard Intuitive Eating mentioned a few times. We talked about child nutrition and were told that was the goal. We had a guest lecturer come in and talk about eating disorders, and she said that is the goal for those patients. At the same time, I was listening to lots of podcasts about it and getting interested, and wondered well… why isn’t intuitive eating the goal for everyone!? So although we have not had a dedicated class or lecture to IE/HAES, I’m glad that a few lectures played a role in getting me interested.” – Lindsay

UNDERSTAND THAT SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES CALL FOR SPECIAL MEASURES

AMY H

“Something that was especially hard for me to align in my mind was how to believe in intuitive eating and also believe in the important work I was doing in my clinical nutrition rotations. One of my preceptors summed it up so neatly when she said “special circumstances call for special measures.” When someone is critically ill, has chronic medical conditions, or needs help with getting enough energy through a tube or IV, the ability to eat intuitively is compromised.”

LINDSAY

“Using predictive equations to calculate calories for patients was really frustrating at first. But then I realized that if you’re in a hospital, your patient may be critically ill and be unable to tell you how much/what they like to eat, so you have to have something to go off of to help them. In that situation, your job is to feed them to help them get better, and you need somewhere to start!”

MICHELLE

“Intuitive eating is simply not realistic in every situation and there’s a lot to learn during traditional education that is much more cut and dry.  Specifically, learning about nutritional care in the hospital setting is focused on calories and macronutrient distributions and lots of numbers, but that’s how it has to be!  We sometimes forget that intuitive eating is a privilege that the critically ill (or the people struggling with extreme poverty) do not have the chance to enjoy all the time.  We need to know the formulas and nutrient needs for people with specific health conditions, and we also need to keep an open mind about what health looks like.  AND we need to not hate on our education because it is required to equip us for more traditional acute and chronic MNT.”

chewy pumpkin breakfast cookies

INTUITIVE EATING IN THE NUTRITION SCHOOL

LINDSAY

“In my first semester I heard Intuitive Eating mentioned a few times. We talked about child nutrition and were told that was the goal. We had a guest lecturer come in and talk about eating disorders, and she said that is the goal for those patients. At the same time, I was listening to lots of podcasts about it and getting interested, and wondered well… why isn’t intuitive eating the goal for everyone!? So although we have not had a dedicated class or lecture to IE/HAES, I’m glad that a few lectures played a role in getting me interested.”

MICHELLE

“During my first semester of grad school (in a combined MPH/RD program) I did have a professor introduce the HAES concept during lecture and while it didn’t get too much class time discussion, she spoke very highly of it and encouraged we all learn about this approach to health.  We have had discussions about weight stigma and weight bias in healthcare settings as well how we as practitioners can help minimize that.  We have been reminded that overweight or obese does not always equate with unhealthy.  All of these moments make me realize how much I love my professors and that things are changing in this field!”

AMY S

“I would say the most difficult part were some of the specific rotations and projects. For example, we were required to be the nutrition expert for teams partaking in a “Biggest Loser”-style program for a semester. It was very tough when the overall environment was focused on “clean-eating” + restriction that I could see spiraling into disordered eating. I did my best to meet with my own group and help them challenge the food police. I explained the science of how nutrition does not have to be so black + white, and that all foods fit.

I strived to use more inclusive language regarding food + exercise as well, despite sometimes contradicting the messages they received from trainers and other program leaders. While I truly enjoyed getting to know my team, it was challenging mentally because in some ways, you’re going against what you’re “supposed to do” as an intern. I would say to tread lightly, be respectful of everyone’s good intentions, but also stick to your guns. Even simple ways that you can demonstrate loosening the reins and not being rigid about eating habits can speak volumes for clients”

Y’all, aren’t these ladies just the best?! I have been changed for the better by talking with each of them, and I’m so proud to know them through all these different stages of education and work! Read more about them below, and be sure to check out their blogs!

amy signature

Additional resources:

MEET THE SQUAD

Lindsay Koonce, RD2be | @soontoberd

Lindsay is an RD-to-be studying at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in their coordinated dietetics program. She is in her second year and is excited to graduate in December 2018. Lindsay is passionate about the non-diet approach to health and a proponent of Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size. She blogs over at soontobeRD.com about intuitive eating, body acceptance, and life as a grad student!

Michelle Pillepich, RD2be | @poweRDbypeanutbutter

Michelle is a graduate student in the Masters of Public Health in nutrition program at UNC Chapel Hill. She is currently studying nutrition and working as a dietetic intern during the combined program.  She loves coaching for Girls on the Run in her free time as well as getting in the kitchen or getting outside to be active.  In her future career as a registered dietitian, Michelle hopes to connect with young girls to inspire good nutrition and wellness. You can connect with her on Instagram at @powerdbypeanutbutter!

Amy Shen, RD | @amy.beth.shen

Amy Beth Shen is an RD living in South Carolina with her husband and pup! On her blog, you can expect some nutrition myth busting, satisfying [not restrictive] recipes, ways to reframe disordered eating, + some daily happenings of my life [cute doggy pictures free of charge]. Her goal is for us to nourish our bodies + find joy in movement without sacrificing our mental health. It’s not just about what you eat or how you move. It’s also about your relationship with food + your body. As a non-diet Registered Dietitian, Amy strives for an intuitive eating and Health At Every Size (HAES) approach.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Maintaining an Intuitive Eating/HAES Philosophy While In Nutrition School

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Amy! As a current Dietetics student who embraces IE and HAES I find myself rolling my eyes at much of the curriculum, but am thankful to have professors whose beliefs also align with mine. It was so helpful to read about everyone’s experience with HAES and IE in their DI’s, thanks so much for including that! 🙂

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