Intuitive Eating and HAES | Art + Worksheets

Image of HAES-related resources, including a Body Trust illustration, the Body Diversity illustration, and the Internal Authority Illustration.

My art, my practice, and my own personal journey are radically body positive, health at every size aligned, anti-diet, fat positive, and intuitive eating inclusive. I believe these are not only keys to living well, but according to academic research , these things also lead to long term physical health, mental health, and collective/public health.

Because of this personal conviction and professional orientation as a mental health provider, a number of pieces in my portfolio of psychoeducational art are dedicated to HAES, social justice for bodies that experience marginalization for any reason including body size, intuitive eating, and resources for understanding and working with disordered eating.

I believe Health at Every Size is an issue of Social Justice

While thin bodies are privileged in many contexts, large bodies experience discrimination, lack of access to care and resources, and, ultimately, decreased health. Resources in my catalog and on my website related to HAES as social justice include my open letter to teachers and schools that include Irvin Yalom’s fatmisic text Love’s Executioner in their curriculum, an essay on how thin privilege in College-based eating disorder treatment clinics may be making all of us sicker, and an infographic doodle on how experiences of weight related stigmatization result in weight gain, decreased access to health supporting resources, and poorer health.

weight stigma perpetuates cycles that lead to poorer health outcomes
weight stigma perpetuates cycles that lead to poorer health outcomes

I believe Anti-Diet is Pro Mental Health

Internal Authority and Trusting your Body to begin intuitive eating

I am not anti individuals-who-struggle-with-chronic-dieting, or who choose to diet in the belief that it is self care, but having evaluated the body of research and listened to my own body’s story of harm through dieting, I believe intentional restrictive dieting (for the explicit or implicit goal of weight loss) has consequences that may be physically and mentally harmful.

Dieting teaches us to trust an external authority over the messages that our body is sending. Over time, ignoring a body’s hunger and satiation sensations dissociates us from the rich body of data that our body gives us, through body sensations, to help us move through life with intuitive wisdom. Restoring trust in our body’s own ability to self regulate, ask for what it needs, and to know when to stop eating, is called returning to an internal authority. Trusting in an internal authority after we’ve been conditioned to use external authorities like calorie counts, fitness trackers, weights, and BMIs, is challenging to many but a rewarding journey that can lead to improved physical health and mental health.

Internal Authority and Trusting your Body

“Diet Culture” refers to the way a restrictive mindset has permeated our day to day lives and social interactions even when we aren’t actively dieting.  It’s why we might thin ordering desert makes us “bad,” and why advertising for low-calorie food often uses moral language (“innocent” “guilt-free”) and how generally we don’t actually find any of that odd!  is  Many times when people begin the journey of leaving diet culture behind, they find the journey ahead disorienting. What can we listen to if we give up our next external trackers? The answer: our body has many signals we can learn to listen for an answer.

Internal Authority and Trusting your Body

For many individuals, the hardest part of leaving diet culture behind is really trusting that their hunger can ever, really, be satiated. Diet culture has taught us that if we don’t restrict or limit we will eat with no limits, insatiably. (As a side note, I’m convinced that this is where the archetype of vampires came from, which inspired an entire doodle series on intuitive eating vampires) But research- and for many of us well into the Intuitive Eating journey, experience- shows us that when we don’t restrict our eating and instead allow access, we can restore the connection between brain and body that helps us feel and respond to cues of fullness and satiation.

All of these things can help us learn to honor the story our bodies are telling, which for many is a practice that can help us heal and become more empathic, intuitive, and wise humans.

Image titled "Intuitive Eating Vampires." A doodle is drawn below of a vampire pouring "dried blood" cereal into a bowl. The vampire is saying, "You know, I think maybe I just have a snack-sized blood lust."

Disordered Eating

Eating disorders are about food, and they aren’t about food. Both can be true because all mental health symptoms are complex and rooted in individual brain chemistry, family, culture, and systems. In a culture where energy-dense foods are labeled as “morally bad” and adherence to a diet means you’ve “been good,” it’s no wonder that many individuals who struggle with disordered eating also struggle with issues of overcontrol which can show up as maladaptive perfectionism, orthorexia, intrusive thoughts, and other mental health issues. Why? Partly because research shows that when brains aren’t able to access what they need most, they switch into a scarcity mindset and hyperfocus on that thing- making it much harder to make good, goal-directed decisions and utilize our support resources.

Intuitive Eating

Decades of food policy and marketing have reduced eating to a purely biological function while pathologizing any emotional eating. The truth is that all eating is emotional, and without emotion, desire, and pleasure inextricably tied up in the experience of eating, early humans would never have survived in the first place! Intuitive eating is a way of eating that seeks to reunite emotion and body wisdom with the practice of eating. It starts by acknowledging that emotions, thoughts, and body sensations are all linked. Growing awareness of how emotions show up in our body can help us grow a greater capacity to eat intuitively.

A Note on “Health” as it relates to Size Oppression

Before you disagree on the above on basis of  concern for the “health” of “obese” individuals, consider three points:

  1.  Research has strongly linked experiences of weight stigmatization with reduced life expectancy, even after adjusting for potential health compromises due to weight. [to quote researchers from Florida State University in a 2015 journal article: “Weight discrimination was associated with a nearly 60% increased mortality risk in {two specific longevity studies} that was not accounted for by common physical and psychological risk factors.”
  2. The theory that maintenance of significant weight loss is possible has been disproven by dozens of peer-reviewed academic studies. Advertising reinforces this belief, not research. [A meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies done by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases found that “more than half of the lost weight was regained within two years, and by five years more than 80% of lost weight was regained”] (Of note, studies like this usually exclude from their final tally participants who drop out and stop reporting into researchers, which likely boosts the numbers into the mid-90% figure that some studies have placed it)
  3. Body size is one of many health factors, and having a large body and being healthy are not mutually exclusive. See meta-research analysis here:  Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift
  4. NO ONE OWES YOU HEALTH.  To demand that an individual conforms to your idea of health is a privileged perspective. People are large for countless and complex reasons.