Does Intuitive Eating Work Better Than Dieting?

Does Intuitive Eating Work Better Than Dieting?

Does Intuitive Eating Work Better Than Dieting?

By, KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian & CAITLYN CAMPBELL, Student Dietitian. 

17th January 2020

As we plunge into the new year, the talk of dieting seems to be ramped up in the media and among our friends, family, and coworkers. So, we thought that it would be a good idea to touch on the question, “Does Intuitive Eating Work Better than Dieting?”

To get started, what does “working” mean? To some, working would mean achieving a smaller body size. After all, one of dieting’s defining characteristics is the intentional pursuit of weight loss. On the other hand, others may say they want to enter the new year better supporting their health. 

Do we need to lose weight to support health?

Many of us are raised to believe that being of a higher weight is unhealthy. We’re also led to assume diets are safe, and harmless, and it’s just a matter of “eat less, move more”.

What we have now come to know through research and experience, is that through dieting, people end up with all sorts of complex issues that can worsen health such as increased risk of disordered eating behaviours, weight cycling (weight going down and up in a way that could be harmful to cardiovascular health), and worsened self-esteem. How is that healthy?

For a lot of people this sounds completely foreign. If we’re hearing things for the first time, the human response is to feel conflicted, confused or to not believe this could be relevant for you. So if you’re feeling uneasy right now, just stay with me.

There is limited evidence to support the long-term benefits of weight loss. There is overwhelming evidence that shows any form of intentional weight loss has no long-term success. Regardless of the degree of initial weight loss seen with lifestyle intervention, most weight is regained within a 2 year period, and by 5 years the majority of people are at their pre-intervention weight. Crazy!! If weight loss were to be a pill, it would be unethical for doctors to prescribe it due to its lack of effectiveness! 

But does being of high weight or living in a larger body mean someone needs to lose weight to be “healthier”?

A group of researchers asked this question and assessed risk of death according to body weight, accounting for healthy habits. The researchers found that with each healthy habit, the risk of death reduced significantly, regardless of size! So much so, that when those of higher BMI are engaging in the four main healthy lifestyle habits (not smoking, not drinking too much, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and drinking only in moderations (if at all)) their risk of death was lower than that of those in the “healthy” BMI range. These results mean that being high weight wasn’t associated with an increased risk of death when the individual partook healthful habits!* 

Death and BMI statisticsFigure: Matheson (2012)

Intuitive eating takes a weight-neutral approach to health. Some people may lose weight, some people may stay the same, and some may gain weight with intuitive eating. This concept is novel and scary. Especially for those of us who have dealt with years of chronic dieting in a wholesome pursuit of health. But it is the neutral nature of intuitive eating that allows for the focus on modifiable behaviours rather than a number on a scale that has no indication of a person’s health status.

So, if weight doesn’t = health, can weight loss still lead to better health outcomes?

Janet Tomiyama of UCLA decided to look into this research question. Janet and her team pulled every well-done, long-term diet study they could find, and found that dieting didn’t do much for the health of the participants.** They found that weight changes in the dieting groups were not linked to changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, or diabetes medication discontinuation. The takeaway from this? Even if the dieting group saw subtle changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, or the use of their diabetes medication, these changes were not related to their weight loss, rather their behaviours!

Another example of similar dieting outcomes can be found in the Look Ahead Trial, an intensive 15 year study with interventions aimed at achieving a 7% weight loss. These interventions included:

  • Training in the tracking of food and drink
  • Nutrition & diabetes management education
  • Frequent contact with the program
  • Meal replacements for easier calorie restriction
  • 175+ minutes of exercise a week
  • 10,000 steps per day
  • Competition and social support with meetings
  • Orlistat, a weight loss drug, when participants faltered in their weight loss. 

What this study really found was that significant weight loss was not a typical result, despite how intensive the intervention was. Repeated attempts at weight loss did not improve the likelihood of significant weight loss. In addition to all this, at the 15 year follow-up, there was no difference in the prevalence of diagnosed type 2 diabetes between the lifestyle group (the ones who went through the study intervention), the metformin group (a drug for improving blood sugar control), and the placebo group (a group that got a pill with no medicine). This finding demonstrated that people who were going to receive a diagnosis of diabetes were going to get it over that 15 year span irregardless of the intervention they received. Does this mean give up completely? No. But it does mean, dieting isn’t the fix! 

Since weight loss isn’t associated with the health outcomes expected of dieting, is intuitive eating associated with improved health outcomes?

In a study looking into intuitive eating and Health at Every Size® among large bodied females with a history of dieting, some neat things were discovered. The results indicated that the group practicing intuitive eating had better health outcomes over the 104-week study. These outcomes included a reduction in systolic blood pressure, a reduction in “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, and higher engagement in physical activity. These changes were sustained through the 104-week follow-up, while any changes seen in the group that was assigned to stereotypical dieting was not able to sustain positive health improvements. Overall, this study exemplified that the intuitive eating intervention resulted in improved health measures in the absence of dieting, while the dieting group was unable to sustain the measures of health as time went on.

Another study of college aged females found that intuitive eating was associated with lower blood fat levels, and a reduced risk for heart disease.****This is consistent with findings of other intuitive eating studies.

Intuitive Eating is also associated with better psychological outcomes. In one IE study mentioned above, the researchers found that those who were in the intuitive eating/HAES® group were able to sustain improvements in mental health through the follow-up, while the dieters did not.*** The HAES® group members also became better at learning their internal cues and regulating their intake than the dieting group, which did not maintain improved restraint. ***

Intuitive Eating health benefits

All-in-all intuitive eating seems to improve overall health in the long-term, whereas dieting does not. Like all areas of research, intuitive eating isn’t black and white. The findings thus far have been promising but many of the studies  have small sample sizes and focus on female White participants with a history of binge eating or chronic dieting in Western cultures. 

Lastly,  it cannot be reiterated enough that health doesn’t equate to someone’s value. No one owes anyone their health. Health cannot fit one single mould for any group of people. Much of a person’s health is out of their personal control. I would like to end this post with a quote from the author, The Body is Not an Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor:

 “Equally damaging is our insistence that all bodies should be healthy. Health is not a state we owe the world. We are not less valuable, worthy, or lovable because we are not healthy. Lastly, there is no standard of health that is achievable for all bodies” 

Are you saying that I can never lose weight?

Taking a weight-inclusive/intuitive eating approach to nutrition doesn’t mean that weight loss will never happen. It simply means it is not the centre focus. It helps you move through your eating challenges, so that your weight will settle where it wants to. It’s okay to feel sad or angry about diets not working and letting go of the pursuit of weight loss isn’t easy. These things take time and the desire to change one’s body is a normal one. Check out this article if intuitive eating sounds interesting to you, but the idea of letting go of weight loss is scary –>


*Matheson EM, King DE, Everett CJ. Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals. J Am Board Fam Med (2012)


***Bacon L, Stern JS, Loan MDV, Keim NL. Size Acceptance and Intuitive Eating Improve Health for Obese, Female Chronic Dieters. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2005.03.011.

****Hawks SR, et al. The relationship between intuitive eating and health indicators among collegiate women. Health Education; 2005.

*****Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating

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Why All Food is Guilt Free

Why All Food is Guilt Free


Why all food is guilt free food

Katherine Kimber, Registered Dietitian & Caitlyn Campbell, Student Dietitian

November 13th 2019

This is the smell of warmth and love: Fresh waffles topped with strawberries and sugar, eaten from the high-top chair at the bar in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house, topped off with a heaping pile of whipped cream. A lot of the memories we hold are centred around food, yet so much of our culture is bent on enjoying as little of it as possible, creating food guilt. This is a concept we should explore further. 

Food holds a ton of significance in our lives, both nutritionally and culturally. Yet, we tend to label foods as being a “guilty pleasure” or simply good or bad. Here’s a secret that the diet industry doesn’t want us to know: Food isn’t something that can hold a moral value. Our right to enjoy and savour food is equivalent to our right to breathe.

When one is released from the chains of chronic dieting, food rules go out the window. 

Without food rules a few things happen:

1) Food becomes neutral. No more “good” or “bad.

2) The binge-restrict cycle comes to a halt. Food restriction or the idea of restriction nearly always precedes binge-like behaviours.

3) Freedom. Without food rules, it becomes much easier to tune into your body and figure out what it is you really need in that moment. 

Without food rules, the guilt and fear of “empty” calories becomes a non-issue.

But of course, there’s always some guy in the back that yells, “BUT WHAT ABOUT WHITE BREAD?”

We’ll use this question to break down a couple of myths about white bread as well as [insert any food that you’ve labeled as being bad or “empty” in the past here].

Mmmmmm Pizza… 

To begin, a slice of white bread contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our brains preferred energy source. Therefore, eating a slice of white bread is literally brain fuel. Next, bread is typically full of extra nutrients added in a process called fortification. Therefore, bread is a good source of various vitamins and minerals that are important to everything from producing and maintaining the cells of our body to the production of cells that carry oxygen to our brain. 

But hold up. Let’s rewind a second. 

Even if white bread didn’t contain those extra snazzy vitamins and minerals and let’s say for kicks and giggles, that it didn’t have any other nutrients in it (which is impossible but bear with me). It still would be guilt free. 

Why is that?

Well, food holds more purpose than nourishment alone.

Think about it, events important to our varying cultures and religions usually have one universal focal point: food. Food is social. Food is religious. Food is comfort after a crap day of work. Food is a memory of cooking Belgian waffles in the kitchen with Grandma and the smell of fresh strawberries soaked in sugar overnight.

Food is so much more than a vessel for calories and vitamins. It is meant to be enjoyed; our survival depends on food being enjoyable. 

When it is all said and done, nutrient content doesn’t matter. In the framework of intuitive eating, folks are able to recognise when and what to eat.

As a personal example, if I have a few days that I don’t get much fibre, I notice I don’t feel so hot. So, I work on including extra veggies and whole grains when it serves me. I also recognise that if I only eat salads for lunch all week, I crave and seek out foods that are more nutrient dense. If I eat too much ice cream, I feel sick. But with intuitive eating, I know I can buy more ice-cream whenever I want, so the urge to eat past what’s comfortable gets dampened. 

To help, here are some diagrams that demonstrate what a day with intuitive eating looks like.

What intuitive eating can look like

Finally, for some additional clarity, here is a list of actual “bad” foods and “good” foods:

Good food versus bad food

Without good or bad food, all food becomes guilt free. When something is a necessity for life, it is not guilty. Our urge and need to eat is a survival mechanism. There is no need to fight against our biology. If you are someone who struggles to know what to eat check out a few of these articles:

Intuitive Eating Tips for those Starting Out

Eating for Weight Loss or Eating for Happiness?

How to Start Intuitive Eating

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Want to Ditch Dieting, But Still Want to Lose Weight?

Want to Ditch Dieting, But Still Want to Lose Weight?


I want to Ditch Dieting, But I Still Want to Lose Weight

CAITLYN CAMPBELL (Student Dietitian)

Supervised by Katherine Kimber, Registered Dietitian.

August 19th 2019

I think many of us can relate, including myself, when I say that one of the hardest parts of beginning to ditch dieting and diet culture is coming to terms with body acceptance.

Intuitive eating can sound frightening; eating whatever one desires without even a calorie tracking app or food diary, worries folks. They worry that this freedom will result in the inability to control oneself around food and of course, fear that without dieting, weight gain will occur. These fears are all valid.

Before we get into the meat of this article and ways to address a fear of weight gain, it should be made clear that this desire is not abnormal. In no way is the Health at Every Size (HAES®), Intuitive Eating, or the Body Acceptance movement meant to make folks feel poorly for wanting to change their bodies. HAES® isn’t even anti-weight loss, it’s simply anti-pursuit of weight loss.

The reason why these movements are not (or at least shouldn’t be) judging individuals for a desire to change their bodies is because we live in a culture that promotes thinness in many different capacities.

Weight Bias is a form of Discrimination

This culture, diet culture, tells us that our bodies are not worthy of care or love until they have reached a particular size. And even once we’ve reached that “goal size”, there is still a lingering fear of becoming the size that our society seems bent on eradicating.

“I am a thin woman. I fear weight gain because I see the way society treats larger bodied folks.”

But, that also means as a thin woman, I cannot and will not, be able to properly emphasise, or feel the emotions, that those who are presently in a larger body feel. But, I can sympathise, or try to understand the feelings of those in a larger body. And in doing so, I imagine quite a few things: traveling difficulties, limited clothing choices/shopping, unwarranted judgements at restaurants and grocery stores and much, much, more. We live in a society that tells people to change their bodies rather than the discriminatory practices of the culture to change. 

In no other forms of discrimination do people:

1. Feel biased against people in their own group and

2. Do we tell the oppressed group to change themselves to better fit the society.

Can you imagine if we simply told people who utilise mobility assistance devices to simply, “learn to walk” so we wouldn’t have to make things accessible?

Absolutely not, the idea is ludicrous. Yet, here we are, in a society that tells people to change their body size, to better fit an environment built around the thin ideal. So, one can imagine why it is simply wrong to tell people of larger bodies, that a desire for weight loss isn’t right. Unless my body changes, I won’t know the ins-and-outs of a life where my body is a source of stress and judgement, therefore, I am not here to tell people that a desire to change is wrong.

Taking the Spotlight off Body Size

What I can do, is offer up some solutions to at least take part of the spotlight off of body size. To begin, I think this is a good time to reflect on what the desire for weight loss is about.

Is weight loss about wanting to better keep up with the kids? Is it about wanting “improve health”? Or is it about acceptance or something else? Think about what will come out of weight loss. Could these desired outcomes associated with weight loss actually come from a different means of change? After all, I imagine you’re reading this article becomes previous weight loss attempts haven’t resulted in improved health or permanent weight loss. Maybe your weight has even increased with every diet attempt. This is pretty common. 

“But I need to get fitter…”

What are other ways do you think you could improve your fitness/flexibility/reduce aches and pains or increase your ability to keep up with the kids? Are you currently moving your body regularly? Or are you only deciding you will do this when you’ve lost the weight / pursuing weight loss? What things can you start to do as of TODAY to improve how you feel? 

“But what about my health?”

What are other ways can you support your health, outside of weight loss? Because weight doesn’t necessary equate to improved health. Behaviours do (more on weight and health here). 

Have you thought of options like managing stress, improving your sleep, seeking mental health support, adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, reducing alcohol intake? There are many more ways to support health that aren’t about weight.

Because after all, diet’s don’t work for many people. Dieting is ANYTHING that you do to pursue weight loss whether it be jazzed up as a ‘lifestyle’ or a full blow detox diet. Keep brainstorming ways that health can be supported outside of the pursuit of weight loss.

It Isn’t Expected that We Immediately Ditch Dieting & Weight Loss Desires

Next, it isn’t expected that the desire for weight loss is eliminated. But, an active step to lessen the deafening message of weight loss, is to work on body acceptance. A lot of people think that ditching diet culture means suddenly falling in love with their body. I can easily say, that even your favourite body-positive Instagram influencer, has many bad days. Personally, I have a lot of bad days. But, I also recognise that it’s not about the bad days, but how I learn from them.

If I wake up in the morning disgruntled about my body, that tells me it is time to take a step back. What other things are going on in my life that could be eliciting this stress response? Am I visiting family for the first time in a while? Is work becoming too much? Am I projecting insecurities from other areas of life onto myself? Combat negative body thoughts with positive self-talk. If I wake up in the morning wishing my tummy-area was different, then I can combat that thought with a thought about how I am having a good hair day.

Another way to turn down the volume on a desire for weight loss is to work on respecting your body. Avoid the formation of negative body thoughts all together by not body-checking. What is body-checking? It’s any situation where one unproductively takes extra time to examine their body. That can look like staring into the mirror trying to decide what outfit looks the tiniest, it can look like squeezing tummy fat in disdain, and it can look like paying more attention to a body part (let’s say thighs) than that body part deserves.

Other ways to promote body respect is to acknowledge the care your body is worthy of. We are worthy and deserving of nourishment, comfortable movement, respect from our partners and peers, worthy of comfort in our clothes, and so much more. At any size, no matter where a person is on diet culture spectrum, is the freedom to care for oneself in the ways available to you.

Grieving the Loss of Your Weight Loss Goals

Given the ways diet culture seems to scream in our ears that weight loss is our only solution for a better life, it is normal to want to purse weight loss. However, what we rationally know about dieting is that it tends to hurt our health. Therefore, acknowledging ways we can care and respect our body outside of weight loss are not only crucial to our health, but important to begin leaving a desire for thinness behind. This process won’t happen overnight.

In fact, it’s even normal to grieve the loss of the thin ideal.

It’s okay to go through a phase of denying the ways that dieting has been harmful. Get angry! What has dieting taken from you? Maybe you’re ready to start intuitive eating, but only once you’ve dropped some weight? That’s bargaining. Some of us may be in a place where we recognise that dieting has harmed us and it no longer serves us, but the thought of giving up on dieting makes us really sad. After all, a $60 billion industry has told us that dieting is the answer, and without the answer, it is normal to feel depressed. 


The last stage of grief is acceptance. If you are fortunate to get to a place where you can at least have a neutral view of your body and are ready to leave weight loss behind, that is fantastic. But, it probably will take some time. If you are someone who has made it this far, be an advocate for your peers. Don’t shame dieters but encourage and promote folks to take non-diet approaches. Help people along their journeys. Getting to a place of acceptance or neutrality also comes with responsibility to use your voice to speak for those who don’t have one. 

If you’re struggling with any of this, you may find the FREE audio guide and actionable workbook helpful as a starting point, which provides 7-steps to find food peace and food freedom

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Am I addicted to sugar?

Am I addicted to sugar?


Am I addicted to sugar?

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

1st May 2019

I am often asked by clients whether sugar addiction is a real thing and if so, whether they should go cold turkey to quit. 

Quitting seems logical solution, given that it is often the advice for someone with drug and alcohol addiction. In this article I am going to break down what sugar addiction is, why you crave sugar and some tips to overcome feeling like you have a sugar addiction.

Firstly, what is addiction?

This is a complex question because the definition of addiction is controversial.

In short, you can have two categories of addiction:

  1. A substance addiction such as drugs, alcohol or tobacco
  2. A non-substance behavioural addiction such as gambling

It has been suggested that some foods with “addictive agents”, such as salt, fat and sugar, could result in people showing the same symptoms as someone with a drug addiction. There has even been media reports suggesting that sugar addiction is a thing, and that it’s as addictive as heroin and cocaine. But the reality is that there are not many studies that have examined sugar addiction specifically in humans – the studies that do exist have been carried out in rodents. 

Sugar addiction – is it the same as being addicted to drugs?

Chances are that you have already googled this. After reading a ton of contradictory information, you may think sugar addiction and drug addiction manifest the same symptoms.

Well let’s look at it in detail.   

If we were to go by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it diagnoses a Substance Use Disorder (substances such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs) based on 11 symptoms. These can be grouped into four categories:

  • Impaired control: symptoms relate to cravings and a strong desire to use the drug or failed attempts of cutting back on drug use.
  • Social issues: symptoms relate to situations where the person’s work, home and social life is disrupted due to continued drug use.
  • Risky use: symptoms relate to a person’s continued use of the drug despite the known negative consequences.
  • Drug physiological effects: symptoms of tolerance (the body requires more of the drug to produce the same effect) and withdrawal (the body shows withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer in the body and a tolerance has developed

So could some of those symptoms occur with a “sugar addiction”? After reading this, you may think so!

For example:

  • Do I have cravings and a strong desire to eat sugary foods? Yes!
  • Have I repeatedly attempted to cut back or “quit” sugar? Yes!
  • Do I feel so “out of control” with food that I’m not in the mood to attend social events? Yes!

But let’s pause for a second. For a substance use disorder diagnosis, the symptoms need to cause “significant impairment or distress”.

And anyone who is experiencing significant distress such as this related to eating patterns, is more than likely going to be diagnosed with an overall eating disorder, which is very different to suggesting that someone is addicted to sugar in the same way that someone is addicted to drugs.

Another key part of a diagnosis, is that the symptoms produce physiological effects. Drug taking can cause people to develop withdrawal and tolerance symptoms. The good news is that there has never been a human study to show that sugar (or any nutrient for that matter, except for caffeine) produces tolerance or withdrawal effects. 

So if “sugar addiction” isn’t a thing, why do I still crave it?


1) Restriction

The root cause of feeling out of control around food is restriction, not food addiction. We know this because as soon as we deprive ourselves from a food, we want the food even more and there a number of studies to support this (see my recent article with the research on how to stop food obsession). We subsequently eat more of it than we would have if we’d just allowed ourselves to eat in the first instance! Following food rules that restricts intake of our “forbidden foods” can lead to excessively focussing on those foods which just exacerbates disordered eating.

You may have heard that in animal studies, sugar is addictive. However, these studies fail to emphasise, that the animals have actually been deprived of sugar. So of course they ended up “bingeing” on it when they were allowed it again. The group of rats that were deprived, actually ate the same amount of sugar in a 12 hour period compared to a group of rats that weren’t deprived over a 24 hour period. What’s the moral here? Eat the sugar!

2) Food is pleasurable (which is not a bad thing!) and needed for survival

Whilst animal studies might show that the brain reacts in a similar way to when drugs are taken, they fail to recognise that food is something that is needed for survival. Sugar is not a drug – it’s the most basic fuel source we need to stay alive! It is therefore supposed to bring joy. Our brain needs glucose to make sure we can carry out all the required biological functions to keep us alive. So how could we be addicted to something that we need to function?

The same centres light up when we have sex, when we stroke a puppy or even when we win or anticipate winning money. Does that mean we are addicted to sex, puppies or money? No.

Where does that leave us?

Studies in this field are still in their infancy, and of the research that does exist, it is limited to animals.

Also, it is difficult to confirm that sugar, as a standalone nutrient, is addictive as we rarely consume this on its own. Sugar is in starchy foods such as potatoes, breads and pastas as well as in fruit, vegetables and dairy products. Things we usually eat in conjunction with many other things!

In saying all of this, I do not want to lessen the struggles that some people may feel they have around food. It is still possible to feel “out of control” around sugar and overeat sugary foods, but it is unlikely to be addiction. It’s more likely to be rooted in restriction.

If you feel this is you, Intuitive Eating is a gentle evidence-based approach that doesn’t require going cold turkey. This framework has helped people reduce overeating or binge eating because it teaches how to identify hunger and fullness signals without restricting food.

Intuitive Eating requires time and patience, but also the right support from someone qualified. A Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor is a good place to start. If you’d like to know more about what you can start to do today to overcome your difficulties with feeling addicted to sugar, check out my free 20-minute audio download below. 

Please note: if after reading this, you think you might have an eating disorder, I encourage you to visit your GP to discuss this.

References throughout text.  

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RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD Responding to Diet Talk at Festive GatheringsKATHERINE KIMBER & CAITLYN CAMPBELL, Registered Dietitian & Student DietitianDecember 17th 2019Seeing family can be stressful, especially whilst recovering from body image or eating issues and...

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How to Stop Binge Eating at Night

How to Stop Binge Eating at Night


How to Stop Binge Eating at Night  

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

April 3rd 2019

For people who are still on the diet train or who have recently just stepped off it, we know that dieting can result in the vicious cycle of restriction – deprivation – cravings – binge eating.  

Have you ever experienced binge eating, and more specifically wondered how to stop binge eating at night? Because this is a common time of the day that some of my client’s experience it.  

Firstly, let’s get one thing straight.  

What is a binge?   

Because there is a difference between a ‘subjective binge’ (what YOU define as a binge), and an ‘objective binge’ (what a psychologist uses to define an Eating Disorder).

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) (as diagnosed by a psychologist) is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a person who regularly binge eats a large quantity of food in a discrete time period with a sense of feeling out of control (1). The binge eating episodes are usually accompanied with three or more following:  

  • Eating past the point of uncomfortable 
  • Eating alone due to embarrassment  
  • Eating more rapidly than usual  
  • Feeling upset and guilty afterwards 
  • Eating a large amount of food when not physically hungry 

If you suspect you may have BED, I encourage you to consult your GP for an assessment.   

However, just because you may not meet the ‘criteria’ for BED, doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing suffering or deserve help. A ‘subjective’ binge eating episode may still be accompanied with embarrassment, guilt, eating rapidly, eating a large amount of food…. but not enough food to be considered an ‘objective binge’ for a psychologist to diagnose a BED. A little silly I know.  

In this article, I refer to some reasons why you may be experiencing binge eating, and in particular, at night. I also provide recommendations for how to stop binge eating at night. This article is targeted at those experiencing a ‘subjective binge’, without a diagnosed BED. 


Restriction during the day: 

It is common in diet culture to label foods such as rice cakes and salad as “safe” to eat during the day and “not allow” more substantial meals such as pasta and sandwiches.  

Any time food is out of bounds, it puts it on a pedestal increasing our desire to want to eat that food. There are two ways in which foods can be out of bounds: 

  • Physically: the diet restricts it. 
  • Psychologically: we attach a moralistic value to that food and label is as bad, unhealthy.  

We then start to desire that food even more, because we tell ourselves we can’t have it … and when we do have it, we’re likely to feel guilt, and eat more than if we’d just allowed it in the first place! (4) (5)

A 2001 study showed that when people were forbidden sweets that were considered “novel”, the attraction to eat them was heightened compared to people who were allowed to eat the “novel” sweet (6). And this idea rings true for any food, not just high sugar foods. A study of kids showed that when they were restricted either sweets or fruit, both groups ate more of the restricted foods (including more fruit!) when they were given the opportunity, compared to a group of kids who weren’t restricted at all (7).  



  • If you’ve had a really long day or if you had a poor night’s sleep. 
  • If you’ve done a lot of exercise or if you simply have too much going on.  

Being tired makes it difficult to tap into hunger and satiety cues (2). Studies show that people who are unable to get a full night’s sleep (less than six hours) have increased ghrelin (which is the hormone that stimulates hunger) and decreased leptin (which is the hormone that tells us when we are full). These hormones dictate how much we would eat in a day.  

Further to this, studies have shown that tiredness can increase food intake by 400 calories in a day (3). A systematic review that analysed 11 different studies found on average that people who had between 3.5 to 5.5 hours sleep the night before ate an additional 385 calories that day compared to when they’d slept at least seven hours.  



Many clients I meet that are struggling to stop binge eating at night, are actually just hungry and haven’t tuned into the sensations of hunger. 

That bowl of cereal at 8am, and salad at lunchtime, simply hasn’t cut it. Of course they walk through the door ready to eat the house down. 

So this, coupled with our hunger hormone ghrelin being revved up in the evening, means we’re in a position where we’re likely to binge on foods that are either physically restricted (through a diet), or psychologically restricted (through good/bad food labelling, coupled with guilt).  

If when we get home from a long day there is a food in the cupboard that’s “not allowed”, of course we are going to want to eat all of it … because we’re hungry, potentially restricted ourselves from eating that food (physically or psychologically) and we’re tired!   

So how can you stop binge eating at night? 

Here I am sharing my experiences of working with 1:1 clients and a couple of the ways in which they have managed to stop binge eating at night.  

Meeting basic needs: 

This means two things:

1. Get organised for the week so that you feel in control, can schedule regular eating patterns and eat according to hunger.  

For example: 

– Making sure you have a stocked-up fridge with food that can be easily prepared and/or eaten without much fuss (unless cooking at night helps you to unwind!).

– Setting boundaries at work, or with friends/family, so you don’t take too much on.  


If Sunday meal prepping is your thing, go ahead and make yourself a few days worth of dinner and lunches ahead of time. But if that doesn’t sounds right for you, take yourself on a shopping trip (or do an online shop) and stock your fridge and cupboard with snacks and fresh produce that don’t require too much preparation. Ready-to-eat meals that you can easily heat and eat each week night are great too! 

Check your diary at the end of each week for the week ahead to ensure you’ve not overloaded yourself. Schedule in down time, just like you would any other activity. 

If you’re struggling to eat according to hunger,  check out my FREE download with a recorded audio guide and actionable workbook which tackles this. 

2. Find activities/hobbies that make you feel good and check that you are meeting the basics. 

  • What is it that makes you feel amazing?  

Having a proper night’s sleep? Spending time out in nature? Making space for you time in the week? Curling up on the couch with a good book? Getting out in nature? A bubble bath? A pedicure? Sweating it out in the gym? Spending time with your fur baby? Spending time with your human baby?  

Whatever it is, ensure you are meeting your basics (sleep, setting boundaries, managing stress), but also doing things that fill your heart with joy and that help calm your mind. These types of activities are a great way to make sure that we can deal with emotions such as tiredness, anxiety, boredom, loneliness or anger without using food to suppress that feeling. Emotional eating is very common and something I have written about in more detail here 

3. Stop labelling foods as good and bad. 

To create a healthy relationship with food, we have to stop describing food in moralistic terms. Because you know what? There is not one food that will make us healthy or unhealthy. 

Try to neutralise your language around food, and label foods as what they are. If it’s a croissant, call it a croissant. If it’s a carrot, call is a carrot or vegetable. Neither are good, or bad. They are just food. 

Stopping binge eating at night is a process. It takes time to figure out what triggers it and the sorts of things you can do to avoid it. But hopefully after reading this, you have a few ideas up your sleeve. And just remember, if after reading this you still find yourself struggling, do not need to beat yourself up. Move on and be kind to yourself.

This is hard work and the first step is acknowledging it (which you clearly have if you are reading this). So, I encourage you to keep being compassionate and patient as you take these next brave steps to finding how you’re going to do this important work.  

You can sign up to my 7 Steps to Find Food Peace and Food Freedom with an audio guide and workbook to get started on how to stop binge eating at night. 


(1) National Health Services (NHS). (2017). Overview – Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved from 

(2) Shlisky, J. D., Hartman, T. J., Kris-Etherton, P. M., Rogers, C. J., Sharkey, N. A., & Nickols-Richardson, S. M. (2012). Partial Sleep Deprivation and Energy Balance in Adults: An Emerging Issue for Consideration by Dietetics Practitioners. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(11), 1785-1797. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2012.07.032 

(3Al Khatib, H. K., Harding, S. V., Darzi, J., & Pot, G. K. (2016). The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71(5), 614-624. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2016.201 

(4) Jansen, E., Mulkens, S., & Jansen, A. (2008). Do not eat the red food! Prohibition of snacks leads to their relatively higher consumption in children. Appetite, 50(2-3), 560.doi:10.1016/j.appet.2007.09.038 

(5) Keeler, C. L., Mattes, R. D., & Tan, S. (2015). Anticipatory and reactive responses to chocolate restriction in frequent chocolate consumers. Obesity, 23(6), 1130-1135. doi:10.1002/oby.21098 

(6) Mann, T., & Ward, A. (2001). Forbidden fruit: Does thinking about a prohibited food lead to its consumption? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 29(3), 319-327. doi:10.1002/eat.1025 

(7Jansen, E., Mulkens, S., Emond, Y., & Jansen, A. (2008). From the Garden of Eden to the land of plenty. Appetite, 51(3), 570-575. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2008.04.012 


Navigating Diet Talk at Christmas

Navigating Diet Talk at Christmas

RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD Responding to Diet Talk at Festive GatheringsKATHERINE KIMBER & CAITLYN CAMPBELL, Registered Dietitian & Student DietitianDecember 17th 2019Seeing family can be stressful, especially whilst recovering from body image or eating issues and...

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How To Start Intuitive Eating

How To Start Intuitive Eating


How to Start Intuitive Eating

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

March 20th 2019

Just the other day I found myself talking to someone in a coffee shop about how to start Intuitive Eating. She was not a client or someone I knew, but just a very nice lady who wanted to know more about my work as an Intuitive Eating Counsellor, and how I help people break up with dieting. This lady had experienced firsthand, that diets don’t work. She asked me quite simply, “so how do I start Intuitive Eating?”  

It was a simple enough question, but it caught me off guard because usually I have a little more time to answer this in detail during my 1:1 consultations with clients.  

As there are 10 principles that guide Intuitive Eating, I wasn’t about to go through each one detailing the research and theory behind it (our coffees would have been cold by that point!)… so instead I discussed with her five practical steps she could take on how to start intuitive eating. 

And now I’m sharing these with you too in a little more detail.  

Step 1: Detox your social media feeds 

As we already know, we live in a world where thinness is preferred and as such, our social media feeds are usually dominated by thin, white, privileged people perpetuating the thin ideal.  

Research tells us that we need to avoid or challenge this type of imagery because of the association between being exposed to unrealistic, thin-idealised images and body dissatisfaction (Tiggemann, 2015). 

So, it’s time to get ruthless and unfollow anyone who: 

  • Promotes a balanced diet but say they need to “burn off the calories” after eating pizza  
  • Gives nutrition advice but does not have appropriate qualifications  
  • Talks about “tracking macros 
  • Tells us that sticking to a diet just requires “willpower” 
  • Categorises food as good and bad 
  • Uses terms like “eat clean” or eating whole foods” 

Now that those people are no longer popping up on your screen, it’s time to start following body positivity superstars who are changing the conversation.  

Accounts like @bodyposipanda @themilitantbaker @yrfatfriend @mskelseymiller @isabelfoxenduke @thelindywest @calliethorpe @nerdabouttown @bodyimagemovement@sofiehagendk @bodypositivememes @glitterandlazers 

Step 2: Stop labelling foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ 

This can be really hard to do when we live in a diet culture where food is given a moralistic value.  

That is, foods that are seen to be associated with thinness and guiltlessness = good.  

And any food that doesn’t fall in this category = bad.  

And that’s where we start restricting and forbidding the “bad” foods … which ultimately leads to deprivation.  

This leads to biological cravings for said forbidden food. 

Which leads to a bingeing episode, guilt and starting another diet to be “good”. 

And so, the cycle continues.  

To create a healthy relationship with food, we have to stop describing food in moralistic terms. Because you know what? There is not one food that will make us thin or fat, healthy or unhealthy. 

Does this sound familiar? 

Step 3: Stop trying to control your weight


We know what the evidence says about this. It says that dieting and restricting food for the purposes of controlling weight does not work long term. There is not one scientific study that shows this.  

Why? Because of the set point weight. This is the weight that our body works very hard to maintain (usually within a range of 4-5kgs) to carry out all the necessary functions to keep us alive. When we’re not swinging between doughnut land (i.e. being bad), and diet land (i.e. being good), our weight settles at it natural set point. This weight range is already pre-determined, largely by genetics. In fact, it’s estimated that our weight is about 70% determined by our genetics. 

If we start messing with our set point weight through dieting, it starts to put a strain on our body and impact on how well it can do its job. Lynda, a lifestyle coach, explains this analogy really nicely in a short 3-minute video here 

There are a few ways your body does this: 

  • We have internal body cues that tell us when we’re hungry and full to ensure that we eat according to our needs.  
  • Our metabolism slows if our body senses starvation to conserve muscle and energy stores 
  • Biological chemicals (Neuropeptide Y & Ghrelin hormones) are released more rapidly to drive us to eat when our bodies are in famine.  

So, as you can see, when we try to lose weight in a restrictive manner (and drop below the set point weight range), our body works damn hard to put that weight back on asap.  

In essence, diets make us work against ourselves and paradoxically, we end up achieving the exact opposite of what we wanted in the first place. Argh! 

Step 4: Find movement that you love and that makes you feel good 

It’s time to ditch the rigid exercise plans and start moving your body because of how great it feels! Now it doesn’t matter if you’re not immediately jumping out of bed wanting to strap your joggers on again. 

If exercising has never been joyful, it may be for a few reasons: 

  • It was often associated with dieting. And when the diet failed, so too did the exercise. 
  • You had bad experiences as a child being made to exercise when you didn’t want to; and/or 
  • You were always pushed by others to exercise and therefore have always rebelled those people.  

To help you get back out there, here are a few things you can do to change your mindset: 

a. Focus on how exercising makes you feel, rather than thinking about the calories that are being burned.  

Think about how you feel after exercise – Energy levels? Confidence? Stress levels? Sleep? Note how you feel when you exercise and when you do not exercise. The positives you feel after exercise is often enough to get you back out there, because why would you not want to do something that makes you feel so wonderful! 

b. Separate exercise from previous weight loss attempts 

It is well established that physical activity provides positive health benefits over the long term. It has positive impacts on metabolism and preserving lean muscle mass, yet doesn’t really have much of an impact on weight loss. So, if you’re attempting to lose weight solely by exercise, it can be easy to lose motivation when you don’t see “progress”. It’s time to start viewing exercise as beneficial for improving quality of life and stave off disease, rather than as a weight loss tool. It increases bone strength, improves heart and lung function, decreases blood pressure, increases metabolism, improves cholesterol levels, improves satiety cues, improves mood, reduces chronic disease risk and delays cognitive decline associated with ageing (Chaput et al, 2011).  

c. Make exercise fun 

Find something that you enjoy and start out slowly. There is no need to follow a rigid exercise plan that forces you meet certain physical activity targets. You just move when you have the time and when you feel like it! Whether it’s going for a walk around the block while listening to your favourite music or podcast, walking to a bus stop that’s one stop further away from your destination or dancing around the house. Whatever it is, it all counts towards exercise. And when you start your joyful movement, also remember to have rest days if your body feels tired. The last thing you want to is to experience burnout, which is another side effect from dieting world.   

Step 5: Honour your biological hunger 

One of the most important steps to break free from dieting and food worry, is to recognise when you’re hungry. To really start listening to your inner body signals, get into the habit of asking yourself, “am I hungry?” each time you go to eat. You could even keep a little diary like the one below. 

If you’re allowing yourself to get to a point where you’re simply too hungry, of course you are going to have the urge to want to binge, or eat past the point that feels comfortable. At this point, we think we can’t stop binge eating, or that we need emotional eating help, when in fact, it’s just biological hunger.   

Think about on a scale of 0-10 how hungry you are, with 0 being starved to 10 feeling completely stuffed (aka Christmas lunch, need-to-loosen-belt stuffed). If we’ve been victim to previous dieting attempts, it’s highly likely that you were told to mask your hunger by drinking coffee or diet coke. Well now it’s time to pause and tune in to where you sit on the scale which looks something like this… 

1) Beyond Hungry (not even hungry anymore) 
2) You would eat anything put in front of you.  
3) Hungry – the urge to eat is strong 
4) A little hungry. You can wait, but need to eat soon.  
5) Neutral. Not hungry, or full.  
6) No longer hungry. You sense food in your stomach, but could definitely eat more.  
7) Comfortable, could quite easily stop here. 
8) Not too uncomfortable, but definitely very full. 
9) Moving into uncomfortable. 
10) Very uncomfortable – Christmas dinner stuffed. 

As a starting point, see if you can figure out what a 3, 4 or 5 level of hunger might feel like. It might be more than just tummy rumbling, as hunger can affect energy levels, cognitive function and mood (we don’t use the term ‘hangry’ for no reason!)  

In fact, you could feel one or a combination of the following: 

  • Stomach growling 
  • Mild gurgling or gnawing in the stomach 
  • Feeling lightheaded or faint 
  • Foggy brain – difficult to focus on work 
  • Uncomfortable pains in the stomach
  • Irritability 
  • Headache  

It usually feels good to start eating at a 3 or a 4, but explore for yourself, keeping a little diary like the one below.   


Well that’s my top 5 strategies on how to start Intuitive Eating. It’s not about getting any of these things perfect, but instead chipping away so that barriers start to come down. Be kind to yourself and allow plenty of time to see how you can apply these steps each day. This is about making progress towards healing your relationship with food, not striving for a perfect diet (which by the way, doesn’t exist).  

If you would like more information on how to stop binge eating, how to stop food obsession, how to stop emotional eating, and how to start intuitive eating, check out my free audio recording. It provides you with 7 actionable steps on how to start intuitive eating, with an actionable workbook.  


Chaput, J., Klingenberg, L., Rosenkilde, M., Gilbert, J., Tremblay, A., & Sjödin, A. (2011). Physical Activity Plays an Important Role in Body Weight Regulation. Journal of Obesity, 2011, 1-11. doi:10.1155/2011/360257 

Tiggemann, M. (2015). Considerations of positive body image across various social identities and special populations. Body Image, 14, 168-176. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2015.03.002 



Navigating Diet Talk at Christmas

Navigating Diet Talk at Christmas

RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD Responding to Diet Talk at Festive GatheringsKATHERINE KIMBER & CAITLYN CAMPBELL, Registered Dietitian & Student DietitianDecember 17th 2019Seeing family can be stressful, especially whilst recovering from body image or eating issues and...

read more