Society management

Intuitive Eating Ireland: “Society pushes for weight loss, it’s everywhere”

Its January 2022 cover stars are Sinéad and Gillian Crowe, also known as Intuitive Eating Ireland.

“We’re heading into more educated territory where weight doesn’t define us.”

*This article contains references to restrictive eating, weight loss and dieting.

Sinéad and Gillian Crowe are ‘intuitive eaters in training’ – that’s how they describe themselves on their Instagram account, which has over 25,000 followers at the time of writing.

The Galway-based sisters have spent the past few years questioning their historic relationships with food, as well as creating space for other Irish people to do the same. Diets and weight loss may have been considered essential to a healthy lifestyle for decades, but Sinéad and Gillian want to change that.

Last year, they told her about intuitive eating – a framework they adapted to help repair their relationship with food, listen to their bodies and use their instincts to make sure they eat what they eat. need to survive, to know when they are hungry and when they are not.

The concept of intuitive eating itself has been around since the 1990s, but has seen some resurgence in recent years, especially online. Far from being a one-size-fits-all solution to the myriad physical and mental problems diet culture can cause, intuitive eating has recently been compared to self-care – a commitment to recognizing what your body needs and rejecting the power of fad diet.

Sinéad, a nutritional therapist, was in her mid-twenties when she first discovered the concept, but at the time she wasn’t ready to fully embrace it. “I wasn’t ready to give up on that goal, I had to live in a smaller body,” she told him, “so after a few years of binge eating and struggling with intermittent dieting, Gillian and I started to talk more seriously.

“We were thinking, is this life? Are we really going to spend all our time together talking about our new diet? The conversation had gotten boring and boring, so we made a pact to stop talking about it. talk. Diets couldn’t be what we were tied to anymore.”

Gillian, yoga teacher and social worker, adds: “I thought that the fact that I liked chocolate was something to fix! I also had the [intuitive eating] binder on my shelf for a while before I look at it. One day, Sinéad took it out of his bag and I realized that I already had it too.

“We’re never ready until we’re ready and that’s okay. Not being an ‘intuitive eater’ isn’t another reason to shame ourselves – we’ve had enough of that in our culture.”

Gillian and Sinéad Crowe

While the concept of intuitive eating and its 10 core principles have grown in Ireland in recent years, it’s far from the only shift in food culture this country – and beyond – has seen. Where magazine covers were once dominated by “Get your bikini body ready this summer” features and runway shows were only commandeered by size 0 clothing models, larger, mid-size and plus bodies are more represented in the media than ever before.

Regardless, rejecting diets in society at large is still widely considered taboo. One place where that’s not the case, however, is within small factions of Instagram, where thousands of users have come together to try to retrain how their minds think about food, learn what types of exercises work for them and to get a happy, healthy lifestyle that is not diet-driven.

Having the support of others, Sinéad says, is necessary to venture into a world beyond restrictive eating. Before the Instagram community, she and Gillian knew each other. This, she said, was crucial.

“We supported each other, we were able to reflect together and talk about our fears and anxieties,” she says. “One of the biggest worries people have is that you’re doing something drastic, and you are. Society is pushing for weight loss, it’s everywhere. Questioning that can raise a lot of doubts, especially if you don’t have a support system.

“A lot of people message us saying they’re the only person in their family or group of friends who isn’t trying to diet. Last month we had our first Zoom event and people people shared their own experiences and struggles over Christmas, and it was really very therapeutic, and it reinforced that sense of connection.

Gillian says that while she views change as ultimately slow in the wider community, on her Instagram page the desire for something more substantial than diet is palpable. Systemic change, she says, will take a long time, but like everything, you have to start somewhere.

“It was fascinating to see how many people were ready and also desperate, like me, for a change,” she says. “We were so ready to stop hating our bodies and trying to fix ourselves.”

January can be a tough time for anyone who has ever suffered from an eating disorder or had an unequal relationship with food. This month has seen the conversation become more pointed amid the return of Operation Transformation to Irish television. The health and wellness show, which has long been a purveyor of TV weigh-ins, received further criticism this month, perhaps especially from the national association of mental disorders. Bodywhys feed, which said it has been repeatedly triggered for many of its service users.

Hundreds of tweets, a trending hashtag and a petition from Sinéad and dietician Jo Moscalu later, RTÉ has ​​defended the series for having “evolved” over the years, saying it now takes a “more holistic approach to adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well.” like losing weight.” But for many, the change wasn’t enough. As Sinéad says, it’s great that such a popular show promotes healthy behaviors, “but the reality is that people tune in to see a physical transformation.

“That’s the aspect that appeals to the audience. It would be hard to get the same number of viewers if they didn’t focus on losing weight. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Until they drop the scale and calorie restriction diets then it’s just not good enough.”

So what’s the next step? Podcasts like Maintenance Phase have shown that there is an alternative to dieting. TV shows like Queer Eye have proven that the “transformation” agenda doesn’t always have to be about the physical. But will we ever reach a point where making positive changes to your body isn’t defined by weight loss?

“It’s so pervasive, and it’s hard to imagine a life where people aren’t going about their lives wanting to be smaller,” Sinéad says. “It may still be there, but we’re moving into more educated territory where weight doesn’t define us. It’s one of many factors that determine health, but it’s not the only one.

“I don’t judge anyone who is on a diet, I fell into this trap for two decades. But when we engage in health-promoting behaviors, find moves we enjoy, eat a nutrient-dense diet, stay hydrated, practice sleep hygiene and stress management – ​​when we do this, we improve our overall health. If more people knew about it, we might not just focus on weight loss.”

Like many Irish women, Sinéad and Gillian grew up in a time when the only way to improve was to be smaller and the only bodies worth shouting about were thin. They say that having access to anti-dieting material, along with the support of a dedicated community, would have made a huge difference in their own attitudes towards health in their younger years.

“It’s only in the last few years that I’ve even thought about what health means to me,” says Gillian. “Now I understand health as a very holistic concept, not only about physical health, but also mental, emotional, spiritual and social.

“As painful as my journey has been with distressed eating behaviors and body image difficulties, I have also learned a lot about myself and know how resilient I am. It has also given me the gift to be part of a community of people who are committed to seeing and feeling their essential goodness, no matter what they look like.”

You can follow Sinéad and Gillian Crowe at Intuitive Eating Ireland here.