My Intuitive Eating “Aha” Moment

On LinkedIn, I am a member of the Intuitive Eating Professionals Group, where Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, group founder, asks us to “share something…that is not included in your profile, perhaps an “aha” moment in your career.”  I am inspired to share my “aha” moment after attending the BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association) national conference on Saturday, where I learned that, treatment-wise, not much has changed over the years.

In 1985, I worked in a large gastroenterology practice affiliated with a teaching hospital. I saw lots of eating disordered patients because one of the docs did medical evaluations of patients with bulimia and AN. At the same time, another gastroenterologist performed a procedure with a device called the Garren-Edwards Gastric Bubble. A deflated ‘bubble’ made of stretchable plastic (like a pool toy) was placed by endoscopy in the stomach of a severely overweight patient.  With the pull of a cannula, the bubble was inflated and left in place to fill the stomach while the patient followed a low-calorie diet. That’s where I came in. The bubble was developed by a team at Johns Hopkins. It was all above the board. The hospital asked us to do the procedure, but we stopped after a patient got a small bowel obstruction from the bubble. Those were interesting days. My patients’ eating patterns were all over the map.

But my “aha’ moment came by way of a patient referred by an internist for a simple weight loss diet.  She was a favorite patient, a young woman of my age, overweight but far from obese, with my mother’s maiden name. We were doing the balanced, flexible diet thing with a focus on behaviors when one day, she looked at me and said, “Mary, you don’t understand. I peek behind the curtain, and when my husband drives away, I make a batch of scalloped potatoes, and I eat the whole thing.” Aha! I thought, “they didn’t teach us this in school.” And then I thought, “this is really real.”

I was lucky because psychologists who specialized in EDs would stop into  the office. They turned me on to Susie Orbach, Fat Is a Feminist Issue (1978); Geneen Roth, Feeding the Hungry Heart (1982) and Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating (1986) and, of course, Hilde Bruch. Evelyn’s book, Intuitive Eating (1995), wasn’t published yet and there was no Gurze catalogue. But, I read and read and saw lots of patients, and attended Geneen’s workshops,  consulted with therapists, and taught others how to do it. And now it’s wonderful to see so many dietitians espouse the non-diet approach. But, after all those years, the pills, shakes, meals, stomach stapling (but not swallowing pool toys) are all still here.

Your thoughts: Why don’t more people give up dieting and follow a non-diet approach?