Trigger Warning: This article discusses eating disorders.
Intuitive eating and intuitive fasting. While these two concepts may sound the same, their fundamental ideas could not be more different. The concept of intuitive eating is often anchored in the realm of eating disorder recovery, as the theory involves listening to what your body wants and giving it that—no restrictions or rules.
Intuitive fasting, an ironic play on words and the topic of the new book Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness company Goop is promoting, resides on the other end of this spectrum. Will Cole is the author of Intuitive Fasting, and he paradoxically explains that his fasting method is a way to “ditch the food rules” and reset your metabolism. His book includes both keto recipes and his four-week intuitive fasting plan, which mixes the contentious keto diet and intermittent fasting, neither of which are revolutionary concepts in the world of dieting. Week One of Cole’s program instructs its participants to only eat for 12 hours of the day, while Week Three only allows for one meal a day. None of this really sounds like ditching food rules, Will.
While Goop and its founder are no stranger to controversy, the promotion of Cole’s restrictive plan could not have come at a worse time for its PR team. On the second day of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Gwyneth posted a lengthy paragraph praising Cole’s methods. Her comments soon were flooded with both those in recovery from eating disorders and eating disorder specialists sharing how harmful this ideology could be, not only to those in recovery but for anyone on a journey to both physical and mental health.
On the Goop podcast, Cole asserts that “not eating is healthy for the system,” and at this point in his discussion with Paltrow I had to pause and absorb what he was trying to say, as I genuinely have trouble thinking of something unhealthier. In a world where excessive diet culture seems inescapable and about 9% of Americans are diagnosed with an eating disorder, I don’t see how a medical practitioner could advise his patients to work up to eating one meal a day. At the commencement of the podcast, I could almost see where Cole was coming from, could almost understand when he tried to explain that his plan was seeking to aid people in listening to their intuition around eating. When anyone has an unhealthy mindset surrounding food, it is logical to want to take a step back and assess what your brain is telling your body to do, though Intuitive Fasting does not seem like the right strategy to enter a better relationship with food. The strict keto diet and hour-by-hour standards the book pushes on its participants only seem to exacerbate the extreme rules those struggling with disordered eating place upon themselves.
Much of Cole’s plan seems rooted in restriction, even if he dances around this word. Restriction is often the first thing that comes to mind when discussing disordered eating. People often don’t realize the restrict-binge cycle that results from this restriction and the disordered patterns that arise from it. When people restrict their food intake during the day, or try to curb cravings by eating something they deem to be healthier, often they find themselves insatiably hungry at the end of the day, eating anything they can get their hands on, regardless of whether they truly want to eat that food or not. The body’s hunger cues have been ignored for so long that they are put into overdrive, believing that this person’s binge may be the only food the body receives for a while.
Will Cole’s "OMAD," or "one meal a day" method, for Week Three of his plan seems reminiscent of this vicious cycle. If I was only allowed one meal a day, I could definitely see myself racing to Late Night at 11 p.m. and eating all the mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders I had refused to let myself have.
Freedom around food comes from ditching the labels of “good” and “bad” food and understanding that the healthiest thing you can do for your body is nourish it in whatever way works best for you. I make sure to have dessert every day, whether big or small, because I’ve realized that is what’s best for both my physical and mental health. Will Cole and Gwyneth Paltrow may not approve of this, but I think what “fitness” gurus need to understand is that “healthy” looks completely different on everyone. If we all ate and exercised the same way, we still would not look the exact same.
Intuitive Fasting is just the diet industry’s most recent cash grab to make people believe that there is something with them that can be fixed by an industry that has made millions profiting off the world’s insecurities so that it can make more.
Will Cole does not add anything revolutionary to discourses on health, only the same recycled crash diets with the Goop stamp of approval, which doesn’t mean much these days.