I had a latte with Evelyn Tribole a few Fridays ago. Let me put this into perspective for you. This is like being a die hard Star Wars fan and having coffee with George Lucas. For a dietitian, this latte was a big deal. In the mid-1990s when I was studying nutrition I picked up a book Evelyn wrote with Elyse Resch called Intuitive Eating. At the time, I was interested in adult weight loss and wanted to begin work in a hospital setting and then start a private practice focused on the issue. At school I was good at designing the perfect calorie controlled diet to help any person lose as much weight as they needed to. I could recite the calories, protein and fat in almost every food item in the grocery store and knew which Snack Well cookies tasted best. Intuitive Eating threw me for a loop because within the first few sentences the authors state loud and clear…DIETS DO NOT WORK. And these ladies were registered dietitians who knew how to count calories better than me! The book shifts the reader away from one more calorie controlled diet, expensive weight loss camp or “shake and pill program” and teaches the difference between what hunger for food feels like versus hunger for something else (love, acceptance, stress-free life, etc). Healthy eating is encouraged, but sweets and treats are just as necessary. They went one step further to say that if you truly eat when hungry and stop when you are full, not Thanksgiving full, your body weight will stabilize at the normal weight for you. Fascinating, right? I thought so and was sold. Truth be told, the advice was personally profound because I had been known to eat many meals when I was NOT hungry and NOT stop when I was full; my body showed it.After school I was hired at the University of Chicago Medical Center as a cardiology dietitian. This was my dream job. As you may know heart patients are notorious for needing to lose weight. Evelyn’s principles would fit right in and I was ready to implement them. My first day of work at the hospital was June 22, 1998 and that was the date Evelyn and I went our separate ways.
That first day of work my supervisor sat me down in her office; there had been a change of plans. I would be staffed in adult intensive care units and the pediatric burn intensive care unit. In case you do not know much about intensive care units, which I hope you don’t, the majority of the patients are on ventilators, sometimes for months on end, and are fed via tube or an intravenous line. The only diet instructions I would be giving would be to doctors on how many calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals would be put through a tube. While this type of nutrition is essential for the survival and healing of these patients, this was force-feeding at its best.
Over time I grew to love this work for a lot of different reasons. The doctors I worked with and learned from were regarded as some of the brightest in the world and I felt my recommendations were valued and respected. The pediatric burn unit was the launching pad for my professional shift towards pediatric nutrition because of the clinical judgment I had to make on a daily basis. Not only did I need to heal burned skin, but simultaneously make sure the child continued to grow. This was a lot of responsibility, but our burn team was tremendous and became like family to me.
While I kept the burn ICU, I was moved to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and their outpatient clinic where I followed NICU babies from the time they were born up until they were three years old. As I started to see these families in the clinic, I found Evelyn’s principles creeping into my diet instructions as I taught parents how and what to feed their young children. Naturally parents had questions about their own nutritional needs and habits. I began teaching the principles of intuitive eating to the parent and child all at once and loved it. Evelyn was back. In 2003, I started my private practice focused on pediatrics.
So how did I get to meet Evelyn for a latte? Recently I have had adults call me asking if I would see them for weight loss. I wanted a reputable dietitian that I could rely on for referrals. So I “Googled” for help. Guess who popped up thirty minutes away from me? Evelyn. I sent her an e-mail about some referrals I wanted to make to her and she asked me for coffee to learn about my business. She was an absolute delight. (I felt like asking for an autograph, but I held back.) I could have talked to her for hours and I had a million questions, but tried to keep myself under control. After listening to her elaborate on her philosophies, I still believe she has some of the best nutrition advice out there, which can benefit the entire family.
If intuitive eating is something you do not practice and you are overweight, consider a book purchase. I believe Evelyn’s theories and principles of eating are a legitimate way out of our obesity crisis.