Hunger Directed Eating (HDE) has seen a sharp rise in popularity over the last year, as more people try break free of dieting to find long term, healthy and sustainable solutions to managing their health. HDE promises a lifestyle free from food rules but the guarantee of still fitting in your jeans. It’s no wonder people have been drawn in to this miracle promise. But, after giving it a try and some background research, I most definitely won’t be jumping on the HDE bandwagon. Read on to find out why.
Breaking free of food rules
New Year is undoubtedly the highlight of diet season. But as 2018 kick started and the promise of fresh starts and new opportunities filled the air, I simply could not face another year of trying to change my body. I was done obsessing about food, hating myself and limiting my life in the pursuit of some beauty ideal. I just wanted to find peace with food. I didn’t want to spend hours of my life contemplating when and what I would next eat, or find myself stuck in an internal argument about whether I deserved or could justify a scoop of Ben & Jerrys. I just wanted to be normal around food. Problems was; after years of dieting and disordered eating, I wasn’t sure what normal was anymore!
The promise of a hope.
I set off on my journey to find freedom from food rules (you can read more about that here). I tried winging it with my own rules, I looked in to the movement of body positivity and had a brief fling with Mindful Eating, but I just couldn’t seem to make anything work.Then as if sensing my desperation Amazon brought up something interesting in my recommended reads: Thinside Out. How to have your cake and your skinny jeans too, by Josie Spinardi.
It promised everything I desired; I could have my cake and wear my skinny jeans! There it was in bold print front and centre: Stop binge eating, overeating and dieting for good. Get the naturally thin bod you crave from the inside out. Halleluiah I had found the miracle. The synopsis promised no fads, no restriction, even said how diets don’t work. Sounded too good to be true (which usually means it is) but it clearly stated how ‘diets don’t work’ so I decided to give it a try.
As soon as it arrived I couldn’t wait to get started, this was it, the moment my life changed forever! I lapped up the first chapter. It felt like Josie had jumped in my head, taken my thoughts and committed them to press. I related to everything she was saying about the diet triangle: diet- binge-beat self-up. And all those mean girls voices which I punished myself with whenever I so much as glanced twice at anything covered in chocolate.
I was shocked, unsettled and mind-blown at all the research and data about how and why diets don’t work. I was so relieved to discover that it was never my fault, I had just being using the wrong tool. I (ironically) binge read until I reached the good stuff; how to get started with HDE.
From fear of liable at revealing the secret ‘Jodie Method’ I won’t share the ‘five key steps for Hunger Directed Eating’. But roughly it revolves around; taking a moment to reflect on what you are about to eat (and why) tuning in to your natural signals of hunger and satisfaction, and then being mindful to how your body feels after eating different types of foods.
Sounded simple, but it was surprisingly hard. After years of dieting and being conditioned to eat to certain rules and portion sizes, I realised I wasn’t even sure anymore whether I was hungry or not, or if and when I was full or not.
Whilst there are just 5 main principles of HDE, there seemed to be lots of additional ‘guidelines’ to follow. Like eating in the same spot for all your meals, as Josie calls it: your eating spot. A dedicated place you can sit and focus on what you are consuming. Whilst I sort of vaguely understood the rationale, not at all realistic or practical for most people, let alone busy woman with unpredictable work schedules and a social life!
I kept working on it, trying to put all the steps in place, reflecting on any set-backs, but somehow I just felt like I was doing it wrong. The subliminal undertone seemed to be that; sure you can eat all the cake you like, but once you REALLY REALLY tune in to your body, you will realise how rank that stuff feels in your body. As if one day I just wouldn’t really want cake anymore, my instinctive desire to be thin would make me crave salad and all the good stuff. I just needed to tune in right, and stop all those ‘other reasons for eating’ than hunger. But cake, just didn’t feel wrong to me. It felt delicious and satisfying and sure there was maybe a sugar slump later on, but a small sacrifice for the joy of enjoying a slice of something crumbly and delicious with a friend.
Perhaps there was something I missed, I decided to go back and read the book again. So I went back, and started over, taking my time and paying more attention. Sure enough there was some stuff I missed the first time around.
The first thing that stood out on the second read was the constant reference to your ‘naturally thin body’ your ‘innate thin-telligence’ and similar assurances of natural thinness. The guarantee and reassurance that your body wants you to be thin, it instinctively desires to be thin and lean. On first reading this sort of made sense to me. We are told all the time how being ‘overweight’ carries so much increased risk of disease, so why wouldn’t your body want to be thin? But on reflection, doesn’t this mean; all fat people are entirely to blame for being overweight? That they are denying their natural right and basic instinctive need to be thin? I was ‘overweight’ my entire life until my early 20s, had I been to blame all along? Had I been denying my body its instinctive right and need to be slim.
The more I re-read the more alarm bells started to ring. On page 53 Josie introduces the 5 types of non-hunger eating. Some absolutely make sense on a biological level, but number 4 (licking your wounds) and 5 (recreational eating) just did not sound like life pleasures I was willing to give up (nor should). Josie offers a useful alternative to licking your wounds, (comforting yourself with food) in the form of ‘task orientated coping’ taking direct action to resolve your problems. Well guess what, when 3 clients cancel in a day, I snag my favourite leggings on the door out, and some shit bag driver cut me up on the way home… there aint no action I can take to resolve any of that. And actually a glass of wine and a slab of galaxy will do just the trick for cheering me up. A simple, and effective solution to a shitty day.
I then read the last few chapters of the book. As I will be honest, I didn’t read to the absolute end first time around. Once I had got the nitty gritty of what I needed to do, I sort of tuned out. Plus the last chapter is about exercise, and as an advanced PT specialising in making fitness fun and accessible- I felt I had that bit covered. But it seems that is where mine and Josie’s professional opinions seemed to tangent.
You did not just say that?
Now I am by no means a dietetics or nutrition expert and I do not claim to be, but I am passionate about, qualified for and well-read in many specialist areas of fitness and exercise. And when it comes to exercise, it seems mine and Josie’s opinions vary pretty greatly.
Let’s just start at the chapter name: Exercise: love it or leave it. It’s Not Required- But It Will Lift Your Bum & Your Mood. I had to actually read that sentence a few times to process it, and check I wasn’t missing something. I am sorry but in what world, lifestyle or level of anyone’s health and sanity would exercise not be ‘required’. And to summarise the purpose of exercise as pretty much aesthetics and mood boosting; well that had my heckles up.
Rage slowly bubbles, I can hear biscuits calling from the cupboard; and you can get stuffed if you think I am going to park in my eating spot and nibble on one. Deep breath- read on, could be a judgement of error, an insistence from the editor. As a writer, I am used to editors shifting things around, and not always to my exact liking.
But no, sadly not. Within the first paragraph it states; ‘Let me be clear. To get and stay thin, exercise is not required’ (p195). Wow- so really what you are saying is: exercise is not required for losing weight (which it isn’t). It is at this point I noticed at no point is the book promising you will be ‘thinner’ or just a healthier version of yourself. No it promises you will magically become ‘thin’ or ‘lean’ (a smell of false promises with a hint of fad diet).
I will give a brief moments grace, as Josie the next sub-chapter starts with; ‘exercise yields sensational unparalleled life- and mood-enhancing benefits’ a moments hope… quickly dashed by the subsequent sentence; ‘but weight loss is not one of them’. Followed by 5 explicitly detailed reasons why exercise is not the shortcut to slim. So basically an entire sub-chapter of the book subliminally convincing people that no you really don’t have to exercise. *Sigh*
I get it guys, maybe you don’t like the gym or running. Guess what; neither do I a lot of the time. But there are literally an infinite number of ways you can remain active and healthy, and the benefits of it far extend aesthetics. Moving your body (if you have such an incredible privilege) should be seen as exactly that; a privilege, not a chore. You should hon our and celebrate your body by finding ways to move it which are enjoyable to you. At some point Josie does briefly make the argument that exercise should be something you enjoy, but only after dedicating a large section of the book convincing you that it really, really isn’t essential at all.
Now I will give another small credit, as the book does try to shatter the delusional and dangerous misconception that exercise can be used as some sort of balancing tool or compensatory method for overeating. That is most definitely not the mind-set you should take with exercise. However, whilst my reasoning to this argument is that; it’s a psychological head fuck, in which exercise becomes a punishment or chore, undervaluing the intrinsic significance of it in your overall health and well-being. Josie’s point seems to be proving why exercise is not effective for fat loss, and your ‘naturally thins self’ should be created without the dependency of exercise. *sigh*
The book does also briefly state that ‘exercise is indisputably one of the most beneficial activities you can chose to do’ (pg 205). Then it gives a very brief list of the benefits of exercise; ‘relieves tension, depression, and anxiety. It boosts your mood, energy overall health, bone density, and ability to focus. And the list goes on’ (pg 206) But it is hardly a compelling, supported or convincing argument, not when compared to the extent at which the book tries to prove exercise is not effective for weight loss.
Then comes the piece de resistance of diet culture BS which, as my gran would say; ‘put the tin hat on it’. Towards the end of its rambling about exercise, the book suggests thinking of ‘toning’ (or as I professionally prefer to call it; resistance training) as the equivalent to waxing your eyebrows or shaving your legs as quote; ‘it improves the way you look in a bikini’. Really? That is the headline message we want to put out to the world. At least Josie has the gratuity to describe herself as ‘superficial’ in this belief. And even admits her driving force was not to be healthy but ‘desire to give my rear a friendly hand up- to a perkier perch’ (pg 214).
The notion that basically we should be partaking in regular strenuous ‘toning’ exercise simply to conform to some beauty ideal, that just boils my piss. I have dedicated my fitness career to helping women feel awesome about their bodies, about being stronger, more agile, flexible, maintaining independence, having confidence in their capabilities and generally feeling like a bad ass. Why are people still selling this bullshit promise that exercise is the key to achieving a body worthy of a bikini. Oh yeah- because they have some shit to sell, and to do that they have to work on the premise you are not good enough as you are.
Let me tell you now, you are beautiful and worthy regardless to what size bikini you wear. It is OK to want to feel better about yourself, want to feel more confident when half naked in a public place, but please do not do this by partaking in grueling exercise which is more likely to leave you tired, injured and with a low chance of success.
Josie goes on to claim that within a week (yes just one week) of her new ‘Physique 57 routine’ she was developing real, long, lean muscles. A week? I call BS on that!!!! What effectively is being sold here is a quick fix solution, the deceptive lie that if you engage in these types of behaviour you will get that body ‘worthy’ of a bikini. There is no two ways about this; that is unequivocally diet culture BS, a false promise of a better life when you transform your body in to more aesthetically pleasing version. NO NO NO. At this point the book went out of the window. All respect for anything it had to say was now gone for me.
A bit of background
A first I chalked HDE up as a failure on my part, a few professional differences in opinion, but an experience I would sooner forget. Then HDE seemed to have a popularity spike, at least in the realms of instagram. Suddenly my PT clients started asking me about this new promise of food-freedom and guaranteed thinness, and inquiring if it compares to Intuitive Eating (big hint no it does not). It was at this time I felt compelled to share my experience of HDE.
Now, at this point, I reiterate, I am not a nutritional professional in any way, nor claim to be. Exercise is my area of professional expertise. Humble brag; I do have a PhD but as it is not in the field of health and fitness, I professionally do not use my title of ‘Dr’ as I feel it would be misleading and unethical. But being of academic standing, I did what any good researcher does and I investigated the evidence. I started a background study into Hunger Directed Eating, a literature review of sorts.
I went back to Google (hey even academics start somewhere) to look for more sources on Hunger Directed Eating. Turns out Josie Spinardi is pretty much the founder of HDE, and the only real ‘authority’ on the matter. OK fine, everything starts somewhere, so how did she come to this amazing plan. Well that is where I started to struggle.
If you search ‘Josie Spinardi’ you’re mostly hit with links to the book, her website and her socials. Both her twitter and instagram pages are a thin on content, but that’s fine. Maybe she is a private person, or so busy with her research and professional practice that she doesn’t have time to share much on social media. But surely her website has more, what professional doesn’t want to show their credentials? Josie’s website describes her as being; ‘a brain expert’ but doesn’t really specify what qualifies her for that accolade. There is no mention of training, her academic background, professional publications, journals, blogs, associations or professional memberships; nothing.
In fairness I don’t have my CV on my website, but I share my knowledge via this blog, my freelance writing, and should anyone ask I am happy to show my nationally recognized qualifications. Josies website has nothing. No back ground on her, no evidence of her knowledge or expertise beyond the book and raving client testimonials. Which lets be honest, even the highest order of nutribollocks has been endorsed by those suckered in to temporarily believing its success. People are always quick to share their amazing results a week in… less so to share their long term experience when it inevitably falls to pieces.
I did manage to find one podcast featuring Josie from back in 2017. An episode of ‘Veggie Doctor Radio’ a podcast focused on ‘plant-based nutrition, habit formation, behavior change and motivation so that you can have the tools to live the best life possible’. The show notes describe Josie as ‘combining her background in Pyschological Research with her unique analytical adroitness’. OK I get Psychologies Magazine delivered each month, does that count as psychological research? It goes on to say she was a ‘Senior Database Architect for Oracle’s largest US Decision Support Database’. Well senior data architect does sound like an interesting and professional role (in case you are wondering here is the link to a job description and the essential skills on GOV.UK) but doesn’t like the usual path in to being a brain expert to me.
Now I am not suggesting that Josie isn’t ‘qualified’ to write such a book or give the advice and support she is charging for. But for me, I like to take my medical or mental health guidance from someone whose professional qualifications I can verify. I mean I have never asked my GP to see his medical degree, but I entrust someone in the NHS has. Sadly, there is no such peer-review process for book publication. Anyone can write a book on any subject, with no legal requirement to prove your authority on the matter. And in this day and age of the internet we see all sorts of crack-pot shit getting bandied as the next savior.
My Conclusion on Hunger Directed Eating
For me, without the professional integrity to back it, HDE is just another flash in the pan craze which will die off sooner or later. Perhaps I am wrong. I am always open to having my opinions challenged. So if someone can direct me to the science that supports HDE, or the author’s professional background, then I will be happy to discuss it.
I think on final reflections, the thing which really irks me about Hunger Directed Eating, is the pretense that it is absolutely not a diet, that it is anti-diet. Now I know dieting has become a bit of a dirty word, but let’s just be honest and call a spade-a-spade eh; if the aim is weight loss and especially when it promises thinness… that is a diet. Maybe it’s a liveable long term diet, maybe it is sustainable, but it is still a diet. Whilst a string of social influencers preach the virtuousness of HDE as categorically not being a diet, if you search #hungerdirectedeating you will get a wash of weigh in results, and before and after pics… looks and sounds a lot like a diet to me.
And I know that I am going to receive a backlash of criticism from HDE converts who claim it’s changed their life. And you-do-you lovely! If it is working for you right now awesome. I am up for hearing any honest, calm and long term positive experiences of HDE. But before you @ me a load of angry abuse, give it some space and time. Maybe you’ve been huger directed eating for 11 minutes and feeling great, but how many other flash in the pans have you defended in the past?
Have you tried HDE? What was your experience? Share it in the comments below or on our socials.