Sarah Jessica Parker doesn’t want her daughters, 14-year-old twins Tabitha and Marion, to be afraid of food. As someone who has experienced the severely weight-obsessed side of Hollywood and who also grew up in a house where sugar, chocolate and white bread were forbidden (“And, of course, all we did the minute we moved out was buy Entenmann’s cakes and cookies,” Parker said in last week’s episode of week’s episode of “Ruthie’s Table 4” podcast), the actress wants her children to experience something different. 

“I didn’t want them to have a relationship with food that was antagonistic, or they felt like it was their enemy,” she said. 

To facilitate this, Parker said that cookies, cake and other desserts are regularly on offer in the home she shares with husband, Matthew Broderick. Unlike in her childhood, Parker is trying to set up a kitchen that is devoid of “good foods” and “bad foods,” and instead just focuses on providing an array of options. “You can’t make someone like something they don’t like or want, and I hope they can maintain their affection for the experience and their delight in taste and find their own ways to have that be healthy for them,” Parker said. 

It’s apparent in the conversation that Parker’s hope for her daughters is also underscored by some anxiety because even with the best planning and intentions, experts say that eating intuitively is easier said than done, especially in a modern society that is so adept at facilitating “food noise,” or our internal preoccupations about food. That’s especially true right now as two major industries — Big Food and Big Pharma — are changing how we discuss satiety and what it means to eat healthfully in real time, and not always in a way that benefits average Americans. 

While the phrase “intuitive eating” has become a social media darling, it often loses its full meaning when disseminated through reels and TikToks. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, intuitive eating is about trusting your body to make food choices that feel good for you, without judging yourself or the influence of diet culture. There are actually 10 generally agreed-upon principles of intuitive eating — ranging from rejecting the “diet mentality” to finding kinder ways to deal with difficult emotions than feeding them with food — that largely shift the focus away from eating as a way to lose weight towards eating as a way to nourish and fuel our bodies. 

This makes it a popular approach for individuals who have struggled with disordered eating. 

“Let me be clear, food is not good or bad and labeling it as such can pose many problems,” Aaron Flores, a registered dietician nutritionist who specializes in intuitive eating, wrote for the National Eating Disorders Association in 2018. “Nutritionally, just like bodies, all foods are different. Emotionally though, all foods must be equal. One food does not make you bad while the other makes you good. If we can approach [all foods] as emotionally equal, we can truly begin to connect with our own inner wisdom. Intuitive eating is about making peace with food and giving up the needless war against our body and how we eat.” 

He continued: “Intuitive eating is challenging and can be difficult to understand. It’s completely opposite of how we’ve been taught to think about food. It’s not black or white, it’s gray, nuanced and there is no one ‘right way’ which is why it can be so confusing. Intuitive eating is a beautiful part of recovery. It is also an essential piece in the prevention of eating disorders.” 

At its core, eating intuitively is anti-diet, meaning that it pushes back against “the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently.” However, that message often gets flattened by both critics and adherents, especially on social media where it is often positioned as a movement that greenlights eating past the point of being comfortably full. Anti-diet messaging is now also being twisted by major food companies who see it as an opportunity to cash in. 

Last week, an investigation by The Washington Post and The Examination, a nonprofit newsroom that covers global public health, found that one company in particular, General Mills, maker of Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms cereals, “has launched a multipronged campaign that capitalizes on the teachings of the anti-diet movement.” 

“General Mills has toured the country touting anti-diet research it claims proves the harms of ‘food shaming,’” the investigation team writes. “It has showered giveaways on registered dietitians who promote its cereals online with the hashtag #DerailTheShame, and sponsored influencers who promote its sugary snacks. The company has also enlisted a team of lobbyists and pushed back against federal policies that would add health information to food labels.” 

The Post and The Examination conducted an analysis of over 6,000 social media posts authored by 68 registered dietitians, who each had a minimum of 10,000 followers. The findings revealed that approximately 40% of these influencers, collectively reaching over 9 million followers, consistently employed anti-diet rhetoric in their content.

“Most of the influencers who used anti-diet language also were paid to promote products from food, beverage and supplement companies,” the analysis found.

Major food brands have preyed on purchasers’ insecurities — be those financial-, health- or status-based — since the advent of advertising. However, there’s something particularly insidious about General Mills and similar companies putting their finger on the scale of public health discourse in this way, which also reinforces why eating in a way that is truly intuitive can feel so challenging these days. 

“There’s something particularly insidious about General Mills and similar companies putting their finger on the scale of public health discourse in this way, which also reinforces why eating in a way that is truly intuitive can feel so challenging these days.”

Running parallel to the anti-diet movement are major conversations about the future of weight loss medications like Ozempic and Wegovy, which work by targeting hormones in the body that regulate appetite and metabolism. 

Ozempic, a once-weekly injectable medication, belongs to a class of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agonists, which mimic the effects of a naturally occurring hormone to reduce hunger and promote feelings of fullness. Similarly, Wegovy, a newly approved once-weekly injectable, operates by activating receptors in the brain that control appetite and food intake. Both medications have shown significant efficacy in aiding weight loss when combined with diet and exercise, offering new options for individuals struggling with obesity and related health issues.

Many patients report that taking these medications has reduced the amount of “food noise” they experience throughout the day. In speaking with PBS, patient Kathleen Olivieri said she had “no idea that there was such a thing as a normal appetite” until she started using Mounjaro, an injectable diabetes medication, for weight loss. Casey Mason, another patient, told the network that beginning injections cut food noise from her life. 

“It ruled my whole day every single day,” Mason said. “As soon as I woke up [I thought], ‘what am I eating?’ I just don’t think about food anymore.”

However, critics have also voiced concerns about the long-term effects of these medications, especially when it comes to patients’ lifetime relationship with food and especially when those patients are average-sized. In her Newsweek commentary published in September, writer Jackie Goldschneider — who struggled for years with anorexia — wrote about the trend of celebrities and then, eventually, everyday people taking semaglutides and tirzepatides to lose weight for special events or vanity. This sets up a dangerous precedent, Goldschneider said.

“Consider the hallmarks of an eating disorder: An unhealthy relationship with food, shutting off your hunger instead of feeding it, eating too little, risking harm to your organs for the sake of being thin,” she wrote. “When you consider that, it becomes clear: These drugs induce an eating disorder, especially in the average-sized people who don’t need them. People willingly endure debilitating nausea and constipation to lose weight, and risk pancreatitis, intestinal blockage and thyroid cancer in order to be a smaller size. They choose to pre-emptively eliminate their hunger instead of feeding it.” 

Rather than nourishing themselves, she continued, they choose to numb their appetites with medicine the way I once numbed my own with guilt and self-criticism. 

“They sign up for a life sentence, since going off the drugs generally means the return of a voracious appetite and almost all of the weight lost, if not more,” Goldschneider said. 

In the evolving landscape of food culture, the rise of the anti-diet movement stands as a counterpoint to traditional dieting. However, this movement faces challenges in a society already inundated with conflicting messages about food and body image — and that’s even without both Big Food and Big Pharma asserting their influence across culture and what intuitive eating means. 

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