Intuitive Eating: Q&A with Tiffany Calcutt, MBA, RDN, LD, Non-Diet Dietitian
Tiffany Calcutt, MBA, RDN, LD is a non-diet registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor on a mission to help people enjoy a positive relationship with food and body. Tiffany practices from a weight-neutral approach, informed by the principles of intuitive eating.
And, fun fact, Tiffany’s maiden name is Flik. Yep! That Flik. Tiffany’s parents, Rudi and Julie Flik, founded FLIK Hospitality in 1971.
This Women’s History Month, we had the honor of meeting Tiffany to learn about her approach to nutrition and food, intuitive eating (for adults and kids), diet culture, social media, and family dinners.
FLIK: Obviously, you grew up in a food-centric family. Can you give us some insight into how you found your way into the nutrition side of the profession?
TIFFANY: I wish I had some enlightened path to share with people, but really it was more random. The one person that I can give a lot of credit to is Deanne Brandstetter because I do remember after college—sort of in one of those transition phases between different jobs—I must have been expressing my lack of a clue to my parents and they said, “Well why don’t you shadow Deanne for a day or two?”
I can remember very vividly I went into NYC with her and we went to two different accounts. I can even remember the recipe we were making and sharing with people. It was a chocolate biscotti, so a healthier version of a cookie. And I remember it fondly. I think it was another 10-15 years later that I found myself pursuing a registered dietitian credential. The experience with Deanne always stuck with me.
I also was always active and enjoyed food. I suppose I always liked the sciences too, but it took me a while to figure it out. But I did. I’ve finally landed.
FLIK: What’s your nutrition philosophy? Have your own experiences shaped your approach over the years?
TIFFANY: The simplest way to describe my approach is to make food a positive. Focus on what you can add to increase your health and the environment that you create around food. Mostly my mindset in the past couple of years has been more about downplaying nutrition-specific knowledge, zooming out and focusing on the much more basic element of one’s relationship with food.
FLIK: I would say that’s right in line with FLIK’s philosophy when it comes to nutrition and wellness. Food should be about enjoyment. I love in particular what you said – and I think a colleague of mine said this a couple of years ago and it always stuck – we live in a culture where it’s so common to think about food and dieting in terms of what can we remove from our diets or eat less of. When really, we should be focusing on what we can eat more of that’s good for us and will nourish us.
TIFFANY: Absolutely. And in terms of how my own experiences have shaped my approach--
The experience of COVID really shaped my approach tremendously. Prior to covid, I was practicing the way the bulk of RDs practice, which is what we’re taught in our [dietetic internships].
Being separated from clients face to face and taking the journey of telehealth really had me question, why have I ever been using a scale?. Why are we using this to gauge progress or to measure success?
This also happened around the same time I had an intern working for me. She was younger—she was just starting college and hadn’t even majored in nutrition yet—she actually mentioned Intuitive Eating to me. I thought, “Hmmm. I think I kind of know what it is, but I don’t really know and I didn’t learn about it in school. I need to check this out.”
Covid slowed life down and I finally found the bandwidth to hop on social media. Once I became active on Instagram (@harvestnutritionwellness) I recognized how huge and meaningful and correct intuitive eating is. So that definitely shaped my approach, and prior to that, my approach was shaped by my traditional education in the field. So that’s one good thing I can chalk up to covid.
FLIK: I’ll say too—I don’t know what it was about covid, but I started listening to podcasts in the dietetics or nutrition space and so much of it is around intuitive eating and ditching the diet mindset. I’m not going to remember off the top of my head, who’s the author of the book Intuitive Eating?
TIFFANY: Oh! Evelyn Tribole.
FLIK: Yes! I was hearing her name everywhere. And she wrote that book a while ago. I can’t believe I’m only now hearing about this. It will be interesting to see—I wonder what they’re teaching now in undergraduate nutrition curriculum because it’s so different.
TIFFANY: I hope it’s evolving. I agree. Her first book was written in 1995 and I remember that because it was the year I graduated from college. The fourth edition came out about a year ago in June and it’s gaining a lot of traction.
FLIK: Yeah, I’m so happy to see that. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re headed in the right the direction, I feel like.
FLIK: What’s one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to have a more intuitive approach to their eating and nutrition?
TIFFANY: My first piece of advice is for anybody who’s interested in [intuitive eating] is to read Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch’s book. That’s the first thing--either read their book or go into their workbook, which I actually use a lot with clients. There’s a lot of co-opting by new wellness influencers and quite frankly, it’s often not accurate, so making sure one’s understanding of intuitive eating is comprehensive. So that’s one piece of advice if someone’s interested in it.
And then let’s say, they’ve listened to some podcasts, they’ve read the book. Then there’s a lot of coaching and encouraging people towards self-acceptance and to forget being “perfect.” The whole thing with intuitive eating is you’re not being put inside a box and that can be very disconcerting for people and yet, we need to be able to live in the gray a little bit. There’s no doing it right and wrong. Except if you’re going into intuitive eating expecting weight loss…that’s wrong.
FLIK: The core of it is, if you’re a person that’s interested in intuitive eating, being able to shake that, “Oh, I want to eat intuitively because it will help me lose a few pounds.” That’s the first thing you have to tackle.
TIFFANY: The first thing you need to tackle absolutely is rejecting diet culture. It’s that first principle. You’re not going to get anything out of this journey if you're not willing to reject diet culture. That's sort of a big ask. So sometimes I say, “You know what, we are going to put your weight on the back burner. I understand why that’s important to you. I appreciate why that’s important to you, but let’s focus on these other things first.” I try to teach from that perspective.
FLIK: Can we speak for a moment about parenting and family life? Parenting and how you approach food has got to be so challenging. There are so many opinions about what the best approach is. What advice do you have for parents who want to raise their children with a positive relationship with food?
TIFFANY: I think this is my favorite question. Last night, independent of knowing you were going to give me a call, I was on a book club phone call with a parent coach / educator / mentor and volunteer for eating disorders. Her name is Oona Hanson. She’s fabulous to follow on social media (@oona_hanson on Instagram, @OonaHanson on Twitter). I discovered her through a podcast I was listening to.
She’s an educator by degree and by her initial career. One of her children had an eating disorder and I think that really drove her into this specialty of “of How do you parent without diet culture?”
She hosted a book club for a new book that came out called, “How to Raise an Intuitive Eater” (by Sumner Brooks, RD, and Amee Severson). As an extension of practicing intuitive eating myself, teaching it to adults, and presently raising three children, this is just an area I’ve definitely been growing into.
So, what advice do I have for parents? … You can probably appreciate the enormous pressure parents feel to “do it right.” To make sure their kids aren’t a picky eater or that they’re getting as many vegetables as the kids next door. There’s tremendous pressure.
The advice I have is really to start with curiosity about your own relationship with food. I feel like we can only bring people along as far as we’ve gone ourselves. So as a parent it’s good to get curious and turn a mirror on yourself before you try to have any over-arching specific food philosophy. Most of us do have some sort of issue or quirk around food... whether we recognize it or not…and it’s helpful to be aware of this and proactively decide whether it’s in our children’s best-interest to pass on.
Really try to first understand, ‘Hey, what does healthy mean to me,’ and, ‘How do I want my kids to think about their bodies and food?’ Start to get curious about oneself first and to sort out how you were raised and what messages and rules you absorbed from your own nuclear family. Discuss that with your partner and figure out, ‘Okay, this is the baggage that we’re bringing to this,’ and, ‘How can we stop the generational dieting that we come from.’
FLIK: I think that’s a great way to think about it. It's hard to say there's one right answer. I like the idea of thinking about how we were raised and what worked and what didn’t work and why and then developing our own way to approach things. That’s good advice.
Could you quickly talk about the psychology part and how you built relationships with the therapists in your community?
TIFFANY: It was very much of an organic growth. I think it probably started with a mom who was a therapist who came to see me to work with her daughter because of some concerns around her eating habits and lifestyle. I live in a small town, people tend to know each other, so that was one of my first touch points [and my relationships with therapy professionals all sort of spiderweb from there].
I also recall offering an in-service to a group of therapists several years ago. It must have been about how having a healthful diet and eating at regular intervals can be beneficial for mental health. Then, I think through my kid’s school, an additional therapist heard about me. And then having a few patients who were on the spectrum for disordered eating, I would then would send my correspondence to those therapists.
I think I also had a couple of patients who were already in therapy. I’d share progress notes and keep them in the loop, which helps build relationships and encourages a team approach.
It’s a little disconcerting in one way, but I’m getting more teenage and tween females who aren’t eating enough. They’re restricting or maybe they’re orthorexic. I’m often then saying, “Oh by the way, are you working with a therapist? Have you ever considered that?”
So, I’d say it’s a circular thing. I’m often suggesting therapy or maybe the therapist is suggesting me.
FLIK: We usually like to put in some kind of fun fact when we do an interview, so I always like to ask, what’s your favorite food to cook and what’s your favorite food to eat?
TIFFANY: I love to eat, so that’s easy. It’s either chocolate or ice cream. I have a sweet tooth and I think life would be very sad without either of those.
And my favorite food to cook… I really enjoy making Buddha bowls. I think part of it is the variety when I make that dish. So, I usually marinate and bake tofu and make a peanut sauce and then a bunch of other little ramekins or bowls of vegetables. I love the color. I love that everybody gets what they want. There’s no complaining. It’s great for leftovers, that’s always a huge plus.
FLIK: I think that’s a well-thought-out answer coming from someone that has a family That all makes sense!
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