How’s your relationship with food? Is it good, bad, or somewhere in between? Are you one of the millions who struggle with trying diet after diet, then feel you’ve failed when it doesn’t work or you can’t stick with it?
“Good” foods, “bad” foods; “always” eat this, “never” eat that…. We’ve become obsessed with nutrition information while at the same time, we’ve become more and more unhealthy.
We get on the diet roller coaster and don’t seem to be able to get off.
Diet can refer simply to eating patterns — what we eat in a given day, but it can also refer to the restriction of calories, certain foods or nutrients, etc.. The latter is what I’m talking about here.
Obviously, some health challenges require us to abide by a certain eating patterns or restrictions and if we’ve been advised to do that, we need to stick to it. It’s always helpful to work with a Registered Dietitian when we have specialized nutritional needs.
For the rest of us, though, maybe it’s time to get off that diet roller coaster.
I’m not advocating throwing healthful eating out the window, but I wanted to talk a little about an approach to eating that could help us stop letting an unhealthy relationship with food rule our lives.
Have you ever heard the term intuitive eating? I was introduced to this approach many years ago at a fitness conference I went to. I took this workshop because I wanted to help my clients get out from under the guilt and feelings of failure they had every time a diet didn’t work out.
So many times people go on a super-restrictive diet, have some initial success, then when they can’t stick with it long-term, they feel they’ve failed. It’s not the person who has failed, though. It’s the diet mentality that has failed them.
The intuitive eating program was developed by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A.. They encourage people to ditch the diets and listen to their body, to reconnect with their inner intuitive eater.
So how do we know if we’re in touch with ours? Let’s look at what intuitive eaters do: “Intuitive Eaters march to their inner hunger signals, and eat whatever they choose without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma.” (1)
As they describe it, we are naturally intuitive eaters. In their book, Intuitive Eating, they reference toddlers and their innate wisdom about food if we don’t interfere with it. They state that “….study after study shows that if you let a toddler eat spontaneously, he will eat what he needs when given free access to food.”
The problem comes in when we start assigning human attributes to food (i.e., good or bad foods), deprive ourselves of the things we really love, and start to feel guilty when we eat something we “shouldn’t” eat. This sets us up for unhealthy attitudes centered around eating, and makes mealtime more of a chore than a time of day we can use to reconnect with family around the table and enjoy each others’ company.
So how do we get back to being the natural intuitive eater that we used to be?
Tribole and Resch outline 10 Principles for Intuitive Eating (2) on their website. These principles are:
- Reject the diet mentality. This may be the hardest step for many of us. We’ve spent so many years looking for that ‘one diet’ that’s going to help us look and feel the way we want, and we don’t have to look very far to see someone promising to help us “lose weight quickly.”
- Honor your hunger. Don’t ignore your hunger signals. Feed your body when it needs to be fed. Otherwise, you’ll be tempted to overeat when you finally do eat.
- Make peace with food. Get rid of the “good” or “bad” food narrative that so many of us have had running in our heads. When we deny ourselves certain foods, it can actually cause us to crave them more.
- Challenge the food police. As Tribole and Resch say in their article, “The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.“
- Discover the satisfaction factor. Practice mindful eating. Let’s take the time to sit at the table and make our meals a pleasant experience rather than mindlessly eating while bingeing Netflix.
- Feel your fullness. Remember the 80% full trick? If we eat until we’re 80% full initially and give our brains time to catch up with our stomachs, we will be able to leave the table satisfied. We want to feel we’ve had enough without overstuffing ourselves.
- Cope with your emotions with kindness. Rather than using food to deal with our emotions, we need to find constructive ways to cope with them.
- Respect your body. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes. We are each wonderfully made just the way we’re supposed to be. It’s time that we learn to accept our bodies as they are, and stop being overly critical of ourselves.
- Movement — feel the difference. Rather than focusing on the calorie-burning aspect of exercise, why not just enjoy the way exercise feels?
- Honor your health — gentle nutrition. Let’s make food choices that both honor our taste buds and nourish our bodies. Having something that isn’t as healthy every once in a while won’t set us back in the long run. Remember what Winston Churchill said — “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
If you’d like to learn more about Intuitive Eating, you can check out their website, www.intuitiveeating.org or their book, Intuitive Eating. My copy of the book is older than dirt (okay, it’s only 16 years old) but they’ve published an updated one, as well as a workbook, which are both available on Amazon.
Getting back in touch with our inner intuitive eater can help us get off the diet roller coaster, learn to enjoy food again, and restore a healthy relationship with food. When we’re able to eat healthfully, enjoy our food, and not beat ourselves up when we indulge in that occasional treat, we reap the benefits in both the physical and emotional dimensions of wellness.
Are you familiar with the concept of Intuitive Eating? Would you say that you’re an intuitive eater? Please share!
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(1) Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Program That Works, 2nd ed, 2003, Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A., St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York