Because of social media, intuitive eating may seem as if you’ll eat only donuts, burgers and french fries. We often see intuitive eating discussed under colorful photos of cupcakes, sweets and “junk” foods.
I’ve talked about this “phenomena” in Intuitive Eating: Foundation of Health, you can hear all about it here. The main point is – when you’re just starting out your intuitive eating journey, you most likely don’t have broccoli on your list of forbidden foods, right? Probably, your list of forbidden, “bad” foods will include sweets, carbs, and other foods demonized by diet culture. Logically, those will be the foods you need to start making peace with – which is why they often appear in social media posts.
Therefore, if you’re new to intuitive eating, it may look like it’s just an endless permission to binge eat, without any regards to health, nutrition or body respect.
Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Yes, eating intuitively gives you unconditional permission to eat donuts, but the journey doesn’t stop there.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a self-care practice that is deeply researched and based on scientific evidence.
With intuitive eating, you develop a healthy, positive relationship with food, your body and your health.
Food loses its moral value, which allows you to include all of the foods you enjoy in your eating world. You are allowed to eat any food, at any time – without guilt or shame.
Now, because we live in a diet culture, where many foods are restricted, and therefore seen as special, this can sound scary.
I’ve had many clients and students sharing the same fear: if I allow myself to eat anything, at any time, I will never stop.
Good news is – it doesn’t work that way.
Because of the unconditional permission to eat, without any moral attachment to it. I know, sounds impossible, but bear with me for a moment.
You see, when you feel at peace with all different foods, knowing you’re allowed to eat any and all of it – without being a “bad” person for it, food loses its special touch.
When you feel deeply safe and peaceful around food, eating all of it is not urgent.
When all foods are allowed in your eating world, you can move on from judging and labeling foods, to discovering which foods you love, which not.
With this freedom, you can shift from thinking “am I allowed to eat this”, to “what would I like to eat right now” and “am I hungry or do I need something else”.
Intuitive eating allows you to recognize why you want some foods, while considering different factors, such as nourishment, taste, satisfaction, availability and so on.
Intuitive eating is flexible and unique to you. At any given day, it may look different – after all, your life isn’t the same every day.
With intuitive eating, you can rely on your internal cues when it comes to food, rather than letting some app tell you when, what and how much to eat.
App has no idea what’s happening in your life – you do. You’re the expert of your body and your eating.
Intuitive eating allows you to reclaim your body autonomy.
How does intuitive eating relate to health?
Unless you lived under a rock (and if you did, oh how lucky you are!), you’ve heard health being related to weight all of the time.
When someone mentions they’re “getting healthy”, they’re most likely reffering to some sort of a diet – they will “eat less and move more”, or start “a new lifestyle”.
Many professionals, coaches, dietitians, doctors don’t question this narrative diet culture has created – health is somehow always thought about in terms of weight.
However, the truth is – health doesn’t come from achieving a certain weight.
Health is a resource related to many different factors that have nothing to do with weight. Some of the factors we cannot even control.
What we can control when it comes to health are our behaviours – and it is behaviours that will make a difference in our health. Weight loss will not.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that health is not purely physical health. It includes mental, emotional and spiritual health as well.
Diets and food restriction don’t nourish any aspect of health; physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
After all, it’s extremely difficult to feel or be healthy if you’re obsessing over food all day long.
Intuitive eating is the foundation of health
Knowing all of this, it becomes increasingly obvious that eating intuitively is one of the greatest things you can do for your health; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
Intuitive eating brings you home to your body, allowing you to truly listen what it needs and craves.
With intuitive eating, you get to have it all.
You can make food choices based on what tastes good, but also tune into what that food feels like in your body.
Intuitive eating doesn’t mean ignoring nutritional value of food, it simply means rejecting labeling foods as “good or bad”. All foods fit.
A great example of this is learning gentle nutrition by creating balance on your plate. You’re going to consider, for example, that eating only carbs as a snack will probably lead to an intense blood sugar drop later on – which is not going to feel great in your body. With this information, you may decide to add some fats and proteins to your snack in order to bring more balance, and avoid the unwanted drop in blood sugar.
With this choice, you’ve satisfied your taste buds, but also choose food that will feel good in your body.
Besides, in your intuitive eating journey, you will notice how your body wants balance and variety of many different foods, so you get to honor your taste buds, your body and your health.
Another piece of the puzzle is recognizing that what you eat matters more long-term than it does meal to meal. It’s unnecessary to micromanage your food intake – how you eat in a month, or a year, matters way more than any particular food or meal you ate.
One food can’t make or break your health.
Ok, but are intuitive eaters really healthier?
The funny thing is – because of the unconditional permission to eat, intuitive eaters mostly enjoy a wide variety of foods. Yes, this includes pizza and donuts, but it also includes variety of different fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts etc.
Naturally, when you’re consuming lots of different foods, your body will enjoy a wide variety of nutrients. Meaning that intuitive eaters usually nourish themselves with many different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enough fiber!
If you’re still wondering why is this happening, here’s your answer: if all foods are allowed and morally equal, you’re free to choose foods that taste good AND foods that feel good in your body.
When you’re at home with your body, you may notice that eating too many slices of pizza leaves you feeling bloated and lethargic – which you don’t particularly enjoy. Therefore, when you know you can eat as much pizza as you wish, it’s much easier to stop eating if you know you won’t feel great afterwards.
Then, you may choose to eat two slices of pizza and additional salad – you will still satisfy your taste buds, and you will feel great and ready to go afterwards.
In contrast, people with disordered eating label pizza as “bad” and therefore forbidden. Once they find themselves around pizza, though, they are not able to control themselves because they know this is “their only chance” to eat pizza – so they completely ignore their fullness and satisfaction signal and eat until they’re uncomfortably full, feeling bad and guilty after eating. Promising themselves this will “never happen again” (even though it always does, and it’s NOT their fault).
I told you, you get to have your cookies and your health!
Research shows that intuitive eaters tend to binge eat a lot less (which makes perfect sense), have improved psychological and physical health, improved dietary patterns and even lower BMI (although BMI is not an indicator of health, as we’ve concluded health doesn’t come from weight). (1)
It’s also important to recognize that, contrary to popular belief, food is not the main or only component of creating health.
Health comes from many different behaviours, most of which have nothing to do with food or weight.
You get to create your own health in a way that feels joyful to you.
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