Category Archives: Intuitive eating

The difference between intuitive eating and dieting

It has come to my attention that while I have explained intuitive eating from more of a scientific angle, as in how the body works and why dieting is hard on the metabolism and why the body craves nutrients and how the body reads nutrients, there is still SO MUCH confusion as to what intuitive eating is. And, more dangerously, there are many “wellness plans” that are disguised as intuitive eating, but in reality are not intuitive at all. So I am going to lay this out as clear as I can. Ready?

First of all, intuitive eating is NOT:

~A diet
~A lifestyle change
~A wellness plan
~Something to “go on” or “go off”
~A weight management program
~Restrictive
~Disciplinary

There is no such thing as being a “perfect intuitive eater” and there are no “results” to measure. Unlike some of the 30-day diet plans or 2-week detox cleanses, you don’t “do intuitive eating” for a certain length of time. You won’t ever hear an intuitive person say “Oh, I did intuitive eating last month where all I did was listen to my body for 30 days. It was amazing. I need to get back on track with that.” Once you learn how to listen to your body and eat without controlling, tracking, and worrying, eating becomes as natural as pooping or sleeping or taking a shower. 

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Intuitive eating is:

~A way of being
~Something you already embody
~Part of who you are
~A neutral approach to food
~Unique to you
~Freedom to live and eat in a way that feels good to you

Eating intuitively means turning your attention inward (away from outward influences such as diets, cleanses, and health rules). You are:

~listening to your own body: what sounds good, what doesn’t sound good; what do you want; what do you need; do you like this or do you like that?

~understanding your body cues: when you’re hungry and when you’re full and when you want more or less or have had enough; why are you craving a certain nutrient or feeling a particular way (maybe sluggish or maybe energized); do you need water? More sleep? Am I feeling anxious or sad? Your body may be telling you something outside of food.

~honoring your body with nourishment without judgment: food is not good or bad for you; healthy or unhealthy; fatty and sugary; high fat and low fat. Food is simply food. Eating is eating. Body size is simply an objective descriptor (like my brown hair or your sparkly shoes).

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Other points to understand:

~The way you eat will look different than the way I eat which looks different than how she eats over there, because our bodies are different, reacts to food differently, enjoys or dislikes foods differently. So we don’t  judge our own food, and certainly not the food others are eating. Intuitive eating is unique to each body, and we’re all going to eat differently and look different. It’s important to remain food-neutral. For example:

Someone who lives in a larger body eating a hamburger is simply someone eating a hamburger. She is not better or worse because she’s larger;  her food is not bad for her because she’s larger; she doesn’t need to “watch what she eats” or modify her food in any way to be healthier.

If you are in a smaller body and honor the need for a grilled chicken salad then that’s all that’s happening. You are eating a chicken salad. You are not healthier because the salad is better for you than a hamburger; you aren’t “being good” because you’re eating greens and protein; you are not earning your calories for margaritas later.

~When you are an intuitive eater, you may or may not lose weight. You may go up; you may go down; you may stay the same. I gained weight because I was malnourished from restricting food for 13 years. Intuitive eating allows your body to find its way to its innately designed homeostasis, size, and shape. Dieting, on the other hand, forces your body into a desired size or shape with erratic ups and downs or in and out of that desired size. Whatever weight happens for you is what it is, and that weight will adjust depending on what kind of intuitive movement (exercise) you’re doing, and the physical wellness or being of your body (did you just have a baby? Are you injured? Are you recovering from surgery? Are you sick?). Weight is not solely dependent on food; there are a plethora of factors that determine body weight.

~There is zero restriction in intuitive eating, so there’s no amplified obsession or heavy guilt associated with certain foods. You always have permission to eat your favorite things as they appeal to you, which brings down the “holy grail” value of your food… the wanting, the desiring, the yearning, the wishing, and the bingeing. So when you smell freshly baked brownies at your friend’s house, you’ll get excited because you love brownies and just made some last week at your house. You’ll eat a brownie or some brownies (whatever you feel) and you’ll enjoy them with your friend.  Since there is no judgement, there is no guilt or feeling the need to “work them off” or “punish” yourself with a salad later. It’s just brownies.

Conversely, if brownies are merely a “treat” you restrict yourself  to once in a blue moon, then when the smell of warm chocolate hits your nose, you become anxious and self-judgey and might even fear that you’ll want all the brownies, and you won’t be able to stop thinking about them because you want some but feel bad because brownies aren’t Whole 30 compliant and if you cheat with just one you won’t be able to stop at just one because you are so addicted to sugar and it will be embarrassing if you eat all the brownies so maybe you’ll only eat one and then pick some up at the store on the way home and eat them all in your car so no one will know and then you’ll work out extra hard at the gym so they don’t stick to your butt oh God why did she make brownies!! *deep breath, friend*

See the difference?

I hope this clears up some of the confusion about intuitive eating. Food intuition is something you already have. You were born with it, but cultural noise and life experiences interrupt the connection with yourself. You can definitely reconnect with your body and learn how to eat again. Your body doesn’t need to be controlled, it just needs to be heard.

 

Food rules you can break (part II)

*This is the second post in a three-part series on common food rules that, while seemingly harmless or even healthy in theory, are confusing to the body’s biology. Understanding food rules, where they come from, why we have them, and how we can break them is important in learning how to rediscover your ability to eat intuitively and find freedom in food. 

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Last summer we were at my parents’ house for a barbecue. All the good stuff was on the menu: burgers, hot dogs, chips, salads, fruit, all the fixin’s, beer, soda, iced tea, lemonade. Classic summer eats, warm weather, and lots of family. Everything was spread out on the table, free to grab as you pleased to fill the belly. Except for one thing. This one little item was still inside on the counter.

The brownies.

The brownies were for after dinner, as my daughter found out from Grandma when she asked Grandma if she could have one. So Haley ate her dinner and asked again for a brownie. The answer was no because dinner wasn’t over yet; people were still eating. Haley waited and waited, hovering around the brownies like a fruit fly waiting for her chance to land her hands on one. She tried not to ask too many times if it was time for the brownies yet, but it was hard because even when people seemed to be done with dinner, she still had to wait until Grandma was ready to serve dessert.

After all the barbecue food and accouterments were put away, out came Grandma with the plate of brownies! *cue angel choir*

But Grandma said, “Wait just a minute,” because she had to get the napkins and the forks. I thought Haley might actually explode from anticipation.

Finally sweet Haley got the go ahead for a delectable, gooey, chocolate brownie. She thoroughly enjoyed every bite, except for the bits she left all over her face.

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No dessert until after dinner. This is a common rule in our culture that goes back decades, maybe even centuries. I don’t know. But, it’s a man-made rule with the intention of getting children to eat their “healthy food” first before filling up on dessert. That’s still the intention today; however, I think it’s sometimes used as a tool for control and power at the dinner table.

The problem with this rule is two-fold:

  1. It creates the mentality of a food hierarchy–> certain foods (e.g. fruit, veggies, meat, etc.) are better than other foods (e.g. brownies, cookies, ice cream, etc.). The “healthy” food goes on top and the “unhealthy” food–all the foods with sugar and fat–go on the bottom.

2. Fun food goes on the bottom, yet this rule also places desserts on a pedestal. Dessert is          something to be earned, to obtain after you’ve worked to eat through the hard food, the              good food, and because so, it becomes a desired prize. Dessert holds great value mentally.

So this rule actually has a third problem: it’s confusing! If dessert food is so “bad” then why do we have to work so hard to earn it? Why does it get a special place in the meal? Why is it treated with such specialness?

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“No dessert until after dinner” has no biological logic. We seem to care when we eat dessert, but the body doesn’t. Food is nothing more than nutrients to your body. If you feed yourself broccoli and steak, then your body reads fiber, protein, fat, iron. When you feed it brownies and ice cream, it reads sugar, fat, vitamin D, and calcium. These are all nutrients. You can dip your broccoli in your ice cream for all your body cares. Your body doesn’t read or categorize food on a hierarchy; all food has equal value to the body depending what the nutrients do. If all you’re eating is salad and beef jerky, it’s going to ask for a sugar and fat source, (you might start craving brownies and ice cream) so your body can level out the playing field again.

To break this rule: put all the food on the table–entrees, sides and desserts. This practice gives you the the option, opportunity, and mental permission to eat all the nutrients equally without the mental anguish of having to eat through certain foods to earn others.

Our dinner table from the other night. Hubz was still finishing up the steak, so it isn’t pictured.

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This doesn’t just go for dessert after dinner, by the way. This applies to all our rules about when we can eat certain foods. We have strict rules about what we can have for breakfast, right? We tend to tell ourselves and our kids, no ice cream or chicken nuggets or pizza or whatever the forbidden food for breakfast. Again, your body doesn’t care what time it is when you feed it certain foods. If bacon and ice cream sound good at 8:00 am, go for it. Your body gets fat, protein, and sugar to get the engine running. Great!

That’s great and all, Leanne, but if I put brownies on the dinner table then my kids will fill up on brownies and nothing else. What about that, hmmm? Or a bowl of ice cream before school isn’t going to fuel them for their math test. 

So? They have brownies for dinner.  They’ll be hungry again later and tomorrow and the next day. You keep offering different food options (from all categories) any time they eat. Over time brownies (or whatever the dessert) lose their value, become less interesting when they’re always available. Your kids (and you!) will begin to balance out your plates. They won’t have brownies for dinner forever. As for breakfast, just offer some protein to help support the ice cream. For two months straight, Haley ate chicken nuggets and chocolate ice cream for breakfast. It was the perfect meal for her, and it held her over until snack time and sometimes even lunch, in which she’d have another opportunity to get other nutrients. And eventually, she got tired of chicken nuggets and ice cream for breakfast. She moved on to other things. Kids are the BEST intuitive eaters when we grown ups don’t interfere with a bunch of food rules.

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I challenge you to try breaking this rule: no dessert until after dinner. Practice putting your forbidden or prized foods on the table with your other foods. I know it seems weird and maybe even scary, but remember that nutrients are nutrients for your body. You’re just giving you and your family the opportunity to get all of them on an even playing field. Over the next few weeks, notice how the attitude (yours and your family’s) and value towards dessert changes.

P.S. Anyone else craving a brownie right now? 🙂

Why you’ll enjoy Thanksgiving dinner this year

This year, the holidays are going to be different. Thanksgiving is up first and it’s going to be a good one. Why? Because you aren’t going to place one iota of  judgement, guilt, restrictions or plans for post-holiday dieting upon yourself. There will be no promises to only eat certain things off the Thanksgiving table and to avoid other “evil” foods. Thanksgiving is going to be an experience–you’ll take in the sound of voices from your friends and family; you’ll inhale the warm scents of turkey, fresh bread, herbs and spices, and pie; you’ll see the joy of laughter and pleasure of being together; you’ll feel the peace of gratitude and love.

When it’s time to eat, you’ll survey the feast and load your plate with what sounds good. You’ll eat because you’re hungry; when you’re full, you’ll stop. If you aren’t sure, then you’ll wait it out a few and see how you feel. The food will still be there if you want it; there’s no hurry, no rules. You won’t worry about that stuffed feeling at the end of your meal because you’ll remember that, with the exception of yoga pants and sweats, clothing isn’t made to expand with a full stomach. So loosening your belt or button makes sense when you’ve eaten a voluptuous meal full of nutrients, which your body is immediately using to fuel you through conversations, family games, and laughter. You won’t worry about gaining five pounds this weekend because it takes far longer than a few food-filled days to gain five pounds. And even if you did, who cares?

Since you won’t be going on a diet tomorrow or after the Thanksgiving weekend or ever, you can have that extra slice of pie later tonight or in the morning for breakfast. Because there are no rules. Your body doesn’t care what time it is or when you eat the pie or leftover mashed potatoes and gravy. Your body just knows when it’s hungry and what sounds good. There are no rules that say certain food is or isn’t allowed for breakfast. Pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie all taste lovely with coffee or tea. So if you aren’t hungry later, the food will be there in the morning and you’ll enjoy it then.

Since you’re ousting judgement and guilt this year, you may or not participate in the annual family Thanksgiving football scrimmage. If you do, it’ll be because it sounds fun and you feel like moving, laughing, and being cold.  You may or may not join your mother-in-law or Uncle Jim for a walk after dinner. If you do, it’ll be because you feel like walking and spending time with your people. None of your pre- or post-meal movement will be exercise to accommodate or burn off the calories from your Thanksgiving feast because eating and enjoying your food is not a punishable offense.

You can enjoy your Thanksgiving meal because food is meant to be enjoyed. You’ll be thankful for the freedom to literally eat, drink, and be merry–to fully experience the nostalgia of family traditions, the warmth of thankfulness, and the inner contentedness of self-love.

Oh yes, this year is going to be way different. Better.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, my friends. May you enjoy all it has to offer.

Sugar is not bad for you

The following information is not meant to diagnose, treat, or even suggest a medical condition. Always talk to your doctor about your health and any questions/concerns you have about your health and diet.  The statements made in this post are strictly what I learned in anorexia recovery from specialists who worked hard to keep my alive after I starved myself to near death, and what I have subsequently experienced on my road to personal health. If the information doesn’t resonate with you, that’s okay. If it helps you, great. Enjoy!

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The human body runs on sugar.  Sugar is an energy source, the main and most preferable energy source, that our bodies use for every bodily function from thinking and moving to digestion and hormone production. If the human body doesn’t have sugar, it doesn’t survive.

When I was in the thick of my disease, I strove to be sugar free, and what little sugar I did eat, I immediately “burned off” with exercise. I believed the lies that sugar was evil, and that I would be fat, unhealthy, and sick if I ate any.

Here are some general cultural beliefs about sugar and the biological truths from the body’s perspective that negate those beliefs.

Culture: The sugar crash is bad and you are bad for having eaten the sugar that is now making you crash.

Body: Because sugar is the body’s main energy source, that’s the first thing it burns to do anything. So the “sugar crash” is simply your body out of gas. What happens when you’re car is out of gas? It lurches, shakes and comes to a halt. What happens when your body is out of sugar–out of energy? You get the shakes, maybe a little lightheaded and you stop.

If you’re crashing it’s because your body needs more nutrients, especially sugar, to keep running. Crashing is a natural biological reaction to running out out energy and not a bad reaction to sugar. The sugar is not at fault.  To keep your body running longer and to avoid crashing, eat sugar with a little protein and fat. These three energy sources work together to give you energy and sustain it through whatever activity you’re demanding of your body.

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Culture: Sugar/carbs makes you fat.

Body: Carbs don’t make you fat. Carbohydrate is a fancy word for sugar.  I repeat. Sugar is an energy source, so it’s getting used all the time. If you are alive, your body is burning energy. You are using energy right now reading this sentence.

If you eat more sugar than your body needs, three things will happen. The body will:

1) excrete what it doesn’t need.

2) store some as fat.

3) tell you that it’s had enough. 

Don’t let number two scare you. Our bodies need fat for a plethora of body functions, including nutrient absorption. You can eat green and “healthy” all you want, but if you don’t have fat stores, your body isn’t absorbing those nutrients. Secondly, the body won’t store more fat than it needs. Once the body has had enough of any nutrient, it will tell you. It is imperative that you listen to what your body is asking for. Pay attention to those cravings and pay close attention to what doesn’t sound good. Oblige your body and respect it when it’s says, “I’m done” or “I need more.”

My body asks for potato chips. A lot. Culture says to eat carrots instead because those are healthier. Carrots have fiber, water, and vitamin A. When my body is craving potato chips, it’s asking for complex sugar (sugar with oomph) and salt. Carrots don’t  fit the bill and that’s why they don’t sound good nor do they satisfy me in a potato chip moment. I usually pair my potato chips with a protein–typically sardines because I love sardines. Why? Because it sounds good! And because I know my body will run a little longer and better with the added nutrients.

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Culture: Natural sugars are healthier than processed sugars.

Body: Sugar is sugar to the body. It reads it all as energy  and uses it all as energy. I want to shy away from muddling up your brain with a lesson in glucose, fructose, and sucrose because the chemistry and biology gets complicated. The bottom line is the body needs a variety of all three. You won’t function well if you’re only eating fruit and honey. Likewise your body won’t function well if you’re only feeding it candy and cake.

ApplepieSeveral weeks ago, I got a bunch of apples from a friend of mine. I went crazy in the kitchen, and for a week we ate apple pie, apple crisp and apple sauce. One day, none of that sounded good. For about five days my body wanted nothing to do with anything sweet. Not even honey turkey on my sandwich. My body had had enough sugar (fruit sugar and table sugar) and I listened. I wasn’t bad for eating all that sugar. I wasn’t unhealthy for eating all those treats. The sugar wasn’t evil for turning off my sweet tooth. I ate and I enjoyed; my body was happy and kindly told me when it had plenty to work with for a while. Simple as that.

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The human body is designed to run on a combination of all nutrients. Sugar is a necessary nutrient; sugar is not bad for you. What’s even cooler is the body comes with a built in communication system that tells you which foods it needs more of and which it needs less of so you don’t have to control, restrict or omit sugar. If you’ve had too much, which is what everyone worries about, your body will cue you in. The trick is to be in tune with your body and listen to what it’s telling you. That’s true health.

Enjoy your food today and eat what sounds good! <3

One of the rudest things you can say

“You shouldn’t be eating that. It’s so bad for you.”

This is one of the rudest things we say to each other in our culture.

We say this ALL THE TIME. From friends at lunch, to families at meal time, neighbors at BBQs, and complete strangers all over the internet, whether through articles or personal commentary, we say this in the name of health.  But what we’re really saying is “you’re doing it wrong and that’s bad. You should be better.”

We shouldn’t be doing is tolerating this statement in our lives. It isn’t okay for people to be in our food or food habits. Even if, especially if, we’re struggling with weight challenges.

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Would you ever say  to someone, “You shouldn’t be wearing that. You’re too fat”? It’s just as rude to tell someone they should or shouldn’t be eating something.

To say openly comment on or to accept commentary on what someone should or shouldn’t be eating, what’s bad or not bad is judgmental and hurtful. No one knows our own bodies better than ourselves. And if we’re judging what others are eating based on body type and/or potential future body type, then we’re missing opportunities to concern ourselves with things that actually matter.

This is especially damaging for children. Forcing the shoulds and shouldn’ts of dietary rules interrupts not just the joy of eating but also the natural signals kids get from their bodies about what they like/dislike, what sounds good, and what they need. Food is meant to be fun and fuel; the best way to keep kiddos healthy is by teaching them to listen to their bodies, not cultural rules.

School Lunch - Girls TableOn that same note, it’s important to teach our children it isn’t okay to judge others’ food. The same way we’d tell them not to peek in the windows of our neighbor’s house or comment on Grandma’s potent breath, we must teach them it’s not okay to make comments about people’s food or food habits.

 

Things that are okay to say, because food is actually really fun and interesting to talk about when we’re not judging each other about it:

  • “That looks really good!”
  • “Did you make that? How did you make it?”
  • “I don’t really like that flavor, but I do like…”
  • “Have you ever tried (name of food)?”
  • “What other things do you like to eat?”

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Health looks different for each body.  The food my body needs and enjoys is different than what your body needs and enjoys is different from what every other body needs and enjoys, regardless of body size and type and health. So unless we live inside each other’s bodies, we have no basis upon which to tell each other what we should or shouldn’t be eating and why.

No more tolerating “You shouldn’t eat that; it’s bad for you.” Stay confident in what you choose for yourself and advocate for each other to eat what sounds good.

#nofoodshame