Tag Archives: Healthy 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? 🙂