Tag Archives: intuitive eating

You Can’t Ruin Nutrition

We have a cultural belief that if we muck up something healthy with something unhealthy, we’ve now ruined the nutrition in what could have been a healthy choice. For example, putting cheese over broccoli or dipping our chicken into ranch dressing or eating pizza for breakfast (feeling the need to say ‘well, at least I ate breakfast’.)

The reality is, we don’t denature or obliterate nutrition when we spruce it up for satisfaction. Broccoli doesn’t lose its fiber and Vitamin A if we sprinkle cheese or even pour a creamy cheese sauce over the top. The protein and fat doesn’t disappear from grilled chicken when we dip it in creamy ranch. Our metabolism still turns on and distributes the nutrients in pizza (carbs, calcium, protein, and micro-nutrients from veggies) when we eat it for breakfast. When we modify our food to accommodate our palates, the nutritional value in our food is still valid. If you add a little something extra tasty to satisfy your taste buds, you’re simply adding to the nutritional pool provided by your meal or snack. It’s okay and normal and healthy to customize your food to satisfy your preferences.

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We spend a lot of time coming up with “healthy alternatives” for the fun foods we love to eat: carrots instead of potato chips, smoothies instead ice cream, nuts instead of a bagel, etc. None of these foods are right or wrong or healthy or unhealthy from our bodies’ perspectives. Our bodies don’t say, “Oh! Thanks! I really wanted potato chips but you gave me carrots instead. Good job, you sure are healthy!” Or “Wow! That super green smoothie with the hemp powder and matcha was such a better choice than the Rocky Road with chocolate syrup!” Our bodies don’t judge the food we feed them. Bodies simply read the nutrients, process where the nutrition needs to go, and excrete what they doesn’t use or need.

When we substitute foods with “healthier choices” what we’re actually doing is depriving our bodies of one nutrient and giving them a different nutrient. Our bodies read and operate on nutrients, cuing us through cravings when it needs more of something. So if you’ve got a hankering for potato chips, your body is asking for some carbs and salt (both necessary nutrients), and if you feed it carrots instead then you’ve fed yourself vitamins, fiber, and water. You’ve given your body good nutrition that it will use from the carrots, but it is still missing the carbs and salt… which is why you won’t feel satisfied and will continue craving those chips. Both the chips and the carrots are nutritious because they both contain necessary nutrients the body needs. One is not better than the other in and of itself, but the chips will be a more satisfying choice if your body is running low on carb fuel and if they sound good.

Another fun fact, when we give our bodies permission to eat what sounds good, with zero judgement and zero “guilt free” substitutions, the need to binge goes away. Binging behavior is often a result of deprivation, the constant avoiding or substituting for food deemed “unhealthy.”

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Rather than viewing food from a “good” or “bad” perspective or labeling food as “healthy” or “unhealthy,” take a more neutral approach to food, understanding that each food contains its own set of nutrients. A neutral approach allows all foods to be valuable… the super green smoothie AND the Rocky Road are equally good depending on what your body is asking for. The cheese sauce over the broccoli is twice as delicious with the bonus nutrients in the cheese. Either the nuts or the bagel will satisfy depending on how hungry you are. Maybe you want pizza for breakfast and nuts for an afternoon snack. Who knows? You will!

You can’t ruin nutrition. Modifying your food to suit your tastes is not bad. Choosing foods that sound good without substituting for healthier alternatives is 100% okay because all foods carry nutritional value. Knowing these truths takes the guilt, shame, and pressure out of food and allows for a more relaxed and enjoyable eating experience, without the binging and constant wanting.

For more information about nutrition and resources on improving your relationship with food visit:

Martha Barnhouse Wellness
Be Nourished
Christy Harrison MPH, RD, CDN

 

 

Food rules you can break (Part 1)

*This is the first 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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One of the most common food rules we have, much to every child’s chagrin, is we must finish everything on our plates.

Why?

Do you have this rule? Can you articulate why you have this rule and why it is necessary to finish everything on your plate?

If the answer is because you don’t want to waste food, that is an absolute valid thought; however, an easy solution is to save for later what you don’t eat now.

Is this a rule you grew up with , so you just follow it because eating everything on your plate is what you’re “supposed to do”? Not everything we were told to do as a kid is the best instruction; it’s okay to change or ditch the childhood rules.

You don’t have to finish everything on your plate! (If this is a rule you have with your children, I am going to respectfully beg you to ditch it.)

The problem with this rule is your brain forces you to ignore your body when it says, “I’m full.” The focus of the meal becomes eating everything in front of you rather than eating to satiate hunger. It’s easy to overeat because you don’t stop when you’re actually full. Instead you wait until all the food has been eaten, which can be long after your body has had enough. You end up feeding your body more than it needs and more than it can metabolize before you sit down to the next meal. When the body becomes overwhelmed with more than it can use, guess what it does? Yep. Stores the excess in added weight.

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HOW TO BREAK THIS RULE

First, practice assessing your hunger level. In Resch and Tribole’s book, Intuitive Eating, they discuss the hunger scale that goes from zero to 10. A level zero means you’re starving–running on empty; you’re so hungry you have the shakes, a headache, feel faint. You might not even feel hungry at this point because your body has “all hands on deck” to keep your brain functioning. Conversely, level 10 means you’re so full you feel sick; one wrong move and it might all come back up. Ugh.

Ideally you want to start reaching for food when your hunger is right around a level three or four. This will feel different for everyone, but for me I feel:

  • my belly grumbling
  • the thought of a particular food sounds good
  • a little dizzy
  • hiccups in my ability to think clearly

Notice what a level three or four hunger level feels like for you and maybe even write down what you are feeling. When you’re at level three/four, try not to wait until you’re starving to eat because by that time your body has moved into deprivation mode, which means you’re likely to overload your plate to begin with, feeling like you won’t be able to get enough food!

Once you know you’re comfortably hungry, the second step is to fill your plate to satiate. When you think about the hunger/fullness scale, think about feeding yourself enough to satisfy your body’s hunger rather than filling yourself to the brim. What amount of food would take you from level three/four to a comfortable six/seven? Hint: You aren’t going to know by looking at the amount of you serve yourself, but rather by tuning into how you feel as you eat. Start with what you think sounds satisfying and give yourself permission to either save what you don’t eat now or to go back for more if you need to.

This takes us to step three which is practice paying attention to yourself as you eat. It’s imperative at the beginning of your new practice to eat without distractions–no phones, computers, projects, friends, television, etc. Create an environment where it’s just you and your food. (This will be harder if you have a family but not impossible!) Eat slowly, focusing on how the food smells, tastes, and feels in your mouth. I know this sounds kind of weirdly meditative, and it is. Not weirdly, of course, but definitely meditative! As you make your way through your meal, focus on your hunger level and notice when you feel the move from hungry to satisfied. When you feel the comfort of satiation, stop. Don’t worry about how much food is left on the plate! Ignore it and stay in tune with your body instead. Doing something that actively makes you stop can be helpful–push the plate away; stand up; place a napkin over the plate.

Within about five or 10 minutes of ending your meal, you’ll notice one of two things as your body settles:

  1. You’re still hungry and need to eat some more (go ahead! Honor your body’s request.)
  2. You are comfortably full–satisfied without feeling like an overstuffed bear.

The more you practice these steps, the less you’ll have to think about them. Tuning in with your body will become intuitive.

There are no rules when it comes to food. Following rules, such as “finish everything on your plate,”  instead of following your body cues will absolutely contribute to weight gain and keep your body from finding its homeostasis, that place of size and good feeling you were designed to embody.

The next rule we’ll tackle: no dessert until after dinner.

Peace,
Leanne

 

 

Why diets don’t work

We’ve all heard that “diets don’t work,” but do you know why? First let’s go over the definition of diet.

Dieting is any eating habit that involves the restriction or elimination of nutrients and/or the control, counting, and restriction of calories. Point systems are diets because the program has pre-restricted the calories for you; these are counted calories disguised as point values.

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Here’s why diets don’t work.

Metabolism Damage

When you restrict calories and nutrients you lose weight. This is why diets are so attractive on the surface and seem like they work. The problem is that internally your body goes into “deprivation mode,” craving the nutrients it’s missing and slowing the metabolism way down so as to store energy for crucial functions, such as fueling your heart and brain. When you “give in” to those cravings, the metabolism is slow to use the energy– one because it’s sluggish and two your body naturally wants to use the energy sparingly since it doesn’t know when it’s going to get those nutrients again. Often you won’t feel good eating something of which you’ve deprived yourself (like sugar or bread) thus blaming the food,  when really it’s your body not responding well because it’s broken.

When I went through the re-feeding process during anorexia recovery, I felt physically ill for about eight weeks while my metabolism re-learned how to accept and process nutrients again. It was another several months before my body found homeostasis.

Yo-yo dieting or chronic dieting puts the body in constant deprivation mode (also called starvation mode) and gives the body no semblance of normal. It can’t settle into a homeostasis where the flow of nutrients to body function is rhythmic and natural. Instead, dieting trains the body to reserve the nutrients and keep the metabolism slow so as to store energy for internal functions. Simply speaking, you hold on to the weight. The body isn’t sure when it’s going to get those nutrients again and it has systems and processes to run, so it’s going to store calories and use them wisely.

Here’s a replicated visual my eating disorder therapist showed me

 

Person A and Person B are both born at the same time. As they grow, they gain weight accordingly. Person A doesn’t diet at all, and over time her body settles into a consistent weight with minor (and natural) fluctuations.

Person B begins dieting and her weight drops. Each dip in the graph represents a diet with a corresponding weight drop. After each diet, though, her weight goes back up, increasing just a little more each time and never finding a consistent stability.

At the end of life, person B dies not only at a higher weight than non-dieter A but also at a higher weight than what her original weight before she started dieting.  If you are a dieter, have you sometimes noticed when the weight comes back, it’s often just a little more than the last time you put the weight back on? It’s not because you are a bad person who has a problem with self control. It’s because your body is trying to protect you, trained to operate in deprivation mode and with a broken metabolism.

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Distorted Body Cues

Dieting forces you to go against your body’s natural cues. When you’re hungry a diet will keep you confined from feeding your body what it needs. Diets say:

a) You can’t eat because it isn’t time.

b) You can’t eat the thing you are craving because it’s “bad.”

c) You can’t eat the amount you need because it’s “too much.”

The body and brain become confused.

Body says: “I’m hungry. I need (crave) a plate of meaty pasta and a slice of cherry pie. Pasta will give me long-term fuel; the meat will give me stamina; the cherry pie will give me the quick spark and pleasure to start the refueling process for all systems.”

Brain says: “Nope. You’re on a no-carb, no-sugar diet. You’re getting a chicken salad with no cheese and a sugar-free flavored water. You need better discipline. Cherry pie? What are thinking, fatty?”

Body says: “Hmm? Okay, so you’re giving me fiber, water, and a tiny bit of protein. I’ll do my best but don’t be surprised when I’m sluggish and you’re cranky.”

Binge eating happens when we’re in deprivation mode because the body is so desperate for nutrients we’re not paying attention to when the body says “Enough!”  Confused hunger and fullness cues become normal.

Some people experience the opposite problem where it seems like it takes more food to get full and that’s because the brain isn’t tuned in with what fullness actually feels like for their body. There are a plethora of reasons why some people eat more than they need (emotions, distractions, strict rules such as “must eat everything on my plate,” distorted view of portion sizes, etc.)

The bottom line is this: Dieting goes against your body’s natural biology. Your body knows what weight it wants to be, when it’s hungry, when it’s full, and what food it needs. It gives you all the cues to let you know what you need.

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It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

If you are in the midst of a vicious dieting cycle or considering dieting at all, I encourage you to learn more from the book shown on the left here (not an affiliate link, nor am I affiliated with the authors in any way). It was introduced to me my first week of recovery, though it took  me months to learn how to apply it because I was so disordered in my habits and beliefs. Everyone at any size can find their homeostasis again, including you. No more diets, okay? You’re life is way too valuable and diets aren’t worth the sacrifice. <3

 

What does healthy mean?

Our culture has a wacky perspective on what healthy means. Culture says if you eat lots of greens, a bunch of protein, and little to zero carbs, simple sugars, and fat, then you are healthy. You will also be healthy if you force your body into shape by walking thousands of steps a day, crunch your abs flat, and burn more calories than you eat. If you don’t follow the rules and control yourself then you are unhealthy, which means you will stay fat or get fat if you aren’t already.  Culture’s definition of healthy is “skinny.”  Skinny isn’t enough, though, because even if you aren’t fat right now, you should probably “drop a few l-bs” because it will be healthier for you.

If you are following the rules but you aren’t slimming into those pants that are supposed to slim you down even more, and you’re feeling miserable about why your body is still craving sugar, then according to culture you need to have better self-discipline and take care of that addiction or you are just never going to be healthy. Shame on you.

I tried culture’s way and ended up in recovery for an eating disorder that almost killed me. Doing healthy culture’s way led me to the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in my life.

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Health has nothing to do with what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, how much I weigh, or what size I wear.  Health has to do with being connected to myself; healthy is between me and my body. Healthy is being able to tune into my body and know what it needs based on the things I feel–hunger, sadness, pain, pleasure, wonder, fatigue, etc. Healthy is responding to my body in a way that is respectful and loving without judgement, shame, or questioning.  When I am connected to my body and obliging what it needs and wants, then I am healthy. I can be whatever size and weight and eat all of my favorite foods and still be healthy because healthy doesn’t have a shape or size or criteria. Healthy doesn’t look a certain way; healthy is a state of being.

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There’s a difference between not feeling well and being unhealthy. When I am not feeling well, my body is trying to tell me something is wrong, and it will adjust until I do something to feel better, like maybe eat a sandwich; take a nap; go to the doctor. When I am connected to my body, I intuitively know what to do to feel better and I will do it. That’s healthy.

Conversely, when I am “unhealthy,” outside of being legitimately sick, then I have become disconnected from my body– viewing and operating myself from the perch of the world–the media, my friends, my family, my doctor, my peers, culture–and living from a space of perceived expectations without understanding that I am perfectly fine just as I am. There’s actually nothing wrong with my body, but I believe I am unhealthy because the world says I should be eating certain foods, weighing a certain amount, and looking a certain way. So I squirm in the discomfort, forcing and dieting my way into “health.”

I can’t think of anything more unhealthy than disconnecting from my body and forcing it to squeeze into culture’s expectations of what healthy means.

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Practically speaking, healthy is:

  • being in tune with my hunger and fullness cues.
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  • knowing which foods I enjoy eating and which ones I don’t.
  • eating what sounds good rather than because something is good for me.
  • listening to when my body wants to move and when it doesn’t.
  • understanding how my body moves and how it doesn’t.
  • accepting (maybe even loving!) my body as it is today.
  • appreciating what my body can do as it is today.
  • wearing clothes that fit me today.
  • resting when my body is tired.
  • challenging myself when I’m energized and uncomfortable.
  • feeling the feels when I’m triggered emotionally.
  • coping with life using tools that are right for me.
  • respecting what my body tells me ( e.g. More please. I’m done. That hurts. I’m hungry. Let’s rest.)
  • honoring the need for self care.

Healthy is not:

  • counting calories.
  • restricting/omitting food groups.
  • watching what I eat.
  • idolizing greens and protein.
  • demonizing carbs and fat.
  • controlling portions.
  • regimenting exercise.
  • burning more calories than I eat.
  • judging food as “good” or “bad.”
  • fitting into a particular size.
  • reaching a goal weight.
  • ignoring hunger or fullness.
  • demanding a certain number of steps in my day.
  • shaming myself for eating or eating something I supposedly shouldn’t have.
  • disrespecting my body’s call for rest.

What does healthy mean? Healthy means I am connected to my body–trusting and responding to whatever it’s asking for. 

How do I know if I’m healthy? I live in the freedom to eat and move how I want to; I feel good inside my own skin; I am at peace with myself regardless of the cultural noise around me about nutrition and body.

What does healthy mean to you?

Goodbye, Martha

Spokane at night: courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Spokane at night: courtesy Wikimedia Commons

My dietitian is moving back home to Spokane, WA. This is a very big deal. I didn’t think it was at first. I was happy to hear that God was speaking into Martha’s life, as to what the next steps in the Plan were for her and that she was listening. She never wanted to move back to her hometown.

Here’s the first lesson: never say “never” with God because he’s likely to stick you smack in the middle of where you declare you’ll never go.

I once told God I would never ask for healing for my anorexia because the disease kept me close to Him. (Conveniently it also kept me skinny.) Nine months later I found myself in anorexia rehab, specifically sitting in Martha’s office.

You guys, I am not being dramatic when I say Martha is half the team that saved my life. When I sat in Martha’s office on November 3, 2014, I was dying. I had no idea how close to death I was, of course, but Martha did. She was so tender and understanding with me, simply listening to my story. Despite all the tragic details in my thoughts, behaviors and attitudes about food and my body, I didn’t want to be there in that office with Martha. I didn’t trust her. I believed she was there to make me fat.

Martha wasn’t offended. She didn’t turn her back on me or chastise me. Instead, she listened and asked me sensitive questions and offered grace. Never once did she judge me, tell me that my thoughts and behaviors were wrong or “bad,” or warn me that I was dying. Instead she developed a meal plan for me. Because I was starving and her first priority was to feed me.

The re-feeding process was arduous and painful, not because of Martha, but because my body didn’t know what to do with the food I was feeding it. My metabolism was severely damaged. It would take almost eight more weeks of eating on my plan before my metabolism even “turned on” again, and several more months before it was healed and working properly. The whole time, Martha was by my side listening to my laments, my confusion, and my bewailing in response to the physical side effects and emotional turmoil that came with eating again. She answered my questions, explained what my body was doing, and helped me understand that even though I had completely disconnected from my body and tried to kill it (my words, not hers), my body was trying to protect me to keep me alive. My body was working really hard to get better.

It's not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

In the midst of this process, Martha introduced me to the idea of intuitive eating. I’ll never forget the day she told me I could “trust my body.” I had bought in so deeply, even went into debt, on the notion that my body was bad and all the food I had been eating or wanted to eat was bad. Our culture teaches that food can’t be trusted and our bodies are not okay unless we strictly control them. We’re taught that we have to restrict what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, how we eat, and how often we eat. This is why we have 14,000 different diets to choose from. On top of that, culture says we should concentrate on exercise to burn the calories and the fat and the carbs. Not only do we need to burn off the food, but we should also be sculpting and toning and chiseling our bodies into “that” perfect shape.

So when Martha said, “Your body knows what it’s doing. It knows what you need and what to do with. But it requires that you first listen to what your body is telling you and then to trust your body to do what it does once you give it what it needs and wants,”– this was revolutionary thinking for me. And refreshing. And terrifying. (Read more about intuitive eating here) Oh and exercise? Yes, of course. But do so for the joy of the movement, not for the burn.

In March of this year I had fully transitioned out of my re-feeding meal plan and into intuitive Healthyandwelleating. It’s a long process learning how to trust my body, but my body and mind have never been healthier than it is today. Is my brain completely healed yet? No. It’s getting there. Is my body healed and healthy? Yes! (It isn’t fat either. And I eat carbs… and sugar. And fat. So there.)

I have Martha to thank and a good God who deserves the glory!

Martha was a God-send for me. Literally. I was dying; God sent Martha to bring me back to life. So it is a big deal that she is leaving now. I am sad she that she has to go; I am scared to not have her by my side as I continue navigating my recovery. But Martha has set me up for continued and life-long health (not mention advocacy for intuitive eating). There are people in Spokane who need her now; I respectfully and prayerfully say goodbye knowing she’s in the hands of  mighty God who has special plans for her life and the lives of the people she’ll encounter.  I trust God to stay by my side through the rest of my recovery (I still have my therapist, Tamara, who is the other half of the team that saved my life!).

Martha and I and my children did a radio interview with Rose City Forum about intuitive eating.

Martha and I and my children did a radio interview with Rose City Forum about intuitive eating.

Listen to the interview here: http://recordings.talkshoe.com/rss134258.xml