As I’ve mentioned many times before, I fully support the idea of giving yourself unconditional permission to eat anything you want. The very act of doing so puts you back in charge of your food decisions, rather than being micromanaged by a list of rules. This works most effectively when you are curious about food and your well-being, rather than judgmental and/or fearful.
However, for most all of the people I work with, that feels just as confusing - if not more so - as being on a diet. It becomes even more troublesome for them when they are trying to navigate that in relationship to diabetes or high cholesterol or sports performance or digestive issues and more.
I think it’s helpful to know that Intuitive Eating is about taking care of YOU and your unique situation. It’s meant to be empowering, and to give you permission to listen to YOUR body instead of someone else’s food rules that usually do not apply to your situation. It’s also meant to be flexible rather than rigid, given that our bodies often have different needs from day to day.
Instead of thinking of Intuitive Eating as being able to eat anything, maybe it’s more helpful to think of Intuitive Eating as permission to reconnect with what you need and want. I will also mention that it’s been my professional experience that metabolic or hormonal issues are caused by disconnection from your body rather than by a certain food or food ingredient. This is why I feel implementing self-care strategies and evaluating the behaviors around food is far more productive than blaming the food itself. In fact, food patterns tend to take care of themselves when you are more aware of your thoughts and behaviors around food.
But what if it isn’t taking care of itself? What if you are still really confused about what to eat? You might think I’m biased, but that’s why there is a whole profession of dietitians. We are here to help you feel more confident with food! While you might feel confused about what to eat, I assure you that the confusion is not coming from the evidenced-based field of nutritional science. It is coming from trends, fads, sensationalized news stories, testimonials and self-proclaimed nutrition experts. While nutrition is a relatively new field of study, there are basic nutrition principles that have consistently proven to be valid and effective. I’m sure you’ve noticed a difference in how you feel when you’ve applied them consistently:
- Cook more at home, from fresh ingredients.
- Include some fruit and/or vegetables at most meals and snacks - make meals colorful!
- Make at least 1/2 your grains “whole” each day.
- Aim to eat balanced meals (complex carbohydrate, protein, fat, fruit and/or vegetable).
- Include snacks when meal times are longer than 3-5 hours apart, based on hunger and fullness levels.
While I really think we need to be careful to avoid turning nutrition information into a diet, it’s helpful to know that:
- Fresh foods will be more nutritious (as opposed to packaged foods, fast food, etc).
- Eating more plants has consistently been shown to improve health outcomes.
- Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source and if you don’t eat enough of them, you will have more cravings.
- Protein + fiber will keep you satisfied longer.
- Going too long between meals can lead to overeating.
Please note that I DID NOT say:
- Never eat out.
- Eating nothing but fruits and vegetables, especially when on a cleanse or detox.
- Don’t eat anything processed, nothing “white”, no bread or pasta, sugar is evil, etc.
- Never eat carbs or fat.
- You must be perfect.
The all-or-nothing mentality can turn well meaning nutrition information into a quest for perfect eating. It’s meant to be a set of principles to guide food patterns, not to scrutinize every meal, snack, food or food ingredient. Don’t fall for the seductive and alluring message that the more restrictive you become, the better “results” you will have. In fact, I’ve found the exact opposite. Those individuals who can remain open, curious, flexible and balanced with food and exercise are the ones who are the healthiest in mind and body.
Finally, I must say that it’s been really helpful for me to eat for the intent to feel good, energized, effective and clear headed. For the sake of discussion, I can do that while including sugar, gluten, dairy, bread, potatoes, eating out, having ice cream, etc…among many other things. I love to help people find their balance between pleasure, satisfaction and nourishment.
Please reach out to a Registered Dietitian who can work with you on YOUR particular situation with food. I approach each individual I work with very differently - every session is unique and different and customized to that client as we work toward food confidence, improved well-being and being at peace with food and their body. I hope you find that for yourself.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD