One of the greatest things about Intuitive Eating is it allows you flexibility to live your life. Diets have a start and end date and while on one, it’s difficult to travel, vacation, enjoy holidays, eat out or spontaneously decide on an ice cream date with your kids – at least without feeling anxious.
How many times have you said “I’ll start Monday” or “Well today is blown; I’ll just get back on track tomorrow” or “I’m on vacation so I don’t care – I’ll get serious after”? The problem with this mentality is that there is always a holiday, a vacation, a date night…it’s called life and you should live it! Intuitive Eating takes care of that.
In a society prone to extremes, it’s often hard to find balance. Someone following a diet is often applauded for their “self-control” and “will-power” (both highly overrated if you ask me). If you choose to not follow specific rules or guidelines around food, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t doing your best or trying hard enough when it comes to your health. That’s the culture we have created but it’s not reality. Health means much more than what you do or don’t eat, and definitely more than what you look like – more on that in a minute.
This kind of mentality leads to the restriction/chaos cycles. Here’s how it goes:
1. Start a diet with strict rules
2. Lack of variety creates boredom and feelings of deprivation
3. Break strict dietary rules and “cheat” on diet
4. Feel guilty for “cheating” and give up altogether
5. Eat all the foods you weren’t allowed on the diet
And then it starts over. What you need to understand is that rigidity is not a solution for chaos, it causes it. The more extreme the restriction, the more extreme the resulting chaos. A diet is not a solution for chaotic eating habits, it’s usually what caused them in the first place. As soon as we start assigning judgment and expectations to food, we give it control over us. When you allow food to be what it is, you are in a position to make decisions within your best interest rather than out of fear, restriction or deprivation. Essentially, gain confidence to make your own decisions rather than the food or the diet making decisions for you.
How many times have you caught yourself eating something you aren’t even hungry for just because you are afraid you may not ever have it again? Or looking forward to a vacation so you can eat whatever you want? Dread Monday because you can’t have any of your favorite foods anymore, and therefore eat ALL of them over the weekend? All these external rules take the place of our own intuitive signals that, if connected with, are all we need. You can trust your body to take care of you.
Before you decide to start a diet, detox, cleanse, 14 day challenge (or is it 21? Or 30? I lose track)…evaluate what you hope to get out of it. Is it something that allows you to live life? Or does it mean that you just have more rules that may eventually end up in more chaos? If you continue to have an all-or-nothing mentality with nutrition, you will continue to behave in an all-or-nothing matter. Food and nutrition can (and should!) ebb and flow. It should be flexible and fluid. It shouldn’t start or stop. Your life shouldn’t revolve around your food; your food should fit into your life.
A common question I hear is how Intuitive Eating fits into weight loss. As an avid supporter of Health At Every Size (HAES) and it’s principles, I wholeheartedly believe that health is a result of engaging in healthy behaviors and not dependent on weight. The restriction/chaos cycle outlined above isn’t healthy. Intuitive Eating and the HAES initiative is all about developing a positive and healthy relationship with food. I challenge you to question all the assumptions you have about weight and health and decide for yourself what health looks like.
The next time you find yourself putting off health until tomorrow, consider this: the only time you ever have is RIGHT NOW. Focus on what’s in front of you and live it wholeheartedly and unapologetically. Make decisions you feel good about – whether it’s ice cream or apples. Appreciate and savor the choices you make; allow yourself to enjoy it by eliminating judgment. Living in the now allows you to make decisions in your best interest rather than basing those decisions on what has already happened or what may or may not happen in the future. You may regret wasting life away waiting for it to start.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD