I wanted to take a post to address some of the fears I’ve heard regarding intuitive eating. So below are just a sample of what I’ve heard and will address in this post…
“Intuitive eating means eating candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and that’s just not healthy!” One aspect of intuitive eating is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. This means listening to your body and its desires, allowing yourself the freedom to honor these signals. So, if you what your body truly needs is candy for breakfast, that is okay. Actually, it’s more than okay, it’s the best thing you can provide your body.
However, as you work through the steps of IE, you will eventually arrive at step 10, the last step, which is to honor your body with gentle nutrition. It’s important that this is the last step, and it may take you some time to arrive at it. This is because many people who have dieted or restricted their intake are not connected to their internal signals of hunger and fullness. It takes a loooong time to tune in to these signals accurately. It takes patience and practice to build trust with yourself and your body.
The incredible part of making peace with food is that once you learn (and trust) that you can actually eat whatever and how much ever you want, the intensity to eat diminishes. Many people who diet or restrict their intake for any particular reason feel the need to have “last supper” eating or they end up binging after restriction… or both. Allowing yourself to eat whatever you want means that you don’t have limits on any food. However, if you find that you are overeating, this is also a sign that you are not in tune with your hunger and/or satiety signals. Are you honoring your body if you eat a whole cake every night only to go to bed feeling sick to your stomach? If this is happening, then you need to work on some of the other important steps of intuitive eating, such as coping with your emotions without using food.
There are many steps of learning to intuitively eat. Each step is as equally important. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s a process that takes time, patience, and dedication. There is no right or wrong way to learn intuitive eating. You will take steps forward and feel as though you are taking steps back. That’s normal, and it means that you’re learning and making good progress! There is no perfection when it comes to intuitive eating-that’s the glorious part of it 🙂
“There is a war on obesity! We must learn to eat clean or we will all develop diabetes and die of heart-attacks!” This is extremist thinking at its best, and unfortunately, it’s how many people think and deal with health problems. However, the truth is, shaming people into a healthier lifestyle really doesn’t work. Some people do decide to make a change for a short period of time, but eventually, they go back to destructive patterns, whatever that may mean for them. True health is obtained in various ways for different people. Placing shame on obesity or “waging a war” against obesity only places negative, hurtful pressure on those who feel that they are already struggling. It allows us to use judgement out of fear-fear that we will become ill because we ate too much cake, fear that our kids will develop diabetes, fear that our insurance rates will keep rising, etc. etc. etc. However, waging on war on obesity doesn’t help heal any problem. What helps people heal? Helping them tune in to their own body’s signals to learn to respect themselves. This is the key to health and happiness. And furthermore, let’s not place shame on obesity at all. Who are you to say what a “healthy” weight is for someone else? We know by now that BMI doesn’t include various factors, and it certainly doesn’t take into account a person’s diet or medical history. So, placing judgments on specific weights is ridiculous.
Let me paint you a picture, a judgemental picture, indeed, but one that you will likely understand. A woman (we’ll call her Jane) is told by her doctor that she is morbidly obese; he recommends weight reduction. Jane has type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, impaired circulation, high blood pressure, and a fatty liver. He says she is unhealthy because of her weight. If Jane loses weight by dieting without respecting her body, does it make her healthier? Jane visits her doctor a year later and she has lost 50 pounds. He is happy. Her BMI is lower along with her blood sugar and blood pressure. We can objectively say that she is healthier, right? However, Jane simply lost the weight by restricting her food intake. She still isn’t connected with her body and feels unsatisfied most of the time. Staying “healthy” is a daily battle for her. She has to push her plate away, even when she’s still physically hungry. She goes to the gym 3 days a week and walks on a treadmill but hates every minute of it. She feels excited when she sees the number on the scale go down, but ultimately, she feels depressed, tired of this dieting game, disconnected from joy, and at war with her own body. Is Jane really healthier?
This is such a long way to get to my point, which is that: WEIGHT DOES NOT EQUAL HEALTH. Your health and weight have NOTHING to do with each other. It’s everything in-between your weight goals that matters. Health is if and how you listen to your body. It’s how you talk to your body. It’s how you treat your body: with respect or shame. Health is about honoring your body’s needs. It’s about learning what makes it feel good, work well, and live long. It’s about allowing yourself the time it takes to get to know your body. Health is not about a number. For some people, learning to respect their body and its needs ultimately means weight loss. But the weight loss (or gain for other people) is merely a by-product of finding health and happiness.
“I won’t lose weight, and what if I gain weight?!” One of the important factors of intuitive eating is recognizing that, as aforementioned, health is not dependent upon your weight. Can your health be worsened by a weight that is not right for your own body? Yes. But ultimately, your weight is a reflection of your own health. If you get in tune with your own body and you listen to its signals, honoring those signals, your health and weight will likely reflect that process. If you eat nothing but lettuce for all of your meal, would you be healthy? I think not. And would your weight eventually drop to a point that was not right for your body? I think so. If you ate nothing but chocolate cake for every meal, would you be healthy? I think not. And would your weight eventually rise to a point that was not right for your body? I think so. But was the weight the cause or the effect? …Exactly.
There was an article published on the NY Times site last year, regarding some of the cons about intuitive eating. This article and “study” is pretty ridiculous, in my opinion. Basically, they told people to eat intuitively for a set amount of time. However, as we’ve already talked about, intuitive eating is a very long process and for most people, it takes quite a bit of time to get in tune with your body. If you’re not in tune with your body, you can’t simply just begin to eat intuitively because you’re likely not listening or interpreting your signals correctly. Also, these subjects were told to exercise an exact amount. Well, that’s also not part of the intuitive eating process. My point is, many of the “cons” regarding intuitive eating are not based upon actual facts. And they glide over the process of IE without understanding the core meaning of it.
“Everyone says I need to portion control my food. If I eat intuitively, how do I know I’m not overeating?” This is actually a great concern! In the beginning, many people do overeat, and that’s normal. You’ve likely been under-eating, overeating, or going back-and-forth between the two. Breaking this cycle and learning to listen to your body’s needs takes time. Eventually, you learn to really listen to your satiety signals and this in and of itself discourages you from overeating. If you eat to the point of being overfull, you learn that it makes you feel sick in some way. Perhaps you just feel sick to your stomach for a bit. Or maybe you can’t concentrate for a while following a meal that was way too big for your stomach. Your energy level may shift and this may be your body’s way of telling you to cut back on your portions. You don’t need a measuring cup to know when you’ve had enough. But you do need to really learn to listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Just as you will learn how much food your body needs, you’ll also begin learning which food agree with your body and which foods actually disagree with your body.
Before I end this long post. I want to say that IE is something I really do support for many people. That being said, I think that many people need guidance in this process, so working with someone who is certified as an IE counselor may be very helpful. If you’re interested in finding one near you, check out this website.
I will end here…for now. I hope you’re all having a wonderful week and have something fun planned for the upcoming weekend! Until the next post, enjoy the summa summa summa time 🙂