Whenever we begin a discussion on Intuitive Eating, a pressing question undeniably pops up:
Sounds nice in theory, but isn’t eating as many deep-fried Oreos as I want bad for me? What about my health?
We’ll boil down the many-pronged answer into a single sentence: When you free your psyche from the diet mentality, and nurture your body’s intuition, honest-to-goodness health will follow.
When you can eat without the burden of guilt, you have the freedom to choose what feels good in your body and the freedom to make choices that honor your health.
Stop Rebelling, Start Rethinking
Imagine you are a responsible yet slightly rebellious teen; you want to rendezvous with your smartphone till midnight – but your parents want you in bed by nine. The more your parents push, the more you push back.
But if your parents give you the space to learn for yourself, you’ll learn the truth soon enough: passing out at 1 a.m. in a haze of blue cell phone light will not leave you feeling particularly perky the next morning. Without the need to push back against the parents, you’ll be free to do what makes you feel best: limit your screen time and head to bed at a decent hour.
When you diet, or follow any sort of prefabricated conceptions of what encompasses healthy eating, you are being your own helicopter parent – imposing limits in lieu of giving yourself the opportunity to learn.
In contrast, when you allow yourself the mind-blowingly expansive experience of eating whatever it is you like, you will soon unearth the secret to gentle nutrition: When you eat what makes you feel good, most of what you eat will be healthy. (How would you feel, really, if you dine on doughnuts for lunch day after day?)
Are You Ready To Read On?
Before you can reflect on what honoring your health means to you, ascertain your readiness to care for yourself through gentle nutrition; if you’re still in rebellious teen mode, focusing on nutrition will only heave you backward into the damaging diet mentality, causing you to either harmfully restrict your food, binge on it, or both.
Ask yourself: Does thinking about nutrition feel neutral to you rather than reawakening the diet thoughts you’ve lived with thus far?
Are you able to enjoy nutritionally-hollow “play foods” (i.e., a chocolate bar) without guilt?
Can you easily avoid foods that make you feel physically ill without feeling deprived?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then you may not be ready for this next step. Be patient with yourself, and try to avoid slipping back into the diet mentality! With enough practice of the preceding IE principles, you will be able to approach this principle healthfully.
If you answered “yes” to all these questions, great! You are ready to move on.
You Can’t Construct The Perfect Plate
Margarine is healthier than butter.
Formula is the best nutrition for babies.
Egg yolks cause high cholesterol.
Dietary fat makes you fat.
Carbohydrates make you fat.
Believe it or not, in its time each of these statements was considered an irrefutable truth. When we look back, we find our past unquestioned allegiance to foodstuffs like fat-free Fig Newtons perplexing; after all, science has since shown us that not all fats are created equal: there are good fats and bad fats, saturated fats and unsaturated fats, poly and mono, and the much-despised trans. We do currently know more about nutrition, but are we bold enough to think that we have finally reached food science’s final destination?
History tells us we should not be too confident.
If nutritional science is always changing there cannot be a perfect way to eat. Judging from the media, one would get the impression that food can either heal us, kill us, or make us fat. It creates an aura around food that transcends the natural world. Common sense, the ability to think critically, and the realization that, as the Intuitive Eating authors describe, when it comes to health, what matters most is “progress not perfection.”
Some Things We Do Know
Fruits and vegetables are good for us.
Consuming a variety of foods is healthy.
Choosing primarily closer-to-nature, less-processed foods, is a boon for your health… but stressing over the food we eat can harm us even more than our actual food choices!
Our emotional health bears strongly on our overall well-being – so eat your meal with gusto, preferably with family and friends beside you.
We can trust our bodies’ internal wisdom to help us best honor our health.
Delight in Dairy (But Only If You Want To)
How does cheesecake make you feel?
Instead of spending time worrying about calories, or the purported evils of dairy, reclaim Shavuos for yourself and your own health.
If you are ready to begin honoring your health with gentle nutrition, you can make the choice to incorporate a variety of healthful, nutrient-dense foods into your meals. Always remember – IE is not an all-or-nothing practice, do what feels right to you!
For example, ask yourself if the following would add enjoyment to your meals:
Adding spinach (or any vegetable to your taste) to your cheese quiche.
Sprinkling nuts or seeds onto your salads.
Choosing a dessert – whether cheesecake, fruit salad, or a cup of chamomile tea – that will make your body sing.
Our Intuitive Eating column ends here, but your journey toward a healthy relationship with food does not have to. Rena invites you to take her Intuitive Eating quiz where you’ll discover how to get back in touch with your inner food voice, get access to customized resources, and stay in touch through Rena’s IE newsletter. Take this important step toward making friends with food at www.iequiz.com.
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What is Intuitive Eating?
It’s the anti-diet.
It’s the solution to the diet-binge cycle.
It’s a recovery.
Developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, Intuitive Eating (IE) is an evidence-based approach that relies on your body’s basic intuition to feed itself. While diets depend on external messages to determine our food intake, IE trusts in the body’s natural nutritional wisdom.
We are all born with the instinct to read our bodies’ signals. Just as our body will tell us when we need sleep, and how much of it we need, our body is programmed to tell us how to eat.
IE helps us reverse the damage the dieting culture has wreaked on our body’s natural wisdom. It leads us back to the basics. It may have been many years since you’ve lived fully in your body, but rest assured, you can return.
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Rena’s Tool of the Month
Small Steps Toward Gentle Nutrition
What small, flexible dietary change can you make to add nourishment to your meals?
Adding a vegetable, such as a sliced tomato or roasted peppers, to your daily sandwich.
Cooking a homemade meal one extra time per week.
Experiment with different whole grain flours in your breads and pastas to find one that you might want to add to your rotation
Most important, the small steps you take to honor your physical health should not come at the cost of your mental or emotional health. Focus on nutrition to complement your self-care routine, not to sabotage it.