I had first learned about nutrition and “healthy living” when I was in middle school. I had three older siblings all about 7-11 years older than me, so they were learning about health through magazines and TV shows. Growing up eating the same food every week, eating new colorful foods excited me. There was also some kind of enchantment in the world of health, wellness, and weight loss.
These three categories were almost always lumped into each other in magazine headings. Somehow, each method to being “healthier” almost always had weight loss as the main goal. Think about some ads you’ve seen in the past: “Try using cauliflower instead of rice (because it’s less calories and less calories means more weight loss)!” “Choose whole wheat instead of refined white bread (because whole wheat will take longer to digest so you’ll eat less later which means less calories which means more weight loss)!”
As a dietitian, I can verify that yes, cauliflower does have fewer calories. And yes, cauliflower does have health benefits so we should be including it if we like it! But the insidious nudge toward weight loss laced within the benefits of each health food started to become more and more apparent to me throughout my developing years.
In college, I had my first taste of the main problem in dieting. I had been diet hopping for a while before I had moved across the country for university and had been following the “Paleo Diet” when I started living on my own. I followed the guidelines to a T. I ate no grains, no dairy, as fresh/ethical as possible, ate mostly whole foods, etc. Over the next few months, I started to feel unsatisfied, constantly looking for something else, and confused as to why I would be feeling that way because the Paleo Diet is supposed to work (if I’m doing it right). I was supposed to feel good (if I’m doing it right). Maybe I was the one who was out of place? Maybe I’m not actually doing it right?
But the insidious nudge toward weight loss laced within the benefits of each health food started to become more and more apparent to me throughout my developing years.
As quickly as I had switched to eating Paleo, I jumped ship to a high-fruit, high-carb vegan diet. I had stumbled across the YouTube channel and website of a woman who claimed that eating 2,500 calories, 2,000 calories coming from fruit, and moderate exercise will give you the slim, lean body that she and some other people she featured had. I was eating 8 banana smoothies, a salad bowl full of grapes for lunch, and a whole individual rice cooker of rice for dinner.
At first, it was great. I had deprived myself of enough carbs while following the Paleo diet for so long that eating an excess of carbs straight after seemed to be exactly what I needed. I felt myself naturally letting go of the “I am missing something SOS” feeling I had while eating Paleo. I was running further, faster, and with shorter recovery times than when I was running for cross country in high school.
At the same time, I learned about how a plant-based diet can not only prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease (the number 1 cause of death in the United States) but also reverse signs and symptoms. It is also much easier on the environment, which is heavily taxed by animal agriculture, as well as ethically aligned with my love for animals. I realized I couldn’t truly love all living beings, claim to love some kinds of animals and pay for someone else to kill and package another kind. So I made the switch to being vegan and have not looked back.
On this extremely high carb diet, I started to have a problem similar to when I was a few months into Paleo. I was craving foods that were higher in fat such as avocado, nut butters, and fried foods. It felt contradictory to what the high-carb diet prescribed. I eventually started to look elsewhere for true, medical, scientific evidence that this diet was ideal for everyone. It seemed that the YouTubers following this diet were all thriving with ease. There were so many reasons given as to why I was craving heavier foods such as “you just have to eat more fruit and carbs!” but even when I did so, I didn’t feel better. So I felt compelled to ask the question yet again, “What am I doing wrong?”
On this extremely high carb diet, I started to have a problem similar to when I was a few months into Paleo. I was craving foods that were higher in fat such as avocado, nut butters, and fried foods. It felt contradictory to what the high-carb diet prescribed.
I definitely wanted to still be vegan because it truly aligned with what I believed in, so I looked around to others in science who had been doing it for a long time. I looked up and read more nutrition information. I eventually pursued a degree in dietetics because I wanted to make sure that if a vegan diet could be done and sustained that it would be nutritionally sound as well. I learned about the importance of all macronutrients and that every single person’s body is unique and has different preferences. I learned about the nutritional patterns that are evidence-based and that were followed by the medical professionals I looked up to.
I let go of the dogma of reducing fats and just allowed myself to eat what my body craved. I had opted for a way of eating that allowed diversity of plants (think- potatoes, grains, vegetables, beans, avocados, nut butters, pasta, pizza). I allowed my hunger signals to arise and I followed their gentle commands to ultimately eat what I craved (yes, cookies included). Although the process to becoming an Intuitive Eater took trial and error and was not as easy as it sounds, it is definitely worth it to not scrutinize everything I was eating. This way of eating is pretty much what my diet looks like now.
I let go of the dogma of reducing fats and just allowed myself to eat what my body craved.
Incorporating Intuitive Eating into my life
After I had started working as a dietitian in a real life setting, I started to notice the same pattern within others and their relationship with food. They were blaming themselves for the diet not working. They didn’t realize there was something inherently wrong with the structure of dieting to lose weight. I decided to become another dietitian who advocates Intuitive Eating, a way of eating in which honoring a relationship with your hunger and fullness cues is the priority.
The creators of Intuitive Eating were both registered dietitians, yet they advocate the idea that all foods fit. Yes, even the refined, white pasta. French fries, cakes, salads, and smoothies are all allowed. This method may seem counterintuitive to weight loss, but that is because Intuitive Eating doesn’t make weight loss a goal. It makes having a better relationship with your natural bodily cues the goal. It makes satisfaction the goal. Those who follow intuitive eating for a while realize that they end up reaching their natural set point weight rather than a weight that was deemed by others as “healthy.” I am an advocate for more connection, like the morals and values with actions in veganism, and the mind, body, and soul connection in yoga. Because of this, the tenets of Intuitive Eating made more sense to me and leaves little room for that “Something’s Missing” feeling.
How you can incorporate the principles of Intuitive Eating
As a practitioner who guides patients through the process of becoming an intuitive eater, here are some things I’ve learned and come to believe:
- Pleasure in ALL food we eat is important
- There is no “bad” or “good” diet. There are just ways of eating that are in tune with ourselves and other ways that are not
- Willpower is not the reason why diets fail. Diets are the reason diets fail. (in fact, 95% of diets don’t work!)
- Weight loss is not indicative of health and health is not equal to weight loss.
- External controlling factors (such as counting calories, macros, meal plans, restrictions) will end up in diet backlash that brings shame, guilt, stress, and overeating/binging
- Skipping a workout to take a nap or skipping meal prep to hang out with loved ones is totally okay and doesn’t make one “lazy”
- The best exercise is the kind you enjoy and that you can do consistently. Not what burns the most calories.
- In order to heal your relationship with food, you have to let go of what you believe is healthy and allow yourself to have whatever you’ve been restricting with no judgment, just observations.
- Trusting in our body’s ability to re-stabilize cues is the first step but the most difficult one.
- People of any size can be healthy; health is NOT a look.
In both the personal and professional setting, truly applying the principles of intuitive eating has been a learning process but one that I believe is necessary in this field. If I can use education to empower patients but also let them know that it’s okay to not eat perfectly, I feel I would see more compliance and consistency among them. This incorporation into my practice has been rewarding because not only do I have the opportunity to see a patient whose health has improved, but I get to see their relationship with their bodies and food improve as well. They begin to see health as more than weight loss. They begin to see health as being balanced, satisfied, and happy.
Are you interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating?
If you would like to dive deeper into Intuitive Eating, you can stay tuned for more blog posts, or read about another one of our writer’s approach to listening to her body! You can also get a head start by reading “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FADA, FAND. If you’d like to work with an Intuitive Eating counselor, check out this directory of certified counselors.
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