Posts tagged Intutive Eating Principles
From Dieter to Intuitive Eater: Should I *Always* Honour My Hunger?

Moving from dieting to intuitive eating can be fraught with all kinds of confusion and challenges. While dieting encourages you not to listen to your hunger — just drink water, right? — and to actively suppress it using all manner of things, intuitive eating is all. about. listening. 


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CONSEQUENCES OF NOT HONOURING HUNGER

Part of this is based on the Ancel Keys landmark food deprivation study conducted during World War II. Thirty-two healthy men with “superior psychobiological stamina” were selected for the study. During the first three months, the men ate as they liked (ate intuitively); during the next six months, the men endured semi-starvation. The effects studied and observed closely mirror the symptoms of dieting, including: 

  • 40% decrease in metabolic rate 

  • Obsession with food (the men experienced heightened food cravings, talked about food, and collected recipes)

  • Participants would ravenously gulp their food, stall, play with food, or dwindle over a meal (symptoms seen in those with eating disorders)

  • Episodes of bulimia and binge-eating 

  • Incidents of over-exercise to increase their food rations 

  • Changes in personality (i.e. the onset of apathy, depression, irritability, moodiness.)

But…should you always honour you hunger, Sarah? 

In short — yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Diet culture teaches us that our appetites can’t be trusted. Whether it’s carbs, macros, calories, sugar, fat, “clean foods”, and the like, we’re constantly being told what to do (um, bossed around) — and constantly left questioning whether we’re doing “it” right

Dieting really complicates eating, transforming everything we’re doing with food into a conflict to be resolved. And semi-starving us all the while.

Eating actually doesn’t have to be so hard. 

HUNGER IS ACTUALLY HEALTHY

One of the 10 principles of intuitive eating — the second one, in fact - is “honour your hunger.” It’s an important principle, and one that’s easy to get stuck on (particularly if the diet mentality hasn’t been fully rejected.) 

While hunger is a meaty topic that could easily cover several blog posts, I do want to illuminate the following today: your hunger is natural, healthy, helpful. Even if it doesn’t always seem that way. Honouring hunger is fundamental to feeling sane around food.

Ignoring it, dismissing it, or actively trying to suppress it can have unintended consequences. As Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole discuss in Intuitive Eating, “eating is so important that the nerve cells of appetite are located in the hypothalamus region of the brain. A variety of biological signals triggers eating. What many people believe to be an issue of willpower, is instead a biological drive. The power and intensity of the biological eating drive should not be underestimated.” (62)

For most of us, we breathe consistently without any work on our end. We don’t have to try, or think about it. We just do.

Our detoxification organs are always working for us, whether we realize it or not. 

And our hunger? It lights up when our energy stores are low and we need more food

Hunger isn’t a trick. It’s not a “problem” to be suppressed with all kids of low-cal diet foods, beverages, or “hacks.” It’s not out of control. Getting hungry often doesn't mean there’s something wrong (and in fact, there could be a whole lot right.)

Hunger varies. Sometimes you’ll be super hungry, and sometime less so. Sometime the reason will be apparent — and sometimes not. 

Sometimes you’ll need three snacks, and sometimes your three meals might be enough. 

So…how do you work with hunger instead of against it? 

You listen to it. 

You honour it.

You eat. 

Unsure of what hunger feels like? Let’s chat.



5 Ways You're still Dieting (even though you’re not "On A Diet")

Since upwards of 90% of eating disorders (Binge Eating Disorder included) begin with a diet, chances are good you’ve dieted in the past or are on one right now — even if you don’t realize it.

Even if you’re “not on a diet” — Weight Watchers, Paleo, Keto, sugar-free, Atkins, and their ilk — dieting isn’t just something you “do.” It’s also (and I would argue predominantly) the way you think. 

Binge eating is a reactive response to deprivation, which can take all kinds of forms. Because of our fat phobic, weight-centric culture, disordered attempts to “get healthy”, such as giving up entire macronutrient groups or vilifying specific ingredients, are often completely normalized.

I’ve had many clients claim they’re “not really restricting” only to see through our work together how restrictive they really were. I don’t share this with the intent to shame anyone — how could you know? — but merely to reflect the layered and nuanced impact diet culture and the thin ideal has had on our relationship to food, our bodies, and our selves.

All of this to say: it’s very possible you’re dieting without being “on a diet.” To find out, read below for 5 ways you may still be dieting without realizing it (and what to do instead.)


Some examples of “diet thoughts”:

Choosing eggs with avocado and bacon for breakfast is not a diet…unless you believe reducing your carbohydrates will help you to shed fat. 

Opting for the vegetarian entree is not a diet…unless you believe it will help you to weigh less. 

Using almond milk instead of cream in your coffee is not a diet…unless you’re actively trying to “eat clean.” (read: not dirty.)

Yes. That means the habits and behaviours you’re employ to keep yourself “under control” or “in line” may effectively lead you in the opposite direction. They are keeping you in the restrict-binge cycle.

Some of these subtle forms of dieting— of physiological or psychological deprivation — include the following:

#1. CHOOSING THE “HEALTHIER” OPTION.

Let’s separate “health” from “diet”, shall we? Some foods are more nutritious than others — this is true.

But a) you don’t have to eat exclusively “healthy” foods to be healthy, and b) ordering the so-called “healthiest” option on auto-pilot isn’t necessarily the healthiest option for you at the time.

Some ways you might be employing this mindset:

You always order the lowest calorie option.

You skip the bread basket and avoid starch with dinner. 

You order the “healthiest” meal vs. the one you actually want.

You order a side salad instead of the fries. 

You avoid gluten, dairy, meat, soy, etc. without a religious, ethical, or medical purpose (i.e. Celiac’s Disease, lactose intolerance, peanut allergy, kosher.) 

You adhere to a plant-based diet because you believe it will help you to lose or maintain your weight.

You skip breakfast or dinner (intermittent fasting) to lean down (even if you’re hungry). 

You stop eating after 7pm, even if you’re hungry, to suppress your weight. 

#2. AVOIDING DESSERTS, OR ONLY CONSUMING “NATURAL SWEETENERS” OR SUGAR SUBSTITUTES.

You actively avoid desserts or you adhere to a sugar-free diet. I wrote a whole post about why avoiding or eliminating sugar isn’t necessary (or recommended).

While your body could live without white sugar, intermittent access has been shown to ramp up the “charge” we associate with sweets, and may lead us to binge eat or overeat them when we do come into contact with them.

These feelings may make us feel as though we’re “addicted” to sugar, when in fact studies show these “addicted” feelings have more to do with our relationship to sugar than sugar itself (how many people do you know claim they’re addicted to yogurt or bananas, both sugar-containing foods?)

Some people aren’t much for sweets, and that’s totally cool — but the difference is they’re not actively avoiding them.

#3. ENGAGING IN COMPENSATORY BEHAVIOURS.

“Compensatory behaviour” is exactly what it sounds like: behaviours, like exercising more or eating less, to “compensate” for consuming extra calories or food (perceived or actual.)

Now, some behaviours are considered clinical and are symptoms of an active eating disorder (i.e. purging, laxative abuse, over-exercise).

Some are sub-clinical but equally problematic from a psychological standpoint, such as: skipping meals all day to “save up” for a big dinner, “earning” your pizza and wine night by working out earlier in the day, or joining a hot yoga class the morning after a party to “make up” for the night before.

“Normal eaters” — those who are not restricting physiological or psychologically — do not “earn” or “make up” for energy consumed. 

#5. USING DIET LANGUAGE. 

Using phrases like “being bad” when eating chocolate cake or enjoying a crispy French fry — or alternately, “being good” when eating a salad — are symptoms of a diet mentality.

Discussing the calories, carbohydrate count, or fat grams in a food while “enjoying” it is also a sign you’re dieting. Food really is just food! It may seem incredulous, but food is morally neutral (not “good” or “bad.”)

We’re socially conditioned not to trust our bodies, so of course it feels as though you must exercise control or keep yourself “in check”. But your body actually does a wonderful job of maintaining homeostasis — and this extends to monitoring your energy needs.

In the comment section below, please let me know: What’s your biggest takeaway from this post? 

Intuitive Eating Principles: No. 3 Make Peace with Food

Nutritionists are human. After reading my fair share of “things nutritionists would never eat” type articles, I thought I’d set the records straight: I eat whatever. I. want. Raw kale with brown rice pasta, tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh parmesan, chili flakes (always), and canned tuna. Mom’s gluten-free Nanaimo bars. Sour gummy candy. A crisp apple straight from the orchard. Why? Because I've made peace with food.  

Another intuitive eating coach and anti-diet dietitian recently mentioned how she felt like a fraud at one point for advocating healthy fare while secretly snacking on Boston Creme donuts in shame. And though I eat whatever I want pretty openly and transparently now, her story resonated with me. In the past, every time I ate something I felt I “shouldn’t”, I negotiated with myself. Just this once

Intuitive eating principles | Body image | Emotional eating | Body positive | Beauty beyond size | Intuitive Eating Principle No. 3 - How to Make Peace with ALL foods.

 

Except these were foods I enjoyed and didn’t want to live without. The negotiations never stuck. So I started eating intuitively and made peace with food — all food — instead. And frankly I’ve yet to see this dogmatic thinking do anyone any favours. There’s no shame in enjoying food, whether it’s a raw kale salad or a chocolate chip cookie. 

A number of studies also suggest the moreforbidden” an object becomes, the more we fixate on it. Psychologist Fritz Heider has explained before how depriving yourself of something actually heightens your desire for it. Like that mythical unrequited love, “being restricted from anything in life sets it up to be extra special” (Resch and Tribole, 75). Deprivation leads to some pretty serious biological repercussions as I discussed last week, but it’s not pretty psychologically, either. 

So how do we truly begin to make peace with food?

DEPRIVATION, RESTRICTION, AND EATING

You can usually tell whether you’ve felt deprived or restricted by the way you react around food. After spending the holidays with my family, I was stunned by my reactions around foods I used to feel kind of crazy around. 

If you grew up in a home where there was never enough food to go around or where you competed with siblings for the last chicken leg, you might have been conditioned to hoard food or to eat to discomfort out of fear. Similarly, if you’re returning home after a long period away, you might overindulge in Mom’s home cooking. If you’ve recently spent a lot of time in an area where fresh produce wasn’t widely available, you might experience unusual cravings for salads. 

To avoid snacking, I used to restrict my shopping habits to “meal foods” only. I would skip the hummus, popcorn kernels, and plain yogurt to prevent eating between meals — something I now view as disordered. While I feel snacking is totally overrated, I do believe in honouring your hunger and eating when you need to, not skipping due to some misguided beliefs. If you keep your pantry and refrigerator bare — only to overdo it at restaurants and dinner parties — you’re definitely depriving and restricting. 

Those who grew up during the Depression era might be part of the Clean Plate Club and have encouraged their children to do the same. Because food was once so precious and unavailable, it’s now held in high regard. The thought of wasting food is inconceivable. We may exhibit the same behaviour around “once in a lifetime foods”, such as gelato in Italy, macarons in France, and beef in Argentina. 

EATING IS NOT AN EXAM

Type A people are especially prone to dieting and disordered eating in my experience. Do you ever feel like you have everything together — the house, the family, the career — except your eating? Like whatever you do, you can’t control your cravings? Mealtime isn’t something you ace; it’s not an exam or an essay. And the more you try to control it, the more it backfires. We’re always on the hunt for that dopamine hit. If you feel deprived in other areas of your life, food deprivation may be felt even more strongly.

There’s a lot of pressure to achieve the perfect body, and with it, the assumption we can all get there through the perfect diet. That the reason not all women are size 2 supermodels is due to our mortal inadequacies, our dieting failures, our unforgivable compulsion for chocolate from time to time. 

But here’s the reality: we come packaged in different bodies. We may or may not like the body we were born with. Others may or may not like the body we were born with. But that doesn’t make it wrong, akin to stealing or lying or cheating — even if they’re often similarly perceived. 

THE PROCESS OF UNCONDITIONAL PERMISSION

Unconditional permission is something I still struggle with, albeit unconsciously. I’m so programmed to eat what I believe I should be eating that I sometimes forget to tune in and ask myself what I feel like eating. Do you feel the same way? First we need to stop placing mental breaks on our food selections. Maybe you mindfully eat a plate of pasta — only to follow it with “but I shouldn’t have eaten that.” 

Sometimes this happens naturally if we eat foods that simply don’t agree with us. For example, I often experience a sugar hangover after sweets — it doesn’t agree with me — and I’m extremely sensitive to gluten. But if the shouldn’t isn’t coming from a place of self-care but instead from a place of self-control, you know you’re only giving yourself pseudo-permission. 

We need to work through the deprivation and the guilt. So often I see clients who either struggle with feelings of deprivation or struggle with guilt over eating. Neither is good. The key to working through both is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat

This means abolishing “good” and “bad” foods — a process that may take longer than anticipated — eating whatever you like, and, yes, ditching those “food deals.” Food deals are things like “I can have this extra slice of bacon now, but I need to hit the gym later to burn off the calories”, “I can enjoy this piece of cheesecake now, but the diet starts tomorrow”, or other conditions. 

The problem with this line of thinking? Instead of eating and enjoying our food, we’re always analyzing our choices with a critical eye. This type of conditional thinking may also promote over-eating. Instead of eating to satiety and leaving whatever’s left, you might finish your plate or eat seconds, promisingyourself an extra 30 minute jog in exchange. In short, you haven’t truly freed yourself of the guilt around eating. Instead of focusing on your food choices, connect to how they make you feel and acknowledge your thoughts as you eat them. 

HOW TO CREATE REWARDING, PERSONAL BOUNDARIES

Look, there’s nothing wrong with giving up milk because it doesn’t sit well with you or sugar because it makes you feel like shit. But there’s a difference between a publicly-imposed restriction and a decision arrived through personal connection. 

Boundaries ought to be personally meaningful. Maybe you keep a 10pm bedtime because you know you won’t feel optimal without eight hours of sleep.  This is a personally meaningful limit. You don’t drink because you want to keep your energy levels up — another meaningful limit. The problem arises when we do things because we’re told to, whether or not they resonate with us. This is especially important when we look at food. 

While I feel some are under the assumption intuitive eating is about eating whatever you want, whenever you want, and as much as you want, it’s actually about setting meaningful boundaries. Instead of other people deciding what you should eat, you decide. Instead of others telling you to give up gluten, you decide whether it’s right for you. While dieting encourages autopilot behaviour, intuitive eating promotes mindfulness and conscious eating. 

FIVE WAYS TO MAKE PEACE WITH FOOD

  1. Which foods appeal to you? Make a list.

  2. Out of the foods on your list, which do you actually eat? Circle foods you restrict.

  3. On your next trip to the grocery store or to your favourite restaurant, give yourself permission to eat one of the foods on your list.

  4. Does the food taste as good as you envisioned or remembered?

  5. Give yourself permission to eat as much as you like. Sometimes this will be 2 tbsp of chocolate ice cream — other times it will be 2 cups.

  6. Repeat as many times as you like.