I recently received a comment from a reader that stirred some thoughts in my head about intuitive eating and healthy/clean eating and whether the two are one and the same or whether they cannot exist simultaneously at all.
It was the post where I discussed some dietary changes I am adopting namely limiting dairy (except for grass-fed organic butter and goat cheese) due to lactose sensitivity as well as limiting my consumption of gluten and (beginning to, well see how that goes) grains (with the exception of sprouted and soaked) due to the scientific research that links it to the myriad of health dangers to the body and the brain (have you heard about Grain Brain?). My reasons for this are health-related, as much preventative as it is treating current discomfort. I want to function at the highest capacity for my body and I want to feel good and be healthy at all times.
I’ve talked at length about intuitive eating on this blog after I gave up dieting a year ago and began a journey into intuitive eating. This journey lead me to make many shifts and discoveries about myself especially by beginning to lean more into the mental, emotional, and spiritual health rather than focusing on the superficial things like how I look and how much I weigh.
The fact that I gained weight during the process was bothersome at times since clothes don’t fit the way they used to (aka I had to buy new ones) but I am much less worried about it as I would have been when I was in the midst of my chronic dieting mentality. The truth is – I don’t care about my weight that much. Ever since I threw out my scale I haven’t bought a new one so I only really step on one maybe once per month or two when I’m at my parents house, out of curiosity. I’ve learned to never associate judgment or contempt or happiness with the number, however. The number does not define you! (tweet this)
I am not in tears and shambles because I am at my highest weight. Who cares. And if you do, then you are most obviously not a friend I want to keep. Get your negative judgmental ass out of here. And lighten up.
Dieting and your weight/looks is not what life is all about. I’m happy to say that the journey of intuitive eating has led me to find a greater sense of peace with myself as well as realizing the things that truly are important that I used to always squash away below the surface, hiding underneath the symptom of incessant dieting and exercising regimens.
Let’s go back to intuitive eating. What is intuitive eating? I think it would help if we defined intuitive eating:
“Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body–where you ultimately become the expert of your own body. You learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and gain a sense of body wisdom.” (source)
Now, let me get into the core of what I’m trying to talk about in this article – well, it seems like there is a certain perception around IE (intuitive eating) that it not necessarily correct. It seems like some people think that when a person practices IE they eat whatever the heck they want, whatever comes their way at all times. It often becomes synonymous with gluttony and using it as an excuse to eat emotionally and without a care in the world – “Office is having birthday cake, bring it! Pizza for dinner during the game, do it! Chocolate at night because I’m just used to doing it and it makes me feel good.”
Now before I go on a tangent, let me just say there is nothing wrong with eating those things, even in that type of manner. I was there in the beginning of intuitive eating as well. I ate anything I wanted to and/or craved emotionally. Any thought I had about food, I’d eat it. I ate emotionally frequently and the fact that I had extreme sugar cravings certainly didn’t help. The weight kept going up.
I knew I was following a process of neutralizing food and not seeing food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ anymore and that’s why I trusted the process and ate whatever I wanted without judgment, just like you’re meant to.
I think it’s hard to be a true intuitive eater if you have a sugar addiction or any nutritional imbalance because, while your body might think it wants something (sugar), it does not do it in a healthy way. Don’t get me wrong – I love my sugar. However, it wasn’t until I started actually getting digestive issues from all the overeating that I realized that something was not right. There’s more to it than just “eating what I want” and that’s where I got to a point of realizing I need to pay more attention to my health and my body in terms of how it feels and how it affects me.
This is a natural thing that is part of intuitive eating but many people seem to forget that. People seem to think that IE is just about eating whatever the heck you want without feeling guilty forever. And that IS what it is. But IE is also all about taking note of your body and mind at any given point in time. It is focused on listening to your body and seeing how your body reacts to different foods. It is focused on making decisions based on what you learn about what your body likes and dislikes that will influence your eating habits in the future.
My digestive issues were not overwhelming but they were apparent enough for me to want to take charge of my health and my body. Intuitive eating is not about eating ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner simply because it makes you feel good and it numbs your pain. Intuitive eating is about listening to how your body feels before, during and AFTER you have eaten a bowl of ice cream and taking note of that feeling, more than just the sugar high you get at first.
Paying attention and taking note of how my body was reacting to certain foods made it clear to me just how much my body was talking to me. It was telling me things I was too busy to notice. I was on a sugar high half the time and therefore blind to what my body was trying to tell me. Until it go to a point where it HAD to be heard and so it started giving me GI issues. That’s when I finally stopped and listened. I wish I had listened earlier but I am glad I am listening now. Now that I KNOW the annoyance and the difficulties you could face if you ignore your true (sometimes quiet) body signals, I want to avoid those feelings in the future.
So it really annoyed me when someone said to me:
“So this is a blog about intuitive eating? Because honestly, your whole post is about restriction, restriction, restriction and sounds very ED-ish.”
This offended me because clearly the person did not read the post and what my reasoning for the dietary changes was based on. It also offended me that they would put me back in the ED bucket where I know exactly how it is like over there and there is nothing I am doing that has anything to do with how I look, how much weight I want to lose, etc. The whole idea behind MY concept of intuitive eating is eating what you truly want and your body desires.
This means that eventually your body might tell you that, “Hey – you actually don’t do very well with lactose and gluten, and heavy carbs put you in a fog, and don’t even get me started on sugar- you are addicted and it rules you life. You cannot go without sugar for even a day and that’s a problem because it is making your tired, sleepy, uninspired, and frankly – it’s making you lazy.”
Is there anything wrong with me listening to my body? Even if it tells me that I should eat HEALTHY nutrition-rich foods and focus on eating REAL and WHOLE FOODS based on traditional nutritional practices? Is there anything wrong with me wanting to be my very best so that I don’t have to feel tired, lazy, and uninspired?
And on a side note, yes – if you crave that chocolate cake and you really want it. Go for it. There’s nothing wrong with that. I go for it too although not as much as I did then. I now have physical reminders that tell me why I shouldn’t indulge in conventional processed foods but there’s nothing wrong with a little processed food action once in a while. The beauty of becoming more in tune with your own personal signals is that you can now ask yourself, is the prolonged discomfort worth the temporary high and taste of white flour and sugar?
But still, life in balance is a realistic life.
But what that balance looks like for YOU is different than it looks like for me or your neighbor or another blogger down the street. We are all different.
I think it’s time we realize that it’s okay to eat how WE want to eat and not follow some fad. It’s okay to eat what our body tells us to eat. It’s ALSO okay to indulge in foods if we really want them. Food is nourishment AND it is pleasure AND it is fuel. It’s all of those things. It’d be silly to think of food as just one of those things because that’s not true! And that’s the whole concept of balance once again. We use it for different things but the main thing is that we have to be CONSCIOUS and aware of how we are using food at any given point in time.
That’s my take on intuitive eating.
Note: If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, you can’t use digestive issues to ONLY eat clean and restrictively. You MUST go through the initial “eat whatever you want” phase that comes with intuitive eating because that’s what’s the main point of recovery of dieting mentality and ED, so you cannot just skip through that phase. I encourage you to read the comments below and learn more about what others think about this as well.