I will be honest, this post has taken me a while to write. It’s hard to put into words the complex relationship of nutrition and intuitive eating. Before starting nutrition school, I was very sensitive to anything that seemed obsessive about nutrition. My mindset was all foods are good and your body knows best, we don’t need to focus on nutrition because that’s a slippery slope. My motto hasn’t changed much, but I am in a different place with my relationship with food. When I first started recovery from my eating disorder, I needed to focus on healing my relationship with food. I had spent nearly a decade telling myself what I could and couldn’t eat and how to be healthy. For anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder of rigid ways of eating, you essentially need to learn how to eat all over again, just like a child. Every food has to be neutral until you decide what you do and don’t like and how certain foods make you feel. But this starts with learning about you and trusting your body.
It’s after the work of learning yourself again that you can approach nutrition with a healthy mindset. For me, I wasn’t in this place until several years after starting my recovery. I give all this background because it’s important to have a very strong base in knowing yourself before exposing yourself to the barrage of nutrition messages out there. Think about it, everywhere around us there are messages about the best foods to eat, how to eat, when to eat, and what to avoid. On top of that, there are a lot of controversial messages. It’s confusing and can make us doubt what we know is true for ourselves.
If you are new to recovery or just now stepping away from chronic dieting, focusing on nutrition may not be the best thing for you right now. Instead, consider getting some support – my six-month program may be for you.
Contrary to popular belief, intuitive eating does not disregard nutrition, it’s just not the primary focus. The first nine steps of intuitive eating (aka normal eating) are all about healing your relationship with food and starting fresh. Then the final step is gentle nutrition. Gentle nutrition is eating that honors your hunger, taste buds, and nutrition knowledge. Food does play a role in preventing chronic disease and helping certain ailments, but the problem lies when we become obsessed about it.
So how do you care about nutrition without sliding back into disordered eating? Here’s how I have learned to approach it:
Take Everything with a Grain of Salt
Scroll through social media or browse the magazines in the grocery checkout, and you will run into several claims about health and nutrition. Which one do you believe? It’s very confusing even for me. This is when I take a step back and consider all the facts. First, where did this information come from and what studies have been done to prove this. Sadly, diet culture tends to take a single finding in studies and blow it up to make it universal for everyone. There may be some truths in nutrition studies, but is it right for you?
Embrace the Grey
Living in the grey can be uncomfortable. I know I like to know what’s right and wrong and follow it to a tee – it makes me feel safe. However, with nutrition there is no right or wrong. Everyone is unique and has their own nutritional needs. When we start with the framework of tuning into our bodies and knowing what feels best for ourselves, then we can make nutritional decisions to meet our own needs. Your body wants to feel good, and as build up your tuning in muscles, you will discover what foods make you feel best.
Think of the Big Picture
Even the best nutrition guidelines can still be embraced like a diet. The danger of focusing too much on nutrition is becoming obsessed about nutrition. Eat something “unhealthy” and your day is completely thrown off. Instead of looking at a specific meal or day, think about the big picture. Are you getting a variety of food regularly and eating produce, protein, carbohydrates, and fats? Our bodies don’t work on a 24-hour cycle with nutrition. Instead, it’s everything in the long run that adds up. Don’t get hung up over not getting veggies at every meal, if you are eating a variety of foods over time, your body will get what it needs.
Go Back to Your Values
When I get overwhelmed by nutrition information and what I should do, I take a moment to go back to what’s important to me – family, friends, making an impact, and living in freedom. Freedom is the opposite of what we get from restricting foods, obsessing over calories or macros, and forcing ourselves to exercise when our body needs rest. You can live a healthy live without obsession. What it takes is letting go fear around food to focus on what truly matters to you.
Eat all the foods! Start with the framework that there are no “good” or “bad” foods and that you’re body is the expert. Don’t say “no” to a food if you want it, and make decisions about food based on what you’re body is telling you, not what an outside “expert” says. Eat a variety of foods, sufficient fats, protein, carbohydrates, and fruits and vegetables, and your body will get what it needs. Finally, eat real food (not in a dogmatic way). You do not need all the specially formulated diet foods to be healthy. Whole, real foods give us what we need. Finally, enjoy what you eat!
I’d love to hear your experience of balancing nutrition and intuitive eating! Comment below with your experience.