Intuitive Eating- Part 10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Intuitive Eating: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

The last principle of intuitive eating is principle 10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition.1 Before we get started, take a moment and explore your personal definition of “health” and what you believe determines overall health? Many Americans, not only chronic dieters and individuals with eating disorders, have a skewed and misguided concept of “healthy eating”. We are bombarded daily about “new” nutritional information from fad diets, foods to avoid, foods that “burn fat”, etc.,. No wonder we worry so much about the food we are consuming! With each “groundbreaking” nutrition related news, we are left more confused and food obsessed than before, leading to increased disordered eating, food dissatisfaction, body dissatisfaction, and declined health.

So what is “healthy eating”? Healthy eating involves allowing all foods in the diet (diet, as in the foods we consume) with unconditional permission. You may think “well if I allow myself to eat *blank*, I will lose control”. However, an intuitive eater will eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. This means eating a cupcake without compensating by restricting food intake in preparation or less afterwards and/or exercising more. Think about it: if you restrict your food intake in preparation of consuming a certain food (or meal), it makes sense that you may feel you “lose control” and end up overeating. Right? You’re hungry! Intuitive eating with unconditional permission requires you to listen to your body’s hunger/fullness cues and honor them. 

This is also a great reminder of the importance of eating appropriate portions frequently throughout the day rather than infrequent large meals. Eating only when you are ravenous will often result in overeating and/or feeling out of control when eating. Again, reinforcing your fear that you have no control over food. There is a common misconception that to lose weight you must eat less. However, it is actually the opposite! Eating actually boosts your metabolism! Being in a state of energy deprivation causes loss of muscle mass. Muscle mass is directly associated with metabolism. Higher muscle mass = higher metabolism = more energy (food) needed. This is why males have higher energy needs than females — biologically males have more muscle mass than females.

Now what should we eat? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, variety and balance is key! If you ever hear of a diet that excludes foods/food groups, stop right there. Imagine a plate. Make 3/4 of your plate filled with carbohydrate rich foods such as grains/fruit/vegetables, and ¼ of your plate protein. Remember, this is a general guide not a rigid rule as our food intake is balanced over time. Health is “big picture” not a snapshot in time to a specific meal or food. So where does dessert and “off limit foods” come in? First, no food is “off limits”. All food serves a purpose. As mentioned before, food satisfaction and satiety play an important role in health! If you are consuming a balanced diet filled with whole grains, fish, oils, protein, fruits, vegetables, etc., then consuming foods deemed as “off limits”, will not make you “unhealthy”. This is part of the satisfaction factor in eating. You are allowed to eat food because it tastes good!

According to food psychologist, Paul Rozin, Americans worry more about what we eat, the fattening effects of food, and experience more food dissatisfaction than other cultures.1 Rozin found that the stress and worry over food have a more profound effect on our health than the actual food itself!1 Tribole and Resch1 prove food is not the sole, or even main correlation, behind living a healthy lifestyle, in comparing American diet/culture to that of France’s diet/culture. Americans worry more about their food intake, diet more frequently, and have higher body mass index than the French. However, the French consume the highest amount of what is thought of as “unhealthy foods”, dairy fat, than any other industrial nation.

Yet, the French have longer life expectancy, lower rates of heart disease, and take less medications than the average American.1 So how can perceived “unhealthy foods” be consumed in larger amounts with lowered rates of disease? It is believed that the food experience, mental/emotional health, and lifestyle factors contribute to improved health and decreased morbidities. What does that mean? Stress, worry, and food preoccupation can result in declined health; however, that also means creating a healthy relationship with food and the eating experience can improve health!

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating: 1

  1. Reject the diet mentality 
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with food 
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Feel your fullness
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor
  7. Cope with your emotions without using food 
  8. Respect your body
  9. Exercise- feel the difference
  10. Honor your health- gentle nutrition 

Disclaimer: if you are struggling with an eating disorder or in the early stages of recovery from an eating disorder, mindful eating may not be appropriate as hunger and fullness cues can be diminished or absent. Before starting intuitive eating, talk with your dietitian! A dietitian can help guide you towards a healthier mind, body, and spirit by working with you to identify and challenge eating disorder beliefs and help you reconnect to the joy of eating!

1TRIBOLE, E. V. E. L. Y. N., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating: a revolutionary program that works. S.l.: ST MARTINS ESSENTIALS.