Well folks, we have reached this point… it is time to talk about the last principle of Intuitive Eating (IE), #10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition. Just because it is the final piece does not make honoring your health or nutrition any less important. However, as we have touched on before the principles follow a stepwise process; many times chronic dieters can follow even the most sensible nutrition guidelines as if it is a diet or find making informed food choices with nutrition labels triggering to old thoughts and behaviors. With gentle nutrition, you understand that taste and satisfaction is essential, and health can still be honored sans guilt.
Unfortunately, you do not even need to identify or previously identify as a chronic dieter to find that you worry about food and nutrition. The media makes health and nutrition information at best, confusing and at worst, disordered and unhelpful. There seems to be a new headline almost daily touting the benefit of one thing while showing the negatives of another. No wonder it seems that we can never stay afloat of trends and emerging research. For most people as well, they are not diving into the nitty gritty of these studies, which can illuminate special-interest groups, biases, and small sample sizes to name just a few important and sometimes misleading factors of consuming research and media. Because information can be so confusing, it can make it easy to want to adopt a black and white thinking mentality. For example, “eating fat makes you fat” may actually be an easier belief system to adopt than trying to understand the often elusive evidence-based research for some people. And a big disclaimer - no eating fat does not make you fat.
So how can you make peace with nutrition to achieve authentic health? For starters, let us even define what authentic health is. IE is a dynamic attunement integration of your mind, body and food. The majority of IE principles 1-8 focus on the attunement to your inner world (body and mind). In order to achieve authentic health, you must be able to process your internal world and the external world of health guidelines. You are the decision maker of what external world health values, policies, guidelines, or philosophical preferences you wish to include in your authentic health. For example, perhaps sustainability is important to you; you may opt to purchase local produce as often as you can, while still honoring your hunger, fullness, satisfaction factors, etc.
When eating for health is not aligned with morality or shame, we can truly honor health and taste buds concurrently. You may find you’re unknowingly somatizing feelings of guilt related to food choices, which can cause uncomfortable physical feelings at eating experiences. Likewise, eating past comfortable satiety does not feel good but can often happen because we are not giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat and thus need to fill up at this specific meal or snack period. But what if both of these physical feelings could go away? In that case, why would you desire to feel that way during eating experiences again? With unconditional permission to eat, the physical feelings of discomfort that may manifest from guilt can disappear alongside your intuitive decision to stop when you are comfortably full - and that should feel good! Furthermore this proves the point that portion control is not an issue for Intuitive Eaters. When attuned to your innate hunger and fullness cues, it does not matter what is available to you or placed in front of you, you will still stop when comfortably satiated.
When eating for health becomes a pleasurable experience and you find that you typically feel better doing so, you are more likely to continue following suit to honor your health with food choices. Think about things like do I enjoy the taste of this food or am I following health trends? How does eating this food make my body feel? How do I feel when eating consistently in one way or another? How is my energy level? It is crucial not to make healthy eating an all-or-nothing or black and white thinking trap. And always remember, food has no moral value and you are not a good or bad person due to your food choices. You know your body’s needs (physically and mentally) better than anyone else in your circle. I want to end this post by thanking you for following along and wishing you the absolute best on your IE journey! Oh and please check out the Intuitive Eater’s Bill of Rights to remember how to keep the pleasure in eating both during the holidays and every day.