It's a misconception that eating intuitively means you eat whatever you want with no regard for your health. In fact, Intuitive Eating (IE) is optimised for even better health than standard rule-based diets.
Why? Let's get into that in the rest of the post.
While normal diets, or a typical approach to healthy eating, places physical health on a pedestal, IE is a "self-care eating framework" that equally prioritises physical, mental and emotional health. If you've ever attempted to control your weight with the food you'll be familiar with the general sense of mental and emotional ill-ease it often causes. From constantly thinking about food between meals (because you're so hungry), fantasising about your weekend 'cheat' meal or even just feel deprived because you always choose the healthier option, any form of rigidity or rule-based approach to eating is highly likely to have psychological downsides for many people.
This is where IE comes in. Instead of your eating habits being prescribed by external rules, like standard meal times, or a list of "healthy/unhealthy" foods, as an intuitive eater, your food choices are dictated by your internal bodily cues in addition to what you prefer to eat at that moment in time. Let's discuss why-intuitive-eating-is-not-an-excuse-to-neglect-your-healthan IE concept called "Unconditional Permission to Eat" (UPE):
UPE says that you can whatever you want, whenever you want to eat it. Going back to psychological downsides of restrictive, or rule-based eating, the opposite can hold true for knowing that there are no limits to what and when you can eat. The benefits of this non-diet approach is that you have a greater sense of psychological food security (i.e. your mind isn't consciously or unconsciously worried that you won't allow yourself to eat the foods you really want to eat, or to give yourself permission to eat when you want to). This means that you're way more relaxed about food and it reduces the mental burden of constantly thinking about food. It also disrupts the binge-restrict cycle, where you're 'really good' for a short period of time and then lose your willpower and binge eat.
With all this said, UPE, the very thing that many women often fear in relation to IE, can have the opposite effect to what you're expecting. Instead of over-eating, over-indulging in delicious yet not very nutritious foods, you learn to interpret your body's food needs more accurately and are able to develop a more balanced diet over time (without dieting or any food rules).
Another Principle of IE I want to share with you today is called Gentle Nutrition. In full, it's called Honour Your Health - Gentle Nutrition, and is defined as follows:
"Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts" (intuitiveeating.org)
I hope this post clears that misconception for you. The challenging part of trying to unlearn the diet mindset is that the word "diet" makes it seem like having a diet mindset only refers to obvious forms of dieting (like following a particular diet, counting calories etc). But diet culture extends far beyond that. The diet mindset can be extremely subtle and hard to identify. As a rule of thumb, if you ever find yourself questioning or unnecessarily criticising your food choices, or often not allowing yourself to choose the option that you truly want, you probably still have an underlying diet mindset and IE is a great tool to gently help you unlearn it.
If you want to learn more about how to develop a healthier food mindset, I highly recommend you download a free preview of my self-help and educational Coaching Programme Handouts workbooks (click here to download). You'll get one workbook on a food-related topic and one about body image.
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