My intern, Ally, is taking over my blog to bring you a 10-part Mini training teaching you about the ten principles of Intuitive Eating. Each week, a new blogpost has gone live summarizing the key elements of the principle while also giving you actionable steps to bring the principle into your life. Ally’s written several posts in this series already, including:
- Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality
- Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger
- Principle 3: Make Peace with Food
- Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police
- Principle 5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Principle 6: Feel Your Fullness
- Principle 7: Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness
- Principle 8: Respect Your Body
- Principle 9: Movement- Feel the Difference
If you haven’t already, make sure to check out those posts to get up to speed!
For the final post in this series, Ally is teaching you all about Principle 10: Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition. To make sure you don’t miss any upcoming posts, click here to subscribe to my weekly newsletter.
Take it away, Ally!
As we reach the end of this blog post series, you may be asking “okay, what’s the catch with this whole intuitive eating thing? When do the rules start?” Spoiler alert- there is no catch! Much of the work that goes into developing a healthy relationship with food involves attunement with your mind, body, and food. As discussed throughout principles 1-8 of Intuitive Eating, the basis of this framework is learning to pay attention to all of your physical cues, sensations, and emotions.
Once you reach a place where you can listen to your cues and freely enjoy all foods without guilt, it’s possible to implement the guidance of gentle nutrition.
The big shift here is that as an intuitive eater, YOU decide what health recommendations from the external world you’d like to integrate into your life. These choices come from a genuine place of enjoyment and care for yourself and your body. It may take time for you to be able to reach this place- if you need to come back to this blog post, that’s completely okay. Keep in mind that with Intuitive Eating, no foods are morally “better” and all foods provide some sort of value. Principle 10 of Intuitive Eating, Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition, goes over how you can make food choices that are both enjoyable and that make your body feel good.
After working through the residue of old diet rules, you may be asking yourself- what is authentic health? In simple terms, authentic health is based upon caring for your individual needs and using nutritional guidelines to make fulfilling food choices. With this perspective, your food choices are rooted in self care rather than self control. Generally speaking, meals and snacks are most satisfying when they include a combination of the main macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), some fiber, and a “satisfaction factor.” Most importantly, every meal does not need to contain each of these components- there are still no food rules. The goal here is to develop an understanding of each of the components that will allow you to reap the most satisfaction from your eating experiences. One amazing intuitive eating RD, Rachael Hartley, has an incredible resource that details the hierarchy of nutritional needs to put things in perspective:
To break this down- adequacy is most important when it comes to your nutritional needs. Regardless of which foods you choose to eat, if you aren’t eating enough, your body becomes so focused on surviving that it’s sent into stress mode. This can result in a number of unwanted consequences, such as inhibited digestion, slowed metabolism, systemic inflammation, poor blood sugar control, increased blood pressure, and inhibited immune response. Remember that body size is not an indicator of nutrition status- if you’re in a larger body, you might still be under-fueling (and vice versa). If this means reaching for a quick candy bar in a pinch, that’s completely okay! Feeding yourself enough fuel is the first and foremost important consideration in nutrition.
Once you are consistently nourishing your body with adequate fuel, the next consideration is thinking about incorporating a balance of the macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Importantly, balance isn’t about making up for the “bad” foods with “good” ones. Rather, balance is about incorporating all of the macronutrients together as they all serve unique and essential roles for your body. When you combine carbs, protein, and fat in a meal, this tends to provide you with the most optimal energy levels and a fulfilling eating experience.
Importantly, you don’t need to “optimize” every meal to include all of the macronutrients every time you eat! Perhaps, you’re craving pizza- some days, you might just enjoy the pizza, which is great. Other days, you might notice that you’re also craving some fresh, nutrient-dense foods, so you can add a yummy side salad onto your plate with the pizza. Once you learn to eat in alignment with your intuition, most of the time, you’ll realize that your body actually guides you towards a balance of food combinations that make you feel good. How cool is that?
Once you are eating an adequate amount of food and incorporating a balance of the macronutrients, variety is the next nutritional consideration. This can be as simple as switching up the brand of bread that you buy or the lunches you pack for work every so often. There are so many different micronutrients (iron, potassium, vitamin C, magnesium) and all foods offer a different combination of these micronutrients. The best way to ensure that you’re getting all of the micronutrients is to have a variety of foods. It’s common to gravitate towards specific “safe” meals while you’re dieting; one of the amazing benefits of eating intuitively is allowing yourself to enjoy all kinds of foods!
Variety can provide you with a larger range of nutrients and also more satisfaction. Do not turn this into another diet rule; you don’t have to stress over enjoying the same meal a few days in a row. Rather, think about variety over a longer period of time- are you switching up your weekly dinner rotations or the brand of cereal you buy?
The least important element of nutrition is individual foods. That’s right, no singular food has magical benefits that will alter your health! Certain foods can absolutely offer different benefits to your body (i.e. fermented foods can improve your gut health, whole grains can improve HDL cholesterol) but unless you’re eating enough food, a balance of the macronutrients, and incorporating variety you likely won’t be able to reap these benefits.
The media often exaggerates the impact of specific foods on your body. You may be aware of popular nutrition trends such as celery juice for “detoxing,” apple cider vinegar for fat burning, and chlorophyll water for glowy skin, just to name a few. But the reality is, no one food or drink has the power to actually make these dramatic changes in your body. These are just fads, and nutrition research is always changing which means that there truly is no “perfect way to eat!” Plus, doesn’t it sound exhausting to strive for perfection all of the time?
“[Americans] had the greatest worry over their health and eating, and greater dissatisfaction with what they ate… it is widely accepted that stress triggers a biological chemical assault in our bodies, which is harmful to our health (McEwen 2008)” (Intuitive Eating page 232)
Consider how other cultures around the world approach food. The French, for example, regularly enjoy several foods that are touted “unhealthy” in America, such as full-fat cream, butter, cheese, and bread. Yet, the French also have a longer life expectancy, lowered risk for heart disease, and take less medication (Guyenet 2008). When you view food as a pleasurable aspect of life rather than something to be controlled and feared, a significant amount of stress is lifted from your life resulting in more positive health outcomes. In my blog post, Principle 7: Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness, I talked about the detrimental effects of spikes in cortisol (stress hormone) levels on the body. This further proves the idea that although nutritional recommendations and guidelines can be useful tools in making choices about how to care for your long term health, if the tools become stressful and obsessive, the benefit is lost.
“Our experience has shown that the more a person focuses on a number, the more it interferes with the process of listening to the body” (Intuitive Eating page 237)
Unfortunately, most of the current health policies revolve around numbers- consuming X grams of protein, limiting yourself to Y portion, or eating Z amount of vegetables per day. These policies further perpetuate weight stigma and a cultural obsession with food and body, as there’s a consistent emphasis on calories and body weight. Recall that your body is intelligent- far more intelligent than any calorie tracking app or piece of technology ever will be. Only YOU truly know what makes your body feel good. As an Intuitive Eater, there are no rigid portion sizes- you can freely decide what your body needs. In the pursuit of lifelong health, if you are solely focused on numerical values you’ll never be able to reach a place of body trust and freedom.
This is where the balance of information and pleasure comes in. Critics of Intuitive Eating often say that encouraging people to eat whatever they want will lead to poor nutrition, but studies consistently show that eating intuitively is associated with eating a wider variety of nutrient-dense foods and decreased disordered eating habits. Eating nutrient-dense foods FEELS good- once morality is removed, you can identify and seek eating experiences that make you feel emotionally fulfilled, satisfied, and energized. You can also benefit from enjoying “play foods,” which are foods that diet culture may label as “unhealthy” but really add non-physical value to your life (i.e. ice cream, birthday cake, pizza) If you have the freedom to eat whatever you want, why would you choose to feel physically uncomfortable?
When I was a senior in high school, I struggled with some disordered eating habits and experienced my own moment of revelation about food freedom on a trip to Paris with my family. For a few months before the trip, I had been counting my calories on MyFitnessPal and overexercising. Although cooking and enjoying food has always been one of my favorite hobbies, this spiral sent me down the path of worrying about every bite of food I consumed and every calorie goal I exceeded. I was incredibly excited for this trip, not only because it was an amazing adventure that my family had been planning for months, but also because I knew that I would truly enjoy all foods without guilt while I was on vacation. Although I had very rigid food rules about what I was allowed to eat at home, vacations felt like a safe space to step outside of those rules.
Indeed, this trip was absolutely amazing, and still one of my favorite family memories to this day. But what was incredibly interesting, that I came to realize, was how my body didn’t actually change from enjoying all the croissants, gelato, bread, and pizza on vacation. In fact, I felt as though a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I no longer wasted all of my time stressing about food or planning what I’d eat next, AND I felt happier, healthier, and more relaxed.
Although I was unaware at the time, this experience was a glimpse of what being an Intuitive Eater feels like. While I initially went into my vacation from a dieting mindset (as I told myself to enjoy all foods only because it was vacation), I then felt other benefits. Of course, learning to trust my body and work against old diet rules is an ongoing and ever-evolving process, but I can confidently say that I now feel more comfortable eating any and all foods that I crave. I no longer fear that my body will somehow change as a result of one food or meal, and beyond that, I’m learning my worth and my value is not dependent upon the size and shape of my body.
Achieving “authentic health” means that you can pursue a way of eating that’s sustainable and makes you feel good. This is why this principle is called gentle nutrition- taste and enjoyment is equally as important to health. When adding a variety of nutrient-dense foods into your diet, it can be helpful to ensure that you’re eating enough to fuel your body, adding in a variety of fruits and vegetables that you actually like (think smoothies, stuffed peppers, fruit compote, stir-fried veggies, and more), and drinking enough water. To feel satisfied by your food choices, consider implementing a combination of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber into your eating experiences. I can’t emphasize enough that all foods have value- even if all foods aren’t nutritionally equivalent, they can be emotionally equivalent. During an eating experience, it may be helpful to ask yourself:
- Do I really like how these foods taste?
- How does eating this food make my body feel? Do I like that feeling?
- Would I choose to feel this way again?
- Next time, what might I add or change about this meal to add more satisfaction?
You have the right to savor your meals without guilt or judgment, honor your fullness by refusing a second helping of food, or unapologetically enjoy another plate regardless of what others have to say. As an Intuitive Eater, freedom is in your hands, and you can find peace, contentment, and lasting satisfaction in healing your relationship with food and your body.
Did you hear the news? We launched a podcast here at Leah Kern Nutrition! Shoulders Down Podcast is a podcast designed to teach you how to harness your intuition to govern not just how you eat but also how you live. New episodes get released every Tuesday! Click here to listen to our latest episode featuring an incredibly inspiring client story. Taylor, an alumni of my 1:1 coaching program, The Embodied Method, shares how her relationship with food has transformed since becoming an intuitive eater.
Last modified: June 22, 2022