There's a lot of misunderstanding about what intuitive eating is. That makes sense, because dieting is mainstream and compared to it, intuitive eating feels pretty radical (even though we were all born intuitive eaters, and ate in accordance with our body's internal cues until diet culture came crashing in, but I digress... )
One of the most common misunderstandings is this idea that as an intuitive eater, you'll always make the "healthy" choice. As if mastering your intuition means it will always guide you to kale salad over pepperoni pizza. This creates a lot of anxiety in new intuitive eaters, who are still holding on to a lot of that diet mentality.
Part of being an intuitive eater is paying attention to how food makes you feel. Instead of placing "unhealthy" food off limits or rationing it, intuitive eating asks you to honor your health by considering how a food might make you feel. This, along with tuning into hunger and fullness cues, guides intuitive eaters to an overall healthier diet - diet meant in the broad definition of eating patterns, not the icky restrictive definition. As a result, intuitive eaters feel healthier, more energetic and digestions is 👌
That said, choosing to eat something that makes you feel crappy does not mean you've failed at intuitive eating.
In real life, eating decisions are more complex and nuanced than simply fulfilling physical needs. We have other needs that can be satisfied with food - the need for pleasure, social connection, and yes, even emotional nourishment. And there's other practical considerations, like what food is available to you at any given moment or how much time you have for cooking, planning or eating. Sometimes in order to honor those needs, you have to eat something that makes you feel bloated and bleh.
For example, the following eating decisions could be totally in line with intuitive eating:
- Eating past fullness to a point where you feel slightly uncomfortable, because you were still getting pleasure out of the food you were eating.
- Going out for a pizza and beer with friends because you want the social connection, even though you know the combination gives you indigestion.
- Eating frozen taquitos for dinner because it's all you have in your house and you don't have time to go to the grocery store.
Other times, intuitive eating might mean forgoing that yummy looking donut for avocado toast and eggs cause you know sugary food first thing in the morning makes you feel awful, or ordering a salad instead of pizza with your friends because you've got an early morning presentation for work the next day that you want to be on point for.
Part of honoring your health, one of the 10 principles of intuitive eating, means respecting the fact that health is more complex than what foods go into your body. Stress management, social connectivity, sleep, joy/pleasure, spirituality, and movement all play a role in health, and probably a greater role than the food we eat. Honoring these other facets of health may mean compromising on nutrition.
If you're new to the non-diet life and struggling with anxiety over whether you're "doing things right," I hope you'll check out Joyful Eating, Nourished Life. It's an online wellness program I started with two other dietitians to help you learn to ditch the diets and nourish a healthier relationship with food and your body. We're opening for registration tomorrow for our April group, so be sure to sign up for the mailing list so you can get the code for our early bird discount!