A Different Way To Think About Finding Balance In Eating

This week I went to a yoga class at my favorite studio (City Yoga for my Columbia peeps). In the beginning of class, the instructor explained that the day's practice was inspired by an episode of Chef's Table featuring Jeong Kwan, a Korean Buddhist nun, who has become world famous for cooking traditional Korean temple cuisine. 

Might sound like an odd inspiration for yoga practice (downward kimchi? Standing bulgogi?). If you've seen the episode, you get it. I actually cried watching it. I know, I'm the kinda weirdo who cries at a cooking show. But seriously, the way she talks about food bringing people together is so beautiful and inspiring. 

Explaining what Buddhist temple cuisine is in the show, Kwan shares how it's designed to help keep your mind calm and centered, which is important for meditation. Temple cuisine is very "healthy" (using quotations because I think the way we eat is healthy or unhealthy, not food itself) - it's vegetarian, uses fat sparingly, and includes lots of produce. Temple food is supposed to make you feel light - mentally and physically. It's the definition of food that makes you feel good. 

So, our entire yoga practice was centered on lightness. As an aside, I'm not talking about weight lightness, but rather a feeling of lightness. Throughout class, I kept thinking about how the idea behind temple cuisine fits in with intuitive eating. Wait what, I'm supposed to only be thinking about my breathing?? My B. 

Intuitive eating teaches you to tune into how food makes you feel. This will encourage you to choose food that makes you feel good. The goal of eating well is feeling energized and nourished, which is basically the same goal as temple cuisine. 

That said, one of the things I sometimes struggle to explain is how food that makes you feel "bleh" doesn't necessarily conflict with intuitive eating. When someone is in tune with how food makes them feel, but chooses to eat something that doesn't necessarily make them feel good, it can make them feel like they've "failed" at intuitive eating. But being an intuitive eater isn't always making the "healthy" choice. Balance is a word that's often used, but I feel like diet culture has manipulated the word to mean something that's more in line with their calories in/calories out mantra. Like, you can have the cookie, buuuuttt then you have to go running afterwards to burn it off. 

Anyway, back to yoga. As we were doing our practice centered on lightness, the instructor shared something that I think is the perfect metaphor to understand balance in intuitive eating. 

We had just finished the most incredible supine stretch using a strap, you know, the kind where you get aaaaaallll the muscles worked out and feel like you feel like you just got out of an hour-long full body massage. As we were laying down and breathing afterward, she asked us to notice the heaviness in our body. She said, "most of the time, we want to feel light. Energized. Calm. Centered. But sometimes, we need to feel heavy too. Think of when you're going to sleep. In order to feel lightness, we also need to be grounded. We need heaviness too" 

I think that's the perfect way to think about intuitive eating. There's times where we want to feel light and energized by what we eat. But there's other times we want to feel comforted and grounded. Sometimes we need a smoothie. Sometimes we need a bowl of mac and cheese.

For those who practice yoga, you know that even in the most extended poses, part of you needs to be grounded. With food, I like to think of that as the comforting, satisfying aspects of a meal. The pat of butter on a side of vegetables. The cheese and bacon on a salad. The chocolate chips in your trail mix. You can't appreciate the lightness and energy of a dish unless there's aspects of it that leave you satisfied and comforted. Along the same lines, you need something light and bright to best appreciate something heavy and comforting. 

For me, this was a really helpful way to understand balance in intuitive eating, and I hope it helps you too. Balance is what happens naturally when you listen to your body and give it what it needs. 

As always, would love to hear from you in the comments. How do you find balance (in the yoga sense, not the diet-y sense) from the foods you eat. 


I work with clients locally in Columbia, SC and virtually throughout the US, helping them discover their happiest and healthiest lives by nourishing a healthy relationship with food and their body. Learn more about my philosophy here.