When it comes down to it, intuitive eating is basically about eating whatever you want, however much you want, whenever you want.
After reading that first sentence, you might have noticed some, er… interesting thoughts popping up in your head.
Can I *really* eat whatever I want? Is this too good to be true?
How can a dietitian promote this? (Did two dietitians really write the book (Amazon Associate link) on this?)
Won’t I just gain weight?
What is the catch?
I’ll be upfront with you and say that there is a catch. No, no, don’t worry, put your wallet away. The catch is that we need to dig deeper into what we mean when we say “health” and when we say “whatever we want”.
What is Health?
In our culture, we’ve come to think of “health” as fit, lean, strong, young, able bodies free of any illness and ailments. Not only does our current definition of health place physical health above all else, it also puts “health” out of reach for many people. Those who are unfit, fat, weak, old, disabled and/or have any health concern are deemed “unhealthy”, or at least not a “clean bill of health”.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be that big of a deal if “health” and “wellness” were not the status symbols that they are today. It doesn’t help that we are constantly fed the message that our health is our responsibility. When we’re sick, we blame ourselves for not going to the doctor sooner, for not taking better care of ourselves, for not doing enough “prevention”.
I’m not saying that our lifestyle habits don’t have an impact on our health, but by blaming personal choice, we’re brushing aside any efforts as “not good enough”. Moreover, we erase the impact of factors that are often out of our control, like genetics, socioeconomic status and weight stigma, just to name a few.
I admittedly don’t have a better definition of health, but I’d like to see one that defines health based on a broader scope—physical, mental, emotional, social, financial, etc. More importantly, I wish that it was ok to not be healthy; that we were seen as just as good, just as worthy, no matter our health status.I wish that it was ok to *not* be healthy - that we're seen as just as good, just as worthy, no matter our health status. Click To Tweet
What Do We Want?
Similarly, our society has a very narrow definition of “healthy food” and “healthy eating”. We think of “healthy food” as fresh and natural, grown on idyllic farms with green, rolling hills, bright red barns, and ethically treated animals. We define “healthy eaters” more by what they don’t eat than what they do—we “clean” our diets of sugar, carbs, fat, salt, gluten, calories.
Given the way that our society puts health on a pedestal, it makes sense then, if you’ve been spending your life striving to be “healthy”, that “eating what you want” translates to a one-way ticket to Donutland—eating everything that’s not “healthy”.
This is the scary part. This is the part where you’ll probably say, “See, I told you so! This intuitive eating thing is a joke. There’s no way I can be healthy if I eat whatever I want.” This is the part where you’ll probably want to run back to the safety of rules, meal plans, “eating healthy”, being “good”. OK, I get it. I hear you.
Before You Give Up on Intuitive Eating…
I can’t help but wonder… what is your body saying?
Perhaps its voice is only a whisper amongst the loud, negative self-talk. Maybe it’s too scared to even show up after years of being unheard, stuffed down. Or maybe it’s yelling loud and clear, but you’ve trained yourself to ignore what it has to say.
What happens when we listen to what it has to say? What does our body want? Is it what all of our body wants? What do we really want?
Yes, the answer will sometimes be “unhealthy”, but again, that might only be when we use the narrow definition of health that our diet culture has taught us. As living beings, we are wired to survive. Survival is not always that pretty, sustainable picture of health. Sometimes, something that helps us survive in the short term, is unhelpful or even harmful in the long run. That’s OK. We’re all just trying our best to get our needs met. It can get messy, it can be painful, and sometimes we just can’t get to a place where we our needs can be met. But the more we allow ourselves to trust our body, the more our body will trust that we will listen to it again.The more we allow ourselves to trust our body, the more our body will trust that we will listen to it again. Click To Tweet
So, can you eat whatever you want and still be healthy? It might not look the way that you’d expect, but the answer is a resounding yes.