[content_box color=”#5f968e”] This is the fifth in a series of posts on adapting intuitive eating for a chronic condition. I would like to acknowledge that I personally don’t have a chronic condition, and am open to learning from the lived experiences of those who do. Please leave your feedback by commenting below, or by sending me a private message.
Other posts in this series include:
Principle #1: Reject the Diet Mentality
Principles #2 & #5: Honour Your Hunger and Feel Your Fullness
Principle #3: Make Peace with Food
Principle #4: Challenge the Food Police
Principle #7: Honour Your Feelings without Food
Principle #8: Respect Your Body
Principles #9 & #10: Exercise – Feel the Difference & Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
This might seem like just another principle, but Intuitive Eating co-authors Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole consider satisfaction the “hub” of intuitive eating, in that every principle is really about helping people get the most satisfaction from food and eating.
For some, the idea that food should be satisfying and pleasurable is a, “Well, duh.” kind of statement, but for others, it can actually be pretty revolutionary and controversial—perhaps even more so when you have a chronic condition.
Who’s Afraid of Satisfaction?
It might seem silly that there are people out there who don’t want food to be satisfying, but it’s actually a very common belief when it comes to food and health. For example, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “If it tastes good, it can’t be good for you.” Desserts are often described as “decadent” or “sinful”, while lower calorie/fat/sugar versions are labelled “guilt-free”, as though the fact that there’s less somehow makes it better.
When you have a chronic condition, you’re expected to double down on these rules in the name of “health” and “self-care”. People with diabetes are told that they can’t have sugar or carbs, while people with high blood pressure are told that they can’t eat salt. Sure, there’s the “80/20 Rule”, but the message is clear: It’s not about how you feel, it’s about sticking to the formula.
The Problem With Food Rules
The idea that eating a certain way can help improve your chronic condition makes sense in theory, but it’s actually a really myopic view of food and health. Eating food is more complex than taking medication, and taking care of your health is so much more than managing your condition.
Not considering our needs for pleasure and satisfaction in eating is actually a form of deprivation. We all know what happens when we tell ourselves that we can’t have something—we only want it more. The sneaky thing with diet culture, however, is that when we inevitably eat what we truly crave, we don’t blame the deprivation and restriction, we blame ourselves for being “weak” or “lacking willpower”. As a result, we tell ourselves that we need more rules and more discipline, and we’re stuck going round and round in the diet-binge cycle instead of actually taking care of our health.
How Can I Be Healthy If I’m Eating What I Really Want?
Despite being aware of the harms of deprivation, it can still be hard to wrap your head around the idea that you can manage your chronic condition while eating foods that are pleasurable and satisfying. You might be thinking, “Maybe that’d work if I craved vegetables, but all I ever crave is pizza and cake.” Or, “This might work if I was healthy, but my condition forces me to watch what I eat.”
First, I invite you to consider what “health” means to you. Additionally, what makes health so important? What happens if we’re unhealthy? I explore these concepts a little further in this blog post.
Next, I think it’s helpful to remember that eating is more than just satisfying our taste buds. How do certain foods or meals feel in the rest of your body? Sure, cake is amazing, but if eating it all the time means that it messes with your blood sugars, triggers your chronic pain, or gives you an upset stomach, can we really say that it is truly satisfying?
This is a point where people often get tripped up with intuitive eating, because sometimes what we truly want can resemble dieting. It is possible to eat vegetables, drink water, and exercise without being on a diet; dieting doesn’t own these behaviours. The difference lies in the intention: Are you choosing to do this because of self-care? Or because you’re trying to “be good” by following an external rule?
Finally, intuitive eating is a practice, not a destination. The first principle is to reject the diet mentality not only because of the focus on weight, but also because of the focus on perfection, or the idea that there is a “right” way to eat. You’re not going to feel perfectly satisfied 100% of the time, just as you’re not going to be able to manage your chronic condition perfectly 100% of the time. Rather, it’s about being open to exploring, making mistakes, and striking a balance that is uniquely your own.