By Dara Gurau
The Very Best Diet That Isn’t a Diet at all.
Last week I ate a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast. It was 7 AM and I had just finished making my kids their respective breakfasts. That leftover sweet and chewy chocolate chip cookie was exactly what I felt like eating. As I sat down and took a bite I started to think back to a time- about 15 or 20 years ago – when I never ever would have allowed myself to do this. A chocolate chip cookie was most definitely not an appropriate breakfast choice in my mind.
Like most people, I was once a dieter. Back in my university days, I thought that’s what I was supposed to do if I cared about my health and nutrition. I didn’t think of myself as being on a typical diet at the time. I was just eating ‘healthy’. I was making a ‘lifestyle change’. Yet, with all of my supposedly healthy lifestyle changes and healthy diet that I was trying to achieve, I ended up creating a list of food rules and restrictions that made eating a very anxiety-ridden experience. I would never have allowed myself a cookie for breakfast, and if I did, it would most definitely require me to eat a salad for lunch. This mentality caused me to feel a significant amount of stress and anxiety when it came to food and eating.
Fast forward to where I am now, a registered dietitian and a mom of three young girls, sitting at my kitchen table eating a cookie for breakfast because I felt like it – a picture that looks very different from the one described above.
So what changed? I found intuitive eating.
This ‘diet’ has been getting some real buzz lately, but it couldn’t be any further from what most of us think about a typical diet. Intuitive eating is an approach to food and eating that has absolutely nothing to do with diets or willpower or food rules, and everything to do with listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating was developed by two registered dietitians, Elyse Rech and Evelyn Tribole, in 1995, and is an evidenced-based, weight-inclusive framework for eating. It involves listening to your body and your hunger and fullness cues and not letting external cues like rules and restrictions guide what you eat.
We are all born intuitive eaters. As babies and young children, we eat what we want and when we are hungry and we stop when we are full. Somewhere along the line, as we grow into adults in a world filled with various restrictive diets and food rules, we lose this ability and our eating habits become guided more by rules than our own intuition.
The Ten Principles
Intuitive eating is based on ten principles to help you get back to using your own innate cues to guide what you eat, while ignoring all the external noise we hear on a daily basis. Those ten principles include:
Reject The Diet Mentality
Honour Your Hunger
Make Peace With Food
Challenge The Food Police
Respect Your Fullness
Discover The Satisfaction Factor
Honour Your Feelings Without Using Food
Respect Your Body
Exercise – Feel The Difference
Honour Your Health With Gentle Nutrition
These principles are not meant to serve as rules like you would find in your typical diet handbooks. In fact, they are simply guidelines to use as you wish, meant to help create more awareness of your internal cues and help you get back to listening to your body. With intuitive eating, you give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want and you put the trust in your body to guide what and how much you eat. No foods are off limits. Sometimes you may feel like eating a salad or sometimes a slice of cake, and you can allow yourself to eat both without labelling them as good or bad or feeling guilty about your choice in any way.
With this approach, you take the morality out of food. You let go of any ideas you have of certain foods being good or bad, and eat without feeling guilty, stressed or anxious.
What Does The Research Say?
There are over 100 research studies that show the benefits and positive health outcomes of intuitive eating. Some of these include higher self-esteem, better body image, lower cholesterol levels, improved blood pressure, lower rates of eating disorders and overall increased well being and more satisfaction with life.
We know that stress isn’t good for us, so it makes sense then that less stress surrounding food and eating – something we do multiple times daily – would be better for us as well.
What About Nutrition?
It may sound like intuitive eating is not only giving you unconditional permission to eat what you want, but unconditional permission to throw nutrition out the window. However, that could not be further from the truth.
By following intuitive eating, you are not ignoring nutrition. After all, intuitive eating was created by two dietitians and in fact, the last principle of intuitive eating is gentle nutrition. But there is a reason that it comes last. It’s critical to fix your relationship with food before you get to the last step. While nutrition is an important part of health, it is by no means the most important. Your attitude towards food, the language you use around it and the relationship you have with it is just as, if not more important than the actual food you are eating.
Gentle nutrition is about approaching food and nutrition from a place of self-care rather than self-control. It’s looking at the big picture rather than individual days and meals and paying attention to how certain foods make you feel when you eat them, rather than eating food because you think you should.
Following intuitive eating doesn’t mean eating mindlessly without thought or gorging on all the sweets in the house. It’s about waking up in the morning, just like I did last week (and every other morning), and giving yourself permission to eat any food without feeling guilty. I enjoyed my cookie that morning, but on any given day my breakfast may look a little different. Or maybe it won’t. And no matter what I choose to eat -with intuitive eating – I have the permission to listen to my body, eat what I want, and nourish my body in a way that feels good to me.