I love the Paleo style of eating. Meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, fats - what's not to love? These cover all of my favorite food groups.
However, a huge problem that has become increasingly blatant to me in the real food-sphere is the tendency to throw intuitive eating out the window and instead follow militant food guidelines for the sake of "health".
I am as guilty as anyone else; when I first switched over to a paleo-style template, I created hard and fast rules that never allowed me to eat grains of any kind, or dairy, or anything but the highest quality cuts of meat. I also focused on meats and veggies so much that I actually started to fear carbs and worried that my beloved fruit had 'too much sugar'.
My biggest problem with the Paleo Diet is that we have abandoned the idea of using it as a 'template' of the most nutritious foods to choose from; and turned it into a set of strict rules intertwined with feelings of morality and judgement.
(I believe this can be said about ANY diet, i’m just picking on paleo because it’s closest to what I follow and recommend :) )
Just like nearly everything in western culture, we think it must be taken to an extreme in order to be effective. This black and white thinking about whether something is or is not "paleo", is what keeps people trapped in the ‘diet-mentality’ and leaves us feeling guilty for “falling off the wagon” because we ate a gluten-filled chocolate chip cookie.
I have noticed this trend in my work with clients, as well as with other bloggers and people on social media. Someone begins eating paleo innocently enough as a way to focus more on quality of food and nutrition, and suddenly becomes wrapped up in a sea of unnecessary food restrictions and "righteous eating".
What if we could eat what we wanted, when we wanted it, in a healthful way, devoid of feelings of guilt or restriction? (hint: we can)
Enter: Intuitive Eating
What is Intuitive Eating? from this website:
"Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body--where you ultimately become the expert of your own body. You learn how to distinguish between physical and emotional feelings, and gain a sense of body wisdom. It's also a process of making peace with food---so that you no longer have constant "food worry" thoughts. It's knowing that your health and your worth as a person do not change, because you ate a food that you had labeled as 'bad' or 'fattening'".
In simple terms, intuitive eating is identifying hunger cues and satisfying them with the food that your body is truly craving, and then moving on with your life.
To someone who has never had a fucked up relationship to food or body image, this probably sounds like what you do on a daily basis, every time you eat.
For those of us who have years of dieting and body image issues under our belt, eating intuitively can sound daunting and extremely challenging.
Here are the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating: (from the book, Intuitive Eating)
1. Reject the Diet Mentality - Clear out any diet books, “fitness” magazines or social media accounts from your life that provide you with the idea that ‘X' new diet will be the solution to all of life’s problems. Beware of the ‘Leanness Fantasy’
2. Honor Your Hunger - Make sure to eat adequate meals at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the day. When starvation is perceived, our bodies are biologically programmed to overeat once the next meal comes. This is why low-calorie diets are destined to backfire; and has nothing to do with willpower; bingeing or overeating after a period of scarcity is simply a biological response to ensure your survival.
3. Make Peace with Food - Give yourself permission to eat whatever you want (assuming you have no allergies or sensitivities). Telling yourself that certain foods are “off limits” or “bad” will only lead to feelings of deprivation and result in overwhelming guilt once you finally give in to said food.
4. Challenge the Food Police - Learn to identify the beliefs you have around certain off-limits foods or ways eating. Do you avoid eating until noon because you aren’t hungry, or because some internet guru told you that was the best way to burn fat? Identify and challenge the beliefs you have around food that are contradictory to how you feel intuitively.
5. Respect your fullness - Pause mid-meal to ask yourself your current level of fullness. Begin to identify signals from your body that indicate you are no longer hungry, such as physical fullness or food not tasting as satisfied as when you first started eating.
6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor - Find pleasure in the food you are eating! Eating what your body is craving, in a calm and relaxed environment is one of the most powerful ways to feel satisfied and content after a meal. Alternately, imagine a time when you have rushed home to eat frantically in front of the TV. It doesn’t really matter what the food was that you ate, but it is very likely that you were left feeling unsatisfied, snacky, and looking for something else to eat afterwards.
7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food - Loneliness, boredom, anxiety and anger are all emotions that will arise at some point in our lives. Finding ways to cope and resolve these emotions without using food is paramount. Food may provide comfort or distraction in the short term, but will most likely make you feel worse in the long run when you have to deal with the discomfort of overeating in addition to the difficult emotion.
8. Respect Your Body - Learn to accept that every single person has a different body size and shape. Respect your body as it is right now, even if you want to change it. Rejecting the ‘diet’ mentality is nearly impossible if you have unrealistic goals and expectations about your body shape.
9. Exercise - Forget exercising as a way to “burn calories” and shift to focusing on how it feels to move and be active. Do you feel stronger, more energized? These are long term motivators of exercise that will ensure it becomes a lifelong habit, rather than exercising as punishment or for aesthetic goals.
10. Honor Your Health - Choose foods that are health promoting and make you feel optimally. Many people are under the impression that eating intuitively and removing food rules will send them into a downward spiral of doughnuts and pizza rolls for the rest of their life. Let’s say you do crave doughnuts and pizza rolls as your first 'intuitive eating' meal. Assuming you ate slowly and stopped when you were satisfied, the craving would then be gone and you could go on with the rest of your day. More than likely, by the time your next meal came around, you would be in the mood for something a bit lighter and more nutrient dense. Surprisingly, “giving in” to cravings can actually have a positive effect on your weight as well as your mindset. This allows you to consume the food that you want in a reasonable portion, instead of stewing over the thought of it for months and months only to result in a binge.
Obviously, eating intuitively with food allergies or intolerances can be a little more tricky, although still doable. Check out this blog post for more information!
Tell me: Do you eat strict paleo? Do you find yourself feeling restricted or “guilty” around certain foods? What are your thoughts on intuitive eating?