As someone who identifies as an intuitive eater and a Holistic Nutritionist, I have struggled with the idea that the two cannot exist together. Can you be a healthy intuitive eater? If you are immersed in the anti-diet culture and involved in the intuitive eating space, I am sure you have come across numerous posts that talk about eating whatever you want followed by pictures of candy and anything else not labeled as “healthy.” So if I happen not to partake in a lot of this food, does that also mean that I am still immersed in diet culture in some way? I don’t think so, but it can be really confusing to talk about intuitive eating and then only show pictures of smoothie bowls, salads and healthy desserts. So can you be a healthy intuitive eater? Let’s discuss…
What is Intuitive Eating?
Let’s start with what is intuitive eating exactly. Put in the most basic way possible, it is eating foods you want to eat when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. Of course, there is much more to it than this and I would encourage you to buy the Intuitive Eating book and workbook if you want to read more about it, it really is life changing!
To me, intuitive eating is all about embracing foods, repairing your relationship to food and listening to your body, you can read more about how to eat intuitively here. For a long time, I did not know how to do this. I restricted foods, then would binge on things later, feel guilty and then start all over again. It was a vicious cycle that never seemed to get much better. When I really got into healthy foods and cooking in 2012, I fell hard! You can read about that here. When I graduated from school in 2015, I was still very much restrictive with some foods and embraced the “clean eating” industry wholeheartedly. But, after a while, I began to notice that my relationship with food was so toxic and in turn so was the relationship I had with myself. I was not eating intuitively, rather I was eating what I thought I should be eating, ticking off all the nutrition boxes but yet I was still so unsatisfied. What the hell was wrong with me, I often wondered?
Anxiety Around Food:
I experienced anxiety around food which in turn created the worst digestive issues. So, naturally I tried paleo, keto (for like a day), gluten free, grain free, sugar free and nothing worked. It seemed that no matter what I eliminated, those digestive issues were still there. It wasn’t until I repaired my relationship with food that the bloating finally stopped (and everything made me bloated prior to this). For me, all those digestive issues were directly related to my own food issues and poor self image and self worth. When I discovered intuitive eating, I truly discovered a different way to live, look at myself and yes the way I look at food too.
Embracing Intuitive Eating:
When I first embraced intuitive eating, I ate ALL THE THINGS. I can’t tell you how freeing it was to go out to a restaurant, not have to worry about what was on the menu and just order what I wanted. I was also cooking up whatever I wanted too. I still chose quality ingredients and food as those are things that are very important to me, but there was so much freedom. Truly, I’ll never go back to the way I was, EVER.
So can you be an intuitive eater and still eat healthy?
It really should be an easy answer (hint, the answer is YES!), but it is truly something that I wasn’t sure how to balance at first. Because those initial first months of IE were filled with a lot of foods that I had considered “bad” previously, I thought I would never crave a gluten free pizza again. The truth is, I still crave a lot of healthy foods. They make me feel good whereas lots of sugar doesn’t. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever have dessert when I am out, because I do. But, generally I don’t crave them because I find them too sweet.
The other difference is that I don’t fear white sugar or bread to the point that if it was the only option, I would choose to starve rather than eat the food. I don’t fear what having sugar will do to my body. What I’ve noticed (particularly on Instagram) is that a lot of IE bloggers/nutritionists/RD’s all promote eating candy, or sweets and they often times tend to call out others for choosing not to eat these things or include them on their feed. They will often say that by only showing healthy foods or eating healthy foods that this means you are not an intuitive eater or you are orthorexic. I don’t agree with this at all. One can still choose healthy foods and be an intuitive eater. I do intuitively crave lots of healthy things like smoothies, salads and green juice. Sometimes, I crave burgers, pizza or chocolate. I don’t choose to frequent fast food places or buy a lot of processed foods because I don’t agree with them from an ethical point of view, nor do I think they taste great. I don’t fear them, I just don’t want them. This is the BIG difference!
A Healthy Intuitive Eater:
I think that I have finally found that happy balance when it comes to food, health and my relationship to it and I would happily call myself a healthy intuitive eater. If I do eat something that isn’t considered “healthy” it’s all good, I don’t think twice about it or punish myself for it by making up for it with a workout or food restriction. It just simply is. The fear that certain foods had over me is gone and I am left not stressing about how a meal is going to affect me. I know that if I am on vacation and indulge in gelato, wine and pizza its all good. I don’t stress about it, try to make up for it or feel guilty. This has taken a long time, lots of work and an incredible amount of self love and respect. It was not easy, but is anything this amazing ever really easy?
I want to know your thoughts on this? Do you identify as a healthy intuitive eater? Do you think its possible to still eat healthy and also eat intuitively?