To my regular readers, forgive my little “hiatus” – I was busy doing things like writing exams, finishing my undergraduate degree – yay! – and travelling to Africa all summer. Now to continue on with the series…
In honour of this new “home” for the blog, I am doing a series based on The Eating Guidelines as developed by Geneen Roth (author of “Women, Food, and God” and many other books I highly recommend).
Guideline #4: Eat What Your Body Wants (and not what your mind thinks you should want)
This is by far my favourite of all the Eating Guidelines. Eat what you want! Not what some diet says, not what your friends and family (aka the Food Police) say, not what the billboards and “fat free” yoghurt ads say, and no, not even what your inner body-critic says. Eat what you want. Whatever you want. Anything. You want it? Well you can have! (life-threatening allergies excluded, of course!)
The best way to sum up this guideline is found in the original Intuitive Eating Book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (haven’t read it? Go buy it…NOW!)
Principle #3: Make Peace with Food. Call a truce; stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt. (page 74)
So what does “unconditional permission to eat” look like?
It looks like eating whatever your body craves. With Intuitive Eating it’s important to realize that it’s not just about honouring your hunger; it’s also about honouring your cravings. Your body knows what it needs. The diet mentality has tried to convince us otherwise. The truth is, though, we can trust our bodies. Like I keep saying over and over: your body’s only goal is self-preservation. It’s instinct. We know how to feed ourselves.
So where do cravings come in? Well my definition of a “craving” is something we desire for physical, psychological, or emotional reasons (or a combination of all the above). But wait – where have we seen this list before? Oh, right, when we talk about holistic health. Get ready, because I’m about to blow every definition you’ve heard about “healthy eating” out of the water:
Healthy eating takes on the same principles as holistic health.
When we talk about what “is” or “isn’t” healthy in regards to food, we must be taking into consideration not only what is healthy for our physical selves, but for our psychological and emotional selves as well (spiritual is also often part of holistic health, but doesn’t apply as easily to food and eating).
Let me break it down for you – sometimes a salad is the healthiest thing for me to eat, and other times it is the least healthy. No one can deny vegetables are good for you. And I would be foolish to imply that. But sometimes “eating my greens” isn’t healthy. When you ask? Well when I’m eating them because I think I “should” while ignoring my true cravings. Or when I’m eating them in relation to body image issues or because I am trying to “make right” for some form of “diet crime” I feel I’ve committed.
The same goes for brownies. Sometimes eating a brownie is the healthiest thing for me because it means I have let go of the food police and my restrictive eating behaviours and am honouring my cravings. But when I’m having a bad day, I’m stressed, or feeling emotional, and I grab that bag of two-bite brownies and keep shoving them down until they’re gone and I’ve passed out into a chocolate coma? Well then they stop being such a “healthy” decision.
You see what I’m getting at? Two very different food types: salad and brownies – both healthy at times, and both unhealthy at times; it’s all about the why behind the eating, not so much the what.
So what does “unconditional permission to eat” really look like?
According to the Intuitive Eating book, unconditional eating means:
- Throwing out the preconceived notion that certain foods are “good” and others are “bad.” No one food has the power to make you fat or help you become slim.
- Eating what you really want. Yes, what you want.
- Eating without obligatory penance. (“Okay, I can have the cheesecake now, but tomorrow I diet.”) These kinds of personal food deals are not unconditional. (page 84)
Why is this important?
Embracing “unconditional eating” and honouring your cravings offers you freedom. Freedom from yourself, freedom from the food police, freedom from food-related guilt. And it opens you up to the freedom of being you, of feeding yourself, and of enjoying life without wasting it worrying about what you should or shouldn’t be eating.
Unconditional eating also, in my experience, actually helps contribute to a balanced diet. Yes, at first I ate nothing but Nanaimo Bars – seriously. Why? Because I’d been denying myself for so many years of my favourite treat – but after two weeks I was eating broccoli, then chicken strips, then salad, then pizza, then brownies, then more nanaimo bars, then pasta…you get the point. My fridge and cupboards have more variety now than they ever had. And my diet has gradually become a healthy combination of foods that are naturally “good” for my body, and foods that are good for my soul, and foods that are good for both.
My kitchen is a direct reflection of me pursuing a holistically healthy life.
Yeah, but you don’t understand – I’m not like you; if I start eating whatever I want, I will NEVER stop…
The best response for this comes from Geneen Roth in her book “Breaking Free from Emotional Eating” (another must-read):
When you let go of the struggle by allowing yourself choice about what you eat, you let go of one end of the rope on which you have been tugging and straining. When you let go of your side, the rope immediately falls to the ground. War requires at least two sides. When you decide that you will listen to yourself and not to your calorie counter or your fears, there is nothing to rebel against. There is nothing you can’t have tomorrow so there is no reason to eat it all today. (page 20)
In my personal experience, and the experiences of others I’ve talked to or read, this proves to be true.
Obviously if you have allergies or intolerances, you can’t always honour all of your cravings. However, in my experience, I’ve found I don’t often crave the things that make me sick because attached with the thought of that food, also comes the memories of how I feel afterwards. I can’t speak towards actual food allergies, though, as I don’t have any. But I do believe substitutes can always be found.
In addition, health concerns such as heart disease should be factored in to overall dietary choices (notice I didn’t say “diet choices”). Always consult a nutritionist (preferably an intuitive/mindful eating one!) before making any major changes/additions to your regular eating behaviours.
And, yes, we do need to be aware of what we put into our bodies. Constantly eating chemical-ridden food items is not as good for us overall as tending towards more natural food items; however, again there are many ways to make smart substitutes (and, no, “celery instead of chocolate bar” is not a valid substitute!) There are many “natural” versions of common snack foods – check out your local grocery store, and I bet you’ll be surprised!
The key is to not restrict. And to be smart.
As Geneen Roth says, “It’s true that eating sugar from morning to night is not a balanced diet, but then again, living in fear of yourself is not a balanced life.” (p. 35)
I hope you found this post helpful – I will be back next week with Guideline #5: Eat until you are satisfied. Happy eating!
Read last week’s post “#3 Eat Without Distractions.“