Diet culture teaches us that there’s a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to eat, move and have a body, so we’re used to relating to food and body in this way. But intuitive eating is not about getting something ‘right’ or achieving some ‘perfect’ relationship with eating, movement or our body. Rather, it’s about learning and doing the best you can to meet your needs in any situation.
Every experience you have with food, movement and your body teaches you something and leaning into that learning is what intuitive eating is about. It’s not about judging the experience as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ but using it as a way to learn more about your needs, how your body expresses those needs and what types of responses work best to meet them in any given situation.
There’s a song I listen to with my kids and the refrain goes:
I’m not perfect, no I’m not
I’m not perfect, but I’ve got what I’ve got
I do my very best, I do my very best, I do my very best each day
But I’m not perfect and I hope you like me that way
I feel like this is a great song to have on repeat at all times given that we live in diet culture which constantly reinforces the idea that we should be some perfect beings who eat ‘perfect’ meals, do ‘perfect’ workouts and have ‘perfect’ bodies (thin and white, by diet culture standards).
The truth is, expecting perfection from ourselves only leads to unhappiness. No one is perfect, so pursuing perfection puts us on a never-ending quest for something unattainable. This is why diet culture pushes the idea – because no matter how ‘perfect’ our eating, movement and bodies get, it’s never enough. This traps us in the diet cycle grips and keeps us investing our time, effort and energy into their system, from which they profit.
As the song says, all we can expect is that we do our very best each day. And where diet culture tells you that there’s a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ path, intuitive eating encourages you to simply do the best you can, always with self-compassion at the forefront. Where diet culture is about learning plans, protocols and external rules, intuitive eating is about learning to listen to what your body is asking for and responding from a place of self-care, not self-control.
There will be internal cues you miss, there will be times you go too long between meals or eat until you’re physically uncomfortable and all of that is okay. Not judging yourself for any perceived ‘sins’ will do more for your well-being than trying to eat, move and look ‘perfect’ ever will. It’s incredibly freeing when we make the switch from viewing all of our decisions around food, movement and body as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to viewing them as opportunities to learn more about our needs and how to better meet them. It removes so much of the fear, anxiety and resultant shame around food and body that diet culture’s dichotomous thinking provokes.
The Bottom Line: The beauty of intuitive eating is that there is no doing it ‘wrong.’ It is a completely personal journey of learning from, listening to and reconnecting with your body and its cues in order to care for it in the best way that you can.