the eleventh part of my deep dive into intuitive eating covering what it is, how to begin to put it into practice and my take on it as a registered dietitian.
Today’s post discusses how to delve into the nutrition side of healthful eating, the tenth and final principle of Tribole and Resch’s Intuitive Eating program.
If you missed previous posts in this series, you can catch up now:
- Intuitive Eating: What Is It? – a basic overview of what the Intuitive Eating program is
- Intuitive Eating: Reject the Diet Mentality (Principle #1) – a discussion of the first principle within the Intuitive Eating program and the very important first step that needs to be taken in order to start your journey.
- Intuitive Eating: Honoring Your Hunger (Principle #2) – a conversation about the importances of listening to your body and the very real biological responses that occur when we don’t
- Intuitive Eating: Making Peace with Food (Principle #3) – discussing how to embrace this very critical step of the IE process and why it can be scary to do so
- Intuitive Eating: Challenging the Food Police (Principle #4)– covering everything from what the Food Police are to how to work on overcoming their detrimental messages.
- Intuitive Eating: Feel Your Fullness (Principle #5) – discussing ways in which we ignore our internal signals (like fullness) and ways to get back in touch with them.
- Intuitive Eating: Discover the Satisfaction Factor (Principle #6) – understanding how to tap into your true cravings and how to honor them without guilt.
- Intuitive Eating: Coping With Your Emotions Without Using Food (Principle #7) – learning to recognize when you’re using food to cope & some suggestions on how to move away from doing so.
- Intuitive Eating: Respect Your Body (Principle #8) – learning to respect the body you were given and treat it as it deserves to be treated regardless of its shape and size
- Intuitive Eating: Exercise – Feel the Difference (Principle #9) – understanding how to distinguish the difference between healthful and unhealthful exercise regimens.
And you can always find all the posts I publish in this series right here should you wish to revisit one at any point.
And just like that, we’ve made it to the final principle in the Intuitive Eating program. This principle is one many of you have asked me about throughout the course of this series. It’s one that many chronic dieters and restrictive eaters look for, since for many, rules & guidelines around food are all they know.
While there’s no debate that nutrition is an important part of both eating & health, it’s often taken and given in extremes. The idea that you need to eat a “perfect” diet in order to be healthy is a prevalent message in the media.
If you’ve been following this Intuitive Eating series, then you hopefully realize by now that this is not the case. When it comes to nutrition, our bodies are very capable of using what they get to make it work for us. This means that one meal, snack or even day of eating is not going to impact your overall health. As Tribole and Resch say, it’s “progress, not perfection that counts.”
There is nothing wrong with wanting to eat well as part of your efforts to take care of your health. However, in order to truly embrace a healthy diet, it’s critical to first establish a healthy relationship with food. If this hasn’t been established yet, any nutritional advice you try to implement has the ability to be treated like a diet.
There’s no doubt that eating well can help protect you from chronic diseases however, in our society, this has created strong feelings of guilt associated with eating which has lead to a bevy of food-related issues.
It doesn’t help that we are also constantly bombarded with media stories with extreme messages regarding nutrition which can leave you more confused than you were to start. It also doesn’t help with the ever-growing number of people developing food phobias. With documentaries especially, it can make you feel like eating a certain way can either heal or kill you making you feel unsure and distrustful of the food industry.
“Eating healthfully should feel good both physically and psychologically. But we’ve lost sight of that feeling due to the food and fat phobia that’s sweeping the country” – Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works
Tribole and Resch discuss a book by Michelle Stacey, author of Consumed: Why Americans Love, Hate and Fear Food who states that “Americans need to change their eating attitude…to a balance between information and pleasure, an educated hedging of bets” creating a balance between eating well and enjoying a healthy relationship with food.
When it comes to nutrition, the science is fairly new and thus ever-evolving. This means that not only is more information always coming out, but recommendations change as we learn more.
That said, there are a few tenets that have remained in favor over many years: variety, moderation and balance. As with most things in life, these 3 staples work well in terms of health.
In the world of dieting it’s easy to lose sight of these principles. Often variety is thrown out the window with multiple foods or even food groups off the menu and there tends to be little to no moderation or balance with many preaching total abstinence from some of our favorite foods.
This type of behavior is exactly what lead Julia Child to start something called “Resetting the American Table: Creating a New Alliance of Taste and Health” under which their principle tenet was that “in matters of taste, consider nutrition, and in matters of nutrition, consider taste.” The idea being that we remove restrictive approaches to eating thus taking guilt out of the equation leaving us free to eat according to our internal signals and preferences.
Tribole and Resch describe their “gentle nutrition” approach similarly stating that “taste is important, but health is still honored – without guilt.”
Tribole and Resch discuss in their book the importance of feeding your metabolism when it comes to healthful eating. This is probably one of the biggest challenges for individuals who have followed restrictive eating patterns for a while. They make the analysis that just as a fire needs wood to keep the fire burning, our bodies need food. A fire that is not given wood will dwindle and eventually go out. Our metabolic rate is the same way. If we’re not providing it constant fuel, it will slow down, reserve calories, hang on to fat. While the diet industry leads you to believe that less is more, that’s not really an accurate picture. Feeding our body feeds our metabolism and keeps it moving and running.
Tribole and Resch next go into what they recommend for dietary guidelines. And while what I’m going to share is very similar, it’s not exactly what they discuss, so feel free to read their book if you’re interested in their recommendations.
For me, if you’ve read this blog for long enough you know that I always recommend a mixture of grains (preferably whole grains the majority of the time, for the added fiber & nutrients), lean protein (including dairy), heart-healthy fat, fruits & vegetables. Essentially: fat, fiber, protein & flavor and I also like to add ‘preference.’
Fiber plays an important role in helping food move through the GI tract and has been shown to play a role in preventing chronic diseases, certain types of cancer, aiding in lowering blood cholesterol and managing blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Fruits and vegetables offer antioxidants and fiber both of which have been shown to provide numerous benefits, specifically with regards to cancer. Tribole and Resch state that “in almost every study looking at plant food and people…plant food is associated with lowering risk of cancer.” In addition to this, the phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables have been shown to aid in everything from increasing enzymes to rid the body of cancer-causing agents to scavenging carcinogens and preventing them from altering the body’s DNA. Tribole and Resch suggest finding ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into the diet in a way that’s enjoyable. Often diets and restrictive eating patterns can make you feel like eating these are a chore, but it doesn’t have to be! Find recipes using fruits and vegetables that sound appealing to you. If you don’t like raw vegetables, find recipes that roast them! Fold them into smoothies or smoothie bowls, eat in a way that considers both taste and nutrition.
Tribole and Resch state that protein is “highly overrated in the dieting world” and I couldn’t agree more. They say “if your body is on limited calories and not getting enough energy, it doesn’t matter how much protein you eat, the dietary protein will still be converted to energy…to build muscle, you need both adequate calories and exercise” Insert double hand emoji framing those words here because I could not have said it better myself. Eating a high protein diet does not equate to building muscle. Sure, it plays a role in building muscle, but eating a large amount of protein is not going to build muscle for you alone. Protein plays many vital roles including maintaining blood, muscle and other tissues. It has a hand in your immune system and makes up the enzymes in our bodies. However, just because something is good, doesn’t mean that more is better. Too much protein can have detrimental effects (such as leaching calcium from the bones and excreting it in the urine). While the diet industry would have us believing that we’re all very low in protein, the truth is that most Americans are getting more than they need because protein is in just about everything we eat from bread to cheese. Instead of focusing on getting more protein, work on changing up your sources – dairy products, plant-based options such as beans, tofu or seitan, seafood, eggs, even grains such as quinoa.
It’s important also to remember that, while not food, remaining appropriately hydrated is critical to good health.
So now let’s touch on the concept of “preference.” This tends to be what gets left behind in many diet plans. There’s no question that the above makes up a healthful diet. But it doesn’t leave any room for foods we might enjoy with lower nutrition value. That’s where preference comes in. There will be times when all you feel like is a milkshake and fries or cookies and chocolate. Do these offer the variety of nutrients that the foods listed above do? No. Does eating them when you crave them make you unhealthy? No.
“…if you were to eat chocolate all day long, there’s a very good chance you would experience the following physical feelings: nausea, heaviness, dullness, and so forth…the truth is, if you listen to your body, it does not feel good eating this way. Even kids exposed to gobs of Halloween candy do not want to indulge for long” –Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works
I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again – our bodies are very smart at letting us know what they need. There will always be a point in which you crave more nutrient-dense foods. Don’t be afraid to trust it and eat according to your preference. Even if you spend a week or a month craving less nutrient-dense foods, it will ultimately even out in the long run. What doesn’t work long-term, is deprivation.
In their book, Tribole and Resch recommend assessing the following questions:
- Do I really like the taste of these foods, or am I being a diet/health martyr?
- How does this food or type of meal make my body feel? Do I like this feeling?
- How do I feel when eating consistently in this manner? Do I like this feeling?
- Am I experiencing differences in my energy level?
They state that “if eating healthfully is a pleasurable experience and makes you feel better, you are more likely to continue honoring your health with your food choices.”
If you have been a long-term dieter or restrictive eater, one of the hardest parts of making the switch to allowing yourself to eat according to your internal signals and preferences, is others’ perceptions of you. There’s no doubt you’ve encountered your fair share of comments about how “you’re so healthy” or “you’re the healthy one” which means that when you eat something less regimented, you may face comments of surprise and shock. These comments can lead you to feel like you’re failing and make you want to dive right back into dieting. In those moments, take the opportunity to promote the benefits of balance and moderation, listening to your body and eating intuitively rather than letting it make you feel bad.
Making the change to enlightened hedonism (the balance between information and pleasure) takes time. Be kind with yourself, remember the tenets of good health that have stood the test of time (variety, moderation & balance) and know that one less nutrient-dense meal, day of eating or even week of eating, will not damage your healthful efforts.