No More Diets: A Primer on Intuitive Eating
I talked last week about the importance of intuition, of listening to your body. This week, I want to talk about Intuitive Eating. Here’s the thing about intuitive eating: it is radically simple. Almost absurdly so. It is: eat what you want, stop when you’re full. And yet, it addresses everything. Intuitive eating goes against nearly everything we’ve been told about food, our body, and therefore our value. Intuitive eating is about how your body feels, never about how your body looks.
Before I keep going, there are a few truths we’re just going to have to agree on because I said so:
- All bodies are going to look and move different, even if we all ate the same things and exercised the same. Bodies are diverse and wonderful.
- Restriction leads to binging. If you tell yourself you are not allowed to eat something, you are 100 percent going to fixate on only eating that one thing. And because restriction never lasts, you’re going to binge whatever food you told yourself you couldn’t have.
- Your worth is not inversely proportional to your weight. Your worth has nothing to do with weight.
Good, we got that out of the way. The rest that follows requires you to untangle your relationship to food and exercise. What is so difficult about intuitive eating is that it feels so unemotional. We project feelings onto food, in many cases try to make ourselves smaller so that we feel more worthy of something, be it love, attention, respect. Once you start to disentangle the emotional aspects of your eating, it is easier to listen to your body, what it wants, when it’s hungry or craving something, and honor that impulse.
First things first, there are no “good” foods and “bad” foods, “good” calories and “bad”, in fact, forget calories. Calories are a measure of energy, not if you’re being “good” or “bad.” Despite wanting to seem edgy in front of your friends, you are not “bad” for getting a side of tater tots at brunch. If you want a cookie, you eat a cookie, and now you’re someone who’s happy because they just had a cookie.
What’s more, restriction is just not natural. When you reach a point of excessive hunger, you can trigger a “primal desire to overeat.” Our body is trying to keep us alive. Most of us were not made to be rail thin. It’s important to listen and honor your body when it signals that it’s hungry, and it’s important not to treat exercise as a punishment for something that you ate. Exercise because it feels good, because it gives you a endorphins, endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.
It is not easy to divorce yourself from lies we’ve been told: that we need to be thin, that thin means we’re healthy, that only thin is attractive. Beauty norms are weird. A small subset of people (read: white men) decided what other small subset of people were attractive (read: thin white women), and built media machines to propagate that idea. But that idea is a racist one, that idea is not rooted in a reality, and that idea has been used to control women and their bodies. See what I mean, intuitive eating is the most complicated simple idea. It’s complex in its simplicity precisely because it’s the idea that food should just be food. It’s that you should eat when you’re hungry, and discard notions of what you “should” look like. You should look like what you look like.
So, be grateful for your body and to your body. Because it’s yours. It’s the only one you have. Feed it, fuel it, move it. Bodies in general are pretty cool. They want to keep you alive; you don’t even have to tell them to do it. That’s why you have the primal impulse to overeat when you reach a certain level of hunger. You know why you get a fever? Because there’s an infection in your body, and the bacteria can only survive in certain temperatures. Your body heats up to kill the infection, to save you. Your body has processes to get rid of toxins (the liver!). Stop trying to work so hard against your body by not giving it enough food and not appreciating it. Also, it’s getting you through the pandemic, so if you could just be nice to it for like a second, I’m sure it’d appreciate it.