If you’ve ever been on a diet (or, a few dozen of them), you’ve been told in some way or another that you can’t be trusted around food. Even if you’ve never followed a strict or rigid diet, wellness culture and the media have convinced us that we need rules and rigidity around food in order to be “healthy”. This is not only presenting a very narrow definition of health, it’s also taking away our autonomy with food, wellness, and nutrition!
The truth is that, under many circumstances*, we can trust our bodies and minds to seek nourishment, energy, and nutrients. And when we trust our bodies to make those choices, it’s true and normal that “healthy” eating won’t look the same for all of us. And “healthy” eating certainly can’t be defined by any one seemingly perfect diet.
You have the power within you to nourish your body with foods you love, foods that are culturally important to you, and food experience that foster a connection to your community. It is possible to allow yourself that autonomy, and still pursue health in whatever way it feels healthy to you.
Here, I’ll share three tips for getting back to that power within you—getting back to trusting yourself and your body to find nourishment, satisfaction, and your individual definition of health.
- Practice paying attention to your hunger!
Our body gives us a variety of signs that it needs nourishment. Many diets and wellness plans offer very low-calorie recommendations, and imply that hunger should be ignored or numbed. Let’s try a different route: respecting what our body needs! Hunger cues may include (but are not limited to) thoughts about food, a feeling of emptiness in your stomach, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, irritability, and/or a food craving. When you notice any of these things, practice responding to that with a meal or snack, instead of trying to stave it off!
- Try responding to your cravings!
Diets teach us to fear our cravings, that they are “wrong” and should be ignored or staved off with something “healthier”. There’s no right or wrong way to respond to your individual cravings, and we may not always have access to the exact thing we want! But, I encourage you to try responding to cravings when you are able to, and enjoying that sense of satisfaction! Instead of constantly picking a meal or snack based on whether or not it seems “healthy”, try thinking of what sounds good to you, based on what you have access to. (Chances are, when we ignore a craving or try to stave it off with something else that seems “healthier”, the craving comes back anyway!)
- See how it feels to eat without numbers.
We are not robots! I say this over and over again to my clients. We have unique energy and nutrient needs that can’t be calculated exactly by any equation or range of macros. Your body knows how to get what it needs when we get used to listening to it (see above: hunger and cravings)! Sometimes numbers may be helpful tools, but we don’t need to rely on tracking our intake, calories or macros in order to meet our body’s needs every day. When we rely on those numbers, we make it harder for our intuition (see: hunger cues, cravings, and fullness cues) to be heard.
For many reasons, it may be helpful to seek support from a non-diet dietitian as you start this process. We learn a lot about ourselves when we uncover why we don’t feel safe around foods, or why we turn to diets for a sense of control, safety, and/or health. I encourage you to seek support and guidance from a professional in any way that feels safe and/or accessible to you!
Tell me in the comments:
How does it feel to think about using that power within you to nourish yourself, without a diet or rigid food rules?
If you do this already, leave a comment sharing what helped you along the way!
*A note: I practice as a non-diet dietitian, and part of that work is understanding various social determinants of health and systems of oppression, which have a much larger impact on our health than what we eat every day (and, of course, affect what foods are accessible and to whom). Additionally, some people do experience chronic medical conditions that impede their hunger and fullness eating cues. A non-diet approach is still available to any of the above, but will look different than it may for someone with consistent food access, financial security, and societal privileges.