What Is Healthy Eating? Talking About Mindfulness and Intuitive Eating
“No matter what has happened to that body of yours between the day you were born, beautiful and perfect, and the day you read this, your body is still beautiful and perfect. And it is still full of needs.” —Nagoski and Nagoski
At BPAR, we are focused on mind-body health and how changing your thinking can lead to a healthier life. Shame and a want for control can contribute to unhealthy eating habits or even disordered eating. This blog will focus on how to change your thoughts about food to end cycles of shame, guilt, and feeling bad about your body—already a common theme in our work. This is not surprising, given how our culture has created an intense amount of pressure on women and men to have unrealistically skinny bodies.
Many of our clients have experienced complex trauma, which can make it difficult for them to be in tune with their bodies. Practicing mindfulness in general can be helpful to re-ground in the present and build self-compassion and self-acceptance.
This blog is for everyone, including professionals, to help us change the way we think about eating, food, and our bodies, and to be more equipped to meet our body’s wants and needs.
Intuitive Eating, a newer movement in the mental health and nutrition fields, came to the forefront when two dieticians/nutritionists published Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works in 1995. Authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch found that their clients’ negative thinking about their eating habits was a huge barrier to overall health and a major contributor to disordered eating. Negative thoughts included black-or-white thinking and rigidity, which led them to feel out of control and bad about themselves.
Intuitive eating helps us learn to identify our bodies’ wants and needs. The concept begins with ten principles, summarized here. We recommend that you check out the workbook or even a blog to learn more (see resources below).
1. Reject the diet mentality.
Our society encourages thinness and a body shape that is unrealistic for most women (and men!). The system of dieting is a set-up for failure. Acknowledging this and rejecting the diet mentality is crucial to embarking on an Intuitive Eating path.
2. Honor your hunger.
Honor biological hunger signs to avoid excessive hunger. When our bodies are starved, it is nearly impossible to eat moderately or with intention.
3. Make peace with the food.
Allow yourself to have forbidden foods and eliminate any “off-limit” foods. Intuitive Eating founders discovered that this helped erase guilt, shame, and the over-eating patterns that occur when we deprive ourselves of food that we label as “bad.”
4. Challenge the food police.
Work to identify and not buy into the food rules and old narratives in your mind. Get away from black-or-white thinking and replace “should” and “need to” with “can,” “is okay,” and “may” to increase self-permissive statements. Work on process thinking to focus less on an end goal (i.e. lose weight for an event!) and focus more on continual learning and change.
5. Feel your fullness.
Try to measure how full you feel on a scale of 1–10. Tell yourself you can eat again whenever you are hungry, and honor that.
6. Discover the satisfaction factor.
Try to find your “perfect bite” and savor it. Eat what you crave.
7. Cope with emotions without relying on food.
When we are stressed, sometimes it’s okay to soothe ourselves by eating, but it’s important to identify other ways to cope as well. It’s less about the eating and more about building enough awareness to slow down: Am I really hungry? What am I feeling? What do I need right now?
8. Respect your body.*
Focus on your body’s strengths, including what your body has been through, viewing it as a warrior or survivor and building on strengths. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Find internal validation and avoid external cues.
When you are active, focus on how you feel, not on burning calories. Watch for boosts in your energy or mood as opposed to feeling that you have to work out to lose weight or because of something you ate.
10. Honor your health and nutrition.
Eat healthfully by honoring the nutrients that your body needs, without stress but with an educational view and the knowledge that “progress, not perfection, is what counts.” The book discussed the rule of 90–10 ( I have heard functional nutritionists also refer to this as 80–20), where you eat healthfully most of the time while incorporating “play foods” 20% of the time.
*Nagoski & Nagoksi talk in different ways about the need for acceptance and introduce the idea of “The New Hotness” as a way to accept our body as it is, redefining the idea of how we view healthy bodies. They also encouraged mindfulness in embracing the storm of emotions that arise around one’s body image and diet. None of us will get it right all the time.
As Covid restrictions end and we emerge from an online, head-and-shoulders view to full-body scrutiny, we anticipate even more anxiety and body shaming than ever. We hope that this blog can be helpful to you in your journey with learning to love and honor your body.
Please look forward to more posts focusing on holistic health in the future from BPAR!
Written by KC Craig, LICSW
Boston Post Adoption Resources
Other Resources on Mindfulness In Eating and a Healthy Body Image
Other similar resources around mindfulness with eating and incorporating healthy body image include:
Mindful Eating: Mindful eating in general allows individuals to:
- Become more in tune with our body’s cues when eating.
- Become more in tune with our body’s hunger signals.
- Develop healthy meal habits.
- Be more in tune with what is motivating us.
- Notice how food makes us feel.
- Change our relationship with food.
Satter Eating Competence Model: This research-based model helps take the guilt and shame out of eating. Eating can be joyful. People can learn to trust themselves and their bodies including their hunger drive. Research shows that this allows people to provide themselves the nutrients that they need, including from an early age! The evidence-based Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter) includes:
- Feel positive about your eating.
- Be reliable about feeding yourself.
- Eat food you enjoy.
- Eat as much as you are hungry for.
Intuitive Eating Resources:
- Podcast: “How to Love Your Body” hosted by intuitive eating counselors Jenna Free and Lauren McAulay
- Book and workbook: Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
(P.S. Buy the book or the workbook! Link here)
- Documentary: “Behind the Before and After“, a non-diet, intuitive eating and body image documentary
- Website: Satter Eating Competence Model (ecSatter)
- Video: “What Is Intuitive Eating & How to Start“, a short video explaining intuitive eating and how to get started
- Book: Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski