Choosing to abandon diets to try intuitive eating can lead to several very legitimate fears.
The anti-diet approach and intuitive eating differ in every respect from diets: they focus on listening to our signals and our desires and on a healthy relationship with food, whereas diets advocate restriction and control and generally disregard our food cravings and preferences. For more information, read the previous article of this blog, The anti-diet approach.
With any change comes discomfort and newness, so it’s important to take a moment to identify your blockages and then work on them. Here are my answers to the fears most often heard in consultation:
1. I feel like I'm always hungry, even after meals, so I'm afraid I'll never stop eating if I start listening to my cues!
If you’ve dieted in the past, you’ve restricted yourself for a period of time. However, food restriction can result in the cessation of sending the signal of hunger and/or satiety, because an undernourished brain reserves energy for the vital functions of the body only. If you don’t feel hungry and/or satiety and full, your body may still think it’s restricted.
Our strategy will therefore consist above all in eating enough and regularly. Your body will then understand that the starvation period is over and will start sending you clear signals again. Then, you will have to learn to listen to these signals by connecting to the sensations, textures, aromas during your meal.
You will therefore learn to regain confidence in your body and its ability to tell you how much food to eat.
2. If I indulge my cravings, I will just eat ______________ (insert your favorite forbidden foods here)!
After weeks, months, years of food control, you dread what will happen when you finally allow yourself to eat guilt-inducing foods. You imagine yourself eating donuts glazed with chocolate, a baguette fresh out of the oven, an extra-cheese poutine and a mountain of fried chicken…
Just like calorie restriction, restricting a certain type of food creates a fear of lack. When access to these is restricted, the body will want to refuel when they become available again in anticipation of the next famine.
To reduce this feeling of lack, we integrate the foods previously avoided gradually. This helps to tame them and reduce the fear of eating too much.
Yes, at first most of your cravings will probably be for foods you were avoiding, but once they are reinstated the cravings will branch out. You will then crave foods from different food groups. I have also heard several customers declare with an air of surprise that they sincerely wanted a salad. Incredible but true!
3. Following my cravings will harm my health.
The world of diets encourages all or nothing; either you succeed the diet, or you fail it, or you take care of yourself, or you harm yourself. However, what diets present as “health” is not necessarily so. Let’s take starchy foods as an example. Many diets prohibit or restrict them even though the carbohydrates they contain represent the most efficient fuel for the body, especially for the brain and muscles. Our body uses and loves starches!
Also, pleasure foods, whether cake, candy or fries, contain useful nutrients for the body. Cake, for example, contains flour (a starch!), milk (hello vitamin D, calcium and protein!) and eggs (source of protein), all ingredients that the body uses.
Rarely mentioned, but just as important, stress, including that related to diet and restriction, can harm your health. It increases the risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal disorders (such as heartburn) and diabetes, among others, and affects the quality of life in general. Reducing stress and food guilt (by taming your cravings) would therefore improve your physical and mental health.
Moreover, according to a hundred studies, intuitive eating would contribute to health. Intuitive eaters would have a more varied and satisfying diet while having a reduced risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease.
Although intuitive eating may raise some fears for you, it has a lot to offer. It will allow you to discover (or rediscover!) your signals and your desires with pleasure and serenity and will even contribute to your health in the long term.
Maude Martinez, Nutritionist, Dt.P.