You’d know if you were on a diet, right?
I used to think of myself as someone who’s never been on a diet, and yet, I ended up with a dysfunctional relationship with food. Turns out, my secret diet was the culprit.
Part of becoming an intuitive eater is learning how to get rid of your inner “food police.” If you’ve been on a well defined diet, diet thoughts are easy to detect.
For example: If you think to yourself, “I shouldn’t eat that. It’s too many points.” then you know that your inner food police are speaking the language of Weight Watchers. In time, you can get rid of those types of thoughts by gently reminding yourself that you’re not following that diet anymore.
Secret diet thoughts are a lot trickier to identify and get rid of, because we don’t recognize them for what they are. We either don’t notice them at all, or we believe them to be simple facts about eating or nutrition.
At my worst, I had so many internal guidelines about what, when, and how to eat that my head was spinning and my body was undernourished. Intuitive eating fixed that pretty quickly, but then I moved into what I think of as the “sleeper phase” of intuitive eating.
In the sleeper phase, all of the major fires have been put out, binges are gone, and listening to the body’s inner wisdom has become a habit. Overall, things are pretty stable, but there are still some lingering secret diet thoughts. If they aren’t dealt with, they interfere with intuitive eating.
Case Study: The Saga of the English Muffin
Awhile back I found myself craving english muffins for breakfast. My initial reaction was, “Bad idea! Gluten! Refined carbs!” Then I quickly reminded myself that I’m not gluten intolerant, and I need a certain amount of carbs to feel full, satisfied, and emotionally stable. Problem solved, right?
Nope. I decided I could try it out, but I would need to add protein (scrambled eggs) and vegetables (sauteed spinach) to make it a balanced meal.
Unfortunately, if I’m being honest with myself, I really don’t like the way sauteed spinach squeaks against my teeth when I chew it, and I’m only sometimes in the mood for scrambled eggs.
If I’m being really honest with myself, I know that my true desire is to eat the english muffin halved, toasted, and with as much butter as it can possibly hold.
So I knew that I had to put aside my vision of the perfect breakfast sandwich and experiment to figure out the truth. To do this I would need to give myself full permission to eat whatever I felt like, with no interference from the food police.
- On some mornings, eating just the buttered muffin kept me satisfied until lunch.
- Sometimes I enjoy fruit on the side, but thinking that I should have fruit makes me not want it anymore.
- Sometimes I don’t want an english muffin even when I give myself full permission.
- When it doesn’t keep me full for long I can have an early lunch, which works fine for me.
One thing we tend to forget about eating is that every meal doesn’t need to be perfectly balanced. If you have a meal that is missing some needed nutrients, your body will let you know, but you can only hear wisdom of your body when you’ve truly let go of each and every secret diet rule.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re eating intuitively and yet your body is still betraying you by craving unhealthy food, but your body is not the problem. Your belief that certain foods or ways of eating are unhealthy is the real problem.
I don’t mean to minimize the issue. Seeing all foods as neutral until your body tells you otherwise is a major challenge in American culture. Everywhere you turn someone is trying to tell you what and how you should be eating.
Still, letting go of your inner food police and your secret diet is the only way to find peace with food.
Intuitive eating newbies: start by practicing listening to your body until you’re able to build some trust. If you’ve been practicing awhile, take it to the next level by examining the places where your relationship with food is still a little rocky. See if you can identify any inner voices telling you that you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat a certain way, and see what happens when you challenge them.
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