Written by Julie Ohlemacher,
certified intuitive eating + body image coach
“How many times have you been at that party, not truly present, because mentally, you’re fighting an internal battle over the cheese plate?”
I spent the first 20 years of my life living according to the cultural norms of health. I’d stress over calories in, calories out. I’d weigh myself regularly. I’d go to the gym. I thought I was being “good.” I thought I was doing everything “right.” I even became a fitness instructor and personal trainer in college, known as the girl on campus who was always at the rec center.
And while, to the world I was the picture of health and fitness, the reality was that I was dysmorphic and disordered.
We’re sold the idea from the youngest of ages that health has a look and a size. We’re taught to treat our bodies like machines, as if we all need the exact same amount of calories and the workouts day after day. Most of us struggle trying to achieve this ideal of ‘health’ and ‘wellbeing.’ We beat ourselves up over calories consumed and workouts missed.
Unfortunately, it’s that rigid definition of health that keeps us from it. Not to mention, diets don’t work, period. 98% of people regain the weight they lose from a diet, and 60% regain more than they started with.
As a certified intuitive eating counselor and health coach, I have good news: there’s another way to honor your health and wellbeing that actually works. And, it’s the complete *opposite* of dieting.
I’ve spent the past four years helping women make peace with food, so that they can reclaim their health, and more importantly, their lives.
Because here’s the truth: constant stress over calories or points or macros keeps us distracted from our lives.
How many times have you been at that party, not truly present, because mentally, you’re fighting an internal battle over the cheese plate?
How about that time your friend calls you up to go out to dinner on a spontaneous Tuesday, and you begin battling ‘to go, or not to go’ based on your exercise or meal plan?
How about weddings and holidays? How many times have they been loaded with guilt instead of joy due to the buffet, cake, cookies, and mashed potatoes?
If you’re reading this nodding your head, you’re not alone. That was me, for years, too. And it’s most everyone.
The answer lies with the concept of Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based process created by dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole in 1995. It helps us reconnect with our bodies’ internal cues and make peace with food so that health and wellbeing can be more easily attainable. This isn’t a new phenomenon! Since its inception, over 100 studies have continued proving the benefits of Intuitive Eating.
Christy Harrison, MPH, RD and author of Anti-Diet found that Intuitive Eaters, who don’t have any forbidden foods, experience an impressive array of positive health outcomes, including:
- lower cardiovascular risk
- decreased triglyceride levels
- more favorable levels of HDL cholesterol
- lower rates of disordered eating
- less likelihood of feeling out of control with food
- less food-related anxiety
- less internalization of the thin ideal
- lower levels of body dissatisfaction and shame
- greater enjoyment of food
- increased body appreciation
- less self-silencing behavior
- higher sensitivity to their own internal states
- higher levels of self-compassion
- greater life satisfaction
- more proactive coping skills
- better self-esteem
Think about it this way: dieting is stressful. And stress is a known risk factor for many diseases. Not to mention, studies show us how damaging dieting is on the physical body, creating even more stress.
So, simply put, take out that big daily stressor, and, well, we’re *way* less stressed! And when we’re less stressed, our health improves.
Furthermore, when we make peace with food, we become empowered to decide what we want and how much we want to eat based on what makes us feel good. Intuitively, our bodies want to feel good! But when we have rigid rules and morality attached to food, our inner rebel will come out, and thus, leave us feeling powerless. (That’s why we eat the entire bag of chips!)
So now the question becomes, how do I make peace with food? How do I begin my intuitive eating journey?
Here are 3 things you can do to get started right now.
01 / Learn the facts about dieting. Knowledge = power.
The foundational principle of intuitive eating (there are 10 principles) is to reject the diet mentality. This is crucial so that you have the knowledge you need to know WHY you’re leaving the dieting and the food rules in the dust. Without this foundational step, you’re likely not going to get very far in your journey. A friend will start a diet, and you’ll be tempted to join her. But armed with the knowledge of how all diets fail, you’ll stay grounded in your intuitive eating journey.
How can you do this? Here are a few resources:
- My free masterclass (it’s less than 60-minutes and will blow your mind!)
- Christy Harrison’s book, Anti-Diet is one of my favorite resources
- This academic article packs a punch!
02 / Begin to mentally neutralize all foods. Take the morality out of your food choices!
What does this mean? It means we need to start seeing all food as just food. For instance, donuts and kale are both just food. Neither one makes us better or worse people. You’re not an angel for eating kale or a devil for eating a donut.
Yes, we know that kale has more nutrients than a donut, but both provide us with nutrition, period. Yes, even a donut gives us carbs and fat, which we need to survive!
The more we are able to see all food as just being food, we become more and more empowered to choose what, when, and how much of said food we want to eat.
Remember: restriction leads to rebellion. When we have full-permission to eat the donut, we actually regain empowerment. Do I even want the donut*? Maybe yes! And if so, we eat it, sans guilt and stress, enjoy it, are satisfied and move on with our day. But also, maybe we don’t want the donut! At which point, we just don’t eat the donut, again, sans any stress.
*Note: I was a person who thought it was impossible to not want a donut. If there was a box in front of me, I’d want 5. When I made peace with food, I realized I don’t actually want donuts very often! But when I do, oh boy do I savor and enjoy that donut!
Detach morality from your daily meals. A mantra I love is, “food is just food, I’m allowed to eat that.”
03 / Begin to eat foods you once said were ‘off-limits.’
If you’re allergic or know you have a really gnarly physical response to a food, then please, don’t eat it! As we say in the intuitive eating world, “you’re the expert on you.”
But let’s say you’ve always said chips are off-limits just because… diet culture.
Go buy a bag. Begin to expose yourself to chips regularly. Notice the experience, the taste, the texture. Be present with the chips (yes, I really did just write that!) Slow down. Savor them. Give yourself that full-permission to eat the chips.
Soon, over time, the more you’ve exposed yourself to chips, (or whatever food), the more you’ll make peace with said food.
Soon, you’ll be able to keep chips in the house no problem, and enjoy them when they sound good!
Now, my friend, this is a *process* — and if I’m being honest with you? It’s hard to do alone. There can be so much confusion with intuitive eating, so many misunderstandings, so many fears — it’s simply hard to do alone.
That’s why I’d also suggest a fourth step: get support!
I have a wonderful coaching program and community called the Intuitive Body Blueprint, where I guide you through the principles of intuitive eating step-by-step. We even do a specific, guided exercise all around making peace with food that is a true game-changer. You get intimate support in our private Facebook community and monthly live coaching calls. And because you’re reading this article I’m offering you a special deal of 25% off if you join us by October 21, 2021!
Bottom line is this: when we’re empowered in our food choices, we end up making choices that feel good to us.
We’ll end up enjoying those spontaneous meals out with friends, savoring your holiday favorites, and enjoying things like salads, fruits, veggies on the regular. Your food stress will go by the wayside, and you’ll start feeling more connected to your body and to yourself. You’ll feel more present in your every day, more energized, and ready to take on whatever comes your way.
Now you may be thinking: what about exercise? How does that fit into this new picture of health? Join me next week to continue the discussion right here on the Seasons Journal Blog!
Julie Ohlemacher is a certified intuitive eating and body image coach. Her mission is to empower women to live their biggest, boldest, most authentic lives. She does this by helping them heal their relationship with food, body, exercise and self. Through her health coaching, she provides women with the right system, support, and accountability to help them make permanent—and healthy—transformations, freeing them from the cyclical diet culture.