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Our Ask an Expert Column allows you to submit your questions anonymously to our panel of health professionals. To submit a question of your own, visit liberomagazine.com/ask
How do you maintain “healthy eating” and nutritional balance post-eating disorder recovery? More specifically, how do you find balance between eating intuitively and not engaging in food guilt or shame while still being conscious of the quality of food you are eating and the general nutritional balance within your day-to-day diet? -L
This is a great question! When individuals in recovery begin to eat intuitively, I have found it can be quite a tricky process for a variety of reasons.
I do want to point out that at the very core of intuitive/mindful eating is the fact that you can completely trust your body to tell you when you need. Eating intuitively means that guilt/shame is not associated with eating and one is able to still honour their health.
I think sometimes it’s forgotten that intuitive eating and “healthy” eating are one in the same and that to eat intuitively doesn’t mean pushing healthy to the wayside.
Intuitive eating and “healthy eating” are one in the same.
Let’s first define what “healthy eating” is because there are a ton of misconceptions about this.
Healthy eating is eating a wide variety of foods most days (including fruit/veggies, proteins, grains, fat, dairy, and fun foods), honoring your hunger and fullness most of the time, eating mindfully (aka tasting and enjoying food) when you can, and recognizing what foods make you feel satisfied and full most of the time.
The key here is “most of the time.”
It’s so important to recognize that sometimes you might eat past the point of being full (not driven by ED). Sometimes you might delay a meal for whatever reason (not driven by ED) even though you’re hungry. Sometimes you might not eat any fruits and veggies one day. Sometimes you might need to eat your breakfast in the car on the way to work because you’re running late and just can’t sit at the table and eat (I may or may not be speaking from experience!).
It’s important to keep in mind that “healthy eating” is very flexible, means different things for different people, and may mean something different for the same person depending on the day.
“Healthy eating” is flexible and means different things for different people.
This relates to the concept of the 10th principle of intuitive eating from the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elise Resch, which is “Honour your health with gentle nutrition.”
I would actually encourage you to read this book because it will offer tons of insight into intuitive eating.
In order to truly be able to “honour your health with gentle nutrition,” it’s important you have done the work to accept that we cannot control the size of our bodies. This is key! Because, if this work has not yet been done, then there is that possibility of food choices being driven by wanting to control weight/size instead of intuition.
It’s important you have done the work to accept that we cannot control the size of our bodies.
The next important idea to keep in mind is all foods are on an even playing field.
By working to put foods on this “even playing field,” the guilt often associated with certain foods starts to dissipate. Each food offers something to nourish us. For example, apples aren’t any healthier than potato chips. You can’t really compare these because they offer completely different things! For example, you may need an apple when you want something refreshing/juicy. You may need potato chips when you want something salty/ savoury.
The next part of “gentle nutrition” is digging a bit deeper into intuitive eating and how food actually feels in your body. Going back to the apple and potato chip example: Each would probably offer a quick burst of energy instead of sustaining fullness for longer. And that’s okay! But, if you need to stay fuller for longer than an hour or so, then you may want to eat some protein or fat with those items.
All foods are on an even playing field.
Part of intuitive eating is tapping in and thinking, “How did that feel in my body and did that food do what I needed it to do?”
You may start recognize different food groups (fat, protein, grains, veggies/fruits, dairy, and what I like to call “fun foods”) feel different during and after eating. You may recognize that a dinner is more satisfying/filling if it has components of 3 or more groups, like pasta with meatballs and broccoli. But you may also recognize that sometimes for dinner to have a satisfying meal, you just want to have pasta with butter. Neither one of these dinners is “better” than the other, they just serve different purposes.
Finding that balance between intuitive eating and nutrition will come as you practice the things I mentioned above. (To recap: accepting you cannot control your body’s shape/size, putting foods on an even playing field, and asking how did that feel in my body and did that food do what I needed it to do?) I truly believe you’ll find that your body will tell you exactly what it needs.
I truly believe you’ll find that your body will tell you exactly what it needs.
Keep in mind that intuitive eating takes time, practice, and is a process. You can’t do intuitive eating incorrectly. You may make “mistakes,” like finding out that the salad wasn’t actually what you wanted for dinner. But, that’s okay. If this happens, and it will, just give yourself some compassion and ask what you could do differently next time.
Alex Raymond, RD, LD
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