Explore how intuitive eating can be a more holistic approach to health, wellness and your relationship with food.
Intuitive eating is rooted in the concept of following internal cues to decide when and what to eat, while also rejecting the idea of specific rules or regimens to follow. By removing external parameters, the focus turns to a more holistic approach: Listen to the mental, physical and emotional needs of the body and eat accordingly.
Eating Intuitively: What Exactly Does That Mean?
Although some may interpret that to mean they have carte blanche to “eat whatever, whenever hungry,” D.C.-based dietician-nutritionist and body image coach Dana Monsees says, “Not so fast.”
“I think a lot of people get confused when they hear about intuitive eating and think it means, ‘Eat whatever you want, nutrition doesn’t matter,’ which couldn’t be farther from the truth,” she explains.
She points to someone with celiac disease as an example.
“Listening to your body actually means avoiding gluten so that your body doesn’t have an autoimmune reaction to eating that food.”
Intuitive eating does not give license to opt for any kind of food; rather, those foods that an individual’s body is receptive to and finds nourishing.
“Intuitive eating is really listening to the messages that your body is sending you, and when you try something, allow it to register whether it feels good to you or not,” says Justine Parker, a local certified holistic nutrition coach and wellness consultant.
There are so many different eating outlooks these days, and mixed messaging about diet programs amplified by social media only muddy the waters when the focus should be on oneself.
“What works for someone – even if it’s your best friend who you’re similar to – might not work for you,” Parker says.
Shizu Okusa, founder and CEO of plant-based farmacy Apothékary, adds, “I think it’s really important that we get in touch with our bodies and in a mindset for intuitive feeling. Craft a self-care practice around intuition first: What makes you feel good, confident, comfortable and ultimately, like your best self. I think once that is nailed down, the question around what types of food feed that intuition becomes much easier to answer.”
Self-Care vs. Self-Control
There is a fine line between self-care and self-control, and the latter sometimes becomes synonymous with restriction when it comes to eating. Traditionally, a diet has meant controlling the types and quantities of foods we put into our bodies. Parker finds that even the word self-control has come to take on the meaning of right versus wrong when put in an eating context.
When people set goals around health and eating, “A lack of self-control or deviating from said diet or said program equates to failure, guilt and shame – and not being enough,” she says.
By adding pressure to follow through with goals that are, at times, unattainable, people are often setting themselves up for failure. Monsees voices similar thoughts.
“When people following the protocols can’t stay on them forever or ‘slip up,’ they feel like failures. I find that the more people try to control their food, the more it leads them to feeling even more out of control around food.”
On the flipside, self-care is an honest assessment and acknowledgement of self.
To Parker, it means, “Being honest with where you’re at and having the care to meet yourself where you’re at so that you can incrementally move forward.”
Health + Wellness in the Time of Covid
Almost a full year into our socially distant, work-from-home way of living, the struggle of maintaining a healthy balance in all realms of life including work, social interaction and eating has only become more challenging. The silver lining? A less structured day can lead to more flexibility.
Living more intuitively has allowed for people to experiment with what works best for them. A morning workout that was formerly dictated by an office schedule can now be shifted to a midday workout break, if that’s what the body is feeling. There might be more time in the day to go grocery shopping and cook meals at home.
“People have had to learn how to adapt to what works best for them,” Parker says.
Okusa adds, “People have had the opportunity, like never before, to check in with themselves: What’s working, what’s not, what needs to change, what needs to go and is no longer serving them.”
Although the opportunity to develop healthier lifestyles has stemmed from this new way of living, so too has the opportunity to turn to food as a method of coping during quarantine.
Parker notes, “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, as long as people are meeting themselves where they’re at and recognizing the why behind the action, and then taking small changes to shift the behavior while not beating themselves up.”
Supporting Local Restaurants While Supporting the Body
As local restaurants continue to struggle, how do you support them by ordering takeout while also maintaining a healthy balance? First off, ditch the idea that eating out equates to being unhealthy.
“Dining out, or doing takeout, can be great forms of mental self-care when you’re too stressed and exhausted to think about meal planning [and] cooking, or don’t want to wait in line for an hour at the store,” Monsees says.
Another tip? Go in with the mindset of adding to the meal rather than feeling the need to eliminate items. Make takeout an experience: Order a pizza from your neighborhood spot and whip up a side salad at home to enhance the meal while also adding a healthy element.
“Health doesn’t have to be so all or nothing,” Monsees adds. “We need to start thinking of health in more flexible terms so it’s more realistic for more people to achieve.”
Parker echoes those sentiments, saying, “It’s just striking that balance and trying to as much as possible move away from that ‘all or nothing’ mentality.”
Sounds Great: Where Do I Start?
With the busy schedules that come with living and working in the DMV, starting up a new, healthy approach to eating can be a challenge.
“Start really small and focus on what is attainable and sustainable [for your] lifestyle,” Parker says.
“Incorporate some fun,” Okusa adds.
Parker agrees, saying, “Make it fun and get someone to do it with you so that you’re accountable.”
Whether that means cooking wholesome meals at home with family and friends via Zoom or listening to a special meal prep playlist or podcast, when you’re first starting out, make the experience enjoyable. And of course, for those who prefer extra support, working directly with a certified nutritionist to tailor healthy habits for your lifestyle is always an option.
Check out Apothékary at www.apothekary.co and on Instagram @apothekaryco. Learn more about Dana Monsees and listen to her podcast at www.realfoodwithdana.com, and follow her on Instagram @danamonsees_cns. Learn more about Justine Parker at www.aseedgrowing.com and follow A Seed Growing on Instagram @aseedgrowing.
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