"You really shouldn’t eat that.” “Carbs are bad.” “This has way too many calories.” “You haven’t earned a dish of ice cream.” Every day we are bombarded by these kinds of “diet culture” messages. TV, magazines, and social media tell us we aren’t good enough, and the only way to be better is to be thinner. As a result, many of us have issues around food. They may take the form of rules or restrictions (what you can or cannot eat and when); assigning morality to food (labeling it as “good” or “bad”); focusing too much attention on food, or even eating disorders (such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia).
Lindsey Kringlie, a counselor at The Village, frequently talks with clients who are struggling with disordered eating. People too often attach their self-worth with food or use food to cope with stress or other difficult emotions. She says a restriction mentality (“I can’t eat that”) creates a food focus, sometimes to the point of fixation, which can result in a binge/restrict cycle and impose an unhealthy, distorted relationship with food.
To overcome food struggles, Lindsey advocates intuitive eating, a non-diet approach originally coined by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
“When I first came across intuitive eating, ironically I was on a diet myself,” Lindsey says. “I like the intuitive eating approach because it alleviates such a strong food focus. It ultimately helps me to make peace with food and with my body.”
There are 10 principles to intuitive eating:
- Reject diet mentality.
- Honor your hunger.
- Make peace with food.
- Challenge the food police.
- Discover the satisfaction factor.
- Feel your fullness.
- Cope with your emotions with kindness.
- Respect your body.
- Intuitive exercise.
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition.
Lindsey says it’s important people be mindful when eating and put away distractions. Eating with our phones or in front of the TV limits our ability to be fully immersed in the eating experience and disrupts our satisfaction and overall hunger cues. Instead, pay attention to the dining experience. How does the food look, taste, and smell?
People should also be aware of where they fall on the hunger scale, which ranges from famished to overly full. “Don’t wait until you’re extremely hungry to start eating,” Lindsey says. “You want to have a slight hunger, so you can enjoy the food and your body’s natural response to eat doesn’t kick into overdrive.”
Don’t time your meals based solely on the clock, she says. Honor and respect when your body tells you that you are hungry. Eat in a way that feels good for your body.
“Intuitive eating is not eating pizza, chips, candy, chocolate all day long,” Lindsey clarifies. “It’s eating foods that we love that love our bodies back and eating them in the most loving way possible.”
Most importantly, she says, we need to have an attunement to our emotions and our bodies outside of food. “Sometimes we can use food to sedate ourselves, to numb our emotions, and that is not healthy,” Lindsey says.
How to start
For people interested in developing a healthier relationship with food, Lindsey recommends first increasing awareness of their relationship with food. “If you don’t know what your relationship with food is like, you aren’t going to know whether it needs to change,” she says.
- How often do I think about food?
- What am I focusing on regarding food?
- Do I have food rules?
- What is my anxiety level like around food?
- Does food impair my functioning?
- Does food affect my work, school, or social life?
- Does food have a power over me? If so, what is it?
- What are my earliest recollections with food?
Lindsey says clients often have a lot of guilt and shame surrounding food. She says we need to relearn our self-worth, that we are lovable, and that our bodies are good. Counseling can teach skills for processing emotions instead of pacifying or sedating them with food.
“We need to distinguish our relationship with food and with everything else,” she says. “Without intuitive eating, we can intertwine those two things when they really need to be separated.”
Lindsey says intuitive eating has helped take away a lot of anxiety she felt about eating in social situations, like parties or at a restaurant. She eats what her body needs, when it needs it, and how much it needs. She’s more attuned to her mood, sleep level and social areas.
“Intuitive eating gives me a better relationship with my food, my body and my mental health,” she says.