People have lots of objections towards the idea of abandoning food rules. It’s hard for most people, especially the experienced dieter, food restrictor, or binge eater. The #1 grievance I hear is this:
“But...but...what about HEALTH?!”
Ah, health, yes. The thing we’re all so very deeply concerned about recently. After all, healthy is the new skinny, right?
Picture this: A woman who is lean, adheres to a vegan diet, reads the ingredients and nutrition label on everything she eats, exercises daily, and carefully chooses foods that are closest to their “cleanest” source (aka never processed, always whole, foods).
Doesn’t sound too dangerous or unusual, does it? Sounds healthy.
This could be a perfectly healthy person that I’m describing here, absolutely. But health encompasses far more than just the food that we put in our mouths. Health is more than how many miles we can run before feeling out-of-breath. Health goes far beyond appearances and has way more to do with how we feel and function internally.
However, most of us are far more concerned with the appearance of health than ACTUAL health.
We love the idea of being envied as the fit chick, the healthy girl, the one who always knows the perfect foods to eat. Because nothing screams “HAPPY” like a thin salad-lover. Doesn’t really matter what’s going on behind the scenes...as long as we can keep up the facade of being healthy, you’ve got everyone’s envy.
Which is why “health foods” are all the rage these days. Years ago, “diet foods” were the in thing. But the word ‘diet’ has gotten a bit of a bad connotation because we’re starting to figure out that diets, uh, suck. So, not everyone wants to go on a traditional diet, but everyone wants to be healthy. The pursuit of health sounds totally innocent and is something that we all know to be good.
But what happens when the pursuit of health makes you unhealthy?
What if that same lean, mean, ingredient-analyzing machine of a woman who I described earlier felt miserably guilty when she missed a workout? She was vegan but had cravings for meat which she vehemently ignored. She felt totally disconnected from herself. She never went to social gatherings because she was afraid there would be ‘trigger’ foods around that she didn’t feel like she had enough willpower to avoid eating?
It doesn’t matter if this girl has killer biceps and hasn’t touched a white carb since 2013. Emotional, social, and spiritual health are just as important as the food we eat - and have equally as big of an impact on our bodies.
Someone who drinks a green juice every morning but is afraid of eating one candy bar isn’t necessarily healthier than a person who can’t run a mile. It’s because green juice consumption and mile-long runs are not sufficient indicators of health. Just because you choose to eat wheat pasta over brown rice pasta doesn’t mean that you’re “unhealthy”. These things mean nearly nothing in the grand scheme of what health truly is.
When people express concerns that intuitive eating promotes unhealthy behaviors, I ask them, how’s your MENTAL health with that restrictive diet on the side? Because that is - or should be - equally as large of a concern.
Moreover, the whole point of intuitive eating is that you (most of the time) end up eating foods that make you feel good, because you’re more attuned to your body’s needs. In other words: Intuitive eating does NOT mean eating nothing but ice cream just because you like ice cream. It means enjoying ice cream when you get the craving, but also being aware that eating a whole gallon of it in one sitting will make you feel sick, and your body doesn’t want that - so you listen to that body wisdom. And if you DO end up eating more than your body wants of a certain food, you don’t berate yourself and go on an all-out binge just because you ‘blew it’ for today. You move on with your life, knowing that your body knows what to do with the food you consume, and that overeating once (or 100 times) doesn’t mean that your whole day/attitude has to be ruined.
So here is what I’m proposing: Get real about what the true state of your health is. If you are eating to feel good (and that means satisfied, nourished, and happy, not crappy), not taking any one thing too seriously, and enjoying your life despite its challenges and monotony, you’re probably doing just fine.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Were you ever untrusting of intuitive eating (or releasing food/exercise rules of any kind) because you were concerned about your health? What does health mean to you?