When working with clients and explaining what I feel is happening for them in their relationship with food at that time or what I think we may need to work on I keep coming back to the same analogy; so I thought I might try and articulate it a little more!
I feel we need to find a balance between three things. I often talk about them as three balloons or balls we need to hold in the air at equal heights.
Inevitably my clients’ are trying to focus too much on one and this is leading to them feeling chaotic, out of control, anxious or leading to disordered eating.
Some non-dieting approaches don't discuss nutrition at all - and I must say when clients are asking question my answer is most often - what is your body telling you? What do you feel like? What would nourish you?
This will always be my first answer. But as there is so much mis- information about food and body physiology I think it is important to empower people with correct information and understanding so they can judge the facts from the crap!
We all have some nutrition knowledge; we are taught about foods at school; we have seen the healthy diet pyramid on the side of the Kellogg’s box. The catch unfortunately is that there is a lot of nutrition information freely available that is inaccurate and even dangerous!
We all eat and have emotional experiences with foods (i.e. family birthdays, cultural traditions) we all have a body and have an emotional relationship with it. We all live in a weight centric culture where we are lead to believe smaller is better and healthier!
We are not all scientists and as such we don’t all know how to decipher the accurate information from the crappy information. In the desperate mind frame of looking for answers and quick fix to change a body we feel is unacceptable we will believe anything.
A good example is the current ‘anti sugar’ hysteria. I feel this was spear headed by the book Sweet Poison by David Gillespie. Below is an excerpt from David’s website about who he is.
“David Gillespie is a ... corporate lawyer, a former co-founder of a successful software company and the author of eight bestselling books. His first book, Sweet Poison, published in 2008 is widely credited with starting the current Australian wave of anti-sugar sentiment.”
So David is trained as a lawyer; he has no scientific, medical or dietetic training. He is very good at articulating himself and marketing himself and as a result a huge amount of people hang on every word he says and even limit fruit because they are scare of sugar! What the?!
Now I’m not trying to pick on David (but feel free to read these great comments from Nutrition Australia about why his claims are unfounded). What I want to point out is that this is one example of thousands of unqualified media savvy people making millions from selling people diets – even when they are dressed up as public health campaigns!
I like to spend time with clients re-educating them about the body, metabolism, how it works, what we needs and why we can trust it! Bodies are pretty amazing, flexible and resilient and we need to nourish them and respect them instead of ‘beating them up’.
It is good to have a basic understanding of how the body works and what it needs. My experience is that people have way too much of the wrong information or a focusing too much on this area with no consideration of what their body is trying to tell them or devoting too much time in their life to thinking about, shopping, preparing food at the expense of more important things.
Focusing only on nutrition knowledge often leads to strict rules that can’t be adhered to and anxiety when people fail at this. Also I think people focus on every morsel of food that goes into their mouths thinking it needs to be perfect or they will ruin or hurt their bodies.
You will eat 4-6 (or more or less depending on how you feel and what your body needs) times every day for the rest of your life – it won’t always be perfect nor does it need to be!
Intuitive eating is connecting with the sensations in your body, hunger and appetite and using these to direct your intake. The phrase was coined by dietitian Evelyn Tribole.
Toddlers are great at intuitive eating. If they aren't hungry they won't eat; and if they are still hungry they will keep asking for more. It is about this age we start to impose external pressure for them to start ignoring these internal cues and respond to more external cues.
"Finish your vegetables and you can have dessert”
“If you don't eat it you have to go to bed”
“You can't possible still be hungry”
The amount of energy our bodies need each day is influenced by so many things and as a result our hunger each day will be different and unpredictable; but the best thing we can do is respect it; Feed our body and trust it.
Hunger is our body telling us it needs more energy. I think of appetite as the cues to what type of food it is our body might feel like Hot or cold; sweet or savoury etc.
We are so conditioned to ignore these and eat based on mood, location. time, rules, emotions; that learning to tune in, practice responding and learning to trust the body is a process.
Life is all of the reasons why we can’t always respond to our bodies cues or make a choice based on our nutritional knowledge.
Life is knowing you have a long meeting and though you aren't hungry now knowing you will be very hungry by the time you finish; so making the decision to eat before the meeting will ensure you have enough energy to stay attentive during the meeting.
Life is wanting to choose Low GI grains to manage your diabetes but being hungry, in a store and choosing what is available rather than nothing.
If someone is focusing too much on life when it comes to food provision it may mean they are not making any time or space for meal planning, shopping or preparation; so end up hungry and needing to buy food at most meals. This isn't of itself a problem but busy work, families and lives can mean we don't even realise we are hungry until we are very hungry; it is very late and the choices available may be limited.
We need to have self-compassion and understanding that responding to some of the situations that life presents is not failing at intuitive eating or nourishing your body but an example of being flexible and resilient.
As I mentioned in the beginning I don't think any of these concepts are more important than the other but in order to move past a diet mentality and move towards self-acceptance, self-care, and positive practices in self nourishment they all need to be considered equally.