By Anne Pesek Taylor, dietitian with University of Utah Health
Many of us feel societal pressure to pursue a diet due to the belief that something is wrong with either our body or current health status. To address these concerns, we’ve been lead to believe the solution is to go on a restrictive diet that leaves us feeling deprived and classifying food as “good” or “bad”. After restricting, we start to feel deprived and experience intense cravings because the body associates dieting as a form of starvation. The body’s natural response is to binge on these “bad” foods which leads to the feelings of guilt and/or shame. We feel like we failed, instead of recognizing that it’s really diets that are failing us. How often do diets fail us? 95% of the time. That’s right. We are spending time, energy, and a whole lot of money, while damaging our relationship with food on something that rarely works.
The Non-Diet Approach:
While non-diet dietitians still value the role of nutrition in achieving health, we believe there are no “bad” foods. We believe we can help people adopt sustainable healthy habits while still incorporating all foods*. However, diet culture has made it really challenging to understand what balanced nutrition actually looks like. It also has made it extremely challenging to place trust in our bodies to consume an appropriate portion of food(s) that have historically triggered a binge.
Achieving balanced nutrition is deeply personal, however a good rule of thumb is practicing the 80/20 rule, which encourages us to choose fresh, whole foods approximately 80% of the time while choosing foods high in saturated fat, added sugar, and/or sodium approximately 20% of the time. We can look to the healthiest societies on earth for more guidance. Each blue zone society follows a primarily plant-based diet translating to lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Additionally, they share these lifestyle similarities:
- Focus on family
- Less smoking
- Physical activity/movement embedded in daily life
- Frequent social engagements
We encourage intuitive eating to trust the body’s needs and desires. Like mindful eating, intuitive eating honors hunger and satiety cues to gauge when to eat, how much to eat, and to embrace personal preferences and cravings. Additionally, it encourages us to create a positive relationship with food and body.
An Introduction to Intuitive Eating:
Becoming present throughout the experience of eating will take some time and energy, but is totally worth it! The key is to set aside time (ideally one meal daily) to do a mindfulness practice. What should you do during your mindful eating practice?
Focus attention to the experience of eating by:
- Removing outside distractions (quiet room without screens or other distractions) for a meal that lasts approximately 10-20 minutes
- Taking time to take note of initial sensory response to color, shape, moisture, and aroma
- Pay attention to how you prepare your bite (take note of size, order that you choose to eat meal components, and enjoyment of each meal component)
- Cue into taste, texture, chewing, and swallowing and how the experience and your personal enjoyment changes throughout this eating process
- Avoid self-judgment
- Refocus your attention as the mind wanders
- With consistent application, mindfulness during meals becomes more natural
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