There is a lot of misconception out there about the health at every size, intuitive eating and non-diet approach. From a distance, people view intuitive eating as anti nutrition knowledge--but that's not the case.
Actually, intuitive eating and the health at every size movement put more of an emphasis on healthy behaviors and intentions than weight loss diets, which tend to focus on deprivation, numbers and fear. One of the final principles of intuitive eating is to honor your health with gentle nutrition. But unfortunately, most people never make it to this step, because they're too preoccupied with weight loss and black and white food rules.
So in an attempt to clear up some confusion, I want to address a big burning question I get from ]clients and people new to intuitive eating. How do you practice intuitive eating and still use your nutrition knowledge?
The answer is really quite simple: Use your nutrition knowledge to support your health (READ health, NOT weight loss) but don't use it to berate and belittle yourself.
Simple, but not always easy. A couple things we have to address:
1. Where you get your nutrition knowledge matters
A lot of us get our nutrition information from the media, either from magazines or television programs. These aren't always the best source, research results are often exaggerated or cherry picked to present something shocking or appealing. We also get nutrition knowledge from friends and family members, and while it may be good information, it's always a good idea to do your own investigating.
Obviously it would be great if everyone had access to full research articles from peer reviewed journals and knew how to analyze them. But even if we all had this, most of us wouldn't want to spend the time combing through research on pubmed to get to the truth of the matter.
If you can't spend hours reading research yourself-- look for someone who does. Health professionals are supposed to stay up to date on research that pertains to their field, so when it comes to nutrition, dietitians should be the gold standard along with licensed professionals with specialized training and focus in nutrition. Other medical professionals obviously know how to and should look over research articles, but think about it-- if nutrition isn't your specialty, the likelihood of you spending a ton of time and effort studying in that area is slim.
That being said, not everything that every dietitian puts out there is necessarily accurate or helpful. That's where point number two comes in.
2. We have to discern truth from fear & sound research from unsound
Use your own detective lens to analyze what nutrition information you're consuming. Even dietitians claiming to be non-diet and HAES make mistakes and are vulnerable to misinterpretation of the research. Ask yourself, does this piece of information fit with the majority of the research on this topic or is it an outlier.
It's also helpful to ask whether or not that piece of nutrition knowledge makes sense historically and with your own personal experience. But be very careful using your own experience to cast big blanket statements about nutrition that aren't supported by the research. Instead, use what you've observed in your own life and in many, many others' lives to shut down nutrition information that's already suspect.
Finally, ask yourself whether this bit of information is rooted in fear or in helping. Those peices of information that are rooted in fear are typically not going to support you. Instead, focus on finding positive nuggets to take away. i.e. instead of "refined grains cause diabetes and cancer", "whole grains support digestive health, blood pressure regulation and provide B vitamins, protein, and carbohydrates for energy".
2. Be clear on what it means to support your health
Like I alluded to above, we use nutrition knowledge to support health not weight loss. Weight loss does not equal health. I'll say it again for those in the back, weight loss does not equal health. For some people, in certain situations, there may be an association between smaller percentages of weight loss and some health markers, but in no way does that make weight loss equal to health. Correlation does not equal causation.
Healthy behaviors repeated over time and a healthy, happy mindset are what lead to health. Health can be measured in energy levels, perceived well-being, blood pressure regulation, blood sugar regulation, longevity, reduced pain, restful sleep, etc. NOT weight. So when you're thinking about ways to support your health with nutrition knowledge, let's make these outcomes the goal, not just weight loss.
With these things in mind, we can begin to use nutrition knowledge to support our health and shut down unhelpful information that berates and belittles us. To illustrate this, let's look at some common complaints and ways in which nutrition knowledge can support or berate us .
1. Experiencing low energy throughout the day
BERATING/FALSE EVIDENCE: It's probably because I eat so much junk food and have all this extra weight. I need to stop eating so much in the evening and get my butt to the gym. Ugh. I deserve to feel this way.
SUPPORTIVE: I know that eating frequently throughout the day will give me a steady stream of nutrients and energy. I'm going to block off time for lunch and prep breakfast the night before so I won't skip meals but instead stay energized throughout the day.
2. Complaints of low blood sugar dips within an hour of eating
BERATING/FALSE EVIDENCE: I'm always hungry, I'll never be able to lose weight or eat normally wen I'm hungry every 30-60 minutes. I just need to completely fast, so I never get hungry.
SUPPORTIVE: I notice that after I eat a meal with mostly simple carbohydrates and not a lot of protein or fat that I am hungry sooner. I will add some protein, fat and fiber to my meals and snacks to help me stay full longer and keep my blood sugar stable.
3. Annoying constipation & incomplete emptying
BERATING/FALSE EVIDENCE: I'm constipated again! It must be because I'm eating gluten and dairy. My friend told me they cause all sorts of digestive issues. I need to cut them out and be better.
SUPPORTIVE: It's been a weird week of eating away from home and I haven't had as much fiber from fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains. Maybe I'll add one fiber rich food to every meal and snack and carry a water bottle with me to help relieve my constipation.
Of course those are just a few examples, and there are multiple causes and interventions that might work for each complaint. The theme here is that we have to shut down accusatory voices and practice nonjudgemental observation in order to find a solution that's supportive.
Hopefully this helps you better understand the role that nutrition knowledge plays in intuitive eating. It's a beautiful thing when we learn to trust our body's signals and use our nutrition knowledge in concert to support our health.
If you're looking to learn more about intuitive eating, stay tuned to the blog and follow along on Instagram. We have an exciting opportunity coming soon where you'll be able to go through the intuitive eating principles one-by-one in an interactive way!
Until then, happy fueling and stay nourished!