The goal is not to ease your way right back into diet culture. It’s to start making the right choices.
Intuitive eating starts with the realization that you deserve to eat without guilt and shame. Your food choices are not attached to your personal character, so there is no need to agonize over whether every bite of food is “right.” From there, give yourself permission to explore a reality in which you trust your gut when it comes to eating. This will help you to honor your hunger and the cues your body gives you when it needs something. It will also allow you to truly enjoy that delicious something you used to think of as a “cheat” and will eventually bring new waves of self-confidence and freedom in your eating habits.
Remember, the goal isn’t to ease our way right back to diet culture, where we’re only eating carrot sticks and grilled chicken. The goal is to embrace and enjoy a wide variety of foods and learn how to fuel our bodies so we can feel our absolute best.
[Read: “Got Gut Problems?”]
Over time, making those right choices becomes easier. If you’re one of the millions of us who struggle with the willpower to nourish our bodies in a way that is free from diet culture, let me give you a few little pointers that I use sometimes.
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day. Start Small.
Starting small is a critical component of success in how we think about food. Small progress is still progress. If you take the time to process one small decision, following through can build your confidence quickly. In the context of fueling our bodies, small progress might mean eating an extra bite or two of fresh produce today. Small but significant!
No matter the plan, start small and acknowledge the progress you’ve made. Instead of trying to shed the pounds or shed the past, shed the idea that your identity is wrapped up in a “before and after” and then journey toward the healthiest you.
Put Off for Tomorrow What Will Make You Stronger Today
Some of us, instead of completely depriving ourselves, need to learn a little patience. Learning to hold off for a little while can be helpful as long as it doesn’t send us into a depravity deep dive. We’ve been told that we have to learn to say no, but what if that was a lie? What if sometimes instead of no, the better answer is, “Maybe later, but not right now”?
While I’d love to have pizza and ice cream every single night, that plan would probably not lead to me feeling nourished and free. So instead of telling myself no for as many days in a row as I possibly can, I simply work these foods into our regular eating habits. I’ve found that this allows me to trust my decision on when to order pizza for dinner or take the kids out for ice cream. I don’t feel like I’m constantly avoiding these foods, or that I have to muster up the world’s strongest willpower muscle to say no yet again.
[Read: “Practice Patience.”]
It’s okay to order a pizza. It’s okay to hold off until tomorrow. It’s also okay to trust your decision.
Be Mindful in the Moment
Mindful eating happens when we give our attention to what we’re eating while we’re eating it. We’re not thinking of what’s to come or what was but rather what’s happening in this very moment. This can help us inch our way toward food freedom, as it allows us to fully enjoy what we’re consuming.
I’ve started asking myself questions like:
Are you enjoying that plate of food?
Do you wish you were eating something else?
How do you want to feel when you’re finished eating? Full? Satisfied? Energized?
What sounds yummy to you?
By doing this, I’ve been more capable of listening to my body’s hunger cues, needs, and yes, even determining what my body wants!
Stress Less to Avoid the Mess
When we’re stressed, our cortisol levels increase, which leads to increased cravings (often for high-carb foods, as carbs help to decrease cortisol levels). But if we train our bodies to use food as our only go-to stress release, then we’re pushing ourselves into a cycle of defeat that can lead us to feeling out of control.
No matter how you deal with stress, be present in the moment, paying attention to what is happening right now. Emotions are sometimes attached to the food choices we make, and that’s not always the worst thing in the world. Sometimes you just need to throw your home-cooked dinner plans out the window and go eat at your favorite restaurant. It is what it is. But no matter what you do, being attentive to your emotions will help you start to rewire your body to deal with stress the way that’s right for you.
Make a Plan, Stan
Are you headed to a family function where people will make comments about your food choices? Are you feeling pressure to eat or avoid certain foods simply to appease other people (or even yourself)? Whether those foods are deemed healthy or not, the choices you make should lie in your own hands because you are capable of making your own decisions on what you eat.
Make a plan for how you’ll handle these things in a way that keeps you true to you. This way you’re not derailed in the moment.
The foods we eat (and how much we eat of them) dictate how our bodies function. Our bodies deserve good fuel because we love them, because food is amazing, and because they do a lot of work carrying us through life every day. When we lean into food as a good thing, we can be less ruled by our emotional waves and more guided by our intuition about what our bodies need in any given moment. This is how we walk toward food freedom—no longer bound to food in a way that dictates our choices out of fear.
Adapted from Your Good Body: Embracing a Body-Positive Mindset in a Perfection-Focused World by Jennifer Wagner, releasing in January 2022 from Tyndale House Publishers.
Want more? Read “The Science Behind Stress Eating.”