The scenario goes like this: an endless sea of Instagram posts for the hashtag “intuitive eating” inspires you to dive headfirst into the all-foods-fit approach. You’ve even read about the concept of “granting oneself unconditional permission” to eat. As a reminder, intuitive eating is a nondiet approach that constructs a path towards sustainable habits around food and movement. A 2016 review supports the use of intuitive eating to help reduce disordered eating and body image concerns, along with promoting women’s psychological health.
So, you pick up your favorite box of cereal with a clear intention to “eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.” Simple, right? Well, you dive into that box of cereal (one that you haven’t enjoyed since childhood) and before you know it, you’ve polished it off. You’re left feeling physically unwell and mentally discouraged.
If you struggle with “trusting” yourself around your favorite foods and/or feel worried that intuitive eating will end in an emotional and mindless cascade of “over”-eating, then you’ve come to the right place.
Intuitive Eating- Am I doing it wrong?
Obstacles come up when dancers dive into the nitty-gritty of how to eat intuitively, most notable are experiences of “over”-eating and emotional eating. Similar to that scenario mentioned above. This is especially common when dancers reintroduce foods that were previously deemed “off-limits.” I’ve previously discussed how dancers can navigate obstacles like “over”-eating and emotional eating. Here are the articles for reference:
We also see this happen when dancers oversimplify what it means to eat intuitively. Intuitive eating is NOT the “eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full” diet. In fact, this over-simplification is exactly what leads dancers to feel like they’re “doing it wrong.” Spoiler: you’re NOT doing it wrong. There is NO right or wrong way to eat intuitively. But, you may need some support (more on this below).
The idea of “unconditional permission” comes from the third principle of the Intuitive Eating paradigm, Make Peace with Food. Granting yourself “unconditional permission” to eat ANY food (yes, even those more indulgent ones) might feel scary and out-of-reach. This is especially true if your experience with intuitive eating looks similar to that scenario mentioned earlier.
At its core, “unconditional permission” requires trust. The ultimate goal is to build trust in yourself, and in this regard, around food. When trust is built, intuitive eaters can fully access the concept of unconditional permission, or, permission to eat without strings attached. To do this, let’s address three steps for how you can begin to gift yourself unconditional permission to eat your favorite (and yes, even those “triggering”) foods.
Predictability is defined as “the fact of always behaving or occurring in the way expected.” Similarly, work to build trust with your body. Enable it to predict, to trust that food will be provided consistently.
One of the many myths circulating about intuitive eating is that when it comes to “unconditional permission,” it’s only in regard to those more indulgent options like cookies, cupcakes, fries, and pizza. This is because diet culture labels these foods as “unhealthy” and “bad,” perpetuating the idea that these options need to be avoided. But the more you rely on “willpower” to avoid these options, the more you’ll drive cravings. Including them in your meal plan builds predictability and therefore strips the novelty from these foods. Over time, your body trusts that if and when the desire hits, it will receive the food it craves. Obviously, there are exceptions. Food availability and holidays are examples of when predictability might not be accessible. If and when accessible, honor your cravings and construct satisfying meal experiences. Here are a few articles to help:
Avoid The Mindset of Scarcity
This circles back to the point of restriction: how can you abolish it to support unconditional permission? Intuitive eaters learn how to demolish the point of restriction using tools to proactively plan and implement mindset shifts. Intuitive eaters strip the morale from food and view food through a neutral lens. Here are a few helpful articles to start utilizing these tools.
Now, realize that the point of restriction doesn’t always look like a true restriction. A few ways in which the scarcity mindset shows up are:
- Saving calories for a future meal that is expected to be larger or more indulgent.
- Making up for calories consumed, such as with extreme exercise routines.
- Negative self-talk, especially while eating (saying to yourself, “I shouldn’t be eating this!”
Restriction, whether it be intentional restriction from restrictive dieting or unintentional restriction from a busy dance schedule, creates a landscape vulnerable to feeling out-of-control at mealtimes. Relying on “willpower,” striving for “moderation,” “avoiding trigger foods,” and “crowding out” foods are also divisive forms of restriction.
Aim for Abundance
The idea of abundance can feel scary when it comes to food. This is especially true for dancers who might feel hesitant or anxious about eating foods that might not be as performance-boosting as other foods. But meeting your biological nutrition needs is imminent to ensure that your body is not working through a prolonged calorie deficit. To learn more about your body’s needs, read this article.