Since starting The Wellness Boulevard, the most asked question I get is... How to eat intuitively with food restrictions? Or, more particular, is it possible to eat intuitively with foods restrictions?
I'm really passionate about addressing this topic -- about sharing what I've learned when it comes to eating intuitively with food restrictions -- because, after fighting my way through an eating disorder and disordered relationship with food, I'm not comfortable with another diet... even if the diet is "for my health".
I had learned that my mental and emotional well-being were important, maybe even just as important as my physical health. Living a life that felt controlled by food... living in a mind that could think of nothing besides losing weight before the next big event or counteracting something I'd just ate... this wasn't the way I wanted things to go anymore.
So, when I thought about food restrictions and cutting some things out in support of my physical challenges and in hopes of getting off medication, I was skeptical - and frustrated - to say the least.
I didn't ask for an autoimmune disease.
I didn't ask for sensitivity to certain foods.
I didn't want to be told that eating "for my health" should be motivation enough.
I didn't want to hear that willpower was what I lacked.
I'd done that already. I didn't want to go back.
So, like I do with most things nowadays, I took to Google for help. I wanted to know how I could implement healing practices and foods... while following the principles of intuitive eating (a practice that helped me heal my relationship with food and body in the first place). Essentially, I wanted to know how to eat intuitively with food restrictions.
I shouldn't have to choose between the health of my body and the health of my mind, right?
Unfortunately, I didn't find much. There seemed to be two camps out there -- those who fought for intuitive eating and no restrictions at all ever under any circumstance. And those who claimed following a paleo, vegan, gluten-free, or even AIP diet wasn't that hard. That it's something to do cold turkey and figure out along the way.
I might be picky, but I didn't like either option.
Wasn't there another approach to take?
How come nobody else was talking about this?
I wondered... does no one else struggle emotionally or mentally when thinking about or practicing a restrictive diet -- even if that diet is for our physical health?
After a quick temper tantrum about the injustice of it all, I decided I couldn't actually be alone in these questions... and that I would take on the challenge to find an answer myself.
Here's what I've learned.
To eat intuitively while eating for food restrictions, we need to make CHOICES out of love rather than FORCE things out of fear.
We need to choose foods because of how those foods make us feel physically and emotionally (and because of how we want to feel in any given moment)... rather than force certain foods and meals because we "have to", "are supposed to", or even because we're afraid of another symptom popping up.
For example, let's say you've tried the Whole30. And maybe hated every minute of it. Maybe the first time you did the Whole30, you were left feeling pretty miserable. And, honestly, maybe it didn't do anything for you or your health. Maybe you spent the entire month wishing you didn't have to eat this way. You spent each day missing all the other foods. (Or, was that just my experience?)
The goal when it comes intuitive eating + chronic illness is to get to the type of lifestyle you want to be living (eating a certain way, moving a certain amount, and living with certain values in place) through the concept of CHOICE - through want and love and desire - not FORCE.
This is important, and something I'm reiterating, because anything that is stressful... such as doing something you hate, doing or eating foods that you don't like, feeling restricted because you can’t eat food that you want to eat... puts the body into the stress response. This type of chronic stress, stress that we put our bodies into day after day, is going to increase inflammation, store fat and stop digestion... which will likely only leave us feeling worse.
Marc David of The Psychology of Eating teaches us that the properties of the food itself loses power when you compare it to every other nutritional factor at our disposal. Which means that you could potentially get the same type of benefit for your OVERALL health by eating a high-quality cupcake in a super pleasurable way as you can by eating chicken and broccoli that you absolutely hate and that you’re stuffing down because it's the worst thing in the world.
In addition, Isabel Foxen Duke teaches us that emotional deprivation - or restriction - can cause the same type of response as physical deprivation. Which means that unless you’re CHOOSING to eat Paleo, but you know that you could eat anything else at any time of the day, you’re in deprived state. Since, as Isabel teaches, binging is a biological response to physical and emotional deprivation... if at some point if you fall off the Paleo wagon, you’re going to binge, eat a bunch of crap foods, and likely negate much of the work you just did.
Intuitive eating with food restrictions has less to do with behavior and more to do with mindset. Which means it has less to do with what you do or do not eat and more to do with how you feel and what you think about what you do or do not eat.
It's about choosing foods out of love rather than fear. It's about knowing you could ultimately eat anything at any time and NOT feel ashamed, broken, or guilty. It's about taking the moral obligation OUT of the health conversation.
Instead of feeling forced to eat certain foods and avoid others, everything becomes a choice. Which means that the consequences of what we eat — how we might feel afterward — is also a choice.
If this resonates with you because you WANT to be eating in a certain manner but you don't want to feel restricted or deprived along the way, take a look at what I call The MERGE Method. It's a way to bridge the gap between intuitive eating and food sensitivities.
I also invite you to The Wellness Boulevard. It took me over 10 years to bridge the gap between intuitive eating and food sensitivities... Let me shorten the curve for you!