A major part of being an intuitive eater is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, seeing that there is good in all foods, but that can be easier said than done when so much around us tells us that foods are either good or bad. Not neutral. Not all accepted in equal measure. Good or bad.
Have a think about where that is all around you. It’s in the conversations around you. It’s in advertising. It’s on the food packaging itself – celebrating when things are low fat, low sugar, have extra vitamins & minerals, extra fibre etc. It’s all reinforcing that some food is better than others.
In an ideal world the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ would never be attached to food. Food would just be food. People would appreciate the good in all foods and then everything would be welcome in the diet. No judgments.
All of the messaging gets into our brains though. Whether logical or not we take it on board and build our behaviours around it all.
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The logical and the illogical
By logical and illogical I mean this, if you hear that you should eat less sugar that might feel rational & logical because we think of sugary foods as sweets, chocolate, that sort of thing.
In that sense it is referring to simple sugars. Sugar is, in its purest form, very quick release energy. Quick to take on, but also gets used up by the body quickly.
It makes sense to eat foods that contain more complex carbs, more fats, more proteins, that will provide longer lasting energy & food satisfaction. So in that example, the message could seem really logical. But other messaging around food, not so much.
For example, messages like “eat no carbohydrates” and “do diets such as keto”. You may hear that message, see others having so called success with it, and decide you will do it too, without stopping to question whether it makes sense or not.
The body’s preferred energy source is carbs. Sugars. Your brain function alone uses around 20% of your body’s energy intake. And yet when you do the keto diet you are taking that away. You are putting the body into a permanent stress state. You are forcing it to do things differently. Not the way it is really designed to function.
To me, that is completely illogical & irrational (with the exception of in specific medical conditions).
What other food messaging are you just accepting as a given, without asking if it is logical or not?
What if instead we just thought about the food itself, and the benefits that they can bring to the body? If we thought about the typically ‘bad’ foods in that context you might find it easier to give yourself that unconditional permission to eat everything that you would like to.
Let’s look at some examples. I’ll start you off, and then you can analyse some other examples for yourself after!
Let’s start with sweets, since that’s an example I’ve already used. They get a bad rap because of the sugar. They supposedly have very little nutritional value to offer.
Ok, true, to a degree. They do offer very little in the way of nutrients. Very few vitamins & minerals, that sort of thing. But… they do have a place.
Imagine you’re at work, you have a boring afternoon meeting, and you’re having that all too familiar afternoon slump. Is that a good time to source a balanced meal, or even a sandwich? Probably not. Is it appropriate to have a couple of sweets? Probably yes. Those sweets are quick release energy that might just see you through until you can eat some more satisfying food.
Bread gets demonised by all diet plans. Limited or removed altogether. However, there are some really good ingredients in bread.
Flour – great for fibre and carbs, which is great for digestion & digestive health, energy, and brain function.
It also has protein – great for muscle growth, for building and repairing tissues, producing hormones and enzymes, building bones, healthy blood, skin, and cartilage.
It is full of vitamins and minerals – Iron, calcium, magnesium.
The bread contains milk, a source of fat, which is needed for vitamin absorption, energy, satiation, cell creation and cell function.
The ingredients of bread also include salt – an important electrolyte, helping to maintain fluid balance, carry nutrients, provide good nerve function, and blood pressure regulation.
So hopefully it is clear that there are actually many benefits to eating bread.
Given the choice – a sandwich or a basic salad – which do you think might provide the widest range of nutrients?
Another ‘bad’ food! But again, let’s look at the ingredients:
The dough is pretty much bread ingredients, so we already know about the benefits there.
The sauce – usually tomato puree based – contains tomatoes. Tomatoes provide protection for brain, heart & digestive health, and are packed full of Vitamin C, potassium, & antioxidants.
The glorious cheese – this is pretty much milk, which we have already covered above.
Toppings of your choice could provide so much too. I like chicken, sweetcorn, onions & peppers. Load it up! So there is some extra protein, and some veggies for those vitamins & minerals. Maybe you’re more of a meat feast lover? That’s going to give you protein, fats, iron, B vitamins, zinc…
Sounds like there is a lot of good to be had from that pizza.
“Oh I couldn’t possibly have cake!”
Why not? The sugar content makes it a great source of quick energy. Ingredients include flour, milk & eggs.
Eggs are great for protein, fat & cholesterol (yes, we do need cholesterol in the diet!). They provide vitamin D, B vitamins, & iron. They support heart health & eye health.
The filling is likely to be a butter cream if it’s a sandwich, so more dairy benefits there. If you’ve got a lovely homemade jam in the middle there too you can add the benefits of the fruit content.
Who doesn’t like homemade pie? A favourite in our house is chicken, ham & leek, and it’s all in a lovely white sauce. The meat, vegetables, & sauce there are already giving a vast range of nutrients like protein, fats, carbs, & lovely vitamins & minerals. What’s not to like?
Oh, the pastry? We’re already discussed the benefits of flour, butter, & salt but I know what the concern is here. It’s that it is high in fat content. Yes, but is it the end of the world when the rest of the pie is giving so much?
What about something that isn’t so easy to figure out the benefits of – chocolate!
Chocolate is usually made up of a combination of cocoa (in varyious forms), sugar, & milk or some other dairy product. Now that it’s broken down it’s easier to see what we can gain from it. Milk, sugar & dairy we’ve already talked about, but what about cocoa?
Cocoa is packed full of antioxidants. It’s great for cholesterol & blood pressure management, and for heart health, because of their protective qualities.
The darker the chocolate the bigger the benefits, but even your standard bar of chocolate has something good to give.
So can I just eat all the junk food & it’s fine?
The aim here isn’t to encourage you to forget about your balance of foods altogether. I have a degree in nutritional therapy – I absolutely know the importance of having good nutrients in the body. I do want you to consider the nutritional side of foods, when you’re at the right stage of your intuitive eating journey.
I don’t belittle the parts of the foods that aren’t so helpful in the diet either. For example, I don’t encourage you to eat loads of sweets, chocolate, and pastries. We know that lots of sugar and saturated fats are not health maximising long term.
But it is important to stop demonising them. The purpose of this post is to help you to see the good in all foods, and that all food has something of use in the body. That way you can begin to eat guilt free, & give yourself that unconditional permission to eat all foods that we were talking about.
If it is a choice between pizza for lunch or no lunch, because that’s all that is available, then pizza is clearly a great option. If you have a plate full of veggies, potatoes & a slice of lovely homemade pie then why is the focus on the bad side of eating pastry, rather than everything that meal has to offer as a whole?
Everything has to be considered in context, as part of the bigger picture of your overall diet, and what you need from your food when you are eating.
And remember, when you are an intuitive eater your body will ask for what it needs and naturally balance what you eat for you, so you won’t spend your days eating nothing but chocolate… I promise!
Now pick some of your favourite foods & see if you can figure out what is good about them. If you want some help to figure out the good in your favourite food just drop me a message.
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