Welcome back to another edition of our intuitive eating series of episodes and posts! After discussing some common misconceptions about intuitive eating, the wonderful framework created by registered dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, and briefly introducing the first two principles of intuitive eating, today, I continue to give you a brief rundown of a few others. My hope is that this introduction to intuitive eating inspires you to get the book and learn directly from the pros. Although the book isn’t specifically about vegan eating, there is certainly space for your personal ethical beliefs, religious traditions or your preferences when it comes to food, and I’ll be mentioning how in my years of being an intuitive eater and an ethical vegan I’ve been able to navigate the two without falling back into the diet mentality or having any sense of restriction or deprivation.
Intuitive eating principle # 3: Make peace with food
You’ve heard me talk about this one before, and perhaps, this is one of the most important principles for all my fellow vegans or vegetarians out there, since veganism has stopped being a way to protect animals, our fellow humans and our environment (and of course health supportive as well) as a very sustainable and ethical way of eating, and it has become center stage for fear-mongering when it comes to specific foods.
In this regard, vegans are now worried about oils, salt, processed flours, gluten, soy, sugar, processed vegan meats, cheeses or other plant-based alternatives to animal proteins or foods, etc. It has gotten to such an extreme, that some vegans stop eating this way because they felt deprivation and restriction (I would too! Who wants to feel restricted and deprived?), and others, have gone all the way to developing an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating known as orthorexia, or it has been the start of disordered eating and so much stress and worry when it comes to specific foods. It not only doesn’t help the animals you might have initially wanted to help, but it doesn’t help you, your sanity, or your relationship with food. Remember that your mental and psychological well being are both essential parts of health and are often undermined within diet culture.
Through intuitive eating, whether we are fully vegan, not vegan at all, or like to eat some vegan foods (everyone is welcome here by the way, no matter how you eat or plan to eat in the future!), we will begin the process of making peace with food and ingredients, so that it goes back to being neutral.
People often think when they encounter intuitive eating, that this framework tries to say that eating an apple is the same as an apple pie, and of course it isn’t per se. Please remember that this book and framework was created by scientists, based on scientific evidence and countless studies, by registered dietitian nutritionists of the highest calibre. They acknowledge the difference between carrots and carrot cake, but for the sake of making peace with food, we will embark on a process of seeing them both, equally, as neutral, not good, not bad, not magical, not scary or forbidden, not “only for special occasions”, or harmful (unless you have an allergy or food intolerance of course!).
The process of seeing foods as neutral has to do with the process of giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. It has to do with allowing all foods (and your ethical or religious beliefs can certainly be part of what informs your preferences - as long as they are true preferences and don’t come from a place of fear - as can allergies or taste preferences), so that food stops being a source of fear and guilt. So that when faced with previously triggering foods, or foods once labelled as “bad”, “unhealthy”, “guilt-laden”, we don’t fall in the trap of “I shouldn’t eat this but my craving was so big I caved, so I might as well eat it all because the diet starts again tomorrow and I don’t know when I’ll be able to have it again”. This is what the authors of the book refer to as “last supper eating”. Instead, we understand the importance of eating lots of nourishing foods and also the foods that we love and that bring us joy and satisfaction, you can call them play foods or fun foods (eventually they’ll just become food), which, when available to us without the feelings of “can’t” or “shouldn’t”, can simply be another option like many others, and we can eat them with enjoyment, without them being so alluring you can’t tune inwards for cues as to how it’s making you feel, or when you’re satisfied and full.
This was one of the hardest aspects of intuitive eating for me. It takes time, and lots of initial moments of doubt when reintroducing previously forbidden foods into your diet, but eventually, with practice and through a process of re-learning, they truly do become just another option, and you can really listen to what you feel like eating and what will satisfy you and having the answer be different on different days, not based on rules, but on your own inner cues and previous eating experiences that help inform your choices.
Just as two brief examples, potato chips are one of my favorite things to eat on this planet, and they had been forbidden fruit for me through all my dieting days, same goes for chocolate, cookies, cupcakes and cakes. That’s right, I love salty crunchy, sweet and cake-y and creamy, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. When I started the process of intuitive eating I was sure I wouldn’t be able to tune inwards or eat what would satisfy me and leave the rest for later.
A permission slip from the book to make peace with these foods seemed like the keys to Charlie’s chocolate factory.
As I went through the process, I started noticing how my out of control cravings for these foods subsided. Because all foods were now on the table for me, sometimes I would crave the salads, and broccoli, lentils and apples, and sometimes I would crave a sandwich with a side of chips. Sometimes I would enjoy a piece of chocolate cake for dessert and sometimes I would crave a tangerine when the cake was also there and available. Everything went into this place of “allowed” instead of “forbidden”. Whenever I was served a slice of pie, I knew I could have it when I wanted. It wasn’t my last chance before the restriction started, and I ate until I was satisfied, which meant a slice instead of 3, sometimes it meant just a bite of something sweet, sometimes it meant sharing, sometimes it meant a second serving. I can’t tell you how many opened bags of chips I’ve sadly had to toss because I opened the bag, ate some until satisfied (it would have been the entire bag during my dieting days), and put it back for later, only to forget it was even there, chips going stale by the minute only to be discovered in the back of my shelf weeks later. Mind-blowing! How did I do that? By making peace with previously forbidden foods, and allowing them back into the fold.
This is an essential part of this process, and it’s also a case for truly being able to make what you want to enjoy as a vegan. With all the options available these days you can truly make a choice based on satisfaction and not feel any restriction or deprivation and still eat according to your philosophical preference. If, however, you’re still worried about eating something that came in a package, or that had x grams of fat or sodium, or ignoring your desire for certain foods or textures you loved before going vegan, you are still engaging in a form of restriction. This is why I teach you how to make every little thing your heart desires, with the sole difference being, a swapping out of the animal ingredient, for a plant alternative, if and when this feels like the right step for you.
It’s also why I always tell you that eating non-vegan foods or having self-perceived “setbacks” is a common part of the process, and there is no need to feel worried, or like you’ve failed, you can just continue on your journey, knowing that you are doing your best, and learning from each eating experience.
Intuitive Eating Principle #4: Challenge the Food Police
Oh the dreaded food police (and you can include the dreaded vegan police in here as well if you’re vegan)! The food police manifests itself in our heads possibly daily if we’ve engaged in years of dieting. It is that internal voice comprised of all the external rules and regulations we’ve learned when it comes to food and eating. It is a voice that is constantly monitoring what, when and how much we eat, warning us that if we caved to eating a certain food it would be disastrous. It’s also a very negative and self-punishing voice that seeks to fill us with guilt and shame over any of its broken “rules”. It is a natural part of having grown up in a very weight obsessed culture and especially within diet culture, but it’s an essential part of the process of intuitive eating to slowly start leaving it behind.
The food police in a way, is the “enforcer” of all those dieting rules we’ve been internalizing for years. It often makes us feel so guilty when making food choices that don’t follow its rigid guidelines that the result is, very surprisingly, more overeating of these same foods, due to the nature of our psychology and our biology when it comes to restriction and feeling deprived. Ironic, how we feel the need to keep the food police there at all times when it usually results in more out of control eating. The book is filled with explanations as to why that is, and case studies with countless examples of why it simply doesn’t serve us, or our health.
Within intuitive eating you’ll see many references to other frameworks I find fascinating, and that I’ve mentioned briefly before when it comes to mental health resources. One of those is the work of Dr. Eric Berne who defines different “ego states” in our personality structure, and how by having awareness and taking a step back, we can actually notice when we are thinking or acting from one ego state or another. In Dr. Berne’s work these ego-states are mainly the Parent, the Adult and the Child. This is very similar to something we’ll be talking about in a future episode of the podcast when we look at what is known as “Parts Work” a very useful tool of psychotherapy that has its roots in many well known therapeutical frameworks such as Gestalt therapy and Integral Systems Therapy.
There are so many ways to explain this type of work and I can tell you it was the number one tool I used in overcoming PTSD and in doing trauma recovery work myself. It basically sees us as having different parts that will dominate our thought processes and our actions more than others at different times. Finding these and working towards unity and integration between these parts of ourselves, and seeing what positive traits they bring to the table is so helpful when we keep repeating actions again and again, in spite of logically understanding that another behaviour would have served us best.
Intuitive eating uses Dr. Berne’s idea of these different parts of ourselves in our eating, in beginning to notice the food police (a very negative and reprimanding voice when we break the “rules of dieting”), the nutrition informant (a nutrition Hermione-like figure that gives nutritional information and facts to us and the food police voice within us but does so in a self-punishing and restrictive way), and the diet rebel (that little voice inside us that decides it’s time to eat it all because we already blew it so we might as well break all the rules now before we diet again). This principle of intuitive eating teaches us how we let go of the food police and transform the other voices into allies that will support us on this journey, mainly the food anthropologist, the nurturer, the nutrition ally, the rebel ally and the intuitive eater. All of which come to our rescue with compassion, and specific tools to help us find a peaceful and healthy relationship with food. It is one of my favorite parts of the book as “parts work” was so instrumental in my healing journey. The book guides you through this step by step process when it comes to food.
Intuitive Eating Principle #5: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
In this principle we’ll be getting reacquainted with our taste preferences, the foods we love, and the ones we don’t, building all those files of eating we’ve talked about earlier on in the series, that will allow us to have maximum satisfaction when sitting down to eat. Through all the research that has been done with intuitive eating, it’s a common issue that when we rely on external cues of “what makes sense to eat”, “what we should eat”, without our preferences and without us being able to truly make our own choices with food, the result is we end up eating more, because satisfaction is that need we keep on chasing.
In this principle we’ll learn how to ask ourselves the very important question “what do I feel like eating”, and combining that with all the wisdom stored in our files and all the other principles to make a food choice that allows us to get maximum satisfaction, felt with maximum awareness, so we can truly be able to tell when we’ve had enough and we can move on with our day without guilt or deprivation.
It is perhaps the most fun part of the discovery process with intuitive eating and it’s also another one of those essential steps when you’re trying to practice intuitive eating and combining it with other preferences like the choice to be vegan, vegetarian, kosher, halal, etc. Here we’ll get to truly make sure that even when we have these additional guidelines we choose to follow, there is never a lack of satisfaction or a feeling of restriction or deprivation present, or find the balance of the two that works for us, even if we aren’t perfect.
Intuitive Eating Principle #6: Feel your Fullness
The ironic thing about eating in a very diet-centric culture is that it makes us tune out instead of in. We rely on plans, diets, detoxes, charts or apps to tell us how much and what to eat, and slowly, with time, our trust in our own ability to navigate our eating starts disappearing, and with it, any attunement when it comes to our inner signals of hunger and fullness.
If we’re counting points, but we’ve got points left over at the end of the day, we will make sure to eat and use those up because they are so tied up to deprivation, no matter how full we might already be. If certain “free” foods are allowed in a diet plan we overeat these just because we can, without looking inwards to determine if the food is satisfying to us, if we’re hungry or if we’re already full. Foods we might love and would have eaten until satisfied had we been raised to trust our inner cues are forbidden, and this can mean even less attunement when they do cross our lips, indulging in a sort of “I might as well… since I already broke the rules” mentality.
In this principle of intuitive eating, we’re closing the circle we opened in principle 2 (honor your hunger), and we’re re-learning how to feel our fullness and make choices when it comes to being done with our snacks or meals until a later time. The book is full of specific tips on how to begin to determine our fullness levels by pausing before, during and after a meal, taking in all the information from each eating experience to re-connect and re-learn the internal cues our own body is designed to send us. We do this with compassion, kindness and without overly focusing on getting our fullness moment perfectly right, because all experiences, the very attuned and the least attuned, will help guide our journeys moving forward.
We’ve got a few more principles to briefly mention in next week’s episode and post, so I’ll see you then.
Links mentioned in today’s episode:
The book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elysse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND
A directory of certified intuitive eating counselors
The intuitive eating website
Our online program My Brownble, filled with delicious online vegan cooking classes so you can experience veganism from a non-restrictive approach
You might also like…
Our program and courses