If two things are mutually exclusive, it means they can’t occur simultaneously.
This is often the accusation levelled at Intuitive Eating practitioners – that we’re steering people away from health.
This is absolutely not the case.
First and foremost, we steer people towards what matters to them most. Health doesn’t matter to every single person and that’s ok.
Back to this question – are Intuitive Eating and health mutually exclusive?
In a word, no, absolutely not.
Health is very complex. What does it mean? Is it simply the absence of disease? What about mental and emotional health? Are they as important as physical health and can we even split them up? I believe they’re intimately connected and that people need to decide for themselves what health means to them.
Our wellness and dieting culture has skewed the truth: while food quality does have a role to play with regard to health, it’s by no means the only factor – or even the most important factor (when looking at populations). The social determinants of health have a far bigger impact on health outcomes than how much of any particular food one consumes: things like not being poor; having enough to eat, living in a low pollution area; having green and safe spaces in which to move; living in a secure community and so on.
Then there are our genes… There’s not much one can do about the genetic hand we’re dealt. Yet certain environments and circumstances (poverty, stress, trauma, exposure to toxins, viruses etc.) might switch on particular genes resulting in disease.
Reducing health outcomes to what and how much we eat of particular foods or the size of our bodies is simplistic in the extreme.
Intuitive Eating is essentially about self-care
In so far as individual behaviours can impact health outcomes, self-care is very much positively correlated with health-promoting behaviours.
Self-care is more than about what and how much you put into your mouth.
It’s also about whether you do something as simple as wash your hands before you eat; practise safe sex; get enough sleep and rest; move your body; don’t smoke; drink alcohol within government guidelines and more.
Intuitive Eating helps you to be more in tune with your body. It helps you to listen to yourself and discern what you need to take the best care of yourself that’s possible, taking into account your circumstances and limitations at any particular moment.
If that’s not aligned with health, then I don’t know what is!
Intuitive Eating can be messy to begin with. The process involves undoing all of the old, unhelpful messages around weight, food, health and exercise. For many people it involves eating a lot of the foods that were previously restricted (and previously deemed ‘unhealthy’) until they come to understand and experience that they can eat this food any time they desire it. It’s not going away. They don’t have to get it out of the way so they can ‘start again’ tomorrow. The diet and restriction are not starting tomorrow or on Monday.
This frees up internal space to make choices that work for you now. It frees you up to enjoy food again and to be flexible around eating. This means less physical and emotional stress and possibly more connection with other people around food – and also in general – as you isolate yourself less because of your body’s appearance.
Some people misunderstand Intuitive Eating to mean ‘eat whatever you want’ – and while that’s a perfectly fine choice, that isn’t what Intuitive Eating is about. Instead, it’s about taking care of yourself and that looks like different things at different times. It’s about eating whatever you want while also paying attention to and respecting your body’s cues, most of the time.
And if you’re doing that – then as far as food contributes to health – you’ll be doing a great job!