36. What is Food Freedom? (Can you eat intuitively and still lose weight?)
Welcome to episode 36 of the Mindful Weight Loss Podcast. I am your host and your coach, Emily Erekuff and today I am talking about what it means to have food freedom. And specifically I'm going to talk about intuitive eating vs dieting and how it is that we can lose weight if we listen to our bodies and eat what we want. Because there is this all or nothing notion that we have to do one or the other. We either torture ourselves and diet to be thin, OR we throw out the scale and throw all concerns about health and decide to embrace being overweight and live a hedonistic, happy life.
And let me say that yes, these are extreme descriptions and that is on purpose. Like I said, this is from an all or nothing mindset, and it's precisely that mindset that we need to get rid of because it's the opposite balanced mindset that will help you achieve your goals.
And now, I'm realizing that I should first define what I believe food freedom is, because even this phrase has been coopted by the diet industry. And specifically I'm talking about the founder of Whole30 who defines food freedom as "feeling in control of the food that you eat, instead of food controlling you." And I'll be honest, that sounds pretty good, but when you realize the incredibly restrictive diet that is behind that message, it breaks down because you are not in control of the food that you eat, the Whole30 diet is and I don't know how much farther you can get away from feeling free than that. Seriously, Whole30 is a perfect example of what the opposite of food freedom is.
Simply put, to my mind food freedom is about not having restrictions or limitations on what you eat, or how much you eat. It's about eating with no outside, prescriptive rules and instead eating according to what you, as in your body and mind, decide to eat instead according to your wants and needs.
So now let's turn to intuitive eating, because I do believe it provides some of the best advice to achieve food freedom. Intuitive Eating is really about listening to you and your body instead of dieting rules that many of us have not only learned but internalized over the years. It was created in 1995 by Evelyn Tribole - tri bowl ee , a dietitian and with a counseling practice on eating disorders and Elyse Resch resh, a nutrition therapist, and there are 10 principles or tenets of intuitive eating. And I'm going to go ahead and read these to you straight from their website, intuitiveeating.org. and I will link these in the show notes as well. And I'll share my own thoughts after each one.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating:
"1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at diet culture that promotes weight loss and the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet or food plan might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating."
Now this might sound pretty harsh, and I think it is with good reason. Truly diets have helped many of us gain so much more weight than we ever would have if we had just listened to our bodies in the first place. And I think what we need to realize is that the harshness is aimed at dieting - i.e. restriction and food rules, not necessarily at weight loss per se.
Weight loss or the desire to lose weight isn't a bad thing in and of itself. The problem is that so many of us are so enamored with weight loss that we make that the goal no matter the consequence to our own health or well-being and that's what must stop.
A common question that people ask is can you try to lose weight and eat intuitively at the same time, and most would ultimately say no, because trying to lose weight automatically brings in ideas like rules and restriction. And, while I don't completely disagree with that, I don't exactly agree with it either.
I agree that weight loss can't be the be all end all goal, in that you can't sacrifice your own self care for weight loss, but my belief is that, if you have weight to lose, intuitive eating will actually help you do just that.
In my view, when we focus on eating intuitively and caring for ourselves - i.e. when we are in an optimized state - our bodies will lose weight naturally as a side effect. Your body doesn't want the burden of excess weight any more than you do. It doesn't want to have to process extra food and store excessive amounts of fat. And when we feed it adequately and don't give our minds arbitrary rules to fight against, it actually becomes easier to eat healthy and weight loss is a natural side effect of doing just that.
And this is exactly how I have lost weight. I eat pretty healthy, not in order to lose weight, but because I recognize that I feel better when I do and my goal is to feel good and take care of myself. I also exercise, stay hydrated, get lots of sleep, and make my mental health a priority. Those are the ways I keep myself in an optimized state so that I lose weight a result.
And I should point out that I don't have a set deadline for myself to be a specific weight or to fit in a specific size or to look a certain way. I trust my body and will let weight loss take as long as it takes. And in the meantime I enjoy seeing the change in myself. I enjoy feeling stronger and noticing larger muscles and increased definition and seeing my waist get a little bit smaller every few weeks. And I still enjoy things like ice cream, cookies and chocolate and kind of on the regular. Because I trust my body and don't have a timeline for weight loss, there's no need to pass up ice cream if it's what I want and I'm not too full to eat it.
"2. Honor Your Hunger
Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust in yourself and in food."
I agree with this 100%, and as I've said many times on this podcast, this is one of the biggest keys to help you end overeating. We often only overeat in response to under-eating.
"3. Make Peace with Food
Call a truce; stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt."
I also do agree with this 100%, although I do want to clarify something here. A lot of people think that this principle means that you eat a sleeve of Oreos at one sitting. They think unconditional permission to eat means that there is nothing to stop you from eating everything. And conceptually yes, that's the whole point of freedom - that there are zero restrictions. But just because you aren't restricted doesn't mean you are therefore going to do something. If we change the law and decide that killing innocent people is completely ok, are you going to kill someone? No, and I don't even need to explain to you why.
Food freedom works in the same way. Yes, you are permitted to eat the whole sleeve of Oreos, but you don't do it. Eating a whole sleeve of Oreos is not a pleasant experience. The only reason you ever wanted that many Oreos is because you believe that eating even one or two, or OMG three is bad. But once you realize that even three Oreos is ok, you can eat what is enjoyable and be done without any drama or binging.
"4. Challenge the Food Police
Scream a loud no to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that diet culture has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating."
I also agree with this 100% and seeing the rule follower inside you as something separate from you like the food police, is a really helpful way to become aware of when you are eating from a place of freedom or following some rule that you've internalized.
"5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The Japanese have the wisdom to keep pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our compulsion to comply with diet culture, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes just the right amount of food for you to decide you’ve had “enough.”"
I also really agree with this - let's say 110% - because really experiencing our food is critical to our ability to make decisions about what we eat. But I want to take this point even further and point out two things we tend to overlook here. 1. Your displeasure is just as important as your pleasure. And by that I mean that truly experiencing our food helps us see that the shiny food object that we've come to equate with pleasure isn't always all it's cracked up to be. Our society teaches us that high fat, high sugar foods are special and that everybody loves them and that they produce foodgasms. But when you really experience some of these things as they are, not dressed up in these pleasure expectations, you might find that they aren't really that great.
2. And on the other end of the spectrum, because we associate sugar and fat with pleasure, we tend not to look for pleasure in say broccoli. But when you take the time to make things like vegetables pleasurable, say by adding a bit of seasoning and a small amount of fat, and you really experience the broccoli as you eat it, you can experience a lot of pleasure.
So stop assuming that pleasure means specific foods, because you can derive pleasure from all types of foods.
"6. Feel Your Fullness
In order to honor your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is."
Agree with this one 100%. No need to say more.
"7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
First, recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger may only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion."
I love this point and that first sentence is my favorite, so let me repeat it: First, recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating.
So many people are walking around thinking that they are emotional eaters when they aren't. They are simply restricting and when that stops, so will the overeating.
"8. Respect Your Body
Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body size or shape. All bodies deserve dignity."
I absolutely agree with this. Your body deserves respect no matter what. And you absolutely can respect your body and love yourself and still want to lose weight. Those things can coexist.
And it's from that place of respect that you can aim to keep your body in that optimized state of care that I spoke of before. Everyone should be caring for themselves and their bodies, whether they are overweight or not.
"9. Movement—Feel the Difference
Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm."
I'm so glad that exercise is mentioned here, because I think it is essential for our bodies period. The benefits to our mental health are almost equal to if not more so than the benefits to our physical health. And when we find exercise that we enjoy and it's not something we are forcing ourselves to do, we do it more often.
"10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition
Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts."
And with this last point we clearly see that health and nutrition still have a place at the table and are indeed compatible with food freedom. Nobody is forcing you to eat kale if you hate kale, but you are absolutely encouraged to eat healthy foods - foods that you enjoy and appeal to your taste buds AND that feel good in your body.
At the end of the day it's the why behind that action that matters. Are you eating asparagus because you enjoy it or are you doing it in order to lose weight? Are you passing on the cookie because you are full or are you doing that in order to lose weight?
When weight loss is the reason for your action, that isn't freedom.
True freedom allows you to make the most loving choice. And yes, that is absolutely, unequivocally compatible with weight loss.
Take care and I will see you next week.