Clean Eating. Paleo. Detox. Even if we’re not on a diet that we don’t think of as a strict weight loss plan we’re probably (unknowingly) living by a set of food rules. And with the new year comes the inevitable slew of ‘New Year, New You’ programmes offering detoxes and even the well-meaning Veganuary pushing a new bunch of food rules onto followers. So how do we break free from this diet culture that is so obvious everywhere we go?
We spoke to Laura Thomas PhD, a registered Nutritionist specialising in Intuitive Eating, Health at every size & Non-Diet Nutrition to see how Intuitive Eating can change our thinking this January.
Hip & Healthy: Hi Laura, so, first of all, can you tell us a bit about what Intuitive Eating is?
Laura: Intuitive Eating is a specific intervention that was developed in the 90s but it’s not – as some people believe – a chance to eat whatever and whenever you want. It’s an evidence-based practice that allows you to rely on your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues – the antithesis of any diet that has ‘rules’ you have to follow. The easiest way to explain it is by looking at babies weaning – when they’re hungry they make us aware of it by crying and when they’re full they turn their heads away from the food. Similarly, if we put a selection of foods on their plate they’ll take a bit of everything. This is the basis of Intuitive Eating – learning to trust your body and getting rid of the weird rules we have in our heads.
Hip & Healthy: And what made you go into Intuitive Eating specifically?
Laura: I registered as a nutritionist and though this I started to see a lot of people who were following fad diets and trends then beating themselves up when they didn’t work. I’d also see people who had the perfect ‘clean eating’ diet in theory but it wasn’t making them feel good or well – in fact, it was actually making them put on weight. It was this clean eating hangover that lead me to start my nutrition practice in East London which is a whole practice dedicated to Intuitive Eating. From there I help people work through the issues they may have had with diets and rules in the past as well as offering online courses. We also train other health care professionals in the practice of Intuitive Eating.
Hip & Healthy: So what makes diet culture so damaging to our health?
Laura: Well diets with rules have a very high failure rate – around 80-90% – and can lead us into a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting where we may even put on more weight than we started with. Diets can also lead to preoccupations with body image and calorie counting – and they never fix our issues with poor body image anyway which is usually why we start them. We actually need to move away from thinking so much about what we’re eating – it’s thought some people end up spending 90% of the time mentally planning meals. Instead, we need to stop beating ourselves up and think a lot less about food – that’s why Intuitive Eating isn’t about rules it’s about listening to your body. There isn’t a perfect diet plan for it – sometimes I’ll be rushing around and grab the quickest lunch possible without thinking about it but the important thing to note is that there isn’t a bandwagon to fall off like there would be with a strict diet.
Hip & Healthy: How do we go about breaking these diet cycles especially when there’s a big push on New Year, New You this January?
Laura: When people come to visit me at the clinic the first thing I get them to do is to write out their ‘shit list’ – this is a list of rules that they follow and foods they exclude – and get them to think about why they do this. Would they actually enjoy eating these foods? What is the reason they disallow themselves from eating them? It probably comes from years of – subconsciously or consciously – digesting ‘diet’ advice from TV, magazines, social media etc. and storing this up. It’s also really important to try and practice food neutrality; we often call foods good and bad which is something we need to move away from e.g. I’m being bad today so I can eat this pizza. All foods provide energy and nourish us in some way so it’s good practice to call them by food group name – vegetables, fruit, dessert – that way we’re not labelling them good and bad just calling out what we’re eating. We know some food types are more nutritious for us than others but there are also some foods that nourish our mood and these are still valid within our diet.
Hip & Healthy: You’re a vegan but recently you posted on Instagram about the problems associated with Veganuary – could you go into that a little bit more?
Laura: Sure, so as you say I’m vegan and there’s nothing wrong with a vegan diet, however, this can be triggering for some people if they’re going into it for the wrong reasons. There’s a lot of pressure to ‘be perfect’ in January by giving up all animal products or for your health and this is the part that I don’t agree with. If you’re planning on going vegan you need to think about your reasons for doing this – if you’re turning it into a restrictive diet then it might not be for you.
Hip & Healthy: If you could give us some top tips to start thinking more intuitively about our eating what would they be?
Laura: It’s hard to break down into easy tips but here are a few pointers to help get you started:
- Get rid of the scales and delete meal-tracking, calorie-counting apps from your phone – these are both ways to control what you’re eating.
- Learn to listen to your hunger cues – these can be subtle sensations and changes in your mood, energy, head and stomach (hanger is a real thing!) but they’ll be personal to you.
- Have a read of Intuitive Eating by Tribole, Evelyn, Resch and Elyse. It’s an invaluable bible to get you started.
If you’ve suffered from any disordered eating or feel fearful of any of these steps then it’s best to work with an Intuitive Eating coach like Laura at her practice in East London or through her online courses
Hip & Healthy: Thanks for all your advice Laura, so tell us a bit about what can we look forward to seeing from you next?
Laura: Well I’ve got some very exciting guests coming up on my podcast ‘Don’t Salt My Game’ which you can download on iTunes and I’m getting married this year so there’s a lot of good things to come in 2018. I’ve also got an Online One to One-course people can enrol in that’s available on my website to help people start building a healthy relationship with food.
If you’re interested in starting an Intuitive Eating programme you can book in with Laura online and follow her on Instagram. To read more about the intervention and 10 key principles behind Intuitive Eating you can order the book online.