Intuitive Eating is a Privilege

Before we dig in, I’d like to acknowledge that conversations about privilege and intersectionality are hard but important. I’ve gotten it wrong in the past, and I’ll probably get it wrong again - but I will continue to learn, try to do better, and make space for open and honest discussion. If you have feedback, suggestions as to how I can do better, or would like to open a conversation - please feel free to email me here and let’s grow together.

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I speak a lot about intuitive eating in this space, and while I am passionate about this topic and the freedom it can bring to our lives, I think it’s time we addressed something important:

Intuitive eating is a privilege.

Being able to eat what you want, when you want is a privilege that has not been afforded to each person. I’ve learned enough about privilege lately to know that I have a lot more to learn, but I do know that naming your privilege is important. As a cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, “white enough to pass” Asian-American woman with thin privilege, I bring certain lived experiences to the table. You do, too. Everyone does. And this is why listening is so important, because you cannot live someone else’s lived experience. And you cannot confused your learned experience with someone else’s lived experience.

It is a privilege to be able to afford food that you like.

It is a privilege to be able to afford food.

It is a privilege to have a safe home and a place to cook.

It is a privilege to have a body that moves and can cook.

It is a privilege to physically be able to digest and absorb all foods.

It is a privilege to be able to eat at restaurants.

This is why it’s so important to understand that intuitive eating fits into the much larger scope of Health at Every Size. Intuitive eating is not for everyone and it is a privilege to be able to act on all 10 principles. If you are in a financial, emotional, and mental state where intuitive eating is a good choice for you - that’s amazing! And it also doesn’t mean you get to judge others if it’s not a good fit for them. If you’re not in a place where intuitive eating is possible or a good fit for you, there is still healing for you and you still deserve respect, compassion, and providers who listen.

Even though intuitive eating may not be, Health at Every Size is for everyone. For me, for you, for the people fighting discrimination, for the people who are protected from that discrimination by privilege. For the people you get along with. For the people you don’t. It means that everyone’s “healthy” looks different and pursuit of that includes both choices and privilege. It means we have to stop holding everyone to the standards of one ideal. Get to know people. Challenge standards.

If you’ve ever felt called to say something and not known the “how” or the “why”, you probably recognize that that’s what I’m doing with this post. I’m writing this because all of the puzzle pieces that make up the identity of a person are often the very things that get weaponized against them. I’m also writing it because wellness culture is stealing intuitive eating and glorifying it into a trend that says, “I eat ‘intuitively’ but only with these brands and foods” and, if you look closer, “My intuition is better than yours, so bend yours to fit” and uses all of that to fuel discrimination against those in bodies that don’t look or move like society wants. This is why understanding privilege and that health is defined individually is crucial to moving conversations forward.

I hope something in here resonated with you or challenged something you think or believe. If you have feedback, suggestions as to how I can do better, or would like to open a conversation - please feel free to email me here and let’s grow together.

Recommended read: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

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3 Signs You're a Competent Eater

One thing I find really ironic about my dieting/disordered eating days is how much my motivation stemmed from the pursuit of perfection. Yet somehow, while trying to eat the "best" I could, I stopped being a competent eater. I felt crazy around food, chose foods I hated but thought were good for me, and denied myself foods only to end up overeating them later.

If that sounds familiar, you're not alone. The path to intuitive eating can be complicated and it's okay to ask for help. If you're wondering about your own eating habits, here's 3 signs you're a competent eater:

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1 | You don’t make decisions based on the nutritional value of food.

I.e., you don’t let the protein, fat, carb, calorie, or miccronutrient content of food dictate your choices. Gentle nutrition is a useful tool (and one of the last principles of intuitive eating, so it’s important to tackle food freedom first) that helps use very simple and flexible guidelines to help you feel good, body and soul. So maybe a salad would feel great for your digestion, but ice cream would also help satisfy a craving and provide different flavors/temperatures to your meal. Or maybe you’re craving a big fruit salad for breakfast and know that it may not keep you full for long, so you also have scrambled eggs. We don’t have to worry about the nutritional minutae - instead, we can take it meal-by-meal and let balance find us.

Other factors you consider include:

  • If the food will be satisfying

  • If it’s enough/too little

  • If it will taste good

  • If it fits your budget or schedule

  • How the food will feel in your body

  • Whether you’ll feel deprived if you don’t eat that food

This isn’t at all to say that you eat with disregard to your health - instead, it means you understand that your mental and emotional health surrounding food are just as important as physical health, and you allow all the factors to come into play. You eat while keeping in mind what will satisfy all your needs in the best way you can.

2 | You enjoy food and feel calm around it

If there’s one thing that will make you feel crazy around food, it’s restricting. Restricting food can build up cravings and create more and more anxiety around food decisions. Competent eaters can make calm decisions around food and can be around all foods without becoming preoccupied with them.

One helpful practice for starting to find food freedom is scheduling one of your fear/anxiety foods. So if ice cream or salad or fruit is a trigger for those thoughts, schedule a time to eat it once a day for a week or two. Create calm experiences around it by eating without distractions or asking a friend to join you, and create a plan for if you have anxiety after eating (like going shopping after a meal or seeing a movie).

If you’re in eating disorder recovery or experiencing very strong anxiety around food, this practice may not be a good starting place for you. Please know that there is healing for you and you can do this with help. I’m not currently taking clients, but email me here if you need help finding a professional to support you.

3 | You practice flexibility and understanding with yourself

Not every eating experience can or will turn out the exact way you plan. Even the most competent and intuitive eaters sometimes eat to an uncomfortable point or walk away from a meal dissatisfied in some way. Life happens! Sometimes the food you order isn’t what you expected, or it’s way better than you expected so you need a lot to be satisfied.

The difference between an extra-full eating experience when you’re in diet culture vs. an intuitive eating environment is the conversation you have with yourself about it. So instead of putting yourself down about the amount you eat, can you explore what led you there? Maybe your food tasted great or maybe you were tuned into something else.

Either way, know that your body will survive the situation and you are learning things you can bring into your next eating experiences. Even with that new knowledge, sometimes things don’t go as planned and that’s okay.

How do you define a competent eater? Are there areas you’re looking to build flexibility around your eating?