Have you ever found yourself staring at a salad on a menu, wondering if your desire to order it is stemming from diet culture or a genuine desire to eat a salad? If so, you’re not alone.
This is a really common predicament I hear from clients I’m working with on Intuitive Eating. They think they want to eat something they would have previously labelled as “healthy” or the “good” choice, but they’re not sure if’s an example of diet mentality rearing it’s head, influencing their decision. If so, how can you tell?
One of the challenges most people run into with intuitive eating is realizing that food choices aren’t always cut and dry decisions between the “diet choice” and the “intuitive eating” choice. With most food decisions, there are multiple factors influencing your choice, and sometimes it’s not clear if you’re listening to your body or some old internalized belief about what you “should” be eating. Using the salad example, yes, you might genuinely be craving something fresh, crunchy, and hydrating. The briny feta, toasty almonds and crisp, sweet- tart apples in the salad might appeal to your taste buds. At the same time, there might also be a part of you that hopes ordering the salad helps you lose weight, or feels proud for making the “virtuous” choice.
That latter part – it’s diet mentality. But does that mean that you shouldn’t order the salad? Should you stop eating salad until you completely eradicate any desire for weight loss, or are at a place where you’re able to view salads as morally equivalent to a burger?
Of course not! The reality of practicing intuitive eating is that there are often multiple factors influencing food choices – taste preferences, hunger level, convenience/time, availability, social cues, and yes, diet mentality may be one of them. Just because you’ve made a commitment to stop dieting doesn’t mean that the desire for weight loss immediately (or ever!) goes away. That means that diet mentality will likely be present to some degree as you navigate figuring out how to feed yourself. Intuitive eating, especially in the early phases, means learning how to fuel yourself adequately and listen to your body, even when diet mentality is creating a lot of noise.
As I explain to my clients, how can we make sure diet mentality is a back seat driver and not the one behind the wheel?
To help untangle the confusion, there’s one question I encourage my clients to practice asking themselves before making food decisions:
“If I totally and completely accepted my body at it’s current size, would I still make this choice?”
If you accepted your body, would you still order the salad, or would you choose something else on the menu?
If you accepted your body, would you still make the “healthy” brownies recipe, or would you whip some up from a box?
If you accepted your body, would you still chose to eat brown rice and whole grain bread, or would you eat white rice and bread?
The answer might be that you would still order the salad and that you actually really like the “healthy” brownies recipe and you enjoy the nuttier flavor of brown rice and whole grain bread. There’s not a right or wrong answer here! Hopefully by breaking it down and imagining a world where your body image isn’t influencing food choices, you’re able to tease apart how much of that choice is being driven by the pursuit of weight loss, and when you’re making decisions that are aligned with your values, physical, and mental needs.
If you’re trying to practice intuitive eating on your own and struggling with some of these common challenges and putting the principles into practice, we work with clients virtually and in our Columbia, SC office providing intuitive eating coaching. Learn more about our practice and reach out if you are interested in working together.
This blog post was originally published Oct 2017 and has been updated to give you the best possible content.