Intuitive Eating Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays can feel really anxious for those who struggle with food. I?m going to paint some broad strokes in this blog post, and hopefully it gets you thinking about how to best support yourself the next few months. I’m placing extra emphasis on the key points by putting them in all caps. I’m not yelling at you, just making strong recommendations. Well except for the first one, I am yelling that.

Raspberry-Brownie Ultimately, the overall objective would be to learn and practice how to avoid the all-or-nothing mindset with food during the holidays and beyond. In my mind, there are two main principles for doing so:

 

  1. Enjoy a wide variety of nourishing, satisfying and traditional foods without guilt.
  2. Make the holidays meaningful and memorable in many ways, not just as they relate to food. 

 

Let?s elaborate with a few key points about those:

 

  • Unconditional permission to eat. If you have rules and judgments around food (good vs bad), it will likely hinder your innate ability to self-moderate food choices.

 

If you know that a diet, restriction or deprivation is around the corner, it will influence how you behave around food. If January 1st is named the day you?ll start a diet, you?re going to throw all caution to the wind over the holidays. Might as well enjoy yourself before the suffering begins, right? SO DON’T MAKE PLANS TO DIET ON JANUARY 1st.

 

The good news is that you can enjoy satisfying foods any day of the year, so there is no need to get it all right now. Eating for the intent to feel satisfied is your key, especially since overeating or under eating are not satisfying (more like uncomfortable or painful).

 

That is probably the hardest concept of Intuitive Eating to grasp. For so long you?ve likely had a system of checks and balances. In other words, eating has been conditional. ?I can eat that if I run an extra few miles tomorrow?. ?I can have that but only on my cheat day.? ?If I eat that, I can?t eat later.? And so on.

 

It can feel really rebellious and wrong to allow yourself ice cream for no other reason than it?s a Wednesday afternoon and it sounds good. The worry is that once you do you?ll lose control. However, controlling food is actually a false sense of control. The food is controlling you, not the other way around.

 

  • Which brings us to another point – structure can help you feel a bit more in charge. Perhaps honing in on hunger and fullness levels will give you something to help guide eating patterns. That is not meant to become another rigid diet rule, but it can make the transition from all the rules to no rules much easier. Try to tune into your body and trust the structure and rhythm it already has. Our bodies are great at self-moderating if we allow them to.

hunger scale

I find it helpful to liken this to work and play. If you were to work all the time, not matter how much you love your work, how would you feel? Likely burnt out, resentful, exhausted and ready for a break. If you were to play all the time, how would you feel? Likely ready for some productivity, organization and a schedule. We all have experience with knowing what we need in that regard. It?s a natural ebb and flow and if we are listening to and meeting our needs, we allow ourselves a balance of productivity and rest.

 

The same could be said for food. Depending on the day, different foods can and will be nourishing and satisfying. That grey area can be uncomfortable, but it allows us to live a much more flexible and nourishing life. I encourage you to think about what you need and trust that it all balances out. TRUST THAT YOUR BODY CAN BE TRUSTED.

 

  • I do want to make a note that unconditional permission to say yes to food also means unconditional permission to say no. Instead of being in control, aim to be in charge. No food is off limits, and because it?s not, it will be waiting for you when you really want it.

 

Eating in the absence of physical hunger happens occasionally. No big deal. But in general, hunger makes food taste better. You get a lot more enjoyment out of food if you really need it. My favorite quote from Intuitive Eating is: “If you don’t love it, don’t eat it, and if you do love it, savor it.” YOU GET TO OWN YOUR CHOICES.

 

  • Finally, I encourage you to find alternative coping strategies for dealing with holiday stress other than food. There?s nothing wrong with emotional eating per se, only when it?s our only coping strategy for dealing with difficult emotions. How can you be proactive in taking care of yourself to avoid crisis mode? Do you need to set some boundaries with work or relationships? What about making sleep a priority? Would it help to make a master list of all you would like to accomplish the next few months and allocate time accordingly, so you aren?t trying to do it all at once? What will help you wind down at the end of the day or the end of the week? Putting some thought into this will pay dividends. AIM TO BE PROACTIVE RATHER THAN REACTIVE.

 

I wish you the happiest holidays!

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

Feeling Stuck? Try this.

Do you feel like you have stalled in meeting your health and wellness goals? It?s super easy in the culture we live in to think you have to become more extreme or restrictive with food. Some people immediately cut back on calories or increase exercise while others may start eliminating foods, food groups or food ingredients.

Veggie-burger

Instead, I encourage you to continue to eat regular, balanced and adequate meals and snacks and look at a few other things:

 

  • Are you eating the majority of your food at night? I would recommend distributing your meals and snacks more evenly throughout the day, maybe even emphasizing breakfast and lunch.
  • How are you sleeping? Poor sleep is associated with many adverse health conditions. You may be putting undue stress on your body by burning the midnight oil. Aim to set more consistent sleep patterns, trying for at least 7 hours a night. 
  • Are you stressed out? Maybe a yoga class to relax will be a better choice than an intense class at the gym. Yoga may not be your thing; the point being to find some way to manage stress. Setting clear work/life boundaries is also encouraged, while putting time into meaningful outside hobbies, interests and relationships. 
  • Maybe you aren?t exercising? Before you become more restrictive with food, maybe try finding 15-20 minutes a day (doesn?t even have to be all at once!) to move. It could be just setting a timer for every hour as a reminder to take a walk/stretch break. In an 8 hour period, that will be 40 minutes of movement!
  • Last but not least, maybe you need to quit caring so much. Sometimes relaxing a bit around these issues invites less stress, more flexibility and a more effective flow conducive to your body naturally finding it?s healthy place.

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

Protein: Recommendations, Balanced Meals and Challenging Diet Culture

We all know how much I love carbohydrates, and I often encourage people to eat more of them. That?s because diet culture has taught us that carbs are bad and associates them with overeating, weight gain and increased risk for developing chronic diseases like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and even cancer. It?s sensationalized propaganda to sell diets and very misleading information. This is especially true when discussing wholesome, unprocessed carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, fruit and starchy vegetables. But of course, ALL foods can fit when looking at overall food patterns that are nourishing, flexible and satisfying.
?

But I?m not here to talk about carbohydrates. As much as I love them, I always encourage balanced meals and snacks complete with protein and fats too. Let?s chat protein today, but check out THIS link for more about fat.

Bacon-Steak

It?s really difficult to be deficient in protein. Most of us get plenty, but it turns out that protein timing is more important than total amount. The most amount of protein you are able to effectively use at one time is any where between 20-35 grams (range depending on your own individuals needs and will vary depending on body size, activity level, age, gender, etc). The body wants to have an amino acid pool in the blood stream at all times from which it can pull what it needs when it needs to (just like it also wants a pool of glucose, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, etc – a good reason to make sure you are eating regularly and consistently). If protein intake is inadequate at certain times of the day, the body may need to dip into stored protein, meaning lean body mass. Doing so can also impact bone health, immune system function and hormone production to name a few.

 

I typically recommend about .3 grams of protein per kg body weight at least 4 times a day. This will translate to 15-30 ish grams of protein for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack (or second breakfast or 1st lunch or 2nd dinner, etc?as I like to call it). In total that means anywhere from 60-120 grams of protein (again range depends on your own individuals needs) per day. That doesn?t mean you will only need or want to eat 4 times a day, but aim to include an adequate amount of protein at least 4 times.

 

So what are some examples of adequate protein sources?

 

  • Peanut butter (Since peanuts are actually a legume, they have a bit higher protein content than other nuts and seeds, but any will have some!)
  • Beans/legumes
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Soy Milk
  • Milk (there are some higher protein milks on the market too)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Beef

 

For help in determining your own protein needs and nutritional balance, I really encourage seeking the help of a (non-diet) Registered Dietitian!

 

You can be vegan and vegetarian and meet your protein needs just fine. No worries there. Unless you are vegan or vegetarian because you feel like you should be for nutritional or weight related reasons. While no one will dispute the benefits of a plant based diet, those benefits can function independent of your choice to include or not include animal products. Emphasizing plant based foods is a great idea, unless it gets taken to the extreme and enters disordered behaviors of anxiety, preoccupation, obsession and lack of flexibility.

 

Mainstream dieting tends to be high protein/low carb. Hopefully the recommendations and discussion here help you see that adequate protein is anything but extreme, and functions best when combined with carbohydrates and fats in balanced meals.

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

How to Avoid the All-or-Nothing Mentality This Holiday Season

The holiday season is full of opportunities for celebrating gratitude, family, love, faith and service.  Food is often a big part of those celebrations, as it should be!  However, it?s during the holiday season that many are tempted to adopt an all-or-nothing attitude toward food, throwing all caution to the wind only to punish themselves come January.  Instead of falling prey to extremes in thinking and behavior that only leave you feeling exhausted physically and emotionally, these tips are aimed to help you enjoy the holiday season without feeling the need to pay penance.  

tips for mindful holiday

1. First and foremost, I would recommend approaching holiday meals like any other meal. While it may include traditional foods, seeing the holiday meal as different usually means you choose to eat differently, losing sight of listening to hunger or fullness levels.  Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating give you full permission to eat tasty and satisfying food all year round.  I would encourage you not to just eat or continue eating because that?s what you are ?supposed? to do or have always done.

Essentially, you shouldn?t have to take a break from how you eat the first 9-10 months of the year. If your current eating patterns make you excited for a cheat day, a vacation or the holiday season, it?s probably a sign that your eating patterns (or at least your beliefs about food) are too restrictive. Restriction breeds rebellion and encourages the all-or-nothing mentality.

 

Come January 1st, you won?t feel the need to pay penance or set some short-lived diet goals. Find a flexible rhythm that balances your need for nourishment, pleasure and satisfaction while being sustainable and realistic. The body craves balance and, if you let it, will lead you to it.

 

2. While it?s easy to feel too busy to do so, be sure to continue eating regular, balanced meals (Carbohydrate, protein, fat, fruit and/or vegetable, with a snack in between if meal times are longer than 3-4 hours apart).  It stabilizes blood sugar levels, which helps to reduce cravings. It also influences mood regulation as well as overall hormonal balance.  That?s going to come in very handy in the hustle and bustle of the holidays and managing stressful situations and schedules.  It will also allow you to stay level-headed about the abundance of food (anytime of the year).
 
3.  While it could happen any time of the year, the holidays make mindless eating more likely.  It?s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and forget to slow down, and food usually takes a back seat when that happens. I would encourage you to plate the food you are eating and allow yourself the time to sit and adequately enjoy it.

 

It?s always interesting to observe how much we talk about and anticipate food and how little time we actually spend preparing or eating it. Letting yourself actually taste and enjoy food puts you in a position to connect with intuitive signals of hunger, fullness and satisfaction.

 

4.  My favorite quote from the book Intuitive Eating is: ?If you don?t love it, don?t eat it, and if you do love it, savor it? – Evelyn Tribole. LOVE the food you are eating.  Get picky ? only eat what is truly satisfying and enjoyable for you.  If you find yourself eating a treat or a portion of your meal that doesn?t taste good, leave it behind and move on to something that does.  If you love your Grandma?s pumpkin pie and she only makes it once a year on Thanksgiving, allow yourself to eat it without self-inflicted shame or guilt.  

 

Remember, unconditional permission to eat leads to less preoccupation with food and facilitates self-trust and wise decision making over time.  Unconditional permission to eat also naturally gives you unconditional permission to stop eating. The fear of overeating usually leads us to restriction which is what actually causes overeating. Don?t get caught in that trap.

 

5.  Don?t neglect your self-care plan – adequate sleep, setting and keeping healthy boundaries (it?s OK to say ?no?!), positive self-talk and enjoyable physical activity to name a few.  These are easily abandoned during the holiday season, leading to burnout, fatigue and resentment.  I think you?ll find the holidays more meaningful when you have the energy to enjoy them.

I hope I have given you full permission to make your health and well-being a priority during the holidays and beyond.

 

I wish you nothing but a healthy, happy and mindful holiday season!

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

Health At Every Size

I saw this quote recently in a caption for a picture on Instagram from my friends at Moderation Movement.  The minute I saw it I wanted to share it with the world.  It is so perfectly said, so spot on and such a perfect summary of the issue.

moderation movement

Defining health as a number, a body fat % or a BMI is dangerous, ineffective and unhealthy.  Health is defined by healthy behaviors, not by the size, shape or weight of your body.  Continuing to believe that we can have an one-size-fits-all approach will not make anyone healthier and will only feed disordered eating and the diet culture.  If we are truly worried about health – ours, our friends and family and/or all humanity – we’ve gotta embrace the fact that it will look different on every body.  

 

I encourage you to focus on YOU and the only body you will ever have.  The one body that needs your care, attention and respect regardless of it’s size, shape or weight.  No matter what it looks like, you can find health and wellbeing by listening to and responding to it’s needs.  

 

For the sake of your health, it’s vital that you put weight on the backburner.  Let your body find it’s natural weight as you aim to connect with and take care of it.

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

What is Body Positivity?

It?s really easy to think that a positive body image means looking in the mirror and liking what you see. This belief will only limit you, keeping you stuck in the idea that body positivity is related to appearance.

 

Instead, body positivity has much more to do with how you care for, respect and connect with your body?s needs while cultivating gratitude for what it can do. It?s very likely that your body shape and size will change multiple times throughout your life and if you attach or cling to one certain image, you?ll likely lack acceptance while feeling powerless and frustrated.

happiness isnt size specific

It?s easy to feel like letting go of your quest for a different body shape and size means giving up. I think you?ll find the opposite is true. You won?t lose anything by letting go. Instead you?ll gain everything. Most importantly, you?ll find YOU. The you that?s been waiting patiently to start living a full and meaningful life outside of weight or body size preoccupation.

 

This is especially true if you have disordered eating patterns. You are fighting food because you are fighting your body. If you hope to make peace with food, you?ve gotta make peace with your body.

 

In the culture we live in, we aren?t naturally inclined toward body positivity. Although we come in all different shapes and sizes (naturally and biologically!), it?s easy to compare yourself to the thin ideal (or muscular ideal these days). It?s quite possible to live your whole life feeling broken and inferior.

 

You could choose to continue chasing diets and food rules until you finally meet your dream weight or body shape. OR, you could choose to find and embrace your true purpose for living which has nothing to do with the way you look. This will likely result in you taking care of your body in a way that allows you to live to your full potential, instead of living to get smaller. Don?t ever feel like you don?t have a choice. YOU get to decide.

body positive

While cultural influences may shape your expectations for what your body should look like, you hold the final judgment. We tend to be our own worst critic, being harder on ourselves than we would ever be to others. While it would be great to completely transform the unrealistic beauty standards that exist in society, a better and more effective goal will be to transform your own expectations of yourself.

 

I encourage you to take time to reevaluate the expectations you have for your body. I subscribe fully to the data we have on set-point theory. This means your body has a predetermined body shape, size and weight that it feels most comfortable at. Fighting against it will get you nowhere. The great paradox is that dieting, the method we use to lower our set-point, only works to increase it therefore causing weight gain long-term.

at way with yourself

The good news is that health can be found at your natural weight, no matter what it is, and has much more to do with how you care for your body than what size it is. The only thing between you and this reality is the idea in your head of how things should be.

 

You can live from day to day with less body preoccupation. It may not be a realistic goal to love, or even like, your body – at least at first. By deciding to put your time and energy into things you find meaningful, enjoyable and important, you give less time and attention to the size or shape of your body.

content

I get it, it?s hard to let go. It feels super overwhelming, but I hope something in this blog post has given you a place to start. Maybe it?s aiming for body respect and/or weight-nuetrality rather than loving or even liking your body? Perhaps it?s to focus less on appearance and more on how your body is functioning and feeling? Maybe expressing gratitude for what it can do? What about practicing more self-compassion and positive self-talk?

 

Maybe more practical tips would include decreasing (ideally quitting) body checking, spending less time in front of the mirror, detoxing your media messages, and/or replacing negative thoughts with neutral ones (if positive thoughts feel too hard). Continual small steps forward is how you shift your mindset.

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

Daily Anxiety Checklist {Self-Care}

I saw it, loved it and had to share!

daily anxiety checklist

Here is a PDF version that you can print:

http://static.oprah.com/pdf/anxiety-checklist-2011-print.pdf?cnn=yes

 

You can use this at the end of each day to take inventory of what went well and what didn’t go well.  This is a great way to increase awareness for and begin to break the cycle of behaviors that may be increasing anxiety.  

 

Essentially, you can begin to practice resilience for difficult emotions and situations, building confidence that you CAN deal with what life throws at you.  

 

As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I can competely speak to the effectiveness of focusing on YOU and how YOU react.  You have no control over the actions of others, what they do and how they react.  Begin to set boundaries between what you have control over and what you don’t.  Let go of the what you can’t control, while working to become your own best supporter.  

 

I hope this helps!

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

One Day At A Time

Making peace with food or finding a more positive (or at least less negative) body image can feel so overwhelming. SO overwhelming. It?s completely normal to have no idea where to even start. If you try to tackle everything at once, it will only increase anxiety to an unmanageable level, leading to paralyzing fear of doing anything.

 

I cannot emphasize enough how much of a process this is. A step by step, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, process. I strongly encourage you to let yourself only take this a day at a time. By doing so, you leave tomorrow for tomorrow and you focus only on the next step in front of you.

abe lincoln

When you wake up and begin to think about facing the day ahead, you?ll likely feel a lot of uncertainty, apprehension, fear, anxiety, discouragement, lack of confidence, frustration or any number of emotions. I encourage you to recognize those as activity of the mind rather than anything firmly based in reality. Your beliefs about yourself, food, your body and other issues will influence how you feel, and may or many not be factual and true. Take some time to connect to what you can actually see and feel and what you know you to be true. Ground yourself in being where you are.

 

I encourage you to think about body positivity and making peace with food as a choice. It?s not something you will automatically feel, without making the conscious decision TO feel it. For example, you may be getting dressed for the day with a lot of negative thoughts about your body. Those feelings can keep you from engaging in or connecting with things you find meaningful, fun and rewarding. Or, you can feel those feelings while still moving toward what you value. That?s the choice, and the essence of making peace with food and your body. I think it?s super important to realize that you WILL feel difficult emotions, but it doesn?t mean you have to react to them. Take it as an opportunity to connect with what you truly value.

 

That means you need to know what you value. What?s most important to you? I strongly encourage you to take some time to write down all the reasons you want a more peaceful relationship with food, to feel more confident with food or have less anxiety about your body. What would a peaceful relationship with food and your body look like? Let yourself take the time to connect with what you hope for. I think you?ll find that experience to be healing, inspiring and grounding.

 

After being motivated by an disordered eating, food rules or fear of weight gain, it will feel awkward at first to quiet your mind and connect with your values. The way to make it easier and more natural is to practice. By doing so, you?ll start to know what it feels like to make decisions YOU feel good about, the kind that are in line with what YOU value. You?ll become more self-directed and confident in knowing what brings you peace.

 

You?ve got to know where you want to go before you can get there. When you do know what matters most to you, you can take it a day at at time, allowing yourself space to practice being true to that.

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

Why My Kids Keep (and eat) Their Halloween Candy

There are a lot of different recommendations, theories and opinions on how to handle Halloween candy and honestly, to each their own.  Today I only hope to offer my perspective, as a nutrition professional who works with individuals with disordered eating patterns and eating disorders as well as a mom of two little Halloween lovers.

Halloween 2015

I recently came across an article entitled, ?Why Forbidding Your Children to Eat Certain Snacks Won?t Work?. The article cited a recent review of research encompassing 25 years of evidence showing that extremes just don?t seem to work when feeding children. The researchers? recommendation is to teach a more moderate approach in a structured environment. You can read the article by clicking the link on the title above (and I highly recommend that you do!).

 

The article makes reference to Ellyn Satter?s Division of Responsibility, which I have blogged about in the past. That structure would include having boundaries around when meals and snacks are eaten, while serving and encouraging consumption of a wide variety of foods at each eating event. I do think it?s wise to remember patience with your child as he/she is learning and discovering new foods and to let them learn at their own pace, while trusting them to know how much their body is needing and asking for.

 

So where does candy, or treats in general, fit in? First, I think it needs to be able to fit. I just don?t think it?s realistic to expect our children to go without candy or treats when they will be places all their lives where treats are offered to them. We could debate all day about whether they should or shouldn?t be offered treats so often, but that would mean lack of acceptance of reality which can just make you anxious, feel out of control and powerless. It is what it is. I am much more interested in teaching them how to make wise decisions rather than tell them they can?t ever have any. Also, if they aren?t offered any at home and they never learn how to moderate their choices, their behavior could turn chaotic when they finally are able to have it.

 

At some point, all of us need to figure out how to make decisions that are in our best interest. I don?t think we do our kids any favors but being overly restrictive and militant OR overly lenient and disinterested. I?ve discussed many times the need to avoid extremes in thinking and behavior, and our kids will learn how to do that from us. My goal for my kids, and any client I work with, is not to make them uber-healthy eaters, but instead confident eaters, built on a foundation of self-trust. I?ve worked with many adults who wish they had never gone against their own natural intuitive signals in favor of diets or lists of rules. It?s then that decisions are made out of restriction, deprivation and fear rather than trust and wisdom.

 

In fact, while we are on the subject, current research shows that the best treatment for disordered eating behavior is to find a place for all foods in the person?s meals and snacks. The assumption often is that if an individual has a chaotic relationship with a particular food, that they should avoid it. We actually find this increases disordered eating behaviors. Unconditional permission to eat has been shown to lessen preoccupation with food in general. Restriction actually causes chaos, rather than being a solution for it. When kids know they can have what they want, within the boundaries of meal and snack times where wholesome foods are available, it?s more likely they will be able to make a decision that is in their best interest rather than out of fear, deprivation or restriction ? just like any adult. While that process will take time and require patience and perseverance (for a child or an adult), it?s well worth the effort to find a peaceful and trusting relationship with food.

 

A few weeks ago we celebrated a family birthday. Ice cream and cake were served and my oldest son turned it down. I asked him why, out of curiosity, and he said he ?just wasn?t in the mood?. He had been at a scout day camp all day and told me that they had a few treats there and he just didn?t feel like having more. I think the reason he was able to turn down the ice cream and cake was because he was able to listen to his body, while also knowing that this wasn?t the last opportunity to have cake and ice cream before we never let him have it again. Make sense? I don?t share this story to toot any horns, only to show that this is what I feel a healthy relationship with food is?not a list of rules, no shame or guilt or restriction ? just the ability to be flexible and ride the natural flow of life (something I am really happy to see this son in particular be able to do).

 

The question here isn?t whether candy is healthy or not. The question here is what approach is effective and helpful. To be honest, there are many times I would much rather see my kids eat something else, but to tell them what to eat just doesn?t achieve what I hope for them. Parents controlling their child?s food intake only teaches them to rebel against the rules. Setting a structure for balanced meals and snacks, with treats after meals or as part of snacks if they want them is what I feel the best approach for our family, and my general recommendation to you.

 

So my kids will keep their Halloween candy. They will likely eat more than usual on Halloween night and then we will put it in our candy cupboard for them to enjoy for the weeks to come. I?ve found that we can keep a carton of ice cream, a batch of cookies or a bag of candy in our house for weeks or months without feeling the need to have it all right now. That?s exactly what I hope to see ? kids who are able to moderate their own food choices, without obsessing, feeling guilty or shameful about food.

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD

Disordered Eating and Digestive Symptoms

It?s super common for me to work with individuals with digestive issues. Some may just have a bit of reflux, gas, pain or bloating they find uncomfortable and annoying, while others come with diagnosed Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or some sort of inflammatory bowel disorder like Celiac Disease, Crohn?s or Ulcerative Colitis. Because of the clientele I typically work with, the majority come knowing they have some (or a lot) of disordered eating behaviors as well.

 

In order to give my clients the best care possible, I need to help them understand the association between what they eat and how they feel (digestive issues or otherwise). However, I also want you to be aware of the line between where effective nutrition interventions end and where food anxiety, preoccupation and unnecessary restrictions begin.  “Healing the gut” is a very popular trend right now, and while I’m not saying it isn’t an appropriate goal for some, it can also be a slippery slope into disordered eating for others.  There are SO many diets that are geared toward improving digestive function, and it’s easy to jump from one to another when one doesn’t work, or isn’t as effective as you hope. 

digestive distress

Nutrition is HIGHLY individualized and it?s not realistic to expect that a certain list of dietary rules will apply to everyone. I find that too many people feel they have to be PERFECT following the diet rules (GAPS, SCD, Paleo, etc) in order to heal, since that’s the premise behind the diets? theories. If you buy into that, when you don?t follow the diet perfectly you not only experience guilt and frustration, but also paralyzing fear that you will never heal. You become dependent on the diet and all it?s faulty promises like an abusive boyfriend (or girlfriend) which you are too afraid to leave.

 

In addition, disordered eating behaviors themselves can cause digestive issues. It?s super easy to blame the food rather than your beliefs and behaviors around the food. You can easily be blinded by the idea that your physical symptoms are caused by a lack of discipline with food, or inability to perfectly avoid dairy, sugar, gluten, grains or any number of new dietary villains. Instead, it?s very likely that the restriction/chaos cycle, under eating/overeating, lack of variety, balance and moderation are really the culprits. At what point does nutrition information/rules cause psychosomatic symptoms? I think it?s earlier than many realize.

 

Given that your digestive rhythm and regularity is largely influenced by your eating rhythm and regularity, if you?re eating habits are haphazard, digestion can become haphazard too. In fact, when eating patterns are unreliable, digestion tends to slow down so as to absorb every last bit of nutrition it can out of whatever food it will get. Malnourishment can cause digestive adaptations which means you will probably have to push through some discomfort before your digestion normalizes in response to regular, consistent, adequate and balanced meals/snacks.

 

I would like to encourage you to base your food choices on YOUR experience with food rather than a list of rules that may or may not apply to you. Overall food patterns can support wellness, without being overly concerned with one food or food ingredient.  In addition, feeling better is likely a result of the presence of something rather than the absence of something else.  For example, let’s say you feel better eating less sugar.  Could it be that you are replacing some packaged, processed foods with more fresh foods?  It?s likely that eating more fresh foods is leading to improvements in how you feel, rather than not eating sugar (the point being that sugar can ABSOLUTELY still be included as part of an overall nutrient dense food pattern without effecting you adversely).  

 

Obviously there are some who will benefit from dietary modifications, especially those with diagnosed digestive illnesses. However, I think that those are in the minority while those with symptoms related to disordered eating are in the majority. If you are in the latter, I strongly encourage you to work with a dietitian who can help you identify malnourishment (which can happen at ANY weight), challenge food rules, decrease anxiety (a huge trigger for digestive symptoms) and build more adequate and peaceful food patterns.

 

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD