Intuitive eating can be hard enough in and of itself, but for people who do struggle with legitimate food intolerances this can be especially challenging. Let me tell you about an experience I had recently to give you a better sense of what I mean when I talk about food intolerances impacting intuitive eating. So about a week or so ago, I was craving pizza for dinner. Specifically, I wanted what they call “no dough” pizza from a nearby restaurant. In my attempt to eat intuitively, I ended up getting it for dinner, enjoying a portion that satisfied me with a bread stick and part of a side salad. I finished my meal feeling good. I listened to my body, honored my hunger and fullness, all those good things that eating in a mindful way teaches us to do right? Well, while I was feeling good about what I had eaten, my body had different ideas.
Not long after my delicious dinner, my stomach started to feel bloated and uncomfortable and I started to feel myself getting anxious. My initial thoughts were along the lines of “oh no did I eat too much? Ugh does my body just really not deal with cheese well? I love cheese..” I went to bed hoping I would wake up instantly feeling better but no such luck. I woke up with a really upset stomach and a headache that lasted all day and found myself feeling really upset that my body wasn’t dealing with what I ate well when I felt I ate so intuitively!
This has not just been a struggle of mine but also is a struggle of other people working to eat in a mindful way. Often, this seems to come from this idea that eating intuitively means eating all foods without restriction. I would say yes, eating without the feeling of restriction is absolutely crucial for intuitive eating. However, part of listening to our body and really eating intuitively for some of us means realizing there are foods that while we may enjoy them, do not make our bodies feel their best. The mistake I think many people (including myself in getting frustrated about my pizza) make is going to the belief that this means they have to have a mentality of restriction around those foods.
For example, I can choose to say, “I can never have dairy again it upsets my stomach”, or I can take the stance of “I can have dairy whenever I want, but it also may not make me feel my best the next day”. Does this mean I never have dairy? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe sometimes I decide it’s worth it to eat the food knowing I’ll probably have a reaction tomorrow. Other times, I may not. This takes the conversation away from restriction and “I can never eat this food again”, to one of “do I want to enjoy this food right now knowing it may not make me feel my best later”. I’d say that is a much more helpful and powerful way to think about the food we eat.
Questions about intuitive eating and food intolerance or any other food/ body image related concerns? Feel free to let me know!