Diet culture surrounds us everywhere we go, telling us that we must look a certain way to be worthy in this society. This drives so many women and young girls to diet to fit the mold of an acceptable body size. Working to dismantle this narrative are the women behind Intuitive Eating Ireland, Sinead, and Gillian Crowe. I sat down with them (over Zoom, of course) to discuss intuitive eating and their advice to those who wish to improve their relationship with food.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a self-care framework i.e a set of principles accessible here to tap back into your intuition about what feels good for you and your body. It’s a way of eating that provides nourishment to the body and honours your hunger cues. So often we are bombarded with messages about how to eat, but intuitive eating is about listening to your own body about what keeps you feeling good. It is important to note that intuitive eating is not a diet – it is breaking free of that cycle of diets, and allowing yourself the freedom to eat what you desire.
Intuitive Eating Benefits
Gillian believes the mental space available to her and the ability to show up in the world as the most authentic version of herself have been the biggest benefits to her since adopting the intuitive eating approach. Similarly, Sinead points to the ability to fully enjoy the experiences in her life without worrying about how she will look, or what food will be available. Intuitive eating has also improved her relationships with those around her, as she experiences less chronic stress related to food.
So, how can you start eating intuitively? By going at your own pace, and doing what feels right for you! The key to starting the intuitive eating journey is to heal your relationship with food and getting comfortable with viewing it as a pleasurable experience. Asking yourself what would truly satisfy you in this moment and following that is the essence of intuitive eating. With time, once you allow yourself the freedom to truly eat what you want, your body will point you towards food that nourishes you. Bear in mind, this is not another way of saying that you will eventually revert back to ‘good, healthy’ diet-culture friendly food. It is simply to say some days you may find yourself eating lots of vegetables, another day you may find yourself eating a lot of processed food, and other days you will eat a mix of both. This is not ignoring your health, but taking on a genuinely holistic approach, where your mental health and clarity are equally valued when it comes to decisions surrounding your food choices. To accompany your journey with intuitive eating, Gillian encourages becoming more aware of your thoughts and actions. This can be achieved through journaling and asking yourself if the way you think about yourself is a way you would speak to someone else. Meditation and yoga also are methods of carving out time for yourself to check in with how you are feeling emotionally, and physically in the body.
Of course, daring to leave behind the diet mentality is scary enough for adults, but that fear is amplified for young adults and adolescents living in family environments promoting diet culture. To get to a place mentally where you can choose freely to dictate your own relationship with food, Gillian suggests that you should gather as much knowledge on the topic as you can. Finding a community online to provide support as you navigate this new dynamic can help you satisfy the need for belonging and can encourage you to keep going despite what those around you may think. This community can be found by following various social media accounts that promote intuitive eating and/or body positivity online such as @antidietanswers and @bodyposipanda. Once you have reached a degree of confidence where you know why this framework is one you wish to adopt, you may choose to have a conversation with those around you about the boundaries you want in place. That may look like asking family members not to comment on food you eat, or on your weight. Both agree, however, that you cannot change their actions. In this case, it is important to find even one person you trust to support you on your journey – they are happy to receive messages on their Instagram and provide that support virtually!
Both Sinead and Gillian had some powerful messages for everyone reading. Sinead invites you all to consider that “Whether you know it or not, you have been brainwashed to believe that your body is not good enough as it is, but this is not true. Pictures on social media are edited to some degree and are not a true reflection of reality. You are enough exactly as you are.” Gillian reflected that “Pleasure is your birthright, but diet culture robs us of that. It robs us of the energy to engage in what is meaningful to us. You can give yourself back the freedom to engage with what you truly care about.”
You can follow Sinead and Gillian on Instagram @intuitive.eating.ireland.
Here are some other useful supports:
BODYWHYS: Online, phone and group support for eating disorders.
SPUN OUT: This is a one stop shop for all mental health issues. The articles are very matter of fact, helpful and all bases are covered.
YOURMENTALHEALTH: Lots of information about Mental Health in Ireland.