If you’ve ever felt obsessed with food or stuck in an obsession with healthy food, it’s important to know that is everything but healthy.
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A hyperfocus on food and health is not good for any of us.
I think part of the reason people are hesitant to include intuitive eating principles into their lifestyles is because they think it means they are not focusing on their health.
But, these things are not mutually exclusive. In other words, being an intuitive eater doesn’t mean you aren’t concerned about health. What does it mean to be healthy, anyway?
In contrast, intuitive eaters usually have improved health indicators, like lower BMI, better psychological health, and possible improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Many people don’t realize this because with intuitive eating, they may only see, “eat the donut, skip the salad!”
We need to remember that being hyperfocused on health doesn’t make you super healthy. Likewise, taking the strong obsession off health doesn’t jeopardize your health.
There’s a gray line between the two.
Health is not black and white.
People who are intuitive eaters can feel happier and less stressed about food.
When we stress about things like food choices (yes, even this kind of stress can raise our cortisol), we’re changing our hormonal patterns and internal stress hormones.
When our cortisol rises, our cells flood glucose into our bloodstream, making us more insulin resistant.
Normally, since we’re not running from a bear or a tiger, we don’t need that glucose right away.
As a matter of fact, most of us are sitting at our desk or at a restaurant stressing about what to order.
We think we’re doing miracles for our health by ordering the salad when we really want the pasta.
So, instead of using this influx of glucose, we just store it as fat. That’s part of much more complex biological system of how stress impacts health and biochemical reactions in our bodies. This is one of the by-products of chronic stress.
Furthermore, intuitive eaters know what they need in the moment. There’s something to be said about eating a salad when you’re craving vegetables, vs. eating a salad because you think you should.
People worry that intuitive eating means you’ll always crave donuts or a cinnamon bun, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Intuitive Eating means allowing yourself to enjoy those foods when you want them.
But, if you’re truly having them when you want them (vs putting them off and thinking your craving will subside), you’ll soon realize that you won’t always want them. Our bodies seek balance if we learn to listen to them.
Yes, You can crave vegetables and still be an intuitive eater!
All foods have a place when we trust our intuition. I usually find myself craving veggies and fiber after extra cookies the day before.
Or, maybe some of my prior meals weren’t very balanced or didn’t have any veggies. Or, maybe veggies just sound good! You don’t always need a reason.
[Tweet “Our bodies seek balance if we learn to listen to them.”]
I am in no way saying it’s not important to care about our health. I think we should all care very much about our health. But, we don’t want to hyperfocus on our health.
Hyperfocusing on anything can be dangerous and damaging. It can become obsessive and stressful, and can easily take over your life. Here’s where I want to differentiate focusing on our health vs. hyperfocusing on our health.
What does Hyperfocusing on our Health Look Like?
Only eating “clean foods” because you fear one fried food or form of processed sugar will give you cancer or diabetes
Doing 45-60 minutes of exercise every day, no matter how much sleep you got or what you have to sacrifice to do so
Never allowing yourself to eat out because you can’t accurately track the calories, macronutrients, and you don’t know what ingredients they use
Meal planning to a T each week so each meal is pre-weighed and pre-portioned and there are no surprises throughout the week
Making food choices not based on how you feel, but based on the food label and whether something has added sugar/sodium, etc.
Avoiding any hunger cues because it’s not the time your meal plan says to eat, or the only snack you have isn’t “healthy”
In contrast, here’s how those examples could be oriented around health, but not hyperfocused:
Ordering a salad for lunch if you want one, but not stressing about ordering a fried chicken sandwich if you want that. You know that a fried chicken sandwich will not send your body into diabetes risk or territory, because that is an extreme, obsessive thought. Overall, you make pretty balanced choices. You don’t need to exert extra stress on worrying about eating a form of processed foods.
You didn’t sleep well last night so you skip your AM workout for more sleep. In doing so, you are honoring your health by getting sufficient rest and not further raising your cortisol. A night of bad sleep + exercise (both of which are stressors) can be double damaging.
Eating out on occasion and enjoying the social aspect of food. Yes, this contributes to health. Being able to enjoy time with others can have drastic measures on improving our health and happiness. Understanding that you can order anything off the menu that sounds good to you, whether it be a salmon with vegetables, or a pasta dish.
Meal planning when you have the time and it’s helpful for your weekly routine. This also includes understanding that some days, you may just want to eat out with your coworkers or say yes to a spontaneous dinner out with a friend without feeling guilty.
Making food choices based on your hunger/fullness and what you actually want in the moment (regardless of the food label).
Acknowledging hunger cues as an important sign from your body, listening to them, and nourishing your body with a snack or what you have on hand at the moment
Health is worth working towards and it doesn’t just come naturally. It’s worth educating yourself about healthy foods and balancing blood sugar. Knowing the best foods for pre vs post workout or foods for heart health. Especially if you have a family history of chronic disease. Being informed is important.
But, taking a balanced approach to health is also important. Any hyperfocus on, or stress about health is just that. Stress. Stress can be so damaging to our health. It will harm us more than just eating the pizza or the ice cream ever will. Stressing about our health takes us away from how we truly feel. It takes us away from what our intuition tells us.
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!