There is a lot of talk about having a “healthy” relationship with food and your body, especially if you or a loved one are dealing with disordered eating. But what do we really mean when we say “healthy?” Let’s talk about ways of thinking that support a loving relationship with yourself and a nourishing relationship with your food.
Health At Every Size (HAES)
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The “health at every size” philosophy promotes the idea that any size body can be healthy. The truth is that there are many healthy weights and that a person’s healthy weight is largely determined by their genetic predisposition.
When the body is too far above or below this weight, also known as set weight, it naturally tries to return to it. Hunger cues may increase or decrease, metabolism may change, or cravings may intensify. If you are listening to your body, you will naturally drift toward the weight that your genetics have determined.
Set weight may or may not be related to the BMI, or body mass index, that every person has. Many medical professionals use BMI, as a way to tell if somebody is within a healthy weight range, but actually, this is misguided.
The math that is used to determine the BMI is meant for population statistics (50,000 people should be, on average, within this weight range) and not individual statistics (this particular individual person, with this genetic tendency, this bone structure, and this metabolism, should be within this weight range).
All Foods Fit
The “all foods fit” philosophy counteracts the fear-based, disordered idea that certain foods are totally bad, wrong, and off-limits. Instead, this way of thinking encourages people to think of the place that every food could occupy in their diet. Desserts, rather than being banned, are eaten for enjoyment and social cohesion.
And carbs, instead of being taboo, are appreciated for providing energy for essential functions like brain activity.
Along with rejecting the idea of good foods and bad foods, this philosophy rejects the idea of foods as punishment or reward. Someone might say, “I’ve eaten salads all day. I’m going to reward myself with ice cream.”
But the problem with this is it gets in the way of knowing what your body really wants. The idea of ice cream becomes appealing just because it’s seen as a reward, but what if your body really wants another salad? Or salmon? Or a burger?
Alternatively, food can be used as a punishment: I had a cheeseburger at lunch, so I must have quinoa for dinner. This thought leaves no space for you to actually want quinoa, which can be delicious. The bottom line is to stop thinking of different foods as either punishments or rewards—they’re best when embraced as part of a balanced diet.
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Intuitive eating is focused on listening to the cues your body gives such as hunger, fullness, and cravings. The idea is that if you eat what you truly want when you want it, your body can recalibrate. It will begin letting you know what it actually wants, instead of always craving supposedly delicious, but forbidden, foods like fried foods and desserts.
You eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re full. You eat what your body needs most of the time. Flexibility is paramount here—sometimes you will have to eat what is convenient or when it’s possible, and that’s OK too.
You trust your body to make up for any mistake you might make in eating. Intuitive eating allows people to experience more freedom with food, and when people feel that way, they actually fall into a way of eating that is healthier and more sustainable than any diet.
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012a). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. St. Martin’s Griffin.