As modern humans with access to food on-demand, 24/7 supermarkets, and delivery services, there are endless options of foods to eat. There are also thousands of experts out there proposing their own ideas of the perfect diet for the average human. And those recommendations are often conflicting. Are nitrates good or bad these days? What about lectins? I think we’re supposed to eat simple whole real food, oh god, unless it’s a nightshade vegetable or, mon dieu, a vegetable with seeds. And what about fat? Is fat trying to kill me, or is it the key to having balanced energy?
All of this information is downright confusing. I’m here to propose something altogether different. A science and logic-based return to what we all knew as infants, a return to our intuition. Today, we’re going to focus on intuitive eating as a tool for regaining your connection with your perfect body and its perfect needs beyond what you’ve learned to want. We will take a quick tour through the reasons why we’ve gotten so disconnected from food as nutrition, and we’ll dive into some actionable tools you can use to return to your intuition. So that you can help your mind, body, and spirit to get into their best alignment so that you will always and forever know exactly what you want and need to eat by listening to your own perfect body.
One of the things that I talk a lot about when I talk about holistic approaches to mental health are our food choices. I’m a deep believer in food as medicine. Everything you put in your body creates a chemical reaction. That reaction can lead to more depression, more anxiety, or it can be calming and soothing to your nervous and digestive systems. And figuring out what foods affect your body in which ways, it’s not as simple as my handing you a list of foods that will do your body right forever and ever. Following someone else’s list of the best foods for you is rarely going to bring about the lasting sustainable change we all want for our health.
In my own long and winding road to digestive and mental wellness, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out what to eat that wouldn’t make me feel horrific. The greatest tool I use in that process was to start with the basics of anti-inflammatory eating, and to let my intuition guide me around the specifics for me.
In this blog, I’ll be talking about how we get out of touch with our intuition, why it’s so important, and how to get back in touch with that gut feeling that can guide you to make your most supportive nutritional choices.
So if you’ve ever spent time with little kids, you know that they have very strong opinions about, well, pretty much everything. What they want to eat, what they want to do, and when they want to do it. Sadly, losing touch with our intuition, especially around food starts early for most of us. As kids, we’re taught to eat what we’re given, to clean our plate, to eat food to make our parents or another adult happy.
When we are five years old, we showed up at school with our cute little teeny tiny backpacks and we’re taught to eat when we’re told. To sit still at a desk and make small movements with a pencil all day. Our spirits and our bodies are trained to suppress our natural needs to run around like wild beasts and to eat when our bodies say eat. We lose touch with our desires and learn to conform.
These teachings and insistence on eating as the other humans do, doesn’t stop there. As adults, we learn to subdue our hunger or to eat only grapefruit and lettuce leaves to lose weight. We learn to eat the doughnuts that are copious in our office because it’s the office culture. We don’t want to offend anyone, or not fit in, or we don’t want to answer questions about why we’d maybe rather not eat that thing that gives us a belly ache.
Humans are indeed pack animals. And evolutionarily speaking, we want to keep the pack happy with us. And a big place this plays out is in diet culture. When we’re told to ignore hunger for the sake of someone else’s thoughts about what our human body should look like. And it’s a dangerous game that keeps us, particularly human socialized women, working to conform our bodies and food choices to what we think will make us acceptable humans. That is thinner, smaller humans.
This keeps us out of touch with ourselves and keeps us out of our power, controlling our bodies’ desires just to make ourselves ever smaller, ever more acceptable.
As a functional medicine provider, I recommend that my patients start with an experiment. Where they step away from processed sugar and quick carbs and then introduce them so they can feel their effect on you. And the difference here is that I recommend making these shifts from a place of love for your body and your physical and mental health. To learn more about your body’s individual needs, not for the sake of losing the lbs, or fitting into some dress or some size. That game rarely leads to true happiness. While learning how foods make us feel, helps us make thoughtful choices in alignment with our biology, our physiology, our joy. And please, there is so much complexity in talking about people socializes women and food.
We are given a lot of mixed messages about eating more or eating less, controlling our urges. And we can use food to cover up emotions or to create a fleeting emotion of joy. Even if that food gives us a headache, but that my loves is a topic for another feminist day. Today, we shall focus on the theme of intuition because awareness and self-knowledge are always the first step in making real and lasting change for mental and physical health. And I believe there’s a role for intuitive eating no matter what health challenges you may be facing. So today’s focus is not on the details of the ketogenic diet, not on the ins-and-outs of the low-FODMAP diet. Today’s focus is on how we can re-engage our connection to our bodies and that primal drive within each of us to eat food that nourishes us.
I believe that certain foods generally lead to certain reactions in most humans based on my two decades of work in the health and wellness space. And I also believe that you figuring out what foods affect your body is the key. Because you are an individual, a beautiful and ever-changing spec of stardust with your own histories, wants, and needs. And that is a phenomenal thing to remember.
When we demonize food versus recognizing our reactions to food as symptoms or signals and not that, that food is bad, we create stories of lack or longing or missing in our mind.
We talk about how much it sucks that we can only tolerate two drinks or that pizza makes us run to the bathroom and gives us heartburn or whatever, instead of stepping into acceptance about how our bodies react. Instead of being our own watcher, we get mad at our digestion and demonize the food. And it’s important to say, cravings are real. It’s like a true experience in your body, but it’s not your intuition. It’s a learned behavior that says, “If I’m sad, I eat ice cream.” Or the unconscious thought, “Pizza is the answer.” Even if those foods don’t actually make you feel good. Those thoughts are just thoughts or just cravings. They aren’t facts, and they may not be in line with your best health in the short or long term.
So let’s pause to talk about this concept of bad food. Why?
Because these societal stories about good and bad food, clean and dirty food really effs with our connection to our intuition. And when we want to rebel, we turn to bad food. And when we want to feel good about ourselves, sanctimonious even, we get the salad, a clean food. This dichotomy serves to take us further out of touch with our intuition and puts us right back in our thoughts. Your body knows what feels nourishing, what gives you sustainable energy, and focusing on these good and bad labels keeps you focused on something outside yourself versus turning inward to hear your own truth.
More than ever, we are eating on the run, without focus or intention. We’re not just eating food that may be harming us, we’re eating in ways that aren’t in line with food as a nurturer. Eating while walking or driving, eating fast, eating mindlessly to cover up our feelings or to fit in. And economic factors and capitalism play into this too. So many people live in food deserts, places without access to fresh, whole, unprocessed foods, and only have access to dirty food or highly processed food. And the clean/dirty language creates judgments, stigma, and shame. And don’t even get me started about who can afford to eat clean, but I shan’t digress for now.
It’s important for me to pause and in this work, to tell my own story.
I’m not some perfect paragon of wellness. I’m just a small mammal mammaling along through this life, just like you are. So I want to talk about my own experience with my hunt for the perfect diet, and how I came to intuitive eating. You may have heard my story before so bear with me.
I was sick from birth or so. I couldn’t tolerate cow’s milk and my sweet mama would drive the four hours from our hometown of Mar del Plata up to Buenos Aires to get me of all things, soy milk. Like way before it was cool, I had a wicked leaky gut. Just want to point that out. Okay so I was a fart machine. I was constantly bloated, gassy. My digestion is a hot mess. And like so many folks with IBS, my mental health suffered.
I was depressed and anxious on and off for most of my life and had such low self-confidence that I covered up by always being the clown. And I understand now that so much of the food I was taking in was part and parcel of keeping my leaky gut leaky. Keeping my gut feeling less than optimal, which kept my mental health from being what I dreamt it could be.
My life started to shift in my twenties, when I started to learn about food as medicine.
Beyond getting the right test for my digestion, right diagnosis, and treatment, one of the most important things I did was a 30-day elimination diet, where I took out the foods that were most likely to cause inflammation. Gluten, dairy, corn, soy, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. And then after those 30 days I slowly brought them back in one by one.
I learned that when I eat gluten, I felt I mean just about suicidal the next day. My inner mean girl got real vocal. I was irritable, snappy, in addition to being bloated and miserable. The same with dairy. Corn sometimes made me feel lousy. And alcohol and processed sugar, wow! Not my friend. Not at all.
When I first learned about nutrition as a key to restoring my health, I was eating Twizzlers and pizza and Dunkin Donuts or donkeys, which I believe is an official food group in the great state of Rhode Island and surrounding New England states.
So during that time, this notion of clean food actually really resonated for me. It was mind-blowing in fact to learn about all the chemicals and additives in our food To learn that our government is not protecting us from the food industrial complex, which puts pretty much whatever they want into the food that’s on all of our grocery shelves. I learned about ancestral eating and bone broth and sauerkraut. It really changed my life.
And this kind of language, this good, bad, dirty, clean food, it was actually helpful at first. I mean it really helped me to start categorizing and to give a framework for this new understanding of food as my primary medicine. Until I realized that it wasn’t helping me anymore. It was creating a really judgmental dichotomy in my brain and it was pulling me out of my own knowing about my body’s true needs and had me focused on someone else’s list.
I had learned first-hand what I knew intellectually, that sugar intake is a mood regulator and that I’d rather be happy than eat a cupcake or a bag of my once beloved, Twizzlers.
And that’s my personal choice for my own body based on science and based more than anything, on my intuition and lived experience. I learned that for me, there’s just certain foods that don’t work and that that can shift and has nuance. I’ve also learned that at certain points in my life, a very low gluten lifestyle may be easier than a strict no gluten life. And maybe eating no sugar, but low dairy leaves room for the rare, like quarterly organic sourdough with grass-fed butter.
I now know that caffeine, for example, makes me bonkers. Okay, it makes me spaz out so hard and I get short-tempered, my blood sugar crashes hard. I just feel terrible. And I used to drink pots and pots of coffee in my teens and early twenties. And it wasn’t until I paused and took that caffeine out that I realized just how much better I feel without that particular drug in my body.
I believe that there is no perfect diet if you’re taking yourself out of alignment to make it work.
If it’s based on a list from your provider, the webernets, or your cousin because it worked for her, that doesn’t mean that it’s the right path for you. I want to implore you, my love, to work to make your diet as robust and full of deliciousness and variety as possible while lovingly stepping away from the foods that make you feel less than awesome.
Please don’t cut out food just for the sake of cutting it out. Cut it out because you know it doesn’t feel good for you right now. Or because you understand and believe the science around how these chemicals can do harm to our bodies. Please don’t get stuck in a super restricted diet just to do it. Nobody feels good living that way for the long haul.
All of that said, I do believe there are certain hyper-processed foods that, based on our current understanding of the science, contain chemicals not previously known to nature that are harmful to our cells, to our mitochondria that cause inflammation in our bodies. The root of so much disease.
I also have a deep belief in harm reduction and that having the occasional intermittent, in moderation snack that maybe off-plan as it were is something that we should be able to tolerate. That is, the goal should be to heal our bodies, to get our guts to the place where we can tolerate the occasional French fry or what have you. And I also believe in the precautionary principle, which is a principle from public health that states that before a product is taken to market and given to a population as a whole, it should be shown and evidenced to not cause harm.
In the United States, that’s not how industry works.
Everything from food to beauty products. Lotions, shampoos, and the snacks on that bodega shelf are not regulated in a way where the industry has to evidence that that product is unlikely to cause harm to humans. Instead, industries are allowed to put whatever they please with some regulation, but in my humble opinion, way not enough, onto the market and it’s up to us to let the government and industry know, this food, this product, is doing us harm.
So yeah, we all need some education and guidance and I believe it’s vital that before we blindly follow a handout, including my own, we start with getting in touch with our deep bodily knowing of what works for us and what doesn’t. We can evaluate changes and make the best decision for us, as individuals.
So what’s this intuition thing I’ve been blabbing on about? I think of my intuition as a deep connection with myself, moving out of conscious reasoning and learning to listen to our bodies and our infinite cellular spiritual wisdom. We might talk about it as a gut feeling. It’s that inner voice.
Intuition is an innate versus a learned response. It’s about being your own watcher, about responding from your heart and your body and not reacting from your past, from the old cassette tapes in your mind. What’s important about intuition is it helps bridge the gap between the conscious and unconscious parts of us, between animal instinct and reason. We need both instinct and reason and we need intuition if we’re to make the best choices for ourselves based on our own innate wisdom.
For ages, there has been a cultural prejudice against intuition. Dismissed as some woman’s thing like, “Oh well, just woman’s intuition. I mean it’s not like she thought it through.” There’s a framework in which that’s denigrated, but then you watch a show like Billions and you see so much of what’s happening on the trading floor that’s about a hunch or feeling something in your bones. And those dudes are lauded for making a smart call to buy low and sell high.
We all have intuition and it’s a beautiful thing. We’ve just often been separated from it, we’ve lost touch with it. We’ve lost a thread of connection to our deepest knowing and we’ve lost our faith in our own mind, body, spirit connection. And to nerd out a bit. Science shows that only about 20% of our brain’s gray matter works on conscious thoughts, while 80% is dedicated to non-conscious thoughts. That is to say, your brain is mostly focused on the thoughts you aren’t even consciously thinking. The meta thoughts beneath and behind the thoughts you consciously identify, which is to say there’s a whole lot going on behind the scenes that intuition can help guide you towards.
So let’s talk about how to connect deeply with our intuition around food and finding that perfect diet.
Intuitive eating is a journey. First and foremost, I want to encourage you to be patient and loving with yourself. You’ll likely have to practice this over and over for it to click or sink in. And that’s okay. In your future self-planning, which we’ve discussed in this blog, you can take a moment to write, “I am a person who is in touch with her body and can hear her body speaking.” Or, “I am a person who believes in the positive power of the right foods.” Or, “I am choosing to eat food that feels good in my body for today.”
I want to encourage you to live this practice one day at a time. That is if you tell yourself, “Well, my intuition said I will never eat gluten again.” What’s the first thing your inner rebel’s going to want to do? I mean mine is like, “Let’s go eat all the bread that ever happened plus all the croissant plus all the everything.” Just for today, I choose to step away from the food that makes me feel lousy. Tomorrow I’ll check in with my intuition and I’ll see what’s next.
In this process, I want to remind you the power of neuroplasticity. The thoughts we feed our brains are the ones our brains believe. So make sure to put the thoughts you want to experience on repeat on the daily into writing each and every morning. It’s been nothing short of magic for me. Okay. So you’re ready? Getting in touch with our intuition is easier than you might think. Start by finding a quiet place as you’re able and turn off notifications and bings and stuff on your phone. Take some slow, deep breaths to send to yourself, in your body.
From this calm, centered, quiet place, I like to ask my body fact questions.
We’re listening in for what yes and no feels like in our body and we’ll use this to guide us. So with two feet on the floor, deep breath. I might ask my body, “Is my name Victoria Albina?” And I feel yes. I felt that strong right in my chest like under my solar plexus. It’s a warm feeling for me.
Body, am I in Brooklyn? Yup, warm feeling in my solar plexus, that tingling in my feet, that is a yes. So now I’ve gotten reacquainted with what yes feels like in my body. Practice doing this to practice feeling a positive response in your body and what that feels like before you shift to feeling what a no is. And you may not at first get as big of a positive response as I do, but I’ve been doing this for years. Again, please be gentle, loving, patient, and kind. You wouldn’t yell at an infant for not knowing how to run, but someday they’ll learn. You my love, maybe an intuition infant. And that’s okay. You’ll get where you’re going with gentleness.
Next, once I’ve practiced feeling my yes, I will practice feeling what no feels like.
So I might say, “Body, is my name Inigo Montoya? You killed my father prepare to die.” And my body is like, “No, silly. That’s not me.” And I feel like this different feeling in my chest and sort of a tightness at my temples. What else am I feeling? My thighs feel kind of heavy. Yeah, that’s a no. All right. let’s try another one. Body am I currently a llama in the Peruvian Andes? Oh, that is such an obvious no. My thighs are like weighed four hundred thousand million pounds right now. Okay. And I feel this weird different tingling in my chest. Yep, that like squishy like tight pressurey feeling at my temples. That is a no.
So now I’ve got this knowing, Like this intouchness with what yes and no feels like in my body. And again, I want you to repeat this exercise until it feels comfortable. Until you’re more clearly able to say, “This is a yes signal and this is a no signal” for things we do not question. And then we can start to apply this process to food.
I want you to ground yourself, take a slow deep breath, and then take a small bite of a food that has always felt good.
Maybe something you feel neutral around and not worried if it’s a food that doesn’t work for you. Like maybe an apple, or a bite of steak, some almond butter, whatever. Taste it, but like really taste it. Let it roll around in your mouth, smell it, feel it, and ask your perfect human body, “Does this food work for me right now?” And listen in for the sensations in your body. Listen in for that yes or no. And it might not be crystal clear at first, it may be muddy in some cases. And that’s okay. Keep practicing.
Try it with a food you know doesn’t make you feel great. Like I might try ice cream, and then I would listen in. And side note, please do not try this with a food you know you’re actually allergic to. Like if you have an anaphylactic reaction to something, don’t ask yes or no about it, my love. That’s a solid no.
Okay so when I taste ice cream, my brain screams, “Yum! Glucose! This is brain food, eat more.” And then my body quietly whispers, “No my darling, this doesn’t serve. This will cause a bellyache, headache, and you’ll have brain fog all day tomorrow.” Which in my body feels like a dragging down. My usually pretty vibrant spirit feels heavier again.
And at this point in my journey, I choose to honor that quiet voice that reminds me of what’s in my best interest, and I give thanks and love to my own inner wisdom.
And you may have an inner critique That’s coming up right about now that’s saying, “Oh my god Vic, this is so stupid. I can’t feel anything. Science tells us what to eat, why am I doing this ridiculous exercise?” And you have two choices, my love. You can accept that critical voice as fact and you can keep eating how you’ve always eaten, which will keep you feeling how you’ve always felt, or you can meet that inner skeptic voice with love and remember that the science of nutrition is not one thing. There’s no statement of fact in that science, and it doesn’t apply equally to all bodies.
Today’s nutrition advice may not be tomorrow’s. I mean think back to the ’80s. We were all told to stop eating fat and we began to eat processed fat-free food like products. Now, we’re all about fat. We understand that fat is phenomenal fuel for ourselves, and our understanding of the science of nutrition is ever-changing. Meanwhile, your body, the quiet voice, not just the brain that’s screaming for glucose, knows the right choice for you every single time.
And this is the long-term work. This is root cause work. This is the work that helps us to weed through all the literature, all the science about nutrition that we’re inundated with right now. This helps us take the list that I may very well have given you and say, “This part, this is on the okay list, but I know it doesn’t work for me.” Or, “Man, she said to stay away from X, but every time I eat it, I feel so good in my body.”
And while you’re working it all out, while you’re doing this work of checking in with your intuition, remember it’s all about getting into your body. Being patient and listening for the signal that a food feels right for you right now. There is no perfect diet out there, but there is a perfect diet just for you, waiting to be discovered.
So, in summary, my angels, diet mentality doesn’t serve you. I want you to turn away from it. Diets are about deprivation and are ladened with all kinds of unhelpful societal bullshit. Instead, base your nutrition on your intuition about what your body needs. And that might mean being on a specific medically necessary diet for a short time. But before you jump headlong into restriction, pause to spend some time getting in touch with your intuition so you can evaluate what you’re doing and how it makes you feel before you start making changes.
And on that note, what other people think of you is none of your business. I don’t actually think that’s on that note, but it felt like the right thing to say at the time so we’ll go with it. My love, please don’t listen to all the cultural and social pressure about what you should and should not eat. No one should be the boss of what you put in your body, but you. Release your stories about what your co-workers, friends, family, clinicians think about your choices. When you know that the choices you are making are based on a deep knowing of what your body needs, it’s so much easier to release your attachment to other people and their thoughts about your body, your weight, your choices. After all, what other people think of you is none of your business.
I want to encourage you to listen to your body when it tells you it’s hungry.
Your body is so smart, and it’s trying to protect you from getting all hungry or crashing out in that midday meeting. Start by noticing when you get just a little irritable, a little short-tempered, a little sad, or a little fatigued, and ask your body, “Do you need calories my darling?” Simultaneously learning to listen to and recognize your own fullness signals, pausing after a few bites to ask your body, “Do you need more? How does this taste? Is this what I need?” Helps you to get evermore in line and keeps you from feeling the discomfort of having overeaten.
I want to encourage you to learn to love food again. Food is not the enemy my loves, it’s a beautiful way you can nurture and care for and relearn to love yourself. Let food become love again. Not only a source of pleasure, but a beautiful expression of caring for your perfect human body and spirit. There are no good foods or bad foods, no clean foods or dirty foods there only foods. There are only foods that help nurture your bodies and ones that may not, and this can change over time.
For example, when I was dealing with SIBO, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, whoa! I was full of methane gas and eggs felt terrible in my body. It made it feel like there’s like this pit of doom in my gut. And once I restored balance to the bacteria in my body, I was able to bring eggs back on in. And now, I eat eggs like a fox in a henhouse. Be open to the ebbs and flows of your digestive capacity. And again, do what you’re doing just for today, checking in with yourself as you go.
Food journaling is another super helpful tool here and is a great way to check-in with yourself. Consider recording your food, lewd, poop, and any other symptoms you want to track as a way to help you to start seeing the patterns that make up your life.
I also want to encourage you to pause before eating your feelings.
Food will never fix what you feel. If you’re sad, lonely, angry, tired, anxious – food can distract you or give you a quick chemical burst of dopamine that can help you feel better chemically for a quick minute, but the underlying situation and your thoughts about it will still be there when the food high wears off. At the end of the day, you’ll still need to deal with the thoughts causing your feelings. Plus, the bellyache from overeating or eating foods that don’t work for your body.
The work here is to learn to check in with your intuition before diving in. To learn to comfort yourself, to nurture yourself, to manage your mind without blindly turning to food to fill that hole in your heart. And when you’re deeply in touch with your intuition and what you’re body deeply needs, you will rarely choose the quick fix. But can come to find pleasure and satisfaction from eating a bowl of berries, for example, slowly and deliberately. From a perfectly grilled steak and a mess of veggies rather than chugging a soda, or mindlessly devouring chips on the couch.
When you eat slowly, when you enjoy each bite and pause to find the pleasure in eating foods that don’t leave you with a food hangover, you will turn to those foods that don’t serve you less and less and can enjoy them in moderation here and there from a centered grounded place versus a desperate deprived place.
As we talk about intuition, one of the most amazing tools in my intuition toolbox is movement.
Man, exercise is such an amazing way to get in touch with your body, and I’m obsessed with it as a way to nourish ourselves, and to help us to learn how our bodies feel in any given moment. It’s also a magnificent tool in helping to heal the gut and balance our mental health.
When I talk about exercise, I am reminded of the importance of respecting the fact and accepting your genetics. I am 5 feet and 3/4 inches tall. No matter how much I exercise, I am thick in the thigh, and I also have curly hair. That is simply what is true. Those are my genetics. I will never be tall or blond. I mean without a bottle of bleach that is, right? Like I could easily look blond. I will never be lanky and I will never have naturally blue eyes. And the more than I can state these facts as facts and without judgment, and can accept and love me just as I am, the more room there is to hear my intuition from a place of self-love.
Finally, I want to encourage you once more to be gentle with yourself. There is no perfect diet.
There is no lifelong unchanging diet. Especially for those of us dealing with the ebbs and flows of chronic health concerns. What works today may not work tomorrow. What matters more than following a list is getting and staying in touch with what serves your health on all levels. You can aim to get six to nine servings of veggies a day most days while recognizing that unlike on a given Wednesday, you might only get the one veggie in, and you’re unlikely to get some life-altering nutrient deficiency from one little day off plan. It’s the balance of your choices that matter. Progress not Perfection is the name of the game here my loves. Do your best and release the rest.
Your homework for this week is to take a slow deep breath before you eat, to get in touch your body as you’re currently able and to listen to your intuition as you choose and eat your food. Ask your body if it feels right, if it’s what you need, and don’t listen to your head, your mind, your thoughts because your mind might be screaming, “Eat the fast-food burger, drink all the wine, sugar for me.” But your body, your body never lies. Listen in. Your body has so much to tell you, honor that.
Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!
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