Nutrition Information- Informant or Ally?
This chapter is tricky. Health At Every Size chapter 4 covers nutritional information about food. Author Linda Bacon, PhD warns that not everybody is ready to read this chapter. Why not? If we have even a whiff of diet-mentality lingering in our minds and bodies, then this information can be dangerous. How so?
With Intuitive Eating we learn about the different inner voices- both the destructive dieting voices and the helpful intuitive eating voices. Among the dieting voices we find the “food police” and the “nutrition informant”. These two conspire to take any nutritional information (no matter how true or unhelpful it might be) and turn it into rules. “Nope, you can’t eat that… count the sugar grams. Way above the allotted ration.” “Don’t you eat that! Do you know how much you’ll have to work out to burn off those carbs?” These threatening and fear-mongering voices feed off nutrition info.
These voices seem like they’re looking out for us. Keeping us informed and in line. But they aren’t. They’re keeping us bound. Stealing our freedom in the pursuit of unsustainable weight loss and "perfectly" "healthy" eating. These voices can also be really mean and disrespectful. They can team up and hurl insults at our character and body.
Berating ourselves with “nutrition information” isn’t healthy. It erodes the healthy, compassionate, nurturing relationship God designed us to have with ourselves.
There can definitely be a time to learn nutrition information if we want to. But, when we’re coming out of the diet-mentality (or in Eating Disorder recovery) a couple of things need to happen for us to be able to replace the dieting voices with healthy inner voices. We need to have a solid foundation before nutrition information can be helpful to us.
We need to reject the diet-mentality.
A big part of that is letting go of all of our food rules. This can be terrifying. Diet culture disempowers us by getting us to distrust our hunger and fullness cues. We come to believe that without rules we will only eat our off limits foods and never stop. Our experience seems to reinforce that belief. What we don't usually realize is that that is a totally normal experience for somebody with diet-mentality. We eat like that when there are rules in place and we have off limits foods.
It is scary. That's why rejecting the diet-mentality and rebuilding trust with our bodies is a slow process. It's one small baby step at a time. We're changing beliefs, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We're digging down to the roots of the only paradigm most of us have known our entire lives. It's scary and it takes a while, but it's possible and it's freedom.
We need to learn to honor our hunger.
That means that we aren't restricting foods and ignoring hunger signals because "we shouldn't be hungry right now". When we ignore our innate hunger signals so that we can follow somebody else's rules we usually get extra hungry by the end of the day. In that over-hungry state of "primal hunger" we eat more food, faster, less mindfully and are less satisfied.
We need to make peace with food.
We also need to make peace with food. That’s where all food becomes morally equal and we honestly believe that we have unconditional permission to eat. Another part is getting back in touch with our hunger cues and honoring them. This all takes a lot of time and hard work (and tears).
But once we’ve done all that work and our inner nurturer and other Intuitive Eater voices have re-emerged, we can consider learning some of this information, if we want. At that point (which is different for everybody) the nutrition information can help us support our Nutrition Ally. The Nutrition Ally inner voice lends its opinion when we want it. It doesn’t command. It doesn’t threaten or bully. It isn’t even upset if we don’t listen to it. It’s a friendly guide. It knows that we are first and foremost committed to listening to our bodies.
Unlike the Nutrition Informant (dieting voice), the Nutrition Ally knows that our bodies are our best nutritionists. Only God and our bodies know what we need at any given moment. Science and nutrition information can be helpful, but it could never be as exact and precise to our body’s needs in that second.
Since I want this blog to be a safe place for everybody, I’m not including that nutritional information here. After all, not all of us are in the place that we’re ready to hear it rightly. It can still command too much control over our conscious and behavior and fuel rigid food rules.
Here’s what’s good to know from this chapter at this point:
“Bottom line? You don’t need food rules to guide your choices. You don’t need to fight your desires. All you need is to respect your body, by listening and responding to its signals. Information about how foods affect you can support your process of tuning in to your body and feeling ever more at home.”