Last Updated on February 5, 2021 by Katherine Dittmann, MA, MS, RD
Part two in my series on getting back to basics for building a solid eating recovery.
When I first met Daisy, she was pretty fed up with trying to eat intuitively. “I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full, but I’m still plagued with these cravings everyday,” she lamented. Daisy had been dieting routinely for the past 15 years. Her weight had cycled up and down. She was still within her healthy weight range, but felt that it wasn’t her natural weight, the weight she expected if she were eating more intuitively.
There are no promises of weight loss with intuitive eating. In fact, using intuitive eating with the express intention for weight loss (even if it is only a secret hope) will probably get in the way of connecting with your intuition altogether. It’s like meditating. Once you use the practice to achieve something or to get somewhere, you have completely missed the point. What’s more, without laying a good foundation for your new eating approach, it will be too easy to slip back into old patterns and behaviors.
Daisy and I looked at her food logs together. Fruits and vegetables? Check. Lean protein? Check. Healthy fats? Definitely. “You have a decent grasp on the foods most people typically associate with a nutritious diet,” I commented, “but I’m really noticing a dearth of carbohydrate.” “Well, yeah,” she said, looking at me incredulously, “Carbs make you fat.”
I cringed inwardly. Daisy, it appeared, was violating the second principle of foundational eating: balance. In nutrition, when we talk about balance, we are talking about the macronutrients: fat, carbohydrate, and protein. These are the nutrients your body uses for energy. Only those. Nothing else (OK, alcohol as well, but that’s beside the point). We learned in the last post that getting enough energy (adequacy) is of primary importance, but the balance of nutrients is crucial. And to complicate things, the nutrient ratio may be different from person to person.
Severe restriction of any of the macronutrients will lead to malnutrition at some point. Just as the body experiences stress from insufficient total energy, so will it suffer if it is deprived of major nutrients, the basic building blocks it needs to repair and rebuild, well, you.
Imagine you are at work. Let’s say that in order to get all your work done well, you need a steady supply of red pencils, sticky notes, and paper clips. One day the sticky note supply is low or doesn’t come at all. At first you panic. Some notes don’t get written, some files go to the wrong place, whatever. Maybe you find a work-around, but your work is not as efficient and slick as it once was. You start day-dreaming about an endless supply of sticky notes, “If only I had some sticky notes! Mmmmm…”
Daisy was craving carbohydrates because she was restricting carbohydrates. She wasn’t having balanced meals. She had been operating with an old, worn-out belief that said, “Carbs are bad.” She did not realize she was shooting herself in the foot by not honoring her body’s fundamental need for starches and sugars.
Little by little, Daisy added carbohydrates to her meal plan. She started with whole grains (they felt safer) and then, after some time, felt comfortable with breads, pastas, crackers and other complex carbohydrates. One day, she came to her session and said, “You know, I haven’t had any food cravings at all in a couple of weeks. I am totally shocked.” Daisy, it seemed, had learned the value of eating a balanced diet.