Op-ed: the best diet is not a diet

A nutritionist on the importance of intuitive eating

Many of us find security, and often our identity, in following a set of rules when it comes to our food choices. We draw lines in the sand, saying no to pasta or even entire food groups. And then what typically happens is we become more and more adherent to these strict guidelines, denying ourselves foods we actually crave.

Eventually, what we believe to be “healthy eating” becomes a rigid set of clean-eating boundaries. If I know one thing about the human body, it’s that continual, repeated stress is what wreaks the most havoc on our health. It doesn’t matter how green and clean and raw your plate is, if you find yourself stressing about your food choices, that’s not healthy at all.

What is more, this points us down a path riddled with disordered eating: oscillating between super healthful eating and feeling out of control around food, consuming past the point of fullness and telling ourselves we’ll start fresh again with a detoxor diet tomorrow.

Over the past few years in my work as a non-diet, intuitive eating registered dietitian and nurse practitioner, I’ve started to see a shift in this mindset about food. More and more people are discovering intuitive eating and experiencing the freedom and true health that comes with embracing its principles. Intuitive eating is not a quick fix or something that provides instant gratification. But what it does provide is a long-term way to find peace with food and your body so you’re able to spend your time and energy living a purposeful life instead of micromanaging your plate or pant size.

You’re also able to eat for experience and pleasure, which nourishes your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. In doing so, you learn to practice self-care and compassion. And over time as you cue into how you feel before, during, and after eating different foods, your body and mind will begin to gravitate towards mostly nutrient-rich fare. That doesn’t mean all the time. Sometimes exactly what you need is a glass of wine and takeout with a good friend. But more often than not you’ll want to provide your body with wholesome sustenance...and not because you think you should, but because you intuitively know how to take care of yourself.

Intuitive eating is a journey. And a long road of learning and discovery starts with step one: surrendering the diet mentality and deciding that you will no longer use food rules or objective measures to dictate your nutrition choices. From there, you move on to honoring your hunger. This means tuning into your body's own internal cues on how to eat to feel and perform at your best. If you're craving salt after a long run, you likely need the electrolytes. If you want carbs and know you've really pushed yourself in the gym, they're probably necessary. Even if you have a desire for something and don't know why, that's okay too. Your body is the expert at managing what you need and connecting with it is how you find sustainable, holistic wellness. For more information on how to get started, read Intuitive Eatingby Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Robyn Nohling is a registered dietician and nurse practitioner in New York City.