While I’m on maternity leave, please welcome Ashleigh Partin, MS, RDN, LD, a Registered Dietitian and owner of Ashleigh Partin Nutrition, LLC, a nutrition counseling practice focused on eating disorders and disordered eating from Midland, Texas.
I love decorating my house for holidays, and I love all the little, cute details. One of my favorite items in my living room is my Mud Pie candy dish, but it does more than just hold some festive-colored candies. For me, it represents the freedom I have found around eating. There was a time in my life where a candy dish would have provoked in me so many negative feelings: worry that I would overindulge, fear that I would lose control over my body, a longing to satisfy my sweet tooth mixed with shame over being tempted by something I deemed so unhealthy.
Throughout my years of re-learning how to eat intuitively, those negative feelings have disappeared. The candy dish is now…just a candy dish. I can grab some peanut butter M&M’s, or I can walk right by. The difference? Food is no longer good or bad. My food choices are no longer an indication of my morality. My portion sizes no longer have anything to do with my self-control or lack thereof.
Now, food is food. My food choices are an indication of what sounds good and what makes me feel good. My portion sizes are now dictated by how much my body needs at that moment (p.s. it changes all the time). And for those of you thinking, “That’s great, Ashleigh, but if I did that, I’d eat X, Y, and Z all the time and I’d constantly overindulge”, KEEP READING.
The idea that self-control is required for healthy eating is incredibly misleading. Truly healthy eating should feel natural, comfortable, and satisfying to you. Intuitive eating means that sometimes, I walk by the candy dish and grab a handful. Sometimes, I set the candy dish on the coffee table and munch while I’m watching a TV show. Sometimes, I walk right by without grabbing anything. If I had to practice self-control and restraint every time I walked by the candy dish, I would be exhausted by the end of the day. Luckily, as an intuitive eater, I have learned the balance of liking a food without feeling like a slave to the food. Because SweeTarts are just another food item of the many I allow myself to have, I feel no special compulsion to eat them.
Does it take copious amounts of self-control to deny yourself a nap while at work? Probably not. You might still think a nap sounds wonderful, but you know, as a logical adult, that the outcome of getting caught by your boss napping at your desk would not outweigh the benefits of the extra rest. In the same way, my preference for candy does not necessarily change, but I can choose when it is appropriate for me and when it is not.
This is a process (and a long one, usually). I cannot teach you in a short blog post how to normalize food and reclaim your internal regulating signals. BUT, I can encourage you that no matter how you are feeling right now, there is hope! I have seen it happen for my clients, for my colleagues’ clients, and for myself. There are over 80 published research studies validating the principles of Intuitive Eating. Your body is incredible, and it knows what it needs; we just need to get your brain on board. If you’re living caught between the foods you eat and the foods and/or quantities you wish you could have, there is a better way. And as always, if you are struggling, please reach out to a non-diet dietitian or therapist and seek professional help.
Ashleigh Partin, MS, RDN, LD, is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Ashleigh Partin Nutrition, LLC, a nutrition counseling practice focused on eating disorders and disordered eating. She lives in west Texas with her husband and two dogs, Pepper and Kat. In addition to her practice, she teaches fitness classes at the local aquatic center and runs a part time flower truck business! Follow her on Instagram @ashleighpartinnutrition.