All too often, the conversation around healthy eating is centered around weight loss. Eating is about so much more than that! A diet full of healthy foods can improve energy levels, brighten your mood, and have dozens of health benefits. Don’t worry, even with a healthy lifestyle, there’s still room for dessert. We caught up with Registered Dietitian Anne Mauney from the healthy lifestyle and recipe blog fANNEtastic Food to hear how she uses intuitive eating to support her health and get enjoyment from food at the same time.
Blue Apron: What are some reasons to eat well?
Anne Mauney: The main reason is to feel good physically and to stabilize energy levels, but it’s important to remember that eating well can mean totally different things to different people. I think that that’s one of the places where people get caught up: there are so many places to find different advice, but eating well for your body might look totally different than eating well for someone else’s body.
It’s more important to tune in and ask yourself, “What foods feel best for me physically, and in what amounts” versus, “what does this random person that I follow online eat” or whatever.
Blue Apron: So what exactly, does intuitive eating mean?
Anne Mauney: I’m a dietitian, and I have always focused on intuitive eating in my private practice with my clients.
You know how you eat when you’re a kid? You eat when you’re hungry, you stop when you’re full. It’s not that complicated. Over the years, diet messaging comes in, and we find ourselves not always listening to what our bodies are saying.
Intuitive eating is a way to get people back to eating in a way that feels good. It’s about noticing how foods feel for you, and understanding your hunger and fullness levels. Removing the guilt around food is really important too.
Blue Apron:What is a tip that you would give someone who is familiar with the idea of intuitive eating, but isn’t sure where to start?
Anne Mauney: I always have my clients start by looking at their day as a whole. A food mood journal can be really helpful here. This isn’t a diet or weight loss food journal, where you’re putting portion sizes and things like that, but it’s more just a way for people to actually tune in, basically. It’s easy to just get so busy that you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating. You’re getting too hungry. Then once you’re too hungry, you’re overeating as a result, and you feel too full.
Start with a food mood journal where you note what you’re eating, focusing on what your hunger and your fullness levels are. This can be a really helpful tool to look at your day as a whole, and just say, “Are there times of the day that I notice I’m constantly getting a little too hungry, and then, as a result, often a little too full?” Because it’s really hard to eat intuitively or just mindfully if you’re way too hungry. A food mood journal can also be a great way to assess WHY you are getting too hungry at certain times of day. Are meals/snacks too spaced out? Or are you not getting a balance of carbs, fat, and protein at your meals? There’s a lot to explore!
A pattern that I see often is people try to “eat healthy” early in the day, and as a result they don’t eat enough. Then, later in the day, they find themselves bingeing on something in the pantry. It’s not that they have no willpower, it’s just that they literally set themselves up for that by getting too hungry.
Focusing on the hunger and fullness scale, and reacquainting yourself with what that feels like, can be really helpful and a great place to start your intuitive eating journey.
Blue Apron: How do you take that into consideration when doing your own meal planning?
Anne Mauney: One thing that’s important to me is making sure that all of my meals contain carbohydrates, fats, and protein. I really love that Blue Apron’s wellness meals are really balanced with the macronutrients, because that’s important too.
Often, especially with breakfast, I’ll see people will skip the protein and just have carbs. Then at lunch, people are skipping carbs, maybe just having a salad. If you’re missing different macronutrients at your meals, they’re not going to be as satisfying or give you as much staying power. That can set you up for an energy crash and sugar cravings later on in the day.
Blue Apron: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Anne Mauney: I’m pregnant, so I need two full legit breakfasts. My first breakfast with my toddler around 7:00 AM was a banana, egg, and ground flax seed pancake (here’s the recipe: High Protein Pancake Recipe) that I make a lot. It sounds kind of gross, but it’s really good and it’s super easy—my toddler absolutely loves it too! You basically just mash banana, whisk a few eggs in there, and then put some ground flaxseed in. Your banana is the carb, there’s protein from the eggs, and then healthy fat from the ground flaxseed.
For my second breakfast I had some scrambled eggs in a tortilla with black beans, avocado, feta, and arugula. Again, just making sure you’ve got a different mix of fats, carbs, and protein. I don’t always eat eggs at both of my breakfasts, but it’s what worked today!
Pregnancy changes all the rules of eating. I’ve really had to tune in to all this all over again. Especially with my first pregnancy a few years ago, I really had to just start over, basically, with intuitive eating. The things that I had been eating were just not satisfying me like they normally did, just because I had so much hunger. For me, it’s about just being okay with listening to what your body wants, and if that’s multiple full meals first thing in the day, then I go for it.
Blue Apron: When we separate the conversation about eating well from the conversation about losing weight, what do we gain?
Anne Mauney: First of all, I think we get back pleasure from food. One of the things that diet culture can make people forget is that food should actually taste good. We should get pleasure from food.
We also gain long-term sustainability. What I’ve found, not only in research, but also in work with my clients, is that it’s just not sustainable to focus specifically on weight loss. You’re not building long-term habits that you can actually continue to do.
You might be able to follow a more restrictive or extreme approach for a little while, but then you fall off the wagon and boomerang back the other way, which leads to weight cycling. If you’re focusing on eating well with an intuitive eating approach, you can focus on building small, sustainable habits that are going to be things that you can keep up over time.
With more restricted diet approaches, there’s often a lot of guilt involved. When you’re told you shouldn’t eat a certain food, you’re going to want it more. Then what ends up happening is that, maybe you avoid that food for a while, but then eventually you’re going to have it. Then, instead of just having it, and enjoying it, and moving on, you end up feeling really guilty. The “screw it” mentality comes in, where you say, “Okay. Screw it. I’ve already had one slice of pizza. I’m going to have the entire pizza, because I’m never eating this pizza again, because I’m not supposed to eat it.” Restrictive diets naturally leads to this binge/restrict cycle and ultimately to worse health outcomes in the long term.
I always ask my clients to focus on adding rather than subtracting. Rather than thinking about what food or thing to subtract from your diet, try thinking about what you can add to it to balance it out. For example, think about adding veggies, or adding a carb to lunch so then you’re not having sugar cravings later.
Blue Apron: So you don’t consider any foods “forbidden?”
Anne Mauney: I think it’s actually really important to your honor cravings. With diet culture, there’s a sense that “Okay. I have this craving but I’m not allowed to have that food, so I’m going to try and have a lame diet version of whatever it is I actually want.” Then, what happens is you basically end up just binging on something else later because you’re just not satisfied.
If there’s something that you’re really craving, and nothing else is going to satisfy that, then I think it’s important to just have whatever it is you actually want. Put it on a plate, and focus on actually enjoying the process rather than quickly squirreling it away. Allowing yourself to actually get pleasure from that experience rather than having it be shameful. Just be sure you aren’t going into the experience too hungry, because that will make it harder to slowly savor your food and enjoy it!
If you want to learn more about intuitive eating, I have a post on my blog called “Intuitive Eating While Working From Home” that is quite relevant for a lot of us being homebound right now! I also have an “Intuitive Eating for Runners” specific post, too.
Look for recipes with the Wellness label on the signature for 2 menu to find meals designed in collaboration with nutritionists with your holistic health in mind.