What does natural eating look like?

A lot of Non-Diet spaces are talking about a “natural”, “peaceful” or “positive” relationship with food. But what does this actually look like?

We live in a Diet Culture, which means that people are judged based on their body size, and dieting is considered normal. In this kind of environment, it can be really difficult to know what natural eating looks like.

One way we can look at eating behaviour is on a spectrum, with natural eating on one end and a clinical eating disorder on the other. It might come as some surprise that the first step away from natural eating is dieting. Dieting is any modification to food intake for the purposes of weight loss, and can include:

· Calorie or portion restriction.

· Restriction of specific macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein or fat).

· Restriction of specific food groups.

· Following a set of rules for eating.

· Limiting yourself to a prescribed list of foods only.

The next step away from natural eating is disordered eating patterns, which can include:

· Avoiding entire food groups or macronutrients.

· Skipping meals.

· Compensating for eating with behaviours like food restriction, fasting or overexercise.

· Chronic weight cycling.

· Ignoring hunger cues.

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap with dieting, often involving the same behaviours but more severe. The next step and final end of the spectrum is meeting the criteria for a clinical eating disorder, including:

· Anorexia Nervosa (AN).

· Bulimia Nervosa (BN).

· Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

· Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED).

· Rumination Disorder.

· Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

On reading this, it may be becoming clear that there’s a lot of overlap between categories, and some disordered behaviours, including fasting and restricting entire food groups, are now being branded as “healthy” diets instead.

So if all of this is less-than-natural, what can natural eating look like?

· You’re able to notice and respond appropriately to your hunger and fullness cues.

· You make food choices based on enjoyment and satisfaction, as well as nutrition principles.

· You give yourself unconditional permission to eat any food.

· Food and nutrition only take up a small amount of your time and energy.

· You recognise that sometimes eating when you’re not hungry is normal, for example for comfort, celebration or just because you enjoy the taste.

· Your food choices don’t impact other aspects of your life such as social life and work.

If this doesn’t sound like you, don’t beat yourself up. You aren’t defective or abnormal. Because of Diet Culture, the vast majority of us have lost touch with the natural, intuitive way we were born to eat.

If you’re already moving through your non-diet or recovery journey, this information may give some clarity as to why we can’t promote “losing weight healthily” or a “lifestyle change”. This is because, as described above, any kind of dieting is one step away from natural eating.

But what about medically prescribed diets? If you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition that can be affected by nutrition, working with a non-diet dietitian can help you to learn how to best manage that condition whilst still maintaining as much enjoyment and flexibility with food as possible.

If you’d like to work on your relationship with food, working with a Non-Diet dietitian and psychologist can help guide you. If you’re concerned that you or someone you know may be experiencing disordered eating or an eating disorder, book an appointment to discuss this with a GP and reach out to us to see how we can be part of your treatment team.

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