Would you be surprised if I told you that there was no such thing?
Food guidelines are population based – that is, they are designed for the “average” person. Trouble is, we are all individuals, and when we start nit-picking about things like health, and biology, nobody really meets the exact definition of average. I’m not dismissing food guidelines (after all, they are exactly that, guidelines!) but I am acknowledging that for many people, they are just a starting point, not a set of inflexible rules.
There is a baby science, nutrigenomics, which hopes that one day, practitioners will be able to build a perfect diet for an individual, based on their specific DNA profile, plus health factors, but that is a long way off yet (do not believe people who profess to be able to deliver it now #snakeoilsalesmen)
However, the drive to pursue the perfect diet has led to the rise of a new eating disorder – orthorexia. Sadly, for those suffering from this disorder, and basically anyone who has ever tried to identify and follow such a diet, the reality is that this diet…does…not…exist.
Certainly, there are better patterns of eating, principally those involving whole, fresh foods, but are those patterns perfect? Nope, not a one of them.
But right now, there are not any diets that are scientifically able to cure anything. Manage a chronic health condition well enough to make that person feel pretty good? – yes, some diets can do that. But only as long, as that person continues to follow that eating plan. It’s like taking medication – if you stop taking it, your symptoms return.
But what works for one person, does not work for everyone. Beware of the health gurus who claim that eating XYZ cured their incurable health conditions. Because when you delve into their back stories, the common thread is most of them were eating a nutritionally poor diet, and, engaging in other unhealthy behaviours. So naturally, once they started eating well, and taking better care of themselves, they started to see an improvement in their health.
But claiming one variation of diet is better than another? From a scientific viewpoint, if a diet is nutritionally dense, contains a wide variety of foods, and does not contain anything that can act as a trigger for an individual (e.g. someone with coeliac disease and gluten), then the specific foods in that diet aren’t that important.
So, if you feel that your diet isn’t working for you, and you’re not sure what to do about it, talk to a dietitian or nutritionist. And make sure that professional is prepared to work with you to develop the best diet for you – not one that is imposed from the top down.
Ultimately, the perfect diet for you, is the diet that helps to keep you healthy, provides enough energy for all your daily activities, and – this is important! – you enjoy eating.
Intuitive eating seems to be a bit fuzzy around the edges. While there are certain core elements, to some extent, it can be interpreted by the practitioner.
Now, I listen to a lot – a LOT – of podcasts on the topic, in large part because my job requires a lot of commuting, and it helps fill in the time. I’m not normally a person that sits and listens to audio (I’m more visual), but being trapped in a car makes me a captive audience.
And I’ll be honest – as my primary focus is always on driving, chunks of these podcasts can skip past. But then other parts reach out and latch onto my ears. And sometimes, scream into those shell-like orifices.
Now, I consider myself to be a true believer in intuitive eating, HAES, mindful eating, non-diet diets, etc., but I will also admit that they can all seem a bit hippy-ish to newcomers.
Of late, I have also heard a lot about other movements intersecting with intuitive eating; some in a natural, organic way, and other’s in a rather more aggressive, co-opting manner.
So, I am putting this out there – anyone can embrace (or even just gently poke at) intuitive eating. You don’t have to belong to any category to give it a go. The whole concept doesn’t “belong” to anyone, or any agenda.
You don’t have to be coming from a place of disordered eating, or being body shamed, or chronic disease (although it is very helpful for some of those people). You can join in if you just feel that there needs to be a simpler way to eat and enjoy food.
You also don’t have to belong to any specific demographic, marginalised or otherwise. This isn’t a special club for any single group. Nobody owns intuitive eating.
So, intuitive eating is about food and eating behaviours. It is about health – not just physical, but also mental and emotional.
But hopefully, it can avoid becoming political, or tribal, or extremist. I still recall being harassed at a raw foodies meeting, that I had attended out of curiosity. One member was determined to prove to me that I was just WRONG, because I like some of my food to be cooked. The intuitive eating concept doesn’t need to be hijacked by people with a black and white mindset. Because frankly, that isn’t intuitive.