After graduating from Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and completing an accredited internship with Wayne State, Samantha Barash was ready to make a positive impact in a world of body shaming and diet culture. As a registered dietician and the founder of consulting service Tap Into Nutrition, her approach to intuitive eating has helped both her and her clients strengthen their relationship with food, reach a place of health and confidence, and find peace within body neutrality.
Barash defines intuitive eating as “a practice where we are listening to internal cues as opposed to external diet rules. It’s about honoring that you are the expert of your body and that you are the most tuned in to what it needs.” While in school at MSU, she struggled heavily with disordered eating and a disordered outlook on her body and exercise. Her original goal when choosing her degree path was to “help people get skinny.” She’s since realized that the only ethical way to talk about nutrition and to heal from these unsustainable goals she held is through intuitive eating. Here, she shares her tips for embracing the practice.
Remember that diets are not sustainable.
The first principle of intuitive eating is to reject the diet mentality. “Diets might work for a little while, but if it’s not maintainable, it’s not working,” Barash says. “The diet industry is the only industry that continuously fails its users, yet the users always blame themselves.”
Take morality out of eating.
Diet culture norms encourage us to label our food as “good” or “bad.” Barash recommends removing these labels and shifting your focus. “If we are eating mindfully, we must remove the guilt,” she says. “You can’t eat pasta and think ‘I’m so bad, I should be eating a salad.’” This kind of guilt can often lead to a restricting and binging cycle of eating. By viewing all foods as neutral, it becomes easier to fuel the body without negative emotions tied to eating.
Reframe emotional eating.
“Think about the banana bread that we all were making at the start of the pandemic,” Barash says. “There was so much comfort that stemmed from that, especially in a traumatic time. There are ways of eating emotionally that can be really positive.” This coping skill is healthy, as long as it’s paired with other healthy coping mechanisms. Issues with emotional eating arise when we are dependent on eating to feel a sense of control. “A beautiful piece of intuitive eating is the equal focus on physical health and mental health, breaking down why we are eating the way we are eating.”
Take the emphasis off weight.
While weight loss is a goal for some of Barash’s clients, she notes that being your smallest size possible shouldn’t be the primary focus. “We can be healthy at different sizes, and the idea that you have to be a certain size to be deemed as healthy can be really detrimental to the process,” she says. “…When clients tell me that their goal is to lose a certain amount of weight, I like to ask what losing that weight will do for them. Are you going on a vacation? Will losing this weight help you do something specific? We place a lot of pressure on this weight loss thinking that it will lead to happiness. Changing our bodies won’t do that, but finding neutrality in our current state will.”
Honor your body as it is now.
“This could mean anything from buying clothes in a size that fits you to unfollowing people on social media who give you unrealistic body expectations.” When eating intuitively, honoring your “here and now” body is key. As weight fluctuates and circumstances change, your body will continue to support you if given the right nutrients. Behavior changes surrounding your body must come from a place of love for your body, not from the desire to change it.
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