Intuitive Eating for Couples

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There’s a new trend when it comes to dieting, and this is definitely one “diet” trend I can get on board with. This trend is no diet at all. As a couple, this is an opportunity to work together to create a positive atmosphere for food in your home. Welcome to Intuitive Eating for Couples.

INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

The idea of Intuitive Eating is not a new one, although it’s definitely one that has gained popularity over the past few years. Intuitive Eating is actually a concept that was written about in 1995 by a dietitian colleague, Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD when she published Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary New Program That Works. The idea of Intuitive Eating looks at helping us get back to listening and trusting our bodies when it comes to hunger and fullness cues. Why don’t we trust our bodies anymore? That’s where Diet Culture comes into play.

Diet Culture is Messing With Our Heads

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been on a diet. Are you still following that same diet?

Raise your hand if you’ve been on more than one diet.

Raise your hand if every time you’ve started that new diet, you told yourself this time it’s going to be different.

Raise your hand if you prepped for going on your next diet by enjoying all your favorite foods “one last time”.

Raise your hand if you’ve felt like a failure because you couldn’t “stick” to the diet.

Raise your hand if you’re ready to get off this insane hamster wheel of dieting.

All of these scenarios are exactly what Diet Culture is all about – telling us we’re not good enough, we need to change, and there’s a magic solution to changing it if we just do (or stop eating) this one thing.  And if we all could make these “simple” changes, the diet industry wouldn’t be worth $66 BILLION.

Diets: Designed to Fail

There’s a saying, “If you want to gain weight, go on a diet.” That’s because diets are essentially designed to fail. A study by UCLA found that 95% of diets fail, and most people will not only gain the weight back, but gain MORE. The average weight gain following a diet is 11 pounds.

Why do diets fail? Because they’re designed on instant gratification, not long-term results. Most marketing messages for diets quantify how much weight you’ll lose in what period of time. But they never say what happens after someone stops the diet. Diets are build on the premise that you need to remove something to be successful – certain food groups, meals, or types of food. But these are not realistic for the long term. Which is why no only can we not stay on these diets forever, but we revert to old habits because we never learned how to change the behavior or mindset.

INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

How Diet Culture Impacts Our Relationships

Diet Culture impacts relationships at every single stage, from dating to marriage (and unfortunately, even divorce).

Dieting & Dating

When we’re looking to meet “The One”, this is when we are hitting the gym and watching what we eat because we want to meet someone special. Somehow we’ve equated our body size and appearance to level of attractiveness.  Don’t even get me started that dating apps are a HUGE culprit of this – you’re deciding within 10 seconds of seeing someone’s photo if you want to pursue a lifelong relationship with this person.

But let’s say you do meet someone special and you start dating. What is the #1 thing couples do for fun? Go out to eat and drink. And if you’re someone who watches every single thing they eat, this can have a major impact on your dating life. Because the person you’re dating may not have the same tolerance level to know every single calorie of every single menu item, nor can they enjoy a meal while you only order an appetizer salad.

But eventually you can get very comfortable in a relationship and you’re desire to workout and watch every single calorie can fade as you cozy up with your new sweetie.

Dieting & Engagements

I have a whole separate post planned about this topic, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But should you be lucky enough to meet someone who pops the question, there is a sudden shift in mentality that you now need to be a Buff Bride and get Sweating for the Wedding. Some people use this as an opportunity to create healthy habits together (like my Brides & Grooms to Be who choose to work with me). And other people go to the extreme just to make it to the Big Day. Want to know how extreme? Check out Episode 1 of the Nutrition Nuptials Podcast to hear all about the Wacky Wedding Diets brides will do just to fit into a wedding dress and look “perfect” on their big day.

Dieting & Marriage

I started Nutrition Nuptials to address the phenomenon of what happens to couples after marriage. One day they’re working hard to their wedding, and they next day they realize they’re gained weight after being married for some time. Is it the honeymoon’s fault? Is it the lack of feeling there less need to “attract” the other person? Or is it because you were on that crazy Diet Cycle and you’re coming back around to the “not happy with myself and need a change” phase.

The Diet Cycle | Intuitive Eating for Couples | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

Over time, the on-again, off-again and even obsession with diets can have a negative impact on a relationship and marriage:

  • No longer doing things together because food becomes an issue
  • Dining separately or eating different meals because one of you is on a diet
  • Grocery shopping separately because can’t agree on what to buy
  • Feeling pressure by the other person to give up or feel bad about yourself
  • Socialization with your Significant Other or other people can become an issue
  • Constant diet talk being brought up during and between meals
  • Fighting over types of food kept in the house
  • Binging when can’t handle diet pressure anymore
  • Blaming the other person for being on a diet or not able to “stick to it”

So how do we get off this wacky Diet Cycle Ferris Wheel Ride? It’s starts with Intuitive Eating.

INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive Eating is getting back to our own internal biology when it comes to hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. Babies are the most intuitive eaters. They cry when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full. They have no external influences on their hunger.

And then babies become toddlers. And they get put on eating schedules. And they’re told what they can & can’t have, fighting with parents over eating veggies vs cookies. Kids start going to school where they’re put on even more regimented schedules of lunch time and not being able to eat in the classroom (unless you bring enough for everyone). High School comes and breakfast gets skipped because they’re running our the door. Diet messages get targeted to teens and athletes. College is it’s own beast.

And then we start working, where high stress jobs, meetings, and daily schedules can impact our eating. I can tell you this firsthand from experience. When I worked in advertising, I didn’t eat lunch most days until 4pm. If I was lucky and planned accordingly, I could usually eat breakfast when I got in at 8:30am because no one was around yet to bother me. But some days I’d just start working and forget to eat breakfast, too. So by the time 4pm would roll around, I wasn’t a pleasant person to be around because I was HANGRY. I’d suppress my hunger because I told myself that I just had to get a project done, or shoot off a few emails, or I’d eat after a meeting, not during, so I wouldn’t be rude. In retrospect, that makes as much sense as telling myself I don’t have to go to the bathroom for 8 hours and holding it in until the timing was just right.

Take into account magazines, TV, social media, and a million diet messages about who lost how much on this diet, how evil carbs and sugar are, and what causes weight gain this week, and it’s no wonder 2/3 of our country is overweight or obese – no one knows what the hell they should be doing anymore when it comes to when and how to eat. All of this has led us to suppress our innate hunger cues.

INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

How to Become and Intuitive Eater

Learning how to be an Intuitive Eater is not an easy or fast process. After all, you’re undoing DECADES of suppressing hunger cues plus the dieting message you’ve been exposed to all those years. It’s about rebuilding trust with yourself, your body, and your mind. And this takes work. First step is to work with a counselor who is trained and educated in Intuitive Eating (like a registered dietitian). They will work with you to start recognizing the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating (described below), and then how to overcome barriers towards making the change. Having your Significant Other be part of this process is critical because they can help promote positive change and reinforce the principles.

RELATED: LEARN MORE ABOUT MY SMALL GROUP INTUITIVE EATING PROGRAM 

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating for Couples 

The following principles are discussed in depth in Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary New Program That WorksI’m providing a summary of the principles, and how couples can work together to achieve each of these steps. It should be noted that you do not have to master each principle in order before you can move on to the next. Many of these overlap with each other. 

1. Reject the Diet Mentality: It’s time to say bye-bye to diet magazines, books, websites, social media accounts, and juice cleanses. Give the middle finger to every diet plan, program, and article that has made you feel like a failure because you just couldn’t do “this one thing” and gained weight back following a diet you couldn’t sustain. If you still have the “next one will be different” mindset, it will hold you back from truly grasping the concept of Intuitive Eating.

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: Be your partner’s voice of reason. Call them out when they’re talking about starting a new diet, saying they’re not eating certain foods, or bringing “diet porn” into your home. Turning the mirror around on someone is sometimes the best way for them to see where they’re at. 

2. Honor Your Hunger: Don’t let belly gurgles and tummy rumbles overtake you and make you think you’re doing something “good” for yourself by holding out on eating. The body needs energy, particularly from carbs (our MOST important energy nutrient!). If you deny your hunger for too longer, you will overeat at the next meal, therefore taking in more calories than you would have had you just allowed yourself to eat when you were hungry in the first place. Learning to honor your hunger starts building trust with your body and food.

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: If you hear your partner’s belly making hunger sounds, suggest having something to eat together (either a meal or a small snack). Positive peer pressure can work magic here! Check in every so often with each other and ask “Are you hungry?” and give some time to process the hunger feeling. Eating meals together helps to make meals more about spending time as a couple and less about the emphasis on food and can help check in on hunger levels. Dining alone can cause us to talk ourselves out of being hungry. 

3. Make Peace with Food: STOP THE FOOD FIGHT! Let your self eat food. Any food. The more you tell yourself you can’t have something, the more desirable that Forbidden Fruit will be until you can’t take it anymore. The reason you’re “losing control” around food is because you’ve put too much control around it. Don’t let it be an all or nothing scenario. You’ll be much happier if you just have the 1-2 cookies you want know, versus feeling guilty for eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints. This also goes with the “Last Supper” mentality that comes before the intention to start a “healthy” eating plan. Just eat the food and move on.

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: If you partner adamantly says “No, I can’t have ____,” when you suggest eating something together, ask them why they feel that way. If they bring up the idea of calories or “sinful” foods, refer back to Principle #1 and call them out. Work on portioning out food together, and ask how the other person feels after having that set amount. If you’re both still hungry, then consider having more. If you’re unsure if you’re still hungry, take a break, chat, and come back to it in a few minutes by checking in on your hunger levels. 

4. Challenge the Food Police: It is time to divorce the idea of “Good” and “Bad” foods from your vocabulary and mindset (for more words to let go of, see Divorce These Words). Our internal Food Police made some silly rules up many years ago, and now we’ve stopped listen to our own bodies telling us if we want something or if we’re hungry. When you can liberate yourself from the Food Policy, you are making some serious progress.

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: Be each other’s “Diet Police”. Refer back to #1: Call your partner out when they start categorizing foods as “good/bad”, or tell you they’re not supposed to have something when you suggest eating a particular food. Want to truly bring the matter to light? Take note every time your partner has a run-in with the Food Police and tell them how often they refer to things as “good/bad” or talk themselves out of having something because it’s diet-related. 

INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

5. Respect Your Fullness: The flip side of being hungry is knowing when you’re full. Take note of the Hunger Scale below. Where are you at on this scale both Before and After eating food. Ideally you should eat around a 3, and stop around a 7. Keeping your hunger level at 1 is when you get Hangry. Eating till you’re at a 10 is Thanksgiving Dinner amplified. And if you’re still at a 3 after eating something or quickly after, it means you definitely have not eaten enough to be satisfied and nourished. It also helps to stop while your eating and think about: How does this taste? Do I enjoy this? Do I want more because I’m hungry or because it’s there?

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: Check in with each other during meals. Take pauses and breaks during meals to talk, catch up, and check-in on your hunger levels. Determine if you want more because it’s there or because you’re actually hungry. Don’t call your partner out if they don’t finish their food. Don’t tell them how much X cost and that they’re wasting it or that children are starving in Africa. You can always save food or have leftovers if you don’t want to be wasting money or food. 

Thanksgiving Tips | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor: When is the last time you took a bite into food and had a serious mouth-gasm??? Maybe it was a meal at a fancy restaurant, or maybe it was just a bite of an orange that tasted refreshing and juicy. Remember that food is our #1 social activity and how many events are centered around food – dates, weddings, social engagements, even just dinner at home. Having a positive environment to enjoy food, and having delicious food to boot, makes it a pleasant experience that makes you feel satisfied. If you treat these events like the Last Supper, then you need to go back to the earlier Principles to address those as a couple.

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: Plan Date Nights together to get out of the house and enjoy time and food in fun and uplifting environments. Make a big deal when one of both of you try an amazing food item. Or even make a big deal out of something that may seem like an everyday food, but just tastes really good. Laugh, joke, and lighten the mood around food. 

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food: Don’t let food have special power simple because of it’s fat, sugar, or calorie content. Find ways to comfort stress, anxiety, and emotions without using food. Food not only doesn’t fix those feelings, it can actually make you feel worse and guilty over your choices. Find other ways to comfort yourself, such as exercising, doing some simple meditation, enjoy some essential oils, take a bubble bath, or read a book. Celebrate the good times with a happy dance!

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: Turn to each other, not food, when times get bad. Encourage each other to do an activity together, get out of the house, take a drive, or just take a walk while holding hands. Your Significant Other is your best source of comfort. They have more power to comfort you than food ever will.

8. Respect Your Body: We all were given a certain size and structure when it comes to body type. And while some of it can be in our control (such as muscle tone), other factors are not. The important thing is learning to accept it. I like to give the example that you’re not going to cut your toes off to be a smaller shoe size. So why would you fight with your body to be a smaller size that’s simply not comfortable just for the sake of wearing a smaller number on your clothing labels? You can’t reject that diet mentality (Principle #1) if you’re critical or unrealistic about your body shape.

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: Tell your Significant Other what you LOVE about their body and the way it is. Don’t expect someone to change simply because you want them to or because you got rid of all the cookies in the house. Don’t buy someone smaller size clothing as a gift with the expectation that it will motivate them to fit into it. 

INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

9. Exercise–Feel the Difference. If you’re using exercise as punishment for the food you’ve eaten or because you’re unhappy with your body, then you’ve missed the point of exercising. Instead, find an activity that’s fun to do and focus on how you feel from the exercise, such as increased energy or strength. If you find a workout enjoyable, you will look forward to it and night bargain with yourself to “have” to do it. If you don’t find a treadmill fun or exciting, then don’t do the treadmill because that’s what you “should” do in order to lose weight. There is nothing less motivating to workout than not enjoying the workout.

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: Find an activity you can do together. Make it a point to go for walks together at the end of your day, or spend one weekend day a week doing a physical activity. Did you hear us talk about Hike-nics on Episode 11 of the Nutrition Nuptials Podcast? Combine dates with physical activity. Or perhaps you find your own individual activities that you can each enjoy separately (like we discussed on Episode 8 of Nutrition Nuptials Podcast). Learn more about these 10 Surprising Benefits of Working Out as a Couple

RELATED: Couples-Only Workout

10. Honor Your Health. Only you know what your body needs when it comes to feeling food. Make choices that honor your health and tastebuds while still making you food good physically overall. You don’t have to eat perfectly at ever meal to be healthy. As I like to say, “One bad meal won’t make you fat, and one salad won’t make you skinny.” You have not “ruined” yourself or your overall healthy for choosing to have french fries instead of a side salad. What’s more important is the choices you consistently make over time. And remember – PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION is what counts.

HOW COUPLES CAN WORK TOGETHER: Don’t shame your Significant Other for choices that they make. Provide encouragement for why you may choose to eat certain foods over others on a regular basis (such as salad with dinner to get your veggies or to promote heart health). Promote a positive home environment that accepts all foods. Talk to each other if you’re not feeling well or if you body feels less than stellar about certain food choices or a weekend of overeating and over drinking. 

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE 10 PRINCIPLES OF INTUITIVE EATING, CATCH THIS WEEK’S EPISODE OF THE NUTRITION NUPTIALS PODCAST, EPISODE 13: INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES 

Intuitive Eating Group Program | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH INTUITIVE EATING?

DO YOU & YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER PRACTICE ANY OF THESE PRINCIPLES OF INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES?

WHAT CHANGES CAN YOU MAKE AS A COUPLE?

SHARE YOUR STORIES AND HOW YOU CAN WORK TOGETHER TO BE MORE INTUITIVE EATERS IN THE COMMENTS AND ON SOCIAL MEDIA BY TAGGING ME (@NUTRITION_NUPTIALS OR #NUTRITIONUPTIALS)

PIN FOR LATER –>

INTUITIVE EATING FOR COUPLES | Nutrition Nuptials | Mandy Enright MS RDN RYT

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