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A guide to intuitive eating during quarantine

In the age of social media, it's not always easy to maintain a healthy relationship with food. Now more than ever, the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders present unforeseen challenges and triggers to those who have struggled with, or are recovering from, disordered eating and body image issues. 

"Due to mandatory social distancing measures, individuals are experiencing an abrupt rupture in structure, as well as separation from vital in-person support," says Liz Motta, mental health counselor and director of education and resources for the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness

Without warning, schools closed, plans were postponed and days started blurring together. We can no longer rely on the daily distractions of our busy lives. This can cause old feelings of body insecurity or intrusive thoughts to resurface. "During times of crisis and uncertainty, we may search for other ways to self-soothe and gain a sense of control," Motta adds.

If you're worried about your relationship with food right now, consider trying intuitive eating. Intuitive eating started back in 1995, when registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch got sick of the guilt-ridden conversation around food and decided to develop a new approach—where people could reject the dieting mentality, listen to their inner wisdom and learn to enjoy food and eat in peace. "Intuitive eating is an evidence-based, anti-diet, body-positive model that is a dynamic interplay of instinct, emotion and thought," says Resch. 

Interested in intuitive eating? Try these ten steps to restore your self-compassion and tap into a positive relationship with food...

Step 1: Listen to your body.

It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how often humans ignore what our bodies are trying to tell us. "Your body was built with all the wisdom it needs to know how to eat," says Resch. "Listen to its signals for hunger and fullness." 

Step 2: Become a diet rebel.

Throughout history, women have been oppressed by the institutionalized patriarchy of diet culture. Despite advances in gender equality, diet culture remains—and it's become stifling. From television commercials to the catwalk of social media, there's an assumption that girls should be fixated on thinness. 

Here's the thing, though: It's a lie. Fad diets don't work, and they *certainly* don't benefit our health. While our fave celebs may credit a certain product for their weight loss, it's likely they've never used that product in their lives, instead favoring cosmetic surgery, airbrushing and good lighting to achieve their desired look.

So how do we learn to be diet rebels? We remember who we are: Strong, independent and fierce women who will not be told what to do by anybody. "Trust that only you know which foods you like, when you're hungry and when you're full," Resch says. "Don't give up your autonomy for outside sources which have nothing to do with your inner wisdom."

Step 3: Eat what makes you feel good. 

Rather than obsessing over health trends, registered nutritionist Pixie Turner suggests concentrating on building a food relationship that is free of guilt and instead filled with happiness. "Eating should be delicious, enjoyable and exciting," she says. "It shouldn't take up too much headspace." 

Step 4: Remember that variety is key to health.

There is *no* miracle diet, nor is there any supplement or immune-boosting juice that will protect you from COVID-19. "The problem with these myths is that they distract from the medically proven tactics that can help to reduce the spread, such as wearing a mask, hand washing and social distancing," Turner explains. She adds that the best way to look after our bodies is by eating "a wide variety of foods across all groups," from carbohydrates to veggies, proteins to fats. 

Step 5: View your emotions with kindness, not judgment.

During stressful times, food can be a source of comfort. "We feel emotions when we eat," Turner says. "It reminds us of people and memories." It's important to understand why we're eating (Am I hungry? Bored? Stressed?) in order to grow our toolbox of how to handle our big feelings with compassion.

Resch's advice: Remain present while you're eating, and nurture yourself with tons of self-care." Allow yourself time to relax, meditate, write in your journal, bake, watch a movie, talk to a friend or just be. If you [take care of] yourself without judgment, your eating will not be out of touch with your body signals." 

Step 6: Eat with others.

Instead of catching up on homework during dinner, ask your fam to sit down with you. Reminisce on funny memories or share what you're grateful for that day. If everyone at home is busy, ask besties to join you for a virtual dinner (and dessert!) party over FaceTime or Zoom.

Step 7: Swap exercise for movement.

Remember that regular movement is great for your muscles *and* your mood, whereas excessive exercise can become destructive. Concerned that your love of fitness is veering into obsession? Resch points out these warning signs: Constant exhaustion, achy muscles, disregarding when you're sick or injured, or feelings of guilt when you miss a day of working out. Ultimately, you shouldn't force yourself to do anything that feels uncomfortable or that you don't enjoy. Remind yourself that taking a walk around the block, cleaning your room or throwing a dance party is still movement!

Step 8: Bring in the positive vibes. 

It's hard to stay optimistic when fun plans are canceled, summer vacay is called off and motivation is dwindling. But keeping ourselves busy, positive and focused is super important for mental health.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) recommends establishing a routine for yourself: "If you're not at school or work, fill your day with activities, projects and designated screen time. There are tons of free classes, concerts, craft ideas and more available during this time." 

Step 9: Talk to someone.

Still struggling? Always remember that you're not alone—and there *is* support available. Open up about your feelings to family and friends. Plus, the Alliance For Eating Disorder Awareness is offering virtual support, with two free check-in sessions per week as well as telehealth and treatment for higher levels of care. You can also contact NEDA's toll-free and confidential hotline by phone (1-800-931-2237) or chat helpline. For 24/7 crisis management, text "NEDA" to 741-741. 

Step 10: Look to the future.

This is one of the most challenging events most of us have ever experienced in our lifetimes. But we will get through this. We will see our friends and loved ones again, and have opportunities to celebrate milestones, have heart-to-heart convos in person and resume our treasured daily routines. Take this time to plan for the future, set new goals and create an agenda for the amazing things you're going to achieve when this is over. If you're feeling motivated, you can even start now!

Stay strong. Practice kindness toward yourself and others. And finally, don't forget your inner wisdom.

by Charlotte Bateman | 5/2/2020
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