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Does Intuitive Eating Lie At The Core Of Our Wellness Path?

Gemma Sanda is an accomplished Health and Wellness Coach based in the UK. She is the founder of a 90-day signature program called The Vibrant Life Project. In addition to this, she hosts The Complex Health Coach Podcast and provides an online private accountability community for her clients.

Executive Contributor Gemma Sanda

Is it time for intuitive eating to gain traction and push diet culture to the curb? This article will explore my personal journey with diet culture and how becoming a certified health coach changed my perspective on food as I embraced my wellness journey and started to eat intuitively.

Woman eating veggies.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is a mindful approach to food consumption that emphasizes attunement to the body's natural hunger and satisfaction cues. The goal is to promote a healthy and balanced relationship with food, prioritizing well-being over the pursuit of strict weight control.

I was so entrenched in the diet culture that I did not recognize the pattern for decades.

In the 80s and 90s, the diet culture started to take shape and became prevalent by the early 90s when I was a teenager. I observed my mom, her twin sister, and their friends trying out various fad diets. The cupboards were filled with weight loss gimmicks and quick-fix plans, and attending Weight Watchers meetings every week became routine. My mom even achieved gold membership, a status she still proudly holds to this day. Everything had to be low fat because this is what was being marketed to them as healthy. Eggs and butter were demonized, while red top milk was glorified. However, even after following everything that was being told to them, this achievement did not bring them the happiness they sought, as they continued to unintentionally fixate on food and their weight.

When I was a child, I was taught that sweets were bad, and we were only allowed to have them as a treat after finishing our dinner. In the kitchen, there was a large bowl filled with all kinds of sweets on the top shelf. After our meal, the children in the house could choose one sweet from the bowl. This rule was more lenient for the boys, and the girls noticed and internalized this inequality.

My sister and I were not allowed to leave the table unless we had cleared everything on our plates. We were reminded that people were starving, and I would sit there, staring at my sister, feeling physically sick because I literally could not eat anymore. I know this was the norm in many households in the 80s and 90s. While my parents were growing up, food was not as readily available, and this unintentionally projected onto us.

I now understand how the unconscious impact of diet culture has affected me, my friends, and all the women in my family.

The diet culture not only influenced the food we consumed but also shaped our perception of beauty. Magazines dictated the ideal appearance, making us feel inadequate if we didn't conform. We were constantly exposed to images of perfect skin, unaware that they were often digitally altered.

I constantly felt like I wasn't meeting the standards, and I developed a hidden disordered eating pattern that continued for decades. It was common for me to eat sweets, thinking that because they were low in fat, it was a green light to binge and then exercise. I was teased for my protruding bum, which I now think would be considered average or small according to the new societal beauty standards.

"We couldn't do anything right. Magazines kept changing the standards, always pointing out flaws in celebrities who were just trying to have fun and live their lives. This terrible trend has continued to worsen with the rise of social media."

The trend of fad diets was escalating in the 80's, with many promoting the sole goal of achieving a slim physique.

In the late '90s, I noticed that everyone was striving to be extremely skinny, not just slim. I observed girls I knew developing disordered eating habits everywhere I looked. With no knowledge of the impact on our health, we continued to cycle through the diet culture, and it still continues at a prolific level to this very day, decades later.

I thought that achieving a specific weight would make me feel better and enable me to start enjoying life.

I used to take spin classes to get thin. I was so focused on this goal and the fact it was normalised by everyone I knew to constantly be dieting that I didn't realize my thoughts were disordered and taking over my mind as it was constant. After a spin class, I would go home and eat a lot of cheese and ham, thinking that this was the right thing to do because I had heard that low carb was the way to go.

I followed diets that helped me lose weight, but it didn't keep me healthy. In my 20s, I developed acne, which was surprising because I never had skin issues as a teenager. However, when I sought treatment for my skin, no one ever asked about my eating habits. It seemed that because I didn't look visibly unhealthy to societal standards, my eating habits were never considered as a potential cause.

Transitioning from diet culture to healthy eating in my 30s

In my 30s, I noticed that every time I ate, I would be preoccupied with concerns about the impact on my body. This led me to overexercise and undereat. I began following health influencers on Instagram, listening to their advice, and watching their content.

I noticed that the advice I was receiving about healthy eating was becoming conflicting and confusing, which led to an unconscious obsession with everything related to pure and healthy eating. It seemed like many others were also being drawn into this so-called "clean eating" or "pure eating" trend within health circles.

Even though this was a step in the right direction regarding my health, and I was able to recognize the conflict and start listening to myself, there was a new disorder surfacing, now known as Orthorexia. 

Orthorexia Nervosa is perhaps best summarized as an obsession with healthy eating, accompanied by restrictive behaviors. However, the attempt to attain optimum health through attention to diet may lead to malnourishment, loss of relationships, and a poor quality of life.

Health coaching and incorporating intuitive eating into my programs

After doing a lot of soul-searching and really listening to my body, I started unfollowing anything that was telling me what I should be doing and how I should look. I noticed a massive improvement in how I felt about myself. I came across a Dr. called Dr. Mark Hyman, and I still follow him closely to this day. I started to learn how to listen to my body and my feelings with a concept called inner bonding that my cousin had mentioned to me by Dr. Margaret Paul, and read her book "The Diet for Divine Connection."

In the past few years, I made the decision to become a health coach. The values of this profession align perfectly with my own, and it is a growing industry that takes a holistic approach to wellness. Initially, I dismissed Intuitive Eating as just another fad, but soon realized it was the concept I'd been looking for to incorporate into my programs and the missing piece to the puzzle. I now give talks on Intuitive Eating and have developed health coaching programs around it, such as The Vibrant Life Program and The Menopause For Thoughts Program.

"Intuitive eating" refers to a philosophy that encourages people to trust their bodies and instincts when it comes to food and eating.

If you're interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating and breaking free from diet culture, schedule a discovery call with me. You can also listen to my Podcast


Gemma Sanda, Certified Health And Wellness Coach

Gemma Sanda is an inspiring health coach who overcame economic and financial abuse during her younger years. She took charge of her life and became her first client. Gemma qualified as a Yoga teacher, Breath coach, Certified Level 5 Health coach and has a background in cosmetology. Today, she empowers her clients through her signature program called The Vibrant Life Program, which is offered in private group settings, online self-paced courses and 1.1 sessions. She also runs an online private accountability community that supports her clients at every step of their journey to whole health. Her story is a powerful reminder that with determination and hard work, we can overcome any obstacle.



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