The Three Food Groups

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If you are familiar with mindful, or intuitive eating, you know one of the main principles is to eat what you really want. This means allowing all those foods back in that you avoided or couldn’t have because of the rules of whatever diet (or “lifestyle plan”) you were on. This can be scary for many who think they can’t control themselves around certain foods or they are afraid that complete permission equals weight gain. While it may be hard to believe, full permission really does cause you to want and eat less of those foods (it may take a while, but it’s true!)

The most common question I’m asked about full permission to eat whatever you want is: “What if I have a medical condition and my doctor has told me I can’t eat [fill in the blank] food?” I understand the confusion, it’s like mixed messages, eat whatever you want but don’t eat this or that based on the doctor’s advice.

For this reason, and many others (like food allergies or sensitivities) I like to share the concept of the Three Food Groups. Don’t worry, this isn’t anything like what you learned in school (that was sponsored by the meat and dairy industries, by the way). And it’s not the boring food pyramid (or My Plate) that the government is always pushing.

The Three Food Groups include 1) Foods you really like, 2) Foods you don’t like, and, 3) Foods that don’t “honor” you or your body. Surprised? Keep in mind that eating intuitively means you are relying on cues from your body and your own decisions to determine when and what to eat instead of following some other person’s idea of how you should eat.

Group #1: Foods You Like (even love!)

Satisfaction from eating is extremely important. If you are hungry and wanting something like pasta, or a turkey sandwich, but opt for rice cakes because they are lower in calories, you’re not going to be satisfied. You may spend the day looking around for other things to eat and end up eating more than if you just ate what you really wanted. It’s important to get satisfaction or pleasure from food because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have much drive to eat, leading to a serious lack of energy and an inability to carry out everyday tasks.

The foods in this group are anything you really like or love. Yes, that includes chocolate, ice cream, or whatever else you tend to deny yourself when dieting. And most importantly, do not consider how “bad” or “forbidden” diet culture tells you those foods are. I assure you, by working on intuitive eating principles and taking care of yourself, you won’t be eating those previously scary foods day in and day out. You’ll really savor them when you eat and enjoy lots of other satisfying food from this food group.

Group #2: Foods You Don’t Like

When I was growing up, it was a rule that I had to try any food that was put in front of me. Unfortunately, some foods I couldn’t stand I still had to continue eating. Needless to say, this created an aversion to trying new things (I’m getting better) and an intense dislike for certain foods like mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs, and beets, among other foods. I’m sure you have at least a couple of foods you really don’t like. If you are still choking them down because you’ve been told they are “superfoods” or prevent this or that, now is the time to let them go. There is such a variety of food available to us that you can always find foods you like to get the nutrient or benefit you’re looking for.

Group #3: Foods That Don’t Honor You

This is where we answer those questions about health issues, allergies, personal preferences, etc. There are two parts to this group. The first part is made up of any foods that you decide aren’t right for you. This includes anything you’re so allergic to that eating it could kill you. That’s clearly a food that doesn’t honor you or your body.

You may have problems with particular foods that aren’t life-threatening, but eating any amount will make you quite sick or lead to other complications you don’t want to deal with. This might be more challenging because you like this particular food. I like raw onions on tacos but in recent years they cause me intense stomach pain, so I’ve made a decision to not eat them.

Eating this type of food comes down to making a decision about how you want to feel. It’s always your choice, but if you want to avoid not feeling well, reminding yourself of this fact will make it easier to honor yourself and your body by choosing to not eat it.

The other part of this group is made up of foods that may be somewhat problematic, but you can eat a certain amount. For example, a diabetic may be told to avoid eating sugar as well as “white” food like white flour, rice or bread. But for many with diabetes, eating some sugar or other simple carbohydrates doesn’t cause serious consequences. (You need to experiment with this to determine the right amount for you.) But beyond a certain amount, it becomes a problem.

Knowing the amount that works for you is important. You can still choose to go over it because you get to make your own decisions. But if feeling good is important to you, then making a decision to stop is about how you want to feel, not that you “can’t have it.” The way you think about the food will have the biggest influence on your behavior around it.

Let’s say you are lactose intolerant. Do you want to have stomach and intestinal distress just to eat that ice cream? It’s your choice, but honoring yourself and your body is a form of self-care – an essential part of overcoming overeating.

I hear all the time, “I’m allergic to sugar.” There’s no solid research proving this is possible, and in my experience, this person usually has problems when she eats more sugar than honors her body.

I remember the days of grabbing a large bag of candy, hiding from everyone so I could binge on it, and then having to lie down and sleep off how awful I felt. Today, I can have candy, but I have an amount that honors me. Once I’ve had a certain amount, I’m satisfied and I can move on with my day feeling good. The main thing with this food group is to remember that you’re making a conscious decision to not eat something you may like because you want to honor your body and take care of yourself, therefore there’s no need to feel restricted or deprived.

I hope this has given you some “food for thought”! If you are tired of the endless dieting and trying to beat your body into submission, please consider finding freedom for yourself with intuitive eating.

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Leave a Reply 2 comments

Shelley Fishel - October 12, 2018 Reply

Hi Gillian – thank you for this. I came here via Pinterest and am so glad I did. This so resonates with me and mirrors how I have instinctively started to eat over the last couple of months. I am feeling better and not bingeing on anything or denying myself things that I really want. Just eating a sensible amount. Thank you. Shelley

    Gillian - October 14, 2018 Reply

    Thanks for stopping by and for commenting, Shelley! I’m so glad you read my post and that you’ve been experiencing the real benefits of eating intuitively! It makes such a difference when you stop the restricting and negative self-talk and simply eat the food you want and enjoy it while you’re eating it. I was a binge eater for many years and dieting made it even worse. It was this process that helped me (there was nothing else that worked) and when I got my freedom back I had to tell everyone! If you don’t mind, in case it’s helpful for you, and for others reading this, eating a sensible amount is great, however, the thought of that can actually be triggering for some. It can feel like restriction, even though it isn’t. As people experience the freedom to eat what they want and enjoy it, it’s a good time to start tuning into physical hunger and fullness – this is something many of us have become disconnected from, thanks to dieting and restriction. It feels really good to eat when hungry (the food tastes better!) and also to stop when you’re full. Because it feels so good, it becomes easy to maintain this way of eating. In fact, it’s the way we all knew how to eat when we were born. (Before parental and other caregiver messages, the media, time schedules, and our culture got involved to scramble it all up.) But it’s also important to not turn this into a rule, such as, “I MUST eat ONLY when I’m hungry and ALWAYS stop when I’m full.” That’s perfectionistic thinking, which has no place in making peace with food. People who don’t have any food issues (we tend to call them “normal eaters”) will sometimes eat more than they need, or they may grab something even though they aren’t hungry. The difference is they don’t do it all the time and they don’t feel guilty, beat themselves up or spiral down into shame because they ate a bit more than they needed. They simply eat again when they are hungry. Here’s a post all about avoiding what I call the “intuitive eating diet”:

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