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 because they 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 its true!)

The most common question I am asked when it comes to 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 close to 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 that the government has come up with and keeps changing just when you think you have it figured out.

Simply stated, the Three Food Groups are: 1) Foods you really like, 2) Foods you don’t like, and, 3) Foods that don’t “honor” you. Surprised? Keep in mind that eating intuitively means you are relying on cues from your body to tell you 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 are not going to be satisfied. You may spend the day looking around for other things to eat and end up eating more calories 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 even everyday tasks.

The foods you can include 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” the diet mentality 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 them, 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 that I really couldn’t stand I still had to eat for whatever reason. Needless to say, this has created for me 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 a food you like to get the nutrient or benefit you are looking for.

Group #3: Foods That Don’t Honor You

This is where it all comes together and answers those questions about health issues, allergies, personal preferences, etc. You may absolutely love fettucini alfredo but you have heart disease and know this is something that would not support your health. In other words, it doesn’t honor you or your body. Another example that comes up often is a diabetic that really loves sugar. She loves it, so at first sugar may seem to go in Group #1, but because it could make her sick, potentially progress her diabetes, and/or cause her to have no energy it may be better in Group #3. The best way to be at peace with the fact that the sugar doesn’t honor her is to make a decision that she prefers to feel healthy and energetic over the brief pleasure she may get from the sugary food.

Food allergies are found in this group as well. If you have a true food allergy (you’ve been diagnosed with it), then that food will not honor you. 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.

Sometimes what appears to be a food allergy is really a matter of the amount of the food you are eating. I hear all the time, “I’m allergic to sugar.” I don’t know if there really is such a condition, but my experience tells me that this person 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 and I have had the pleasure of the candy and I can move on with my day feeling just fine. The main thing with this food group is to remember that you are making a conscious decision to not eat something you may like because you want to honor your body and take care of yourself.

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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