For Nutrition Month, League is asking pros from our Health Marketplace to offer tips on how to encourage your team to make healthier choices—all month long. Because we know you can’t have a healthy business without a healthy team.
Intuitive eating focuses on health habits and behaviours rather than meal plans, numbers, and the demonization of foods. It’s a revolutionary approach to health, pioneered by dieticians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. This model encourages individuals to listen to and respect their bodies (“What do I feel like eating today?” What am I craving?”), honour their hunger and fullness cues, and ditch externally motivated “food rules” for internally motivated guidelines around exercise and eating.
While skeptics fear that, without boundaries or strict guidelines, we’d all subsist on pizza, ice cream, and cheeseburgers, several studies have concluded that intuitive eaters experience better health outcomes than their dieting and non-diet dieting counterparts. Intuitive eating has been associated with a lower BMI as well as “less disordered eating, a more positive body image, greater emotional functioning, and a number of other psychosocial correlates” among female university students in the USA. Men who practice intuitive eating place a higher value on being healthy and physically fit, versus being an ideal weight. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
So the question is: How can employers support their employees in becoming intuitive eaters so that they can be more productive, healthier, and energized at work and in life?
1. Remove the emphasis on numbers. Whether it’s calories, weight, carbohydrates, or grams of fat, focusing on numbers is counterproductive to developing a fulfilling and positive relationship with food. Our bodies are experts at letting us know when we’ve had enough to eat (or too little!). It’s completely normal to feel ravenous one day and less hungry the next. Since each macronutrient gifts us with something different, it’s best to consume a variety of foods for optimal health. Encourage employees to eat satisfying foods rather than selecting foods on autopilot.
2. Offer a variety of snacks. Ensure a variety of snack options are available in your office kitchen. Fruit that can be eaten out of hand (e.g., bananas, apples, pears and oranges) is great for snacking on. Hummus, crackers, granola bars, individually wrapped cheeses, carrot and celery sticks, and even cookies are good options as well. Part of the reason we overeat “forbidden” favourites is due to the perception of scarcity and deprivation— not because the food is inherently addictive. As Emotional Eating Coach Isabel Foxen Duke so accurately stated (and I paraphrase): There is no emotional eating outside of restriction. Keeping these foods around at all times can help to neutralize our emotional attachment to them and may prevent individuals from habitually eating past their comfort level.
3. Encourage employees to enjoy lunch away from their desks and to take regular breaks. Have you ever started eating dinner while working on a project or reading… and looked down to find you’d eaten all of it without realizing? Focusing exclusively on eating helps us to adhere to our hunger and fullness cues, to savour our food, and to understand what feels good (or doesn’t) in our bodies. While working, we’re often in fight-or-flight mode—we’re stressed out by a never-ending slew of emails, looming deadlines and ongoing projects. Enjoying lunch away from these stressors helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which encourages good digestion and gives employees a much-needed mid-day break.
4. Promote basic self-care principles rather than weight loss challenges. While weight loss challenges have become popular in recent years, studies show weight is a poor marker of health. These types of challenges also do little to cultivate an inclusive, positive, and energized work environment, as they typically promote stress and body image issues instead. Instead, emphasize self-care over self-control through health-supporting activities. Encourage employees to prioritize sleep, eat regular meals, develop fun and meaningful hobbies, and to find exercise or activities they enjoy. While work/life balance is often challenging to achieve, encourage employees to find balance within themselves by making sure their basic needs are considered.
How to do it: Offer regular group yoga classes; schedule breakfast potlucks; host wellness sessions on sleep hygiene and stress management; stock the office with a variety of snacks; and encourage employees to stretch and take regular walks.
5. Embrace body positivity and Health At Every Size® in the workplace. While we can’t control our height or skin colour, weight is treated very differently in North America. To promote an inclusive and positive environment, familiarize yourself with the HAES® principles. These include weight inclusivity, health enhancement, respectful care, eating for well-being and life-enhancing movement.
While socially, we’ve come to align health with weight, it’s a good idea to emphasize health habits and healthy behaviours rather than aesthetics, self-control and nutrition fear-mongering. An evidence-based and effective approach to optimal health for everyone, regardless of size or socioeconomic background, these principles are ways to encourage health without unnecessary and detrimental shaming, and offer avenues for true transformation and self-acceptance.