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Yup. It’s well-known that nutritional deficiencies lead to cravings but less known that hormones are what lead to the deficiencies in the first place. And because women’s hormones are fluctuating all month long, we have more needs throughout the month, especially during our cycles. As hormone expert Alisa Vitti explains, “If you notice you’re craving certain foods around your period, it could have to do with a hormone-induced deficiency (for example, many people crave chocolate when they have a magnesium deficiency), but it could also be because estrogen and progesterone levels are lower than usual, which makes you feel crappy and crave comforting foods, like fats and carbs.”

If you *do* feel freedom around food… 

You probably embrace your cravings as part of a healthy (and necessary) biological balance. While men’s cravings are more often driven by the ways in which they’re using their bodies (active or passive), women’s cravings are driven by hormonal imbalances as our bodies seek to find their center. If you naturally embrace your cravings, you may be making peace with your body’s own intuition. Intuitive eating, or making food choices by listening to your body, has been linked to positive moods and even higher life satisfaction.

You’re apt to opt out of fad diets. Whether it’s Paleo, Whole 30, calorie counting or something else, science shows the unsustainable nature of these fad diets actually makes them worse for you. Indeed, this recent preliminary study from the American Heart Association shows the behavior also known as “yo-yo dieting” may increase women’s risk for heart disease. Perhaps it’s because, as this age-old study found, when we restrict our food intake, we become more and more unhealthily obsessed with it. In her book, The Fuck It Diet, author Caroline Dooner explains this is a biological response to famine. Basically, dieting makes us feel and act addicted to food. 

You likely eat more with others. Food behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out to a meal with a friend or cooking together, are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health for women, yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth.

If you *don’t* feel freedom around food…

You might not be food secure. It’s estimated that 50 million people in America this year may experience food insecurity as a result of limited access to resources given the pandemic. When food is scarce, women are more affected than men. That’s because as the primary provisioners of food and caregiving, we have a tendency to put the needs of others before our own. If you find yourself reserving larger portions for others in your household, try serving portions that are more likely to meet everyone's needs, including your own.

You may see fats and carbs as the enemy. This study has linked a low-fat diet for women to a decrease in “good” HDL cholesterol (you want this to be high), an increase in triglycerides (you want these to be low) and a 25% decrease in estrogen levels (not good for most women). Low estrogen levels in women can lead to brain fog, depression, hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue and vaginal dryness. So actually, fat in moderation is a great thing for women! Also, if you have a love/hate relationship with pizza, ice cream or mac n’ cheese in particular, this study may offer some helpful insights. Turns out, these foods all make for a magical combination of fats and carbs in a 1:2 ratio, which just so happens to be the same ratio as breastmilk (the only place this combination occurs naturally). 🤯 If you find yourself gravitating towards richer foods for comfort, know you’re not alone and that the drive is biological

The holidays are probably making it worse. It’s reported that women, who are generally more invested in food-related issues, have better knowledge of food and nutrition than men. Because of our heightened awareness surrounding food, we trend towards healthier food choices than our male counterparts. However, this instinct shuts down under stress, when we produce a more impulse-driven response to food by treating it as a reward in the midst of chaos. As women experience more stress in the holidays (due to taking on the brunt of the labor - food and otherwise), it leads to hormonal imbalances, which creates more food cravings.

Signs that we’re needing more freedom around food than ever:

We’re burnt out on cooking this year due to COVID. If the idea of laboring over a Thanksgiving feast this year felt overwhelming, you’re in good company. With 54% of Americans cooking more than they were before the pandemic, the idea of upping the cooking ante when we’re feeling worn down by the year’s trials has many of us opting out of the notion of “the perfect” holiday this season.

We’re (a little too) obsessed with wellness. Searches for orthorexia have spiked in 2020, as we’ve become more curious about how clean eating is actually affecting us. Although not technically classified as an eating disorder yet, orthorexia is the obsession with clean eating and a healthy lifestyle that can lead to compulsive behaviors like checking nutrition facts and cutting out “unhealthy” food groups. Research from 2017 found a positive correlation between using Instagram and increased orthorexia symptoms. Influencer Lee Tilghaman felt the effects of orthorexia first hand, and has since courageously shared her recovery.

 

The notion of “food freedom” is on the rise. Food freedom eliminates all diets, rules or morality with food, allowing food to be a part of your life without controlling it. This idea is gaining traction in culture as more people are seeking to uncomplicate their relationship with food and shed the outdated assumption that we should all be losing weight.

We’re eating together more - virtually. It’s nice to eat in the company of others, even during a pandemic. The #letseattogether has garnered over 3.4 million views on TikTok. The videos show creators taking bites of food and encouraging their viewers to join them. If you’re struggling with food freedom, the hashtag is more than a source of food-spiration and ASMR goodness, it can be a tool for recovery.

Dana Barron and Bridget Shannon are both Certified Health Coaches and the co-founders of Wellness Lately, a coaching program that reclaims wellness from diet culture. Their work is rooted in body liberation and food freedom, helping women all over the world escape the painful, diet-binge cycle and embrace true well-being. Through their coaching programs, Instagram, blog, and podcast, Wellness Lately, they teach the principles of intuitive eating, health at every size, body neutrality and holistic wellness. We are honored to sit down with Dana and Bridget and hear their perspective on food freedom.*

Before we get into your professional experience, we’d like to know more about your journey with food. How has your relationship with food evolved?
 
Bridget: I've been on more diets than I can count. I really thought the best way to handle my relationship with food was to double down on what I perceived as “wellness.” But it wasn't actually helping me heal the underlying relationship. After realizing that my old approach was only feeding into toxic diet culture, I decided to change my relationship with food. Then I started health coaching to help other women do the same.
 
Dana: I was always a small kid and then when I hit puberty I, like most girls, gained weight. This sparked alarms in the adults around me, and I soon started to see all of society's weight-related messages. By middle school, I was diet hopping from Weight Watchers to using harmful diet products. Similar to Bridget, I shifted from the really problematic restrictive dieting to the “wellness diet,” which is really diet culture under the guise of wellness. After many painful diet/binge cycles, intuitive eating became a major factor in finding food freedom and coming home to my body.

Wellness Lately encourages intuitive eating, a movement that we highlighted in our August issue. What is intuitive eating and why do you think it’s gaining popularity?

Dana: Our definition of intuitive eating is eating based on your body’s own cues and recognizing that you’re the expert on your body. Even though the term has been around since the 90s, I think that intuitive eating is landing in this moment because people are waking up to the fact that dieting is a scam that’s created a multi-trillion dollar industry. The sneaky wellness industry is calling restrictive eating a lifestyle and creating a mentality that is hard to give up. I think intuitive eating provides a framework to a healthy relationship with food and provides a tangible way of actually embodying food freedom.

For those of us who are spending more time preparing food during the holidays (a responsibility that primarily falls to women), what advice do you have for making this time one of enjoyment?

Bridget: You’re absolutely not alone if you’re struggling. The holiday season can be a nightmare for chronic dieters and people who struggle with binge eating. We need to ask ourselves, why is it that I’m spending so much time going through the motions of the holiday season, but when I sit down to eat it feels painful or difficult? Instead of mindlessly binging and restricting, we can embrace intuitive eating. Then we don’t need to get back on the wagon after New Year’s - nothing needs to change.
 
Dana: I like to remind women not to let themselves get ravenously hungry. This happens too often around big holiday meals like Thanksgiving where people try to “save up” their hunger. Our bodies end up shifting into overdrive, and it creates an overwhelming urge to eat. There’s no chance to eat mindfully or listen to your body or enjoy your food. The second thing to remember is that food is a full sensory experience, not necessarily just biting and swallowing. We naturally eat in an emotionally positive way, so around the holidays try to tap into your body’s physical senses by actually tasting and smelling and savoring. 

If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to cultivate a relationship of freedom around food, what would it be?

Bridget: There is nothing wrong with you, it’s the system we’re living in that is flawed. To find food freedom, you have to make the decision to escape diet culture. You have to get to a place where food freedom is worth more than any other perceived benefit that dieting or weight loss provides. Getting support with this is the most important action you can take. Don’t wait to spend another day, year or decade in this painful place because it is so NOT worth it to wait for your weight or your appearance to change in order to live a fulfilling, meaningful life.

*This interview has been condensed and edited for brevity.
 
 

Remember: Finding food freedom may mean challenging previous beliefs.

There are a slew of false facts around food, like how all fats are unhealthy and sugar is always bad. Indeed, this study found that addictive-behavior around sugar comes from deprivation or dieting, not from the sugar itself.

Let’s advocate for more freedom around food, especially for women:
  • Give to Hot Bread Kitchen to provide baking training for women facing economic insecurity and help launch women’s culinary careers.
  • Donate to Project Heal to make food freedom accessible for all women.
  • Support Feeding America to help food banks strengthen communities affected by the pandemic.
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📸All photography in this issue was created by Julia Park. Thank you Julia, for letting us share your creative genius on this platform🙏
 
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