What to Eat: A Matrix for Making Food Decisions

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Our program at Green Mountain at Fox Run aims to help women reconnect with their bodies and learn how to trust themselves again to make internally driven decisions about food.

In other words, we’re helping women let go of the diet and food rules that have consumed their lives for years – even decades – and get back in touch with their own intuition.

You Choose What to Eat

That means starting to recognize and respond to hunger and fullness cues, noticing how different foods make their bodies feel, finding pleasure in eating, and also noticing when food is meeting a need or serving a purpose other than providing fuel and nourishment.

The goal is that women will eventually get to a place where they “just know” when they need to eat, what they want to have, and how much it will take to achieve satisfaction: no food lists, no measuring cups, no feelings of should and shouldn’t, no guilt or shame – just intuition.

When I talk about this concept, of intuition and “just knowing,” it sometimes seems inconceivable. After all, most of the women in our program have spent not a small amount of their lives learning how to disconnect from their internal food regulatory mechanisms. They may even feel as though their bodies have betrayed them, so how could they ever trust them again?

It’s Complicated

There is a lot of unlearning and reprogramming that needs to happen. It requires withdrawing completely from the diet culture in which most of us live.

It’s hard work. And it doesn’t happen overnight. However, the feelings of liberation and freedom that await? Well, it’s hard to put into words just how amazing those feelings can be.

Just imagine for a moment what it would feel like to no longer be consumed by food and weight worries. That’s what’s possible.

How Do I Know Which Foods Are Right for My Body?

While I can’t distill our whole program into one blog post, I can introduce you to a tool that might help you explore the answer to this question – one of the most common questions I hear.

If our food decisions have been dictated by food rules for as long as we can remember, then letting go of those rules might leave you feeling unsure of what to do next.

So having a simple framework to guide our thinking can be helpful for making the transition from externally driven food decisions to more internally driven ones.

When you are deciding what you eat it can be helpful to consider:

  1. How different foods taste to you; and,
  2. How different foods make your body feel.

As such, I would like to present to you…

A Decision-Making Matrix to Guide Food Choices

Tastes Good Tastes Bad
Feels Good The Sweet Spot: It tastes good on our tongues and feels good in our bodies Provides needed nutrition, which feels good in our bodies, but doesn’t appeal to one or more of our senses
Feels Bad Appeals to our senses, but doesn’t feel so good in our bodies, perhaps due to allergies, intolerances, or general lack of balance in food choices Why eat it?

Food That Tastes Good and Feels Good

This we what we call the sweet spot: The foods we are choosing taste good on our tongues and feel good in our bodies.

It’s not about following rules and making the “good” choice. It’s not about choosing the “healthiest” option. It’s about noticing what will satisfy our taste buds and allow us to walk away from this eating experience feeling better than when we started.

A Matrix to Making Food Decisions

What those foods are might change throughout the day and from one day to the next. So really, this is about tuning into the present moment and making decisions based on your present moment needs and desires.

Sometimes it might be a big green salad. Sometimes it might be a gooey chocolate chip cookie. Both are equally acceptable choices.

This is the place we’d like our food experiences to fit in most often.

Food That Tastes Bad, But Feels Good 

You might be wondering, why would I ever eat a food that tastes bad to me or a food that I really don’t enjoy?

Perhaps sometimes our food options are limited: we’re traveling, eating on the run, rushing through an airport. Maybe we haven’t been grocery shopping recently. Or maybe we’ve been eating in a way that’s not all that balanced, and our body is letting us know that it doesn’t feel so good.

For whatever reason, the way a food is going to make our body feel becomes a bigger priority than how it tastes.

I was recently traveling abroad and found myself in this position on more than one occasion. My options were usually quite limited. In some cases, I was concerned about food safety and ordering in a way that would minimize my chances of contracting a foodborne illness. But I needed nourishment. We were spending most of our time hiking, and fueling that activity was a priority.

I didn’t enjoy the overcooked vegetables. I didn’t enjoy eating the same combination of vegetables over and over again (I’m talking twice a day for three weeks!). I was so sick of eating eggs as my primary source of protein. I dreamed of yogurt and cereal and turkey sandwiches and fresh salads and ice cream. Those simply weren’t options.

For that period of time, I knew the best thing I could do for my body was eat this food I didn’t particularly care for, to fuel my body for what I was there for.

If we can help it, we don’t necessarily want this to become the norm. But sometimes, it’s just reality.  

Food That Tastes Good, But Feels Bad 

You might be able to recall an experience where you chose to eat something even though it didn’t feel good in your body, and perhaps you even knew that would be the case beforehand.

This is a common experience during the holiday season – when choices may be less balanced. This is also common for individuals who have food intolerances or allergies and feel like there are certain foods they “can’t” have.

Food Eating Matrix - Baking Cookies

Choosing to eat foods even though they don’t feel good in your body doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. You haven’t broken any laws. You won’t be taken to jail. You simply just won’t feel very good for a bit. That totally gets to be your choice. And sometimes, it might even be worth it!

The thing is, once the decision about whether or not to eat these foods truly becomes your choice, and isn’t influenced by what you feel you should or should not do, it gets easier to determine what it is that you actually want to do.

Again, sometimes you might want to eat the ice cream, even though you’re lactose intolerant. That is 100% your call – and it’s okay to make the decision to have it.

Food That Tastes Bad and Feels Bad 

This is when we ask, why bother? The silver linings here are hard to find.

Again, this is still your choice, and making this choice isn’t wrong – it’s just unlikely that it will benefit you in any way.

Making Health-Supportive Food Decisions

The way we think and teach about health-supportive eating here extends beyond the energy and nutrients in the foods we eat. It’s about eating for our whole health – mental and emotional health, social health, spiritual health, and physical health.

All of these areas of health matter and food touches all of them in different ways. And sometimes the best choice we can make for ourselves isn’t the choice with the most vitamins and minerals.

If you want to learn how to become more flexible with your food choices, to eat in a way that honors all areas of health, not just physical health, and finally make peace with food, we invite you to experience the Green Mountain at Fox Run program – where we’ve been changing the way women think about food for over 45 years.


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2 responses to “What to Eat: A Matrix for Making Food Decisions”

  1. Anne says:

    Great message Dana, right to the point, and so valuable. Thank you for sharing.

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About the Author

Dana Notte, MS, RD, CD

Dana has dedicated her career to helping individuals establish a balanced and healthy relationship with food. She has extensive training and experience in coaching for behavior change, mindful eating, and motivational interviewing. Dana has spent years leading group-based behavior change classes, developing and leading interactive workshops for worksite wellness programs, and providing nutrition counseling to individuals struggling with eating, weight, and chronic health conditions. Her practice style is client-centered, compassionate and empowering, with the goal of helping individuals develop the confidence to achieve their health and wellness goals. Dana is the Nutrition Lead at Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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