intuitive eating

I'll Be Eating More, Not Less in 2019

A long time ago I made the choice to shift my focus on what I should include more of in my diet instead of what to limit. Interested in joining me?

Leanne Ray Nutrition 2019 New Years Resolution

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, are you someone who dreams up big ticket goals only to see them slowly fade in the distance soon after? Most of us can certainly relate. I consider myself a serial goal setter and it wasn’t until recently that I really learned how to be effective with the whole process. Not following through with New Year’s goals and resolutions doesn’t mean you’re a failure either. Somewhere in the ball park of just 9% of people fully follow through with resolutions set at the beginning of the year. And by the way, it’s probably not you, it’s the goals.

Eating healthier is always near the top of the list when it comes to the most popular resolutions but the internet creates confusion around what exactly that means. We all know that at least one new food or food group will be proclaimed “toxic” this year and there will surely be a documentary to scare you into thinking you should abide by some newly coined rules, at the risk of facing some nasty consequences. (p.s. documentaries are not usually a reliable medium for health advice).

In recent memory alone I’ve read about the dangers of fat, carbohydrates, sugar, gluten, grains, meat, nightshade vegetables, milk, beans, soy, peanuts, eggs, bananas, fruit in general, sparkling water, tap water, bottled water, deli meat, fish, butter, vegetable oil, and coconut oil among many others. At least one of your favorite foods will be on the “no” list at some point. Please don’t take my coffee - anything but coffee! Just kidding.

The good news is, this really doesn’t have to be all that complicated. Sure, it can be hard not to get swept up into the world of wellness extremes because no one wants to miss out on what could be the next big thing, especially in the social media-driven world we live in.

What if there was an alternative to restriction that felt positive, un-complicated and sustainable?

Instead of putting energy into what not to eat, I much prefer the goal of eating more. And by this, I mean:

  1. More new foods so you get a variety of nutrients, flavors & textures; and

  2. More creative preparation methods so you can learn to make health-promoting food taste amazing while learning to easily incorporate said food into your normal routine.

In my experience, simple mindset shifts can have a huge payoff when it comes to health improvement! And better yet, this is a totally reasonable goal. Most of my clients don’t need to make any radical dietary changes or to stop eating gluten, they need to learn how to objectively evaluate food and make informed decisions about what best meets a need based on the situation.

It’s important to remember that food is not the enemy, it’s essential for fueling the lifestyle you want. If any of this rings true for you, it might seem unattainable now, but it is possible and the benefits are worth the effort.

How Do I Even Start this Process?

The first thing you can do is consider making some minor shifts in the language you use around food. For example:

  • Instead of “this is high in calories”, try “this will satisfy me for a while”

  • Instead of “this dessert is so unhealthy”, try “this is really rich & indulgent”

  • Instead of “fruit is high in sugar”, try “the carbohydrates in fruit give me energy”

This is a powerful step in learning to make appropriate choices whether they’re based on nutrition, pleasure, social connection, or some combination of the three.

For the sake of mental health, using a “more, not less” approach can even be (dare I say) fun. Challenging yourself to include more variety (rather than arbitrarily eliminating something) can be liberating and free up a lot of space to focus on other things, like learning a new hobby or embracing forms of movement that you actually enjoy.

Remember that health is not determined by one food, meal or even day of eating. It’s the patterns that we create over long periods of time that truly make an impact. If you can find a way to blend science-based nutrition information with a healthy mindset around food, I would consider that a win.

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When Sugar Might Not Really Be the Problem

patriotic chocolate covered pretzels and strawberries 

The other night I had the TV on in the background while I was working on a couple of things. The news was on and I wasn’t paying much attention until I heard some sort of food-related fear mongering pitch just before a commercial break (contain your shock). The anchor said something along the lines of, “something you put in your body is taking years off of your life and you may not even realize it”.

All right anchor man, you have my attention… let’s hear it!

The segment started with how many sweets we all eat around the holidays (complete with all of the food porn of sugar and desserts streaming in the background), and how “bad” they are for you. Of course there was a doctor in a suit talking about how sugar is the cause of every chronic disease in existence. Then he went on to say that people think they know how much sugar they consume, but don’t consider foods like grains, pasta, or baked goods. I swear I could have set a timer and beat the over-under on how long it would take him to mention cocaine (too predictable).

At the end of this, I felt so on edge. It makes me upset when I see things like this on major media outlets because I'm pretty sure it only does one thing, and that’s encourage people to feel even more worried about food than they already do, which exacerbates any potential overconsumption issue instead of doing anything to mitigate it.

A brief science lesson on sugar

The word “sugar” is typically used interchangeably with “glucose”, although this can be confusing because most people think of granulated sugar or any other added sweetener when they hear the word sugar (as opposed to glucose, which is a building block of carbohydrates).

Because of this wording blunder, people often make the assumption that the body "doesn’t know the difference” between say, fruit, black beans, and jelly beans. But just because the body breaks down each of these into glucose, does not mean they are all nutritionally the same. The beans and fruit both contain fiber, which slows down digestion and results in a more gradual blood sugar (and subsequent insulin) response. They also both have vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function optimally, plus phytochemicals/other compounds that totally kick ass when it comes to immunity and inflammation. 

Did you know that glucose is also the brain’s preferred source of fuel? It’s actually the primary energy source for all of our cells which is why very low carbohydrate diets typically don’t go well for active folks (or really anyone who needs to focus during the day).

As humans we really are wired to prefer the taste of sweet foods as a survival mechanism and if you think about it, the first food we are exposed to - breastmilk - is sweet! Preferred level of sweetness can vary by individuals, which is why some of us might identify with having a "sweet tooth" and others prefer salty or savory foods (2). 

I'm actually super interested in this topic because in one of my genetics classes in grad school, we used test strips with different compounds to determine if we preferred sweet foods or bitter foods. Basically if you were a "super taster", the compound on the strip was so bitter you wouldn't be able to stand it, and it's thought that super-tasters prefer sweeter things. If your genotype is different, you wouldn't taste this compound at all and are thought to prefer the taste of bitter foods. I think it's fascinating that our tastes can vary this much. Which do you think you are? 

So is sugar really addictive? 

The literature varies on this, but many studies have shown that while sugar may elicit "addiction-like behaviors" it is not addictive in the sense that the word is generally used. You’ll often read that eating sugar “lights up the same pleasure centers in our brain as drugs”, but we need food to survive so it doesn't make sense to compare the two and makes the science a little harder to interpret. One review that I found also notes that addiction-like behaviors, such as bingeing, only occur when there is intermittent access to sugar (as opposed to unlimited access) (1). This is a great point and drives home that message that when something is "off-limits", you might want it even more. 

I also think there is something to be said about habits. If you condition yourself to have a piece of candy after every meal, you’re probably going to start grabbing for a piece of candy after every meal without even thinking about whether you really want it. Is there any habit like this that you engage with regularly and can re-assess? 

When I posed this question of sugar addiction on Instagram, a few different people mentioned habits in their response noting that coffee, chocolate, exercise and nightly wine could all be classified in this way. You can condition yourself to "want" or "need" something. While learned habits are certainly hard to change, they shouldn't be confused with addiction. 


I think we all know that sugar shouldn't be the foundation of a healthful diet. This isn’t new information, this is just another reason to focus on basing your meals and snacks around whole foods, and getting yourself in the kitchen to cook! You can do this without overthinking things like grams, teaspoons or percent daily calories, in my opinion.

Also remember that your total dietary pattern is more important than any one food. We've learned this time and time again in the case of cholesterol, saturated fat, fat in general... Now sugar is the villain du jour. But even a diet with zero added sugar can be nutritionally lacking. On the other hand, sugar can also make certain things more enjoyable, meaning improved satisfaction of some really awesome-for-you foods. Health benefits are not negated by adding something palatable. 

In my experience, deeming a food “off limits” or "bad" is what promotes those all-consuming thoughts about it that many might mistake with addiction. I am familiar with the concept of moderators vs. abstainers and can appreciate that we aren’t all built in the same way. You might feel like you need to completely avoid something in order to remain in control, and you may be right. For many of you, that probably isn’t the case though. My goal in writing this is to encourage you to really think about your relationship with sugar (or any food) and decide if restriction and/or labeling it "good" or "bad" may actually be the cause of any issues you might be experiencing.


1. Westwater ML, Fletcher PC, and Ziauddeen H. Sugar addiction: the state of the science. Eur J Nutr. 2016;55(2):S55-S69.

2. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: use of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112:739-758.

3. Rippe JM and Angelopoulos TJ. Relationship between added sugars consumption and chronic disease risk factors: current understanding. Nutrients.2016(8):697.


Of course I’m always open to new ideas and ways of thinking, so I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Do you believe in the concept of moderators vs. abstainers and if so, which are you?

How to Transition from Calorie Counting to Intuitive Eating

After learning what it means to be an intuitive eater, most people feel a little skeptical about the whole thing. I know I did! It seems like most of us are hardwired to check labels for the calorie count as a way to evaluate nutrition, so it’s no wonder that we have doubts about the whole "unconditional permission to eat" whatever you want, whenever you want, thing. The reason why counting calories (or points, or macros for that matter) can be problematic, is that it's moving you away from the actual food and moving you towards a math problem that can be stressful and miss the mark nutritionally speaking. 

Calorie counting often feels comfortable and safe. You might be asking how you can make the transition away from that without feeling a little out of control? Here are a few simple ideas:

Ask yourself some questions.

What do you like and dislike about calorie counting? How does it serve you? What are the alternatives? By taking the time to actually write down your responses, you can start to pinpoint where you stand on some of these. For instance, counting might seem like the "right" thing to do for your health, but could actually be leaving you feeling unsatisfied after meals and always searching for something more. 

Track thoughts, feelings and emotions around food.

If you want to track something but still move away from the numbers, this could be helpful for you in the short-term. In my master's program, one of my instructors developed a tool that she called the Eating Behavior Diary which encouraged tracking mood, hunger/satiety, and even who accompanies you at meal times. This allows for identifying emotional eating and potentially the mechanism behind it. I have used this approach with a handful of clients and it tends to be helpful. 

Work on one meal at a time.

Changing a behavior is hard. One way you might ease yourself toward a more intuitive approach is by taking it one meal at a time. Breakfast might be a good place to start since there is typically less involved than with other meals. For some general direction, strive to include a source of protein, complex carbohydrate and heart-healthy fat for a satisfying combo (no number crunching required). 

Ultimately, you know what’s best for you and this might not be a shift you want to explore right now (or ever, which is totally fine). If it is, now might be the perfect opportunity to start. If you want to discuss it further, feel free to get in touch with me and I would love to help you reach that goal!

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