Structure vs. Control

Control. It's the most paradoxical word in the healthy eating world- we think control is going to make us feel in control, on top of things, like we are holding onto the wheel of our health, steering it in the right direction. The problem is, most of the time, we're not actually in control. We're handing over the wheel to whatever diet, detox or meal plan we're following that week, desperately trying to hang on to the back bumper and when it fails, when we can no longer keep a clutch on the plan that wasn't designed for us-- we call ourselves a failure. We have no willpower. No self control.

Feeling like they don't have any self control is what keeps many women on the diet cycle. They try, they fail, they deem themselves failures, convinced that someone else out there knows their body better than their's-- so they hop back on the plan. Again, and again, and again.

It's a hamster wheel I'm all too familiar with. When they get fed up with it, they might try intuitive eating-- but a theme I see come up for many women in their journey to letting go of dieting and struggling to fully embrace intuitive eating is this: when they let go of diets, they also let go of all structure.

They start the process of letting go of diets and listening to their body- but they feel like listening to their body means never allowing another meal plan or pre-prepped food touch their lips. No, I need to be intuitive.

They decide what to eat when they get hungry from an endless array of food in the universe, not wanting to give options for fear they won't be listening to their body. They might not stock their fridge on a regular basis, so they go out to eat often, and the decision fatigue is becoming heavy. They decide what's for dinner at 5pm after work, stopping at the grocery store or peering into the cabinet with more confusion than confidence. They find themselves overeating, because they're waiting until they're hungry to even decide what to eat, and they're not feeling very good. Their meals are more imbalanced that not (a couple of handfuls of cereal and a cheese stick will do for lunch because I don't have any time before my next meeting to go out and get something)... They want to include nutritious foods, but they don't want to choose the 'healthy option' for fear of feeling like they're on a diet. Intuitive Eating feels exhausting.

They feel chaotic, like they're constantly thinking about food- almost as much as dieting and they feel the desire to hop back on a diet- just to regain control.

Does this resonate with you?

Now, there is a level of hyper-awareness that's necessary in the beginning stages of intuitive eating, to get to know your body better so you can learn to serve her well, outside of prescribed plans. This is normal.

The problem these women are facing isn't that they have a lack of control. It's that, along with letting go of dieting, they've also let go of structure.

So let's talk about the difference between structure, and control, and how it can help you to regain confidence in your intuitive eating journey- without turning back to a diet.

Control is rigid and restrictive.

When we feel controlled, we eventually end up swinging in the opposite direction (from dieting to binge eating, or some form of chaotic eating).

Structure provides a framework from which you can create a flexible approach to food.

Think about a building a house. Now, I've never built a house, so just roll with me on this- but I think you'll get where I'm coming from. EVERY house needs a basic structure in order to keep it up. A foundation, four walls.

The structure looks different to every house- but structure is necessary. Even with houses with the same OUTSIDE structure, inside that structure, there is the flexibility for putting in rooms, changing the decor, the furniture, etc. There is even room within the rooms to change the decor and furniture as needed to suit you in your different needs and changing seasons.

The foundation to this structure is your connection to your body- it's body trust and tuning in to your body's needs. You need the foundation of body trust in order to connect to your body and trust her to make decisions that serve you. From there, you can put up a structure that gives you a flexible framework for feeling calm around food. A foundation with no walls makes a pretty weak living situation.

The foundation to this structure is your connection to your body- it's body trust and tuning in to your body's needs. You need the foundation of body trust in order to connect to your body and trust her to make decisions that serve you. From there, you can put up a structure that gives you a flexible framework for feeling calm around food. A foundation with no walls makes a pretty weak living situation.

You probably already have structure in your food routines without thinking about it-- i.e. eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. Three meals a day- that's a structure, and an incredibly flexible one. The sky is the limit with WHAT you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but that structure provides your body with the comfort of knowing you fuel her a few times a day, every day.

You can take this a step or two further, in order to provide your body with options to be able to eat on a regular basis without stress and overwhelm, every single time.

Structure doesn't need to be restrictive. Structure can provide freedom from chaos and keep you from swinging in the opposite direction towards dieting.

Structure can provide freedom from chaos and keep you from swinging in the opposite direction towards dieting.

It also allows you to eat in a way that feels good on a regular basis instead of a sometimes basis. Yes- it's ok to want to eat well when you're eating intuitively. But if we have no structure in place, it's hard to provide our bodies with the nourishment they need and ask for, if we don't have any nourishing foods on hand or available to do so.

Imagine this scenario, over the one I described above:

You wake up just before your alarm. You pad out to the kitchen, turn on the kettle for your favorite french press coffee and pour a glass of water to sip as you wait for your coffee to brew, and read a few pages of your latest book. You pour your coffee with cream (your favorite) and you have a few minutes to yourself before your kids wake up (hallelujah!). You go about your morning routine and realize you're getting pretty hungry, but you only have a few minutes before your older kiddo's distance learning Zoom meeting starts, and you have a meeting directly after. You open up the fridge- "What sounds good to me, today?" You glance at what you have, so thankful you took five minutes to put together a few yogurt parfaits and smoothie bags on the weekend. Yogurt sounds good. You grab one to enjoy as you get your kiddo set up for their meeting.

Lunch time rolls around and it's been a frenzy of meetings and school work and all. the. things. and you're all certainly getting a bit hungry. You're thinking of running out and grabbing lunch, when you realize you went grocery shopping on Saturday and you have everything you need to make your favorite pesto chicken sandwiches. YUM. You open the fridge and also see leftovers-- "which one sounds better?". You're actually craving something little more warm and hearty, because it's chilly out, so you opt for the warm leftover stew- knowing you can always have your favorite sandwich tomorrow- it's available for you.

The afternoon flies by and you're getting a little hungry when you realize it's 4pm-- your kiddo has socially distanced dance class at 4:30! You grab a couple energy balls out of the fridge (salted caramel, your latest fave), grab a snack for your kiddo and head out the door. As you're sitting in the parking lot you start thinking about your dinner plan (what was on the meal plan, again?). Oh right- that yummy 20-minute butternut squash curry- you knew dance was tonight and you wouldn't be getting home until dinnertime. "Does that still sound good?" Yes, totally. But you know you have some other veggies prepped in the fridge in case you want to switch it up. You get home, enjoy cooking dinner while filling your husband in on the day and sipping a small glass of wine. You finish the night with some tea and a couple of squares of chocolate to satisfy that sweet tooth (you're so glad you stopped forcing yourself to eat yogurt for dessert- this is SO much more satisfying). It was a good day.

What are some ways you can bring some flexible structure into your meals?

1. Meal Planning. I've been talking a ton about meal planning on Instagram. I am SO passionate about meal planning in a way that works for YOU and is FLEXIBLE (it's why I created the healthy mama meal planner!). Start by planning for 2-3 days, if you're new-- even if you're not, make sure to plan for some flexibility- leaving at least 2 days open for pizza night/date night/leftovers.

Your meal plan doesn't need to be set in stone- it can be a list of 4-5 meals you want to cook this week, so you can get the ingredients and even do some prep to make them easier, especially on the busy nights.

2. Creating a grocery shopping routine. Getting into a rhythm of plan, shop, prep can make a world of difference in feeling calm knowing food is available, but you have plenty of choices to honor your body.

Ask: When do I have time to plan my meals? When do I want the week to start? When do I have time to do some prep (see below)? Grocery shopping should fall somewhere in between planning meals and prep/the start of your week!

3. Meal/Food Prep. Meal prep gets a bad rap as boring and restrictive. Not in my world! Meal prep frees up SO much time during the week, the weeks I don't prep just aren't the same. But here's the thing- just like with nutrition, there is no one size fits all to meal prep. You can meal prep in a way that works for YOUR family, which is what I outline in my course, Healthy Mama Meal Prep, Meal prep should be about creating your own convenience- not restricting yourself to only eating what you've prepped.

Here's the thing, mama friend-- none of these routines get in the way of your intuitive eating journey unless you let them. Structure doesn't have to mean control. You can create structure with the foundation of your OWN body's needs, trust and connection with your body- adding in structure to keep the walls up, with a ton of fun and flexibility in between.

Let me know over on Instagram if this resonates with you!

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Kristin Dovbniak


I'm Kris! Founder of Healthy Balanced Mama, I'm a holistic health coach, certified intuitive eating counselor, trained chef, and mama of two, and I'm here to guide busy moms like you in stressing less and finding freedom with food through balanced eating and simplified routines around meal planning, meal prep, grocery shopping and cooking with confidence.


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