"Tomorrow is national ice cream day!!" a friend excitedly texted me last Saturday night, as I was messily consuming a slice of deep fried pineapple at the Orange County fair. (By the way, fair-people watching is far and away some of the best people watching out there). The following morning as I drove to the mountains to run, a radio DJ gave listeners a comprehensive summation of every ice cream shop in the greater Orange County/L.A. area where ice cream would be dirt cheap for the day. Ads for $2.00 scoops were infiltrating my Instagram feed, and it seemed to me that the world would not shut up about ice cream.
"National Ice Cream Day" is celebrated on the third Sunday of July every year in the U.S., and was signed into public law by president Ronald Reagan on July 9, 1984. Weird, right?? Since then, the holiday has been celebrated largely because ice cream manufacturers advertise the hell out of it, and likely make a nice chunk of change along the way. According to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), the average American consumes more than 23 pounds of ice cream each year. The result is an $11 billion industry that supports 26,000 direct jobs and generates $1.6 billion in direct wages. July is the busiest month for ice cream production, the majority of U.S. ice cream and frozen dessert manufacturers have been in business for more than 50 years, and many are still family-owned businesses. We GET it, ice cream is popular.
But National Ice Cream Day isn't the only weird, food-centric, half-holiday we celebrate here in America. January 15 is National Bagel Day, September 29 is National Coffee Day, October 16 is World Bread Day, December 30 is Bacon Day, March 7 is National Cereal Day, May 15 is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, and the list goes on and on and on.
I did not celebrate National Ice Cream Day, for a couple of reasons:
1. I didn't particularly want ice cream. I wasn't craving it, and despite ice cream being everywhere, I felt no inclination to eat it. Often, we eat because of external triggers (other people, media, stress, etc), instead of listening to our hunger cues. If you've really fucked up your hunger cues because of an eating disorder, overeating, or constant dieting, check out this helpful guide for regaining them.
2. Ice cream is objectively not hard to find, and not that expensive any old day of the week. A scoop of ice cream at my favorite shop, Salt and Straw, is $5.00, and I'd pay that any time I felt like it.
National Ice Cream day helped me flex my intuitive-eating muscle, which is still fairly new and therefore somewhat weak. Intuitive eating is an approach to health and food that has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline, or willpower. It teaches you how to get in touch with body cues like hunger, fullness, and satisfaction while learning to trust your body around food again.
The first principle of intuitive eating is rejecting the diet mentality. In the past, I would have told myself I couldn't have the ice cream, whereas last Sunday, I didn't want the ice cream. See the difference?
The second principle is to honor your hunger. This mean that I listened to my body, ate when I was hungry, and ate what sounded good. What sounded good was not ice cream, but the third principle, making peace with food, would allow me to choose the ice cream if that were what I wanted.
The fourth principle is a bit more interesting; challenge the food police. This one can be a bit sticky for people, because we're taught that certain foods, like ice cream, are "bad." Rationally, we all know that if we eat one scoop of ice cream, nothing will really happen. Challenging the food police means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. This is scary at first, but becomes easier and more natural over time.
The fifth principle of intuitive eating is respecting your fullness. Instead of eating ice cream because everyone was hyping ice cream, I respected my fullness and said, "I'll eat ice cream another day." One thing many people with eating disorders suffer from is a sense of food scarcity-we feel like we need to hide or store food so we know it is there. Freedom from food means understanding that the next meal will always come, thus, respecting our satiety.
The sixth principle is the "satisfaction factor." A food like ice cream that is fatty and sweet will have a high satisfaction factor, especially if consumed in a comfortable, stress-free setting. Honoring hunger will allow you to know when you've had enough.
The seventh principle is to honor your feelings without using food. In Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery by Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn, they write that ice cream was a popular binge food, "If I had my choice, I would eat sweets and refined carbohydrates. A single binge might include: a quart of ice cream, a bag of cookies, a couple of batches of brownies, a dozen donuts, and a few candy bars. When I was desperate, though, I would binge on anything: oatmeal, cottage cheese, carrots, or day-old rolls that I fished out of the trash from what was to be my last-ever binge." Bingeing is an obvious way to manage feelings with food, but we all do this to some degree, by adhering to strict diets, "cheat days," or rewarding ourselves with a "treat." Untying food from emotion is extremely difficult, but incredibly necessary.
The eighth principle is simple: respect your body. This is closely tied to principle seven, because it is impossible to respect your body while abusing food in any way. Chronic over-or-under feeding is an abuse of the body that is your home.
The ninth principle is to exercise not to burn calories but to feel good in your body. Many people-hobby joggers and elite athletes alike-are hyper-focused on data: calories burned, heart rate, pace/speed, weight, etc. Part of intuitive eating is removing punishment from exercise and fear from food, which rolls nicely into the tenth principle: honor your health. Intuitive eating, at its core, is about self-respect. It is impossible to honor your health while hating your body. It is impossible to honor your health and restrict, binge, purge, or over-exercise. It is impossible to honor your health by remaining in relationships, dynamics, or disorders that are inherently harmful, but escaping those dynamics is not a small or simple task.
Personally, the most difficult part of learning to eat intuitively is simply ignoring outside messages about food, which are confusing and often at-odds. We are taught that ice cream is a "bad, unhealthy" food, and then we're inundated by messages instructing us to indulge, for no good reason other than everyone else is indulging. Removing emotional ties from food and ignoring harmful messages surrounding food and/or bodies is the first step to a healthy, vibrant relationship with food, your body, and yourself.
P.S. Order The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food, by Evelyn Tribole, HERE.