I have been practicing intuitive eating for three years now. However, I thought it would be interesting to go back and read a journal entry from the start of my adventure with intuitive eating. Take note - can you relate to any of this? Ready? Here we go. I am obsessed with everything food. I am obsessed with books about eating and food. Some are diets, some are about your mind and food. I am obsessed with what makes you eat because if I can figure that out then maybe I can reverse it and stop eating. And with every book I buy late night on my kindle, a little spark of hope begins that this is the one that will help me solve my problem. I read more books about eating then I do anything else these days. No more chick lit ( I really hate that term), no more beach reads. It’s Paleo and the 8 Hour Diet, the Fast Metabolism Diet, the Science of Skinny, This is Why You Are Fat, just to name a few. I didn’t realize I was such a cliché. I am the average American woman, overweight, and spending all my money on “diets” that might fix what ails me.
Fat comments go right to my heart and take my breath away. The latest comment was this weekend when some girlfriends were talking about another mom wearing a string bikini and the pictures being posted online. And I said – well could she wear a string bikini? And the other woman said, yes, but if you could would you? And I said (cheekily) well I can but no I wouldn’t. (And of course I could never ever wear a string bikini but how dare someone else presume that I couldn’t). So then this woman turns to someone else and says – you could probably wear one, you are so tall and thin. So obviously, whatever props I was giving myself and saying I could wear a string bikini – no one else was buying that story. So it was hammered home to me, you are fat and other people think you are fat.
I just finished a book that I don’t even know the name of. Oh it’s “Thinside Out, How to have your cake and your skinny jeans too." (Josie Spinardi). I devoured the book, much like a late night plate of nachos. It gave me hope and terrified me at the same time. And now I’m all ready to try it but it might backfire pretty bad. The idea is to eat whatever you want whenever you are hungry. Whatever I want! Great! I like that. Whenever I am hungry? Hmmm. I know I am going to mess up on that one. If I can eat whatever I want, I don’t have to be hungry to put away mass quantities of food. So how do I know I am really hungry and not just letting myself pig out? And how do I stop once I am “full”? What is that? I know she explained it in the book but I really am not sure if I can tell when I am full.
So that means I will eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and how much I want, and when I am heavier in 2 weeks I will say the book was a crock and I will be back to the drawing board looking for the next quick fix. A few weeks ago I read a book called the Fast Metabolism diet. Now that seemed like it really was going to work. I wasn’t counting calories but I was eating certain foods from a list on certain days. 2 days of grains and fruits (no fats), 2 days of meat and veggies (no fats ) and 3 days of a little bit of everything including healthy fat. But no cheese, no sugar, wheat, flour, coffee, alcohol. I figured even if I messed up all the crazy rules (eat within 30 min of rising, eat 5 times a day, eat only what is on the list and only the food groups allowed) then I would still lose weight, just by not eating all that crap that we all know we are not supposed to eat.
I lost 2 lbs. I have probably gained that back. But I never really finished the diet. I was great for 2 ½ weeks and then it was my 25th high school reunion. There was no way I was going through that without alcohol, not to mention a few cigarettes for old times sake. So I drank a little here and a little there and the next thing I knew I was eating myself out of hearth and home all day Sunday with the promise that I would get back on the bandwagon on Monday. And I did, only to fall off big time by Wednesday and start wondering what on earth I was going to do next. I even bought cupcakes last week and ate just the tops off (two ginormous cupcakes) along with a cinnamon bun and a doughnut. It was insane. I didn’t eat it all but just the tops off. And I wonder why I have a muffin top and why my muffin top has a muffin top.
So this latest book says eat whatever I want. I am going to do it. The author claims she lost weight on this plan but there is not one before picture of her on the web or in her book. She also says she ate Doritos and doughnuts when she started on the plan, but did she gain weight before she lost? I know this isn’t entirely a new concept. It’s “intuitive eating” and apparently your body will go a little nuts with freedom and then will start craving salad. But what if it never does? What if it is perfectly happy with a plate of nachos for dinner every night? Then where does all my healthy and clean eating research go? All the paleo ideas, the natural sugars, almond flours, healthy fats and all the things I’ve focused on for the last year. I actually like eating that way but I’m afraid I will eat crap just because I can and if I don’t eat the crap I will feel like I am subconsciously depriving myself.
Wow – it gets really messy and complicated fast. Add to that the emotional eating aspect and I’m a mess. This author also has a book that will address emotional eating but it’s not done yet. I don’t know if I can wait. And what an awesome time to do this eat anything you want experiment! It’s the beginning of summer and I’m going out with friends and out for my birthday and to the Cape and to a bunch of parties. I would love love love to eat whatever I want! Onion dip and ice cream here I come. Margaritas and guacamole with a bowlful of chips, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, fried mozzarella (I never ever eat that and now I am craving it because I can). Oh but wait, only when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full and don’t make it a rule. This is so messed up. I feel like I will be walking off a cliff. I can feel the weight coming on and it’s summer, I want to be light and fit, not a big fat slob.
This book also said that exercise doesn’t matter. What?! Now I have actually been doing exercise so long that I like it but if I don’t have to do it 7 days a week then 3 is probably all I’ll do. The book says that’s ok. Then it says you should go walking because it’s good for your mood. Ironic how that would also get you off the couch and not eating and moving and burning calories. I think all these books are just trying to trick people into doing things to lose weight without saying move more and eat less because lets face it, that would suck. No one wants to hear that. How boring and awful is that? So anyway, I’m going to give this all a try. We’ll see what happens! Oh and I’m not going to weigh myself. I know if I’m getting fatter or thinner and sometimes the scale agrees and sometimes it doesn’t. I am going to accept myself as I am and say Fuck it to the scale.
So that is where I started three years ago. Can anyone relate to the food obsession? I was so nervous to try Intuitive Eating. And now, 3 years later, there have been huge shifts and miraculous changes. It is really incredible how far I have come. There are so many things I would tell the former me above who wrote this journal post.
First I would tell her - wow - you are really in for some big changes. They are all going to be good so don't be scared. Even the ones you might think are going to be bad are going to be good and even better than you ever thought possible.
Then I would tell her how much society has influenced her to feel the way she does and it's not her fault. It's a collective problem and she is beautiful and there is nothing wrong with her. There is nothing to fix. She is not a cliché and she is a unique and strong woman who has so much more to offer the world than trying to please the world with the size of her body.
Then I would tell her that, yes, anyone can wear a string bikini. When my former self asked "could (this other woman) wear a string bikini?", it was a testament to how perverse our society is when it comes to our bodies. Of course she could wear one and I can see my former self recognized that at the same time that she squashed the thought down. Her instincts were absolutely right that anyone can wear a string bikini and she didn't need to be cheeky about it. That feeling that it's wrong to judge people's bodies was absolutely 100% on track and while it might take a few years for my former self to fully comprehend and cultivate that idea, she was so right to be offended and bothered by the talk she was hearing around her. Soon she will learn about body positivity and Health at Every Size and she is going to learn what it means to have a healthy body image and that it is entirely possible even in a world filled with negative fat talk.
I will also tell her that relearning hunger and fullness cues takes some time but is completely doable. And she will no longer want to eat mass quantities of things when she is not hungry. That will no longer be an issue since she is not restricting her body from eating what it wants. She will not be "letting" herself do anything. She will give herself full permission to eat. Then there will be nothing to rebel against and no reason to binge from physical restraint and hunger.
I would also gently remind her - how have the other diets been working for you? How did that Fast Metabolism diet work out? Think about the cupcake binge. Restricting is getting harder and harder, isn't it? And lasting for shorter and shorter periods of time and ending in bigger and bigger binges and weight regains. You owe it to yourself to try something new. A "new" diet is not new at all. It's the same thing over and over again and clearly not working.
Next, I would tell her that yes, after you stop physically restricting, you will also have to work on how to stop emotionally restricting. You may find that you are trying to tell yourself you are hungry for a plate of spinach when you really want fried chicken and you may find that you congratulate yourself when you eat quinoa and plain grilled chicken. Even if you have a cupcake for dessert and think that you are allowing yourself something, you will still have to stop assigning foods the "good" or "bad" labels and this too can take some time.
Emotional eating work will also take some time. Understanding how our feelings and emotions are tied up in our food and understanding what makes us want to emotionally eat in the first place is another piece of the puzzle. Eating is often emotional and that is not a bad thing. This will be another layer to unpack and unwind.
Another crucial layer that will need to be studied and practiced is body image work. This woman is suffering from a terrible body image and calling herself a big fat slob is the proof in the pudding. This is another area that is crucial in the recovery from chronic dieting and also something that takes work but has an immeasurable payoff in peace of mind and feelings of self worth.
Joyful movement is another component this young woman is going to have to wrap her head around. She has looked at exercise her whole life as something she had to do to burn calories and lose weight or stay slimmer. She has hated it at times and has come to begrudgingly enjoy it but still feels like she has to stick to a certain schedule or the pounds are going to pile on. She will need to learn to relax into knowing that exercise is wonderful for our bodies but should be enjoyable and not punishing and that it's ok if some days we take a nap instead of go for a run. Our bodies know what they need.
This woman is about to begin a journey into listening to her body which she hasn't been doing for who knows how long. I am so excited for this woman for all that is to come in the next few years and all that she is going to learn and all the peace that is going to come her way. The one time she was 100% correct in the post above is when she said "Fuck the scale". With that statement, she is boldly on her way.
I would also tell her, it won't be a straight road and it may not always feel measurable. There will be times when you won't feel like you have made any progress at all. And then there will be times when you are stunned and amazed by all the progress you have made and life is so beautiful that you want to cry. The great news about intuitive eating is that you are not going to fall off the "eating food" wagon or suddenly forget to stop feeding yourself. It's a process that is sustainable and that is key. Once you start, you won't want to go back.
I am so grateful to actually be this woman and to have had this experience over the last 3 years. I have learned so much and come so far and I can't even believe that was me who was full of such hatred and pain and shame. There is so much more to this journey than just a way of eating. It's a way of living because how we do food is how we do life. I didn't know when I started down this path that I would make those connections and that I would change my relationship to food and that that would change my life. There was so much I didn't know.
So what is my long winded but hopefully poignant point? I want people to know there is another way to live that does not involve diets and restriction and misery. If you are tired of hating food and your body and have spent years on diets and are still miserable, intuitive eating and all the pieces that go along with it is the light at the end of the tunnel. And that light will guide you through even though the process may be long and slow and is not at all a straight line. But it gave me my life back and maybe it can give you yours too.