Learning to Eat Intuitively

Recently, I hit diet rock bottom. I got fed up with tracking and measuring and counting calories and constantly THINKING ABOUT FOOD. If I wasn’t craving it, I was avoiding it. If I wasn’t eating it, I was analyzing it. Constant. FoodFoodFood. Good food, bad food, FOOD.

I’d also upped my exercise, trying to do May Miles and a monthly ab workout every day. I was exhausted, I hurt everywhere, and I was hungry. I was bored, and I wanted a cheeseburger like nobody’s business. And then the scale went the wrong direction, and I lost it.

I.Lost.It.

I had Chick-fil-a for breakfast, and a really gross pork chop at a restaurant. I drank 2¬†beers. I ate a cheeseburger, and then I ate a large curly fry. Then I drank half a bottle of wine. And then I ate Chinese food. Twice. (For the record, this was over a weekend – I did not eat all that at once. If I could have, I probably would have, but I’m not that impressive.)

I told the scale to take a hike.

A couple days passed and I finally told my accountability buddies (love you RS!!) that I was fed up. I spared them the details, just told them tracking was making me cranky and I wanted another cheeseburger.

Let me tell you, my girls are amazing. They didn’t yell, they didn’t try to make me feel bad… they told me to eat the damn cheeseburger if I wanted it that badly. And then they mentioned this thing called Intuitive Eating, and told me to check it out.

So I did.

There’s a book (actually, several, because they’ve revised it 3 times) and there’s a website. I browsed the website, then got a copy of the ebook and started reading it.

The whole premise behind Intuitive Eating is eating whatever you want whenever you want.

Not exactly.

I mean, YES, that is the premise, but it’s not that simple. The authors, who are both registered dieticians, argue that as children we know how to eat. We generally eat when we’re hungry, and stop when we’re satisfied. We more or less eat the foods that we need in order to get our nutritional needs (and yes, some of this is parenting, but there’s research to support kids picking decent foods). At some point, some of us switch into this diet mindset, and our whole food relationship changes.

We don’t listen to our body’s hunger signals, so we end up either not eating enough and then later overeating, or we eat foods we don’t really want, which again leads to overeating. We get hung up on “good” foods and “bad” foods, and we set up terrible guilt patterns that make us miserable and lead to overeating. In short, we diet, and we inevitably stop the diet (whether because we reached our goal weight or not), and then the weight comes back. So we feel terrible, and guilty and angry, and we diet again. And so the cycle continues.

With Intuitive Eating, you listen to your body. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re satisfied – NOT FULL – you stop. And you eat what you want. So if you want chocolate, you eat chocolate – but you pay attention to the way it tastes and how it makes you feel. And then you stop when you’ve had enough. A friend of mine called this “mindful eating” – which pretty much sums it up.

So I started reading this, and all of a sudden I realized that this could work for me. I hate being told what to do, and I hate feeling like I’m not in control of my own choices. Tracking and measuring and watching calories feels too much like being given orders and having to report to someone, so of course I can’t stand it. But eating whatever I want and actually paying attention to my food while I’m eating it, and stopping when – and only when – I’m satisfied? Surely I can do that. So I decided to give it a try.

Now….the authors make a couple of important points. One is that you have to let go of weight loss as the ultimate goal. They say that you need to fix your relationship with food and with your body, and once you do that, your body will more or less stabilize. Plenty of people lose weight when they start eating intuitively, because it turns out they were overeating all along….but that shouldn’t be the goal.

Let me tell you….that’s HARD.

But ok, I’ll try. I didn’t gain weight until after college, so I’m willing to bet my current weight isn’t my body’s natural weight. And I know I eat way too much. Ok, I’ll do it. Weight loss goal….not gone, but not priority anymore. (You may have to remind me of that….)

The authors also stress that you should eat whatever you want. Literally. They tell you to acknowledge that when you first start this you’re likely to go crazy. Suddenly every food is available to eaten – nothing is off-limits. Everything. They even say (multiple times) that nutrition is not the goal right at the beginning. The goal is to get back in touch with your hunger signals.

FREAKIN’ AMAZING.

Yeah, so, the first day after I decided to give this a try, I had ice cream for breakfast. I wasn’t feeling granola and yogurt, so I decided to go to Chick-fil-a again. I ordered my combo – with real Coke this time – and then sheepishly asked if I could get ice cream at breakfast (CFA has the best soft-serve). Turns out, yes, and you can get a kid’s size. So I did. And I ate it, and it was wonderful, and then I ate my sandwich, and I skipped the hash browns. I probably actually could have gotten by with half the sandwich, but it’s harder than you think to recognize that you’ve eaten enough.

Then later that night I had pasta and cake. Yup.

Did I feel guilty? Not a bit. Did I feel weird? Hell yeah. Did I worry that I’d blow up like a blimp? Yup. But the authors told me to trust myself, so I’m gonna do that. I don’t want to worry about food the rest of my life. I just want to eat and enjoy it and not feel guilty about it.

I’m still trying to get the hang of it. I still frequently overeat, because I’m struggling with the “it tastes so good” thing. I haven’t quite accepted that I can eat something again whenever I want it, I suppose. If I did, those taste buds wouldn’t be taking so much control.

Surprisingly though, I haven’t gained… I’m actually even down a little. Yeah, yeah, I know…. Don’t focus on weight. I’m trying. But I’m happy that my ice cream-chickfila-pasta-cake-booze binge doesn’t seem to have had any lasting ill effects.

Gradually I’ve stopped craving junk and am craving more healthy foods. A few days ago, I really wanted brussel sprouts and bananas. Odd combination, but that’s what I wanted, so that’s what I had. And it was delicious.

So we’ll see how it goes, but so far…I’m enjoying the freedom of eating what I truly want, and of learning to stop when I’ve had enough. I didn’t realize how much food had become a preoccupation until suddenly it was gone. I don’t ever want to go back to being the person who gets hung up on food again.

Who’s with me?