Intuitive Eating, as a concept, is so vague.
It can feel hard to know where to start and what's normal.
I hope that sharing how things played out for me (and the pattern I often see in others) might offer some insight into how the journey may look for you. It is by no means a prescription or plan....it's just my experience.
It's sorta like birth stories...you can hear a thousand and get a feeling for how the process might look but you'll NEVER know exactly what your path will look like until you are actually on it. And your path will look like no other because, well, you're YOU.
I started Intuitive Eating 6 years ago. Though I had dabbled with the idea of "just following what I wanted to eat" for many years, I was still deep in the trenches of diet culture (without even knowing it) and so, because my weight was higher than before I had kids, I believed there was something wrong with me. That I wasn't "healthy". That I likely needed to fix myself, in some way, with food.
I had worked my way out of a lot of the major restriction that had happened in my early 20s and the big reactions that happened through that decade as I learned to loosen my grip on food and my body....but I was still struggling with my body, which means food was still not easy and I often felt like my appetite was "too big", I was a "sugar addict", and likely a life-long "comfort eater". *All in " " because those were incorrect, self-diagnosis:)
I came to intuitive eating at the end of a long road of food plans and #cleaneats and clinical nutrition classes and counting macros...none of which had "worked". I was out of ideas. I was out of stamina. I had even lost the excitement I used to get when I thought I'd finally found a new plan that would work.
I was in a bigger body than I had ever been in, worried about my health, trying to stick with food philosophies that promised to get my hormones in check, heal my adrenals, and reduce my belly weight....and I just couldn't do it. Even when changing up my eating made me feel (moderately) physically better, I couldn't keep it up.
Every type of food choice or minor restriction felt like I was willingly deciding to put myself back in prison.
The reason I decided to try Intuitive Eating, is because I felt forced to.
But isn't that the truth? Don't we make most big changes in our lives when feel like we're at the end of the line...like we have no other choice but to shift?
No one was twisting my arm but I was so exhausted by the way I'd been approaching food and the constant hamster wheel of negative thoughts in my head about my body and health that I felt I had no choice but to do something NEW.
SO I reached out to a body image mentor.
I was hoping she'd explain to me how was I was broken, how I could fix my addiction to sugar and emotional eating, how I needed to meditate myself to place of peace that would allow me to make better food choices....but instead, here's what she said:
"I think your body is exactly where it needs to be right now and I don't think you have a food problem. In fact, it sounds like you eat really well".
And that pretty much broke my heart.
I'd been working for SO LONG to fix myself. I'd been fighting with food and my body to different degrees for 15 years and in that moment I realized 3 things:
My body is my body is my body: I can't force my weight to be anything it doesn't want to be any more than I can change my eye colour or my height. Will my body shift over time? Probably yes - but all I can do is manage my part of the equation (eating to feel energetic and satisfied - mind, body, and soul) and my body is going to do the rest and there is not a lot I can say or do about it.
Food is not the answer to everything: it feels beautifully simple to decide that when our body or health isn't going the way we'd like, all we have to do is clean up our diet. But that's not reality. Food and exercise definitely affect our health but they don't dictate it. Health and weight are incredibly complex and affected by many, many factors.
I'd wasted a lot of time. Full stop. So many years gone to trying to control something that might not be control-able. So many moments missed. So much wasted energy.
After crying for about a week, I decided to give Intuitive Eating, as recommended to me, a try.
There were I'd say three phases in my journey, phases I often see other women go through as well - though the length of each phase varies considerably - typically depending on much the woman really surrenders to the process:)
Phase 1: Trying to make Intuitive Eating like any other diet (AKA YES! But I shouldn’t phase…)
Reading through the book, following the step by steps, expecting to get it perfect and see "results". Deciding that anytime I ate something that didn't really feel good in my body I'd "failed". Though I was really trying to follow my intuition it was uncomfortable to not have a plan. To not be listening to someone outside myself tell me what I needed. To eat bread. I kept doubting myself and looking over my shoulder, expecting to find Dr. Oz standing there, waving a finger like, "no one’s intuition wants THAT!!!!".
Many women stay stuck here for a looooong time. They try to relax into the process but just CANNOT trust themselves to make decisions that are best for them. I worked through it fairly quickly because a. I had help! and b. I knew that if I really let go the next phase would be SO GOOD.....
Phase 2: FREEDOM (AKA ALL THE YESSS! phase…)
Woohoo! Elation! I can eat whatever I want. Seriously I felt ecstatic. I'd randomly have split second thoughts about what I needed to cut out later that week...and then I'd remember!!! OMG! I NEVER HAVE TO DO THAT AGAIN. I reallllly relaxed into this and for the most part it felt good. Occasionally I over-indulged and ate too much of "play" food but for the most part it was gooood. I began to see food have less power over me. Through the years of trying to fix my body with food I'd inadvertently made certain foods much more glamorous and exciting than other foods - coffee was more exciting than herbal tea, gluten and dairy and chocolate were adventure! Eating out was more metropolitan than soup at home.
As I worked through this part of the process, really allowing (and enjoying allowing!) I began to see food as.....just food. It became easy to choose the herbal tea on an afternoon when I really didn't need any more caffeine or the pear instead of the chocolate when I could tell I'd have enough. Also, and this was HUGE for me, my appetite normalized.
*NOTE: this phase can last for awhile and it's perfectly normal if it includes a BIG tendency toward indulgence. I consider this tending to emotional health. When you've been overly focused on your PHYSICAL body for a very long time it's normal for your mental/emotional side to need some tending. I still have weeks where I want play foods every evening when stress is high or I feel off. NBD. It’s normal and letting this happen will allow you to move on to the next phase....
Phase 3: Normal, EASY, Intuitive Eating (YES and NO, I can discern phase….)
This is a deeper phase I've more recently found myself in. After a few years of experimenting with intuitive eating, I've really felt myself "arrive". I can hear what my body is saying and respond (for the most part! No perfection here!) without any kind of resistance. I can have the sugar or not. I can have the bread or not. I can make food choices for my health without second guessing. It's a dynamic, on-going conversation that is happening in THE PRESENT MOMENT. I have no idea what tomorrow will look like, I'm just 100% happy to go along for the ride. My health feels GOOD, my body feels GOOD, I'm at peace in my brain, and the exhaustion is gone....and if things go off course - I trust I can get myself back on track, without deprivation or punishment.
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