Intentional Intuitive Eating I: the most unnatural, natural, thing I've ever done

Jul 12, 2022

It’s the most unnatural, natural thing I’ve ever done. 

That was Amy, the first of my girlfriends to have a baby which, to my 20-something, still in school and travelling the world self, felt a million years away. I couldn’t connect to her experience at all. 

“You had a baby! Cool! But like, what are you doing for the summer?”

Luckily, I’m a semi-decent friend and I thought to ask a few of the requisite questions: How was the birth? How's breastfeeding going? Has the little angel already been recruited by both Mensa and the GAP modelling agency?

And that’s when she got me: breastfeeding is the most unnatural, natural thing I’ve ever done.

What did that even mean? 

Having birthed and breastfed two children at this point, there is no longer any confusion of my part - but in case you haven’t experienced the miracle of absolutely destroyed nipples, let me describe my feeding experiences:

I birthed a baby.

My body created milk.

I could feel it and I had the urge to feed the child in front of me.

I attempted to feed.

There were latch issues, nipple infections, mastitis, tears, no let down, over-active let down, a burnt hand and smashed shower door (story for another day), near failure to thrive with both babies, midwife appointments, doula appointments, more tears, self-doubt, no sleep, formula, friend’s milk, pumping, my milk and then - eventually, with a mere decade stripped from my life-expectancy - healthy, thriving, fully fed babies! Yay!

Breastfeeding is natural. 

My body was (is) designed for it. 

And yet, it was one of the most unnatural and challenging things I’ve ever done. Without a HUGE crew of support, I likely would have stopped.

Other things that I thought would be easy, simple, and natural - that absolutely are not:

  • Marriage
  • Finding what I’m supposed to do in life
  • Taking care of myself
  • Parenting
  • Running my business
  • Relationships of every kind

And wah-la!

Here we are at Part 1 of my Intentional Intuitive Eating series where I'm kicking things off by breaking down the first of three myths about IE. Myths that get in the way of our ability to be both intuitive and intentional. So here we go, the misconception that launched a thousand ships of shame…

Myth #1 - Intuitive Eating should be easy, breezy, natural. It should require no thought and is, instead, the result of always just going with the flow and being 'mindful', hippy-dippy style.

The reality is that intuitive eating requires a bit of work. 

I - for example - am currently wolfing down a bagel with an extra cup of coffee to get me through the morning. Is it what I would have chosen to eat, intuitively? Nope. But I’ve had a really busy week, I’m tired, I had no time to grocery shop, stress levels are high and that's what I had on hand. So I'm muddling through. 

The great thing about IE is that it increases your ability to tolerate less than ideal food situations BUT if I really want to eat what both my brain and body desire - I need to be prepared and well-stocked. Being well-stocked takes a bit of work. It just does. 

Yes, Intuitive Eating is a relatively present-moment experience of checking in with your body and asking what she most wants, but what might make the process hard? What might make it easy? Let's discuss…

Things that interfere with IE:

  • Stress
  • Lack of access to food
  • Hormones
  • Neurodiversity
  • Being too busy
  • Damaged connection to your body and intuition (often due to a long history of ignoring and dieting)
  • Peri-menopause: hot flashes, lack of sleep, unexpected blood sugar changes
  • Lack of sleep
  • Illness
  • and more...

Around this point in the conversation, I typically get a comment from someone that sounds something like: "So what’s the friggin point?”

Great friggin question!

In my opinion there are two kinds of hard in life - the kind that ADDS to your life - it challenges you and stretches you and ultimately makes life better - and the kind that DETRACTS. Dieting and restriction and fighting food never gets easier. There’s never ease or flow and the collateral damage…well, you know. With IE there are easy days and moments where you feel like a child of mother earth in a long, swishy, dress and rain boots, dancing to Harry Styles at Glastonbury. That is to say - IE can feel SO GOOD. It takes a bit of effort but it’ll add to your life over and over and over again.

So what helps with IE?

  • Repairing the disconnection with your body
  • Untangling weight and health: understanding how the culture - patriarchy + capitalism + racism - affect how you see yourself and the food choices you make
  • Learning to respect and care for your body, no matter what she looks like
  • Dismantling toxic wellness beliefs
  • Being guided in how to integrate nutritional information with body knowing (ie being intentional)
  • Putting strategies into place that help to minimize things that interfere (see above)
  • Getting clear on the process - knowing what stages of learning you’ll likely encounter as you become an intuitive eater and how to manage each stage
  • Letting go of perfectionism and reclaiming self-worth
  • Getting to know yourself and your cycles/patterns.

Especially in the beginning, IE and becoming more intentional with IE takes attention and time. You’re not failing or doing it wrong if there are days that feel unnatural. Don't let the hard bits convince you you can't do this. You can. It's just a matter of perseverance - pushing forward despite discomfort.

That's all for today!

I’ll be back next week with part 2 of Myth busting. The following week, I’ll cover Myth #3 and then the final email of the series will pull together a handful of my best strategies for moving forward with intentional intuitive eating. 

I’ll also answer your questions! So hit reply and tell me about one struggle or challenge you currently have with intuitive eating.