When I started my journey to become an intuitive eater, I was completely fed up with feeling controlled by food. I wanted an outlet, a release, something that would finally improve my quality of life. Up to this point, I felt like healthy living was holding me back, not propelling me forward.
My goal when I started was simply to find freedom from my emotional struggle with food and body.
I wanted to eat a lot of whole foods not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I wanted to get creative in the kitchen and start to experiment with tastes, textures, and flavors. I wanted permission to eat any time I wanted and the "willpower" (I quickly learned it's not willpower, it's trust) to stop eating when I was comfortably full. I wanted to slow down and start finally living in the present moment. I wanted the freedom to eat what I wanted when I was craving something in particular, out with friends, or simply in the mood.
All in all, I was tired of thinking about food. I was tired of restriction, rules, "dieting down" for an event, counteracting some "bad" food, and feeling guilty.
I wanted to get back to my life.
I began my journey with the audio book, Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, Fiaedp, FADA. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, so the first week or two were really just the first weeks off a diet and the first weeks thinking about hunger and fullness in general.
I like to know exactly what I'm in for before I sign up for something, ("Is this going to hurt?" "How much?" "What's the process like?" "What can I expect?" "How long?"), and so I did research on Intuitive Eating, trying to find answers to these questions. I found some great posts (included below!), but I still didn't feel prepared to reject the diet mentality, make peace with food, or challenge the food police. And I most certainly didn't feel ready to honor my feelings without food.
I gave it a go anyways because my desire for freedom was strong enough. As the weeks went by, I kept a journal detailing my experience so that I could answer my questions for someone else down the line. Most importantly, I wanted to watch myself progress over the weeks. I knew I was going to have to let go of the scale and remove the numbers associated with body, but I still wanted to know if I was moving in the right direction. Since my goal was finding freedom from the nonstop struggle with food and body inside my head, I decided to have to monitor my thoughts.
I'm not sure exactly when I became 100% committed to the process, but when I squashed the food police for one of the first times in my entire life (I was eating ice cream while editing a wellness program - heck yes), I felt amazing.
In case intuitive eating is new for you, here are the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating, as discussed in the book mentioned above.
Reject the Diet Mentality
Honor Your Hunger
Make Peace with Food
Challenge the Food Police
Respect Your Fullness
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
Respect Your Body
Exercise--Feel the Difference
Honor Your Health
I think the hardest (but also most liberating) thing for me to accept was that there's no end to intuitive eating and there's no starting-over. It's all progress and it's all moving forward.
Over my first week, I had a few causes for celebration. I was in no way completely free, but it felt amazing to let go. It felt amazing to think about never dieting again and finally being able to enjoy food.
I was on my way to freedom and I was hooked.
Over the first few weeks, I made a point to celebrate everything (seriously, everything). Any time I felt guilty (which was a lot, I'll be honest), ate more than I wanted, felt too full, or wanted to speak negatively to myself, I focused on the good that was happening. I thought about what I had done well during the day and the progress I knew I was making.
Here are a few examples of what I wrote down my first few weeks:
- I can better recognize the difference between hunger and boredom. I can better recognize that eating something when I'm bored doesn't taste as good as eating when I'm hungry.
- I'm snacking less. I used to snack quite a bit between breakfast and lunch and then again between lunch and dinner. Today, I didn't snack at all. I just wasn't thinking about food.
- While out shopping, I was given a coupon for a free chocolate covered strawberry, but didn't end up cashing mine in (I didn't want it). Normally, I'd eat the strawberry whether I wanted it or not or I'd skip the strawberry and spend the rest of the night feeling like I'd missed out.
- I ate one peanut butter cup and put back the second because I didn't want it. (seriously, I celebrated everything)
Please don't think it's all roses and sunshine once you make the decision to reject the diet mentality and focus inward. I started my journey right before the Holiday season. I doubted my decision to start quite a few times, because I knew there would be parties, pictures, gatherings, etc. and I wanted to look my best. Not to mention, everywhere I looked on social media was an ad about "getting in shape before the New Year" or "kick off the New Year right with a 21 day challenge"!
It seemed like everyone else was losing weight before the New Year, while I was eating less vegetables than ever.
As you begin the first few weeks of an intuitive eating journey, I hope you slowly get more comfortable with the idea of "never needing to start over". You can learn from everything along this journey, including everything you think you do "wrong".
You're always making progress and that is a really, really amazing thing.
If you'd like some more resources on Intuitive Eating...
- read this article about why Intuitive Eating fails
- this article about keeping quality food you enjoy on hand
- this article about why you shouldn't get discouraged if you're eating "bad" foods along the way (I certainly was eating a lot of "bad" foods).
- You can also check out this article where while I don't agree with everything, there a few things worth pointing out...I think many of us hate obsessing over food (isn't that typically why we start this process to begin with?), agree that food should absolutely not be the most important things in our lives (again, why we start), and think it's important to find things we love to do outside of eating and outside of exercise (not an easy feat for some). However, if you've spent a lot of time struggling with food or body, then getting to a place of peace with food will not happen over night. It's going to take time thinking about the principles, practicing them, and reframing our beliefs around food. It's much more important to relax and enjoy the journey. To focus on learning about yourself first. After all, you don't have to be perfectly "intuitive" tomorrow, next week, or even the year after that. If you start to get to know yourself, embrace the journey, and love yourself as you are, then you will get there eventually. And, it will be a beautiful thing.
- This guide to enjoying Thanksgiving (or really any Holiday with food) is a great read.
- Jamie also wrote this article on leveling out. Leveling out DOES take time.
Good luck - freedom is possible.