Stop the Abuse. Self-Care Through Intuitive Eating
The first letters of the words ‘Intuitive Eating’ are capitalized. Programs and brands always are–think Weight Watchers, the Zone Diet and the latest craze, the Ketogenic Diet.
Nevertheless, the capitals are a bit disappointing because I think of Intuitive Eating as the anti-program. It is the light at the end of a long soul-sucking tunnel of diets and food plans.
What’s Your Dieting History?
Most of us have tried something, often lots of somethings, to lose weight.
In my twenties, my weight was fine but I didn’t think so. I remember the soup diet, and the one based on bananas.
My thirties, when I had maybe fifteen pounds to lose, I was sure I needed to drop fifty. I tried the Zone Diet, eating by Canada’s Food Guide, and the first of three times with Weight Watchers.
My forties were disastrous. Those were the years when both work and food consumption were relentless. My thyroid was failing, but I pushed on, fueled by sugar and bloody-minded determination. It was the decade when I started to seriously fail myself, determined to be perfect at some diet plan or other each and every morning or Monday or first of the month, only to blow it within a couple of hours and start bingeing. My weight climbed. A few multi-day detoxes only pushed the body abuse into the stratosphere.
In my fifties, where I am now, the carnage continued for a while, then abated for a bit when I retired, got some sleep, and started to slowly recover from burnout. I lost twenty or more pounds and felt great. People started complimenting me on the weight loss, resistance kicked in for some still-unknown reason and, with more of that bloody-minded determination, I worked hard to quickly pile those pounds back on. I didn’t understand resistance or the many ways to counteract it, so I berated myself for my slovenly ways, and kept eating.
Does any of this resonate? Have you ever worked so hard at weight loss, or anything else for that matter, and failed so repeatedly that you got to the point where failure was simply a foregone conclusion?
Why Don’t Diets Work?
Geneen Roth is the author of many wonderful books about the relationship between compulsive eating and personal and spiritual issues that, in the end, have nothing to do with food, weight or body image.
The promise of diet is not only that you will have a different body; it is that in having a different body, you will have a different life.Geneen Roth
A favourite of her books, When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair, gives four reasons for not going on a diet. I’ve abbreviated them here as:
- You will rebel and, when you do, you will gain more weight.
- The basic message of a diet is that if you let yourself go, you will devour the universe. But you can’t say anything to yourself physically that doesn’t also affect you emotionally.
- Deprivation, fear, shame, and guilt do not now, and never will, lead to long-lasting change.
- Long-lasting change can only come through kindness to yourself, curiosity about what you do, and a willingness to act on your own behalf. (p.9)
In their Intuitive Eating Workbook, authors Tribole and Resch add these interesting pieces of research evidence:
- A six-year follow-up study of contestants on The Biggest Loser showed that contestants gained back a significant amount of their weight.
- Since the late 1940s, a large body of research has shown that the act of dieting promotes weight gain in a variety of age groups.
- High-quality studies on millions of people show that being at a lower weight does not confer better health or outcomes.
What is Intuitive Eating?
When the choices are to think of yourself as a weak and undisciplined failure, or to blame the diet industry for failing to deliver on its promises, the sane and healthy response is to take a hard look at diets and at the culture that promotes them. That’s what Intuitive Eating does.
Intuitive Eating is not a diet. There is no promise of weight loss. In fact, many people gain weight when they first start to eat intuitively. I have. However, for the first time in my life, I’m fine with the weight gain. I trust that by the end of this process, my weight will normalize to whatever is right for me.
The basic premise of Intuitive Eating is very simple. There are no good or bad foods. When you are physically hungry, as opposed to emotionally hungry, you eat whatever your body is craving at that time and you stop eating when you are satisfied. When you are emotionally hungry, you figure out what you need that isn’t food and provide that. The goal of Intuitive Eating is to get you back in touch with your body’s wisdom and back to enjoying food.
What Makes Intuitive Eating So Difficult?
Intuitive Eating is a change of mind, a change of belief, and while it is very simple to understand, it is also very difficult to do, especially in our society. As authors and dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch explain,
“Fearmongering, in the name of health, in front of the backdrop of an appearance-based culture, has triggered the perception that we are one bite away from a disaster. It’s a cultural neurosis; the fork has become akin to a loaded gun–just one wrong move pulls the trigger.”
We are surrounded at every turn by experts, celebrities, friends and family telling us what are bodies should look like, which food are good for us and which ones are bad. Those external voices become internalized ones and they scream, shout and nag at us (well, me) relentlessly. Intuitive Eating requires that we stop participating in negative body talk, out there in the world and inside our minds. That’s incredibly hard to do.
Finally, Intuitive Eating relies on you recognizing the physical cues that tell you when you are hungry and when you are satisfied. While you’re taught how to recognize these cues through various Intuitive Eating resources, it’s not easy to reinhabit your body years or decades after leaving it.
Does Intuitive Eating Have Rules?
Rules, no. Guidelines or principles, yes. Sensitive to the fact that some of us will rebel at anything that smacks of a rule/guideline/principle, Roth titles her list, “If love could speak.” I like that.
Roth has seven guidelines, while Tribole and Resch offer ten. If I were to boil them all down to a single word, it would be my word of the year–NOTICE. Notice what you feel, and where the sensations are in your body. Notice the moment of the last bite you need to take to leave you satisfied, and the kinds of food that feel good on your taste buds and in your body.
To do the difficult work of noticing, be patient, keep practicing, get rid of distractions that would prevent you from noticing, and ramp up your self-care efforts.
What Does Intuitive Eating Have to Do with Self-Care?
Self-care is both a prerequisite and a result of eating intuitively. It is a prerequisite because not all compulsive eating is emotional eating. Sometimes it’s a direct result of lack of self-care, or even outright deprivation.
Have no fear of perfection–you’ll never reach it.Salvador Dali
It is much easier to become an intuitive eater if self-care is in place. A basic level of self-care includes: adequate sleep, time in nature, time for reflection, and some life balance. Ramping up those self-care efforts means being extra nice to yourself with activities like buying yourself flowers, enjoying hot baths, taking walks in the woods, reading for pleasure, or whatever else makes you feel cared for and valued.
Self-care becomes a result of Intuitive Eating because learning how to eat intuitively requires that you shut down your Inner Committee and replace those voices with self-compassion, kindness, and curiosity.
What Can You Expect When You’ve Mastered Intuitive Eating?
Since Intuitive Eating is difficult to do, and often results in some weight gain, at least in the short-term, it’s reasonable to wonder if Intuitive Eating isn’t just a sanctioned way of giving up on ourselves.
Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.Galway Kinnell
But, as Roth explains, “Not dieting does not equal bingeing. Not dieting does not equal going numb or unconscious.” And later, “We think we’re miserable because of what we weigh…But if we’ve spent the last thirty years obsessing about the same fifty pounds, something else is going on. Something that has nothing to do with weight.” (p. 49, Women, Food and God)
I am at the very beginning of this process, but I’m looking forward to three things that have been promised when I master Intuitive Eating. I can’t wait to:
- truly crave nutritious foods.
- make food choices that will increase my energy levels and my body’s performance.
- this is the big one–live life without the drama of feeling like a fat failure.
Where Can You Learn More About Intuitive Eating?
Tribole created the term Intuitive Eating. There’s the third edition of a book–Intuitive Eating (2012), an online community you can apply to join (I’m a member), and a counselor directory if you would like one-on-one assistance. They’ve also recently published an Intuitive Eating Workbook that I’ve been working my way through for the last two months. The workbook is a stand-alone. I highly recommend it.
Roth also has a website where you can read articles and blog posts, and watch videos. You’ll also find a list of her books here. I’ve read three of them and will be ordering the rest. Roth’s writing is so understanding, supportive and real that I consider it ideal self-care just to bathe in her words.
Mindfulness, as I’m sure you’ve realized, is a powerful part of Intuitive Eating. Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey are re-offering a free 21 day meditation series called Shedding the Weight: Mind, Body and Spirit. This was the first free meditation series I did with the dynamic duo and it was excellent. It starts March 19th. If you’re interested, sign up and you’ll get a link in your inbox early each morning for 21 days. Each day’s session will be live for five days so you don’t have to worry about missing out if you’re too busy to get to meditation one day.
Comments are always welcome and appreciated.