Intuitive Eating: My Experience.
I had my breakfast at 6:45am the other morning which for me, is unheard of.
I have always been the person who has breakfast at ‘the right’ time which in my head has always been 9am. But, the other day I woke up hungry. Actually not just hungry, ravenous.
I woke my siaster up to tell her I was going to have breakfast and completely unfazed by it, she just shrugged and said, ‘okay?’…
A few moments later as I tucked in, I realised I was also unfazed by the fact I was eating at that time. Now, a few years ago that would have probably spiralled into one of two scenarios.
The first, trying to ignore my hunger. Beating myself up for feeling hungry and wanting breakfast. Trying to trick my mind into thinking I wasn’t in fact hungry and didn’t need/deserve food.
Or the second. Eating two or three, or four breakfasts. Finding everything and anything I could get my hands on in a thiefly manor, keeping my eyes and ears open for any witnesses. This would have then resulted in major self-guilt, self-loathing and probably a lot of tears.
That was the cycle I felt so stuck in. It was a really tricky time searching for the ‘right’ meal plan or ‘lifestyle’ aka, the right diet.
The truth was, there wasn’t and still isn’t a perfect diet for me. Because every ‘lifestyle choice’ I’d make would result in restriction, rules and labels. I didn’t eat like a normal person despite the hours of time I would spend googling nutrition, #fitness and #balance.
When I was first in recovery, there was a big focus on making sure I ate enough – and rightly so at that time. I was really unwell so that had to be a priority. But looking back, I wish the emphasis had been put on fuelling my body with wholesome ingredients, trying to re-learn and listen to my bodies hunger cues therefore putting less focus on calorie counting.
Once I’d reached a healthy weight, I decided to count calories (as I’d been taught before) and then, started to loosely tracking macros. Real emphasis on the word ‘loose’ here because sometimes it would drive me insane (!)
When I lived in London, I began to relax a little around food. However, there would be some days where I’d be so worried about eating too much that I wouldn’t eat. The following day, I’d be so hungry that I’d then gorge on everything. Resulting in guilt, restriction, guilt, restriction…you get the idea.
Moving back to Bath was stressful as you can imagine. Leaving my ‘proper’ job after just 5 days was MEGA stressful and I began clinging to food as again as a pacifier. It’s usually my go-to when I’m anxious, worried or stressed.
Once things started to settle, my food hang-ups started to settle and I thought it would be a good time to track again, more so to ensure I was eating enough because. However, I didn’t do anything with the numbers. Didn’t re-evaluate if I was in fact hungrier some days and less so others. I just did what my phone told me to do and that’s not how it should be.
So, after lots of deliberation, I decided that 2019 would be the year I really really, say NO to diets. NO to tracking and NO to restriction.
That’s when I came across the anti-diet that is Intuitive Eating.
It’s not a new concept. It’s been around pretty much since the beginning of diet culture and was first published as an eating disorder recovery treatment. After this, it was adopted by nutritionists and dieticians but remained slightly ambiguous.
The basis of IE is basically that you can and should eat whatever you want. There are no good or bad goods. No goal weight, no timescale. The point is to eradicate all the emotional hang-ups that we’ve attached to food and see it as what is it. Just. Food. Even crazier, you learn to trust to make your own choices. (I still need to work at this!)
If you’ve ever struggled or suffered with an eating disorder or disordered eating, that might start ringing some alarm bells in your head. It most certainly did for me.
Eating whatever I wanted at any time? Surely I’d go absolutely mad?
In Laura Thomas’ book (book review here!), she writes ‘closely listen to your cravings, hunger and fullness.’ The reason I’d often feel so crazy and crave certain foods is because I’d completely restrict them.
Thomas talks about letting go of that leash. Let and allow yourself breakfast at 6:45am, in my case. Allow yourself that chocolate bar. Once it sinks in that there isn’t an in-between ‘diet-break’ period, you loose the urge to eat everything or nothing at all. There is no back to ‘being good’ once the biscuits have disappeared.
Admittedly, the first few days of IE were mega hard. I felt as though I was going to go mad and eat everything in sight because there were no limits. There were a few teary episodes, but they subsided. The urge to eat 10 doughnuts goes away, and you do start to think about other food groups.
Thomas also suggests keeping a food journal, but I haven’t quite done that yet as I wanted to avoid feeling as though I was using another form of MyFitnessPal.
Making peace with food is tricky. As is giving yourself permission to eat so freely. I realised I’d been SO accustomed to eating with guard rails up and following plans that when it come to asking myself, ‘what do I want’ it was tricky. This really hit home when I was in Waitrose for a good 30 minutes deciding what snack I wanted!!
The first thing I noticed was that when my phone told me I had 200kcals left for the day so I should have dark chooclate, I’d have it. But if it told me I wasn’t allowed more food I wouldn’t. WHY did I let my phone and an app control my appetite?
Another thing I’ve learnt is that it doesn’t work perfectly. Sometimes, you will be too hungry and just need to eat what’s closest to you. Other times, you’ll be too full. It’s about being okay with both situations and NOT beating yourself up.
IE really does help you become a ‘mindful eater’. It teaches you to listen to your hunger cues, fullness cues, and to pay attention while you eat.
Your body is not some hateful thing, and food is not a weapon you use to punish it or whip it into some specific shape. That said, some people’s bodies do change when they do intuitive eating.
My eating and exercise habits have changed. My relationship has changed. I’ve [almost] stopped thinking of NOT going to events/ parties/ holidays because I wasn’t ‘thin’ enough. I’ve [almost] stopped putting things on hold.
Body acceptance is not ‘letting yourself go’. Eating without restriction is not mindless – it’s the opposite. Intuitive eating is NOT a weight loss technique or diet. It’s not turning down that chocolate bar because you haven’t earned it.
It’s hard. It requires patience, time and acceptance. But I promise you, it’s worth every minute.