A Word (or 1,496) About Intuitive Eating

March, 2012 So then she said to me, she says, "You have unconditional permission to eat what you want, when you want it". I looked at her like she was nuts and burst into laughter. A Nutritionist telling me, a binge eater and chronic dieter, that I could eat whatever I want whenever I want was like a Prison Guard telling an inmate on death row that he can, just, like, leave prison. I probably even said that to her. She explained to me that I'd be adopting the principles of Intuitive Eating; a nutrition philosophy based on becoming more attuned to my body's natural hunger/satiety signals, rather than counting calories, obsessing over food, etc. So I said to her, "I don't think I can do that." And she replied, "I think you can." And I said, "We'll see."

Intuitive Eating: Eating when you're hungry, stopping when you're satisfied--the exact same mechanism we're born with. I truly couldn't fathom it. Up until 2012, I had spent eleven years actively trying to lose weight. I had taken pills, powders, undergone hypnosis, body wraps, taken more pills, exercised like a lunatic...I was exhausted and miserable and I still felt fat (of course). Food was always an issue for me. Growing up in two separate households, under two sets of rules and beliefs around food, I was under-fed at one house and over-fed at the other. Binge eating in between. Nothing was balanced. There was no harmony when it came to walking into a kitchen or opening a fridge. I don't share this for pity. I share this because food, eating, our body (and how we feel about it) is complicated. It's confusing. And the holidays complicate things further, for many reasons.

For years, the holidays meant one thing to me: At least four months of complete insanity around food and my body image. It's always felt like very fertile ground for disordered eating patterns and the need for justification (and validation) around food choices. Whether it was sly comments from my extended family over how many latkes I was eating, to perfect strangers at Yoga studios asking the day after Thanksgiving if I'm ready to "burn off what I ate yesterday", eating with intuition and making peace with my plate this time of year is really rough...EVEN as an Eating Psychology  Counselor. Probably because of it, actually.

For those who struggle with disordered eating, (or anyone, really) it's easy to feel overwhelmed and even a bit scared of the holidays approaching. That's why we need to have an open discussion about Intuitive Eating, now, so you have some tools to allow yourself a peaceful relationship to/with food and a satisfied belly this holiday season. Want to?

So, what's Intuitive Eating, again? Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body's natural hunger/satiety signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than counting calories. Intuitive eating goes by many names, my favorites are: non-dieting or the non-diet approach, normal eating, wisdom eating and conscious eating.

The best place to start on an Intuitive Eating journey is (and this does sound nutso, whacky) to have UNCONDITIONAL PERMISSION TO EAT WHAT YOU WANT...WHEN YOU WANT IT. For many people who've struggled with chronic dieting, binge eating, compulsive over/under eating and body image issues, food has often been labeled "good"or "bad", regardless of how well our body responds to the food and how much pleasure it genuinely brings to us. So, when we remove such labels and allow our bodies to tell us when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat, we take the power away from food/body and the shame society places around it. This makes our relationship with food, our family, our friends and our culture more peaceful, thus helping your body find it's natural, happy and sustainable weight.

Here are some very basic things to start with...

SIX tools you need to eat intuitively:

*A CLEAN, ORGANIZED KITCHEN. In last week's post, I talked about the process of cleaning out my kitchen, as directed in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Tidying up the kitchen is important for knowing where EVERYTHING is, making sure you only have the tools that spark joy and rid yourself of old belief patterns; diet pills, laxative teas and anything that suggests rigid rules around food. We cannot have a harmonious relationship with food or our body if the place where we prepare our food is out of whack and full of old beliefs. Like, sure, you could meditate in a porta-potty, but do you really want to?

*ACTUAL GROCERIES. This one can be tough but it's really important for our sanity (and our wallet). The best way I can define actual groceries is simply a plan for the week. Perhaps this includes a list or a general knowledge of what YOU enjoy having in your fridge. For many people who experience binge eating, or any kind of restrictive behavior around food, food can often be scarce or overly plentiful, but without consistency in either direction or a balance. When we make a list of what we'll need for the week, or even the next few days, and shop accordingly, deciding what to eat becomes easier and mealtime as a whole becomes less of a heartbreaking, frustrating pain in the ass.


*A ROUTINE. Everyone's schedule is different, so I won't go overboard with this category. By routine, I mean be aware of what promotes a calm and decisive approach to a meal. For example, I've always been an early riser yet that doesn't mean I'm physically hungry for breakfast right when I wake up. I like to have a cup of tea, do some writing and THEN think about what I'd like to eat. Pick a routine that works for you, keeping within the guidelines of eating exactly what you're hungry for, when you're hungry and stopping when satisfied.


*AN INTENTION. Why are you in the kitchen? What are you wanting to accomplish? What do you value while you're in there? (I know, now I'm getting a bit carried away with the existential questions). But seriously. If your experience in the kitchen has ever been stressful and caused you panic, setting a little intention never hurt anyone--just as every hippy-dippy Yoga teacher in LA. Pick something very simple and be prepared to change it each time you sit down to a meal. For example: I intend to chew my food slowly, so I may thoroughly enjoy all the flavors.

*AN ATMOSPHERE. Different than a clean and organized kitchen, the atmosphere is more the "mood" or "tone" of the kitchen/eating space. Take a quick survey of your typical eating atmosphere. Is the TV on? Is your phone next to you?  What's the lighting situation? Does the kitchen table/eating space have other things on it, other than your plate? Whatever it usually is, ask yourself, Does this work for me? Would I prefer a different ambiance? KEEP IN MIND: Intuitive, relaxed eating CAN take place while watching TV and other distractions. Please know that the TV, phone, bright lights, kids running around, etc. are NOT detrimental to the Intuitive Eating Process, BUT it takes practice. So, especially as the holidays approach, play a little bit with what most relaxes you and keeps you in tune with your body's hunger/satiety cues and signals.

*ACCOUNTABILITY. We're not in this life alone, so we ought not to be "in the kitchen" alone (and I mean this metaphorically, for the most part.) This is hard. What I found, in my experience, was that having people in my life who "get it" is crucial to building a healthy relationship with food. Though we cannot control what other people say and believe about food/body (especially this time of year) it does help to surround yourself with people who not only support your right to listen to your own body when it comes to food selection and quantity, but hold you accountable to it. This can often come in the form of a dear friend, a nutritionist who specializes in Intuitive Eating, or an Eating Psychology Counselor, such as myself, whom also specializes in Intuitive Eating. Obviously. You're not alone in this. Just saying.

We're not done with this discussion, but this is a great start. This is the start of a new and healthy relationship with food. This is the process that will help get you where you need and want to go, with peace, nachas and joy. (Had to throw some Yiddish in there!)


*Are the holidays a stressful time for you in the kitchen? Do you want to experience a more joyful, relaxed, and content holiday season around the dinner table? Unsure if you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating? Let's talk! I specialize in Binge Eating, Chronic Dieting, Body Image and Digestion and am available Monday-Thursday, 9am-6pm. More details here.