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.

Life-Changing Magic: Part Four

IMG_2784 Don't. Stop. Stop. Don't. Don't go in there again. No more. Stop eating. You're done. Enough. Stop. Don't. Please, stop. Please, don't. Please...please...don't...stop. Don't stop. Keep going. Keep eating. You're not done. Don't stop...

The kitchen. It's not my favorite place. It's like the unsettling, nerve-wracking office of a court-ordered shrink; I don't want to be there, but I'll get in trouble if I'm not. It's the room I fear the most and the room I arguably have spent the most time in. Alone. Throughout the day. Late at night, for as long as I can remember.

Last week, we chatted about the process of tidying up my closet and what it's like getting rid of clothes that suggest I've failed; failed at losing weight, failed at keeping the weight off. Truthfully, the kitchen is no different. Simply put: the kitchen has always been a reflection of who I am and where I've come with my eating disorder, which most days, doesn't feel very far at all...

I started with the cabinet above the oven.

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And dumped the contents of it onto the floor.


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Among the pile of plastic bins, Malaria prevention meds from when I went to India, napkins and a random alarm clock, there they were: diet pills, various weight loss powders and laxative teas-- evidence of a life consumed by weight loss strategies and late-night, and/or daytime, binges, for nearly fourteen years. I gazed at the pile for a few moments and walked away...to the fridge. I decided I was hungry. I opened the package of something or other, and ate it, fast, avoiding the mess I'd made, not just in the kitchen, but in my life as a former chronic dieting, binge eating woman girl.

I sat on my kitchen floor, ate the whatever (what I ate isn't relevant to the story) and cried. I cried for the nights I'd wait for my dad to go to sleep so I could sneak downstairs and...eat. I cried for the always-empty fridge at my Mother's house. I cried for all the pantries in the homes of the families I babysat for, that were a lot emptier after I left. I cried for the times I ran to the fridge after having sex with my now ex-boyfriend; frantically searching for all the things I didn't get in the bedroom. I cried for the men, women and teens who've felt even an ounce of the way I felt. And I cried for the one and only week my fridge looked like this:


I don't even want to do this, I thought to myself. I didn't know if I was referring to cleaning out the kitchen, eating, or crying but I decided to peel myself off the floor, open some trash bags and do the thing that I'd already done for my bookshelf and my closet.

As I've mentioned, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up specifically says to only keep what "sparks joy". The kitchen is no exception. It wasn't hard to throw away the pills, powders and laxative teas, mostly because they have long since expired. I did keep a couple of my favorite teas, however...

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For so long the kitchen, and my closet, have been a symbol for my shortcomings. And in many ways, they still are. But...I know what's in it, now. I know what's in my cupboards and my pantry. I know what's in my fridge and I now know *exactly* how many cans of soup I have. It does feel better knowing and my kitchen does feel lighter.

This is not a cure-all. This is the beginning of a Life-Changing process and like anything, it takes time. My Magic Sponsor said to me yesterday, that the entire purpose of this book is not just to get rid of a bunch of crap, but to bring harmony into the process of living; to harmonize budget with spending, harmonize food cravings with healthy, delicious choices, harmonize daily routine with how the body feels and harmonize closet with my desired lifestyle.

How are you feeling on the harmony scale?


And in case you're wondering about that cupboard above the oven...I kept only the joy-sparking essentials.
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*Be sure to catch part one, two and three of this series.

"You're Going." Lessons in Honoring Your Commitments

Commitment What I love about being an adult: I can decide where I want to go, when, with whom, how long I want to stay and most importantly, IF I want to go anywhere at all. What I hate about being an adult: all of the above.

As the product of divorce and therefore someone who grew up in two households, adhering to two sets of values, rules, have-to's and must-not's, I often felt conflicted when it came to...everything.

For example, my Mother has always been of the belief you have fifteen minutes to be late everywhere. Nothing is 'set in stone', you don't HAVE to do anything you don't want to (unless it was something SHE wanted me to do) and North is wherever I'm facing...right?

My Father on the other hand, alav hashslom (Yiddish for 'may he rest in peace'), took commitment very seriously...well, except his and my mother's marriage. Never mind, doesn't matter, anyway, he always stressed the importance of following through with your word. Although this is usually a great principle to live by, in my case there was never any wiggle room when it came to changing my mind about going somewhere. Everything was set in stone, as though I etched my name in it each time I said, "Sure, I'll go."

So, when he passed away eight years ago (when I was twenty), I stopped showing up; I stopped going to friends' birthday gatherings, casual BBQ's and I stopped returning calls. I would RSVP 'yes' for this thing or that and then not show up. I'd show up somewhere, stay for a few minutes and then walk out the door, without even saying goodbye. Not only did I forfeit being a bridesmaid in at least four of my dear friends' weddings, I didn't even go to the wedding. I did this for a very, very long time. Yes, part of this was a symptom of my complete and utter grief,  part of it was my not feeling good with my body image, while some of it, I admit, was simply because now I could. I've since forgiven myself for all these things, but I still know what it’s like to not want to go to somewhere.

For example: I got an invite to attend a Masa Israel and B'nai B'rith Charity Shabbat Dinner last night. The charity was for The Bagel Brgaide: who feeds bagels & Schmear to hungry children in the San Fernando Valley.

The friend I was going with cancelled on me and I seriously considered canceling also. I mean, I didn’t know anyone--except the friend who invited me and who I committed to that I was going-- and they’re all Jewish and I haven’t done ANYTHING Jewish since my Bat Mitzvah and even then it was really for the cash, which is a different story, and I was afraid of being judged (a Jew’s favorite hobby) and exiled and that I wouldn’t make any friends...but I went anyway. I got over myself and just showed up. And I had a lovely time. Of course, seventeen blog posts could (and probably will) be written about last night's shenanigans, but we have to discuss one point at a time, k?

The point is, I totally get having the freedom to say yes, no, maybe, yes THEN no, no THEN yes. But here's the thing. We HAVE to honor our commitments. Here are some helpful tips for doing this, when you've already said YES and are having second thoughts because you feel insecure:


1) You're going. No questions or arguments. Be your own parent and tell yourself that sometimes we need to do things that make us uncomfortable because we DON'T always know what's best for us. Our inner-parent does, though.

2) Show Up On Time. Contrary to what my Mother believes, you do not have fifteen minutes to be late...especially among new friends. Even if you're attending a super-casual gathering in someone's backyard, it's important to set a standard for yourself that also honors your host(s) as well as other guests.

3) Don't Be Afraid to Get Your Bearings before diving in and making conversation with strangers. ALSO...It's OKAY to let a human being at the party know that you're feeling a little ____ (insert feeling about being among strangers). In fact, that's a great way to connect with humans and then they aren't strangers anymore, are they? And lastly, if you're not 100% comfortable introducing yourself, ask the host (or the person you already know there) to introduce you to some folks. It sounds like something your Mom did for you at birthday parties, but guess what, we all still need an advocate. Contrary to popular belief, we are not meant to stand completely alone and fend for ourselves. But when we're adults, we do need to ask for that kind of support, which is totally fine.

4) Mentally Pull Yourself Aside at certain points if you need to and tell yourself, "You're doing a great job at being yourself. I'm so proud of you and I'm glad you're here. Are you good? Did you have enough to eat?" Remember, YOU are your best (perhaps Jewish) parent, as an adult. I mean, your inner-parent is the reason you're even there, yea? Let them support you.

5) Use Your Intuition (NOT FEAR) to Decide When to Leave. Because humans are sensitive and easily frightened creatures, we sometimes make choices based on fear/insecurity and mistake it for our intuition. If you are in the presence of friends, strangers, family, your co-workers, etc. and thoughts such as, f*ck this, I'm leaving. This party sucks. These people are lame. No one gets me... pop into your head, that's when your ego is telling you lies and trying to protect you. You don't need protection; you will feel when it's time to go, I promise. Your social stamina and your external surroundings will start to wind down organically and with ease (MOST of the time). And THAT is when it's time to leave. *Also, if you're feeling particularly anxious, etc., feel free to set a mental timer, prior to arriving. Example: Let's evaluate how I'm doing at 9:15pm. If I want to leave then, that's fine. If not, also fine.

6) Thank Your Host(s) and tell them you're so glad you came. Because you are. You honored your commitment. You did it!

I mean, when all is said and done, only good can come from putting ourselves out there, in new places, with new people. Think of it this way; every time you follow through on your word, a child in the San Fernando Valley enjoys a bagel & schmear. It's the ultimate mitzvah.


Shalom Aleichem and Happy Committing!


Definition of Terms/Links

  • Shalom Aleichem- Peace be upon you
  • Mitzvah- A good deed/charitable act
  • Schmear- a smear or spread on a bagel/bread such as Lox, cream cheese etc.
  • B'nai B'rith International- the oldest Jewish service organization in the world
  • Masa Israel- offers over 200 study, internship, and volunteer opportunities all over Israel lasting between five and twelve months