Have you found that once you embrace this idea of Intuitive Eating, eating feels (or actually becomes) more chaotic? Without the safety of rules and guidelines and diets, you feel a bit out of control? Congratulations, you’re normal! It is definitely a typical response. Once you are able to eat foods you truly love and find flavorful and satisfying, you can expect to want to eat quite a bit of it. After going too long surviving on bland, low calorie, low fat diet food or being wary of feeling full and satisfied (physiologically and psychologically) from your meals, the reward centers in your brain are lighting up with excitement! It’s like coming up for air after holding your breath underwater for far too long or finally getting a drink of water after hiking across the Sahara Desert. You’re gasping for air and desperate for water! While in the diet mindset, you’ve been deprived for so long. You should expect to have a honeymoon period where it feels like you just can’t get enough food.
At this phase you may be very concerned. In fact, you may actually describe this experience as a food addiction or ascribe it to a lack of will-power and self-control (two very misguided terms when discussing food). Let me put your mind at ease…it’s neither. It’s learning to love food again. It’s learning how to get out of your head and into your body. It’s using your intuition to guide you, and that will always be a process.
So what’s next in the process? First, I would go with it. Keep moving down the same road you have been. Then, start checking in with your body and see how it is feeling. Because this is what I often see happening…
When you rebel against dieting (YAY!), it’s easy to want to rebel against any sort of boundaries or structure. It’s nice to think that you can eat whatever you want without any regard to possible consequences. I’m not saying to get back on the “but if I eat this it will make me fat” bandwagon (YUCK.), but you may want to connect with how foods make you FEEL (not look). In fact, the mental shift away from eating to manipulate or change your appearance to a focus on wanting to feel well is often a big game-changer.
Our bodies are really great at self-regulating food intake. Those are the boundaries you are looking for. A few examples:
- There is a distinct time when your taste buds turn off and food is no longer satisfying or nearly as pleasurable. This is detectable when you are eating slowly and paying attention, otherwise known as mindful eating.
- Another example is natural hunger and fullness levels that emerge as eating patterns become more normalized (eating well-balanced and satisfying meals/snacks every few hours).
- Lastly, when eating becomes boring and monotonous, the brain encourages you to seek greater variety in order to ensure adequate nutrients for good health. Food variety, with lots of different tastes and textures, is important and you naturally seek it.
As much we would like to think that having no boundaries means freedom, it actually doesn’t. On the one hand, there's the freedom to do whatever you want with no attention to possible outcomes (totally your prerogative), on the other hand there's the freedom to do what you feel is best (true freedom). Knowledge is power and that power can set you free. No need to google for knowledge (in fact, DON’T do that), just spend some time gathering your own data. I do not recommend becoming hyper sensitive to every last symptom, especially since self-care is much bigger than food. But start to hone in on what types of foods keep you full, satisfied and energized along with your body’s natural rhythms and patterns. Note what happens when you skip breakfast or what happens when you remember to pause from the day for an afternoon break/snack. Note what portions feel the best to you, and understand that those may change from day to day. Note what types of foods feel the best in your body and which just don’t (and as you discover this, avoid the urge to feel you have the answers for everyone else, too). We were built with an internal feedback system – it’s much easier to feel motivated to take care of yourself when you notice which self-care behaviors bring positive results. Only you will know this, no one else knows what it feels like to be you.
Remember, the whole point of Intuitive Eating means working with your body instead of against it. In all your rebelling, make sure not rebel against yourself. Health comes when your mind and body work together. In fact intuition is a scientific finding – the way your brain takes in your surroundings while also reading information from your body are both accounted for in order to help you make a decision. However, you must put yourself in a position to draw on this wisdom by truly connecting to yourself and your surroundings. When you see a plate of cookies but neglect to check in with yourself, you may not be working with your body. You’ve only taken in information from outside yourself but are missing the second half of the equation in order to make a decision that is in your best interest. At the same time, if you are too hyper-focused on your body and the perfect diet (easy to do now days!) you may miss connecting with the world outside of yourself, and that’s just no way to live.
Intuitive Eating is actually a wonderful journey of self-discovery. After years of relying on external factors for decision-making, now is a perfect time to get to know yourself. As I’ve mentioned before, this practice allows you to develop confidence and self-trust. I spent quite a few years of my career believing that I knew how people should eat. It became more and more obvious that I had no idea. It was also obvious that I would be most effective if I chose instead to help people in their own process of self-discovery. To know who you are and where you are going is the essence of freedom!
So stay on this path. It’s normal to feel vulnerable, unsure, hesitant as well as excited, curious and well-fed :)! As you continue forward, trust that you have the answers and they will come as you stay connected and true to yourself.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD