Why Intuitive Eating Could Change the World
It is my sincere hope that everyone spent the last holiday ensconced in a cozy cocoon of familial adoration and delicious, well-savored meals. If, however, you found yourself trapped in your childhood bedroom, shoving fistfuls of mashed potatoes into your mouth just to make the crying stop, then friend, come sit by me.
I spent most of my life in and out of obsessive dieting and disordered eating. I snuck food, I judged food, I worshipped it, I binged on it, I hated it, and I hid inside it. But I know, at one point before all that, I just ate because I was hungry. I don't know when that stopped, but at some point food wasn't food — it was the enemy. And, dieting was my only defense. Does that sound scarily familiar? Welcome to the party! We have plenty of refreshments for everyone, and a sad, dark closet area where you can go eat them in secret until you hate yourself enough. Also, you never get to leave!
Dieting has made us banana-pants. Even if you've never been on a diet, you've likely absorbed enough of our diet-centric culture to have judgements about "good" and "bad" food, and when & how you should eat it. I dare you to find someone who doesn't have an opinion on carbs. (If you do, let's make them president, immediately). Yet, as we all know, dieting does not work — full stop. They are a dangerous delusion we have all bought into, and understandably so. If you eat less you will lose weight, at least temporarily. But, in the end, the overwhelming majority of diets fail, and the dieter gains back the weight within two years, and then some. This happens 80% to 95% of the time. For me, it was 100%. Then, I found Intuitive Eating, and everything changed.
Intuitive Eating arose from the initial backlash to the diet culture in America. Somewhere around the late 1970s, people started to realize the fatal flaw of dieting, and like-minded nutritionists and medical professionals started to speak out about it. Writers like Susie Orbach and Geneen Roth published groundbreaking works on the issue, like Feeding The Hungry Heart and Fat Is A Feminist Issue, and the message began to spread. Then, in 1995, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch published the first edition of Intuitive Eating and this powerful term was born.
Intuitive Eating is both incredibly simple, and deep, complex well of psychological and nutritional study. Essentially, the mission is to deprogram the diet-addled mind so you can learn to eat again like you did as a child — by instinct and intuition. While a diet separates you from your body, forcing you to abide by its rules about food, Intuitive Eating aims to get you back in touch with your body's own signals. Suddenly, no food is good or bad, no meal dictates your day, and there is no one but you in charge of what and how you eat. I KNOW.
When I started The Anti-Diet Project, I knew that Intuitive Eating would be a huge part of it. While this movement is rapidly growing (and well-supported by myriad medical studies), I had never even heard of it. Yet, the second I started reading about this, it was like hearing the truth for the first time. Of course, my body knows how to feed itself. Of course dieting is counterproductive. Why hadn't I trusted myself before? Because a lifetime of dieting had taught me that I can't be trusted around food, and I need someone else to tell me what to do. And, now look how healthy, happy, and not-overweight I am!
Starting to learn Intuitive Eating is entirely different from beginning a new diet. That's what makes it so thrilling, and frankly, scary. I'm in the early stages of this journey, where the main goal is to give myself license to eat — what I want, when I want, and how much I want. It's cuh-razy. The tricky part is actively listening to my body all the time and learning to obey its signals. I take notes every time I eat, but it's entirely different from tracking Weight Watchers' points or keeping a food journal. These notes have been about my hunger levels before and after eating, my desire for the food I've been eating, and any feelings or judgements that this eating experience generated. I learned a lot about my feelings around specific foods: Dumplings = evil, Sushi = saintly, Chocolate = okay, if it's after 2 p.m. for some reason. That reason? I'm crazy!
The first few days was a carbohydrate extravaganza. Bagel for breakfast? Sure! Pizza for lunch? Okay... Pasta for dinner? I started to panic. But, I'd already taken this leap of faith, so I kept on, enjoying all the starchy goodness my body was begging for. Then, one fateful lunchtime, I asked myself what I wanted to eat. The answer was a big, fat kale salad with grilled salmon and lemon vinaigrette. I listened to that signal, too. It tasted as great as the pizza.
That was my first lesson in learning what restricting certain foods had done to my brain. Refined carbs had once been on the Very Bad List, and so I treated them like the contraband they were. Once I realized on a physical and mental level that I could have a bagel without being arrested by the fat-girl police, then I chilled out and felt my internal system begin to slowly reset. The wonderful thing is that, while with diets you're constantly focusing on trying to adhere to someone else's rules, with Intuitive Eating, you're just doing what your body wants. Once the penny drops, the changes start to happen fast.
But, all those changes happen inside first. One of the hardest, most important shifts I've had to make in this process is changing my end goal. In my post-carb panic, Theresa Kinsella, the Intuitive Eating specialist I work with asked me what I needed to make myself feel safe. What would make me trust this process in those panicky moments? "Seeing myself lose weight by doing this," I answered. She sighed and told me that I'd have to let go of that, or I'd be sitting in her office forever. I pouted hardcore for five seconds and then I let go.
Weight loss, for the first time, is not my end goal. Every day, I remind myself how much I want to have a peaceful, healthy relationship with food. That's the priority. I have a life to lead — I can't waste time dodging bagels. Of course, the idea is that once you start eating according to your body's signals, your weight will find its normal range. I have no idea what that is for me, and I accept that it might not be as skinny as I once thought it should be. But, I posed myself this question: What's more important — being skinny, or being able to leave this crowded, crappy party with the all-you-can-binge table and the self-loathing lounge? When I put it like that, there's really no contest.
What would happen if we all blew this joint? What would the world look like if we all just ate food? Not the food we should and food we should not eat — but, just the food we wanted, and the food that made our bodies feel fueled and satisfied?
I'll leave you with that to chew on. It's time for lunch.
I'm at the very beginning of this journey, and am learning as I go. Intuitive Eating will certainly come up throughout The Anti-Diet Project series, but I'm obviously not an expert. If you'd like to explore it on your own, check out the third edition of the book, or hop on the Intuitive Eating Online Community.
Kelsey is from Brooklyn NY, a Senior Features Writer for Refinery29.com and author of "The Anti Diet Project". She has been with Refinery29 since May 2012 and contributes regularly with pieces about topics such as intuitive eating, learning to love exercises, kicking emotional eating, and other awesome topics about repairing a relationship with nutrition and fitness. You can check out more from her at http://www.refinery29.com/the-anti-diet-project.