From skwigg's journal:
Today I listened to a great RD Real Talk podcast, the March 29 episode, IE Q&A “I want to eat intuitively, but...”
There were some great questions that made me think about my own journey. What if I finish a meal at 8 on the fullness scale and find myself hungry an hour later? It doesn’t mean you did something wrong and need to troubleshoot a nutrition “problem.” That whole idea of having done it wrong and needing to correct it is a diet mentality. Maybe you needed a little more food overall. Maybe you were distracted. Maybe it’s due to previous activity. The point is just to notice that you’re hungry again and eat again. This was news to me! Coming off dieting, I found myself clinging to the idea of “times & plans,” reverse engineering and getting hungry at certain times. If I was hungry (or not hungry) at the “wrong” time, I had work to do, problems to solve, things to think about. Uh, no. If I notice I’m hungry, I just eat. Nothing is broken. No need to overthink it.
Can I follow a food plan and eat intuitively? The host Heather Caplan, RD believes that food plans are a form of disordered eating. If they’re where you are right now and serving a helpful purpose in recovery, great, but you don’t want to have to follow a food plan indefinitely. The idea is to become self-aware and to honor that awareness without question (in other words without a filter of diet rules). She says that if you’re following a food plan right now and interested in intuitive eating, a non-diet or intuitive eating dietitian can help you ease out of your structured food plan and into a place of curiosity and self-trust. I kind of eased myself with lots of reading and experimenting. I needed some flexible structure and loose rules at first or I’d have felt totally overwhelmed. I baby stepped toward freedom and built the trust over time, which I suspect is the way most people do it.
What about intermittent fasting and intuitive eating? Can you explore IF while eating intuitively? The short answer is no. It gives you time frames in which you can and can’t eat, which means external diet rules. That doesn’t mesh with intuitive eating. You don’t want a ticking clock in your head about when you’re allowed to eat. The health benefits of fasting primarily pertain to people with diabetes and issues controlling insulin and blood glucose. That is not most of us. If you don’t have a chronic health condition then the “health benefits” of fasting are likely a euphemism for weight management. Aaagh! Sneaky but true for me. I’ve done a lot of experimenting with intermittent fasting over the years and I’ve come to the same conclusion. There’s nothing intuitive and no health benefits (for most of us) from ignoring hunger for long stretches, or eating an uncomfortable amount because you got way too hungry, or overdoing it now because you won’t be able to eat again for however many hours. What’s interesting though is that if I’m eating to satisfaction, I can generally go hours between meals or a long stretch overnight and not get hungry or think about food at all. In a dieting mindset, I put long stretches of hunger first. In an intuitive eating mindset, I put satisfaction first. There’s a big difference in the experience and the results.
What about honoring hunger with crazy work schedules, while feeding small children, or with the late dinners and long mealtimes of other cultures when traveling? Luckily, you don’t have to do it perfectly. It’s not even possible to do it wrong. It’s not like if you eat earlier or later than your stomach dictates, you’ve done something wrong and need to go back and start over on the honoring hunger principle. It’s ok to graze with your kids at their meal and eat something you want later, or to eat something now even though dinner is in a couple of hours, or eat something an hour after a meal that “should” have satisfied. It’s not realistic to always eat exactly when and what you want, and that’s ok.
How can we redirect people toward intuitive eating when they want to diet or focus on weight loss? Not everyone is ready for intuitive eating. She talked a bit about letting people go go through their own process. You don’t need to sell intuitive eating. If someone is open to it, you might talk about how dieting rarely has a positive outcome but that there are alternatives. We don’t shun weight loss or people who want to lose weight but we also don’t filter our food choices through the lens of “will this lead to weight loss?” Because then you don’t tune into or honor what your body needs. That’s when you get the really unhelpful “I can’t possibly be hungry right now,” or “I should be hungry right now” inner chatter.
At the end, she asked people to complete the sentence “I want to eat intuitively, but...” What is something that holds you back, challenges you, confuses you, scares you, or makes you question the whole process? The idea is to be aware of what is standing in your way so that you notice it as it comes up over and over again. For me, it was, I want to eat intuitively but...
I don’t want to gain weight.
I can’t feel hunger signals.
I have no off switch.
I’ll only eat junk food.
I don’t trust myself.
I know it will never work for me.
I care about my health.
I need to look like a fit person and that requires dieting.
That last one led me to a series of attempts at “happy” restriction. Happy paleo, happy intermittent fasting, happy vegan, happy macro tracking. “I’m going to incorporate the latest diet trend, I’m just not going to be crazy with it this time.” Right! LOL Looking back, that was all diet mentality. It took time to question it and untangle myself from it.
I’m curious what anybody else sees as their obstacles to intuitive eating.
Right. So focusing on the peace and freedom, not the weight loss, is it "working". That helped me uncover a few more roadblocks and unquestioned thoughts. Thank you!!
Exactly, because if you're focusing on all the benefits from intuitive eating like peace, freedom, flexibility, pleasure, satisfaction, joy, confidence, self-trust, and all that, then you're not locked in a "weight struggle" mindset, which in itself tends to be counterproductive for weight loss. Fear and struggle aren't necessary components of weight loss (or gain, or maintenance). You're actually better off without them. So, if weight is a non-issue, or at least not a driving factor anymore, what else are you going to do or think about today? That opened up whole worlds for me. The day wasn't all about what would help me lose weight or what would hurt weight loss.
I loved that "terminal uniqueness" post too! I certainly went though believing that I was special and different and nothing moderate would ever solve my problems. It may work for other people, but...
So, yep, that really relates.
I don't trust intuitive eating. I think it works for others but not me. I.e., it works for people who, for example, have a history of restriction or a more restrictive personality, but not for me, who has an "excess" personality. I still will have to eat less.
Also I think the problem is in wanting it to "work". For me that just means I want it to help lose weight. All this being said, I think I eat pretty intuitively, but I still feel like I'm doing something wrong or missing something. And I think it's the wanting it to "work" if that makes sense.
Here's the thing though, people with a more restrictive personality are driven by the exact same false, unquestioned fears. "I can't be trusted. My appetite is too big. I can never rely on hunger cues because mine always lead to weight gain. The body I desire will always require restriction. Blah, blah, blah..." We tend to subconsciously embrace those thoughts for years but they all fall apart in the face of direct questioning and objective observation. I talked about how I baby stepped toward freedom and trust. I had all those painful beliefs, but over time I was able to gather evidence to the contrary. I wasn't taking it on faith that I could eat what I wanted to appetite and the sky wouldn't fall, I knew from experience. I built and earned the trust over time.
That was another way that intuitive eating had gone so wrong for me in the beginning. I didn't build trust, gather evidence, or practice skills. One day I chucked every diet rule I'd ever had and gleefully did the exact opposite. That led to a whole bunch of reactive overeating with zero attunement to hunger and fullness. I felt awful and out of control. I gained a lot of weight quickly. All my worst fears were confirmed. I freaked out, ran back to dieting, and bashed intuitive eating as "stupid" for the next ten years or so. It's funny now, but at the time I was dead serious that intuitive eating was dangerous and misguided. I wanted to save people from it with rules and meal plans. Those "work," I told myself, even though, oddly, I could never maintain the weight loss, I struggled with strong cravings and frequent overeating, and I was always starting over or in search of a new plan.
Somewhere in the podcast she talked about how if fear of weight gain is keeping someone from eating intuitively, she starts them on principle #8, Respect Your Body, rather than anything having to do with hunger, fullness, or rejecting diet mentality. As body trust increases, fear goes way down, which dramatically improves your experience with the other principles.
My own definition of intuitive eating "working" has changed from a weight focus to experiencing peace around food, freedom, flexibility, feeling fantastic, performing well, being healthy and strong, being comfortable and confident in my skin. Those are important to me and they don't necessarily correspond to weighing as little as possible or being as lean and muscular as possible. I always thought I would achieve health, happiness, and body confidence by restricting my food and overtraining, which would result in weight loss, which would result in body nirvana. It never happened! Losing weight through restriction and overexercise was always a nightmare, and it's not like you're happy once you've done it, because then every waking moment revolves around the fear of gaining it back and what people might think.
Intuitive eating is a whole other animal. Life is better in every way when you're actively living, actively focusing on your wellbeing, versus obsessing about weight, thinking life will get better when you lose some. Like, it's ok if everything sucks now as long as those twelve pounds come off. Then I'll be happy and eat intuitively. Only you won't. If you achieve it through restriction, you'll eventually gasp for food, gain it all back, and need another "solution." Nothing has changed. Your happiness is still hinged on something just out of reach. The practice of intuitive eating frees you from that mess.
So, in my mind, it "works" whether weight goes up or down or stays the same. My own experience has been that when I respect my body and let it call the shots, everything is ok. When I battle against my body, try to trick it and outsmart it, that never ends well. I set off all the survival mechanisms that create a slow metabolism, an out of control appetite, and cravings for high-calorie foods. Oops! All my worst fears manifested by my dieting efforts. Approaching intuitive eating with kindness and curiosity actually creates a safe space to experiment with how much and what you eat and see how those choices make you feel. That sets the stage for weight stabilizing in a very good place, where chronic restriction does not.