Before I start writing about my intuitive eating dabblings, I thought I should define the concept and explain how I reached the point of giving it a red hot go. I started talking about this in the Scott The Strawberry post but need to go a bit deeper.
(This has all been churning round in my head for months so it's rather long. If you're not interested in the whys and wherefores just skip this one! I also covered some of this in Episode 14 – Intuitive Eating of Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone so apologies to any podcast listeners for the repetition!)
Here is a definition of intuitive eating from the lazy person's pal, Wikipedia:
Intuitive eating is a nutrition philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body's natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight; rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods. It's a process that is intended to create a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body.
Intuitive Eating, just like the many books available today, goes by many names, including non-dieting or the non-diet approach, normal eating, wisdom eating, conscious eating and more.
That bit in bold is what's really driving me. I said on the podcast that, "my interest in intuitive eating has come from a lifetime of dieting and disordered eating". It felt good to admit that. I was convinced I didn't do diets any more, but I had sure starting engaging in the old all-or-nothing diet-y behaviours, such as:
- alternating saintly calorie counting with binging
- sneaking food
- obsessing over the scale
- exercising for punishment, not enjoyment
- constantly thinking about food
- feeling like my mind and body are at war
- equating weight with self-worth
A brief recap of how I got to this point:
- Put on my first diet aged about 8
- Serial Weight Watcher throughout my teens and twenties
- Hit 351 pounds by age 23
- Lost 175 pounds over five years using one year of Weight Watchers, a six-month stint at SureSlim, then 3.5 years of my own method of eating mostly whole foods, regular exercise and counting calories.
- Kept weight off for a couple of years – sometimes easily and other times it's a rather stinky battle.
- Life got crazy. Long murky period of depression. Old habits sneaked back in. Increasingly turned to food to switch off from crappy feelings and situations. Weight climbs upward.
- Finally broke out of denial. Woohoo!
- Realised that despite losing a stack of weight, I had never formed a truly healthy relationship with food.
- Became determined to find a sustainable, forever kind of approach to food, mind and body.
For awhile there I was convinced I had things licked and that I had found my own version of "normal". I wrote in 2006-07 that I exercised regularly because I loved it, not to punish myself. I ate good clean food 90% of the time because it made me feel good. I felt like mind and body were in harmony.
But after digging deep I see now I'd created a huge undercurrent of pressure that kept me from diving into a slab of chocolate… pressures that had nothing to do with a genuine desire to Lead A Healthy Lifestyle, such as:
- I've got to lose weight so I can write an ending for my book
- I've got to keep this weight off so I look decent to promote my book
- I've got to keep this weight off so I can go on the telly in America
- I've got to keep this weight off so people don't think I'm a fraud and a failure
So when life got really difficult and overwhelming – all those motivations were completely meaningless. My self-belief had nosedived. I thought horrible things about myself and my body that I thought I was no longer capable of.
It wasn't a conscious decision, but at some point those motivations were not enough to keep from diving back into old, comforting habits. I just plain stopped caring about myself. It showed in my thoughts, my actions (or lack thereof), and eventually showed up on my body.
It finally dawned on me after nearly three months of Shrink sessions why I had "f*cked things up so badly" and "failed at maintenance" and "couldn't get my eating back under control". It was because I wasn't losing or maintaining my weight for me. It was all external reasons, events and pressures. I didn't keep up the healthy habits because I wasn't doing them because I wanted to, for myself.
(Which strikes me as so nutty now, because who else really bloody cares!?)
So I asked myself the questions that I now ask myself every day: What do you want? What kind of life do you want to lead? What kind of person do you want to be?
I don't think I've ever written a cheeeeeesier paragraph on this blog but those questions have really helped change the way I think and act. I've said it before but I believe that unless you are making changes to your life because you truly, wholeheartedly desire them for yourself, they are never going to stick.
I've long been a chronic people pleaser and worried endlessly about what people thought of me. When I started losing weight way back in 2001, I genuinely wanted to do so for me – but there was also a strong desire to look acceptable to the general population. As I lost some pounds, moved overseas and travelled around my confidence really took off. For the first time in my life I felt comfortable in my own skin and loved the fit, healthy person I'd become.
But when these new beliefs got tested – when my weight got all mixed up with my writing and career and thus my self-worth – I gotta admit, it messed with my head in a major way.
So I've been unravelling all this stuff. Asking if I am doing something because I genuinely want to, or if I thought it was the right thing to do or would please other people. Wacky times, dear comrades. Learning more about intuitive eating has been part of that process. But I think I've rambled on enough for one day!