Intuitive Eating Update
I wrote a while back about my long and complicated journey with intuitive eating on Nourish. Since then, I’ve experienced a lot of changes in my life, from my diet to my schedule to my activity level to my overall attitude towards food, that have had a pretty significant (and positive!) impact on how I feed myself. The relationship I currently have with food is the healthiest it’s been in years, if not my entire life, which is both incredible and unexpected when I think about how much I was struggling not that long ago. I’ve finally found a way of eating that works for my body and meets my individual needs, and that’s ultimately what intuitive eating is all about.
Healthline defines intuitive eating as “an eating style that promotes a healthy attitude toward food and body image” and “the idea is that you should eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.” If it sounds easy . . . it’s not. Or at least it wasn’t for me. Up until very recently, I constantly struggled with disordered thoughts and attitudes towards food. My anorexia had convinced me that if I listened to my hunger cues and ate when I was hungry, I’d gain five pounds and go up two clothing sizes. So, I did the exact opposite and denied my body vital nourishment. Worse, I prided myself on my willpower and ability to resist temptations. I didn’t realize until much later the damage I was inflicting by deliberately depriving myself of what I desperately needed.
This extreme diet mentality and disordered thinking gradually began to shift in recovery. I was able to challenge my irrational fears and beliefs, and in doing so, I became less afraid of food and more in tune with my body. That said, I was still very rigid and followed a timed eating schedule of three meals and three snacks a day for many years. I depended upon this schedule to keep my body fed and my disorder under control. It was my comfort zone, and I was scared I wouldn’t know how to function without it.
For all of my teenage years, intuitive eating was literally off the table. It was a recovery milestone I wasn’t sure I’d ever reach because it always seemed so foreign and far away. A flicker of light in a never-ending tunnel. I’d try it out for the take of exposure but I’d always fall back into my safe and comfortable schedule. Again and again and again. In fact, when I wrote the post for Nourish in March, I was only just beginning to break free and embrace intuition with eating.
So, what changed? Well, it wasn’t just one thing. I’m in a pretty solid place in my recovery and that obviously enables me to be more trusting of myself and my instincts surrounding food. I’ve transitioned to veganism and a whole-food plant based diet, which discourages counting calories and restricting intake. As society has opened up again, so has my schedule; I’ve returned to work and book events, I’m partaking in mental health advocacy, I’m seeing family and friends in person again, and I’m generally feeling more fulfilled and active, all of which have had a positive impact on my mental health. Speaking of activity, as my energy has increased, so has my exercise. I go on runs, bike to work, play tennis, and practice yoga, and it’s all amazing and liberating . . . and it means I have to eat more. Fortunately, I’ve overcome my chronic aversion to shakes and smoothies and now regularly enjoy a protein-rich chocolate peanut butter banana shake or a refreshing peach oat smoothie after a workout.
The final change, and one I largely attribute to recovery, is that my body image is so, so much better (despite my weight being basically the same.) I’m currently writing this post in a tank top and Spandex shorts, two items of clothing I wouldn’t have been caught dead in in the past, and guess what? It’s not a big deal. My body is strong, resilient, and makes the lifestyle I lead possible, and for all those reasons, I love and appreciate it.
Reaching this place of self-acceptance in recovery while simultaneously immersing myself in new and old activities and pursuits has affected my relationship with food for the better. I still eat five to six times a day, however I no longer feel stressed if I wake up later than usual or if a meal is pushed back for one reason or another. If I’m hungry in-between meals, I get something to eat. If I’m full during a meal, I stop. If I’m going to be very active on a certain day, I eat or drink more to compensate. If I’m not as active, I still adequately feed myself because I know it’s what my body needs. If it’s a special occasion like a party or holiday, I enjoy it, keeping in mind that overindulging once in a while won’t do a damn thing to my body in the long run.
The first time I heard of intuitive eating, I thought I’d never get there. Just like I never thought I’d be an athlete again or feel comfortable in a tank top or drink smoothies without wanting to throw up or genuinely enjoy food. And yet, everything I mentioned that once seemed completely out of reach is now my reality. This is what I wish I could have told my teenage self whenever I felt hopeless or trapped: that with recovery, comes so many amazing freedoms and opportunities. That with recovery, comes a second chance at life.