Intuitive Eating; Feeling into the Body

I’d like to start out by giving you an understanding of my background on this subject, and how I developed an expertise in this area. In short, I grew up in a family of compulsive eaters who used food to assuage every kind of emotion and to deal with depression. Although I was not overweight, I went on my first diet when I was 13, and found losing weight to be thrilling, exhilarating, and filled me with a sense of accomplishment and esteem. I spent the next ten years in and out of every type of diet that you can imagine, including the use of diet pills and laxatives. By the time I got to college at 18, I learned how to make myself vomit, and this set off a very self-destructive habit of extreme binging and purging, otherwise known as Bulimia. However, this was also the year that I started on the path of self-discovery that I have been on ever since.

By the time that I was 23 years old, I knew that I could no longer live this way. I vowed to myself that I would never make myself throw up again, and I was able to live up to that promise. However, I never felt comfortable in my body, and felt myself to be overweight. At 28, I prayed for a resolution to my obsession with food and body image, and that prayer was answered through finding the writings of Geneen Roth. Through her work, I learned the source of my compulsive eating, and how to find my natural hunger and ability to feel sated. Over the years, I have only refined this bodily wisdom, and it is now so second nature to me that I almost never give it a second thought. Back in my teens and 20’s, I never would have believed that this was possible.

Intuitive eating is what every baby is born knowing. It is a built-in mechanism that we all have – knowing when we are hungry and when our appetite has been satisfied. But we live in a culture that is thoroughly %$@*&! up and confused about this most natural of bodily functions. For every new diet book that comes out on the market, there is a new cooking show displaying ever-more decadent culinary temptations. The food craze and the diet craze go hand in hand. Because dieting, which is a form of systemized deprivation, is what leads to overeating and food obsession.

However, our entire culture lives within this paradigm. This paradigm dictates that what we eat is driven by willpower or lack of it, whether or not we’re “good”, and the guilt that accompanies it if we aren’t, all the while completely overlooking the fact that our bodies have the innate intelligence to know what it needs and how much it needs to be perfectly nourished and healthy. The cultural paradigm dictates that left to our own devices, we are devouring machines with no mechanism for shutting off . Therefore we need a diet in order to regulate our appetites. We need to count calories, fat content, portion size, or an outside “expert” telling us what can safely be consumed. And if you stray from the expert advice, you’re “bad”, if you follow the expert advice to a tee, you’re entitled to feel “good” about yourself. But only until you stray from the dictates of the diet.

So, the first step in Intuitive Eating is consciously stepping outside of the cultural paradigm, and saying “Enough!! Stop the insanity”. It comes from the desire to trust that your body has the innate wisdom to know how to eat, what to eat, knowing when enough is enough, and actually knows better than any expert or diet. And this is a radical act. With conscious intent, you can re-learn to be fully in touch with your hunger and sense of satiety. This is your birth-right, the intelligence that every baby is born with.

The next step is beginning to understand that your struggles with body, weight and eating actually function for you in a way that you may not be conscious of. This is work that is often best done with a therapist or healer, because it can bring up a lot of deep and difficult emotion, not infrequently associated with past trauma. However, you can begin to trace the origins of how weight and struggle with food function for you, by looking back to when the struggle first started. This can give you a lot of insight into the deeper meaning that these issues hold for you. When I first did this work, what I discovered for myself was that food and weight struggles functioned for me by distracting me from a very old and shameful feeling that I had from a very early age – which was a deep-seated fear of men and dating. The struggle with weight and my body kept me from confronting this deeper struggle within myself.

So once we have more insight into why we are involved in this struggle, we can begin to reconnect with our natural hunger and intuitive eating. And we can learn to protect and nurture ourselves in healthier ways than the struggle with food and weight.

The path back to Intuitive Eating is through Mindfullness – the practice of choosing to remain aware and conscious in the places that we usually are in the habit of zoning out. The more present and conscious we are with our eating, the easier it will be to feel into our bodies and know our sense of hunger and satiety.

Here are 5 basic steps on the path to back to Intuitive Eating:

  1. Acknowledge that you’ve completely lost track of my own natural sense of hunger and satiety.
  2. Hold the faith that this natural mechanism which exists within every newborn baby exists within you now, in this moment.
  3. Pledge to eat mindfully (slowly, paying attention to how your body is feeling, letting go of distractions), and feeding your body exactly what it is craving.
  4. Understanding that overeating is a mechanism for becoming unconsciousness and zoning out, often masking difficult to “swallow” emotions. Committing to remaining present enough to acknowledge that this is going on, and trying to understand why you are needing to zone out in any given moment.
  5. Eating slowly and consciously enough to know when you’ve had ENOUGH. Not too much, not too little.
  6. If you’ve been eating according to scales, measurements, calories, fat content, etc., chances are that you’ve lost track of the place of ENOUGH. It’s going to take some time and practice to reclaim it for yourself.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with the words of Geneen Roth, one of my great mentors:
“When we give up dieting, we take back something we were often too young to know we had given away: our own voice. Our ability to make decisions about what to eat and when. Our belief in ourselves. Our right to decide what goes into our mouths. Unlike the diets that appear monthly in magazines or the thermal pants that sweat off pounds, unlike a lover or a friend or a car, your body is reliable. It doesn’t go away, get lost, stolen. If you will listen, it will speak.”

Share Your Thoughts on the Blog
I’d love to hear YOUR experiences around the insanity of our dieting, body-image obsessed culture. Have you found your way through the madness back to your natural hunger? Do you still feel lost in the desert of deprivation and binging? Do you depend on food for your comfort, pleasure, and satisfaction? Please contribute to the community and share your thoughts below.

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