On intuitive eating

Intuitive eating looks like this

I know it’s been a lonnnnng time since I’ve last posted but I’m really looking to (try) to get back into regularly posting. While I don’t think it’s really fair to brag about all the “good” things that have come from this Pandemic as I have luckily not been overly impacted by it, I find myself in the privileged position of having a lot more free time- and I’ve really missed writing. In the “before times” I was so often thinking about topics to write about, but would come home from work and workouts just so utterly exhausted with no desire to write. Now, almost a year (how!?) into this and I think I’m finally adjusting, and also wondering how on earth I ever functioned before. I’m ready (and able!) to spend some more time getting back to writing and posting, and really looking forward to it. That being said, is anyone else really feeling the struggles recently? I think it’s likely just this monotonous groundhog day situation we are in, mixed with the typical February blehs- so while I have good intentions, I am really struggling to find motivation to do much else other than work, run, eat, care for my pets, watch TV and sleep. I’m trying to show myself some grace and not beat myself up- but also totally in a rut so maybe writing will help?

Anyway, I digress. I’ve recently been working through the “Intuitive Eating Workbook” which has given me a lot of opportunities to reflect on my own self-acceptance and feelings towards my body. As a human, I’ve often struggled with my body image and desire to look a certain way. This is especially true as someone who identifies as a woman (not saying that is not an issue for men too because I know it can be). For as long as I can remember, I have engaged in some form of disordered eating, often exacerbated by the wellness industry that I (sort of) work in and fueled by my desire to be thin. I am not sure what finally changed things for me. Maybe it was learning how to listen to my body when it came to training for marathons, maybe it was the naturopath who asked me “why?” when I said I wanted to lose weight and recommend I read “Intuitive Eating”, maybe it was the types of diverse people I started to follow on social media, or maybe it was the confidence and strength I found in running and realizing that none of that came from how my body looked. Most likely, it was a combination of all of those things. But here I am, 32, and finally truly feeling like I am learning to let go of toxic diet culture and the desire to be smaller than I am, things that have been so ingrained in my life for as long as I can remember. 

Let me be clear, I would be lying if I said I have reached a place of total body acceptance or even body neutrality. It’s a work in progress, and something I have luckily been able to focus a lot on over the last few months. I still have days where I want to be smaller. I still struggle with food guilt. I still sometimes undereat or overeat. BUT, things really reached a tipping point for me last year, and I had just had enough of all the yo-yo dieting, talk about dieting, and obsession with being thin. The truth is, I AM thin. Sure, I have some curves and some athletic muscles, but I am not overweight, nor do I know what it is like to live in a fat body. The fact that I had seen multiple nutritionists and dietitians and asked about how I could lose weight and only ONE told me I didn’t need to, is exactly what the problem is all about. If I felt the pressure to conform to this ideal small body, how have others in larger bodies felt? I’m sad that it took me so long to even think about this.

Intuitive eating also looks like this

As mentioned above, I’ve been working my way through the “Intuitive Eating Workbook” and I can’t recommend it enough. I’m not going to write about that book and that process as I think it’s something everyone really should do on their own, and I’m also not a dietitian or nutritionist. Instead I just wanted to share some of the things that helped me on my journey towards intuitive eating, and maybe they can help you too:  

  1. Changing the way and the language I use to talk about food. How many times have you said (or heard someone say) “I’ve been so bad recently” or “I’ve been eating so poorly”. Yes, we all know what foods are most nourishing for us, but eating food that isn’t nutritionally dense isn’t inherently BAD, food doesn’t hold moral value. I saw a mom on tiktok who talked about the words she uses for food with her kids so they are never taught this “good food” vs. “bad food” mentality and it has really stuck with me. She called food like cookies and candies fun food and food like veggies and fruit fuel foods. I know that this isn’t necessarily the most scientific way to look at it (not the point anyway) as fun foods can be fuel foods too (especially if you are in an endurance event!) but I’ve kind of adopted this. She said fun foods are the ones you eat when you’re wanting a fun pick me up and to enjoy something really delicious and fuel foods are the ones you want when you’re giving your body energy for longer periods of time and want to feel full and ready to take on your day. 
  1. Being cognizant of the types of media I consume and what I share as well on social media. For a long time I followed a lot of “wellness influencers” who were constantly posting their perfectly balanced meals. This made me feel like a failure because I compared myself to these people and felt like I had messed up anytime I ate pizza or a piece of toast and an egg for lunch instead of a beautiful salad. I know that most of us are aware that the perfectly curated photos you see online are not the entire picture of someone’s life, but it’s hard to remember this sometimes. Once I took a step back and realized this was impacting my own views on food, I unfollowed a lot of these women. It’s nothing against them, but I recognized this was a trigger for me. I also stopped sharing my own “perfect meals” online as well, recognizing how it could be harmful and created a false version of who I am. In turn, I have made a conscious effort to share all of the fun foods I eat! I want to normalize that it’s totally fine to eat a donut and share it, especially as an athlete. I used to not share these things in shame, and would worry about being judged on my size by sharing them. 
  1. Learning to listen to hunger cues. Diet culture teaches us to ignore our hunger cues in the pursuit of losing weight. This has been a problem for me as I have struggled with binge eating on and of for a long time- usually after (or during) periods of restricting and dieting. Ignoring these cues can seriously mess you up and confuse your body. One thing I love about intuitive eating is that it talks about eating as an act of self-care. We literally need food to survive and function, so of course it is self-care! I now try and make sure I have a snack ready to go at all time that I can reach for, or time blocked in my calendar to have a snack so I never get overly hungry and teach my body that it is okay to eat when I’m hungry. 
  2. Listening to what feels good. I always give this advice when people say they don’t like exercising- if you don’t like what you’re doing, try something different! I’m not sure why I couldn’t see that this applies when it comes to food too. I used to try and eat so many salads because I thought they were what I should be eating, but in reality, I just don’t like salads! They hurt my stomach and I rarely find them satisfying. Finally allowing myself to eliminate salads from my diet was so freeing. I DO however, love smoothies! I love adding veggies and different fruits and nuts to my smoothies, so now I have smoothies instead. I also love grains mixed with roasted veggies, so it’s not like eliminating salads from my diet means I no longer eat these kinds of nutritionally dense foods. There is no point in forcing yourself to eat something you really don’t like!
  1. Changing my language when talking about what I am feeling about my body. I can’t tell you how many times a week I used to say “I feel fat.” I know how ridiculous that is because 1. I am not fat and 2. Fat is not a feeling! This kind of self-talk is an instant trigger into a spiral of negative thoughts about my body and so quickly leads to undereating or over exercising or just general thoughts about unhealthy behaviours. I’m still really working on this one, but instead am trying to learn to label what I am actually feeling. Am I feeling a lack of confidence? Am I feeling tired? Am I feeling bloated? Asking myself these questions has helped me reframe my emotions and separate them from my own fatphobia and disordered thoughts. 
  1. Setting boundaries. Boundaries are so crucial in most personal journeys. For me, boundaries around intuitive eating and diet culture sound like “is it okay if we don’t talk about weight loss right now?” or “I recognize that your weight loss may be important to you but it’s a difficult topic for me to discuss and I can’t be a part of this conversation.” It can also sound like “while we talk about food can we please not talk about how unhealthy something is or how many calories it has?” This is SO hard in practice, but has been so helpful.
  1. Health at Every Size. Learning about Health at Every Size has been so eye opening and I could write endless posts about this. It’s also the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around because all we have been told about weight is that the more you weigh, the more unhealthy you are. This allows us to mask unhealthy disordered habits as “health.” The truth is, until we take weight stigma out of the research, we don’t know for sure that weight is the main detriment to negative health outcomes. Yes, we know there is a correlation, but focusing on weight alone does not often help anyone’s medical issues. In fact, focusing on weight alone can in many circumstances hinder people from achieving better health outcomes. It is also deeply tied to racism. I listened to a great podcast on this, and highly recommend it.
  1. Taking this into my work. I work in corporate wellness and while a lot of my work focuses on mental health, many people still think of me as the person to promote fitness and nutrition in the workplace. This is true in some instances, and as a result, anytime I run any sort of programming about fitness and nutrition, endless questions on weight and a focus on weight loss often pops up. I have made it my goal to eliminate any and all talk about weight loss from our programming. We can talk about nutrition without talking about weight, we can talk about fitness without talking about weight, and I truly hope this becomes the norm over time. I have also shut down any ideas that call for any sort of weight loss challenge.

Like most things, this is an ongoing process that I am very much in the thick of, but as I work my way through this transformative process, I felt the need to reflect. I know it’s not for everyone, and that is okay- but I hope if you’re curious about intuitive eating this helped even the tiniest bit!

Would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

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