Well, I didn’t go into writing about my need for better self-care with the intention of starting a series, but here we are.
And today, I am writing about my history (albeit a dysfunctional one) with intuitive eating.
“Intuitive Eating” has become quite a buzzword in the health community and on social media in the past several years as fat and body positivity circles have increased the awareness that diets don’t work and eating disorders are being seen in girls as young as 7 or 8 years old. It was a term first coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch back in the 1990s when they wrote the first edition of the book with the same title (note: not an affiliate link).
Intuitive eating involves trusting our bodies to tell us when we are hungry, how and when to eat, and when we are satisfied. Though the term “intuitive eating” has been hijacked and branded into another restrictive diet on social media, true intuitive eating has absolutely nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with listening to and trusting our bodies.
The sad and hard truth of body trust is that many of us have been told from a very young age that we cannot trust our bodies, that we need someone else (i.e., parent, partner, doctor, etc.) to tell us what our bodies need. I think this is especially true for cis-women and anyone who has or has had a uterus, ovaries, and a vagina, as we see in the constant political battles over reproductive rights. Our society has told us from the very beginning that our bodies, sexuality, thoughts, behavior, and decisions cannot be trusted and need to be kept under lock and key, the key to that lock belonging to anyone else but us.
The constant monitoring of the female (whether cis or otherwise) form is a means of control in a patriarchal society and financial gain for the beauty and “wellness” industries.
I can remember being as young as 5 or 6 years old and being told I could not have dessert because I was getting fat even when I was maybe 10 pounds overweight as determined by my pediatrician. All I wanted was an ice cream cone or my Easter basket candy or a Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie. I watched over the years as my brothers were allowed to eat pretty much whatever they wanted, even when they were chubby, while my meals and body were constantly monitored and scrutinized, and where they were praised for being broad-shouldered and tall, I was made fun of and shamed.
Thus began my dysfunctional relationship with food and my body.
I know as deeply as my mom’s actions and words towards me hurt me, they were coming from her own pain, shame, and the same battles she faced in the same household – my maternal grandmother and great-grandparents and uncles – and her desperate desire to prevent me from experiencing what she experienced. But dysfunction breeds dysfunction if you just repeat the words and actions done to you.
I first learned about intuitive eating in the 1990s and even read the first edition of Evelyn and Elyse’s book back then. I mean, when you’ve been dieting since age 6 and you’re a voracious reader always looking for some way to improve yourself, you come across these things. Back then, it was still heavily steeped in diet talk because they were just learning and developing what intuitive eating meant and no one in healthcare or the media was ready to give any attention to anything that might lead to fewer buyers of all of the diet and “fitness” products.
I stumbled upon it again about 3 or 4 years ago when I first began following people like Jess Baker, Christy Harrison, Kelsey Miller, and other anti-diet bloggers, dietitians, and podcast hosts. At this point, I had kept off 50-60 pounds for about 10-12 years, but still felt like I was on shaky ground. I still tracked my food and exercise in MyFitnessPal nearly daily and was still absolutely terrified that if I ever stopped, I would regain all of the weight I’d lost and then some.
And then my fear came true.
I have felt like such a failure over the past 2 years now. And I am so exhausted from fighting with my body daily and trying to work through the noise in my head that tells me I am killing myself, I’ll get diabetes before long, probably die of a massive heart attack like my maternal grandmother, great-great grandmother, and great-great grandfather did, that John is probably disgusted by me, I’ll never be able to wear cute clothes again, how did I let this happen, all of the hard work I did is gone, etc.
I probably worry about dying every single day here lately, and I know so much of it is because it is so ingrained in me that being “obese” (or even “morbidly obese” by the bullshit BMI standards) means I will get diabetes, have a heart attack, and die by age 40 if not sooner.
I keep making half-assed attempts to log my food in MyFitnessPal again and weigh myself daily and all, but then I just stop because I get so angry at myself for knowing better and still buying into the diet mentality bullshit.
I am so tired of this.
I am tired of not trusting my body and my hunger and fullness levels. Tired of ignoring all of the ways my body talks to me like with my exhaustion and craving for sweets and when I turn to food when what I really need is to be heard and maybe hugged. Tired of feeling afraid to let go completely of my desperate desire to lose weight. Tired of still seeking a body that I am very likely never meant to have because my body is so set in how it wants to work and what it wants to weigh. I am tired of the shame in feeling like I’ve “ruined” or even “destroyed” my body when it actually works pretty fucking well every single day.
Intuitive eating feels like such a foreign concept for me because I don’t think I was ever allowed to eat intuitively, not even as a young child. I was forced to clean my plate, even threatened with a spanking if I didn’t (though finishing my plate has hardly ever been a problem for me).
I was told I could not have the sweets I wanted, so I learned how to sneak them. I got really good at muffling the sound of the cellophane housing an oatmeal creme pie by pressing it against my leg as I shuffled into the bathroom to damn near swallow it whole.
I overate as a big “fuck you” to my parents, grandmother, great-grandparents, and uncles who always had some critical comment about how and what I ate.
When I went to college, it turned into a food free-for-all because no one was there to tell me no. Too bad the shame didn’t stay back in Montgomery too when I moved to Mobile because this food freedom turned into a vicious binge then shame and self-loathing cycle until I was finally as fat as my family had been calling me my entire life.
I still moralize food and congratulate myself on the days I eat “well,” meaning within a certain calorie range or something along those lines. When this happens, I sabotage myself out of anger towards myself for still patting myself on the back for following the dieting mentality that has plagued me my whole life.
But like many of my dysfunctional habits – like being codependent and controlling – binge eating served a purpose in my teens and college years. I didn’t yet know how to process all of the trauma I was experiencing at the time and didn’t yet know that my being an empath and highly sensitive was a good, healthy thing, so I used food as a coping technique.
And now, at 36, I am in some ways thankful for that food but also really fucking confused with how to implement intuitive eating for myself.
Sometimes I have moments of clarity, like realizing I really like to eat egg sandwiches for dinner even when I have the makings for a salad or some kind of meat and veggies dinner. Sometimes self-care is making and eating an egg sandwich because I am too tired to stand at the stove and cook anything that is going to take any longer and I just need something easy and somewhat healthy to feed my body with. Or I understand now that with my thyroid being out of whack again over the past year and the exhaustion it, PCOS, and endometriosis bring, I will crave sugar for some kind of burst of energy. And on the backside of that, being insulin resistant means my body will struggle to process that sugar I am consuming for energy and my hunger levels will go haywire.
But maybe that’s how it works. My brain thinks it’s all just supposed to click into place like the clarity and resolve that always comes in the first few days or weeks of a new diet.
I don’t want to approach intuitive eating with the diet mentality. I want to approach it with my desire to have a healthy relationship with my body. Just as I am still learning to trust John in our marriage because of my fears of repeating the dysfunction I was raised in, I know trusting my body will take time. I’m just not the most patient person, haha.
In my desire to practice better self-care, I have deleted the MyFitnessPal and Happy Scale apps off of my devices. I can’t say I will stop weighing myself completely, but I am weaning myself off of the scale. I have unfollowed all of the keto and weight loss Instagram accounts I’d been following in the hopes of having an “amazing” before and after transformation picture where I’m suddenly lean and talking about how I can finally be me and have the life I’ve held myself back from for so long. (EYE ROLL emoji here.) Instead, I am following intuitive eating, body positive, and health at every size accounts.
Yesterday, I had this thought that I need to feed myself how I wish I’d been fed as a child. Without the rules, shaming, and criticism. Some of my weight gain has been because I decided to stop restricting myself from eating ice cream and found myself eating it for dinner 2 or 3 nights a week. Now, I have it maybe once or twice a month because I’m finally starting to trust that it is never off-limits. I know if I had a little girl, I would want to treat her how I didn’t get treated, so maybe I need to treat myself like that little girl? It sounds very psychobabble, but maybe the key to being kinder to myself and more accepting and trusting of my body is to treat myself like I would treat my daughter.
This post isn’t meant to solve anything but to share that I understand how important feeding my body what it needs regardless of its nutritional or caloric value but also share why that is still so hard for me right now.
Self-care is not a familiar practice for me because I was raised to believe that I’m supposed to put others first, so it would make sense that this also means acknowledging, listening to, respecting, and trusting my own body would be difficult.
This post will also not be the last time I talk about my journey with intuitive eating, and I definitely won’t ever have it all “figured out.”
I started this blog to work through all of the stories I’ve told myself my entire life in order to either end the stories or change the plot. My story about my body is a lifelong one but it can be a better one. My brothers and I talk about how we learned what not to do in all of the dysfunction we grew up in. I have applied that in my marriage and finances and my constant striving to know myself better and help myself heal and become stronger and healthier.
I want to do this with my relationship with my body too. It feels like the final frontier which I guess it is because it is the relationship that will be with me until I take my final breath.
What do intuitive eating mean to you? Have you ever had a troubled relationship with food and your body? How do you handle the constant barrage of messages on how you should eat, exercise, look, and weight?