Gifts of Intuitive Eating… Let me count the ways

person-writing-a-listIt has been just over 4 years since I first learned of Intuitive Eating.  As I began reading it I immediately sensed that finally, somebody understands me!  This book was my answer; my way out.  I had reached diet bottom.  The thought of going on another diet was something I did not want to do, yet I was fearful of not being ‘guided’ by one.  I was spent and I was tired.  Tired of feeling as though I was not good enough, strong enough, thin enough or that I lacked willpower.  I wanted a sense of peace.

It has been quite a journey since I first opened that book.  The emotions were raw.  Fear, anxiousness, self-doubt.  Can I do this?  How can I possibly eat anything?  Can I really accept my ‘here and now’ body?  Doesn’t this mean I am giving up on the dream?  Little by little, the self-doubt became trust.  The misguided judgments and criticism turned into words of self protection, forgiveness and patience.  I began, for the first time, to really experience my life.

One of my students, a cancer survivor of 4 years, told me “I am four years old”.  His diagnosis spawned a change in lifestyle that enabled him to lose more than 200 lbs. and to overcome 15 operations.  As he so aptly put it, “I am living on borrowed time. My life began 4 years ago.”  The words of this inspirational man resonated with me.  While not a personal life or death situation, I feel what I learned from Intuitive Eating has given me a new birthday as well.

When contemplating a change in lifestyle, I often encourage my clients to reflect on what they will gain.  Answering the question “What’s in it for me?” can be a powerful motivator to sustain change.  A firm believer in the theory of practice what you preach, I began to think about what Intuitive Eating has given me over these last four years.  When the self-doubt creeps back in, as it inevitably does, I read my list.  This helps me appreciate how much I have learned.  I choose not to focus not on how far I still want to go, but just how far I have already come and I am inspired move on.

Here is just a sampling of my Intuitive Eating gifts.  With your help, I want to add to this list.  Together we can inspire and motive each other.

Here goes…

  1. Feeling comfortable around food.  Knowing that I can choose what is best for me.
  2. Pizza
  3. Silencing the food police
  4. Practicing patience, not perfection
  5. Being able to truly enjoy my food
  6. Knowing I am my best advocate… and really believing it.
  7. Trusting that I can stop eating when I am full
  8. Knowing I can eat when I am hungry
  9. Being able to wear clothes that fit (not trying to squeeze into my ‘skinny’ jeans)
  10. I have the power of choice
  11. Being able to experience my feelings and not stuff them down with food
  12. Exercising because it’s fun
  13. Pizza
  14. Enjoying an ice cream with my kids on a hot day
  15. Realizing that food is not the answer to my problems
  16. Being able to look in the mirror and not criticize everything I see
  17. Throwing away the scale
  18. Giving away my skinny jeans
  19. Exercising because of how it makes me feel
  20. Trusting my and honoring body’s needs
  21. Realizing there is more to me than the number on the scale
  22. Viewing ‘failures’ as an opportunities to learn
  23. Knowing I don’t have to be perfect
  24. Seeing the value of ‘play food’
  25. Experiencing a good piece of chocolate
  26. Appreciating my body for what it does each and every day
  27. Melted cheese on a slice of pizza (ok, sensing a theme?)
  28. ‘Quiet’ brownies… Knowing I can have them in the house, but don’t have to ‘eat them all’
  29. Being able to enjoy a dessert if I choose to
  30. The satisfaction that comes with eating something I really want
  31. Learning I can say no
  32. Asking for help if I need it
  33. Appreciating quiet, stillness
  34. Trusting my body’s wisdom, in all things
  35. Believing in myself
  36. Freedom from diet rules
  37. Not having to ‘diet down’ for special occasions
  38. Learning to respect and appreciate who I am
  39. Seeing how my confidence has translated to other areas of my life
  40. A sense of inner peace

What about you?  I would love to add your thoughts and ideas.  What has the practice of Intuitive Eating given you?

Authors note:  Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A. teaches you how to make peace with food, stop chronic dieting and rediscover the pleasures of eating.  For more information, please visit their website: http://www.intuitiveeating.org.  I wish to sincerely thank the authors for their continued work.  They are inspirational professionals who have changed many lives!

When the Words Return…

mirrorimage.I was hungry before teaching cycle.  Apparently, my snack didn’t have enough time to digest and class left me feeling nauseous and uncomfortable.  It was the pain in my throat that woke me in the the night but it was the thought in my head that stabbed me more… “Good, now maybe you will not be able to eat and you will lose weight.”

REALLY?  Those words haunted me like the monster under my bed did when I was a child.   How could I possibly still be having such a thought?  I have spent the last several years working as a coach and a mentor, sharing the benefits of mindful eating practices, discussing the how the pursuit body perfection kills our self-esteem and ruins our relationship with food and eating.  How could I still be thinking this way?

Six years ago, when I read Intuitive Eating for the first time, I instinctively knew I found what I had been looking for.  For the majority of my life I have been a prisoner of my own obsessive and destructive thoughts and behavior.  I was the lifetime dieter; toggling somewhere between binging/purging, restrictive eating, and excessive, punitive exercise.

Intuitive Eating taught me that the perfection I was striving for was a representation of  a largely unattainable fitness/beauty ideal created by society and the media.  I realized there is more to me as a person than just what I look like and I began to appreciate who I am and what I have to offer.  I paid attention to how ‘feeling fat’ changed my mood and became aware of how preoccupation with my appearance was interfering with my ability to live my life.  I learned how many advertising images are digitally altered making them both more appealing and less attainable.  I know and believe all this, yet I still find it difficult to look at my body in a mirror.

I am not aware of any hidden fascination with being a vampire as my reason for not having a mirror image.  Truth is, I am afraid.  For so many years, I listened to the words in my head… “You’re not good enough, strong enough or determined enough.  You’ll never succeed.  You lose weight and then gain it back, what is wrong with you?”  I am afraid of what I will ‘hear’ if I look.

If I fully believe in my heart and soul I am more than just an object to be looked at, compared to and judged, why would I think what I did?  How could I possibly want to deny my body nourishment in order to wear a smaller pants size?  Thankfully, I did not act upon this thought.  In fact, I’m grateful it happened.   It has made me aware that I am still struggling with my self-image.   This surprises me.  I have felt more free and in control since I discovered Intuitive Eating than any other time in my life.  I have let go of dieting and the food rules associated with them.  I eat when I am hungry and I eat what I want.  I worry less about food and as a result, I am able to enjoy living.  So what is keeping me stuck?

I know for certain changing my thinking is a process.  Intuitive Eating teaches us that we need to be patient.   There is no ‘wrong way’, only learning and discovery.  I have to remember to treat myself with patience, understanding and kindness.  I listened to those hurtful words for a very long time.  Change does not happen overnight.

In order to move on, I have to face my fears and look in the mirror.  I need to practice what I teach and focus on the things I like more than the things I don’t.  I need to acknowledge my accomplishments instead of what I have yet to do.  I remember what it was like living in that world when the only thing that mattered to me was the number on the scale.  Ironically, it wasn’t pretty.  Perfection does not exist and living my life in pursuit of it is a waste of valuable time.  Life is to short for that.

I now realize that the title of this blog is a misnomer.  I’m not sure that the words in my head ever truly went away; I instead chose not to address them.  Perhaps, up till now, I wasn’t ready to.  First, I needed to rebuild my relationship with food, for without that, I would not have the solid belief that I am doing what’s right for me.  This experience opened the door to where my work ahead is; finding true confidence in myself as a woman, inside and out.  I have always held the belief there will forever be something I can ‘fix’, but then again, maybe the true lesson is paying attention to who’s words are telling me that it’s ‘broken’ in the first place.  😉

To my readers:  I wrote this post today for a very important reason.  One of my main sources of support along my journey has been feeling that I am not alone.  Knowing there are others that have the same thoughts and fears that I do makes me feel understood and gives me comfort.  So here I am, sharing my fears.  Maybe you can relate and I don’t want you to feel alone.

Four years later and the cookie wins… sort of.

Christmas-Angel-Cookies

It’s Christmas Eve and I am looking out of my kitchen widow eating a cookie.  Most of the holiday chores are done, the evening meal is planned, the gifts are wrapped but I am unsettled.  The holidays are anxious times for me but I remain steady as I search for peace in my heart.

My attention is on  my cookie.  What is it about this sweet mixture of chocolate, flour and sugar that draws me to it?  For much of my life I have engaged in overindulgent eating as an attempt to manage uneasy emotions.  Food has been both a source of comfort as well as an vehicle for despair.  I now realize turning to food in order to ease emotional pain is but a temporary solution.  The joy I receive from eating to sooth is fleeting.  The problems do not go away and the pain and guilt I feel in the aftermath is long lasting.

My thoughts and attention remain on the cookie.  Each bite is sweet and chewy.  I eat it slowly and enjoy it.  I am fully aware that I am on my second cookie.  I could have easily been satisfied with just one, but today I am having a second one.  I am not hungry and know I am anxious.  I worry that I am eating out of pure emotion … and part of of me is.  But today it’s o.k. because there is a difference.  A little over 4 years ago I discovered Intuitive Eating.  It is here I learned of the depth of my emotional eating.  Before becoming an Intuitive Eater I would be putting food in my mouth in a comatose state.  This was my drug. It would help me cope, but it the long run caused me nothing but guilt and anguish.

Today, however, I am fully aware of my actions.  I realize that I am making a choice.  Yes, part of me knows that I am eating beyond what I ‘need’.  I had my sweet, and did not feel guilty.  I truly enjoyed it. I also know that my one cookie today would have been a dozen or more in years past.  I will not lie to you, part of me wishes I stopped at just one.  But there is another part, a deeper part that knows changes take time.  I am far better off than I was 5 years ago.  Today I made an important choice.  Instead of reaching for a third and fourth, I chose to refocus my attention and share my thoughts here.   Each and every baby step I take will form giant steps.  This I know in my heart to be true.

My wish for you, today and everyday, is to continue to take those baby steps.   Each one builds everlasting strength.  May you find the love and comfort you seek, be able to spend time with those you love, and trust and believe enough in your abilities to make your best choices.  My wish for you and me is to find peace in our hearts.

May you all have a happy, healthy, holiday season.

Give Yourself the Gift of ‘The Experience’

Recently, through the magic of computer networking, I was reconnected with a close friend from high school.  It has been nearly 30 years since we last spoke so it was fun to reminisce and discuss the different paths our lives have taken.

Taking the time to catch up turned out to be a good lesson for me.  It was enlightening to reflect upon my life experiences.  We learn and accomplish many things along the way, but sometimes we forget or don’t acknowledge our achievements. Looking back can heighten your awareness of how much you actually have done and in turn make you more confident in your abilities to take on new challenges.

From the perspective of a practicing Intuitive Eater, remembering my high school days with my friend was eye opening.  It was during this time that many of my struggles with eating formalized.  I was a chubby teen trying to fit it.  I was an emotional eater (although I didn’t realize it then) stuffing down uncomfortable feelings with large amounts of food and following it with punitive exercise.  As I reflected upon this, it became very obvious to me how easily these patterns developed.  At a time in your life, when you are willing to do “whatever it takes to fit it”, even abnormal behaviors seem normal.

Looking back I was amazed at how long the “food police”, food rules and restrictive eating were a part of me.  In my mind, I was never good enough, and never would be, until I weighed that magical weight.  Now, sadly, I think about all the wasted time… all the worry, all the missed opportunities that didn’t happen because I was unhappy with my appearance.  But I also realized something else… by re-examining my life’s journey I was able to think about how far I have come, how much I was actually able to overcome and how, because of this experience, I can now view my world in a much healthier way.

Like the lessons of life, learning to become an Intuitive Eater is a process.  There are many roads you can travel; may ways to get to the same destination.  When we stop and think about how we got here and what we have learned along the way, even the “wrong” turns are right.   These moments are the valuable ones.  Reflecting upon the choices we made and why we felt they were or weren’t the right ones for us is when true learning takes place.  It has been my experience that these “wrong way adventures” are always the pre-cursors to personal growth.

We learn a lot from books but while the knowledge you obtain is valuable and necessary, it is really your experiences that are the best teachers.  Giving yourself the chance to try new things builds confidence and gains trust.  One of the fundamental pieces to Intuitive Eating is learning to trust yourself… trusting your internal cues for hunger and satiety.  Trusting that your body knows what is good for you to eat.  Trusting yourself to believe you can change your behavior.  But there is fear in that.  I understand this fear because I lived it.  It is scary to have to “break a food rule”.  But how will you know that you can stop at one piece of chocolate if you never allow yourself to eat any of it?  Experience teaches you that you can.

Think of the new mother who wonders if she will ever figure out how to sooth her crying infant.   She has no choice but to keep trying.  With patience and nurturing, mom and dad learn what is best for their child. Learning Intuitive Eating can be like that too.  You have to be patient and kind.  It is not always going to be perfect; there is no “right way”.  Your journey to becoming an Intuitive Eater is as individual and unique as you are.  It is a process that takes time.  Be gentle with yourself as you learn what works best for you. Enjoy your journey!

Feelings of trepidation and insecurity are normal when learning something new.  But think about all the things you may have missed out on if you let fear stand in your way!  Giving yourself the experience enables you grow as an individual.  Have faith in your abilities.  Reflect upon your past and remind yourself that you have conquered many new challenges before.  Think about some of your life’s proudest accomplishments.  More than likely you are proud of them because there was a time that you weren’t sure you could achieve your goal.  Acknowledge the fact that you did then and by believing in yourself, you will again.

One of my biggest ‘aha’ moments

I heard a song today and it made me smile.  It brought me back to one of my biggest ‘aha’ moments since I started re-learning how to eat intuitively.  ‘With Arms Wide Open’ by Creed was the song and my aha moment came as I was sweeping the kitchen floor and crying…

My story begins 2 years ago.  I was relatively new to intuitive eating.  I had just learned how to ‘make peace with food’ …well at least I thought I had.  The day was a beautiful spring day.  I decided I wanted to spruce up my living room by buying new curtains.  Up until this point, I have always made my curtains and buying them different for me.  As I shopped, I found myself getting more and more frustrated because I had an idea in my head as to what I wanted and couldn’t quite find it …hence the reason I have always made my own.

I found my mood seemed to really darken as I left the store (empty handed) which I thought was rather unusual, given the circumstances I mean really?  I couldn’t find curtains?  Big whoop… if that’s the worst thing that happens in my life I guess I’m not doing too badly.  

I picked up my son from school and he asked for a DQ.  I figured spending that time together would be fun!  When we got there, I thought about getting a cone too.  I had just learned to ‘make peace with food’.  I decided that yes, I was going to get one.  I wanted one and wanted to give myself the chance to really enjoy it, without guilt or shame.  I have plenty of friends who eat soft-serve and they don’t have ‘problems’ with their weight.  I owed it to myself to have this experience.  Today was going to be my day!

I was proud.  I enjoyed my cone without any guilt or remorse.  I felt satisfied and happy.  My mood seemed to change, however, when I came home to my naked windows.  Before I knew what hit me, the binge fest began… cereal, crackers, bread.  I honestly don’t remember what I got my hands into, but then again binges were usually like that.  I numbed myself with food.  It didn’t take too long before I felt sick to my stomach.  Not only did I feel physical pain, but I felt deflated.  An hour before I felt happy and satisfied, and now this…  and for what?  Curtains??? Really?  I did this to myself for curtains???  I thought I had been making such progress with Intuitive Eating… now, again, I felt like a total failure.

To make matters worse, that night was a big night for our family.  My son, who was graduating, was in a talent show at his High School.  They had been practicing daily for weeks and the show was something we were all looking forward to.  Waiting for the program to begin, my husband seemed to sense I was upset and asked if I was o.k.  He was unaware of my binge eating habits and therefore had no idea what was going on in my head …of course, I realize now, neither did I.  I was was angry and embarrassed with myself for my behavior earlier in the day.  Lost in my thoughts, I felt angrier and angrier.  I was missing things in my life that would never happen again.  I was not going to be able to enjoy my son’s performance as I should have because I felt so awful.  I knew this behavior had to stop.

 The next day I was sweeping the floor and ‘With Arms Wide Open’ came on the radio.  Before I knew what was happening I was openly  sobbing.  This was the song my son performed in the talent show the night before.  At this moment I was finally awakened to what had been really bothering me all along.  My first born was about to graduate High School and was heading off to college!  My life, his life, our lives as a family;  it was all changing so rapidly.  I knew, even though I will always be his mother, it is never going to be the same.  He was heading into adulthood.  As happy as I was happy for him, I also felt very sad and empty… my baby was growing up and moving on.

This was a defining moment for me.  Until then, I didn’t really understood why I was so troubled the day before.  It had nothing to do with the curtains.  I was experiencing the significant feelings of loss, uncertainty and worry that every parent faces when their children grow up and move on.  Up to this point in my life, uncomfortable feelings led me to unconsciously reach for food as a way to comfort and numb.

My reaction today would be very different than it was back then.  I know now to stop, before I reach for food.  I ask myself if I am hungry?  If the answer is no, then I become curious.  What else may be going on to make me reach for food? Sometimes there isn’t an immediate answer, and for me, I find that it is o.k. to say I feel ‘uncomfortable’.  When in this situation, I will turn to friends or other activities that make me feel better.  Had I taken the time, two years ago, to really sit with my feelings I would have realized that it was natural to feel sad.  Food didn’t make my problems go away, it only made me feel worse.   At that time in my life, that was the only coping mechanism I knew.  Now I try harder to experience my feelings so that I can deal with them in a healthier way… for my heart, head and my stomach 🙂

A lesson on self-acceptance (2/17/11)

So here, I am, still mulling over the fact that my jeans (no, not the skinny jeans, the jeans I wore 2 weeks ago) were way too tight yesterday.  Why?  Why were they tight and why do I care?  I ask myself these questions time and time again.  Why does it bother me so much?  I’ll tell you why… it ticks me off!  There I said it out loud for all to hear!!! I feel that I work very hard to stay in shape.  So why can’t I just eat what I want and have the body that I want?  It’s not fair!!  O.k., I’m done yelling now.   It’s true, that’s one point of view… it’s not fair and it makes me mad.

So now I have 2 choices, I can stay mad, feel bad about myself, tell myself how I don’t work hard enough, or don’t eat right… or I can try to change my thinking… While I exercise hard and try to eat right, I don’t always do what is best.  Hummm…. negative thinking, implies that I am gaining weight because I have been overeating.  O.k. I know, sometimes I use food for the wrong reasons.  I want my goal around food to be… “If I eat this food, will I feel better afterwards, physically?  Is this what I really need right now?”… and I am actively working on that one.   I know it’s going to take time, so I need to be patient with myself.  Yelling at myself has got me nowhere as of yet, so I now choose to be gentle with my psyche and give myself a break!  When it is possible for me to turn to something other than food when stressed, I will.  Until the day that I no longer automatically reach for food for comfort, I need to allow myself room to grow.  I will nurture that spirit because I have faith that this day will come.

So let’s get back to being mad.  I am mad because seemingly I can’t have what I want, that coveted long lean body.  So now I think, “Why do I want that so badly?  What is it going to give me that I don’t already have?  Is my husband going to love me more?  Will I become a better mom/friend?  How is this going to change me?  What will I gain?”  I may have more self-confidence… shopping is more fun.  Ok, two things.  Yeah, not ready to jump on the body bashing bandwagon just yet…I won’t be so self-conscious.  Oh now there is a thought.  “What exactly do I have to be self-conscious about anyway?  Do I have a great big booger hanging out of my nose?  A big piece of spinach in-between my front teeth?”  I don’t think so … I checked 😉  Being self-conscious about my weight implies there is something “wrong” with me.  I can walk and run and teach… I can do lots of things I never thought I would be able to do (yes, push-ups are still tough).   I am strong and have endurance.  I am proud of my physical accomplishments.  So what was my problem again?… oh yes, my thighs/butt.

When I had my dilemma yesterday, I wondered how my afternoon would have been different if I had just picked up a different pair of pants.  I wasn’t seeking the ones I put on, they just happened to be on top.  If I had put on another pair of pants instead, I never would have felt badly and I probably wouldn’t be sitting here looking at a sink full of dirty dishes writing this… So the pants told me that I gained weight; maybe, maybe not.  I did eat pizza several times over the last couple of days; not that there is anything wrong with pizza, but it was salty.  I am due for my period.  So there are 2 things that could cause me to retain fluid.  I have been exercising more than usual and I don’t think I have been drinking enough water; another reason to retain fluid.  Now, am I just sitting here making excuses?  I don’t think so.  I don’t think I have seriously been overeating, not enough to gain that much weight.

I have been exercising a ton, but not because I have to, but because I want to.  I am learning something new (teaching cycling) and enjoying it.  So, do I have an answer?  Not really, but what I do realize is that I don’t want to exercise any more than I currently am (every single part of me hurt this morning…but in a good way).  And I don’t want to start thinking about restricting my food intake.  So where does that leave me?  I know I am now in a place where I am happy (for the most part) about my nutrition/fitness choices.  They have been making me feel empowered and strong.  I choose to do things because I want to, not because I have to.  I am taking responsibility for my actions… if I ate chocolate, you can bet I enjoyed and savored every bit of it.  If I passed on the cookie, it was because I was full, not because I shouldn’t eat it; I know I can have it later if I want it.  So when I sat down and thought about all these things, I realized, at least for me anyway, mentally (and physically) I am in a much better place; happy with me, the here and now me.  And who knows, maybe those jeans did stay in the dryer too long…lol.  peace.

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