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!

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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.

One-A-Day Promise Campaign

Note:  This article is intended to be an online journal.  To make it easier for the readers who are following it, I will place the most recent entries near the top.  To start from the beginning and view the original article please click here.

Day 4:  I need a time-out!!

Have you ever found yourself munching on a handful of nuts, just because you walked by the bowl?  Ever visit the vending machine or the pantry instead of tackling an unwanted project?  Sometimes eating is ‘reactive’.  You may be responding to uncomfortable feelings and not even be aware of it.  Or sometimes, as with the nuts, it’s a mindless habit.  As a result, we may wind up eating  more than we need or even really want.

My goal today is to expand upon being present and mindful by practicing patience.  So here is an exercise for you (and me).  When I want to eat I am going to ask myself 2 questions.  “Am I biologically hungry?”  If so then I will keep my body fed and eat.  If not, I will take a time-out.  I will set a timer, between 5-15 minutes.  I will use this time to try to think about what I may actually be feeling.  If you are able, this is a great opportunity for some meditation or self-reflection.  After the time elapses, if I still want to eat what I had my sights set on, I will.

What’s in it for me?

I tend to be an impulsive eater.  I want stop and think about what I am doing before putting food in my mouth.  If I am not physically hungry, then what is really going on?  What do I really need at this moment?  The time-out gives me an opportunity to answer these questions.   Eating for emotional reasons will NOT solve my problems.   Thinking about what is bothering me is the first step to figure out how to handle it.  If it’s simply mindless eating, the time-out may distract me enough to forget all about my craving!  Ah, patience… it’s a good thing.

Day 3:  So what happens when things don’t go the way you think they ‘should’?

My focus last week was to pay more attention to my food.  For me, this also translates into eating generally because I am ‘stomach hungry’ and not to satisfy emotional needs.  Great!  But there were times this weekend that I found myself on ‘autopilot eating’ somewhere in that state of consciousness where I knew I was putting food in my mouth but I wasn’t fully connected to the experience.  I ate as a form of procrastination, because I was tired, bored, and as a sense of entitlement.  What a disaster!!!

Actually, thankfully, I tend to think in the contrary.  While eating for reasons other than true stomach hunger did not coincide with my goal, I was able to become aware of my actions.  I noticed, remembered and took full responsibility for these choices.  While it’s true, I may have been better off napping than nibbling, or taking a walk to ease my sense of boredom, there are worse ways I could be combating these issues.  Sounds like an excuse to you?  Well to me these are all opportunities to learn.  Life is full of these but first we have be able to notice them.  My journey to becoming an intuitive eater is not one where I seek perfection, it is one where I look to find my progress.

What’s in it for me? 

We all have choices.  My goal was to be mindful.  In one sense I ‘failed’ because I made choices that conflicted with my goals.  I could have chosen to beat myself up over my decision to eat.  If I had done that I would have been so consumed with my ‘failure’ I would have never been able to realize what was really going on.  Because I was trying to be mindful, I was able to stop and ask myself the question “what is it that you really need right now?”.  I doing so I could learn from my behavior.  In years past I never would have tried to notice what I was feeling.   If I can’t tune into the fact that I’m bored or procrastinating, how can I address the real issues?  Food is not the answer.

I have learned that self-acceptance is an important part to personal growth.  If we can’t accept our ‘mistakes’ and learn from them our only choice is perfection.  And that, for me, does not exist.

Day 2:  Can you name at least 5?… continuation of staying present while eating.

Life is not a perfect bubble you say?  Sometimes it’s not possible to totally focus on just eating!!  Ok, ok… I hear you.  And you are right.  My rule of thumb is this:  whenever I can, I focus my attention solely on eating.   Why should you?  (…inquisitive minds need to know)  Do you remember the “What’s in it for me?” question from yesterday?   Here’s what you’ll get:  more enjoyment from your food (provided that you chose something you really wanted in the first place), you’ll remember actually eating it, AND you’ll have a better chance to notice feeling full.

But what happens when it seems impossible to relax and focus on my meal?

This was my focus for day 2.  ‘can you name at least 5’.  Sometimes when I feel it’s impossible to totally focus on eating I challenge myself to notice at least 5 things.  I think about the color, texture, temperature, seasoning etc.  My lunchtime salad had lots of crunch (1).  The colors were bright (2) and consisted of red, green, orange and white.  The dressing had a little bit of spice (3) due to the pepper and was creamy(4).  My steak and broccoli that accompanied my salad was warm (5) and fulfilling.  The crunchy broccoli (6) contrasted with the soft rice noodles (7).

What’s in it for me?  Going through this mental exercise enables me to check in with myself, even if only for a moment. Pulling my attention back to my meal gives me a fighting chance to stay present and enables me to remember why it’s important to do so.  There’s nothing worse than looking down at an empty plate and having no recollection of eating any of it.  Talk about not being satisfied!!

I hope you find this exercise helpful … feel free to share your thoughts 🙂


Original Article:

Welcome 2013!  With thImagee dawning of a new year, attention usually gets focused on ‘new beginnings’ and I am no different.  This morning I thought about how I could reinforce my Intuitive Eating principles and lose some of the bad habits that have re-emerged over the last few weeks.

I usually approach any task by breaking it down into smaller, more specific chunks.  That’s when the one-a-day promise occurred to me.  I thought about making a daily promise to myself to put an extra effort towards ‘something‘.  Not very specific you say… and you are right.  But goals change.  As long as I do ‘something’ that is important to me, I will be keeping my promise.

Currently, I want to focus on Intuitive Eating.  A few days ago, on my Intuitive Eating Support Facebook page, I posted a poll asking my readers what they thought their biggest challenges with the process have been.  (If you would like to add your two cents to this poll, click here)  I have also taught several workshops on Intuitive Eating and have found that staying present while eating is a pretty consistent challenge for many of us.  That’s why I decided to start my journey here.

Having a sense of accountability is also paramount for me to stay ‘on track’.  This is the purpose of this post.  When my journey relates specifically to Intuitive Eating I will publish it.  Hopefully my experiences will be a source of inspiration and support for you and keep me focused on my promise to myself.

Day 1:  Staying present while eating

If you have ever tried this, you are well aware it is not as easy as it sounds.  Eating my breakfast this morning, I found my mind wandering towards writing this post!!  In order to truly enjoy AND remember eating my food, I had to clear my thoughts and focus my attention entirely on my meal.  When I did this, I became aware of something interesting.  After I had eaten about 3/4 of my food, I felt physically warmer.  While this may seem strange to you, I have noticed this before.  It’s almost as if my internal thermostat turned on.  Usually, this is a sign that I am getting full.  I ate 2-3 more spoonfuls and decided I had had enough.

Day 1,  What’s in it for me?

“What’s in it for me?”  Do you ever ask yourself this question when you have something you need to do?  I try to ask it often.  My Grandmother told me once, “Where there is a will, there is a way”.  If I am aware of what I will get out of something, I am more inclined to do it.  So part of my journal is going to be answering this question.

What’s in it for me?  Staying present enabled me to enjoy my food.  It also helped me to notice when I was getting full.  (In my personal experience as well as a workshop facilitator, I have found that feeling fullness can be another challenging task)

Day one done.  Simple enough.   What about you?  Would you like to join my campaign and start your own journal?  If not, feel free to follow me and offer your comments and thoughts.

To be continued…
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Sticking With The Gray

I come from a place of extremes.  Before discovering Intuitive Eating, my world was black and white, right or wrong.  There was no middle ground, only perfection.   Thankfully, I am in a much different place; one that has balance and peace.  Even though I love where I am, the allure of pushing limits does still tempt me.

Housed in the back room of one of the gyms where I work is the super elite.  The extreme athletes.  They work hard.  They are strong.  They are long and they lean.  I watch them come and go as they practice.  I marvel at how they push their body to limits they may have never thought possible.  Yes, I watch them and admire them, but I don’t want to be them.

Oh the thought crosses my mind… more often than I care to admit.  I could follow the ‘cave-man’ diet, as it is referred to… eating only the foods that were available to our ancient ancestors.  I could strive to get to a place where I can see the striations in my muscles as they work towards the fitness challenge of the day.  I could apply my time and efforts there, but I realize that this temptation can bring me down and bring me down hard.

For me, the back room is the gateway to extremism.  I lived there for awhile and it was scary.  I always had to do more, weigh less, lift heavier weights… all in the name of perfection.  ‘Try harder’ was my motto.  Before long, my hour long gym sessions became several hours each day.  My diet was militant… no variance from the straight path I was on.  My self worth was dictated by the weight I could lift and the number on the scale.  It lasted for a bit, but then my body and my psyche broke down.

Professional athletes train to peak their performance for their event.  But my event was my life.  I had no particular goal, no race, no contest that I was working towards.  All I knew was that I had to keep working.  In order to maintain the weight that I was at, I had to keep working.  It didn’t matter if my body was telling me I’d had enough,  I had to keep going.  I couldn’t stop because then I would think I was ‘giving in’.  I couldn’t stop because I was afraid of getting fat.

Ironically, the things I feared most, gaining weight and not being fit, were beginning to happen to me.  I had chronic injuries.  In my efforts to stay strong, I was making my body weaker.  I started started binge eating.   I was, as I know now, rebelling against the very strict standards I had set for myself.  I was stuck and I was scared.

That was then, this is now.   My eyes have been opened to the gray.  That place somewhere in between black and white.   I realized I could not continue on in this obsessive manner.  My life was very focused and I felt accomplished but at what cost?   When I was good,  I was good.  (going to the gym every day, not eating any bad foods)  But when I was bad, I was bad!  I felt out of control.  I needed a middle ground, a balance.

It started with the exercise.  I began to give myself permission to take a day off if I needed it.  When I did, I noticed my subsequent workouts were much better.  I focused on doing the things at the gym that I truly enjoyed.  I paid more attention to how my body felt and how it responded.  I began to question how my time at the gym was going to benefit me.  As a 48 year old working mom, was a plyometric jump onto a high step going to help me or hurt me?  I began doing the things I wanted to do, not what I felt I should or needed to do.

Building on the confidence I was experiencing at the gym, my new philosophy shifted towards food.  Learning to become an Intuitive Eater made me more sensitive to my body’s needs and internal cues.  I had to pay attention.  I had to listen and trust that my body knew what was best for me.  I relaxed my food rules and the binging stopped!  I was excited!  I began to eat the foods that brought me enjoyment, satisfaction and health.  Moderation was beginning to feel good, very good.

I found that the balance was within me.  I needed to do things according to how they made me feel; working from my heart and not my head.   Thinking I needed to go to the gym for several hours/day in order to maintain a weight that was not “natural” for my body left me tired, chronically injured and frustrated.  I was listening to external values.   I was judging myself by trying to fit into a mold that was being dictated to me.  The ideals of perfection.

I like my world now.   I eat and exercise according to how it feels and how my body responds.  I am fit and I am strong.  I ask the questions, What will this food do for me?  How will I feel after I eat it?  Will this exercise help me stay healthy?  How will I feel when I am done?  What do I need to do for me today?   I ask, but more importantly, now I listen.

Yes, I will continue to admire my colleagues in the back room.  It can be thrilling taking fitness and nutrition to that level, as for me, I’m sticking with the gray 🙂

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Always looking for new inspiration and motivatation, I subscribe to several different sources.  This morning I read an article that caught my attention.  In “12 Lies To Stop Telling Yourself”*  I found one point of particular interest to me:

I am stuck with people who hurt me. – Life is too short.  Look out for yourself.  If someone continuously mistreats you, have enough respect for yourself to leave them.  It may hurt for a while, but it’ll be OK.  You’ll be OK.  Oftentimes walking away has nothing to do with weakness, and everything to do with strength.  We walk away not because we want others to realize our worth, but because we finally realize our own worth.

Reading and absorbing those words made me think of dieting.  In her book, Life Without Ed, best selling author Jenni Schaefer associates a persona to her eating disorder.  She called him ED.  In doing so, she was able to separate and free herself from this destructive relationship.  Breaking free from the dieting world can be like that too.

What is a dieter to do?  I am stuck.  I want to lose weight.  I need to lose weight.  I decide to diet.  I am good for awhile, but then I start wanting the foods I can’t have.  I give into my cravings and eat way too much!  I am out of control.  Now I feel guilty.  I broke the rules, again.   What is wrong with me? … I have NO willpower.  I will be better this time.  My diet begins again.

STOP.  Ask yourself, “What exactly is different this time?”  What is going to make your diet work this time?  Being stuck in the world of dieting is like being in a bad relationship.  Re-read the words above… Life is too short.  Look out for yourself.  It is in your best interest to think about your health, emotionally as well as physically.  Consistently putting yourself in a place that causes you stress, feelings of guilt and shame doesn’t feel good.  Thinking that you aren’t good enough as you are is mistreating yourself.

Breaking up is hard to do.  It’s scary at first because this is the world you have always  known.  Sometimes we remain in bad relationships because we know what to expect.  Been there, done that.  But for me, I decided enough was enough.  I owed it to myself to break away.  Why consistently expose myself to a place that was not helping?  If dieting worked, I should have been a model by now!  I have spent the better part of 30 years stuck in that relationship.  It wasn’t working and only left me feeling miserable about myself.

I had a choice.  I decided to walk away.  Intuitive Eating gave me the skills and confidence to divorce myself from my unhealthy relationship with dieting and poor body image.  I now feel empowered because I have choices.  I no longer have to “follow” the diet rules.  I can choose, according to what my body tells me I need.  I have trust and faith in myself to know what is best for me.  Ultimately, I am my own best advocate.  I am the expert of my body.  Learning to trust myself, and break away has given me the peace and freedom I have longed for.

Oftentimes walking away has nothing to do with weakness, and everything to do with strength.  We walk away not because we want others to realize our worth, but because we finally realize our own worth.  I have learned to respect myself.  I broke up and I am happy.  I am worth it… and you know what?  So are you!

* Source:  Marc and Angel Hack Life, Practical Tips for Productive Living, http://www.marcandangel.com/2012/03/12/12-lies-to-stop-telling-yourself/

Special thanks to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch for giving me my life back.  For more information on Intuitive Eating:  www.intuitiveeating.org

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