Tag Archive | eating disorders

The Hardcore Truth About Intuitive Eating and Weight Loss

I started my journey about 4 and a half years ago with intuitive eating. I actually started with Geneen Roth’s work and attended her workshop on Women, Food, and God. I learned a lot about self-compassion at this workshop and was introduced to the idea about being intuitive, eating when you are hungry and stopping when full. Her focus was on mindful eating. Shortly after attending this workshop I discovered Elyse and Evelyn’s book, “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.” So I bought it with the hope that it would reinforce the ideas that Geneen had taught me. Intuitive Eating felt right to me, but did not help me to lose the weight I wanted to lose. It actually helped me to gain more. It allowed me unconditional permission to eat all the foods I had restricted in my life for so long. Those foods were my “binge” foods. My binge foods were foods I was not allowed to have, but eventually caved in and ate because I wanted them so badly and just couldn’t take it anymore. So when I did allow myself to eat them, it became “The Last Supper” mentality and I binged them. As I slowly started allowing these foods back into my life, my brain became confused because I was used to binging on them. I felt like I had no control and could not stop. I gained about 15 lbs that year. I had also just opened private practice and made some other significant changes in my life. So between emotional/stress eating and trying to figure out how to allow these restricted foods back into my life, my brain was simply a mess. I grew discouraged and frustrated and I ended up putting the book away for about a year. My struggle with food became more challenging because for the first time in my life I had learned that there was another way to eating. I had the knowledge because I read the book and attended Geneen’s workshop. My brain was so confused when it came to eating. One part was telling me that I could eat what I wanted and the other part still wanted to restrict, telling me that certain foods were “bad”. I was in the readiness stage of Intuitive Eating, but I just didn’t know it then.

I can remember this one night, about a year and a half after taking Geneen’s class and reading the Intuitive Eating book by Evelyn and Elyse, I laid crying on the bathroom floor, desperate for help, fearing that I would gain more and more weight as each year went on. I had gone on and off a few more diets that year and nothing helped. I just kept slowly putting on more and more weight. I remember praying for God to show me something more as I knew in my heart that a diet was not going to be my answer. About a half hour after pleading with God, I opened my Facebook and scrolled down to find an advertisement for the book “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.” This advertisement was not just for the book, it was actually for the certification program to become an Intuitive Eating Counselor. I clicked on the link and read all of the requirements. I immediately knew that I wanted to study with Elyse and Evelyn, not only to help my clients, but to help myself. I signed up and began the process of becoming a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. I knew deep inside that Intuitive Eating was my answer and I knew that signing up for this commitment would push me to work through it instead of running away from it.

I started exploring and learning more about the principles. I learned that I had met criteria for principle one: reject the diet mentality. I was more than ready to face my fears of gaining more weight and decided once and for all to just do it. I decided that I was going to submit to the program and start listening to my body, even if I gained 20 more pounds. In that moment I decided to let go of the number on the scale and the size of my clothing. I began to let go of all restricted foods. I began to honor my hunger and fullness. But I gained more weight and I was devastated.

I was another year into the program and fully certified. I was 30 lbs overweight and ashamed of myself, yet in my heart I knew I was healthier than I had been when I was a normal weight. My body was not physically healthier, but my mind was. I had gained weight, but I had also gained freedom from restrictive eating and dieting. There were so many times that I wanted to run back to another diet. What kept me focused on the program were the first 4 chapters in the book, specifically the one on the stages of Intuitive Eating. I can remember reading through stage two: the exploration stage. This stage explains to us that as we desensitize our brains to the old patterns and restrictive behaviors, we may overindulge in the foods we used to restrict. We may gain weight, but eventually we would reach a plateau where the weight gain would stop. At first I would binge on the foods I was reintroducing, but that slowed down rather quickly and I just simply ate those restricted foods every day and maybe even a little past full. Now looking back I can see the pattern. I was working through principle one and struggling with most of the other principles. But stage two reminded me that it is okay and that I needed to explore these foods and new behaviors and that I cannot judge how long that process is to last.

For me the exploration stage lasted about 2 years. And it was really scary. Two years feels like a lifetime. There were many doubts in my head and many thoughts of shame as I was sitting up in front of my clients teaching them about how I believed in intuitive eating, yet I knew and still do know in my heart that my body is not at it’s normal body weight like the book says it will end up. I started running small groups teaching Intuitive Eating and sharing my journey through the program. I began to focus on the progress not the perfection of my journey. The progress was that I was free from dieting and my relationship with food was healed completely. I no longer had a love/hate relationship with food. I finally had freedom to love and appreciate all foods with my whole heart. And I was no longer binging my restricted foods. I was no longer overeating them either. Over much time and exploration, I began to hone in on the skills of honoring my hunger, stopping when I am full and eating foods that are satisfying. The satisfying part was a bit of a struggle because for a good couple of years all I wanted were the foods I restricted because they were what satisfied me.

I am obviously being super honest here, knowing that my story may completely deter people from hopping on the Intuitive Eating self-discovery journey. But I promised myself that I would always be truthful to people. I do not believe in candy coating things. Intuitive Eating has been the hardest thing I’ve ever followed through with. And for 4 years, the reward was mental, not physical. But looking back, I can see that it was the mental part of me that needed healing first. This is not the same for everyone. Some people get the physical first, some people the emotional and some the mental.

I am happy to say that this past summer I had another Intuitive Eating “ah ha” moment. I was teaching an intensive 11 week summer program and when we got to principle 7: Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food. It hit me that this is where I was stuck and this is exactly why I was still overweight. I started keeping a food diary for a few weeks. Sometimes it was just a mental note. Point being that I put my mind to being self-aware of when I was eating, what I was eating and why. I became extremely mindful and payed attention to my hunger and fullness. The “ah ha” moment came when I noticed the pattern that I was eating every single night, especially nights after work. As I came home from work, kids practices and games, etc, I would immediately go to the fridge or cupboards and eat something. Sometimes I was stressed and sometimes I wasn’t. The food choices were not “bad” and they were not “too much”, but the reason behind my eating was not hunger, it was stress and habit. And the foods I was choosing were foods that numb emotions. This helped me to realize that I had a stress problem, not a food problem. Now that I could recognize the pattern, I put my mind to not using food to cope. It was very difficult and I remember going back to the group I was teaching and sharing with them that I was only able to make it through two nights straight, then on the third night I just couldn’t take it anymore and would stress eat. But I kept noticing and being compassionate with myself and two nights, turned into three, then four then five. Now a side note is that in the month of August I rung up a rather large credit card bill, but was not stress eating as much. You see, I numbed out with shopping instead. I quickly noticed this pattern and decided to incorporate some relaxation techniques into my evening. I also assessed my workload at home, work and personal and set some boundaries. I also noticed that transitioning home and upstairs to the shower and bed were difficult for me. I was tired and just wanted to go straight to comfort. Anyhow, there are a number of things I have implemented into my nightly routine and I am happy to say that while this is rather the newest part of my journey, my clothes are looser and my body shape and size is noticeably different from just 6-7 weeks of managing my stress and not using food to cope. I am putting my energy into this principle right now and really being mindful of my feelings and patterns and utilizing a multitude of coping skills and setting boundaries. I am also staying true to my Intuitive Eating journey and mindfully making sure that weight loss and numbers are not my focus. There is no number goal or even expectation of where this journey will lead to. My hope continues to be freedom and peace.

Here is my point to this very long story. Intuitive Eating is a process that takes time. There are 10 principles and I had 35+ years of behavior and patterns to undo. I have been practicing Intuitive Eating for about 4-5 years now and very slowly I have watched my brain patterns and my behaviors change. I cannot diet anymore. It’s like my mind doesn’t know how to do it. My brain would have to relearn it all. My brain has rewired itself to practice honoring my hunger, stopping when I am full, honoring my satisfaction, honoring my exercise, etc. And finally, I am in the exploration stage of honoring my feelings without using food, shopping, etc. I am being compassionate with myself by reminding myself that I could be in this stage for the next year of my life. I am super excited that the physical is finally starting to be healed.

My best advice to you. Stay with it. It does work. It is a long-term process, but the reward is a long-term change. You will never go back to your old ways because your brain literally changes neuropathways. Going back would take just the amount of work that it takes to relearn how to be intuitive. Continue to learn and explore this program one day at a time, one principle at a time and one stage at a time. You will go through the 5 stages with each principle. Be mindful of your expectations of yourself and of this program. Remember that the first stage is readiness, the second is exploration. You cannot get to crystallization without going through the first two stages. It is scary. It is humbling. It is spiritual. Most of all, it is worth every single struggle I’ve had to go through to get to where I am today. If I can do it, then you too can do it!

My Story Part 1

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Do not let your past define who you are today, but allow it to help you to better understand who you want to be tomorrow.
Childhood
Like so many of you, my story starts at a young age. I was a very insecure and fearful little girl. I was raised in a home with my mother, father and two sisters. I was a middle child. My mother is a wonderful and caring woman who worked part-time as a registered nurse. She is an incredibly hard worker with a giant heart for people.

My father is a positive and happy man. He too is a very hard worker. My father became a successful business owner by taking a risk, leaving a job he was not happy in and opening a business of his own. He was rarely home, but when he was it was nice.

My parents were caring parents. They were very supportive of me and encouraged my education, my athletics, and me becoming an independent woman. They raised my sisters and me to become responsible young women, with a strong set of morals and values. Overall, they were very successful parents; the kind of
success I hope to achieve as a parent one day. I had a good relationship with my mother growing up and she is my best friend today. I have a father who I admire and respect and am able to have great conversations with today. I am who I am because of my parents. I learned what I learned because of my parents and today my parents are two of my greatest supports and encouragement.

Another person who greatly impacted my childhood was my grandmother. She was 100% Greek, was loud and loved food. She died in her seventies and suffered many medical conditions including obesity. She triggered a lot of my anxiety growing up. She was very rigid with her thinking. She was emotionally abusive and sometimes even physically. Her expectations of children were completely irrational. She controlled my mother; therefore, she controlled me.

I was afraid of my grandmother. I grew up secretly in fear. I was too afraid to talk about it; therefore, I did not allow myself to feel it. I began to numb my feelings and blocked everything out mostly with food. I started having panic attacks and anxiety by age 7 or 8. I would lie in bed the night before having to see my grandmother and I would panic and cry. My feelings were never validated and I was not taught how to cope with them. I was just told to stop feeling it.

Looking back into my childhood I can see now that I struggled with so many things. I was a sensitive child who was abnormally uncomfortable in loud and busy environments. I can also see now that I was very intuitive. I could and still can sense feelings and
emotions from peoples’ faces, body language and energy; things that most people can’t sense. This sensitivity contributed to me being anxious around people, places and things that were unknown. It also made it very hard to watch the way my mother was treated by my grandmother.

I learned at a young age to ignore my feelings. Like many of you, I learned to feel shame, guilt, fear and insecurity. I learned at a young age to become controlling to protect myself from being emotionally and physically hurt. I developed obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social phobia by middle school. I will talk more about all of this in the next few chapters.

The interesting thing about my social phobia was that I was was extrovert with social phobia. I loved people and craved connection in relationships and fun, but inside I feared rejection and shame. I learned to use my extrovert personality to mask my anxiety. To this day people tell me they never would have guessed that I struggle with anxiety or social phobia.

By age 8 I began using food to mask and comfort my emotions. My eating disorder started out as overeating and comfort eating that quickly grew into binge eating. I was overweight by age 9 which impacted my body image and self- esteem. By age 11 I was dieting and restricting food and by age 15 using
laxatives and diet pills. At age 19 my eating disorder turned into full blown bulimia where I binged on food and purged it with exercise, diet pills and vomiting. I hated how I looked and how I felt. Today I can see that my eating disorder was triggered by my
OCD thinking. My OCD thinking was triggered by my social anxiety and generalized anxiety. It’s no wonder I struggled in and out of depression my whole life. The anxiety was just too much to handle.

I struggled in school socially. I did not struggle to make friends, but I struggled to keep them. I had difficulty trusting people, so I talked about them. I feared rejection, so I stayed emotionally as far away from them as I could. I became so anxious around people that I sat far away from my friends in class. I was still able to mask my anxiety and nobody ever knew.
High School/College
My teen years and twenties were an absolute mess which is where some personality stuff comes in. I learned to behave a certain way to get my needs met. Sometimes this meant seeking attention from others by lying and manipulating or even dressing a certain way. Sometimes it meant making a bigger deal out of something than it really was to get attention. I did not do these things to hurt others; I did them because I was hurting.

I met my husband Steve in high school. We were 15 years old. I couldn’t resist his cute smile and “Z. Cavaricci” pants. Plus he always had gum and bought me lots of food. I was a food addict so this worked very well for me. On a serious note, we fell in love freshman year of high school and spent the next four years together. Steve was and still is very good to me. I love him very much, but there was also a part of me that stayed in this relationship because it was comfortable. I feared men and talking to boys. My social anxiety kept me from being able to communicate with others. I hated myself and felt unworthy. I think part of me feared first dates and talking which made it very easy to stay in the relationship with Steve.

Steve and I parted ways our first year of college. That is when life really fell apart. I turned to partying, alcohol and sex to calm my social anxiety. I didn’t know how I felt and I certainly didn’t know how to deal with it. I just knew I didn’t want to feel it anymore. Drinking alcohol allowed me to let loose. Unfortunately I can’t say it allowed me to be myself because I was acting nothing like myself. Like food, I lost control when I drank alcohol. I did not know my limits and I drank way too much. I threw myself at whoever would give me attention. I was an active bulimic who hated herself. To this day I believe that I was in survival mode, desperately trying to make it in a world that I did not understand at all.

I got back together with Steve at age 20. I was in my third year of college at the University of New Hampshire. I was studying psychology. My goal was to become a clinical mental health counselor and own my own private practice one day. I was learning about addiction that year. That is when I realized I had a problem. I can remember it so vividly. I was taking a class on “Dysfunctional Family Therapy”. We watched a movie about an alcoholic father and our teacher taught us about the family systems theory. He taught us about what it means to be dysfunctional; he taught us the roles and stages of change in a family system. As I read the course material and watched the movies he showed, my affect got flatter and flatter. My mood got more depressed and eventually my eyes were opened and my denial was lifted. At age 20, in the middle of my junior year of college, my life came crashing down.

I met with my professor briefly that year to ask some questions about what he was teaching. I rarely spoke to men unless I was drunk because they intimidated me. But I was desperate to learn more and he was the only person who was able to break through my thick denial. I remember telling him about the feelings I experienced growing up in my home. I told him about the roles that we were playing out in my family and how it all made sense after watching the movie he showed.

For the first time, I cried. And I don’t mean I cried because I was hurt. I mean, I cried because I was devastated. I thought my family was perfect. That moment was the beginning of a long recovery. That moment was the beginning of the 15 years of grief that I was about to endure. That moment was the beginning of my spiritual journey.

My eating disorder became extremely compulsive that year. I was obsessive about what I ate and compulsively purged it. I would workout with fevers and no sleep. I lost weight and was praised for it by family and friends. On the outside I looked like a new person, but on the inside I was dying. On the eve of my 21st birthday the best and worst thing happened. I binge drank that night. I drank shot after shot until I was so intoxicated that Steve had to call 911. I was non-responsive to the world. After a terrifying ambulance ride to the hospital, I am grateful to say that I recovered; well, physically that is.

Four weeks later, I received a letter in the mail. It was my discharge summary. At the bottom was a recommendation for me to see a therapist. It made no sense to me at the time. I still didn’t get the big picture. I needed help, but I could not see it. I went to the University’s Counseling Center. They immediately sent me outside of the school for help. At the time I did not understand why, but now I can see that the issues I was dealing with were not academic. They were personal and they were much more complex and serious than the school counselor could handle.

That spring I started therapy with my first therapist. Her name was Jodi. She was sweet, kind and gentle. So much came to light for me. By working with Jodi in therapy, I was able to gain insight on my issues of anxiety and began to learn about how it impacted my eating disorder. I also disclosed another dark secret that spring; it was the first time I talked about the impact of being molested by a family friend.

I went home that summer and binged, purged and exercised my way through it. With my education as a resource, little things began to make sense. My family dysfunction became clearer. Only this dysfunction did not only exist in my family, but it also existed in my relationship with Steve.

I started a Twelve Step program that year. And it was not because it was suggested by my therapist. It was actually an assignment I was given my junior year of college during a class I was taking called, “Alcoholism and Addictions”. We were required to attend six AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings to learn more about addiction.
I love telling the story about my first meeting. I will never forget it. I showed up with a bag of chocolate chips to listen to addicts talk about their addiction to alcohol. I laugh every time I think about it. In all seriousness, there was something I fell in love with during those meetings. There was a presence there that was unexplainable. It was something I felt deep within my heart. I had a lot of social anxiety, so talking with others out loud in a group was not my thing. But I continued to go back because of the strong presence and connection I felt in the room. It was that year that I learned about a Higher Power whom I choose to call God. It was that moment of my life that I began a spiritual journey and the Twelve Steps became the foundation of my faith. So I was now seeing a therapist and attending Twelve Step meetings thinking to myself, “Man oh man, I am messed up”.

Click here for part 2…

My hope in telling you my story is to help you to uncover yours. My guess is that you can relate to some of the feelings I felt and the experiences I went through. To continue reading more about my journey with self-renewal, check out my book, “RENEWED:  A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal”.  If you would like to learn more about how I can help you to find peace and balance in your life, please visit my website at www.mindbodyspiritcounseling.net.  To join a RENEWED group or attend an upcoming 5 Week Transformational Workshop, please check out the Events at Mind, Body, Spirit Counseling.