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!