Ahh. The million dollar question.
You've read The Book. You've moved your scale from the bathroom to the upstairs closet, where it's now gathering dust. You're giving yourself permission to eat foods you been avoided for years. You're slowing down and tuning in while you eat - actually tasting your food! You've started to get reacquainted with the subtle shifts in how you feel as your stomach fills and empties rather than waiting to eat until you're unbearably hungry to eat, and then not stopping until you're unbearably full.
When you notice your jeans feeling snug, you immediately second guess everything you ate over the last 48 hours, despite the fact that it was tasty, satiated you, and you felt pretty good while eating it and afterwards. You find yourself tempted to pull the scale out of the closet just to check and make sure it’s bloat from that bean burrito you had for lunch, and that you’re not gaining weight. The next day you pack an unsatisfying salad for lunch, trying to be “good”, only to find yourself mindlessly munching on the candy bowl all afternoon. Hungry and tired at dinner that night, you eat past the point of comfortable satisfaction and end up feeling stuffed. You lay awake in bed that night wondering, “will I ever be an intuitive eater? Maybe I’m too broken to make peace with food.”
You're doing the work. You see the light at the end of the tunnel. But how much longer until you finally feel like food and eating isn’t so stressful. How long until I become an intuitive eater?
I wish there was an easy answer, but it's SO individual from person to person. For one client, simply my giving verbal permission to eat carbs and sugar was enough to get off the restrict/binge-cycle. It's hardly ever that easy. For most, making peace with food is a journey of many years. If you’re finding that it’s taking that long, know that there's nothing wrong with you. If you've been dieting or restricting for most your life, then it may take years to break those old neural pathways driving restrictive and overeating behaviors around food.
Also keep in mind, there is no "official" intuitive eater. Being an intuitive eater isn't a black or white definition. There's no test you can pass or certificate you’re awarded or license you earn. It’s also really normal for intuitive eaters to make decisions that aren’t so intuitive on occasion, or to temporarily fall back into old restrictive behaviors when experiencing a life change. It may sound like a trope, but intuitive eating truly is a journey and not a destination.
According to the book Intuitive Eating, an intuitive eater is someone who makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma. They honor hunger, respect fullness and enjoy the pleasure of eating - most of the time.
Just think, we eat at least 3 times a day - more likely 6 or 7. It's unreasonable to expect to never miss the mark with hunger and fullness. We make countless food decisions each and every day - how could you possibly feel good about each and every one of those decisions?
As the seasons of life change, so does your relationship with food. You may reach a point where you consider yourself an intuitive eater, then get diagnosed with a medical condition that necessitates changing your eating habits. Going through a transition period as you learn how to take care of your body in a new way is to be expected. Life may change to where you have less time for self care - projects at work, projects at home, having kids, an illness in the family, taking on a volunteer role, going back to school, etc. In these situations, you’ll likely be less mindful around food, and as a result less in tune with your body’s needs, and possibly make a few mistakes in eating. It’s okay.
Eating behaviors are deeply intertwined with body image, so changes in attitudes towards your body will inevitably affect your relationship with food. And when it comes to body acceptance, it’s never a done deal. As you go through life, your body will change. You may try and fight it, look at any 80 year old next to a 20 year old and we can know this to be true. The process of accepting your body is never done because your body is constantly changing.
If you're feeling stuck or frustrated with your intuitive eating journey, please know that what you're doing is hard - really hard! You’re going against years and years of messaging you’ve absorbed from diet culture, and doing the opposite of what you’ve always been told to do - restrict and control food. Try not to judge yourself on some imagined outcome, as it is a distraction from the learning and growth you’ve already accomplished.
This post was originally shared November 2016 and has been updated to give you the best possible content!
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