Wellness Wednesday: How Long Does It Take To Become An Intuitive Eater?

It's the million dollar question for anyone struggling to make peace with food - how long does it take to become an intuitive eater? 

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 all the foods you've been avoiding 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 and not stopping until you're unbearably full.

And yet...

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. Even though you know you're just a little bloated from an extra serving of beans, the "feeling fat" sends you into panic mode. It takes all your willpower not to pull the scale out of the closet "just to check." There's still times you eat to a point where you feel uncomfortably full. On busy days at work, you think about slowing down and enjoying a mindful lunch, but instead decide to eat it quickly at the computer while checking emails. Guilt and shame about what you did, didn't eat or how you ate still abounds.

You're doing the work. You see the light at the end of the tunnel. But how much longer until you finally feel like you have a peaceful relationship with food.

I wish there was an easy answer, but it's SO individual from person to person. For one client, simply my giving her 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. And if it does take that long, know that there's nothing wrong with you. If you've been dieting or restricting for years, then it may take years to break those old neural pathways driving your diet-influenced thoughts and behaviors around food.

Also keep in mind, there is no "official" intuitive eater. Just as intuitive eating isn't an all or nothing approach to eating, being an intuitive eater isn't an all or nothing stage of being. There's no test that you get a certificate or card or smiley face sticker for passing. How in tune you are with your intuition changes as your life changes.

According to The Book, 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.

But just think, we eat at least 3 times a day - more likely 6 or 7. It's not unreasonable to expect to eat past the point of comfortable satiety some of those times. And did you know the average person makes over 200 food decisions each day? Feeling guilty about just one of those shouldn't strip you of your intuitive eating label.

As the seasons of life change, so does your relationship with food. You may reach a point where you safely consider yourself an intuitive eater, then get diagnosed with a medical condition that necessitates changing your diet and limiting foods you love. Going through a transition period as you learn how to take care of your body in a new way is to be expected. Life can change in so many ways that affects how much time you have 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. As these life events happen, I can almost guarantee it will lead to less mindful meals and turn, feeling less in tune with your body's needs. And as you get older, your body will change. As tempted as we are to fight it, look at any 80 year old next to any 20 year old and we can know this to be true. Of course it will effect our relationship with food as we learn to accept the changes in our body.

Self compassion is your best friend in this journey. If you're feeling stuck or frustrated at a perceived lack of progress, remind yourself that what you're doing is hard - like, really hard! It sounds cliche, but in the case, it's the journey, not the destination that matters. Judging your journey based on an imagined outcome is a distraction from the learning and growth you have to do to day. Ironically, it's that judgement that slows you down from getting to where you want to be - in a place of peace around food.