Two Things I've Learned From Being Curious, Not Judgmental, in Intuitive Eating

If I wasn't a dietitian, I would be either an anthropologist or an archaeologist. For starters, I'm still a five-year-old kid when it comes to dinosaurs. The fossil and cultural anthropology exhibits at natural history museums are my happy place. I would also love to wear skinny khaki cargo pants, white button up with rolled sleeves, leather backpack and boots with just the right about of wear, and a wool panama hat to work every day, because that's what real anthropologists/archaeologists wear, right?? 

Mostly, I love the fact that with these sciences, there's so much that's a mystery. You're not going to know everything about the dinosaurs from one fossil, or fully understand an ancient culture from a pottery shard. Instead, their job is to discover clues, examine them with an open mind, then put those clues into the greater context of what's already known to help answer specific questions. It all centers on curiosity! 

When I read Intuitive Eating, one of the tools that was most helpful for me was learning to identify the different voices in my head. There's the Food Police, that inner voice that said I was "bad" for eating a third slice of pizza or or "good" for eating my tofu stir fry. Another is the Diet Rebel, that sassy little lady in my head who says, "oh, so you're telling me sugar is bad?? Well, screw you! I'm gonna go eat ALL the cookies and show you!" Unsurprisingly (to my parents at least), my Food Rebel voice was STRONG. 

What's been most helpful for me as I healed my relationship with food is getting in touch with my inner Food Anthropologist. It's a voice that makes observations, without judgement, then pieces those neutral observations together to solve a problem or answer a question. The Food Anthropologist might say "I didn't eat breakfast today. I also had a stressful afternoon. That's probably why I was craving chips when I came home from work, both to destress and because I was hungry," while the Food Police would say "Ugh, I'm such a slob for eating so many chips...what's wrong with me??" 

In my practice, I help clients harness their inner Food Anthropologist by approaching their unwanted eating concerns with curiosity, not judgement. I continue to practice the mantra of curiosity over judgement myself, since intuitive eating is a lifelong practice and not an endpoint. Here's two things I've recently learned about myself and my eating from being curious, not judgmental. 

Judgement over the amount that I'm eating...just leads to more eating. 

This weekend I picked up some brownie crisps from Trader Joe's, an impulse buy because I was really craving chocolate. When I got in the car, I opened the package and ate a few on the way home to scratch that chocolate craving itch, expecting that to be enough for the time being. One thing I've learned through intuitive eating is that with chocolate, my pleasure point is pretty low. A few chocolate almonds, a square or dark chocolate, or a couple bites of rich, chocolate cake and in most cases, that satisfies and chocolate no longer tastes very good to me. That's not the case with other desserts, like chunky ice cream or other desserts with lots of different flavors and textures, but it is with chocolate. 

Despite most of my prior experience eating chocolate, when I got home, my brain was still focused on it. I ate some more, but as I did, a thought popped up judging how much I was eating, and then another thought popped up judging the fact that I was judging my eating. All the meanwhile my brain was yelling chocolate, Chocolate, CHOCOLATE!! 

I took a step back from the judgment and instead, I gave myself permission to eat as much as I needed, reassured myself that like always, my eating would balance out with time. Then I got curious. I realized when I first ate the brownie crisps, it was in the car. I wasn't being very mindful, so I probably never satisfied my initial craving - no wonder I still wanted more. Then the judgement just made me feel shame and guilt, which made me want more chocolate. 

Sometimes stomach issues have nothing to do with food. 

I've written before about how I struggled with IBS for years. For me, it was really awful abdominal pains, bloating, and heartburn that affected my life on a daily basis. The solution turned out to be dealing with my anxiety/stress, followed by incorporating more fermented foods and also doing food sensitivity testing (I don't recommend this for anyone with disordered eating because that has such a HUGE impact on digestion, and testing involves a temporary period of restriction). 

A few months ago, my stomach issues flared back up. My eating habits were no different, nor was I experiencing any more stress/anxiety than normal. I resisted my urges to get all dietitian-y with it, and instead, just sat back to observe. I noticed that I rarely had stomach pains on the weekend, even though I eat richer food, stay up later, and usually have a few drinks. I also noticed that I rarely got my stomach pains the days I worked from home. 

Then it hit me. It wasn't my diet. It was my jeans. 

I went up a size in pants and bought a few new pairs of jeans earlier this year, all of which were high waisted. The pains/bloating always started when I ate lunch at the office wearing those jeans that were more constricting around my stomach, made worse by the fact that I usually eat lunch at my desk, hunched over my computer. Y'all, the solution has literally been unbuttoning my jeans when I eat lunch (and desperately trying to remember to button them back up before my next client), and being a bit more conscious of my fullness levels when I'm in my new jeans. Problem solved. 

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments! Anything that you've learned in the intuitive eating process by being curious, not judgmental? 

Are you ready to rediscover the joy of eating? 

I work with clients locally in Columbia, SC and virtually throughout the US, helping them discover their happiest and healthiest lives by nourishing a healthy relationship with food and their body. Learn more about my philosophy here.

More Intuitive Eating Support: 

Ditching Those Last Diet Rules

Ditching Those Last Diet Rules

Are False Beliefs Holding You Back?

Are False Beliefs Holding You Back?

What If Intuitive Eating Doesn't Work?

What If Intuitive Eating Doesn't Work?