Understanding the concepts of intuitive eating and being an intuitive eater are two very different things.
I think for most people, especially those who have spent any amount of time dieting, the concepts of intuitive eating make sense pretty much immediately. I can remember when I first read the principles of intuitive eating and feeling a sort of aha moment. Granted, it would be years before I actively started to practice intuitive eating with myself and clients. But as far as understanding of the (very) basics of intuitive eating, it just clicked.
Not labelling food as good or bad, feeling guilty about eating, or trying to compensate for what or how much I ate…now that was a different story. Turns out, understanding something conceptually is very different from actively applying and creating new thought patterns and behaviors around those concepts. Who knew?
Becoming an intuitive eater takes more work than reading the book (but you should also definitely read the book). We have to practice actively applying those principles, because we have all grown up in a diet culture which has deeply engrained itself into how we think about food and our body. Essentially, diet mentality is a habit we have to break.
To better explain here’s a metaphor I like to use with clients. Think of diet mentality as a well worn trail through the woods. It’s been walked on consistently for years (decades!) so the soil is patted down and solid, and there’s no branches or brush blocking your way, so it’s a really easy and comfortable path to take. If some of your thoughts about food or body feel almost reflexive, that’s why - because your brain has traveled this pathway thousands of times before.
When you try to break old thought patterns, as you do when you try to adopt intuitive eating, you’re literally going off the beaten path. You’re forging a new path through the woods, dodging branches, tripping over roots, and stomping down the loose, leaf covered soil. It’s much more challenging - and scary! - than the nice, cozy path you used to take.
But the cool thing is that each time you take new path through the woods, gradually, it becomes easier to travel. With time, the new path will look like the old path, cozy and well traveled, while the old path will get covered up with fallen leaves and overgrown brush, as it falls into disuse.
The challenge is noticing those thought patterns earlier on, and actively choosing to walk a different path by challenging those unhelpful and inaccurate thoughts and beliefs. This is where working with a non-diet dietitian and/or therapist can be helpful. Mindfulness can help you identify these cognitive distortions. Unlearning what diet culture has taught about food, weight and health, and replacing that with factual knowledge can help in creating those new brain pathways. Feel free to reach out to schedule a free 15 minute phone consult - I’m accepting new virtual and in-person clients in January, or I’d be happy to help connect you to a therapist or dietitian near you.
I hope if you’re feeling frustrated with the process of intuitive eating, or mad at yourself for understanding intuitive eating, yet not feeling very intuitive around food, this gives you a little bit of understanding as to why the journey is such a long and challenging one. Hang in there. Noticing old thought patterns arise doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Every time you notice an old thought rooted in diet mentality, just imagine yourself in the woods, with a Swiss army knife in hand, cutting down a branch that was in your way to help make a clear path. You’re just giving yourself the opportunity to forge a new, healthier path.
You might also like: