Disclosure: This post is not meant to be an eat-like-me kinda post. My goal is to give you a behind the scenes on intuitive eating, sharing what guides my decision making about food and how that plays out on the plate. This post is about WHY I ate the food I ate, not WHAT I ate. I hope that in reading these posts, you see that "healthy" eating can look really different from day to day.
This past Friday I drove up to my parents in northern Virginia after work. Since eating on the road is something that seems to strike fear into the heart of many, I thought it would be a helpful topic for a Why I Ate Wednesday. If you've ever driven 95 from SC to VA, you know the choices can be sparse! And why does hunger always seem to hit in that stretch from Fayetteville to Richmond where there are no options other than Wendy's?? I'm not opposed to fast food, but no thanks on that one.
I hope this post will also be helpful for you if you struggle with occasional stomach upset, since this was also a day mine was feeling a little wonky. I know for a lot of people, IBS and stomach issues can be really triggering for disordered eating, so hopefully this helps you see how I navigated food choices when I'm not feeling so hot.
When I first woke up in the morning, I was feeling queasy and bleh. The night before, we ate a super late dinner because we got caught up hanging out with Scott's sister before she went back to California. Eating when I'm overly hungry always makes me feel sick, no matter what I eat. It's a good reminder to honor my hunger because I feel absolutely awful when I don't! While usually I feel a lot better in the morning, I still felt sick in the morning, and a normal amount of breakfast food sounded awful. To settle my stomach, I had a cup of coconut YQ by Yoplait yogurt (sample). It was cool and creamy and the perfect amount of sweet. It's easy to skip eating when your stomach is upset, but I find it just makes me feel worse long term, so try just getting something light and easily digestible in.
About an hour or so later, my stomach felt much more settled, so I had a light but satisfying breakfast of homemade dill buttermilk bread topped with smoked salmon, capers and cucumbers. I don't normally bake bread from scratch, but I was watching the new episode of Will and Grace with Nick Offerman guest starring as a celebrity baker, and it made me crave fresh baked bread. Or maybe Nick Offerman (swoon). Or both.
I had afternoon clients that day, so after working from home in the morning, I packed up leftover lentil meatballs and pasta with lemony pesto. In this case, the why behind what I ate was pretty simple - it's what I had leftovers of and I needed to eat! I mean, it was tasty and all, and really satisfying, but sometimes food decisions are more to do with what's easily on hand. Sometimes I get to a point where I'm a little bit tired of leftovers, so if I can just freeze it for later, I will. But sometimes I just eat it anyway because I hate wasting food, and I know more tasty meals are coming in the future.
As a snack, I had a Bob's Red Mill muesli cup (sample) that I made with kefir and sweetened with honey. Since my stomach was still a little wonky, I thought getting some oats and probiotics into my stomach might be a smart idea. I think this snack was a good example of me practicing gentle nutrition. If you're not sure if a decision is rooted in gentle nutrition or diet mentality, here's a few questions that can be helpful:
- Am I seeking health, or am I trying to manipulate my size?
- Is this choice rooted in self care or restriction?
- If I felt 100% comfortable in my body, would I still make this same decision?
After that point, I was done with clients and ready to hit the road to drive up to Virginia. It's about a 7 hour drive from my house, and since I usually eat about every 3-4 hours, I knew that meant I'd be eating at least twice in the car. Sometimes I bring some snacks with me - bars, chips, crackers, etc - but I was running out the door and completely forgot. Back in the day, I would get really neurotic about packing lots of food so I wouldn't have to stop and (god forbid!) get fast food, but now if I know I'm going to be driving long enough for a meal, I plan on going through a drive through and picking up whatever sounds good at the time. Fast food is still FOOD, no matter how many ingredients it might have, and I promise a dinner of burgers and fries on the road isn't going to kill you.
Usually when I hit the road for a long road trip, I stop by Whole Foods on the way out to pick up a more meal-like snack. I prefer meal food to snack food, and I like to have something a little more substantial so I don't have to take a snack break every couple hours. I almost always get a package of sushi, which is probably weird road trip food, but it's got a mix of protein and carbs that's really satisfying, and is easy to eat with my hands and not make a mess. I also picked up a tea with guayusa to keep me caffeinated and alert on the road.
By the time I realized I was hungry again, I was in that long stretch of highway where there's not much to eat. I think because I was focused on driving in the rain, I didn't notice hunger coming on until it was really strong. Fun fact: stress and distraction both suppress hunger signs, so if you catch yourself going from slightly hungry to ravenous in 2 seconds, it might be a sign that you were stressed or otherwise mentally occupied.
When I get overly hungry, my cravings get really specific, which is annoying, because extreme hunger means you should probably eat now. But alas, this happens every time I get uncomfortably hungry, and because my blood sugar is already low, and I'm hangry, I end up pushing hunger even further until I can get the very specific food I want. So yes, I made the same mistake with eating (getting overly hungry) two days in a row. Sometimes I take my own advice. Other times hanger turns me into a stubborn teenager.
That very specific food I was craving was a spicy fried chicken sandwich and waffle fries from Chick Fil-A. So of course instead of stopping at one of the approximately 17 Taco Bells and Wendy's before hitting a Chick Fil-A, I pushed it another 30 minutes. By the time I got there, my hunger level was pretty primal. While my meal was really satisfying taste-wise, I felt awful afterwards - reflux, sharp pains in my stomach and bloating.
Feeling sick after eating something, especially after eating something you think of as "bad" can trigger a lot of guilt and shame. It's really easy to blame the food, especially after eating something you think of as "unhealthy." And sure, eating a spicy chicken sandwich when I knew my stomach would already be upset probably wasn't the most intelligent decision, but I also know I've had spicy fried chicken sandwiches many times in my life and felt just fine afterwards. An upset stomach sometimes is just a side effect of living life in this weird yet amazing body that sometimes does gross things. Unless symptoms are regularly affecting your quality of life, I don't know that getting all sleuthy trying to figure out what's caused your stomach upset is going to be super helpful - and probably more likely to lead you down a rabbit hole of blaming food. And even if you do identify a food that makes you feel bleh, it doesn't conflict with intuitive eating to sometimes choose to eat that food anyway.
The last thing I had that day was an iced latte with coconut milk from Starbucks to keep me alert on the road. Sometimes if I'm feeling tired and I've got driving to do, I'll pick up an energy drink from a gas station. I know some of you may be surprised, thinking it's really unhealthy, but it's a heck of a lot healthier than falling asleep on the road!
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