Intuitive Eating

August 25, 2008

Though I am still not through The Four-Day Win by Martha Beck, I’d been wanting to read Intuitive Eating for a long time now.

I finally bit the bullet this weekend when it became available through my library’s inter-library exchange program. (Beware: long blog entry ahead!)

Within the first few pages, I realized I am a restrictive eater, even when trying not to be.

I also realized that my “thesis” that dieting led to my disordered eating was proven, granting me a strange sense of validation. In fact, there’s even a whole chapter in this second edition book titled “Intuitive Eating: The Ultimate Path Toward Healing from Eating Disorders,” which I found compelling and timely.

Though “eating disorders” are mostly described, they do also use the expression “disordered eating” several times. And in nearly every case study they offer, it was dieting and the subsequent euphoria/confidence from it that compelled these subjects to, in time, engage in self-destructive behaviors.

I know in my heart of hearts that I didn’t have a problem with eating before dieting and finding success with Weight Watchers.

And though I can’t blame my disordered eating habits solely on food issues–I understand now that it’s a coping mechanism for anxiety–I know that I still do not have a healthy, “normal” relationship with food or exercise.

I still live in a very black-and-white world where, even if I am not obsessing, I am still exercising every day using a heart-rate-monitor that tells me how many calories I am burning, and I am still journaling every Point I eat.

This is progress, as before blogging and therapy, I didn’t feel comfortable taking rest days, and would push my body even when I was tired to see 500 vs 460 calories burned, for example. And back then, in addition to journaling on Weight Watchers, I was counting calories on Sparkpeople, too. Fortunately, I’ve stopped obsessing so much, but I am not there yet.

I read the book cover-to-cover: in bed, at the gym, and laying in our hammock outside. I read it voraciously and absorbed as much as I could.

Today, I’d like to share with you the basic tenets of Intuitive Eating, from, the site maintained by the authors of Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.D.A. who are, as you can see, both registered dieticians.

These are their descriptions, not mine, and if you follow Weight Watchers’ Core Program, which encourages eating only til satisfaction, you’ll notice that many of these principles are similar.

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.

2. Honor Your Hunger
Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food
Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

4. Challenge the Food Police.
Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created . The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness
Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

8. Respect Your Body Accept your genetic blueprint.
Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.

9. Exercise–Feel the Difference
Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.

10 Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition
Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.

So now I have read the book and shared the basic principles. I believe I am in the right place now, mentally, physically and emotionally, to learn to eat intuitively, to trust myself and go back to my infant mentality toward food that we all shared.

This weekend I actually practiced several tenets which are combined in these examples. I had several meals out, and really listened to my body and stopped when I was full, still making healthy choices along the way.

For example, this meant eating half my salmon filet and all my broccoli at lunch (taking the rest to go), and enjoying three toasted pita points and tzatziki (my fave) plus a Greek salad with chicken for dinner and taking some of the chicken home with me for later. And while this is how I have always eaten for a long time now on WW, it was the first time I realized why I was eating this way; not because of Points in the bank, but because of reaching genuine satisfaction. I was actually in tune with my body.

On Saturday, I ate real ice cream with a friend (thanks, D!) for the very first time in adult recollection (even before WW, I always ordered fat-free frozen yogurt, Tasti-DLite, or some other kind of reduced-fat soft-serve). This time, I ate a normal, healthy scoop of butter pecan and savored every bite. No Food Police here!! I gave in to a real, rich food–enjoyed it–and moved on.

Sunday, I honored my hunger when I started to feel tummy rumbles in between brunch and dinner, and ate an apple with 1/2 T peanut butter. Totally did the trick. And at dinner, I stuck to healthy portions of BBQ chicken, homemade sweet potato “fries” and roasted asparagus. No guilt.

So now what?

I believe the next logical step would be for me to go a week without journaling, weighing and measuring and to revert back to Core–what I keep telling myself I will do.

Despite eating healthy on Flex, I just am not quite ready for that just yet. I mean, I still eat mostly Core foods, but the “not journaling” business truthfully scares me right now; food is the only thing I can control at the moment, and I don’t mean control in a negative way. Journaling helps keep my sanity during especially tough times; it’s reliable and keeps me feeling in control of “something” when all else around me isn’t mine to manage.

I am willing to try it for a day, but I just don’t think it’ll be today. Here’s why … I think the toughest tenet to get a grip on will be #7, Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food, and right now is probably the best–and worst–time for me to try to work on this one, given the tenuous situation at home.

(In fact, Dr. G. basically said we’re not even talking about food issues right now; she wants me to get through these five weeks (now down to 3.75 weeks) and focus on coping with that anxiety before we tackle any food issues).

So… I will try to practice these tenets as much as I can each day and make a concerted effort–once my home is mine again (or if I feel confident/secure enough to bite the bullet) to go without journaling/weighing/measuring.

Because that is the one thing holding me back from truly being in touch with my body, its needs and wants, and is ultimately blocking my own path to healthy, 100% guilt-free living and enlightenment.

How about you? Have you ever read Intuitive Eating or applied any of these principles successfully? Which ones, if any, are you interested in applying?

Entry Filed under: Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, intuitive eating. Tags: , , .

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Yasmin  |  August 25, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Whoa…I don’t know about this one! “unconditional permission to eat”? I have too much of that already! I can see, though, how some of the other ideas could translate, especially learning to cope with emotions without using food. Can I just work on that one for now and leave the “listen to your body” and “eat what your body wants” stuff for somewhere (far!) down the line? :)

  • 2. Bethany  |  August 25, 2008 at 5:22 am

    I love the idea of intuitive eating because it makes so much sense. Just eat when you’re hungry (whatever you’re hungry for) and only eat until you’re full. My mom got started with this a few years ago, and at first I was like, “seriously, I would only want to eat dessert.” And she told me, go ahead and eat dessert as long as that’s what you really want and you only eat until you’re full - pretty soon your body is going to demand something other than dessert!

    Well, long story short, I’ve watched the pounds fall off of my mom, and recently began trying to eat more intuitively myself. It’s not always easy, because sometimes I really just want to eat, but quite often it’s freeing. I know that if I really want something, I can have it. And also, if I wait for hunger, everything tastes better.

    I’m still struggling, but when I get it right, it feels great. Every day is another opportunity for me to get better at this!

    Sorry for the super long comment!

  • 3. Molly  |  August 25, 2008 at 9:00 am

    I need to chase the food police away!

    I also need to honor feelings without using food. Sad, tough weekend for me & I’m left on Monday morning feeling wrung-out. It will be a challenging week to deal with that in other ways.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  • 4. lissa10279  |  August 25, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Yas, they actually encourage you to work on it at your own pace–the point is that eventually we’ll realize we don’t need X b/c it will always be there.

    Bethany, you’re on your way to being an intuitive eater like your mom–isn’t that amazing? I so want to be there.

    Molly, totally!! Sorry you had a tough weekend…me, too…I didn’t blog about it here but it was pretty awful.

    Hang in there!

  • 5. Allison  |  August 25, 2008 at 10:29 am

    I’ve been wanting to read this book. Thanks, Meliss, for giving me the tenents…and the motivation to do something about it!

  • 6. lissa10279  |  August 25, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I DEF recommend it! I got it from the library but could have easily highlighted it like Wisman’s Macro books in college ;-)

  • 7. CS  |  August 25, 2008 at 11:58 am

    I am so glad you brought up this topic because i read this book last year and have been having a lot of trouble following Intuitive Eating and was curious how other disordered eaters have been approaching it. The theory itself makes to much sense - eat when you’re hungry, stop when full - and i think most people can eventually get to this place. However, the tenet of “not using food to cope with emotions” for a lot of other people is almost insurmountable. It’s an issue for which a lot of us here (mysef included) are seeking professional help and medication and I don’t think the book gives enough understanding and importance to this mental component. I have tried to give Intuitive Eating a shot a few times. I was most successful for a full week this past Spring, but then i had a major binge after some emotional issue i was facing and i panicked and went back to counting calories and over-excercising. I can do Intuitive Eating when my life is calm, but it is not a tool I can rely on when my life gets a bit bumpy so I’m not really sure where I stand with it right now. I keep saying i’m going to let go of the calorie counting and embrace Intuitive Eating, but since it’s an-all-or-nothing type program in terms of letting go of the calorie counting and this is such an emotional crutch for me, it has just been too hard for me so far.

  • 8. lissa10279  |  August 25, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience, CS… I agree it’s not a tool for everyone at every time and I don’t know the approach will work for me, but I’d like to get there.

    One thing I liked about this approach was you could take as much of it as a time as you could and it is pretty explicit that someone who IS bulimic or anorexic needs to be at a stable weight and seeking help before taking this plunge. The emotional eating part is where I, too, struggle, and is also why I’ve not committed myself to following it 100%. True, there will always be stress, but right now I’m in the midst of a particularly stressful situation where tracking food/exercise is actually keeping me sane vs making it worse. #7 could really be a book all its own. I think 90% of the time, I can adopt the other tenets. It’s the emotional part I struggle with from time to time–i.e., now.
    Ironically, I haven’t binged or over-exercised this whole time they’ve been here.

    That said, I just had a chew-and-spit incident (knowing full well 1) it was not being kind to my body and 2) knowing it was anxiety. Did it stop me? No.

  • 9. Cathy  |  August 25, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    honestly I’ve been REALLY wanting you to take this plunge for a while now. I’ve always gotten the feeling that you just don’t trust your self. you have never wanted to get rid of your crutches — the numbers. and now it seems you REALLY want to. and in the midst of emotional chaos no less! I commend you for that because that’s pretty brave!

    I know you pretty well. I know you’ll push yourself that extra 30 seconds at the gym just so you can see 400 calories burned on the HR monitor. I know you’ll finish off you ww serving of chicken because you weighed it out and know how many pts it is. not to say I haven’t done these things — I have and often still do! but I’ve been enlightened lately when reading certain books about eating like thin people who don’t obsess about these things and realizing why I’ve never been thin. the lightbulb is now going off for you and for me and it’s a freeing realization.

    I’m finally realizing it’s not supposed to be an uphill battle. food is not supposed to be keeping us from reaching out goals. Food is a joy in life and if you treat it kindly it will respond appropriately.

    I have read about intuitive eating — I heard the website is all you need. or should I read the book as well?

  • 10. lissa10279  |  August 25, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    It’s because I don’t trust myself, Cathy! I’ve gotten rid of some of the crutches but not all…which is why I am eager to embrace this, though the timing is tough.

    I don’t want to obsess about these things, but right now I feel like they’re the only things I can control. Which is scary. So letting hgo 100% now doesn’t seem to make sense if it will cause me more anxiety.

    You’re right–food shouldn’t be an uphill battle; it should be a component of our day, not the bulk of our thoughts.

    I think the site does a good job of touching the surface but the case studies are good to read. It’s nothing new but I liked the approach and think the book is worth it. Esp. free from the library ;)

  • 11. emily  |  August 25, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I have this book too. :) I’m on my third week of it, and honestly, the only way I could really let go and do it is because the eating disorder was making me an Infertile Myrtle and I had to ask myself if I wanted to be thin or pregnant. The answer is pregnant, and if that means gaining a few pounds (eek), I guess I have to. I’m listening to my body, but it’s really hard sometimes when I just want to eat something. But also strangely freeing! I never have to worry if I’m going to have enough calories saved up if I do get hungry. Good luck!

  • 12. lissa10279  |  August 25, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Emily, I am also in that boat–in the next year or two, we’d like to start our family and I need to be at a good place, mentally, to handle it. Good for you listening to your body!!!

    I want to feel this “freeing” everyone talks about but I just don’t feel 100% ready yet.

  • 13. Internal Battle: Me vs. M&hellip  |  August 26, 2008 at 12:16 am

    [...] On the one hand, I want to be “free” from the chains of dieting, which I talked about yesterday, being tenet “numero uno” of Intuitive Eating. [...]

  • 14. Jen  |  September 6, 2008 at 10:06 am

    I found a link to your page on a WW board. I could be writing your blog, you sound so much like me. I’ve read Intuitive Eating as well as Geneen Roth’s books (very similar and helpful!) I’m desperately trying to find a balance between eating healthfully and being at a weight that I want and not strictly dieting. I wholeheartedly agree that dieting contributes to disordered eating. Losing weight on Flex a few years ago ultimately made my disordered eating skyrocket. When I truly listen to Intuitive Eating principles I feel free, healthy, calm and my disordered eating usually is at a minimum. It’s when I start comparing my body to what it was or what I wish it would be that sends me into disordered eating land again.

  • 15. lissa10279  |  September 6, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    Hi Jen, thanks!! It is so hard to find that balance. As a Libra, I’m ALWAYS striving for balance but sometimes it just doesn’t come. IE is awesome and I love Geneen’s columns but have yet to read her books. Good luck to you and it’s hard not to compare ourselves but it’s nice to think of our bodies as temples,gifts from the Gods, to care for, nurture and grow! :)

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