A couple weeks ago I came across a Podcast called “Food Psych” by Christy Harrison, which is about intuitive eating. I originally heard her speak as a guest on the “Mindful Strength” podcast Ep. 166. I have since listened to a handful of the Food Psych podcast episodes, and every time I listen to a new episode the concept clicked even more and reaffirms that this is the direction I should be heading with regards to my eating and my overall health. Christy is all about Health At Every Size (H.A.E.S.) and overcoming the influences of diet culture. I won’t speak much about Health At Every Size because that could be a whole separate blog post. The concept of intuitive eating is exactly what it sounds like, it is all about learning listen to and trust your body. Being a yoga teacher, this concept really resonated with me because listening to your body is a huge component of the yoga practice. This is why learning more about what intuitive eating looks like has really piqued my interest. I want to point out that I am not trained in nutrition or a registered dietitian. I just enjoy learning more about how live a mindful lifestyle that will lead to success.
I’ll start by getting a little vulnerable and talking about my own past relationship with food. Generally growing up I had a healthy apatite. I always viewed myself as someone who could eat a ton of food and had no shame associated with it. I remember in-between hockey and ringette practices I would go to the near by dinner for a poutine and milkshake simply because I needed to eat, and those things were delicious. My parents never made a big deal about food and we always had a wide variety of food in the house. My mom was also an amazing cook and we lived outside of town so most of our meals were homecooked from scratch. If we were travelling for sports or ran into town for groceries, we would go through the drive thru. I always loved stopping for a fast-food treat. The first time I started dieting was in 2008 when I was in grade 12. I can’t remember exactly why I start monitoring my food intake, but I started by tracking calories and right away I started losing weight. Prior to this I never viewed myself as big I just knew I could be skinner. People started to notice, and I started to get comments on my weight loss, most comments were positive and mainly from other females, these comments reaffirmed to me the idea that I looked better at a lower weight and made me feel proud of myself for being able to control what I was eating. I remember one night my best friend confronted me, worried I had an eating disorder. I was quick to reassure her I didn’t, although I really didn’t have an eating disorder my relationship with food had become very disordered. In the moment I really didn’t think I was doing anything that could be potentially harmful to my body. I was researching calorie counting online and most of the information I was finding was not warning of the risks that come with restricting calories but instead made it seem completely normal and an acceptable way to lose weight. Looking back and knowing what I know now I was not eating enough food to properly fuel my body for the amount of activity I was doing. At the time I was playing soccer, high school hockey and ringette, I also began to exercise outside of my scheduled practices. I can vividly remember nights of scarfing down anything I could get my hands on. This was my bodies way of telling me that I needed to be eating more to properly support the amount of activity I was doing, but I didn’t realize this, I just saw it as a moment of weakness. This period of disordered eating only lasted for 6 months and the summer before my first year of University my eating habits had become healthier again, I also gained back most of the weight I had loss.
I didn’t really try to diet again until the year of my wedding in 2015. Someone lent me the book “The 10 Day Detox Diet”, which was a sugar detox. At the time I didn’t think I needed to lose weight, but I did think I could be eating healthier. When I started the 10-day detox I assumed I would only lose a couple pounds, but I ended up losing a substantial amount. The book sold the diet as being a healthy way of eating and living. If you followed the meal plan in the book it ended up being a low-calorie low carbohydrate diet. It was during this bout of dieting that I started to view some foods as “bad”. I had a hard time ordering at restaurants because I only wanted to eat sugar free “whole” foods. This only lasted a couple months until I could no longer maintain that level of restriction. Again, I slowly regained the weight I had loss. My final bout of dieting started when my first son was 10 months old. I bought FitBit and the FitBit app came with a calorie tracking feature that I decided to use. The difference this time was that I was eating an appropriate amount a food for the quantity of activity I was doing. I felt well fueled and didn’t feel the need to binge eat. I hypothesize the reason for this was that the FitBit accounted for the calories I was burning due to activity, so it was more accurate at estimating how much I should have been eating. I also wasn’t restricting the type of food I was eating at this time and I could tell my relationship with food was actually improving. I was able to have junk food when I craved it without feeling guilty. I also stopped eating to the point of discomfort, which use to be a common occurrence in the past even when I wasn’t dieting. However, I was constantly thinking of how many calories I had left for the day and what I would eat for my next meal, which is another example of a disordered relationship with food. It was also time consuming to input everything I was eating into the calorie tracking app. I knew I could not sustain this behavior forever.
After getting pregnant with my second son, in 2019, I continued to track what I ate but I was not limiting myself because I knew I needed more calories to support my body as it grew a baby. I got to a point where I was just getting annoyed with the time it took to track what I was eating and decided to take a break from it. While taking a break from tracking I felt like I was eating more than I needed to, so I decided to start tracking again at the beginning of the new year in 2021. After tracking again for about 6 weeks, I felt myself getting frustrated and feeling like I needed to be eating more than my tracking app was telling me. Again, I wasn’t limiting myself or overly worried if I went over my calorie limit for the day. It was still time consuming, and I didn’t find joy in inputting the data into my phone. I began to question what I was doing and if it was worth it or added anything positive to my life. During this time, I happened to be listening to the Mindful Strength Podcast, that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, and Christy Harrison happened to be the guest speaker and was talking about intuitive eating. I think this was a case of right place at the right time, as I don’t know if I would have been as receptive to her message about intuitive eating if I had of heard the podcast two years ago. I deleted my calorie counting app the next day.
A big lesson I have learned from listening the “Food Psych” podcast is how embedded diet culture is in our society and how, in recent years, it has strategically changed its image to better disguise itself as “wellness”. Some forms of diet culture are still obvious, like a sign in a gym window saying, “join our weight loss challenge”. The sneakier examples include programs that claim that they are not diets but instead insist they are simply promoting a healthy lifestyle. You must use your critical thinking skills and really pay attention to the massages that you are being bombarded with everyday in order to recognize diet culture messages. A trick I have been using for determining whether messages are touting the diet culture ideology is to look for key words such as cleanse, cheat, eliminate, weight loss and clean eating, just to name a few. It is also important to pay attention to what is being promised and promoted. If weight is mentioned, then it is most likely a diet. If you are not 100% sure if you have been deceived by diet culture, Christy Harrison’s website offers her definition of what diet culture is. Since diet culture has become so good at hiding behind the veil of wellness it is easy to understand how so many well-meaning people have fallen into its trap, myself included.
Beginning my intuitive eating journey has been a positive and enlightening experience so far. Before I get into what intuitive eating has been like for me, I’ll explain more about what intuitive eating is.
There are 10 guiding principles of intuitive eating:
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police (the voice in your head)
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Feel Your Fullness
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
- Respect Your Body
- Movement – Feel the Difference
- Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition
None of these principles mention weight, and nutrition is the last principle mentioned. When considering nutrition in relation to intuitive eating the goal is progress not perfection. This acknowledges the fact that you will not become nutrient deficient from one “bad” snack or one “bad” day of eating but instead that health comes from consistency over time. The main goal of intuitive is to get back in touch with your body, so you can listen to your hunger and fullness cues as well as being able to recognize what you are craving. By doing this you are allowing yourself to experience the joy and satisfaction that happens when you eat what your body wants, when it wants. Another key concept of intuitive eating is understanding that your body has a “set” weight that it naturally wants to sit at, and each person’s set weight is different. Some people’s “set” weight allows them to fall within societies idea of thin. Other people’s set weight may be higher, meaning they are meant to be in a larger body. Therefore, so many of us fall into the diet culture trap, our bodies set weight and our goal weight or societies ideals may not line up, leading us to believe we need to work harder at achieving a smaller body. A good analogy I heard in one of the podcast episodes compared the bodies set weight to body temperature. The temperature of the human body has a value that it functions best at. You can make your body temperature deviate from that value but not for an infinite amount of time, eventually your body will start using whatever tools it has to get back to its ideal temperature. Your body does the same when you diverge from your set weight, therefore a lot of times diets are accompanied by periods of bingeing and also why you tend to gain back the weight you’ve lost, or possibly more, after you ditch the diet.
For me, intuitive makes so much sense. Understanding that my body has a preferred weight, that I shouldn’t have to work hard to maintain, makes it easier accept the fact that my body’s set weight is higher than what my goal weight was. I am grateful because I was already happy with my body when I decided to leave diet culture behind, so it has made the transition easier. The only reason I was tracking calories was because I had the goal to fit back into my tightest pair of jeans. I have sense ditched that goal and decided to stop weighing myself. Overall, I have not found intuitive eating that challenging. I have been listening to my hunger cues and snacking more frequently which results in me eating smaller meals. When I was tracking calories sometimes I would skip snacks even when I was hungry so I could save my calories for supper, which lead to me eating massive suppers, because I was so hungry. Food is on my mind a fraction of the amount it was before, and I feel more freedom when it comes to eating. My self-imposed guilt trips about the types of food I was eating have also diminished but have not completely went away. I still feel like I have work to do when it comes to finding a healthy balance of the types of food I am eating. Somethings still do trigger diet culture thoughts to sneak into my head, such as seeing other people dieting, losing weight and seeming so happy and looking great. When I am exposed to this, I find thoughts like “maybe I’ll eat healthier tomorrow” or “it’s not a big deal that I want to lose X number of lbs” cross my mind, but now I know these thoughts are not helping my overall wellbeing and are counter intuitive to how I want to be living my life. I also realize losing X number of lbs will not make me healthier especially if it comes at the expense of my mental health. In fact, some studies have found that the stress associated with the stigma of being overweight could have more negative health impacts on a person than their weight or diet.
I am thankful that this message landed on me at a time in my life when I was ready to hear it. I have been encouraging my friends to research intuitive eating and decided to write this blog post with the hopes that it will help other people on their journey to creating a healthier relationship with food.