This topic is so broad it would take an entire book to cover all the characteristics. I just want to discuss appropriateness of this type of eating in recovery. I feel like so many of you want to try it but get worried because it is a concept that is foreign. So, first and foremost, when you are ready, you will hopefully know. Or, you and your treatment team will know. If you are not ready, there isn’t a “race” to get there. I think some people look at it as the end point of their recovery, a point of no return, and that alone brings up fear. Some people have asked me, “what if I go out of control because I can’t do it? What if I gain too much weight because I can’t trust my inner cues or they are wrong? What if I choose all the ‘wrong’ foods and then I can’t turn back? ” and the most common question is “What if my intuitive eating makes me gets me to my natural weight and it is higher than I like?”
What if, what if, what if????? All these “what if’s” are a huge obstacle but they sometimes also demonstrate a lack of readiness and fear. If you have a bunch of “what if’s” about intuitive eating, DON’T discuss it with the eating disordered part of your mind. Your eating disorder will turn it into a “fear fest”. Discuss it with your treatment team, especially your nutritionist.
If you have had an eating disorder for any length of time, your eating has been “from the neck up”. What do I mean by this? Your eating has been guided by your head only – your thoughts, your rules, your emotions, your past experiences, your disordered fears…not by your normal natural physiological mind-body cues. If you have restricted, binged, compulsively overeaten, purged, taken any appetite-suppressing substances or laxatives, overexercised, or a combination of these, you have “short-circuited” your natural means of detecting hunger, fullness and appetite. So, as a result of this short-circuiting, you will need to learn the skill that non-disordered people exhibit normally, until it actually becomes intuitive.
When are you supposed to do this and how are you supposed to do this??? It varies person to person but you can only expect to start the process when you are well-supported by your team. You cannot begin if you are at an extremely low weight or are using eating disordered behaviors regularly. You must be medically stable for a good stretch of time and should be eating consistently (perhaps on a meal plan). Also, you have to do this when you are confident that you have the ability to separate your emotions from your eating. You must also realize that you will make mistakes along the way. Sometimes you will eat too much and feel too full (scary) and sometimes you will undereat and want more (clearly a risk if you are not ready). This is an essential part of the process. No one learns how to intuitively eat “perfectly” without making mistakes.
Also, I like to look at the parallels between what you do with your food and where you are in developing your life skills as an indication of your readiness. So, as far as intuitive eating is concerned, when you are being more intuitive (guided by your gut instincts) in other areas of your life and trusting yourself with decisions regarding relationships, feelings, self-care, boundaries, etc, you will be more equipped to develop your intuitive skills regarding your eating. Overall, you will be living a more trusting relationship with yourself.
Please remember that recovery is a process (I feel like I say this so often!) and you need to know where you are in the process. I want you all to be able to trust your process and unquestionably get to the point where you can trust your true self! Just try to stay focused on where you currently are in your recovery and take the baby steps that are in front of you.
Below are the 10 Intuitive Eating Principles, by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch, authors 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 taste buds 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.
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