The year after I was born, a book was published. It rose to fame and acclaim in the late nineties and early 2000s, years before my own food demons reared their pretty blond heads. First I had to learn how to use my perfect new body, before I could begin to pick it apart with criticism.
People are very fond of the "if you could go back and give yourself advice?" questions. I am of the opinion such questions are complete nonsense. If I went back and told my nine-year-old self any kind of "eat when you're hungry and your body will teach you" I would have rolled my eyes and climbed a tree 'til the crazy lady from the future went back to her own time.
My personal experiences with food issues have been painful, and yet conventional. We know an astonishing number of girls, and boys, develop eating disorders, and unhealthy behavior around food, at younger and younger ages. The reasons vary, from trauma, to neglect, to bullying.
My story is less fraught, though certainly still valid. And also not the topic of this story. In a nutshell: I was impressed upon by culture that "thin" was the golden ticket of adulthood. So I worked on being thin... for way too long, in unhealthy ways. I call them the three Rs: restriction, regurgitation, and regret. TMI? Nah, you clicked on a story about food issues.
I have vowed to leave the three Rs behind me now.
When I first told my family what was going on, finally came clean about the extent of my issues with food, my Aunt M Gave my a book.
The magic 1995 book titled, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that WORKS by Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A. I am not clear on what all those letters mean. I am going to assume they are an indicator of higher education, and therefore people listen to these letter bearing ladies. I love the cover of this book. It is so damn nineties. Remember that thing they used to do, where they would place a photo of the author(s) on the front cover? The photo placed slightly offset, at an angle from the words and other graphics of the cover. I just love it. The world was full of books that looked like this when I was younger. I digress.
I started to read Intuitive Eating right then, (I was 19, I think... MY memory is foggy over that period of time) but it wasn't time for me. What's funny is, I actually have two copies of this book, the first edition, which I may have picked up at a thrift store, and the newer edition which my Aunt gifted me. I think fate was telling me twice how much I needed this book and wisdom in it. I do not recall which came first—like I said, foggy times. However, I still have both copies, and last week I picked up the second edition again... prompted by old feelings creeping back in.
I've gained some weight over the last few months. Apparently it happens when you feel stable and happy. Goodness, why can't I stay skinny and happy?! Anyway, it's not that noticeable to people, I think only my closest friends and family have noticed, and those who said anything were congratulatory. To these congratulations I turned on them like an evil dog. Okay, what I mean is, I verbally bit some heads off.
If you have ever experienced an eating disorder, you know how dangerously good it can feel to be told you've lost weight, and how horrifying it can be to hear the opposite. The truth is no one around me is unkind, or judging me. They just want me to be healthy and happy. However, the heart of the matter is only I can know what "healthy" is for my body and my heart. The same goes for everyone. You are the one living inside your body after all.
Anyway! Someone told me my extra weight gain looked good and they hoped I was doing well... And let me tell you, friends, I LOST MY FREAKING MIND.
I had already been feeling uncomfortable. I was almost the weight I had been at my heaviest, as a teen. For the record, my "heaviest" was never seen as unhealthy by other people (that I know of). I have severe body dysmorphia. I know that there are some people who would look at me at any point in my journey, and would have been angered by how I called myself fat and ugly, and overweight. That's what dysmorphia is. You can't actually see yourself the way others do. I never want to offend anyone, or be unfair to the struggles of others. I am only telling what I personally have experienced.
Anyhow, even when the numbers were this high in the past, I never felt the need to "hide" my body, in my clothes and with my hair. Yet, this time around, it was all I could think about. Every morning I got dressed, I would stare into my closet through tears of anger. "Why are all my clothes so... summer-y!?" I would think. Well sweetheart, because it's summer in the high desert and you're gonna get hot.
Something needs to change. I knew it. Not because of the weight, but because of the inner mean girl I had made peace with a year before had come back, and man I had forgotten what a total bitch she could be. I knew I wouldn't last very long without throwing up or restricting my food intake, with her rattling around in my head.
"Hey, Hadley, you're not actually going to eat that are you? It's just going to add an extra ten pounds to you over night obviously."
"Hey Hadley, don't be naive, you can't wear that dress. It's for skinny girls, duh."
"Hey Hadley, eat it. You can throw it up later. It's fine."
NO. Nope. No. We are NOT doing this shit again. It was hell and I'm NOT going back there. All it got me was stress ulcers, neurotic tendencies, an empty stomach, and a sore throat.
Shut the hell up, Kelsey Taylor! (Kelsey Taylor is my inner mean girl's name. It's easier to fight a bitch if you know her first and middle name. No offense to anyone named Kelsey or Taylor... It just fits her. She wears a ponytail, a white linen dress, and she HATES grilled cheese sandwiches. She is miserable.)
So! When Kelsey Taylor started up her triad and I began crying a lot more (I am a crier, but these tears were the hopeless, non-cleansing, going nowhere emotionally type. Like I said, Kelsey's a real bitch), I sat down with a dear friend and pitched her an idea for some feedback.
"I am not happy with my body. I feel uncomfortable, sad and angry with myself. I know this could lead to self harming behavior, if I keep eating the way I have the last few months." Then I said this part real slow and careful. "I am going to eat less." Pause. "Not nothing, just less. And I'm telling you and two other friends, in case it gets unhealthy. If you, or they, notice anything off you have my permission to check me." She nodded and agreed it was a good plan to be accountable.
Okay, so throwing up my food is no longer an option. I am a grown up lady, done with that phase of my adolescence. Get thee behind me, Kelsey.
Not eating enough or anything, that's not an option either. It never lasts long, and then I binge because my body goes into starvation mode.
Overeating leads to self loathing. That's off the list too.
One thing left. The magic book.
I started reading again.
I'm not going to do a full book report, partly because I want you to buy the book and see if it's helpful for you, partly because this is my own personal take on intuitive eating, and the third part is: I don't have time to do a book report! School is no longer in session.
Here is a simple paraphrase of what the term "Intuitive Eating" means to me: The practice (read that word again, PRACTICE) of getting and staying in touch with your biological eating cues. Intuitive eating is about re-establishing the mind body connection in order to know what and when you need to feed yourself, as well as other self care cues.
And that's it. ALL THE OTHER RULES GO. Out the window. No foods are off limits and no foods are "bad." It's just you and your body, making the best possible choices for you and your body. No one else's opinions gettin all up in your business. Say buh-bye to the food police.
Now, I know that it's not as easy as it sounds. I also know to some this is not a great solution. Many people prefer the rules. The rules keep you safe and give you healthy guidelines and so on. Or so I've heard. Unfortunately, that approach has never been effective for me. For one thing, I am a rebel. For another, I have an incredibly unhealthy view of food. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE food. It's not even about the food. The 'unhealthy view of food' is about the thoughts. Thoughts I have leading up to eating, during eating, and post eating. Obsessive, hurtful, damaging, and cruel thoughts. Not nice words. Words I would never, ever, say to a little girl, or another woman, or anyone! But Kelsey, inner mean girl that she be, says them over and over every time I eat. For years. Oh lord, how many years, and I am exhausted.
This is why I call the book magic, though. Here is why it needs to be shared, with every generation! The minute I picked up this book last week, the second I started reading the words beyond its adorable 1995 cover, Kelsey shut the fuck up.
This fact is so amazing, so incredibly unexpectedly freeing! I do not know how to clearly explain to you how it has made me feel. Just know this, I haven't felt this unbothered by food or my body in 15 years. I'm 25, that's relief from emotional and mental baggage I've carried for over half my life.
Yes, it is hard work to become an intuitive eater. No, Kelsey is not gone forever. She needs healing, too. I am not suddenly enlightened and skinny and perfect and blah blah blah. Skinny isn't the point. The point is to hear what my body need from me, and to provide it. The point is to nourish and love the body I am in, rather then perpetually aiming to be a body I am not. It is still an uphill climb, as life tends to be...
However, I do feel better. I feel happier. I feel loved. By me. That is good news.
Below are the "10 principles of Intuitive Eating," as written in the book.
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 rebuilding 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, binging. 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 minimal 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.
Principle three is the key for my own personal battle. The minute I tell myself something is off limits, it suddenly becomes the holy grail, and I will go on a quest for it. Yet, when I am allowed anything, I don't want everything. I just eat when I am hungry, celebrate at parties for family and friends. I am less likely to overeat, because I know I will eat again. No meal is my last meal. I feel less out of control, because control is no longer the goal. Joy is the goal. Happiness and comfort in my own skin is the end game... I am not there yet, but now, I am freer to seek it.
Most people around me are naturally Intuitive Eaters. It's easy for me to feel shame and isolation in this. If you're in a similar position, know you are not alone. I am standing with you, and I believe in your ability to take care of yourself, honor your own needs and wants, and to begin to hear the voice of your body clearly.
If it's not the right time for you, that's okay.
I'd just like to plant this seed.