Now that you know what intuitive eating is, most smart ladies like yourself have questions. When I first started to learn about it I was really worried that intuitive eating would lead to unhealthy, uninformed and out of control eating so I had lots of questions and I'll offer up this popular question:
If I eat whatever I want won’t I eat junk, feel awful and get fat?
Isn’t that why we start dieting or even start scrutinizing our food in the first place? Because we're eating junk, feeling awful and getting fat?
I hear you and I’m going to tell you how you can give yourself permission to eat what you want and how much you want and not always eat junk, overeat or settle for food that doesn’t make you feel good. The part that will surprise you is that the reason you don’t feel good has more to do with what you believe and that is what leads to mindless, less than nourishing food choices.
Fear would have us believe that we’d go nuts eating all the ice cream and bread baskets we can get our hands on if left to our own devices. Fear would have us believe we can’t be trusted. Fear of “bad,” “unhealthy,” “toxic” food and fear of weight gain makes us feel crazy around food, uncomfortable and disconnected in our bodies and can lead to guilt and shame. None of that feels good, wouldn't you agree?
The struggle here is less about the food and more about being stuck in your fear brain.
Quick overview of your brain on fear:
Here’s the deal when it comes to fear and anxiety and why you feel incapable of making a good-for-you decision in those moments. It is why I always felt like food was controlling me even though I was working really hard to control it with all the rules and diet thinking. When the part of your brain that senses fear is activated (amygdala), that’s your instinctual brain, its only function is to process fear and SURVIVE. It does not tell you to eat some kale or remember to take deep breaths, it is all about survival and this is why you feel like you can’t think clearly when you’re anxious or fearful in any situation. Also, when this part of the brain (fear) is firing, you have no access to those fancy, rational parts of the brain that contain all of the knowledge you have, like the part that would tell you it’s just food and you can take a deep breath and you are not going to die.
So the lesson is that if we can get out of the fear-anxiety-crazy brain around food and our weight or size, then food becomes more neutral (and enjoyable) and we can access the knowledge part of the brain. When we are using our higher functioning brain we can think big picture and we can access our experiences. My knowledge tells me that while I like the way pancakes taste, I don't feel well after I eat them. That is when I can make an informed decision and if I decide to avoid something I'm doing it so that I feel good and I don't feel deprived. If I choose to eat the thing that doesn't feel great, that is OK, I can make my own decisions.
We assume that with unconditional permission to eat we would eat a bunch of food labeled as bad or junk food because that is the fear programming many of us have. Culturally we consume a lot of fear - about food, about people, about health, about how our bodies look and so much more. Fear has a function, we need it so we don’t all walk into oncoming traffic, but we are saturated with it and could stand to let some of it go.
The truth is if you let go of the label, the fear and the deprivation mindset you are less likely to feel crazy around food.
You are reestablishing a relationship with food and your body. You are gathering more information, judgment free and feeling way more comfortable around food instead of crazy, anxious or confused. When you move out of the fear brain you can connect the dots between your mood and how you eat. You can see how you eat when you don't get enough sleep or when you wait until you're starving to eat or when you feel lonely or when you are stressed or when you want to check out for a little while.
It's a process, it's revolutionary and it doesn't happen overnight. Support is key, self compassion is key, maintaining self care is WAY key. This is the work of becoming an expert in YOURSELF and we all deserve to be the expert.
Next week I’m going to share what listening to your body really means and how learning to do it was the biggest game changer in healing my relationship with my body and with food.
Check in with your food fears:
- What foods do you try to avoid, feel really guilty about eating, feel like you can't stop eating or eat when nobody is looking?*
- What is the fear about those foods?
- How do you want to feel? This is a useful question for pretty much anything in life.
*this does not include foods you are allergic to or make you sick. Avoiding those is actually practicing trust and taking care of yourself.
I always love to hear from you so let me know what you think! If you know someone who would benefit from reading, please share it with them and if you're in Sacramento, check out this day retreat!