Author Archives: Leanne

The difference between intuitive eating and dieting

It has come to my attention that while I have explained intuitive eating from more of a scientific angle, as in how the body works and why dieting is hard on the metabolism and why the body craves nutrients and how the body reads nutrients, there is still SO MUCH confusion as to what intuitive eating is. And, more dangerously, there are many “wellness plans” that are disguised as intuitive eating, but in reality are not intuitive at all. So I am going to lay this out as clear as I can. Ready?

First of all, intuitive eating is NOT:

~A diet
~A lifestyle change
~A wellness plan
~Something to “go on” or “go off”
~A weight management program
~Restrictive
~Disciplinary

There is no such thing as being a “perfect intuitive eater” and there are no “results” to measure. Unlike some of the 30-day diet plans or 2-week detox cleanses, you don’t “do intuitive eating” for a certain length of time. You won’t ever hear an intuitive person say “Oh, I did intuitive eating last month where all I did was listen to my body for 30 days. It was amazing. I need to get back on track with that.” Once you learn how to listen to your body and eat without controlling, tracking, and worrying, eating becomes as natural as pooping or sleeping or taking a shower. 

///

Intuitive eating is:

~A way of being
~Something you already embody
~Part of who you are
~A neutral approach to food
~Unique to you
~Freedom to live and eat in a way that feels good to you

Eating intuitively means turning your attention inward (away from outward influences such as diets, cleanses, and health rules). You are:

~listening to your own body: what sounds good, what doesn’t sound good; what do you want; what do you need; do you like this or do you like that?

~understanding your body cues: when you’re hungry and when you’re full and when you want more or less or have had enough; why are you craving a certain nutrient or feeling a particular way (maybe sluggish or maybe energized); do you need water? More sleep? Am I feeling anxious or sad? Your body may be telling you something outside of food.

~honoring your body with nourishment without judgment: food is not good or bad for you; healthy or unhealthy; fatty and sugary; high fat and low fat. Food is simply food. Eating is eating. Body size is simply an objective descriptor (like my brown hair or your sparkly shoes).

///

Other points to understand:

~The way you eat will look different than the way I eat which looks different than how she eats over there, because our bodies are different, reacts to food differently, enjoys or dislikes foods differently. So we don’t  judge our own food, and certainly not the food others are eating. Intuitive eating is unique to each body, and we’re all going to eat differently and look different. It’s important to remain food-neutral. For example:

Someone who lives in a larger body eating a hamburger is simply someone eating a hamburger. She is not better or worse because she’s larger;  her food is not bad for her because she’s larger; she doesn’t need to “watch what she eats” or modify her food in any way to be healthier.

If you are in a smaller body and honor the need for a grilled chicken salad then that’s all that’s happening. You are eating a chicken salad. You are not healthier because the salad is better for you than a hamburger; you aren’t “being good” because you’re eating greens and protein; you are not earning your calories for margaritas later.

~When you are an intuitive eater, you may or may not lose weight. You may go up; you may go down; you may stay the same. I gained weight because I was malnourished from restricting food for 13 years. Intuitive eating allows your body to find its way to its innately designed homeostasis, size, and shape. Dieting, on the other hand, forces your body into a desired size or shape with erratic ups and downs or in and out of that desired size. Whatever weight happens for you is what it is, and that weight will adjust depending on what kind of intuitive movement (exercise) you’re doing, and the physical wellness or being of your body (did you just have a baby? Are you injured? Are you recovering from surgery? Are you sick?). Weight is not solely dependent on food; there are a plethora of factors that determine body weight.

~There is zero restriction in intuitive eating, so there’s no amplified obsession or heavy guilt associated with certain foods. You always have permission to eat your favorite things as they appeal to you, which brings down the “holy grail” value of your food… the wanting, the desiring, the yearning, the wishing, and the bingeing. So when you smell freshly baked brownies at your friend’s house, you’ll get excited because you love brownies and just made some last week at your house. You’ll eat a brownie or some brownies (whatever you feel) and you’ll enjoy them with your friend.  Since there is no judgement, there is no guilt or feeling the need to “work them off” or “punish” yourself with a salad later. It’s just brownies.

Conversely, if brownies are merely a “treat” you restrict yourself  to once in a blue moon, then when the smell of warm chocolate hits your nose, you become anxious and self-judgey and might even fear that you’ll want all the brownies, and you won’t be able to stop thinking about them because you want some but feel bad because brownies aren’t Whole 30 compliant and if you cheat with just one you won’t be able to stop at just one because you are so addicted to sugar and it will be embarrassing if you eat all the brownies so maybe you’ll only eat one and then pick some up at the store on the way home and eat them all in your car so no one will know and then you’ll work out extra hard at the gym so they don’t stick to your butt oh God why did she make brownies!! *deep breath, friend*

See the difference?

I hope this clears up some of the confusion about intuitive eating. Food intuition is something you already have. You were born with it, but cultural noise and life experiences interrupt the connection with yourself. You can definitely reconnect with your body and learn how to eat again. Your body doesn’t need to be controlled, it just needs to be heard.

 

Confession of a body advocate

“What does fat mean to you?” asked my therapist. My heart dropped into my gut with a giant ugh. This was the same question she asked me three-and-a-half years ago when I first entered recovery. I started to cry and replied, “Am I really back to this place again? I thought I processed this already… I thought I was over it.”  Problem is I was sitting in her office confessing that I had spent the previous day restricting my food, something I haven’t done in at least a couple of years.

Easter Sunday had been a tough day. While getting dressed for dinner, I was frustrated that none of my shirts were fitting comfortably. Since quitting Taekwondo last June due to a knee injury and restricting cardio exercise as per doctor’s orders until my knee is healed, my physical activity has waned significantly. I’ve been in physical therapy building strength and stability in my knee, hips, and core, but my whole body is in process of finding it’s new weight set point and shape. So my clothes are fitting differently and, in some cases, too small.

On Sunday my eating disorder simply told me I was getting fat. After a lovely ham dinner, I was comfortably full, but my eating disorder told me I am fat; I needed to eat less because I was eating too much; I am not exercising so I need to eat less; my body isn’t “changing shape” but growing fatter; and on and on and on. I was depressed all evening, and on Monday I couldn’t stand the feel of my body in my clothes, I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror, and I couldn’t stand the thought of eating a whole day’s worth of food. So I made the conscious choice to restrict my food intake, including skipping lunch.

///

So why was fat such a big deal all of sudden and why wouldn’t it be okay if I was fat? I had come to terms long ago that fat and skinny aren’t terms that God sees or uses let alone attaches any value. So why did the size of my body matter to me?

Well, unfortunately it turns out cultural judgments about fat were starting to become my own judgments again. American culture says “If you live in a fat body, then you are unhealthy.”

I don’t want to be regarded as unhealthy. As a food and body advocate I fear people won’t trust me if I live in a larger body. I don’t know where my body is going to settle, but if it settles larger than what’s considered appropriate or desirable for “healthy” according to our societal standards then I may lose credibility… my value as an advocate. This feels scary and disheartening to me.

So, I did what anyone with an eating disorder and feeling lack of value does. I restricted my food in an effort to keep my body from getting any bigger. It was a terrible idea on many levels, and I felt miserable by the end of the day from starvation.

///

Sitting here now a week later, after using my support network, I have a much clearer focus on reality that I want to share with you:

    • Healthy doesn’t come in one size. It comes in all the sizes, including larger, shapelier sizes. You and I can live in a fat body and be 100% healthy–feeling good, living well.
    • Fat and skinny don’t exist in God’s realm, but they do exist here on earth. We can’t get away from those terms, but we can change how we think of them. We need to learn to use them as neutral facts. The way a shirt is pink or shoes are black or hair is blonde, so can a body be fat, a pair of legs be thin, a butt be round, or cheeks be plump. Fat and thin are observable descriptors rather than judgments of value or desire.
  • The human body has an amazing feature where it adapts itself based on life circumstances. It is literally the smartest device we own:

~When a woman is pregnant the belly stretches to accommodate space for the baby and adds weight wherever necessary to support baby’s growth and dependence on our body’s resources.

~When we have an injury, the body adjusts appetite to promote healing and changes shape to accommodate new movements and build strength where needed.

~ When we’re sick, it utilizes stored resources (like fat and sugar), pauses internal functions in effort to send energy to sick or damaged areas… always with the goal of keeping us alive.

~ When we’re over or under weight, causing medical malfunction, the body works hard to send signals of what it needs in nutrition and movement to find its best natural set point based on the life we’re trying to live.

///

I confess I lost my focus last week, and, worse, lost trust in my body, in where my value truly lies, and in what God is asking of me as an advocate. I judged fat and I got scared of what it might mean if I was fat. My only excuse is that I’m human… living in a disordered culture that values thin bodies and regards health on a single dimension… recovering from an eating disorder that still lives inside my brain and causes doubt sometimes. But thank GOD, literally, I have an amazing support network and an open line to the Holy Spirit to help me bring the truth back into focus.

 

 

Do you wonder:  What does Healthy Mean?

 

 

How to get closer to Jesus without giving up chocolate for Lent

One of my most shameful moments in eating disorder recovery was learning that I’d rather risk the death of my daughter than to risk being fat. In summer of 2014 I had a heavy feeling that I was about to lose something very dear and precious to me. I became convinced that I was going to lose my daughter, and I had mentally worked on preparing myself to surrender her to the Lord should he ask for her to come home. The thought of losing her was devastating, yet deep in my heart I trusted that if God wanted her home, then I knew she would be safe.  When I went into anorexia recovery later that fall, I realized how completely wrong I was. The thing I was about to lose, the thing that was so dear and precious to me that God was about to take away, was my eating disorder.

I was so petrified that I would have rather Him taken my daughter. The shame I felt in understanding this truth living in my heart was so heavy I could barely stand.

When I confessed this to my therapist, Tamara, I expected her to recoil and affirm that I was indeed a horrible, selfish mother.  Instead Tamara shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, that makes sense. If your daughter dies, you know where she’s going, right?” Heaven, I agreed. “But, to lose your eating disorder is to risk becoming fat, and there’s shame in that because we live in a culture where it isn’t okay to be fat. To stay here and live in larger body sounds like suffering.”

Boom. To live a life of suffering shame in a larger body, which is what my eating disorder was telling me would happen, was far scarier and much more of a sacrifice than knowing my daughter would be safe in the arms of Jesus.

///

Growing up as a Christian, I understood the season of Lent to be about sacrificing something for 40 days to simulate a fraction of the suffering Jesus felt when he spent 40 days in the desert repeatedly tempted by the devil. We usually “gave up” stuff that we loved or found ourselves “indulging.” In my family all the way into my own adulthood, the sacrifice was often some kind of food–chocolate, sugar, chips, etc. Even into my adult years, I watched friends giving up cheese, Fritos, beer, chocolate, cake, coffee. Food was and still is often a go-to sacrifice to suffer without for 40 days, resisting and suffering through the temptations to cheat. And boy did I feel guilty when I did, as do many of my friends when they post pictures of themselves enjoying pizza and beer with the caption “Sorry, Jesus. Maybe next year.”  Really, Lent was more like going on a mini-diet, a religious regimen to work on healthier habits and lose some pounds under the guise of getting closer to Jesus.

Rarely did I ever feel closer to Jesus giving up food, and I am going to be bold in assuming most people don’t. Lent has become more of a New Year’s Resolution Reboot to give up the culprit foods we think are contributing to the inability to lose the weight we set out to lose back in January. And when we “cheat,” giving into the temptation of whatever food we sacrificed, not only do we feel guilty about eating the food but now we get the double whammy of failing Jesus.

Two years ago, I changed tactics. I asked Jesus what he wanted me to sacrifice for Him. What did he want from me during Lent so that we could be closer? “All I want is you.” That’s the response that whispered to my heart over and over again. That’s all Jesus ever wants… from me, from you, from all of us. He just wants to be close to us.

After realizing losing my daughter would be easier than losing my eating disorder, every plate of food became a little altar of sacrifice, and my prayer was (usually through clenched teeth and child-like sass-itude ): “Dear God, I am eating this plate of food for you. I am scared to death that it will make me fat, but I am trusting you to nourish me and make me healthy. Thank you for loving me and holding my hand through this. Amen.” This was a stressful, hard, suffering practice for months, but with every meal I felt better, freer, and more trusting of my body and of God. God’s intention wasn’t to make me fat, but to make me healthy and strong for the work he needs me to do.

///

If you want to be closer to Jesus, try giving up the diet mentality for Lent, and give control of your body to God. If you hate your body right now and are in the throes of trying to change it, then letting go of control and lifting up your body as-is into the hands of God without leaning on diets and scales and food rules is suffering. Because you’re risking staying in or growing into (what you believe is) a fat body, and culture shames people who are fat.  Make sure you understand what I am saying–it’s risky, not inevitable. Resisting the temptation to count calories, restrict “demonized” foods, check fat and sugar contents, eat Paleo or Whole 30 “compliant” requires full reliance on God and trust that the body he has created for you is the best body for you. This whole notion is a hell of a lot harder than giving up chocolate, but the focus is more meaningful and productive in achieving closeness with Jesus. And you can still eat chocolate!

To trust God with our bodies is risky… oh but what a risk worth taking if it snuggles us closer to Jesus. And all He wants is you.

Related post: “Dear God, please don’t make me fat”

Food rules you can break (part II)

*This is the second post in a three-part series on common food rules that, while seemingly harmless or even healthy in theory, are confusing to the body’s biology. Understanding food rules, where they come from, why we have them, and how we can break them is important in learning how to rediscover your ability to eat intuitively and find freedom in food. 

///

Last summer we were at my parents’ house for a barbecue. All the good stuff was on the menu: burgers, hot dogs, chips, salads, fruit, all the fixin’s, beer, soda, iced tea, lemonade. Classic summer eats, warm weather, and lots of family. Everything was spread out on the table, free to grab as you pleased to fill the belly. Except for one thing. This one little item was still inside on the counter.

The brownies.

The brownies were for after dinner, as my daughter found out from Grandma when she asked Grandma if she could have one. So Haley ate her dinner and asked again for a brownie. The answer was no because dinner wasn’t over yet; people were still eating. Haley waited and waited, hovering around the brownies like a fruit fly waiting for her chance to land her hands on one. She tried not to ask too many times if it was time for the brownies yet, but it was hard because even when people seemed to be done with dinner, she still had to wait until Grandma was ready to serve dessert.

After all the barbecue food and accouterments were put away, out came Grandma with the plate of brownies! *cue angel choir*

But Grandma said, “Wait just a minute,” because she had to get the napkins and the forks. I thought Haley might actually explode from anticipation.

Finally sweet Haley got the go ahead for a delectable, gooey, chocolate brownie. She thoroughly enjoyed every bite, except for the bits she left all over her face.

///

No dessert until after dinner. This is a common rule in our culture that goes back decades, maybe even centuries. I don’t know. But, it’s a man-made rule with the intention of getting children to eat their “healthy food” first before filling up on dessert. That’s still the intention today; however, I think it’s sometimes used as a tool for control and power at the dinner table.

The problem with this rule is two-fold:

  1. It creates the mentality of a food hierarchy–> certain foods (e.g. fruit, veggies, meat, etc.) are better than other foods (e.g. brownies, cookies, ice cream, etc.). The “healthy” food goes on top and the “unhealthy” food–all the foods with sugar and fat–go on the bottom.

2. Fun food goes on the bottom, yet this rule also places desserts on a pedestal. Dessert is          something to be earned, to obtain after you’ve worked to eat through the hard food, the              good food, and because so, it becomes a desired prize. Dessert holds great value mentally.

So this rule actually has a third problem: it’s confusing! If dessert food is so “bad” then why do we have to work so hard to earn it? Why does it get a special place in the meal? Why is it treated with such specialness?

///

“No dessert until after dinner” has no biological logic. We seem to care when we eat dessert, but the body doesn’t. Food is nothing more than nutrients to your body. If you feed yourself broccoli and steak, then your body reads fiber, protein, fat, iron. When you feed it brownies and ice cream, it reads sugar, fat, vitamin D, and calcium. These are all nutrients. You can dip your broccoli in your ice cream for all your body cares. Your body doesn’t read or categorize food on a hierarchy; all food has equal value to the body depending what the nutrients do. If all you’re eating is salad and beef jerky, it’s going to ask for a sugar and fat source, (you might start craving brownies and ice cream) so your body can level out the playing field again.

To break this rule: put all the food on the table–entrees, sides and desserts. This practice gives you the the option, opportunity, and mental permission to eat all the nutrients equally without the mental anguish of having to eat through certain foods to earn others.

Our dinner table from the other night. Hubz was still finishing up the steak, so it isn’t pictured.

///

This doesn’t just go for dessert after dinner, by the way. This applies to all our rules about when we can eat certain foods. We have strict rules about what we can have for breakfast, right? We tend to tell ourselves and our kids, no ice cream or chicken nuggets or pizza or whatever the forbidden food for breakfast. Again, your body doesn’t care what time it is when you feed it certain foods. If bacon and ice cream sound good at 8:00 am, go for it. Your body gets fat, protein, and sugar to get the engine running. Great!

That’s great and all, Leanne, but if I put brownies on the dinner table then my kids will fill up on brownies and nothing else. What about that, hmmm? Or a bowl of ice cream before school isn’t going to fuel them for their math test. 

So? They have brownies for dinner.  They’ll be hungry again later and tomorrow and the next day. You keep offering different food options (from all categories) any time they eat. Over time brownies (or whatever the dessert) lose their value, become less interesting when they’re always available. Your kids (and you!) will begin to balance out your plates. They won’t have brownies for dinner forever. As for breakfast, just offer some protein to help support the ice cream. For two months straight, Haley ate chicken nuggets and chocolate ice cream for breakfast. It was the perfect meal for her, and it held her over until snack time and sometimes even lunch, in which she’d have another opportunity to get other nutrients. And eventually, she got tired of chicken nuggets and ice cream for breakfast. She moved on to other things. Kids are the BEST intuitive eaters when we grown ups don’t interfere with a bunch of food rules.

///

I challenge you to try breaking this rule: no dessert until after dinner. Practice putting your forbidden or prized foods on the table with your other foods. I know it seems weird and maybe even scary, but remember that nutrients are nutrients for your body. You’re just giving you and your family the opportunity to get all of them on an even playing field. Over the next few weeks, notice how the attitude (yours and your family’s) and value towards dessert changes.

P.S. Anyone else craving a brownie right now? 🙂

My Forgotten Baby

My first pregnancy ended in a Subway bathroom on my lunch hour. I had taken a home-pregnancy test the previous week after my period had been about a week late. Though faint, the test came back positive, and I was looking forward to my doctor appointment scheduled for the following week. Two days before the doctor appointment, I was standing in line with my co-workers at Subway deciding whether I wanted the cold cut combo or the black forest ham when out of the blue I was struck with cramps in my lower belly. A hot flash came over me and I felt dizzy with a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. I excused myself out of line and headed straight to the restroom.

As I sat down on the toilet my belly cramped again, and I essentially started hemorrhaging into the porcelain bowl. My skin had gone clammy and hot and my head felt light. I leaned my head onto the wall, trying to take deep breaths and keep calm. The blood kept coming, and I felt trapped in that cold, tiled bathroom all alone. Waves of nausea washed over me, and I kept thinking what is happening? What is happening? I sat there a long time, just waiting for my body to finish expelling itself. When my body finally seemed to calm down, I tried to clean up the best I could. Can I just say that cheap, 1-ply toilet paper in a fastfood establishment bathroom isn’t conducive to mass bleeding?

Then I flushed, wondering if there was any way the tiny baby inside me was still there.

I emerged from the bathroom on shaky legs and with zero appetite. I felt numb and scared. I found my co-workers and they asked if I was okay. “You look pale.” I mumbled something about not feeling well and needing to go home for the rest of the day. I don’t remember anything else from the rest of that day.

Two days later I showed up to my doctor appointment and peed in a cup. I told the nurse what had happened in the Subway bathroom. When both the nurse and the doctor returned they looked at me with a bit of confusion. “Well, your hCG levels are high, so you were pregnant. But you were so early in the pregnancy that most women at this stage don’t even know they were pregnant. They just figure their period was late and heavier than usual.”

I went home feeling sad and confused. So did I miscarry? Had I only been “kind of pregnant”? I felt like I had experienced a loss, but it wasn’t being defined as one, so I didn’t know if I was allowed to feel sad.

My husband and I went for a walk that evening and I explained to him that we were pregnant “for like two minutes” but not anymore. My husband said that basically the embryo was like a zygote. I let myself cry just a little, and then I completely disconnected from the experience. I only told a friend or two and my parents about it and then never really spoke of it again.

///

My husband and I were blessed with two kids following that pregnancy, who are now nine and 11 years old. Strangely over the last 11 years, I’ve had random and sporadic sensations of a third child in our house, a child that I have forgotten about, maybe napping upstairs or playing in the other room. My husband once came to me and said, “Do you ever get the feeling there is a baby here that we’ve forgotten about?” Yes! I was relieved to know I wasn’t the only one who had the feeling. Neither of us had been able to explain it or come up with a logical explanation as to why we felt this way. “Maybe we’re going to have a surprise baby when we least expect it?” I speculated once. I secretly hoped not!

I mentioned to my mom these feelings of a “ghost baby” in our house that we sometimes feel and explained that we couldn’t figure out why in the world it was happening. “Well,” she said, “maybe it’s the baby from your ‘two minute pregnancy’ that you’ve never really acknowledged.”

*heart stop*

I took this to therapy recently, and guess what? My mom was right. Dear reader, I spent over 13 years “disconnected” from a real pregnancy and real loss. I had emotionally disengaged from my miscarriage, not even allowing myself to call it a miscarriage, mostly because it wasn’t like any of the miscarriages my friends or acquaintances had experienced. It also wasn’t like I lost a full-term baby during or right after birth like a couple other mamas I know. Because my loss wasn’t the same, as tragic, as other women, I had minimized my fragile unborn baby into scientific verbiage, and buried a physically terrifying and emotionally fraught experience. I thought I had disconnected, but my body and my heart never did.

///

I processed my loss for the first time just recently. I now understand that I had three pregnancies, not just two. One day when I go to heaven, I’ll have a little girl waiting for me. I know she is a girl because when I talk to God about her, when I asked Him if this baby was real, my heart pounds in response with an inexplicable knowing that yes, she’s real. And I cry every time (like right now) I think about her and her realness. There is a completeness in my heart now that the “forgotten ghost baby” is no longer forgotten… or a ghost.

When I think about what the doctor had said, about how “most women don’t even know they’re pregnant at this stage,” I had written that off to mean that my pregnancy didn’t count. In reality it is a miracle that I was let in on a secret that God needed me to know. He wanted me to know that this unborn child exists. He’d been whispering to both my husband and me reminders of this secret for over a decade. I don’t know why, but I believe like every baby He creates, she is a gift for our hearts given to us with Divine love.

///

Friends, our bodies never forget what’s happened to them. Everything that happens to us, regardless of how seemingly small it seems to us matters to God. Deeply. No matter how hard we try to minimize, deny, or bury our hard experiences, they always stick with us and God wants to heal the hurt that comes with them. I pray that if you have something that’s happened to you, that you’ve tried to forget or from which you’ve tried to disengage, that you find someone to help you process through it and that God heals your hurt.