Tag Archives: eating disorders

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. 

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

 

Why diets don’t work

We’ve all heard that “diets don’t work,” but do you know why? First let’s go over the definition of diet.

Dieting is any eating habit that involves the restriction or elimination of nutrients and/or the control, counting, and restriction of calories. Point systems are diets because the program has pre-restricted the calories for you; these are counted calories disguised as point values.

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Here’s why diets don’t work.

Metabolism Damage

When you restrict calories and nutrients you lose weight. This is why diets are so attractive on the surface and seem like they work. The problem is that internally your body goes into “deprivation mode,” craving the nutrients it’s missing and slowing the metabolism way down so as to store energy for crucial functions, such as fueling your heart and brain. When you “give in” to those cravings, the metabolism is slow to use the energy– one because it’s sluggish and two your body naturally wants to use the energy sparingly since it doesn’t know when it’s going to get those nutrients again. Often you won’t feel good eating something of which you’ve deprived yourself (like sugar or bread) thus blaming the food,  when really it’s your body not responding well because it’s broken.

When I went through the re-feeding process during anorexia recovery, I felt physically ill for about eight weeks while my metabolism re-learned how to accept and process nutrients again. It was another several months before my body found homeostasis.

Yo-yo dieting or chronic dieting puts the body in constant deprivation mode (also called starvation mode) and gives the body no semblance of normal. It can’t settle into a homeostasis where the flow of nutrients to body function is rhythmic and natural. Instead, dieting trains the body to reserve the nutrients and keep the metabolism slow so as to store energy for internal functions. Simply speaking, you hold on to the weight. The body isn’t sure when it’s going to get those nutrients again and it has systems and processes to run, so it’s going to store calories and use them wisely.

Here’s a replicated visual my eating disorder therapist showed me

 

Person A and Person B are both born at the same time. As they grow, they gain weight accordingly. Person A doesn’t diet at all, and over time her body settles into a consistent weight with minor (and natural) fluctuations.

Person B begins dieting and her weight drops. Each dip in the graph represents a diet with a corresponding weight drop. After each diet, though, her weight goes back up, increasing just a little more each time and never finding a consistent stability.

At the end of life, person B dies not only at a higher weight than non-dieter A but also at a higher weight than what her original weight before she started dieting.  If you are a dieter, have you sometimes noticed when the weight comes back, it’s often just a little more than the last time you put the weight back on? It’s not because you are a bad person who has a problem with self control. It’s because your body is trying to protect you, trained to operate in deprivation mode and with a broken metabolism.

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Distorted Body Cues

Dieting forces you to go against your body’s natural cues. When you’re hungry a diet will keep you confined from feeding your body what it needs. Diets say:

a) You can’t eat because it isn’t time.

b) You can’t eat the thing you are craving because it’s “bad.”

c) You can’t eat the amount you need because it’s “too much.”

The body and brain become confused.

Body says: “I’m hungry. I need (crave) a plate of meaty pasta and a slice of cherry pie. Pasta will give me long-term fuel; the meat will give me stamina; the cherry pie will give me the quick spark and pleasure to start the refueling process for all systems.”

Brain says: “Nope. You’re on a no-carb, no-sugar diet. You’re getting a chicken salad with no cheese and a sugar-free flavored water. You need better discipline. Cherry pie? What are thinking, fatty?”

Body says: “Hmm? Okay, so you’re giving me fiber, water, and a tiny bit of protein. I’ll do my best but don’t be surprised when I’m sluggish and you’re cranky.”

Binge eating happens when we’re in deprivation mode because the body is so desperate for nutrients we’re not paying attention to when the body says “Enough!”  Confused hunger and fullness cues become normal.

Some people experience the opposite problem where it seems like it takes more food to get full and that’s because the brain isn’t tuned in with what fullness actually feels like for their body. There are a plethora of reasons why some people eat more than they need (emotions, distractions, strict rules such as “must eat everything on my plate,” distorted view of portion sizes, etc.)

The bottom line is this: Dieting goes against your body’s natural biology. Your body knows what weight it wants to be, when it’s hungry, when it’s full, and what food it needs. It gives you all the cues to let you know what you need.

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It’s not a program. Or a lifestyle change. Its tapping back into your innate ability to feed yourself well.

If you are in the midst of a vicious dieting cycle or considering dieting at all, I encourage you to learn more from the book shown on the left here (not an affiliate link, nor am I affiliated with the authors in any way). It was introduced to me my first week of recovery, though it took  me months to learn how to apply it because I was so disordered in my habits and beliefs. Everyone at any size can find their homeostasis again, including you. No more diets, okay? You’re life is way too valuable and diets aren’t worth the sacrifice. <3

 

What anorexia recovery looks like 2 years later

Eating disorder recovery during the holidays feels like swimming against the current. Pushing against the flow of people, friends, and family who all ride the desires of wanting and striving to eat better and live in better bodies.

The triggers at the holidays are exhausting for me. When I first entered anorexia recovery in 2014, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were excruciating because I was in the re-feeding phase. My body was learning how to accept and process food again, so I spent 12 weeks feeling swollen and ill. In 2015, I was focused on figuring out which holiday foods I loved, getting them on my plate, and noticing how I felt: “Am I hungry? Am I full? Do I like this turkey? Do I actually not like green bean casserole or am I just scared of it? Do I want some more mashed potatoes?Did I enjoy that gluten free pumpkin pie?”

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This year, the food was easy. I know what I love. I am confident in the kitchen (borderline showing off my culinary skills), and I am publicly outspoken about there being no rules around food. A giant spread of good eats splayed in front of me causes no angst and I feel freedom to eat.

Yet the eating disorder that lives in my brain is pounding on the walls. I’ve written and talked about and advocated for food and body love all year long; I am learning, expressing, living and enjoying the freedom to eat and move intuitively without being bound by the rules and expectations of cultural norms. But the people with whom I share the holidays–from the friends in my Facebook feed to the family members sitting across from me at the dinner table do not feel freedom to eat and verbalize judgement of their bodies, the food on their plates, and the food being served. Constant chatter about pre-meal workouts, post-holiday cleanses, new year bodies, new and improved eating grows louder as the new year creeps closer.

The triggers are everywhere and it takes copious energy to remain strong against the flow of old thought and behavior patterns because they align with the current cultural… well, current. The eating disorder in my brain is casting doubt on everything I’ve learned in my two years of recovery. I know the truth about calories, food, and how the body works. I understand and believe the power my body has to be healthy without the need to control it. However, the old feelings of wanting to “just not eat” are strong; insecurities about my body shape and flaws are rising to the surface.

The thing about anorexia recovery, though, is I know too much now. Recovery has opened my eyes to what happens biologically and mentally to my body when I starve. To blatantly skip meals or snacks would be like running a red light on purpose. On the other hand the eating disorder is a sneaky  because it argues that I don’t have to skip eating altogether, I could just little by little put less on my plate or not eat every bite. It tells me that even though my stomach is growling, I’m actually not that hungry so eating less is okay.

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I can’t control the anorexia voice; it just sort of inserts its opinions into my life without invitation. I can recognize it, though, and use my healthy voice to respond. I’ve worked hard the last two years to find and grow that healthy voice, and it has served me (and maybe you) well this holiday season. The following posts were born from that healthy voice as I was coping with triggers:

Why you’ll enjoy Thanksgiving dinner this year

You’re already in shape

What is self-love?

Resolution Revolution

What does healthy mean?

You guys, I’m tired. Each of these posts is me swimming against the current, and it takes lots of mental and emotional energy. Recovery has made me better, no doubt. At the same time, I am only two years into healing from a disease I’ve had for over 13 years. This is what recovery looks like for me. I’m doing awesome while at the same time living with the reality of an ongoing process of a mental illness.

 

What does healthy mean?

Our culture has a wacky perspective on what healthy means. Culture says if you eat lots of greens, a bunch of protein, and little to zero carbs, simple sugars, and fat, then you are healthy. You will also be healthy if you force your body into shape by walking thousands of steps a day, crunch your abs flat, and burn more calories than you eat. If you don’t follow the rules and control yourself then you are unhealthy, which means you will stay fat or get fat if you aren’t already.  Culture’s definition of healthy is “skinny.”  Skinny isn’t enough, though, because even if you aren’t fat right now, you should probably “drop a few l-bs” because it will be healthier for you.

If you are following the rules but you aren’t slimming into those pants that are supposed to slim you down even more, and you’re feeling miserable about why your body is still craving sugar, then according to culture you need to have better self-discipline and take care of that addiction or you are just never going to be healthy. Shame on you.

I tried culture’s way and ended up in recovery for an eating disorder that almost killed me. Doing healthy culture’s way led me to the unhealthiest I’ve ever been in my life.

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Health has nothing to do with what I’m eating, how much I’m eating, how much I weigh, or what size I wear.  Health has to do with being connected to myself; healthy is between me and my body. Healthy is being able to tune into my body and know what it needs based on the things I feel–hunger, sadness, pain, pleasure, wonder, fatigue, etc. Healthy is responding to my body in a way that is respectful and loving without judgement, shame, or questioning.  When I am connected to my body and obliging what it needs and wants, then I am healthy. I can be whatever size and weight and eat all of my favorite foods and still be healthy because healthy doesn’t have a shape or size or criteria. Healthy doesn’t look a certain way; healthy is a state of being.

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There’s a difference between not feeling well and being unhealthy. When I am not feeling well, my body is trying to tell me something is wrong, and it will adjust until I do something to feel better, like maybe eat a sandwich; take a nap; go to the doctor. When I am connected to my body, I intuitively know what to do to feel better and I will do it. That’s healthy.

Conversely, when I am “unhealthy,” outside of being legitimately sick, then I have become disconnected from my body– viewing and operating myself from the perch of the world–the media, my friends, my family, my doctor, my peers, culture–and living from a space of perceived expectations without understanding that I am perfectly fine just as I am. There’s actually nothing wrong with my body, but I believe I am unhealthy because the world says I should be eating certain foods, weighing a certain amount, and looking a certain way. So I squirm in the discomfort, forcing and dieting my way into “health.”

I can’t think of anything more unhealthy than disconnecting from my body and forcing it to squeeze into culture’s expectations of what healthy means.

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Practically speaking, healthy is:

  • being in tune with my hunger and fullness cues.
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  • knowing which foods I enjoy eating and which ones I don’t.
  • eating what sounds good rather than because something is good for me.
  • listening to when my body wants to move and when it doesn’t.
  • understanding how my body moves and how it doesn’t.
  • accepting (maybe even loving!) my body as it is today.
  • appreciating what my body can do as it is today.
  • wearing clothes that fit me today.
  • resting when my body is tired.
  • challenging myself when I’m energized and uncomfortable.
  • feeling the feels when I’m triggered emotionally.
  • coping with life using tools that are right for me.
  • respecting what my body tells me ( e.g. More please. I’m done. That hurts. I’m hungry. Let’s rest.)
  • honoring the need for self care.

Healthy is not:

  • counting calories.
  • restricting/omitting food groups.
  • watching what I eat.
  • idolizing greens and protein.
  • demonizing carbs and fat.
  • controlling portions.
  • regimenting exercise.
  • burning more calories than I eat.
  • judging food as “good” or “bad.”
  • fitting into a particular size.
  • reaching a goal weight.
  • ignoring hunger or fullness.
  • demanding a certain number of steps in my day.
  • shaming myself for eating or eating something I supposedly shouldn’t have.
  • disrespecting my body’s call for rest.

What does healthy mean? Healthy means I am connected to my body–trusting and responding to whatever it’s asking for. 

How do I know if I’m healthy? I live in the freedom to eat and move how I want to; I feel good inside my own skin; I am at peace with myself regardless of the cultural noise around me about nutrition and body.

What does healthy mean to you?