Trigger warning: Disordered eating
As a former bulimic, my past relationship with food was certainly not the best. These days it’s hard to stay sane about food and not get sucked into the whirlwind of diet culture, especially as a college student. Our society places a heavy emphasis on weight and being thin, resulting in the mass production and dissemination of crash diets, diet pills, exercise programs, detox teas and calorie counting apps on the market.
I got stuck in the hamster wheel of diet culture; counting every calorie, tracking every macro and restricting my intake only to end up binging later on. Amid my eating disorder, I fell out of tune with my natural hunger cues, thus losing trust in my body and feeling more out of control than ever. Such a cycle harmed me physically, mentally and emotionally.
One of the biggest factors behind my recovery journey was learning to eat intuitively. Intuitive eating is simply about regaining your natural hunger and satiety cues, thereby eating in a way that best supports your physical and mental well-being. Rather than focusing on dieting to lose weight, intuitive eating is all about creating a healthy, nourishing and trusting relationship with food. As an intuitive eater, I don’t attach a moral label to food, but see food as a neutral energy source. I don’t demonize any food group and honor my cravings. I reject the tenets of diet culture and simply listen to my body’s biological responses to tell me when to eat and when to stop.
Anyone can become an intuitive eater. None of us were born with the innate knowledge of knowing how to use My Fitness Pal, rather, we were born with perfectly calibrated hunger and fullness cues. Through the course of our lifetimes, certain traumas, conditions or events may cause us to fall out of sync with our innate biological responses, but it’s never too late to regain them. Here are the biggest changes that left a positive impact once I decided to embark on my intuitive eating journey and ditch diet culture once and for all.
I stopped binging
A common misconception chronic dieters may have that prevents them from trying out intuitive eating is that they’ll simply eat everything in sight. While you may initially eat more than normal when you first start eating intuitively, ultimately your body will balance out and relearn your hunger cues, resulting in you settling at the optimal healthy body weight for you.
Before intuitive eating, I refused to let a morsel of any food I deemed “bad” pass through my lips. Fried foods, processed foods, pastries, cake, cookies, chocolate and ice cream were all strictly off-limits. In addition to restricting certain types of foods, I restricted my caloric intake to a number that was too low for my body to meet its energy needs. This set the stage for immense cravings and late-night binge eating. When I started intuitive eating, I no longer demonized foods or restricted my calories, choosing to honor my cravings and my body’s wants. If I craved a cookie, I allowed myself to have one. I was astonished to see that when I removed the black-and-white thinking, caloric restriction and simply listened to my body, I no longer wanted to eat the whole box of cookies, but felt content and happy with just one.
I stopped thinking about food 24/7
Religiously logging every calorie and tracking every macro onto My Fitness Pal put food at the forefront of my mind everyday. My mind was imprinted by the calculator dictating how many calories I had eaten so far and how many I had left. As I ate one meal, I was already planning the other. So much of my mental energy was directed towards planning my next meal that I didn’t have the ability to think about other things, such as school, my relationships and enjoying the little moments of life. Through intuitive eating, I was able to free up the mental space that obsessions over food once occupied and dedicate my newfound energy and time to more productive things.
I became more mindful
At the core of learning how to be an intuitive eater is mindfulness. Especially when first starting out, practicing mindfulness during meal times is imperative to relearning and listening to your natural hunger signals. Savor and taste the flavors and textures of every bite of food that enters your mouth and take note of how it makes your body feel. Don’t rush to finish your food, but eat slowly and revel in every bite! I know many of us have the habit of going on our phones when we eat, but try to eliminate all distractions so that you can accurately gauge when you’re satiated and appreciate the food you’re eating. Practicing mindfulness during meal teams helped me build a foundation for practicing mindfulness in all areas of my life. As a result, I’ve learned how to manage stress better and deal with my anxiety more effectively.
I became more social
Prior to intuitive eating, I avoided social situations where I knew food was going to be involved. I hated the thought of other people preparing my food because I didn’t know what was going to be in it, so I couldn’t accurately log the nutrition information. This led me to feeling more isolated than ever as I distanced myself from friends and new potential connections. Many of our social interactions involve eating with others and food can be a mode through which we make memories and connect with one another. When I began intuitive eating, I found food freedom and rid myself of food fear. This helped me no longer be afraid of going to restaurants or social gatherings with food. Instead of obsessively thinking about the calories or macros, I could focus on enjoying the conversation and banter with those around me.
Healing your relationship with food is a hard thing to do, but it’s totally worth it. Though it may sound difficult and scary, the intuitive eating framework changed my life and I hope it can change yours too.