My Take on Intuitive Eating

#Fitbloggin's Ditch the Diet: How to Eat Intuitively panel was kinda intense.  I have lots of thoughts on this topic, so please bear wi...

#Fitbloggin's Ditch the Diet: How to Eat Intuitively panel was kinda intense.  I have lots of thoughts on this topic, so please bear with me if I go in circles or on tangents. 

If I were to say "at one point in your life, you were an intuitive eater" would you believe me?  When you were a baby would you cry when you were hungry?  You should be nodding yes.  Would you eat way past the point of satiety?  Probably not, and if you did, you must've been one little vomit cannon.  Now that you have more choices than a breast or a bottle, food and eating have become an emotional minefield.  I just wanted to say this early on to help remind you that if you were once an intuitive eater you can find your way back to being one. 

My journey into intuitive eating wasn't necessarily the kumbaya feel-good cathartic process.  It started with a few basic admissions on my part:  (1) I wasn't taught proper nutrition when I was younger; (2) I had no idea what my body actually needed; (3) I had no idea what my "diet" actually looked like and if my nutritional needs were being met; and (4) there's a difference between mindless/mindful grazing and intuitive eating.

I couldn't do much about the first point (though, forgiving my parents was a big part of it and letting go of the "if only they knew, I wouldn't be like this" grudge was instrumental in my healing).  However, I could work to understand and correct the final three. 

It is safe to say that I had been winging the whole diet thing for a while.  While I had a trainer (back in 2006), I had very little guidance when it came to nutrition.  I would run a 10k at the gym, do some weights and core work, and then go get a greasy spinach/chicken quesadilla and a beer as a reward for my hard work.  Of course I was frustrated that I wasn't losing weight faster!  There was a huge disconnect in my mind (and in my behavior) regarding fueling my workouts and my life.

For me, the answer was in gathering data.  I knew how to calculate my Basal Metabolic Rate/Harris Benedict Factor, but even that was just an estimate.  I needed something more accurate.  I knew a little about the BodyBugg from watching The Biggest Loser and that sounded like it could work.  I did some research and found out that BodyMedia made both the BodyMediaFit ("BMF") and the BodyBugg ("BB") -- the main difference was the software (the Web interface was different, and the BMF would measure sleep).  Otherwise they looked nearly identical.  In February 2010, I used my bosses' holiday/end-of-the year checks to purchase the BodyMedia Fit for myself. 

I started wearing it as soon it was charged, but (a) it would take a few weeks of information to see patterns emerging in activity and sleep and (b) I would need to go to a dietitian to understand the role food played in all of it.  But I was closer to seeing the whole picture: 

  1. I led a pretty sedentary life when I wasn't busting my ass at the gym;
  2. I was all over the place with food (eating little some days and too much on others); and
  3. While I was in bed and sleeping for many hours, I wasn't actually getting quality sleep.
My dietitian filled in some of the blanks regarding food as well -- I was an emotional eater with a few trigger foods (Oreos and peanut butter (especially when in cookie form));  I didn't get enough fat, protein or calories in general; and that I was in an emotional relationship with my refrigerator. 

Breaking up with my refrigerator (i.e. mindlessly looking in the fridge as if something new were going to appear) was much easier than correcting what was missing in my diet and much easier than handling the trigger foods.  Dealing with the trigger foods would come much later in an epiphany of sorts

Re-learning about diet and nutrition was much easier once I was able to break up with the fridge and break free of the emotions that made me feel powerless around food.  Once I realized that food did not make me happy in the way I thought it was making me happy, it no longer held sway and dominion over me.  Let me rephrase:  I could be happy to eat something, but eating something won't bring me happiness.  I had to deal with the (un)happiness away from the kitchen.

Pretty soon I had cleared away enough emotional/mental space to deal with the questions of intuitive eating.  This is once again where the BodyMediaFit played a big role.  Once I knew how many calories I was burning, it was much easier for me to say "I know my body needs this" versus "I think this is what my body needs" or "this is what I want."  My ability to estimate portion sizes and calorie counts became much more accurate the more I used my scale and my BMF.  I also knew my exercise burns much better. I knew how much an hour on the elliptical would burn versus an hour on the bike, or an hour weight lifting.  I knew that I could adjust my diet accordingly and without panic.

Is this intuitive eating?  Yes and no.  It's the best I can do, but sometimes it falls short of my dietary needs. 

It's what I like to call "informed eating" -- I'm not counting calories as much anymore, but I am almost always wearing my BMF (even if I'm not syncing it or checking my burn on the display).  I am comfortable with the feelings of hunger I might have on a day when my burn is high.  But I'm also comfortable in sitting with that hunger knowing that if I'm within a certain range, that my food is still fueling my activity (I try not to have more than a 1000 calorie deficit and I aim for 750/ 1.5lbs/week).

Is this perfect?  Nope.  When I hit a plateau, I know it's time to start food logging again, mainly to make sure I'm eating enough of the right things. 

Have I had a binge lately?  Well I've overindulged a bit when it comes to vodka, but no emotional "ZOMG I NEED TO EAT THIS BECAUSE IT WILL MAKE EVERYTHING RIGHT IN MY LIFE" feelings lately.  I consider that enough of a victory for now.

I really do credit the BodyMediaFit for this -- it took the emotions out of the process of diet/exercise.  It was now a math equation (as many doctors and scientists have said all along):

Calories in < Calories Out

The emotions have to find their own equation.

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9 comments

  1. "informed eating" and "the emotions have to find their own equation."

    YES!! I LOVE that!! I think you and I are very similar...we need to find our own way and use the words that make sense to us...and to ME that is what it means to be intuitive. I hope that I portrayed that during the session!

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  2. OK - so much to relate to!
    I had to break off my mad love affair with chocolate covered almonds (for now).
    Just wait til your MY age - the BMR is enough to send you out of a high rise condo window.
    You are a smart woman.
    #thatisall

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  3. I love, love, love this post! You are intuitively eating as you see it and it comes from a place of self learning a and understanding.
    I'm very glad to have found your blog:)

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  4. I get this as well. I find that limiting carbs worked for me. I told myself "Are you really that hungry? Then eat a bell pepper, then". If I were really starving, I would eat a rat for food. Or the bell pepper. If I don't, I was not really hungry to begin with.

    I can (and I do, just not every day) eat potatoes or rice, bread, pasta, even pizza, etc. Just a portion, be happy with it, and then move on.

    But "processed carbs" are trigger foods for me. Think OREOS. Cookies, brownies, cake, chips... Those I must stay away from.

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  5. Karen: For me being intuitive when it comes to eating comes down one basic question: do I trust myself to nourish my body?

    It's much harder that it sounds.

    Kris: one day at a time, yanno? I'm not going to send myself into a panic over getting older. Until then, bring on the chocolate (almonds or not!)

    Sassy: I'm glad you found my blog as well. I'm coming from the place of "it doesn't need to be perfect"

    DF: I refuse to villify any one food group. For me it is once again a balancing act: calorie dense < nutrient dense. It again helped me take the emotions out of it. Avocado has lots of calories, but it is nutrient dense. Bread has many caloires, but isn't as nutrient dense. I make qualitative choices regardless of the category of food.

    In the end it works out to the same no Oreos or Brownies, but it's a mental process that helps me deal with the emotions of it all.

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  6. Great post, chickadee and very wise. In some ways I think emotional eating has its place and time.

    For example, my friends wedding or a night out with the girls. But the trick is planning for it and ALLOWING yourself to do it "guilt free"

    Intuitive eating isn't just eating thoughtfully, its also eating without guilt.

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  7. DW: I think you can be happy or sad when you're eating (i.e. having emotions when eating) but to use the emotions as an excuse to over or under eat is not good. I know just as many people that starve themselves when they're upset as I do people who gorge themselves.

    Like I said, emotions have their own space to live in... and it's not my stomach. If I'm able to remember that, then there is no guilt.

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  8. I really like your take on it and the use of the word INFORMED as well
    for me it's mindful eating
    all things are ok---as long as it's mindful and not inapanicshovedinmycakehole eating.

    Miz.

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  9. I like the idea of mindful eating -- but you could be mindfully eating (not that you do) foods that aren't good for you.

    Informed eating means you understand nutritional needs, and what it takes to meet those needs, and just how much wiggle room you have to include the foods you want versus need.

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<3 Robby