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:
- I led a pretty sedentary life when I wasn't busting my ass at the gym;
- I was all over the place with food (eating little some days and too much on others); and
- While I was in bed and sleeping for many hours, I wasn't actually getting quality sleep.
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.