I have some limited knowledge of Intuitive Eating and as I understand it we listen to physical cues and sensations in the body to guide our eating. This being said, do you feel there is a role for listening to messages from the mind?
For example, I often experience physical hunger as an unsettled, spaciousness in my upper mid-abdomen rising into my throat… this cues me to know I am physically hungry (although can be confused with anxiety at times, but this is a different conversation). When I sense my physical hunger cue, I try and ask myself ‘what am I hungry for?’ and honour this by eating whatever it is that I am hungry for. Here is where I get a little hung up, sometimes what I am hungry for triggers a mental response of ‘how will that food make you feel?’ and sometimes the truth of the matter is not great. A concrete example is ice cream… I may receive a physical hunger cue and when I ask myself what are you hungry for the answer is ‘ice cream’. I honour this hunger by having ice cream and then seem to be wanting more, but my mind tells me when I eat ‘too much’ of the ice cream I often don’t feel physically well in a few hours time.
This leaves me feeling confused? Maybe I am confusing physical hunger with a deeper soulful hunger? Or maybe I am hungry for a little ice cream and also something deeper? Or maybe I am letting my mind run the show? Is it possible to integrate the wisdom of our mind (knowing from trial and error and in a non-judgemental way that certain food leaves us feeling this way or that) with the wisdom of our body?”
It’s midnight. You’re up late watching something funny on television. As you get up to go brush your teeth a craving hits you: the coffee ice cream downstairs in the freezer.
What do you do?
If you eat the ice cream, which contains caffeine, there’s a chance you’ll have poor sleep.
If you don’t eat the ice cream, you might be ignoring your hunger.
What’s the right decision?
Truth: there isn’t a right answer.
Seriously. You can’t get it wrong.
There are just different choices with different rewards and consequences.
Some days one choice will feel more optimal and other days you’ll go in another direction.
Neither making you a good or bad person. Neither being objectively superior.
Some days sleep will matter more. Some days pleasure and ice cream will matter more.
This is just one example of how intuitive eating works.
Intuitive eating is body-led, not body ruled.
We lead with our body, but we make integrated decisions because we’re whole people. Intuitive eating includes your emotions, your traditions, your history, your physical wellness needs, real-life limitations and so much more. When we eat intuitively, rather than simply for our physical or emotional needs, we integrate.
And how do we do that if we have spent years drinking the “eat for fuel” or “good food, bad food” kool-aid?
We do it through trial and error. Through being the awkward toddler. The beautiful thing about learning to eat intuitively is that every day presents at least three solid opportunities for practicing and usually more. And we never need to get it perfect because perfection doesn’t exist.
So maybe we eat the ice cream and we don’t sleep and we wish we hadn’t eaten it. That’s good information to know.
Maybe we eat the ice cream, don’t sleep, and feel that it was totally worth the lost shut eye. That’s good information.
Maybe we don’t eat the ice cream, we sleep well (or not), and wish we had eaten it. That’s good to know.
Maybe we don’t eat the ice cream, sleep well (or not), and feel great about skipping the midnight snack. That too is good information.
Every time we eat we get feedback from our body and our heart. We get to decide what works for us. And what works for us on a Monday doesn’t have to be what works for us on a Tuesday.
No need for guilt or self-recrimination. It’s just information. We file it away and another opportunity to practice and make informed choices will certainly present itself.
You’re allowed to eat purely for pleasure and because something tastes good. If you do this 100% of the time, you probably won’t feel awesome or deeply fed.
You’re allowed to eat purely for nutritive reasons. If you do this 100% of the time you probably won’t feel awesome or deeply fed.
It’s also possible to get a craving for a specific food, recognize that it’s a food that won’t leave you feeling the way you want to feel and to drill down to see if you can scratch the itch another way.
For example, a craving for ice cream might be a craving for something sweet, or cold, or creamy and all of those qualities exist in other foods. So you may explore alternative ways to get your craving satisfied OR you may decide that ice cream is really what you want, regardless of how it will leave you feeling and that is entirely okay.
What we want is for food to feel easy, guilt-free, and integrated so that, over time, your varied needs get met.
And because part of this approach to eating is curiosity and noticing there will be times, if you inquire, that what first appears as food hunger, is actually hunger for something unrelated to food. There are times when the urge to eat is a proxy for the urge for human connection, physical touch, adventure, or emotional comfort. This is normal and what you do with the information is up to you.
Dear Reader, you asked: “Is it possible to integrate the wisdom of our mind (knowing from trial and error and in a non-judgemental way that certain food leaves us feeling this way or that) with the wisdom of our body?”
The answer is yes. Emphatically yes. It is possible. It just takes practice, curiosity, a willingness to let go of perfection, and sometimes support.
Over the past two weekends, I’ve gathered with some followers to share a bit more about some of my favorite topics. Here are the replays and some useful resources mentioned in each conversation. You can find future live sessions by following me on my Facebook page.
Self-Compassion & Sensitivity (7.8.17)
Self-Compassion Journal Prompts (we didn’t do all of these Live):
Describe your inner critic. What tone does it use? Does it sound like someone you know or knew in real life? What are it’s most common phrases or statement? What is it afraid of? What circumstances are most likely to incite your inner critic?
Describe your inner kind voice. What tone does it have? What are it’s most common phrases and statements? What circumstances invoke your inner kind voice and calm your inner critic?
Who if anyone serves as a role model to you for speaking to yourself with self-compassion?
Draw a circle. At the center of the circle draw a heart or a flame. On the inside of the circle jot down all the parts of yourself that you welcome, celebrate, accept, show to others and yourself.
On the outside jot down the parts you feel shame about, the parts you have not accepted, the parts you feel are inferior to other people.
What would it take for me to welcome in one of the pieces of me that I’m keeping in the cold into my heart? What would it take for me to accept that this part of me does not impede love? What part of my imperfect humanity could I welcome in just a bit more? What does that as yet unwelcome part of me need to hear me say?
Sensitivity Journal Prompts:
What were you told throughout your life about your sensitivity? Who told you that?
How have you been viewing your temperament? What shift would make it easier to be in your own skin?
What are you sensitive to? (music, noise, people, light, smells, clutter, traffic, roller coasters, temperature, touch, other’s emotions)
What’s an instance where your sensitivity has been an asset? What’s been the gift of your temperament?
Intuitive Eating (7.15.17)
Over the last few weeks I’ve had a handful of dinner dates with girlfriends and to my surprise three of them, all on separate meetups, revealed to me that they were dieting.
That might seem normal in our current culture but I somehow believed that my friends knew better and that my teachings had been transmitted to them, directly or indirectly, over the many years we’ve known each other.
As I lay awake a few nights ago I began to ask myself:
Is it that my friends don’t understand what I do? Or better said, in my most indignant huffy voice: “After all these years don’t they agree with and trust my authority on this topic!?”
Is it that my friends are human and just susceptible to the overwhelming amount of weight-loss propaganda we all face?
Is it that in the face of weight gain they just don’t know what else to do? Is it that dieting has become such a knee-jerk response to too-tight pants that we don’t question it, even if our wiser self knows better?
Is it that our world feels like it’s spinning out of control and being on a diet feels safe and secure?
Likely, it’s some combination of all of these factors and more.
But I want to say to them and to anyone who wakes up and feels the siren call of dieting:
Hang on a minute!
Wait! Before you commit to that diet or start researching Whole30 or reactivating your Weight Watchers account take a breath.
First, because it can’t be said enough: diets don’t work in the long-run and most often ultimately result in weight gain.
“But I’m not doing a diet!” you might say, “I’m just eating clean” or “I’m just watching my portions” or “I’m just giving up sugar.”
If you can mess it up it’s a diet.
If you’re making food choices predominantly with your brain rather than your body, it’s a diet.
If you have to follow rules to get it right, it’s a diet.
If you can google your specific new approach to eating and find a printable meal plan, it’s likely a diet.
When I say diets don’t work I mean they don’t result in long-term weight-loss, but they do have an impact.
Diets are a violence we perpetrate on ourselves no matter the seemingly benign or holy justification we offer up.
They leave us more disconnected from our hunger and fullness cues. They wreck havoc on our bodies. They treat grown adults like children. I could go on. Diets are bad news and best avoided. Oh, and if you’ve been on the diet train for a day or a lifetime, it’s never too late to get off.
Of course, your body is yours. It’s not my place to tell you how to feel about your body or what do with your body. This is an essential truth. And there are other ways than dieting to respond to your body’s increase in size (real or imagined) than restriction, especially when we know it doesn’t work.
A few other key things to remember before I offer up some suggestions:
Weight fluctuation is normal.
Bodies naturally come in a whole range of sizes.
The size of a body says nothing about the person, including how healthy they are.
Many, many people don’t have any accurate sense of their body because of some level of dysmorphia.
Our world is pretty sick and twisted when it comes to how we view and treat body fat and fat people.
Part of how we heal this on a global scale is by individual person after individual person opting out of thin supremacy, dieting culture, and weight stigma.
Many times the urge to diet is more about anxiety management than body size.
If you’ve gained weight recently or just unhappy with your size and you’re open, or even eager to doing something other than diet, here are just a few constructive responses:
- Work with an Intuitive Eating, Health-At-Every-Size-oriented coach or nutritionist. If you’d like a referral for your specific needs, shoot me an email.
- Read Intuitive Eating and work through the new workbook.
- Add some body-positive voices to your social media feeds.
- Delete body-negativity from your social media feeds. Unsubscribe. Unfollow. Be ruthless.
- Throw out, give away, or put in storage any clothing that doesn’t fit the body you have right now.
- Ditch the scale too.
- Buy a few pieces of clothing that you feel great in, including underwear and bras.
- Go have fun. Do something, in this body, that makes you feel alive.
- Explore size-friendly yoga. Like with Anna, Jessamyn, Dianne, or Dana.
- Spend some time in nature. Notice how the trees never care about what you or they look like.
- Cook or buy something that’s a 10 out of 10 on the delicious scale. Eat it with gusto. See if you can notice the moment your body says “Thank you, I’m done for now.”
- Download this hunger scale app. Play around.
- Do nothing. Sit still. Hang out with the discomfort. Get curious.
- Let your body write you a letter. Write one back.
- Ponder body dysmorphia. Are you 100% sure that what you’re seeing is accurate?
- Go look at diverse images of the human body and behold the beauty in everyone.
- Ponder thin supremacy and how it might be related to your urge to diet.
- Ponder patriarchy and how it might be related to your urge to diet.
- Ask: if I never lost an ounce again, could I embrace myself and live my life fully?
- Ask: What does dieting distract me from?
- Join Feast.
- Reflect on past attempts at weight loss. Notice that they never ‘worked’.
- Ask: What in my life might be causing me to feel anxious or out of control?
- Listen to as many episodes of Food Psych as you can.
Dieting might feel like the logical response to feeling out of sorts in your body, or when your jeans don’t fit, or when eating feels out of control, but it’s a dead-end in the long run. The good news is that there is help and there are other ways that result in feeling better in your skin, more at peace with food, and more available to live your meaningful and full life.
A final note: this stuff is messy and multifaceted. Don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s simple or 1-2-3. What I’ve written here is just a first pass and not a one-size-fits-all directive. It’s complicated to have a body. It’s complicated to be a woman (cis or otherwise). It’s complicated when the world you live in tells you that because of your body or what your body might become you’re not worthy. It’s complicated, or it can be, to come back to your body when so many forces have driven you from it. I have so much care for all this complexity and the real and diverse human experiences that make up the body liberation/positive movement.
For many many years I’ve been fortunate enough to practice something called Wild Writing with Laurie Wagner. Each Friday morning when we’re in session I pack up my notebook and drive across the Bay Bridge to Alameda where myself and a handful of other women gather around her dining room table and spend two hours in practice.
I wish every woman in every community had a regular Wild Writing group. It feeds such a potent mix of hungers. The hunger for connection, for truth, for hearing your own voice, for laughter, for space and slowing down, for time away from screens, for emotional release, for inspiration and new discovery. For me, it’s often been a powerful support to my mental health. I could go on.
For some time now I’ve felt the call to lead my own group in my own version of this practice and so I am.
I’m calling it Sift: a writing practice for being human.
Let me tell you a little bit about what this practice looks like and who I’m inviting to join me.
First off, this is, right now, just for women in the San Francisco Bay Area. We’ll be meeting in-person at my home.
I have space for 8 women in total. [NOTE: ALL SPACES HAVE BEEN RESERVED, EMAIL TO GET ON THE WAITING LIST FOR THIS AND FUTURE GROUPS]
We’ll meet Wednesdays September 6th – October 11th (side note: the last week we’ll actually meet on a Tuesday, October 10th) from 10 AM to noon. Yes, for now, this is for folks with flexible weekday schedules.
This is a practice. Like yoga or painting, it’s about showing up and being willing meet yourself where you are.
This is not for people who want to be better writers (though you can want that too), it’s not for professional writers (though you can be that too), it’s not really about the writing at all. It’s about what this practice helps us access and about doing it together. You need no prior experience to participate. Just a willingness to show up and be honest.
Personally, I practice to tell the truth, to be human with other humans, to hear my stories, to make sense of myself and the world around me, to make space for my contradictions, to find the words, to reveal, to relax, and to be a little messy.
The practice essentially goes like this:
You’ll arrive. Get a cup of tea. Settle in.
I’ll read a poem and when I’m done I’ll pick a line or two for us to use as our writing prompt.
Then we’ll write, unedited, pen to paper, not stopping for 10 to 20 minutes. We don’t try to sound smart. We don’t try to write well. This practice serves to help us get around our perfectionist and performer.
When the time is up we go around the table (myself included) and read our writing. No feedback is given. We don’t discuss what’s written. We just witness each other. Sometimes there is laughter. Sometimes there are tears. It’s all welcome.
Then we repeat.
If it sounds simple, it is. It’s also profound.
If it sounds exhilarating but also scary. You’re not alone.
The cost to participate for the six weeks during this initial run is $200.
If you want to reserve your spot at the table send me an email expressing your interest and I’ll send you an invoice for your deposit. [NOTE: ALL SPACES HAVE BEEN RESERVED, EMAIL TO GET ON THE WAITING LIST]
If you don’t live in the Bay Area, Laurie, my brilliant teacher, teaches Wild Writing online in small groups and it’s very powerful in that format too.