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 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.
“What do you want to do for lunch?” I heard a woman say to her friend.
“Oh I’m skipping lunch today. I was a pig yesterday. Trying to make up for it,” the friend responded.
This conversation snippet could be heard anywhere. At the gym, a coffee shop, a bus stop, or perhaps even in your own home. But I heard it from two women I was standing next to at the last major women’s march.
In 2004 I, along with several of my college girlfriends, drove from Ohio to DC to attend the March for Women’s Lives. I can tell you that standing on The National Mall with nearly a million other humans making our voices heard on behalf of women’s rights was deeply moving. I can tell you that hearing this conversation then and there was deflating and yet, not all that surprising.
For all of the progress women have made too many are still ensnared in an oppressive paradigm wherein women’s bodies are viewed as untrustworthy, objects, dirty, “before” pictures, commodities, and available for the input of and control from others.
I call this part of patriarchy: body submission.
You likely know that I care a lot about women breaking free from dieting. I spend a lot of time teaching women to return to intuitive eating. I’m committed to body positivity and the liberation that all women deserve to feel from oppressive beauty standards.
But you know what’s beneath all that?
Body sovereignty is the opposite of body submission.
I am utterly devoted to contributing to the emergence of a world where women that have body sovereignty grab hold of it — and where those who don’t yet have body sovereignty gain access to it.
Those of us who have it don’t give it up in broad daylight through obvious acts of self-abandonment.
No—small holes are poked in the bottom of our power bucket and it drips out slowly.
No—body submission is dressed up, marketed, and sold as body sovereignty. It’s a convincing fake-out.
No—some of our most beloved feminist icons, for all their wisdom, still peddle in body submission making body sovereignty something we often have to find without mainstream role models.
Body submission, the giving up of our physical sovereignty, is a sneaky thing.
Here are a few ways it manifests:
You’re getting a massage and want the bodyworker to change the amount of pressure they’re using but you stay silent so as not to be a “bother”.
You’re out to lunch and everyone you’re with decides not to order dessert. You want dessert but forego so as not to draw attention to the fact you’re eating more than others.
You go to the doctor and they ask you step on the scale. You don’t want to. You know that every time you step on the scale it’s triggering for you. You step on anyways so as not to be a “difficult” patient.
Your significant other wants sex. You really don’t. You have it anyways to be a “good” partner.
You want to become a yoga teacher, or run a marathon, or climb a mountain but someone told you that people that look like you or weigh what you way can’t do those things — so you don’t pursue them.
You need to be seated at the front of the lecture hall so you can hear but you don’t ask for this because that would be “special” treatment and you don’t want to ruffle feathers.
You go on a diet, the most ubiquitous and violent act of compliance there is, because you’ve been brainwashed to believe that you can’t trust yourself or your body. You’ve bought into one body submission’s main messages: you’re out of control.
Through small everyday acts of submission many women give up the power they have as the leader, decision-maker, advocate, and ally for their body.
What I want you to know is that your body is yours despite all the forces conspiring from the day you were born to teach, tell, and treat you otherwise.
Your body is yours.
Your body is good
Your body is sovereign.
What you wear, what you eat, when you sleep, and how and who you have sex with. This is all up to you.
The choices you make for your healthcare, whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not, whether to eat that cake or not, whether to stop eating, fucking, working out, or whatever right in the middle— it’s up to you.
Body sovereignty is the clear inhabitance of your choices and domain of flesh.
It is the the protection and respect of your boundaries and your body.
It is individuation. It’s where you begin and everyone else ends. You are an adult. Grown, and thus free.
Body sovereignty is the advocacy of your needs, desires, and hungers. Especially in the face of disappointing others, ruffling feathers, and when your needs run contrary those around you.
Body sovereignty is the permission to choose, to err, to protect, to feel, to experience, to play, to refuse, to take up space, to be different, to be the same, to make noise, and to perform for no one.
It is to be beholden to no one but yourself.
Body sovereignty as I experience and know it is an allyship between oneself and one’s body in pursuit of self-supportive actions. What is self-supportive for one body may not be self-supportive for another body and only the inhabitant of the sovereign flesh can know what is right, and good, and true.
No one else can make you take advantage of your sovereignty and a lot of industries and social structures stand to profit and persist if you don’t.
My friend and colleague Desiree Adaway has a new daily practice in light of our current political landscape whereby she asks herself “Was I courageous, or complicit?”
This inspired me to ask: “Did I exercise my body sovereignty today, or did I submit?”
Those of us with the privilege to have our body sovereignty (or most of it) recognized by our culture, government, and society must advocate fiercely for this recognition to be given to all bodies.
“All bodies” means disabled bodies, bodies of people of color, aging bodies, bodies of the poor, bodies that love bodies of the same sex, transsexual bodies, trafficked bodies, sex worker bodies, and immigrant bodies.
Every time any of us reclaim our sovereignty we free not only ourselves but also the energy and attention needed to free others.
We must own, appreciate, protect and exercise our body sovereignty so that we can then use our bodies to bring this same sovereignty to everyone.
I ask you: What does this year look like for you if you were really inhabiting your sovereign body? What does body sovereignty look or feel like for you? Where are you not owning your sovereignty? How can you better respect and advocate for other people’s body sovereignty?
I’ll be asking myself these questions Saturday at the Women’s March on Washington and for many days to come.
The other night after I’d turned off the lights and gone to sleep I woke up and quickly grabbed my phone (the modern pen and paper) to capture the following statement: Reclaiming sovereignty begins with rewriting the body’s story.
In light of these words I was inspired to create a workbook to help you explore and just maybe shift your body story. This will be a fundraiser for organizations that promote body sovereignty. Be sure you’re on the newsletter list to hear more.
It’s 2 am in my home (11 am in Berlin which is what my body clock is set to which why I’m wide awake) and I’ve just gotten off my yoga mat. I had gotten out of bed to pee and on my way back I felt the urge to go straight for my phone, for Facebook, for the noise.
But what my days need from me now is embodiment.
(If you missed last week’s post “Stay” please read it first, this is a follow-up).
Mind you, it’s not my natural inclination. It’s often easier to check out. Being here, especially now, requires choosing.
But I’m devoted to serving more than ever and so I’m devoted to being in my body. I’m choosing to be here.
Being in my body does not mean I will run a marathon or do Crossfit (though if those are your thing more power to you). This is a commitment to simply keep returning to the sensations and wisdom of my body. Returning in small but meaningful ways.
And yes it’s sometimes painful because I’m in pain. My emotions, just like your emotions, reside in the body. So to feel my body is to feel my feelings–to feel what’s true. What’s true for me now is grief (all the stages) and fire and love.
And I want to add that when I got on my yoga mat I didn’t do any formal yoga poses. I just let my body lead. I stretched and moved in whatever way felt good. I used my foam roller to get out the knots. I reminded my hips, which are the first to clench in the face of distress, that it was safe to open. I patiently massaged an ache on the bottom of both feet.
Being in our bodies doesn’t have to be complicated, or graceful, or formal. Being in our bodies is just an awareness practice. Yes we can be in our bodies sitting still in a chair but sometimes for me, and for most women I know, a little movement, a little stretch, a little wiggle really helps to drop us down.
As a way to support you in being in your body I want to share with you two guided meditations from my Feast masterclass. In the first audio I guide you into your body and into the kind of intuitive movement I just described. In the second I take you on a guided body scan to put you in touch with your body’s hungers (and I’m not talking about food here). In short: I’ll take you there.
If you are living from the neck up…
If you are overwhelmed from the woes and waves of change in the world…
If you are skeptical of or mistrust your body…
If you want to drop into yourself but crave a friend go to along with you…
Every cell of my body is screaming “leave!” this morning. There is no where I want to be less than here. But I stay.
When I heard the news I ran to the toilet to throw up. I sat on the floor of the bathroom rocking back and forth, tremoring, breath shallow wanting so intensely to leave this moment, this world. But I stay.
My mind grips and grasps for me to run away to the future. To the what ifs. To the terror. To the tracing of all the steps in history that lead me and us to this moment. To the search for blame. To the desperation for salvation. My mind implores and beckons me to leave. But I stay.
As a woman, my body has rarely felt like home. For too long I didn’t live here. Here was not a place to trust. Here was not a place that I thought I could handle with my eyes open. But I found my way back and I stay.
Today the invitation I have for you may not be easy: stay.
Stay in your body. Stay with the tremors and the shaking. Stay with the pit in your stomach. Stay even as you notice yourself bobbing in and out. These feelings. This trauma. This fear and anger and sadness and confusion and despair cannot kill us. In fact staying is our salvation.
Stay in your body. Just sidle up next to whatever sensation is coursing through your flesh. Feel the pain. Notice the quality of your breath. Are you hungry? Cold? Perhaps the best way to describe here is ‘numb’? That’s all welcome.
The body knows and it has evolved over millennia to process trauma like many of us are experiencing. These processes require little effort on our part other than loving presence…other than staying with kindness.
In staying we can receive our bodies wise requests. Is it aching for companionship? Asking for quiet? Nudging us to put away the screens or put on a sweater? Now is the time to heed our body’s requests. Now is the time to stay.
There may not yet be answers to the questions in our mind but we can answer the requests of the body.
There will be a time in the near future that we act boldly, consistently, together and with steadfast determination but right now the impact has just happened, the car has just rolled, the fire just ravaged through, leaving our skin raw and our being bewildered. So right now our best action is to simply stay. Stay and tend. Stay and feel. Stay and listen.
Here is my call: let our response to this moment be deeper embodiment.
Why embodiment? What can embodiment do in the face such real-life practical threats?
Embodied women are resourced.
Embodied women are awake.
Embodied women are rooted.
If there were ever a time for women to be resourced, awake, and rooted this is it.
Let our commitment be to stay and to feel and then to act on behalf of those whose bodies are most threatened. And it’s all a threat to bodies isn’t it?
Marriage equality and LGBTQ rights? Human bodies.
Racial justice? Bodies.
Reproductive rights? Bodies.
War? ISIS? Bodies.
Affordable and accessible healthcare? Bodies.
Responsible gun control? Bodies.
The disembodied cannot support and protect the physically vulnerable nearly as effectively as an army of the deeply embodied.
Don’t move to Canada.
Don’t check out.
Don’t give up.
Don’t turn to your escape of choice.
Stay. Just here. Just now. In this hurting, reeling body.
All you need to is stay and when you leave, come back as soon as you are aware.
When all you want to do is leave.
When hopelessness nips at your toes.
When you don’t know where to go or what to think or how to proceed.
Just stay here in your powerful, vulnerable, sacred flesh.
The way forward will be found here and together, in our bodies, we will rise.