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)
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 and six spots are already taken, so I have space for 2 more.
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. Again, I have five spaces remaining. You’re also welcome to email me any questions you have.
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.
Last week I met with a new client who struggles with perfectionism and she mentioned that she had recently decided to watch a movie late on a “school night”, even though she “knew better” and when she found herself tired at work the next day her logical conclusion was “I’m bad.” I’m bad as in, “I’m irresponsible, I’m not trustworthy, I make bad decisions” etc.
Hearing the order of events (watch a movie late → feel tired next day at work → conclude badness) it felt like she took a huge stratospheric leap between step A and C. And yet, this is a leap I hear women make all the time. Every week they lay their sins at my feet as evidence of their personal failings.
Here are just a few of the things that women I’ve worked with have told me is evidence of their personal, innate ‘badness’:
- I ate the second box of cookies even though I knew I wasn’t hungry
- I lashed out at my partner who was just trying to help me.
- I missed an important deadline at work.
- I’m fat.
- Unbeknownst to me, I used an offensive term that hurt someone.
- I talked down to a friend of mine.
- My kid hit another kid at school.
- I bought a new pair of shoes when I don’t really have the money for them.
- I went on a date with someone I really liked but then they didn’t want to go on a second date with me.
- I’m (insert age) years old and I still haven’t (insert life achievement) yet.
- I don’t know how to ask for what I want in bed.
- I didn’t speak up at my annual review and ask for the raise I know I deserve.
- I was sexually assaulted and didn’t report it.
- I just quit a well-paying job and don’t know what’s next for me.
- I don’t want kids.
- I didn’t vote in the last election.
- I haven’t saved for retirement.
- I’m, according to my doctor, ‘obese’
- I just had to buy a bigger pants size.
- I tried to do Whole30/Weight Watchers/Paleo and fell off the wagon.
- I laid on the couch all weekend watching reruns of Seinfeld.
- I have a partner who earns enough that I don’t have to work and so I don’t work.
- I had work to do but I took a nap instead.
- I slept with the guy on the first date even though I didn’t really want to.
- I have a to-list a mile long and instead of doing anything productive I went to the movies
- My house is filthy
And so it goes. On and on.
As you can see it’s pretty easy, by these measures, to be ‘bad’
So what’s wrong with labeling ourselves as bad?
It’s a dead-end.
It asks of us no curiosity or compassion. It leaves no room for nuance or humanity.
And importantly it doesn’t engender a different outcome, should you want that, next time.
There is nothing that inspires me less to make changes than feeling bad about myself. I have never and will never change my behavior in a lasting and wholesome way as a result of feeling like I’m not enough or because I berated myself.
Nevermind that it’s not true. “I am bad” is not an accurate description what’s going on and why we act the way we do.
So if we’re not bad then what are we? What’s the alternative?
We are human and the alternative is to look at ourselves through the lenses of compassion and curiosity.
When self-compassion has seeped into our bones and we’ve found ourselves nestled firmly amongst the family of bumbling humans something extraordinary happens: “because I’m bad” either ceases to be an option for explaining anything or it scarcely makes an appearance. (I’ll get into what replaces it down below.)
If “I’m bad” or some variation of it still show up on your list of possible explanations for your behavior, choices, life, experiences, or appearance then today I’m inviting you to, at least temporarily, in the name of experimentation, remove it. (Seriously, what if you couldn’t explain anything with that?!)
If you ask me what my work is about I will mention “hungers” and “women” and “feasting on your life”, but at the root, my work is really about how we relate to ourselves. When we are in an allied relationship with ourselves we trust our hungers and seek to feed them. When we are in an oppositional relationship to ourselves we mistrust our hungers and seek to numb, deny or minimize them.
This most essential relationship, the one we have with ourselves, also determines the lens through which we view all of our actions. If we’re not on the same team as ourselves, if on the inside we’re both the ‘good guy judge’ and the ‘flawed bad guy’ then “I’m bad” is a common conclusion to make.
When we’ve come to see that all parts of ourselves are welcome, that all parts of make sense, that there is no bad guy, and that we’re no better or worse (though equally special) than all humans we no longer find “I’m bad” on the list of ways to explain our actions.
So what happens when “I’m bad” isn’t an option?
What you find is a whole host of doors open up. You find immense compassion not just for yourself but for every human who is also wading through the muck of life.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a get out of jail free card. This isn’t how we justify behaving badly. This is how we see nuance. This is how we get to the root of what’s going on and what it means to be human. This is how we gain deeper insight into our own patterns and increase our sense of choice.
So, you might be wondering: “If I’m not bad then what’s going on?”
The most common answer, in my experience, is nothing.
Nothing is going on because the action is something any normal, imperfect human might do. Try it on for size: “I did X because I’m human. The end.” In these cases the only thing that needs to change is us embracing our own humanness, seeing ourselves within the family of humans, and holding ourselves to more human standards.
This one most often comes up around productivity and rest. The need for more sleep.The never-ending to-do list. The dirty house and unfolded laundry. All of these are typical areas for women to label themselves as lacking, when in fact, they are just human. Regular human, not superhuman. Join the club.
Other ways you might explain or interpret your behavior that don’t assign core not-enoughness include:
- Because…I’m hurting and I didn’t know a better way to cope with it. (humans hurt sometimes and we don’t always use or have a robust coping toolkit)
- Because I’m scared. (humans get scared)
- Because I was checked out. (humans do that sometimes)
- Because I wasn’t informed/awake. (humans have blind spots)
- Because I was/am struggling to balance two or more competing needs. (humans have a lot of layers and often our needs rub against each other)
- Because I was caught in my own illusions. (being human = egoic illusions that need to be worked through)
- Because I was chasing love/safety and part of me thought I could find it if I did X (humans need love and safety and will do a lot of stuff to get any semblance of it.)
- Because I was trying to live up to an unrealistic, inhumane standard. (humans, especially women humans, are expected to live up to a lot of impossible stuff)
- Because I goofed. (humans goof up)
- Because I was triggered (humans get triggered)
- Because I was tired (humans get tired)
- Because I behaved badly. (humans do that sometimes)
I’m not saying that given a do-over you wouldn’t, sometimes, go back and do some things differently. I am saying that there needs to be room for you to be human and for your very human actions not to be interpreted as you being deficient, bad, lacking, or not enough in any way.
Who you are is not what you do. What you do is a result of being an imperfect human with the level of consciousness, connection and healing you have at a given moment.
This means I can reject your behavior and not be rejecting you.
This means you can behave ‘badly’ and not be ‘bad’
This shift in lenses also means, again, that we can have a better understanding of why we behaved in a certain way and then have more space, thanks to compassion, to either accept ourselves or make a different choice next time.
There is no part of you that’s the enemy, that can’t be trusted, or that’s out to get you. There are just parts of you to be understood better, listened to more deeply, possibly healed, and ultimately, and always, loved.
If you want to know where to find these unwelcomed parts of yourself, here are a few places to look:
- Where do you feel less than other people or commonly compare yourself only to find most often that you rank below others?
- If I asked you to tell me all the ways you’re not living up to where you should be, what would you say? Where would you say you fall short? (I hope it’s clear I would never seriously ask you this question)
- Straight up: in what areas are you a bad mother, wife, friend, daughter, employee, etc.? (again, not a question I would ask because I disagree with the premise, but a good one to spark your awareness)
Your answers to all three of these questions will shed light on places you might offer some more compassion towards, you might let go of superhuman expectations, find a loving motivation to make changes, or simply seek to understand before you condemn.
I highly recommend the following books if this is a topic that feels alive for you:
I was just a few months into dating my now fiancé and we were returning from a day trip.
I was tired.
He was all of the sudden excited. “Oh! I want to take you some place!” he exclaimed.
“I’m pretty tired” I replied, struggling to find my clear “No thank you. Take me home please.”
It’s called the Warehouse Cafe though it’s much more warehouse than cafe.
Walking into this dive bar, so dark that it took more than a minute for our eyes to adjust from the afternoon light, I immediately felt awash in sadness. Not my own sadness, but the sadness of the people there. Hunched over the bar, nursing a drink that was far from their first of the day. They were sad. Not even outwardly sad, but emanating sadness nonetheless, and I could feel it.
It washed over me like a cloud of cigarette smoke and made it just as hard to breathe.
Returning with drinks for us Justin beamed with that ‘Isn’t this place cool!’ look in his eyes.
“I need to get out of here” I responded as tears welled up in my eyes and my breath got short.
Wandering out back amidst a crowd of rowdy bikers we found a place to sit and I started to cry.
Needless to say he was perplexed.
Why had walking into a bar—a bar he was excited to take me to—made me cry?
I tried to explain.“The people in there.” Wiping away tears. “They are so sad. I can feel it.”
Now he was annoyed. I seemed crazy to him and his mind flashed forward to what life might be like with me, unable to ever set foot in a cool dive bar, too sensitive to have any fun. Or so he feared.
Underneath it all he was disappointed. I had popped his balloon.
Nothing I could say in the moment helped me make sense to him.
He was annoyed and I was outraged.
How could he not understand?! How could his first reaction to my upset not be compassion?!
No one spoke on the drive home and when he pulled up in front my apartment I got out, slammed the door, and he sped off.
We’d had our first big fight.
In the years since then I’ve come to understand several important things about myself, sensitivity, and relationships.
First, I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and I was born this way.
Just like dogs can pick up on sounds and smells that humans cannot detect, HSPs can pick up on a whole range of stimuli that non-HSPs are often oblivious to. This makes us powerful. This temperament is a form of intelligence. We’re also the target of messages that we’re weak and too sensitive. Not so. Being an HSP is an asset despite the fact that our dominant culture doesn’t see it that way.
In my masterclass Feast we spend an entire week focusing on high sensitivity because it’s such an important cornerstone in the journey to make peace with food. Often a student will tell me they are an “emotional eater” but what they describe is an overstimulated highly sensitive person using food to calm their nervous system. The more my students understand what it means to be an HSP, shake off any shame of their sensitivities, and take care of their unique needs, the faster the choppy waters of eating stills.
The three aspects of self-care for HSPs are prevention, mitigation, and recovery. Prevention looks like making choices to avoid or modify situations in advance that are overwhelming to our nervous systems. Mitigation looks like being in the middle of an overstimulating situation and doing what you can to make it better. Recovery looks like preparing for and acknowledging that after an overstimulating event our nervous systems are asking us to actively participate in self-soothing.
As an HSP our role in relationship is that of educator. It is our task to teach others about our temperament, our needs, and importantly, about the myths and stigma surrounding sensitivity. It’s just fact that most people aren’t yet familiar with the term or definition of HSP. It’s on us to teach them both directly through words and indirectly by role-modeling how we treat our own sensitivities.
Four years after that tearful trip, Justin has a deep understanding of my sensitivities and a respect for the gifts they bring. Yes, he has moments of frustration but they are minimal and assuaged by all he knows now.
Recently Feast students asked about dating as an HSP, afraid that they would always be perceived as “too much” by any suitor. Rather than speak for him I asked Justin to share a little bit of his experience and this is what he had to say:
What would you tell a guy friend who said he was dating a someone who is an HSP? What advice would you give him?
Learn to be patient. It’s easy to overwhelm an HSP, and you need to slow down and most of the time, lower your voice.
Sometimes what triggers Rachel doesn’t make sense to me, and you just need to understand that it’s her own experience, and you just need to accept and respect it.
What would you tell a single female friend who was trying to navigate finding a partner as an HSP? She feels ashamed and afraid any partner would find her sensitivity a burden. What would you tell her?
Be yourself, and be honest with your partners. Either they get it, or they don’t. Don’t hide those feelings just to spare yourself embarrassment.
What’s been the best thing about dating an HSP?
Letting me tap into my own sensitivities, and knowing that you (Rachel) understand me and can empathize, no matter how odd or off-kilter my feelings might seem.
What’s been the hardest?
Missing out on going out to clubs, loud bars, dancing, drinking. Crowded places are hard, places that most of the time I wouldn’t have a hard time with.
What do you see me (Rachel) doing in terms of my own HSP tendencies that make dating me easier?
I see you try hard and put up with things you might not have been comfortable with before, like sometimes putting yourself in crowded/loud social situations you might have avoided in the past.
What do you do to make dating me (Rachel), an HSP, easier?
Accept the fact that you’re special and that I should treat you unlike any other woman I’ve been with before in my life.
Relationships don’t come built straight out of the box. They come as a pile of incomplete pieces that you, with your combined strengths and challenges, work to put together and when you need a missing part you have to work as a team to find it. As an HSP a few things make it easier to assemble a truly great partnership:
- Learn about your unique temperament
- Exorcise any internalized shame you might have about being an HSP
- Develop your own personalized ways of preventing, mitigating, and recovering from overstimulation
- Respect your boundaries
- Assume the role of educator in relationships
Photo Credit: Rachelle Derouin