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Six years before I started my own “F*ck It Diet,” I read the Intuitive Eating book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and decided I was going to heal my eating. I was 18 years old, and I’d already been extreme dieting for over 4 years. I was an extreme dieter, and an extreme binger. My weight violently yo-yo’d up and down every few months. And I was sure I was a food addict.
Reading the Intuitive Eating book was the very first time I had any idea that dieting was toxic, and wired to backfire. It spoke to me. I wanted to heal. But I was young, and desperate, and still stuck in extreme self-objectification. I was about to go to school at NYU for Musical Theater, and I also had a lot of health issues that I’d been trying to heal with my extreme diets. I wanted to heal my relationship with food, but I wasn’t ready. I also didn’t really understand some very important parts of the journey to food and body freedom. Remaining thin was still my top goal, and there was really no way to fully heal while continuing to prioritize weight control.
So over the next 6 years, while I thought I was eating intuitively, I was actually not. I was still dieting, and obsessing over my hunger and fullness cues, and calling it “intuitive eating.”
Then I’d read the books and blog posts from other “mindful eating” gurus, and assume they were continuing my education on intuitive eating, when in reality, they were taking me further and further away from true intuitive eating.
Sometimes people read my work and think I’m ragging on Intuitive Eating and saying it doesn’t work. I promise you, I am not. Intuitive eating is life changing, evidence based, and the dietitian authors of the book are trail-blazing experts who have changed more lives than anyone could begin to count. But people do misinterpret intuitive eating, en masse. A lot of those people become influencers themselves, and water down the intuitive eating teaching.
There are a lot of deeply ingrained diet beliefs that many of us hold, that will keep us from truly eating intuitively, and instead, keep us in a quasi-healed state, where we’re still sneakily micromanaging our food intake, which will inherently still keep us obsessed with food, and feeling out of control around food.
I made a lot of mistakes during those 6 long years, so I’m sharing those mistakes in the hopes that you won’t make the same mistakes I made.
1. I thought I had to listen really, really closely to my hunger and fullness cues
Listening to your body is one thing. It’s what we want! But listening obsessively? Not exactly what we want. And not exactly what is gonna lead to a better relationship with food.
Here is the thing: after years of dieting, we usually feel REALLY out of control around food, so it makes sense that we assume that we need to pay extreme attention to every bite we take, and our exact level of hunger or fullness. The problem is, we don’t trust ourselves or our bodies. We are still operating under the belief that our appetite has to be micromanaged. It actually doesn’t.
In the beginning of stepping away from diets, we are often extremely hungry, hungrier than we think is ok or healthy or rational. And we think it’s a sign that we are out of control, and that our hunger needs to be curtailed. But actually, our hunger needs to be fed. Which brings me to….
2. I thought I would immediately eat a small / “perfect” amount of food
Along the same lines, I thought when I started ‘eating intuitively’ – I’d eat small, perfect intuitive amounts of food. But that is still diet culture. That is still making assumptions about how much we “should” need to eat. Guess what?!?! We need a lot more food that we’ve been taught, especially when we are healing from chronic dieting. We need to be FED. And before we can EVER expect to listen to our hunger and fullness, we need to prove to our bodies that we will f*cking FEED IT.
In the beginning, we will eat a lot of food, as is expected after self-imposed famine. Over time, our appetites will normalize, and it’ll be so much more easy to hear what our body wants and doesn’t want. Eventually, it begins to look and feel more like we might imagine intuitive eating to look and feel. BUT! The assumption that we should all be eating tiny amounts of food, from now until the day we die, is incorrect and ridiculous. Feed yourself. Food is life.
3. I still thought I was a food addict
Still along these same lines, I thought I had to micromanage my hunger and fullness because I was a food addict. After all, I acted like a food addict, and had acted like one all my life: hoarding food, bingeing on food in secret, thinking about food nonstop, going on food benders while I was trying to stick to a diet, etc. I felt completely out of control.
Then, in the beginning of eating intuitively, I felt absolutely ravenous. And I was sure that was another sign of my food addiction. I thought that food addiction was my disease, and intuitive eating would help me “mindfully manage” my food addiction.
No no no no no! I was just chronically hungry! And guess what chronic hunger does to you? It makes you feel addicted to food. It makes you think about food nonstop, binge, and feel out of control around food.
I don’t believe that food addiction is real, food fixation is real (and it feels a whole lot like food addiction), food as a coping mechanism is real. But not food addiction. The cure for “food addiction” is, ironically, more food.
4. I still thought I really shouldn’t eat that many carbs
Another big mistake I made, was assuming that because I had PCOS, I couldn’t really let myself eat what I wanted. I was trying to “eat intuitively” – but curb my appetite. Again… this is not intuitive eating, and what it meant for me, was that I never really stepped out of the restrictive cycle.
5. I was disappointed with myself when I “ate too much”
Because I was still trying to “listen closely to my hunger” so I would eat the smallest amount possible, all of the time, there was still a way to do it wrong and “blow it” by “not listening well enough” to my appetite and “eating too much” – again… this is just a diet in sheep’s clothing.
6. I didn’t understand that bingeing was trying to protect me
I still saw my urges to binge, and my past bingeing, as proof I was a food addict. That was why I was approaching intuitive eating with such an obsessive “I. MUST. PAY. ATTENTION. TO. EVERY. BITE. AND. CURTAIL. MY. URGES.” energy. I didn’t understand how much my bingeing was actually just an attempt to overcorrect my constant dieting. I didn’t understand that eating a lot was healing. I didn’t understand that my body was trying to protect me from myself. I still saw eating a lot as inherently bad- and that was a huge roadblock to true healing, and true trust in my appetite.
7. I didn’t understand how important weight gain was, both physically and mentally
This is really really really important: I was still using intuitive eating as a way to try and eat less, and a way to try and stay small and/or become smaller. This was my biggest mistake, and my biggest misunderstanding. I was using intuitive eating as a diet, and had no deeper understanding of body diversity, weight stigma, or health at every size. I had no willingness to really examine my own prejudices and biases against body size, both other people’s and my own.
I didn’t understand that weight gain had the power to not only help my body trust that it was being fed, but also teach me to accept my body where it wanted to be.
8. I didn’t understand how much of a factor fatphobia played in my dieting, and how much it was blocking my progress with intuitive eating
Along the same lines, I didn’t understand cultural fatphobia, how insidious it is, and how much it was controlling my every thought and every action. I didn’t understand that I needed to examine everything I had learned about health and weight and beauty and worth, and until I did that, I’d stay stuck in a petrified quasi-recovery, afraid of my true hunger, and true body.
9. I still thought that being thinner would “heal me”
One of the big reasons I held onto my attempts at weight control for so long, is because I believed that being thinner would heal me of my health problems. That’s what we are all told, right? “Just lose weight and you won’t have issues anymore!” Our culture is so ingrained with the belief that thinner is always healthier. But guess what?!?! IronicalIy, my decade long attempts to diet and become smaller was actually really fucking bad for me. It took me hearing from people that under eating food and carbs actually messed up their hormones, before I was able to see that something wasn’t right in the way I was approaching health (and happiness).
Before I could heal, and embark on my F*ck It Diet, I had to be ready to uncouple weight and health, I had to understand that my ravenous hunger was trustworthy, I had to be willing to combat the fear I had of weight gain, and the beliefs I had about weight gain and fatness. But honestly, one of the biggest catalysts was that I had to be miserable enough in the diet/binge cycle before I realized that the difficulty of rebelling and healing was worth it. I had to see, first hand, that diets would continue to backfire. Even sneaky, faux intuitive eating diets.
But, I will say, healing is possible. If “Intuitive Eating” didn’t work for you the first time, you may want to re-examine and try again, because healing is so, so worth it.
Of course, also read the Intuitive Eating: 4th edition – and don’t make the mistakes I made!