Intuitive or mindful eating boils down to eating when you feel hungry and stopping when you feel full. Which, lord knows, you’ve tried time and time and time again. Right? No one wants to feel out of control around food. No one wakes up in the morning hoping to binge until their jaw hurts.
Maybe intuitive eating just won’t work for certain people?
Nah. I definitely think there’s something deeper at play here. In all the talk of intuitive eating, “everything in moderation,” lifestyle changes, etc etc etc, I believe there’s one crucial thing missing: a reset period.
Brain chemistry cannot change overnight. If you’ve ever been depressed, you’ve felt this inertia firsthand. There’s no “cheering up” when the chemicals in your brain are out of whack. It’s not like you want to be cripplingly sad. But brain chemistry is delicate, and it takes time and effort to rebalance.
Likewise, when your brain is in starvation mode, your rational thoughts will always, always be drowned out by the primal urge to consume. “I think I’m a bit hungry” à la mindful eating becomes “I ate an entire bag of Oreos so fast I didn’t even taste them.” And it’s not your fault, or a failing of your willpower.
That’s why a six-month food reset is SO important for your sanity, even if it sounds crazy. When you allow yourself to gorge every day, guilt-free, it won’t be long before your body and brain get the message: “Hunger is not an issue here. Nutrients are readily available.” Over weeks and then months, the primal panic will subside. And little by little, the chemicals that once caused you to binge can reclaim their rightful job: cueing hunger, and cueing fullness. And leaving you in peace.
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Help! I’m 5 days in and have never eaten so much in my life. Three BIG meals a day, but still stuffing in most of a large loaf of bread, a load of cheese, some chocolate things I don’t even like, three scones with half a pack of butter, the box of raisins at the back of the cupboard etc etc. This is all very tough as I work from home In THE KITCHEN and I have two teenage sons (who have no idea of my eating habits as I rush out to replace stuff so they can’t tell I’ve eaten the lot), so it’s not like I can banish all this stuff from the house. I am beginning to lose my nerve, because I feel a million miles away from intuitively knowing when I am hungry or full. I know I’m not in the least bit hungry and completely, uncomfortably full, and yet am still demolishing unbelievable amounts of food, experiencing crazy sugar-fuelled mood swings and feeling pretty crap about myself. What if the addict’s high I still seem to be experiencing when I gorge myself is too extreme? I can’t imagine ever being able to take a second to ask “Will this nourish me” , because when I want to eat something the speed at which I grab that thing and eat it is unbelievable (seriously like a woman possessed!). Is this normal? Should I be trying to calm things down a bit by at least moving away from sugar or baked goods? I should maybe add that this is terrifying for me as due to my ‘ultra efficient’ (ie: destructive) restriction and purging efforts, I have never been seriously overweight but can see this could change rapidly, and while I’m totally fine with gaining a few pounds, I don’t want to actually double in size :). Sorry to ramble on, but feeling a little desperate. Thanks so much for reading, any advice would be really appreciated.
Yes yes yes, this all sounds completely normal!! I ate like a drunken college student, all day and night — frozen pizzas and bags of candy and extra large orders of fries and whole pints of ice cream. It was utter chaos! I felt so overfull, but somehow never satisfied!
As crazy as it seems, it’s part of the process. Here’s what’s happening: Since you first began restricting, your body has gotten the message that food is insecure, undependable, unpredictable. So whenever there’s food in front of you, you can think of nothing else. You feel drawn to food in the most primal way — like a woman possessed, just like you said!
Think of it this way: you’ve just escaped a desert island. You were hungry all the time, and all you ever had to eat was leafy greens. When you get back to civilization, where would you go first? To get some leafy greens because they’re nice and healthy? Nooooo you would probably go to an all-you-can-eat buffet and gorge on pasta and bread and cookies and all of the carbs and fats and sugars you’ve been missing and craving for years. Would you sit there and savor every morsel? No, I bet you’d eat so fast you couldn’t even taste anything. Would you eat a sensible portion and politely excuse yourself? No, I bet you’d eat until your stomach hurt so bad you’d have to go straight to sleep.
That’s basically what you’re experiencing right now. It’s a physical thing ( hunger hormones are real and they take time to readjust) AND a mental thing (restriction messes with your head big time, and it takes time to relearn a new way to feel around food).
After you return from that desert island, maybe you’ll go to the buffet every day for a week. Maybe every day for a month. But after a while, you’re going to get bored of it, and you’re going to slow down while you eat, and you’re going to crave vegetables again, and frankly you’ll get tired of feeling so overfull and icky all the time.
The same will happen for you, too. Buried among the flood of feelings you’re working through right now, you’ve already pinpointed one of the most valuable weapons in your recovery: you feel uncomfortably full and it really sucks. All your dieting life you’ve dreamed of just eating whatever you want, as much as you want. And here you are doing it….and it isn’t even fun!! You feel like you’ve been hit by a truck!
The more you allow yourself to eat freely (even frantically!), the more your body will learn that food is not scarce anymore — you’re no longer on that desert island on the brink of starvation. And at the same time, your brain will start to differentiate between the foods you actually like and enjoy (“Yum, I’m in the mood for a scone!”) vs. the ones that you are eating because you’ve never been “allowed” to eat them before (“A box of raisins? Meh, who cares. It can sit in the cupboard for another ten years.”)
Now I’ve gone and rambled on and on, but all of this is to say: You’re on the right track. You’re on the right track. You’re on the right track. Sit with your stomachache, feel those feelings, and keep observing (not judging!) the thoughts you’re having each day. Little by little, day by day, you may start to notice little changes and even “aha!” moments around food.
By the way, about the “will the nourish me?” part: Dooooon’t worry about that right now. When you are still in the phase where your hunger hormones are out of whack, that sounds like science fiction! As you keep moving forward and your body and mind start to fall into place, you can start thinking more about nourishment and what it means to you. And know that it doesn’t just mean vitamins and nutrients — it’s about nourishing your soul too. When you’re craving a scone, I firmly believe that the most nourishing thing you can do for yourself is enjoy a scone!
I know this is scary stuff, but you’re already bravely diving into the unknown. You can do this!!!!
I thought of one more thing I wanted to add to directly answer your question about moving away from sugar and baked goods, so here comes another epic novel 🙂 I wouldn’t recommend it, no. You will have to face your relationship with sugar and baked goods at some point — those things will always exist in the world and probably in your kitchen, and you need to learn how to co-exist with them. For me, that meant eating them until the stomachaches set in and the novelty wore off.
I think that baked goods and high-sugar foods are some of the best helpers in teaching us how to eat intuitively because our bodies naturally respond to higher quantities of sugar and fat. One scone is delectable, but a dozen scones makes your whole body feel awful, from sugar mood swings to tummy troubles to energy crashes. I needed to feel this for myself, in a firsthand, uncomfortable way — otherwise, it’s just another thing that diet culture told me not to do.
That being said, I don’t want you to feel like you have to eat a certain quantity of baked goods to somehow PROVE your recovery. There’s no correct or incorrect amount. It changes from day to day, hour to hour. The challenge is to eat until you don’t want to eat anymore. i.e. “I CAN have another scone, but I don’t WANT one. Maybe later.”
It sounds and is straightforward, but it does take time and practice to eat what you want, because we are conditioned to eat what we WANT ourselves to want. “I want to eat a single cookie, because that’s what seems socially admirable” vs. “Y’know what? I actually want two, maybe three, maybe four. I won’t know how many I want to eat until I get to that point in my own time.”