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Intuitive Eating – an honest one-year review

Do you know any of those annoying people who can eat whatever they want, whenever they want – without ever gaining weight? They eat with pleasure but once they’ve had enough, they won’t touch food until a rumbling tummy sends a gentle reminder.

I wanted to be such an annoying person. But instead, my thoughts revolved around food all the live-long day. For as long as I could remember, food dominated my life. While I would have never admitted to such blasphemy, eating was the secret center that everything in life revolved around. Would it be possible for someone like me to become someone annoying? 

In this personal review, I’ll share how my journey with Intuitive Eating changed me within a year of taking the plunge.

Intuitive Eating title image

The invisible prison of dieting

I had been a size 22-ish during my early adolescent years. My dieting career started at the tender age of 11, following my mom’s example by using disgusting SlimFast meal replacement drinks. After ma-ha-hany more desperate attempts to turn my body into a decent shape, I eventually managed to shrink myself down to a size 8.

I wasn’t exactly happy with what my body looked like in a bikini, though. So I more or less kept on dieting to keep the weight off while binge eating continued to be a regular acquaintance. But since I was a healthy size 8, no one would have guessed just how abnormal my eating behavior still was:

“I’ll start over tomorrow…”

Starting with breakfast as a motivation to get up, eating was both the focus and highlight of my day. Eating was joy, relaxation, comfort, distraction, pleasure, and stress release. No matter how full I was, I was already looking forward to the next meal while chewing the last bites. I stayed on a low-carb diet but whenever life was particularly stressful, all my willpower flew out the window. As any dieter would know, “oh, what the heck – I’ll start over tomorrow” took over as I devoured mountains of forbidden foods.

To make sure that my binges wouldn’t have an effect on the scales, exercise was necessary to compensate. If that became too hard to keep up, my meals had to be reduced and bulked up with large quantities of vegetables. My thinking revolved around the planning and preparation of the most delicious, diet-compatible food possible. Panicking that I was putting on weight meant that evening snacks were either canceled or replaced by low carb snacks.

You might also be interested in my post about the reasons I don’t diet anymore.

Clean Eating as a diet

The less energy I had for low carb, the more I got into clean eating. I was obsessed with avoiding sugar, white flour, and – while we’re at it – all commercially produced food products as well.

Drained after a long day with a baby and two toddlers, there was only one way I could handle the pre-bedtime after-dinner mess in the kitchen: Eating while clearing up – leftovers on the kid’s plates, homemade granola, veggie enriched muffins, you name it. Of course, it was all made with clean ingredients, and I ate in a way that nobody noticed.

Food obsession in a small body

The quiet during naptime had to be celebrated with chocolate (or a “healthy” alternative). A long exhausting afternoon required some kind of treat with my coffee to cheer me up. Calming down in the evening without something sweet seemed impossible.

Trying to restrict my chocolate consumption or resolving not to eat after dinner left me feeling empty. Consequently, it required all my willpower to pull it off. If I could find a justifiable reason to do so, I would “take a night off” and celebrate with plenty of sweets and ice cream.

Any kind of social gathering made me nervous. Knowing I would overeat and afraid of all the unhealthy food that would be throwing me off,  I preferred not going. Or I would snobbily judge every non-clean food after I preemptively compensated with extra days of starving myself.

pier in the evening sun

The journey to Intuitive Eating

Finally, after decades of dieting, I took the plunge and embarked on Intuitive Eating. No longer could I bear the rules, food obsession, and binges. So having been introduced to it, I went on a journey to listen to my body’s natural intuition.

The very body I had despised all my life was now supposed to be my only guide. No rules, no lists, no good food vs. bad food, no healthy recommendation. Just my body’s signals leading the way. After years of trying to “eat right” –  interrupted by binging “I don’t care’s” – this was a scary thing to do.

Bumpy roads

The road to this new way of eating was about as bumpy as any other learning process in life. Two steps forward and one back was the predominant motion for months. I was often frustrated that things were progressing so slowly.

Yet, along the way, I was learning more about myself and the workings of the human body and mind than I ever thought possible. Through reading books and articles, working with a coach and joining a Facebook group I slowly transformed.

Here’s what I first learned:

  • to recognize the many shades of my hunger and satiety
  • how to enjoy my food, even with three little chatterboxes at the table
  • to feel my entire body again, rather than spending my days in my head
  • that no food is going to kill me and nothing on our plates is bad or harmful in itself
  • to eat food with joy instead of a guilty conscience
  • that whole grains are not the ultimate solution, and eating tons of vegetables is no guarantee for better health
  • that sugar is not the devil on a plate and what, instead of sugar, is more likely to be a cause for the obesity epidemic
  • that obesity per se is not the most dreadful of all health risks and how badly overweight people are being discriminated against
  • to move my body with joy and gave up the search for the most efficient dreadful workout

Then, I also discovered:

  • that intuitive eating is only an intermediate step and can be taken to the same imprisoning extremes as diets
  • that I need to say goodbye to perfect intuitive eating as there is no such thing
  • that there is no one perfect moment to finish a meal
  • that eating for emotional reasons is part of every culture on earth and is part of life
  • that there’s no failure in this learning process and therefore no need to start over

How Intuitive Eating changed me in just one year

The biggest miracle for me is how food has actually lost its dominant role in my life. It is no more than one of the many pleasurable aspects of life. When I’m getting hungry, my response is like that of any normal person – fearlessly pulling out the fork asking “Alright, what are we havin’?”. I can now leave food on my plate if I don’t like them or I’m satisfied.

I am free to eat whatever I want whenever I want it, without fear of the effect on the scales. As a direct result, former kryptonite foods like muffins, chocolate, cakes, cookies, and even ice cream have actually lost their appeal.

Attractive healthy foods

Surprisingly, my new-found freedom with food often manifests in that I feel attracted to “healthy” foods if they make me feel good. Even when a meal didn’t fully meet my expectations, I no longer have the urge to compensate for the lack of pleasure.

Much to my family’s dismay, my almost unstoppable enthusiasm for bread has come to a complete halt. Sometimes I don’t feel like coffee and go for weeks or months without my former feel-good drink. Days go by without eating a single piece of chocolate and I don’t even notice it. 

While a year ago I impatiently waited for the signs of hunger, now I often find myself irritated when my stomach is rumbling. I have a much harder time finding food that I can get enthusiastic about that doesn’t require too much effort preparing.

What’s also part of my Intuitive Eating journey

You’re probably wondering how my weight developed during this first year. I haven’t stepped on the scales for a long time so I can’t be specific. Due to a serotonin deficiency, I gained a few pounds while wearing the same size. The more I resolved my negative-emotional eating cues, the more I notice ever so slight weight loss. I am convinced that my body will settle at its favorite weight, even if this is very likely to be more than a size 0.

Body acceptance and positivity remains a challenge in some ways. I have come to a new appreciation for my trusted body, but I’m not totally in love with it yet. Which is okay, because for too many years I have absorbed idealized and photoshopped images and compared my body to them. It’s only natural that I will need a few years to get over this.

The second area with room for growth is the completely unbiased look at food. Deep inside, there is still a little voice, questioning me when I do feel like chocolate. Separating food into good and bad has clearly left its mark, which occasionally surfaces.

And to be honest, that one is tricky because some foods simply contain more nutrients than others. Nevertheless, a take-out pizza is not just a plate full of empty calories and my children won’t die because they practically lived off chocolate eggs for one day.

Conclusions after one year of Intuitive Eating

I don’t write all this to brag about what a great eater I am now because trust me, I still have lots to learn. The sole purpose of this post is to encourage you that freedom with food is in fact possible. If you find yourself in my before-scenario and declared yourself to be a hopeless case – then this was written to show you that you are not. It does require effort and hard work, no doubt – but that’s true for diets, too.

As opposed to putting your effort into a diet, though, the process of learning how to eat intuitively promises a far greater prize. Instead of repeated failure on diets, permanent stress, weight-cycling and the pain of binge eating, you could end up with freedom, calm, stable weight, and peace in your relationship with food – for the rest of your life.

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