Intuitive Eating and Relationships with Food
Food. It's the contraband of anyone suffering with an eating disorder. We are surrounded by it everywhere, but its true meaning and purpose is lost. In order to gain control in our lives, we build rules around what is good and bad, allowed or not allowed. Food is no exception, especially when you have an eating disorder. During the process of recovery, we have to dump our old relationship with food and learn how to reconnect with it healthfully, and hopefully intuitively.
Rules create a sense of control and reassurance so we can feel safe. For some of us, food rules help alleviate the mistrust felt around desires and decisions concerning appetite. We each have our own set of individual food rules, some of which may be in common with those struggling with eating disorders. So, how would one know if a food rule is disordered or not?
I always learn a great deal through journaling. Keeping a food journal that records your food intake, eating location and times, hunger & fullness scales, and any emotions around the meal can be helpful with identifying patterns that may surface throughout your recovery process.
An early recovery assignment might be to examine your food rules. You consider what the rule and beliefs around them might mean beyond the surface. Is there a deeper motivating factor behind it? Give it a try; list a food rule and then ask yourself questions about it:
- From what facts or fears is the rule based?
- How does the rule allow for special occasions or holidays?
- Is the rule a norm for others as well? If so, explain the connection.
On a larger scale, how do your food rules impair your life and limit your options?
Do they leave you isolated? Do they stop you from going out with your friends? Do they get in the way of other events in your life?
In the beginning, it is very difficult to get rid of food rules. They become your safety net and without them you are left vulnerable. Any sort of change is scary. However, it is extremely important to take a look at your relationship with food in order to build a balanced recovery foundation. This heightened awareness calls for both patience and practice. At first it is quite common to feel resistance to change. It may seem as if someone is trying to take down a piece of a protective wall that you worked so hard to build.
Therefore, it also helps to journal about your food goals. With just one goal, you can take your first step on the path toward a healthy relationship with food.
Some questions you might ask yourself in regards to food goals might be:
- What food behaviors bother you or seem out of control?
- How would you like your relationship with food to actually be?
- What would you like to be doing that food is not letting you do (i.e. eating out, eating a variety, etc.)?
If your goals seem overwhelming at first, take a moment to step back and breathe. You didn't get here overnight and you can't change everything overnight. In the beginning, pick just a few small goals to center your focus. Starting here is a big move forward.
Individuals with eating disorders often distinguish between "good" and "bad" foods. This is yet another means of maintaining a sense of control around food, weight, and shape. Through journaling honestly about your "good" and "bad" foods, you can become aware of these and begin to challenge them.
Examining your food rules, food goals, and how you categorize food can all help you create a balanced relationship with food and become an intuitive eater. Becoming an intuitive eater requires knowledge, awareness, and experience.
In the beginning, you may need to meet with a registered dietitian or dietitian to develop a meal plan that fits your needs. Whether from subsisting in starvation mode or enduring repeated episodes of emotional and binge eating, awareness of hunger and fullness cues may become skewed and impaired. Even if there isn't anxiety about eating, the very feeling of fullness may lead to panic or even purging behaviors.
Intuitive eating allows you to become conscious enough to stay connected to your bodily sensations of hunger and fullness, be present at meals and with others around you, and have enough health and nutrition knowledge to make food choices that honor your appetite. When eating intuitively, you no longer base decisions on satisfying food rules, depriving yourself, or pleasing others.
Becoming an intuitive eater has many challenges, but it becomes refreshing and freeing! Intuitive eaters have many desirable characteristics. Rather than waiting until famished, they try to be conscious of their hunger and eat moderately and regularly throughout the day without skipping meals and snacks. They eat what they want, and are also conscious about how they feel, and rather than seeing a food as "good" or "bad" they see food as a "calorie" is a "calorie." Intuitive eaters work on eating a balance or protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as maintaining an awareness of their hunger and fullness. If there is a time that they do overeat, they know it's okay, normal, and their body will get back on track again. Most importantly, intuitive eaters enjoy food and find pleasure in eating again, it is no longer contraband, no more social isolation, it brings back life!
Gaining back a positive and balanced relationship with food is not an easy process, nor instantaneous. As you work on recovery, relearning your hunger cues and building a balanced and new awareness with food, you will regain more of your self and your life back that the eating disorder has taken away. The path is not easy, somedays you're fighting for every second, but keep fighting. Food literally brings life, you deserve life, and in that life, nothing should be holding you hostage. You deserve to be free, powerful, and open to taking hold of any opportunity that may come your way!