Intuitive Eating … I’m doing it wrong

I’ve been wanting to write a post about how sometimes, for me, intuitive eating isn’t so intuitive.  But each time I start to write, the words come out all wrong.  Something was missing.  While I had a bunch of words down, I only seemed to be rambling on and on about nothing.

Then today, doing my normal online wake up routine of looking at all the comics I love but my local paper doesn’t carry, I found this from Cathy:

Cathy has tried diet after diet after diet after diet.  Never losing any amount of weight, and what she did, she always gained back.  Her closet has the requisite three different sizes so she always has clothes depending on where she is in her diet cycle.  She does not have, and never has had, a good relationship with food.  For her, it’s all about “good” food and “bad” food.

Irving, on the other hand, became fat once.  He was fat for about a year (that I recall, but that was a while ago, and I might be misremembering) and when he decided to lose weight, the next day, it was all gone.  Cathy hated him for that, of course.  Irving mainly eats what he wants, and doesn’t really wonder if what he eats is “good” food or “bad” food.

This one comic strip finally said what I’ve not been able to say no matter how many words I’ve thrown at this topic.  (And believe me, I’ve thrown at least 4k worth of words at this topic, deleting most of them because they just didn’t work.)

Food, for me, has always been about “good” food and “bad” food.  Most foods I like have always been “bad” foods.  When I was growing up, due to the idea that one could never be too thin, and my parents starving of me, anything that wasn’t essential to living (as understood in the 70’s) was “bad”.  So things like candy, cookies, cake, pizza, any oil/fat naturally found in foods were bad.   They also used food to punish me (both by with-holding food and by making me eat extremely disgusting things).  Rarely, they used foods as rewards.

So, it’s no wonder that intuitive eating isn’t so intuitive for me.  I have all these pre-conceived notions that this or that is bad for me.  If I eat breakfast at all (which I do have to do now because of some meds I’m on), if I eat anything other than All Bran ™ and puffed rice, I feel like I’m being “bad”.  If I want to eat a leftover piece of cornbread I made the night before, I know I’m being “bad”.   Even plain yogurt (without sugar added) and frozen fruit (also without sugar added) – fresh when I can get it locally – is “bad”.  It doesn’t matter what I want, or what my body’s telling me it wants to eat, it’s not “good” because it’s not one of the very small list of “good” foods. 

When I’m feeling stressed, I feel like I should go for high fat/high sugar/high calorie stuff because that’s what “normal” people eat, right?  And I want to be normal.  I’ve spent many years working on being normal, so I need to eat normal comfort food.  But a lot of times I find that I’m like Irving, and instead of wanting ice cream/potato chips/candy I reach for an apple.  Or an avocado.  Or snap peas.  Or carrots.  Or rice.  Okay, at least the rice is a bit more understandable as it’s simple carbohydrates like the ice cream or potato chips are.

So, it’s really easy to say “eat intuitively.”  The reality for me is, I have to remind myself daily to first of all eat, and then eat what I want, when I want.  (Remembering to eat is still something I struggle with daily.  Hunger is not a cue for me to eat, as I was hungry all the time, and I got used to just ignoring my body’s cues for more energy.)  It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with since coming to FA and HAES.  Even harder than accepting that I’m not disgusting and ugly and lazy and stupid just because I’m fat.

I had been brainwashed for a good portion of my formative years that 1) certain foods were bad, 2) I was bad for desiring them, and 3) I could earn those bad foods by being good enough (for whatever value good enough meant that week or month).  Is it any wonder my relationship with food is so strained?  Or that, when I feel like I want a candy bar (because I’d not had enough fat or carbohydrates in my diet) that I feel “bad”, that I’m disgusting for wanting something so bad for myself.

I am actively identifying the patterns of brainwashing and breaking their hold on my psyche, my emotions, and my actions.  But there are still times when I feel that I’ll never get it “right”.  That I’ll never be able to truly understand that eating a piece of cake or a candy bar isn’t a bad thing.  That there really is no immorality about eating what I want.  That I’m not going to hell because I chose to eat gravy that didn’t have all the fat taken out of it, or that I actually sauteed my chicken breast in olive oil.

One of these days, I’ll make it, I’m sure.  But right now, today?  Yeah, I’m doing it wrong.


8 Responses

  1. This sounds like a serious breakthrough! Sometimes it takes a damn long time to identify what the problem really is, but once you do that, it becomes possible to solve the problem.

    Not that it will happen overnight, of course, but now you can start recognizing those little voices telling you you’re being ‘bad’ and begin learning how to ignore them and listen to what your body is trying to tell you instead of past programming. It also becomes possible for you to recognize the programming of what you’re ‘supposed’ to be craving for what it is.

    If your body really wants avocado when you’re stressed, then eat the avocado. Sometimes an avocado is just an avocado.

  2. *hug* No, it sounds to me like you’re doing everything right, as right as you can at any rate. You’re trying hard to listen to your body, to identify what it wants and when it asks for it, and you’re unprogramming all the ‘brainwashing’ you recieved, a little bit at a time. That is major major progress. I don’t know you but I’m proud of you for all the work that you’ve done to become a healthier person emotionally and mentally, especially around your food issues.

  3. I think you’re simply at an early stage, a learning stage, of intuitive eating. You are doing well simply to identify that you want to change, and that food is not “good” or “bad”. Best of luck to you. 🙂

  4. You’re absolutely doing it right. The thing that so many people seem to fall into is the idea that practices like HAES or Intuitive Eating or, heck, even Fat Acceptance itself should come to people fully formed. That they should be able to wake up one day and perfect practitioners. Unfortunately, that’s not how it goes and the real work of these healthful practices is in deprogramming ourselves and rooting out all of those internalized societal messages and our automatic responses to them. Intuitive eating, especially in the beginning, is really freaking hard, particularly if you have a dieting history, for every reason that you’ve laid out above – emotional ties to certain foods, notions of “good” and “bad” food, having to remind ourselves to eat in the first place…. It’s a serious challenge.

    But I think you are doing incredibly well – you’re actively aware of your responses and motivations and that’s more than a lot of people ever manage. You’re reminding yourself that food=fuel and you kind of totally need it to function. You’re struggling through the muck right now and you are awesome.

  5. When I’m feeling stressed, I feel like I should go for high fat/high sugar/high calorie stuff because that’s what “normal” people eat, right? And I want to be normal….But a lot of times I find that I’m like Irving, and instead of wanting ice cream/potato chips/candy I reach for an apple.

    Do you reach for the apple because you want it, or do you really want the ice cream and avoid it because it’s bad? Or is it that you’re not sure why you reach for the apple?

    If you genuinely want it, I wouldn’t worry about what is or isn’t “normal.” I understand that it’s difficult to break free of the brainwashing, but it’s not clear to me whether your struggle is about being OK with “bad” foods or feeling “wrong” because you don’t crave what you think everyone else does. If it’s the latter, I don’t think you need to worry. We’re all different and crave different things.

  6. Sorry, obviously the “bad” in that first sentence should be in quotes.

  7. I salute you and your breakthrough.
    I salute you and your new understanding, we are all learning, nobody is the expert, no matter if they may seem to think they are.

    Would it help to stop thinking about eating intuitively and think of it as eating:

    ……………..what my body’s telling me it wants to eat

    That is not ‘intuitive’ it is more precise than that, not guess work, or random at all.
    Eating’s a combination of your conscious mind and reading the signals sent to it from the body via the nervous system. Wisdom can be as much about learning what not to do, as much as what to do. We need to get out of the way, by junking all the negative baggage that has been foisted on us, by those who pretending to know what they were talking about, but were really only experts in how to get us to feel bad about ourselves.

    Above all it’s regaining trust in our bodies and therefore, ourselves, long may your renaissance continue.

  8. […] It should be no surprise to long time readers that I struggle with doing IE right.  You know, correctly.  I wonder sometimes if it can really be as easy as eating what I want, when I want it.  And sometimes, I do question if I’m doing it all wrong. […]

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