What I needed to realize before I could eat intuitively

It is possible to ditch the diet and take back control over food.

I'll always remember my first diet. I was about 14 years old, away camping with family, and decided I needed to lose weight. I remember making a salad with chicken on a transparent plastic blue plate and feeling the tears well up in my eyes.

My mom, looking at me sympathetically, told me I didn't need to diet. But the feelings didn't subside. I ate that chicken salad and then later on during the day gorged on any 'bad' foods I could find. I lost control. It was like as soon as I told my body 'NO', it went into desperation mode and compensated accordingly.

This was the first of many failed diet attempts throughout my teens and twenties, a cycle perpetuated by the idea that in order to be happy, I needed to be thin. I never felt good enough, thin enough, or pretty enough. And I convinced myself that dieting and becoming thin was the only answer.

I first learned of this thing called 'intuitive eating' on Instagram. I began following accounts who promoted self love and an anti-diet culture and a HAES (health at every size) approach.

Intuitive eating is essentially what it sounds like: a way of eating in which you give up diets for good and focus on eating what your body really wants and creating a healthier relationship with food. No calorie counting, almond counting, food weighing or journalling required.

Sounds like a dream, right? Well, it is. But not a perfect one. In order to get to a state of truly being able to eat intuitively and say goodbye to diets, I needed to realize a few things:

  1. I would gain weight. But to me, as much of a struggle that was, I got to the point that continuing to live my life the way I was, controlled by food, just was not an option. But it's important to understand why we gain weight. Yes, there is something scientific happening there! As soon as we start thinking about diets, restricting or anything like it, a part in our brain - the part that regulates hunger, fullness and other functions - goes into overdrive. This part of the brain is focused solely on keeping us alive by letting us know when we need more energy - food - to do so. It dates back to ancient times when food wasn't readily available to our ancestors. That part of the brain kept them hunting and seeking food despite it not being as easy to access. As we even think about restricting our food intake, that part of the brain lights up and tells us we need to eat because it thinks we are preparing for famine.

  2. I would make mistakes. Recovery is not linear. And I needed to realize that there is no such thing as perfect intuitive eating. It took me a few times trying it before I was able to completely surrender. It's scary when you are looking at ditching habits you've had for years, and as such, being gentle with yourself is so important. Setbacks are normal and they are ok.

  3. I would eat a lot at first. When you first begin intuitive eating, you will eat a lot. That's because that part of our brain we talked about believes in order to make it through the next 'famine', we need to eat as much as possible now. In order to calm that part of our brain down, we need to eat whatever we crave. I won't lie to you, it will be a lot at first. But eventually, our brain, metabolism and system will catch up, and cravings will even out. Even your body's weight will even out! Yes, there is such thing as an ideal set weight point. And you'll get there eventually.

  4. It would be hard. Rewiring our brains from years of exposure to toxic diet culture is very difficult. Dieting used to be my form of self care and control. When things got tough, I could focus solely on my food and all the other issues would fade away. But the thing is, they weren't gone, simply masked. When I began intuitively eating I needed to tackle the things that I normally would just push aside. This meant regular counselling appointments and participating in as much self care (the other side of self care) as possible.

I'll be honest, I think this is a process that will never be fully complete. I still have days where I question if I should be dieting, or if I should at least start counting calories again. But then I remember how sick I was in those days of chronic dieting. How my life fully revolved around food. While every day isn't perfect, I can safely look back and say that now I control food, not the other way around.

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