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Intuitive Eating 101: Make Peace with Food

Intuitive Eating 101: Make Peace with Food

“Call a truce, stop the food fight!  Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable craving and often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.” –Intuitive Eating

Unconditional permission to eat- does that sound like a recipe for disaster to you?  

Interestingly, the research shows that what leads to binge eating behaviors is restriction. What combats binge eating? Food access! When you give yourself permission to eat without conditions, your body trusts that food is available and stops sending you famine level food cravings. Those food cravings? They come from your biology being wired to keep you alive- if your body decides it is experiencing famine due to your restrictive behaviors, your brain will hyper focus on food acquisition.  

In fact, when clients I work with understand the connection between ignoring their hunger, restriction, and binge eating- it’s a powerful “aha!” moment. That binge eating often leads to guilt, frustration, and further commitment to restrict- setting the cycle up once more. It’s like being on a crazy roundabout! When you have had enough and are ready to find the exit- it will become visible by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.  

When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it may seem like the guard rails are off and you may go out of control. But remember- you were out of control on the crazy making roundabout of restriction, cravings, and binge eating. Trying a new approach and striving to make peace with food may feel scary, but that’s exactly what is needed in this situation- a new approach leading to peace!

To give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it’s going to be important to throw out the window the food rules you may be accustomed to holding yourself to. You can eat after any hour- and before any hour! You can eat what you really want. You can eat without keeping score and making plans to “work it off” or “earn” food.  

In Intuitive Eating, a 5 step process is outlined for how to make peace with food:

  1. “Pay attention to the foods that are appealing to you and make a list of them. 
  2. Put a check mark by the foods you actually do eat, then circle remaining foods that you’ve been restricting.  
  3. Give yourself permission to eat one forbidden food from your list, then go to the market and buy this food, or order it at a restaurant.
  4. Check in with yourself to see if the food tastes as good as you imagined.  If you find that you really like it, continue to give yourself permission to buy or order it. 
  5. Make sure that you keep enough of the food in your kitchen so that you know that it will be there if you want it.  Or if that seems too scary, go to a restaurant and order the particular food as often as you like.”

As you continue your journey to make peace with food, you will strengthen your personal insight and judgement related to food.  You will experience less out of control cravings and guilt ridden moments of binge eating.  You will come to know that food is meant to be enjoyed- not obsessed over! 

Intuitive Eating Basics: Honor Your Hunger

Intuitive Eating Basics: Honor Your Hunger

Have you seen the meme floating around social media that states something along the lines of, “Forgive me for what I said when I was hungry”? Extreme hunger can set the scene for impulsive behaviors. Whether it’s wreaking havoc on your personal lives or setting the stage for enormous cravings for food, deprivation of food can bring with it many unwanted side effects.  

When you have allowed your hunger to get to an extreme point, you’ve likely triggered your biological response to starvation. Sometimes that can happen unintentionally- through lack of nutrients and genuine starvation- and sometimes it can happen intentionally- through dieting and eating disordered behaviors. It’s interesting to observe that your body does not distinguish between unintentional and intentional restrictive eating behaviors- when you are in deprivation, your body responds by issuing strong biological cravings to focus your efforts on securing food.  

How does understanding your biology and honoring your hunger help aid in recovery from an unhealthy relationship with food? 

In Intuitive Eating, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch instruct, “Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.”

Food obsession starts with deprivation. By deciding to exit the crazy-making cycle of restriction and binging and clueing back into honoring your hunger, you allow yourself to reset. As you then refocus on meeting your needs for nutrition- not by obsessing- but through listening to and following your biological hunger cues- you are able to rebuild trust with your body, which sets the stage for overcoming  unhealthy food relationships. .  

What does listening to and following your biological hunger cues look like?  

First, it may be helpful to examine what ignoring those cues looks like. When you diet or intentionally restrict, you are numbing yourself to the very normal hunger signals of your body. In doing so, you turn down the volume of the signal essentially to a point where you may not even recognize it anymore. When you have done this, there is a process of relearning to listen to your hunger cues that must occur.  

Decide today to check in with your hunger cues. For some, it can be helpful to rank your hunger on a scale of 1-10 and observe what your body is telling you it needs through hunger cues throughout your day. It can also be helpful to look at how you feel hunger. Hunger cues are not just bodily, stomach feelings. They can also present as symptoms of irritability, inability to focus, lightheadedness, and more. Do you identify with any of those symptoms, or recognize other personal hunger symptoms? Taking some time to observe and be mindful of how your body experiences hunger can be a powerful tool in eating recovery.  

After spending time with your observations, you are then ready to begin to honor your observations. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are full. Keep observing. Keep honoring your cues.  

In a world where you are sold a new diet plan every day- it can seem revolutionary to take a step back and focus on very basic ideas like honoring hunger. But imagine the freedom in trusting your body to do the simple biological things it was created to manage- without apps, macros, counting, and obsession. Just listen, honor, repeat.  

 

Intuitive Eating Basics: Reject the Diet Mentality

Intuitive Eating Basics: Reject the Diet Mentality

Chances are, if you or a loved one has been in treatment for any kind of eating concerns, you have heard your dietician or therapist talk about “intuitive eating”. I want to take some time to break down exactly what we are talking about with this concept, as it is far removed from the cultural ideas we have surrounding eating. For the next few blogs, I will be highlighting principles to help you grow in your mastery of intuitive eating.   (more…)

Learning that Grief is Normal

Learning that Grief is Normal

Grief is very natural- it’s been said that grief is the form love takes once our loved one is no longer present with us. Grief is the psychological pain response to losing a close family member or friend. When we look at it through the lens of attachment theory, we gain greater understanding into what the normative process of grief looks like.

We tend to have a handful of people in life who we have a psychological attachment to- these are people we have close relationships with, people who are invested in us and help us regulate our emotions and physical well being. We turn to them when we need help, comfort, or distraction. We experience a longing for them when we are separated. With attachment comes a disposition towards caregiving. Those we are attached to are who we are naturally driven to care for and most willing to accept care from. Research into attachment theory shows a very biological drive towards these bonds- they are essential to our survival and we are programmed to stay close to our attachment figures!

When we experience loss of one of our key attachment figures, we ache for them.  But beyond that deep emotional pain, we may experience sensations of being displaced or unmotivated, maybe even a loss of our sense of competence and ability to function. Looked at through a lens of attachment, these reactions seem expected. Our predictable system is disrupted, and we are reacting to that difficult disruption.

As our grief progresses, there are typically some changes in our emotions and behaviors over time. When you think of visiting a friend who was widowed a few days ago, imagine what you might expect to find- a bit of chaos in the home environment, weepiness, perhaps a lack of motivation to accomplish much. 

Now, imagine visiting that friend five years down the road- do your expectations differ? You might expect to find the friend still sad over losing a spouse, and certainly still missing that person- but in many ways, living life with more predictability and emotional steadiness. Over time, we never stop missing or loving our lost loved one, but the way we experience grief and even the nature and intensity of our emotions will typically change over time. 

This very normative process results in what we call “integrated grief”. Integrated grief differs from the first year following loss, when we are in a period of “acute grief”. While integrated grief can still have peaks and valleys, it doesn’t interfere with our day to day living the way acute grief does.  

How do we transition from acute to integrated grief? The task before us is to solve the problem of accepting something that is the exact opposite of what we wanted.

As we come to accept the reality of our loss, we oscillate back and forth between paying attention to the painful emotions and reminders of loss and setting them aside momentarily to pay attention to the basic tasks of life. This “Two Pillar Theory” in grief research explains how we bounce back and forth between these two realities at first- it’s impossible to do it all at once in acute grief. Gradually, we become more adept at merging those two pillars, and the reality that our day to day living and future are without our loved one sets in. We find a way to accept something that is the exact opposite of what we wanted.  And in that acceptance, life continues forward.  

Of course, there are times when this normative grief process is interrupted by some “derailer”- complicating life factors may act to sidetrack the normative path grief takes. In the absence of these derailing factors, we can expect our grief to progress to a place of integration.  

Why does this research matter? For starters, we can place so much undue pressure on ourselves and others to speed the process up. In paying attention to our outward appearances rather than our grief work, we can sacrifice the long term integration for short term “having it all together” points. We might begin to avoid grief reminders, important things we need to spend time integrating during our acute grief in order to get those societal gold stars. This pressure can actually act to prolong and complicate our grieving. When we have realistic expectations for ourselves and others in grief, we allow the processes to occur naturally and real integration can happen.  

As with so much of life- what we try so hard to avoid can end up being what eventually sinks our ship. In the short term, it may feel reasonable to run from pain. In the long run, avoidance leads to a continued inability to cope with distress (the darn distress isn’t going to catch a hint and cooperate with our scheme to ignore it!) 

I hope this knowledge empowers you to step towards your grief, to sit with it a bit today and get to know it. Remarkably, I’ve learned that it’s not present to torture you, but to guide you and teach you.  

 

Gardening Themes for Cultivating your Mental Health

Gardening Themes for Cultivating your Mental Health

As the days grow a little longer and the temperatures begin to flirt with the idea of staying above freezing, my gardening soul grows restless. I feel a need to get my hands in the dirt and order more seeds than I could possibly ever grow.  I love my garden. One thing I love about gardening is that as I work, I often find myself making connections to the therapeutic work I do. There is something about open air and plants that leave me feeling connected to the earth, and waxing poetic about my existence on it.  (more…)