Embracing Intuitive Eating was the Best Thing I’ve Done for My Health
I used to be the girl who bounced back and forth ad nauseam from diet to detox and vice versa.
It started with a simple desire to be thin in high school, and then manifested as an obsession with “healthy eating” in college. But the two phases looked exactly the same on the outside:
Restrict calories/sugar/fat for a time.
Temporarily feel light and confident in my skin.
Experience a moment of weakness on a bad/stressful/emotional day, and binge on a painfully large amount of junk food in one sitting (or over the course of a few days).
Feel sick and guilty, and vow to start again on another diet ASAP.
Rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Life after college was much more conducive to self-care, and within a few months back at home, my stress levels seemed to dissipate and the nasty little binge eating episodes became fewer and farther between. However, my fascination with fad diets and health trends only increased, now that I had more time to spend obsessing over nutrition. In an effort to overcome my lifelong battle with acne, I tried eliminating dairy, gluten, added sugar, and caffeine from my diet one at a time. When none of those things worked, I eagerly jumped on the Whole30 bandwagon—convinced that this would be the end of all of my health woes. (Spoiler: it wasn’t. In fact, I couldn’t even make it halfway without losing my sanity and face-planting into a pint of Rocky Road.)
Finding Food Freedom Once and For All
At the time, I thought my health was suffering because of a lack of willpower. Consistently sticking to a purely Paleo/vegan/zero-sugar diet would cause my hormones to balance out and my symptoms to disappear for good, right? If I could just muster up enough discipline to quiet my appetite and resist temptation, I’d find myself on the doorstep of wellness: thin, happy, energetic, and healthy. (Oh, but how wrong I was!)
Shortly after my second failed Whole30 attempt, as I moped around the apartment feeling completely defeated in my efforts yet again, it dawned on me: What if the problem wasn’t with me, but with the diets themselves? For years, I associated “wellness” with restriction, but what if it was that precise mentality that was actually keeping me from becoming the kind of healthy, vibrant woman I so hoped to be?
My theory was a long shot, I told myself, but I had nothing to lose. So, on a summer day in 2016, I finally made the decision to put an end to the cycle of deprivation I’d been stuck in since high school. Which, frighteningly enough, meant opening up the door to eating anything and everything that had previously been “off limits” in my mind—including childhood favorites such as ice cream, baked goods, pasta, and bread. My hope was to banish the restrict-and-binge mentality by simply incorporating these foods into my diet on a regular basis, so that I could disassociate sugar and carbs from the fear of losing control.
But old habits die hard, and I would be lying if I said that this radical approach came easy: in the beginning, every less-than-nutrient-dense bite I took filled me with dread over the thought of gaining weight or making my health issues worse—but over time, little by little, I was able to alter my mindset surrounding food from one of stress and anxiety to one of satisfaction and freedom. I noticed the change really take root when:
I started looking forward to my husband’s homemade pizza/pasta nights.
Social events no longer made me nervous about overeating.
I could enjoy the occasional bread basket, cocktail, or dessert at my favorite restaurants without a hint of guilt.
Baking became a weekly stress-relieving ritual.
I stopped using the words, “cheat,” “sinful,” and “bad” in regards to certain foods.
The number on the scale completely lost its power over me.
Embracing Intuitive eating: the Mind-Body Connection
Mentally, I was in a much better place than before. My longtime obsession with “healthy” eating gradually gave way to balance as I learned to appreciate—not demonize—my hearty appetite. Looking back, I’m convinced that healing my toxic relationship with food and embracing a life of intuitive eating was the absolute best thing I could’ve done for both my mental and physical health, as it took the stress out of the equation and paved the way for what was to come: 2017 was the year I made the decision to study holistic nutrition with the Nutritional Therapy Association, and to work with a functional medicine doctor on getting to the bottom of my lingering symptoms. Incorporating a number of healing foods and supplements into my diet since then has definitely made a huge difference in balancing my hormones—but if there’s anything I’ve learned in this long journey of mine, it’s that our mental state plays a much larger role in our overall health and wellbeing. As long as we’re stressed, unhappy, or anxious, our bodies will have to work that much harder to heal.
Had I not learned how to detach foods from fear, I’d still be going about my approach to “wellness” all wrong. This is why, in my own practice, we work first and foremost on changing unhealthy mentalities and behaviors around food—so that dieting and restrict-binge cycles can become a thing of the past for every single one of my clients. Despite what diet culture may have you believe, wellness and food freedom go hand-in-hand.