everything discussed in this blog series is derived from Intuitive Eating and the Intuitive Eating Workbook. As you read these posts, I strongly encourage you to purchase and read both as this series will not be as thorough and informative as the books. Each month we will focus on one principle at a time. Allow yourself the space to simply look at that one principle. My desire for you, dear reader, is that these posts will 1) allow you to dig deep into understanding your relationship with food, 2) that kindness and compassion for yourself will grow, and 3) that you will experience real flourishing as you develop trust with your body.
I binge ate my way through the first semester of grad school. It wasn’t that my class schedule was particularly rigorous academically, but rather that I wasn’t used to a lifestyle of being emotionally present. The program I enrolled in to get my masters in counseling put a high value on students knowing themselves in order to better help others. From day one we took a deep dive into our own stories to look at how they’ve impacted us. It felt heavy and intense and I wasn’t sure how to cope with all that I was learning about myself.
During class I would show up and sit in the pain of my own past experiences and empathize with classmates as they did the same. But when I got home I couldn’t bear to be present any longer. I needed to checkout completely. So I did what I had trained myself to do when I didn’t want to feel: I ate.
As I take an honest look back to that season of life, I think it would be fair to say I was ashamed of my coping strategies. I had been eating intuitively for years and felt as though my frequent binges were a giant setback.
Isn’t it easy to assume growth must be linear? Isn’t it easy to allow shame to creep in and tell us we aren’t ok as we are?
That was years ago. Today, I can tell you with full confidence that I’m not perfect, I don’t have life figured out, and sometimes I eat too much or too little. I enjoy food and my body most days but I also still have days when I don’t.
If I could go back in time and help the younger version of myself work through that experience I imagine it would go something like this.
Present day self (PDS):I see that you just ate a whole lot of food and you seem really uncomfortable and ashamed of yourself, what do you think happened here?
Younger self (YS): I have no idea. I had the urge to eat the moment I walked through the door and couldn’t stop until I was in pain.
PDS: That makes a lot of sense. Eating has gotten you through a lot of hard times in the past. Of course you would default to that now. If you take a moment to just be with your body now, how does it feel?
YS: Terrible! I want to crawl out of my own skin, or at least undo the past couple of hours. I hate that I do this and hate my body.
PDS: It makes a lot of sense that you would feel that way. But it seems to me like your body was actually trying to protect you from feeling something really icky. Without you even telling your body to do so, it figured out a way to block really uncomfortable feelings. If you were to ask your brain and your body to pull up those feeling now, what would they be?
YS: I don’t think I liked sitting in class today. It was really intense and I couldn’t escape fast enough.
PDS: it sounds like you were really overwhelmed and needed space for yourself after class. Again, it makes a lot of sense that you would return to old coping mechanisms. Every human does that. Next time you feel the urge to binge, I wonder what it would look like for you to check in with your body first. Ask your body what story it is trying to tell and what it needs in order to be ok. If you still binge that’s ok. Respecting your body isn’t about eating perfectly, rather it is about increasing your awareness about what your body needs and then offering it those things.
Now, I realize this little exercise may come across as cheesy but if I had someone walking me though that conversation years ago, it would have been powerfully healing. Respecting your body is not simply making sure you eat enough fruits and vegetables in a day or honoring your desire for chocolate when it arises. Sure, eating a variety of foods, honoring your hunger and fullness cues, and eating foods that satisfy are incredibly important. And each of these components are important steps in intuitive eating. However, respecting your body means attuning to the needs of your body; literally tuning in to all the signals and signs of our bodies needs and responding to it with compassion.
So, what story is your body trying to tell today? If you are looking to cultivate a deeper appreciation and respect for your body I challenge you to ask yourself that question on a regular basis. And of course remember, there are no wrong answers.