Like most men and women in this day and age, I have spent some time dieting and exercising in that quest to “lose weight”, “get healthy” or “tone up” – I’m sure you can fill in the blank with your own expression. I was pretty lucky, however, that this angst around my body started relatively late in life (my late 20s). Perhaps this is because I grew up around a mother with a very healthy attitude to her weight, so I never saw dieting as normal behaviour.
This slow start to the world of body loathing was probably also why I was quick to realise that dieting was the most ridiculous and ineffective system I had ever encountered. The more control I tried to exert over the amount I was eating, the more hungry and miserable I became. I was counting calories and ramping up my exercise levels, but yet it seemed that every time I made any progress in dropping pounds, the scale would start to climb again, and eventually I found myself heavier than when I had begun the process. It was a losing battle, and I was miserable. And very, very hungry.
I knew this couldn’t be the answer. There must be a better way to feel comfortable in my own skin. And how could this process possibly be healthy? Not to mention the physical discomfort, but I was also spending almost every waking moment worrying about losing weight and being thin.
So I did what I do in most situations where I need to learn something – I turned to reading. That’s when I discovered the world of Intuitive Eating. I raced through books by the wonderfully compassionate and funny author Geneen Roth, read the scientifically sound handbook on intuitive eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and found out that the movement in some form had made it to the U.K. after reading Beyond Chocolate, by Sophie and Audrey Boss.
Intuitive eating is deceptively simple. It’s about eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, which makes a lot of sense. It’s also about not demonising food – forgetting labels like “good” and “bad” or even the much loved “healthy” euphemism. The idea is that once you are freed from these concepts, you begin to eat a wide variety of foods without feeling deprived or overeating.
Of course, it’s easier said than done. Once you start allowing yourself to eat what you are hungry for, when you are hungry, you start to see all the times that you eat when you’re not hungry, which for a lot of people can be a very uncomfortable realisation. For me, as a people pleaser, I started to see how many times I ate more food than I wanted to or got into situations where I was afraid to eat in the way that I wanted. One of the challenges of intuitive eating – and generally for me – is having the confidence to do things the way that I want to do them and not just blending into the crowd.
In fact, I’ve learned a lot about myself through my relationship with food. As Geneen Roth so eloquently puts it, “the way to transform our relationship with food is to be open, curious and kind with ourselves — instead of punishing, impatient and harsh.”
Intuitive eating is certainly not a quick fix. It’s a process. I’ve been following the principles for years now, and I am still learning. But it’s the only way that I’ve been able to treat myself with kindness and make peace with food in our thinness-obsessed society.