A Painful (But Necessary) Journey to Intuitive Eating
I’ve always loved food.
It’s allowed me to experience different cultures with my five senses. It accompanied me at celebrations and parties. Food has been a source of joy, pleasure, disgust, laughter, and tears.
But food has also been a tool of my broken heart.
I’ve turned to food when I was insecure, lonely, and in pain. I used it and abused my body with food. And I found solace in flavours that helped me forget about the pain in times when everything was too much.
Where I am now is a reflection of all the work I’ve done with my relationship to food and myself. It was hard. And it was definitely not pillowy soft or sweet, like a fresh Krispy Kreme with a brush of sweet glaze.
Doing the work can be fucking brutal.
But do the work, we must.
Why I had to reevaluate my relationship with food
During the pandemic I got really obsessive about working out. I knew that I did NOT want to end up fat and depressed in lockdown by never getting active. I knew I needed to move my body every. single. day.
So I did.
And with all those workouts, new foodie and health influencers I followed, as well articles read… I fell into an obsession with food. And more than that, an obsession with different types of diets.
I was in an exploratory phase — I tried calorie tracking, protein tracking, low carb, high fat, vegan cooking, and so on. I spent hundreds of dollars on supplements and fancy ingredients to try new recipes.
Food became one of my highest expenses. (And kind of led to a teeny-tiny online shopping problem…)
I became obsessed with the idea that I needed to eat constantly to keep my metabolism firing at all times. #gains
It didn’t get to the point of drinking raw eggs in the morning… but, honestly, I might have been on my way there.
The kicker was those sudden bouts of loneliness. You know, when your mind touches The Void in your soul and you just feel… unsettled. Uneasy. Maybe anxious.
If you know, you know.
The Void is that expansive nothingness inside that you become aware of every once in a while. Probably when you least expect it. You sit down, alone, on your couch after your commute home from a meeting — and it hits you.
The feeling is so disturbing you have to get a shot of dopamine right away: reach for your phone and check notifications, turn on Netflix, or, like me, turn to your fridge and open the door.
Eating made me sick… Like, really sick
Relying on food for sense of comfort is one thing. I’d also started to use it as a tool to feel in control.
Monitoring my protein and the amount of meals I ate made me feel like I had some grasp on my life. Or at least my body. In a time where life had essentially flipped the desk (landing me on my ass), I needed that.
Earlier this year I ran into a lot of obstacles, which, when stacked on top of one another, became completely overwhelming.
I won’t bore you with the the details, but ultimately the stress led me to develop chronic inflammation in my esophagus and stomach. Basically, I had heart burn and stomach pain for 2 months straight. And it completely changed my life.
Up until that point I had been eating wayyyy too much food. With a fear of going hungry, I always had a snack on hand and food in my mind. I followed tons of foodie instagram accounts and always found myself wanting food or making food (surprise surprise).
Food was the best part of my day. It gave me relief.
Once I developed this stress-related stomach issue, food became the worst part of my day.
Eating was painful. Swallowing hurt. My stomach burned. I hated seeing delicious food, knowing it would cause me pain.
And I had to completely overhaul my emotional eating habits. Because otherwise, I was suffering.
Drastic changes ensued:
- I stopped eating after 5pm
- I stopped taking vitamins or mineral supplements
- I cut my meals in half, or less, because my stomach couldn’t handle large amounts of food
- I stopped eating meat, dairy, anything acidic like tomatoes, and drinking alcohol
- I started drinking organic celery juice in the morning after I woke up
- I took probiotics every day
Maybe you do some of these things already! Which is great. But at that point in my life, this was all new. And it was a struggle.
I went from eating very often and whatever I wanted, never feeling hungry (often too full actually), and drinking alcohol socially… to a strict regimen fueled by my desire to not be in pain anymore. It was a transformative shift.
How I healed my relationship with my body and food
This is an ever-evolving work of progress. I’m not claiming to have “made it”. My relationship with food and eating intuitively still sees moments of anxiety and struggle.
But here are a few things that have helped me along this journey.
1. Intermittent Fasting (IF)
At first I was hesitant to try intermittent fasting.
I’ve had issues with disordered eating in the past (fueled by body dysmorphia and teen angst) and I didn’t want to spiral. I knew my motivations behind IF had to be about health not weight.
The main goal was this: Get used to the feeling of being hungry without spiraling into anxiety.
The protein and metabolism obsession created the fear of hunger in me. So I decided to remedy that with my own version of exposure therapy. Allowing myself to feel hunger (and the anxiety that came with it, at first) helped me understand it.
And I realized: hunger is fleeting.
It’s a feeling — just like everything else. And it goes away. Just like all of our other feelings.
Simply put: Hunger is a feeling I became aware of and, just like my other feelings (anger, sadness, joy), I didn’t have to act on it.
Reactivity is the reason I get myself into trouble. Experience sensation > feel bad/good > react outwards. This is the cycle I’m now even more aware of, thanks to my struggle with food anxiety and the fear of hunger.
2. Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness has changed my life. And we don’t necessarily have to use this word to talk about the attention and awareness of my being, others, and the environment around us.
This awareness helped me become conscious every time I reach for food from a place of emotion. By checking in with my body, I would tell myself these things:
- I tell myself ‘I can have it’, but just wait 15 minutes and see if I want it still (usually the feeling will pass)
- I remind myself that I’m eating for pleasure or distraction, thereby owning it and not pretending I ‘need’ the snack
I coupled these intentional thoughts with regular meditation. And, honestly, I 100% believe this is what saved me from the chronic inflammation.
Regulating your nervous system is an essential step to relax your body and normalize its functions.
Meditating 20 minutes, two times a day (morning and evening) gave me a sense of calm and stability that I had never experienced before. I recommend anyone to at least try five minutes a day to see if they can benefit.
3. Sitting With My Discomfort
The hardest part about reframing my relationship with food, was actually the part where I had to reframe my relationship with myself.
Sitting with the loneliness or discomfort I felt, and not running away to the fridge, was incredibly painful.
So much stuff came up. Unresolved issues from my past. Painful relationships. Dissatisfaction with certain parts of life.
I became acutely aware of my own mind — and just how much I wanted to run from it. How much running from myself I had previously been doing.
Facing my demons was not fun. It was not easy. It was not glamorous. And this isn’t a piece about how I’m ‘magically healed’ and transformed myself over night.
This is an ongoing, ugly, awkward, uncomfortable process that situates me deeply in the trenches of my own emotional work.
But it’s something absolutely worth fighting for.
I’m tired of turning my back on the skeletons. And I’m tired of pretending I don’t have any to begin with. Being completely raw and honest about the messiness of my journey is one step closer to living an authentically human life.
And to bring more happiness and peace into the world, I need to cultivate that within myself.
We aren’t separate from our environment — everything is connected, and your body and soul are just as important as the sun, moon, and earth that you experience every day.
“The energy you use to get a drink of water comes from sunshine working its way up to you through the food chain — in a real sense, light lifts the cup to your lips.”
- Rick Hanson