My Journey to Intuitive Eating
There isn’t a before-and-after shot that can capture how my journey changed me, because a photo can’t show the happiness, peace and self-love I now feel.
We all love a good before-and-after photo because humans are visual story tellers. But I think the fact that my life is more full than I could have ever expected, without a sexy, eye-catching pic says absolutely everything about intuitive eating. Not all powerful transformations need a photo, nor do they have a perfectly crafted story arc.
I want to share how I discovered intuitive eating, and how it helped me live my damn life again.
I Was Stuck in (Pseudo-) Eating Disorder Recovery for Years
I’d like to paint a picture of a rough time in my life that, at the time, didn’t feel so rough, because I was numb. I think there are some times when we know we’re going through hell because everything hurts and we’re drowning. Then there are other times when we’re kind of oblivious to it all because of that numbness. The second one is scarier to me, because we can waste years there without realizing it.
So let’s rewind to 2015, when I was living in Boston. A typical day started with waking up at 6am to meticulously put together my lunch and breakfast, which were my primary, albeit fleeting, sources of happiness and control. I headed to the gym where I ran on the treadmill for 30 minutes, which never felt like enough.
I rationed out my lunch and snacks throughout the day to give me something to look forward to. I had started using a calorie-counting app (again), even knowing that it would make me feel like shit.
I was starting to realize that my food control was really just a way to deal with my overall lack of control. However, I still firmly followed food rules and believed there was a right and wrong way to eat. My life revolved around food. Whether it was avoiding it, preparing it, blogging about it, counting it, there wasn’t a ton of space for other parts of myself.
This was my M.O. for a long time. I had recovered from anorexia, yet still kept so many of the disordered thoughts and allowed food to be my number-one coping mechanism. I believed, whether I acknowledged it or not, that being in a smaller body would bring me more happiness.
How I not-totally-on-purpose discovered intuitive eating
Before I dive into the steps I took, I want to clarify that I’m using the term “intuitive eating” to describe a rule-free, hunger-guided way of eating. I know there’s more to it in the literature; I’ll link some other wonderful resources at the end of the post.
I’m sharing the steps that I took in hopes that you’ll see there are many ways to get back in touch with your intuition around food. This isn’t a “how-to” post - it’s more of a “this worked for me; take what resonates with you and leave the rest” post.
In spring 2016, the perfect storm of intuition blew into my life. I have a hunch it all came at the right time. I had trusted my gut big-time by moving home, so I think I was receptive to change, growth and a different way of being outside my super structured life.
I stopped measuring food
Over the years since developing an eating disorder I’ve dabbled on-and-off in counting calories, measuring food, counting macros, taking photos… all of it. I knew that when I stopped counting, I felt less crazy around food, period. In my experience, food just tastes and feels better when you’re not obsessed with it’s every component. I’ve also learned that when you’re tracking everything you eat, as soon as you finish the food, you feel empty.
It took a long time to stop tracking food in my head. App or no app, once you’ve tracked for a while, you still remember how many calories everything has. This process can be really slow. I believe it’s crucial. Give yourself grace (like, lots of it) as you let go of attaching numbers to food.
I took a break from any kind of structured exercise routine
For me this was pivotal. My relationship with fitness was never purely about movement - I think it was always about weight control. I didn’t realize how much baggage working out held for me until I slowed my roll. This is a really tough move for anyone who has been a chronic exerciser. I struggled a lot with taking a break, however I knew it was the right thing to do.
Taking a break was the best way for me to see that not working out multiple times a week won’t make me unhealthy. In fact, I noticed that I had more energy once I had taken a break. I could prioritize sleep over running that extra mile. Looking back, I’m sure this long period of rest was exactly what my body needed.
Taking the break really helped solidify that exercise doesn’t have to be about maintaining a certain body - it can be a source of joy. I finally felt the freedom to move however I wanted. I didn’t have to run just because that’s what I had always done. I could rollerblade, or practice restorative yoga, because it felt good.
I spent time outside the healthy living sphere and realized how good normal feels
I think one of the most healing things was spending time with people who were “normal” about their health. It’s important, but their world doesn't revolve around it. I look up to my mom and sister as two of the best examples of intuitive eaters. They eat whole foods and prioritize health, but never talk negatively about “bad foods.” They celebrate occasions by enjoying the food without starving then binging. They’ve stayed the same shape for years because they aren’t constantly trying to lose weight then ending up gaining it back.
Spending time with normal eaters and folks whose primary hobbies and passions don’t have to do with food and health was a breath of fresh air. It got me excited about parts of myself that felt dormant for years. I also got rid of a lot of sources of conscious and subconscious diet culture in my on- and off-line feeds.
Food Doesn’t Have to be Stressful
One of the biggest changes was the lack of stress around food. If I overate or ate something I kind of wish I hadn’t, I didn’t sweat it. I trusted that my body could handle it. There was no “on” or “off” a plan. It was just life. It was just food.
Eating intuitively has shocked me sometimes. There’s no “normal” day anymore. Somedays I’m super hungry. Somedays I don’t get hungry until noon. Because food no longer rules my world, because I don’t have any “plan” to follow, I don’t fret when either situation happens. I don’t fret when I accidentally eat if I’m not hungry. I also don’t freak out if I’m hungry for an hour or two, but am too busy to eat. I know my body’s got my back.
I think ultimately the greatest gift eating intuitively gave me was a deep trust of my body. I trust that it knows what it needs. I trust that if I mess up, which I do, which I will, I’ll be just fine. And because I’ve seen how resilient and wonderful my body is, I appreciate it. I love it so much. I fill it up with yummy foods, with healthy foods, with fun foods and seasonal foods.
I think there’s this fear, I know I had it, with intuitive eating that we’ll “let ourselves go.” I get it. I really do. I remember that this fear of letting myself go or needing to fit into an expectation of myself drove so much of my anxiety in recovering from disordered eating. However, fear isn’t unique to this aspect of our lives. Fear was designed to alert us of danger, yet it’s our job to reassure our bodies and minds that the only danger is staying stuck where we are. One of my favorite quotes is: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear” - Jack Canfield. It’s ok to be afraid of letting go, of changing. That doesn’t mean you have to let the fear stop you.
Acknowledge that the fear is coming from the outside world. There’s so much pressure to be a certain shape in order to get love. You deserve love and have love right now, no matter what your gravitational pull on earth is. Right this second, you deserve all the love. So even if you have to face that deep fear of “letting yourself go” guess what? You’ll still be loved. And sometimes when you “let yourself go” life catches you in the best possible way.
Food Psych (podcast): https://christyharrison.com/foodpsych/
Nourishing Women (podcast): https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nourishing-women-podcast/id1273444999?mt=2
Georgie Morley is the creator of the Chasing Joy Podcast and website In it 4 the Long Run. Both platforms provide guidance, connection, stories, and resources for young women looking to live a joyful, food restriction free, intuitive life.