I Tried Intuitive Eating and Utterly Failed. Or So I Thought.
I was sick and tired of my mind being constantly bloated with food thoughts. I decided to take matters into my own hands and change things. My desire was to achieve a softer relationship with food. To stop making it about numbers. That’s why intuitive eating seemed to be an ideal solution for me.
After a 46-day experiment, I wrote this article explaining why I had failed and what I had learned from it. And then I got caught up in other tasks, and I left it aside for a while. Until now. In the meantime, I have finally made progress.
This is my journey. I hope my small experience can help you with your own.
Reconnecting with my feelings of hunger and satiety
Intuitive feeding is about letting go of the control you have over food. Reconnecting to your body, your feelings, and trusting them. Eating the food that your body asks you to eat, without classifying it as “good” or “bad”. In a word: make food simple and natural again.
For many years, my relationship with food was mainly mathematical. I was afraid of gaining weight. So I counted calories to make sure I wasn’t exceeding my daily needs. In the long run, it’s exhausting.
I was hearing more and more about intuitive eating. So I decided to give it a try. After a little over a month, I thought I had failed. I kept counting calories more often than not. I exceeded my satiety too many times.
Here’s why I failed (at first)
Life and gluttony got in my way.
I can’t say it has been a disaster. I eat healthy out of habit. That’s the way I was raised, and that’s the choice I continue to make every day because I like it. Lots of vegetables, protein, fruit for dessert, and as little processed food as possible.
I had already acquired that. What I wanted to get out of this new experience was rather reconnecting with my body and sensations. Hunger. Satiety. Learning to trust the one that was supposed to know better than me: my body.
What I’ve done better
I stopped drinking alcohol as a default option. I would open a beer or accept a glass of whatever just because someone handed it to me. Those are among the worst calories, plus I realized that I was hating the effects of alcohol more and more. My decision was made. Within a month I drank no more than two glasses. On special occasions, and when I really wanted to. Orange juice mixed with sparkling water is perfectly fine the rest of the time.
I also learned to distinguish between “real” and “fake” cravings. One evening, after dinner, I had a crazy desire for ice cream. My mind kept thinking about it. I was almost salivating. I really, genuinely wanted it. I got up from the couch, opened the freezer, and took one. I sat back down, opened the package, and savored each piece, letting its sweetness fill my taste buds and my heart with joy. After the last bite, I felt good. I knew that what I had satisfied was a real craving. Something I “needed”.
Time for setbacks.
I kept counting calories more often than not
I kept counting calories. It’s just a quick addition in my head, to make sure I haven’t eaten too much. But it’s tiring. And useless. You can’t know what your body needed during the day because every day is different.
When after dinner I would get to a number that was too “low”, it acted as a temptation to fill that “void”, just because I could. My brain gave me thousands of “good reasons” in one minute. “Your body needs it”. “You can treat yourself”. “You won’t gain weight”. And so on. What was first used to keep control was working backward.
I love to eat. So much that I have trouble stopping, even when I’m full. It is difficult to reconnect to one’s body sensations. Especially if you’ve been cutting yourself off for a long time. It’s supposed to be intuitive. Look at animals. When my parents’ dog is hungry, he knows it, and he just satisfies his need. Nothing more.
For a long time, I didn’t allow myself to eat between meals, even if my stomach rumbled. So I learned to ignore my hunger. And during meals, I was so hungry that I ignored my satiety and ate too much. Great logic, I know.
The consequence is the following: as much as I have no trouble recognizing hunger, satiety is a process in progress.
In the end, it was just a matter of time
I knew that intuitive eating could not be implemented in my life in a single month. It would have been too easy. Especially after 6 years of counting calories and over-controlling my diet.
Under what conditions do you usually eat? Looking at your phone? Watching television? Or mindfully sitting at a table? The first answer is the lot of most people. And mine too.
I had a little epiphany. I remembered the few times I went to gourmet restaurants: I was eating in a completely different way. I remember savoring every bite, paying attention to taste, texture, sensation, smell. I chewed and swallowed slowly and consciously before carefully preparing another bite.
I spent more time eating and did it more mindfully because I wanted to get the best possible experience from my meal. I finished my plates, which were often smaller, fully satisfied, and in accordance with my satiety. What a coincidence! Under these circumstances, I was fully focused on what I was doing: eating. That was the first step towards true intuitive eating.
So I persevered in my experiment. Almost two months later, I can now say that I am making real progress.
It’s been a few weeks since I stopped counting calories. I acknowledged that it was useless, and decided to be guided by my hunger. It directs me to the food my body needs. And as I enjoy my food more, I take more time to eat. As a result, I get closer to my sensations.
Take away (or eat-in?)
Here are two things I’ve learned.
If you really want something, you’ll have to get it sooner or later (like me with ice cream. No need to resist too much if it’s a real craving). Deprive yourself at lunch, and you’ll get cravings before dinner. As far as I’m concerned, the few times I skip breakfast, I find myself starving for the rest of the day.
Things take time. Especially to change longstanding habits. And especially when it comes to food, which can go for just about anything: comfort, reassurance, boredom... It’s immediate pleasure. So be patient and understanding with yourself. You are a human being. Don’t blame yourself too much. Just notice your behavior, your feelings, both in your mind and in your body, and try to improve every day.
You’ll get there. So will I. We will succeed and reconnect with our instincts, and our bodies will thank us. Let’s keep up the effort and consistency. The reward will be huge.