Intuitive Eating: Expectations vs. Reality

There’s a huge part of me that hates to admit how instrumental exercise and nutrition are to my happiness. I’ll admit, I haven’t read Intuitive Eating, but I’ve followed numerous instagrammers who discuss the tenets of intuitive eating and highlight their own struggles and wins in this arena. A year or so ago, I desperately wanted to seamlessly adopt intuitive eating. Based on what I saw and read on social media, intuitive eating sounded like a final reprieve from the rat race of obsessive weight management. After going through multiple seasons of my life as a disordered eater and exerciser, I felt like I was finally ready to make space in my brain to think about more important things. I felt ready to really listen to my body’s cues without judgment, and although I must have known that the journey to intuitive eating and exercising wouldn’t be a short one, I so badly wanted it to easy. I wanted it to just unfold naturally so that I could be like one of these woman on Instagram whom I admired so much, who appeared to be living incredibly fulfilled lives without food and exercise getting in the way. And hence followed the perils of comparison—my specific journey was going to be complicated and nuanced, whether I liked it or not.


I tried really hard to eat what sounded nourishing, satisfying and delicious. At the time, I was working as a consultant, traveling Monday – Thursday nearly each week, and I was eating most of my meals outside of my own kitchen. It was really the perfect scenario in which to test out intuitive eating, since I had to make food choices that I wouldn’t always necessarily be my go-to. But here’s the problem—I was also blatantly disregarding the digestive issues that were still very prevalent for me. Ever since I was 14, I’ve experienced abdominal pain and digestive discomfort after eating certain types of foods. Western doctors had never been able to tell me exactly what was going on in my gut, and to this day I still owe myself a trip to a Functional Medicine doctor or an NTP to fully diagnose these underlying issues. Regardless, I’ve always known my digestion wasn’t optimal. At first, this made my experience with intuitive eating really really really difficult. Even though I felt like I was eating foods that delighted my taste buds and were really satisfying calorically and nutritionally, my body was constantly in a state of low-grade inflammation that made my incredibly moody/sad, gave me intense brain fog, and made me so bloated that I looked several months pregnant at any given time.


At this point, if you’re thinking, “this girl is putting herself through a lot of unnecessary pain,” you’re totally right. I wanted to be an intuitive eater so badly that I went on like this for months, trying to just chew my food more slowly and drink apple cider vinegar in an attempt to alleviate the pain I continued to feel. Weirdly enough, since I felt so crappy all the time, I felt like I absolutely had to get in a workout every day—just so that I could have some amount of energy to go about my day. I got up at the crack of dawn to fit these workouts into my morning before I had to be at work, inevitably sacrificing sleep in the process. I was a wreck. On top of all of this, I felt so much shame in my inability to “just eat whatever sounded good.” The feelings of sadness caused by chronic inflammation likely exacerbated this sense of failure that I carried with me. All I wanted was to not have to worry about food—whether in the context of weight obsession, digestive issues and intolerances, etc. But I knew that I owed it to myself to devote time and energy to figuring out what foods actually make my body feel good, even if that meant that food would be a central topic in my life for a bit longer.


I am sharing this story to de-bunk my previously held opinion that it’s possible to fail at intuitive eating. I want you to know that it’s not always as easy as eating what sounds good and moving on with your life. If there are underlying health issues that make it painful to eat any and everything, then the intuitive eating journey is going to have to respect those complications. I learned the hard way that my specific foray into intuitive eating was going to include that caveat that certain foods are straight-up a no-no based on how they make me feel. And that’s OK! I am not difficult or stubborn or making things up in my head if I ascertain that certain foods make me feel like a sack of shit. They make a lot of other people feel like sacks of shit! And just as we owe it to ourselves to develop healthy relationships with food and exercise, we also deserve to obey our body’s specific, individualized needs along the way.


So what does intuitive eating and exercising look like for me these days? It means eating a whole foods diet with tons of healthy fats because that’s what makes me feel awesome. For me, a rendition of the paleo diet is currently making me feel my best. My energy levels are awesome and my digestion is fairly smooth. And oddly enough, I exercise less because I feel so good as it is. Workouts looks like simple, thirty-minute weightlifting sessions and one or two vinyasa flow classes a week. And even though I am currently eating and moving in this way, I might be struck with a craving for oatmeal tomorrow morning—I don’t specifically experience digestive distress when I eat it, so I might very well go ahead and eat it! I might soon decide to incorporate even more grains back into my diet. But I know that I won’t be eating whole wheat bread any time soon. That’s based on the needs of my specific body. And in this intuitive eating journey, the needs of my individual body are all that matters.


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