Can You *Really* DIY Intuitive Eating?
An intuitive eating dietitian I follow sent out an email this week with a subject line that stopped me in tracks: Why DIY intuitive eating is so sketchy (and lonely…and gassy…). I’ll admit, it piqued my curiosity. An intuitive eating coach calling intuitive eating sketchy? Interesting. Lonely? It can be. Gassy? Hmmm, I’m not gassy.
The entire email was a series of bold statements, including this one: I don’t know a single person who has actually DIY-ed their way to being an intuitive eater without some massive struggles.
She went on to say that if you go it alone in intuitive eating, at least one of three things are almost guaranteed to happen: Major binging, getting overwhelmed, and being lonely and quitting.
Thanks for reading Almost Sated by Kristi K! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.
As a marketer, I am fascinated with positioning and how language—particularly emotional language–shapes narrative. Fear is a major motivator for us humans, and it can work really well in selling a product. It can also go too far. And sometimes there is a fine line between compelling and repelling.
To be clear, this woman makes her living selling memberships to her intuitive eating support group, which I am not against. But when I see what I view as fear mongering, it makes me question her credibility and claims. And it makes me angry—even when I agree with some of what she says.
Look, let’s be real about this. Making the transition to intuitive eating is hard. Really, really hard. But she’s promising that if you buy into her program, you’ll have no struggles, no binges, no bloating, and no gas. It almost sounds like she’s pitching…a diet.
I’m not arguing against the major premise (and selling point of her service)—that it is much easier to transition to intuitive eating with help. I agree. I’m just not sure the right tactic is to say that if you don’t, you’re likely to suffer these consequences and quit.
Many, many times I have wished I had more day-to-day support from other people making the transition to intuitive eating. Many, many times I have wished I had found real people (not just dietitians or therapists) who could provide guidance to me as a wannabe intuitive eater. It’s why I decided to chronicle my experience, so that maybe it would help provide some comfort to others. But I knew it would not be easy, and frankly, I wanted to go through the experience, have the struggles, and savor the breakthroughs.
I can see how people would want to snap their fingers and be magically transformed back into intuitive eaters (we are born instinctively knowing how to eat). But you still have to go through the transition to get there. You can’t just blink and be healed after a lifetime of having diet culture and its messaging—you’re never good enough, you’re never thin enough—shoved down your throat. It just doesn’t work that way. I also don’t believe there is just one way to get there, and frankly, you have to figure out what will and won’t work for you.
There are whole chapters of the Intuitive Eating book that I skipped when I first started, because I knew it was too early in my recovery to begin applying them. But I realize that skipping those chapters or skipping around in the book, the latter of which authors Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole wholeheartedly support, might be difficult for those of us who have been fastidiously trained to follow diet rules or else made to suffer under the weight of our own failure and shame. Coming from diet culture, we’ve been conditioned to 1. ignore our body’s signals and 2. strictly adhere to a plan or be doomed to failure. In this way, intuitive eating is the ultimate anti-diet. It’s okay to “fail.” If you happen to catch yourself in some old diet rule moment, you’re encouraged to be gentle with yourself, consider where it’s coming from, how it happened, and then just…let it go.
I take issue with the assertion that if you go it alone, you are more likely to binge or feel out of control around food, which to me feels like playing on the fears many people have when they are getting started. Just because you don’t pay for coaching doesn’t guarantee you’re going to binge (or be gassy or bloaty).
For the record, I wasn’t a binge eater before intuitive eating, and I haven’t binged since I began intuitive eating. I gave myself unconditional permission to eat when I wanted and allowed myself to eat all of the things that had once been forbidden, but I have never wolfed down a whole pizza, a pan of brownies, or the entire contents of the pantry (and even if I had, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world). For many who are coming from highly restrictive eating environments or patterns, it’s possible to binge early on. And for people who were binge eaters before they started intuitive eating, it’s possible a few binges might happen in the early transition days. Again, I would argue that’s okay and not “bad” or something you absolutely must avoid at all costs. It might be part of the process you have to go through to learn to feel safe around food. When food is no longer forbidden, you are no longer restricting—either emotionally or physically—and nothing is off-limits, binging becomes a non-issue.
While I have largely navigated intuitive eating through free or low-cost resources—books, podcasts, newsletters—I didn’t fully go it alone. Within my first month of beginning intuitive eating, I realized that in order to be able to fully listen to and trust my body, I needed to reconnect my mind and body, and that would require addressing my childhood trauma—the trauma that had made me cut off that connection in the first place.
I am a survivor of sexual and emotional abuse. I didn’t consciously cut off feelings to my body as a child. My brain instinctually did what it needed to do for its—and my—own survival. I needed to not feel what was happening to me in order to live through it. So I got really good at stuffing down emotions to the point where I could tune out those sensations in my body. And that served me for a while. But when the danger ended, having that barrier between myself and the outside world, and between my body and my emotions stopped serving me.
In order for me to be able to tap into the signals my body sends about hunger and fullness or about what type of food I am craving (which might tell me which nutrients my body needs or what type of comfort I am seeking), I needed to address those issues. It’s why I sought the help of an intuitive eating-certified therapist. I initially thought she would be my sort-of intuitive eating sherpa and our sessions would be focused on the principles of intuitive eating with a side of therapy, but what I found was that we were going to directly work to heal the trauma I had talked about with other therapists all of my adult life. Through EMDR, we significantly healed much of my trauma, and I began to be able to identify feelings and sensations inside my body.
Could I have done intuitive eating alone? Maybe, but probably not. I could have rejected food rules and the diet police, and learned to exercise for pleasure, but tapping into my feelings and identifying how they manifested in my body was much more difficult. And the results were life-changing. When I look back at my past, I don’t feel helpless or alone. I feel empowered. I now have the tools to cope with big emotions.
And because I am more in tune with my emotions, I am much less likely to eat because of uncomfortable feelings. And since I am also now no longer dieting or restricting food, I am much less likely to overeat. And if I do happen to have a meal, where I eat to uncomfortable fullness, which happens rarely, I don’t beat myself up over it. If I need to, I check in with myself to see why I might have done it. I make a mental note to file away for future reference. And then I move on.
My transformation has been nothing short of miraculous. When I think about who I was versus who I am now, I hardly recognize that woman. I see how scared and insecure I used to be about everything. I was so afraid of failing, of making one little mistake, and it kept me right where I was—in the safe lane. But playing it safe because you don’t think you deserve any better is no way to live, much less thrive and be happy. When there’s a choice to be made, you’re constantly sacrificing your own self-esteem. There is so much liberation in letting go of society’s expectations of how you should look to be considered attractive and successful. I am so much more than that. You are too.
To answer my original question, “Can we DIY intuitive eating?” I think the answer is yes for some, perhaps yes for many. Just by using free or low-cost resources, such as books, podcasts and blog posts, you can get a good sense of what’s needed in order to begin listening to your body again. Some of us will find as we continue that we benefit from having more intensive one-on-one coaching therapy or working in a group.
Thanks for reading Almost Sated. Right now, I’m focused on getting this newsletter into the hands of people who need it. If you found what you read interesting, encouraging, or helpful, please subscribe and consider sharing it with others.
You can now pick up Show Your Work: Successful Women Share the Bumpy Roads to Their Biggest Wins, the book I co-authored. In it, I talk about the major life challenges that made me realize I had to heal my relationship with food and my body.
Thanks for reading Almost Sated by Kristi K! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.