Will the Honeymoon Period Ever End?
Why this intuitive eating transition phase strikes fear in even the most determined anti-dieters.
It’s the question everyone who starts intuitive eating wants to know (well, that and what will happen to my body?).
How long will I be in the honeymoon phase?
The Honeymoon Phase is a big-time transition, and it can last months—or longer. This is the phase when you finally give yourself permission to eat all the things and let go of all your diet rules. Anti-diet dietitian nutritionist and longtime journalist Christine Byrne calls it the “F*ck Diet Culture” Phase.
In this phase, you’re putting a lot of the intuitive eating principles into practice—rejecting the diet mentality, honoring your hunger, making peace with food, challenging the food police, discovering the satisfaction factor, and, just maybe, starting to feel your fullness. You may even have a few “last suppers,” where you basically treat your next meal as if it were your last. This hangover from diet culture, where you’d have one last blowout before the diet begins, can still happen in the early days of intuitive eating. As time goes on, you emotionally—and your body physically—understand that, in fact, your last supper eating is no longer necessary. From here on out, you’re largely going to be eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. But it’s likely during the honeymoon phase that you will enjoy all of the foods you deprived yourself of when you were dieting. And that’s okay.
“The Honeymoon Phase is a crucial part of the intuitive eating journey,” Byrne says. “It’s when your brain and body learn that no foods are off limits. It’s when you habituate to having unlimited access to all the foods that you restricted before. Without this habituation, and this unconditional permission to eat, you won’t really be able to go any further in intuitive eating.”
Since I came to intuitive eating from many years of hard-core paleo, including multiple Whole 30s to “get my eating in check,” and even one six-month elimination diet overseen by a functional medicine doc in which I gave up gluten, dairy, nightshades, refined sugar, and alcohol for the purpose of definitively determining my food allergies. During that elimination diet, I ate a lot of kale and chicken apple sausage. By the way, I didn’t uncover any food allergies. Also, I didn’t lose any weight. I could blame that on the other things going on in my life—I was in the last gasp phase of my high-conflict first marriage and had three young children to support. (I was the primary breadwinner and the only one of us working full time, but also being criticized for said work and not being present enough for my family.) It was a tough time. Maybe if I had just had less stress in my life, I would have lost weight during the elimination diet. I’m sure that’s what I was thinking then. Now, I know better.
That was a long digression, but my point is that I still had some (okay, many) holdover food rules and food restrictions when I began intuitive eating, and I am thrilled to be free of them! Pasta, in particular, was a joy to rediscover. For probably the last 20 years, pasta—when I would even allow it—was always a splurge, reserved only for very special occasions, dinners only (never lunch), and only when I had done a nice large workout to “earn it.”
Now, I’m enjoying pasta three or four meals a week (including lunch) and loving it, especially stuffed shells or fettuccine with creamy sauces (and always lots of parmesan). The kids, who were never deprived of pasta, are tiring of our pasta dinners, but I am not. And I am sure I eat more pasta than my body actually asks for, but I am still making up for the restriction that happened all these years.
I also still eat chocolate. Every day. For breakfast.
Chocolate was the major “exception” to my diet rules during the diet days, and now that there are no restrictions, I still have it. Except one of my big “ahas” through intuitive eating has been realizing that this Taurus, who is the ultimate creature of habit, actually needs variety to get enough vital nutrients. So these days, I put chocolate chips in my oatmeal, but I make sure to get more nutrients by adding in other foods such as berries, seeds, nuts or peanut butter. I occasionally have this moment where I think, “But nuts have so many calories, and it’s so easy to eat too many,” and then I add them anyway.
I used to think I had eating issues, and my eating behavior was the problem. But now I’m realizing that when I allow myself to eat freely, I do stop. Probably not yet where I will when I’m fully attuned to my intuitive eating, but that’s okay. It’s part of the process, especially during the honeymoon phase. And so is the occasional binge, although I haven’t experienced that.
And here’s where I need to admit that the email I received last week got to me. As a marketer, I was mad about its fear-mongering. Many women can’t even consider not dieting or not restricting themselves around food, because they fear that if they gave themselves full permission to eat, there would be absolutely no bottom. Th email implied that it’s wrong for those who are transitioning to intuitive eating to go through a phase of overeating or to have a binge or two as they learn the process of trusting themselves.
But here’s what makes me even madder. That email, even though I knew it was messed up, planted a seed of doubt within me. It made me question where I’m at in my journey and whether I’m doing intuitive eating right. It made me question where I am in the process. Should I still be in the honeymoon phase? Of course, I went looking for answers. Luckily, there’s plenty that’s been written on this topic.
“The honeymoon period in intuitive eating will look differently for different people,” says Rachael Hartley, certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and Author of Gentle Nutrition. “For someone who enters intuitive eating a malnourished or nutritionally deprived state, or someone who has experienced significant dieting and body trauma, it may last for quite some time. For others, the honeymoon period may be rather brief.”
“I often hear from people wondering how they can get out of the honeymoon period - but intentionally trying to get out of the honeymoon period is really just another form of restriction. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to just trust the process and know that it will pass.”
So I’m trusting the process.
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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.
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