I remember my first diet. I didn’t know it was a diet at the time. But it was the first time I set myself food rules for intentional weight loss. I was 11 and I had decided I will stop bringing snacks to eat at recess. I wasn’t heavy by any means.
So what would cause a child to want to lose weight?
It was many factors that all came together but it started when I was 9 years old, at an annual Doctor visit. The Doctor took my weight as usual and declared “85 pounds”. He didn’t think anything of it but in my little mind it registered as “Whoa! That’s a big number!”. I had no context for this number.
Some time after this visit the girls in class were discussing thier wieght. All the girls were saying numbers that indicated they weighed less than me. I was embarassed to weight more than them even though it was something I had little control of. The girl who weighed the least was clearly envied and admired by the rest of us. As kids you have no concept of what your weight even means or how it relates to your height and age. But it was clear, even from such a young age that when it came to weight – less was better.
Fifth grade was the first time I saw a picture of myself and didn’t like what I was looking at. So by the time I got to 6th grade I decided to take things into my own hands so that I can lose weight, thinking that it will make me truly happy. Thinking it will solve all my problems (whatever “big” problems a 6th grader has).
And it worked. I started to get compliments and I felt on top of the world. Even as a young girl I would connect my weight and my looks to my self worth.
You’d think I reached my goal and it ends here. No. It was only the beginning.
This was the start of my dieting roller coaster. I struggled all of my teen years and early 20s. I never stuck to one diet. Oh, no. I tried them all! South Beach, the Blood Type, Atkins, calorie counting, Suzanne Somers, you name it (these were the trending diets back then. There was no whole 30 or Keto yet). I lost then I gained, then I tried something else. Thinking it was me that was the problem, because I wasn’t able to stick to it. After all, everyone else seemed to make it work. So I should be able to, too, right?
I would always end up on a binge, inhaling so much food that it would make my stomach hurt. It did not feel normal. I would eat even when I didn’t like the food! I was embaressed. I cried from frustration.
I remember thinking that hunger was a good sensation to have, because it means that instead of eating food with calories my body would now be burning calories – which means I’d be losing weight.How dysfunctional and unhealthy is this way of thinking? To think that depriving your body of its basic need is something good. That if I give in to hunger that I’m doing something bad (I always did “give in” and then some). Unfortunately, this thinking is more common than we care to admit and creates a lot of physical, mental, and emotional damage. Having hunger cues is a good thing! It signals to your body that it needs nourishment and that you NEED to eat.
It got really bad when I left home and went to Israel for a year abroad, the year after high school graduation. I had zero control over my eating habits. The more desperate I was to stick to food rules, the bigger pull I had to eat even more. Becuase this is what diet mindset does to you, dieting is a predictor of binging and weight gain (read more about that here: Why dieting is the reason behind binge eating). But I didn’t know this at the time.
I couldn’t understand how it works for so many others but not for me. I mean, something must be wrong with me! Not once did I think the diet was the problem. I ended up gaining a significant amout of weight and feeling miserable about myself. I so badly wanted to lose the weight.. But HOW???
When I got back home that summer I had a sudden realization. Every time I even think of the word “diet” I start to obsess about food and want to eat everything in sight. So I came up with a new plan. I won’t go on a diet, I’ll just eat when I’m hungry. Simple! No calorie counting, no reading labels. Just keep it simple – If you are not hungry, you do not eat. If you are hungry – eat!
Little did I know that I had stumbled upon Intuitive Eating. The next 6 months were blissful. I lost the wieght and felt great… for a while. Except I didn’t truly remove the dieting mindset. This was all done for the purpose of weight loss. While I ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full, I made sure to stay away from any “trigger” food because I still did not have “self-control” around them.
I did not truly remedy by disordered thinking and unhealthy behaviors around food. Because I still judged myself by my food choices. I did not give myself full permission to enjoy all foods and I was still letting the scale rule my life. Which is why I ended up gaining back all the weight plus some. Because once I started allowing myself cakes and cookies again, I was out of control. I didn’t truly evaluate what my beliefs around food are. I didn’t figure out WHY I feel this way around food.
As I started to learn more about Intuitive Eating I realized that it’s beliefs and behavior that need to change, not the food! And weight needs to take a back seat in order to heal that relationship with food. Intuitive Eating becomes another diet if we use it for intentional wieght loss. And 95% of diets fail.
I learned that food is just food. It only holds the meaning that we give it. Of course, there are food that are nutritious and ones that are not. I know this! I am a dietitian, remember? But you can have all the nutrition knowledge and still have issues around food. Because it is our thoughts, our beliefs, and our mindset, that determine our food behaviors.
So I began taking a closer look at what was driving my binges. I stopped the judgement. I let go of the scale. I gave myself full permission to enjoy ALL food. No food was “bad” and no food was “good”. Health became about tuning in to what my body wants and trusting that. Many people believe that if they do this all they will want to eat is ice creamand cake. But will your body really feel good if you eat that all the time?
I now know how to listen to my body and enjoy all foods without guilt! Cakes, cookies, salad, and chicken are all morally and emotionally equivalent! I stopped the negative self-talk and obsessing over food. The binges have stopped and I now live a healthy and balanced way of life. The best part? I feel free! Food doesn’t own me anymore.
Now I don’t only eat healthy just because I “should”, I eat healthy because it makes me feel good. I see it as a choice, not as a life sentence. And if I want cheesecake – that works too!
Intuitive eating has helped me foster a positive body image and practice self-acceptance, something I struggled with for years. It helped me find normalcy around food, I no longer feel out of control. I don’t strive for perfect days anymore, I strive for balanced days. There are days that are better than others, but I drown out any judgemental thoughts and I’m always focusing on progress.
My weight is now at it’s set point (the weight it biologically feels comfortable in and fights to be at) and it no longer fluctuates. The scale no longer has power over me because it is not part of my life. And if I gain a few pounds or lose a few pounds – it doesn’t determine my self worth or how “good” I’m doing.
That 11 year old girl who skipped her recess snacks has come a long way.
My approach to health now is filled with balance and kindness to myself, and I was able to get to this place because of Intuitive Eating. Which is why I am such an advocate for it and want to teach others the same. Because I know how stressful and miserable a life of diets can be! I know what an unhealthy mind space it is to be in. And I know that for 95% of people, it doesn’t work! I want people to know there is a better way… if only they can learn to trust it.
Now you may be asking.. Okay, intuitive eating sounds great but how does it work? What does that really mean?
I hear you and I get it. It’s something new. It’s not a diet. It’s a bit ambiguous. And it can be a bit scary to think of letting go of all the diet rules. After all, if there are no rules how will you know how to eat, right? I’m betting this thought crossed your mind.
To learn more about whta Intuitive Eating is you can read this post: What Intuitive Eating Is and Isn’t
I wanted to first share with you my story to let you know that I get it. I get what endless dieting feels like. What being out of control around food feels like. What it feels like to equate your wieght to your self worth. And that I know first-hand how Intuitive Eating can give you the food freedom and peace we all want for a healthy and happy life – both mentally and physically.
Are you an Emotional Eater?
Learn why you may be over eating and what you can do about with my guide:
3 Steps to Overcome Emotional Eating!
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