Intuitive Eating: It’s on the other side of your embarrassment

Giving up dieting is like walking into the ocean and beginning to swim, trusting that eventually you will get to another shore you can’t yet see. Intuitive Eating is that other shore and I assure you, it’s there.

 

You’re smart, accomplished, well-liked. A productive member of society. A model citizen, good friend, stellar parent, and a champion Words with Friends player. Yet you don’t know how to feed yourself.

Not as in you never figured out how to hold a fork and knife properly. More like you don’t know when you’re hungry, what you’re hungry for, and how much to eat to feel satisfied but not sick.

As babies, eating is one of the first things we learn. It’s also one of the first ways we express our autonomy. Even if we don’t decide what we eat at first, we determine whether, when, and how much we eat solely based on internal signals of hunger, fullness, and personal preference. We are all born with this capacity and have no reason to believe that these internal signals might lead us astray. That the diet industry convinces us we can’t trust these signals – or our bodies – is therefore one of the most successful marketing ploys (and biggest mindfucks) of all time.

This is where I come in. I help people re-learn how to feed themselves. That is, if they ever get over their embarrassment at needing to do this work and make the call. Or, if they do manage to come in to my office, one of the first hurdles we need to clear is addressing their embarrassment. Even well into the process, some people continue to struggle with a sense of shame at needing to focus on such a basic form of self-care.

As Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes about relearning how to eat in her New York Times piece “Losing it in the Anti-Dieting Age”:

“I am 41 and accomplished and a beloved wife and a good mother and a hard worker and a contributor to society and I am learning how to eat a goddamned raisin. How did this all go so wrong for me?”

A client of mine recounted her experience at reading the article. She too had struggled with embarrassment but had made steady progress as an Intuitive Eater since acknowledging it, letting it go, and moving forward regardless. Her overwhelming response to the article was one of sadness for the author, who seemed to let her own shame and embarrassment keep her from fully becoming an Intuitive Eater. She made a statement that stopped me in my tracks and reminded me what a leap of faith this process is:

“Intuitive eating is just on the other side of that embarrassment.”

Giving up dieting is like walking into the ocean and beginning to swim, trusting that eventually you will get to another shore you can’t yet see. Intuitive Eating is that other shore and I assure you, it’s there.

It’s on the other side of all your confusion, your embarrassment, and your shame. The diet and weight-loss thoughts you think – including the belief that you should somehow know how to confidently feed yourself despite all the ridiculously conflicting information out there – are the result of a culture that values thinness over wellness. Skinny over sane. Clean eating over compassionate living. You get the idea. It’s crazy and it makes you feel crazy.

Breaking free from this craziness by giving up dieting and becoming an Intuitive Eater is the only way out. But it’s not easy. There often comes a point where you’ve left the dieting “shore” – you’re too far out to go back – but you haven’t quite reached the Intuitive Eating shore yet. At this point, three things can help you keep swimming:

Patience – You’ve been marinating in the diet culture since you were like 5. It will take a little time to deprogram from its mass-cult-like conditioning. Everyone is different and progresses at her own pace. Allow your Intuitive Eating path to unfold at its own pace and it will take you in the right direction.

Self-compassion – The diet culture taught you how to beat yourself into submission, as if harshness and self-aggression would motivate you toward positive change. But if that were true, wouldn’t it have “worked” by now? Being hard on yourself only makes you feel worse. Being gentle and self-compassionate, on the other hand, can connect you with deeper values and help you to take care of yourself by doing what feels good.

Trust – This is a big one and perhaps the hardest. But the reasons you can confidently have trust are twofold. First and foremost, you can trust your body because it has significant and intrinsic intelligence. The more you listen, the more it tells you as you refine your understanding of the Intuitive Eating process. Second, you can trust the process. Science is on our side. With more and more studies confirming that diets actually lead to weight gain and about 80 studies confirming the validity of the Intuitive Eating Model, this is the only rational approach you can take to care for yourself and get back to your life.

Is your embarrassment keeping you stuck? Are you ready to become an Intuitive Eater?