When I first really “got the hang of” intuitive eating—so to speak—I was enormously relieved by the fact that my eating became very stable and predictable. In my previous dieting days, eating was a huge source of stress for me because I was constantly afraid that I’d lose control around food. I had preconceived notions about how much I “should” be eating, and I almost always found that starting to eat led to the overwhelming urge to eat, and eat, and eat until I was painfully stuffed.
I now know that this urge to overeat/binge was actually perfectly normal. Rather than being a lack of control, it was a consequence of my body being totally in control, and functioning exactly as it was designed to function. When we deprive our bodies of calories or macronutrients, they respond by creating cravings so that we will be more likely to eat—something we need to be doing. As dieters, however, most of us reject the idea that we actually need to eat more, and instead feel overwhelmed and guilty when we end up eating (good) when we maybe would prefer not to.
Intuitive eating solved that problem of guilt and overwhelm for me. By learning to accept those urges to eat as a good thing and responding appropriately to my cravings and hunger signals, those feelings of ravenousness subsided. My eating habits stabilized, and I found myself eating according to a more-or-less predictable schedule. Each meal and snack consisted of roughly the same amount of food. Even though the total amount of food I was eating as an intuitive eater was greater than the total amount of food I was eating as a dieter, I had so much more mental peace around food because I no longer felt like I was out-of-control. Eating became a familiar, comforting experience rather than something that inspired fear and led to shame. Major win.
I fully attribute it to the grace and kindness of God that my appetite, once stabilized, pretty much stayed predictable for about a year. That stability helped me build trust with myself and with my body, so that small deviations in my hunger levels (i.e. waking up famished) didn’t send me into a tailspin. But after about a year or so, once I reintroduced exercise, I started noticing that some days, my hunger seemed to have boarded a high-speed train and gone off doing its own thing. Some days I had no appetite at all, and while this was confusing, it didn’t necessarily make me anxious. But other days, I felt like a bottomless pit. I felt like I’d eat a full meal, or maybe a slightly larger-than-normal meal, and I was still starving.
Yesterday was one of those days for me. I started the day with a usual breakfast for me—steel cut oatmeal with banana and peanut butter. I had my normal snack of a KIND bar with fruit, but I was still hungry, so I ate the cucumbers I’d brought with my lunch, too. Lunch time came around and as a fluke, I’d packed the world’s largest sweet potato with my chicken, expecting to bring home half of it because it was the size of my face. But I ate the whole thing. By the time I got home from work, I was hungry again
, and snacked on popcorn, oranges, dried mango, and pickles, and then promptly took a nap to recover from my early morning. My husband woke me up to tell me dinner was ready, and I found myself feeling starved all over again, eating second and third helpings of pork, brussel sprouts and roasted potatoes. At the end of the day, the volume of food I’d eaten was >50% beyond my usual.
Even though I’ve been confident in my recovery and relationship with food for over 6 years, it still makes me a little uncomfortable, and I was honestly shocked that I had eaten so much without actually feeling full. But the difference between the earlier days and now is that I have that much more experience behind me to help support a trusting relationship with my body. I have had more opportunities to choose the courageous option of listening to my body, and consequently have more instances to look back on that prove that my body is, in fact, trustworthy. If you’re in the early days, I get it—it’s so hard. But I want to encourage you that the more you choose body-trust and self-care now, the more it will pay off later. Putting in the work now will make intuitive eating seem easy and natural in 5 years, and 10 years, and for the rest of your life.
Oh, and as a P.S…I woke up the next day feeling totally normal. My eating the day before wasn’t a problem. I wasn’t “overeating” or binge eating, it was just a hungry day. I can guarantee that if I hadn’t honored that hunger, it would’ve carried over into the next day—but I’m so glad it didn’t. I’m extremely grateful that I’m able to recognize my hunger signals, eat, and move on with my life. You can get there too.