Monday, October 8, 2012

Relearning how to eat intuitiviely can be hard

One of the hardest parts about my "new life" as someone who has thrown all of the Weight Loss Industry's garbage out has been learning how to eat again.  We get so many messages thrown at us every day about food.  This food is "bad", that food is "good", if you eat too much of this food you'll die, if you don't eat that food you'll die.  Superfoods will fix everything, no...wait...we only thought that was a superfood, now we know it will kill you.

It gets so overwhelming.

The real harm that all of these mixed messages do, however, isn't just in the fact that people are throwing misinformation around like it is fact (though that is a VERY harmful thing), but rather that we all tend to use this misinformation as reason to stop trusting our own bodies.  We stop listening to them, we stop understanding how to interpret the signals that our body sends us on a regular basis.

It begins with the idea that we should only eat at certain times.  It doesn't matter if you're hungry right now, just ignore it or drink a glass of water!  It isn't time for one of your scheduled meals or snacks!  And so we ignore the signal, telling our body that our mind says it is wrong and that we aren't REALLY hungry.  The body then gets confused because it knows that we're hungry, it knows that its energy stores are low and it needs more fuel.  But we tell it that we are not giving it more fuel yet, so it can just suck it up and continue working without said fuel.

Later, when we finally decide to condescend to give our body the fuel that it needs, it says, "Great!  I'll take a steak and a baked potato, some broccoli, and then a serving of that tasty apple crumble!" and we tell it, "Oh no you won't!  Except for the broccoli, those are BAD FOODS!"

At this point our body's confusion grows.  Steak is protein and that is needed to build tissue.  The baked potato is a mixture of simple and complex carbs, which will give energy now and for a bit into the future.  The apple crumble is another mixture of complex carbs and fiber, which are needed to give energy and to keep the digestive system moving.  Sure, there's some simple carbs in there too, but that's okay, because those will keep the body's system moving until the complex carbs are processed and ready to be used as fuel.  The body finds itself wondering what about these things are bad?  And then, to make things worse, instead of this balanced meal made up of moderate portion sizes we give it...a processed, chemical stew, formulated "milkshake" out of a can.

"There you go, Body!  That should hold you!"

*blink blink*  "WHAT???"

This pattern goes on for a long time.  Deprivation, continually telling our body that it doesn't know what it is talking about, that it doesn't really need the foods that it is asking for, and that all of the so-called Weight Loss Industry Experts know what is better for us than we do, it happens over and over again. 

Finally our body begins to believe that it doesn't know itself.  It begins to believe that someone else is a better judge of our experiences and our needs than we are.  So it stops talking, it stops sending signals and just withdraws letting you do what you want without telling you that in ignoring what your body says you are making a huge mistake.  You are interfering with a very delicate balance, and when that balance gets out of whack, it takes a long time to recover.

One day, after watching our weight go up and down like a yo-yo, after telling the doctor repeatedly, "I don't know why I'm not losing weight.  I'm doing what I'm supposed to do!", and after throwing our body's metabolism so far out of alignment we finally wake up and realize that there is another way.  It could be that we read a blog, or had a friend recommend a book on intuitive eating.  It could be that we discovered Health at Every Size (tm) or it could be that we're just tired of the merry-go-round and we want off.  Whatever the reason, that day comes when we throw all of the "Good food / Bad food" and "should be eating" bullshit out of the window and we say, "I just want to be able to eat and enjoy my food again."

That day comes and we turn to our body and wait for it to tell us what to eat, but by now our body is so beaten down by being told that it was wrong for so long, it doesn't know what to do.  We are so out of practice when it comes to listening to our body's signals, that we can't interpret them any more.  Is that hunger?  Or is it thirst?  Do I want a salad or a burger?  And even if we DO get a clear signal, we are stuck fighting the mental tapes that we have put into place so securely for so long. 

The body says, "I want a burger, please." in a tentative voice rather like Oliver Twist asking for another bowl of thin gruel.  Our first instinct is to say, "Oh no!  A burger?  That is BAD FOOD!" and then we remember that we're not classifying food as good or bad any more and we're trying to listen, so we hedge, " about a ground turkey patty?" and our body sighs and shrugs to itself and stops communicating again because it still isn't being listened to by our minds.

So we try again another time.  "I'm hungry.  Body?  What do I want?" and the body raises its head and offers hopefully, "A burger.  I want a burger."  And we offer to negotiate once more, "What about a nice salad?" but instead of shutting our body down, we actually wait for its opinion.  "A burger." it replies firmly.  And so we grit our teeth, struggle to dampen the blaring mind-tapes, and order a burger.  Then we bite into it, and we realize for a brief moment that it is the best burger we've ever tasted, because it really IS what our body wanted and needed!  The enjoyment flashes through us, followed by a tidal wave of Weight Loss Industry induced shame.  "But I'm not supposed to WANT a burger!" we wail inside.  "I'm supposed to want a salad with some supplement pills!  If I eat a burger I'LL GET FAT!!!!  OMGFATDEATH!!!!"

Quietly the body sighs and slinks back into hiding once more.

Over time, however, we can fight those tapes.  We can really focus on listening to our body, to understanding its needs and wants, and eventually we will find out our own, personal pattern of eating.  When do we tend to want and need protein versus carbohydrates?  What times of day does our fuel tank run low and need a little something to keep us going?  How does our body work at its most efficient?

It isn't an easy path.  When we first start, we think, "I'm going to be stuffing chocolate cake, and ice cream, and candy down my throat 24/7!  I just know it!  My body has NO SELF CONTROL!" (Because that is another of the many messages that the Weight Loss Industry wants us to believe.), and at first it may even happen because when we are freed from constraints that have been binding us for so long, the first thing we want to do is to rebel and do everything we were told we couldn't do before.

But if we are patient, and we hold true through that period of rebellion, still listening to our body and what it wants, re-learning the signals and how to interpret them, we find ourselves slowly changing from eating all of the so-called "bad" foods that we deprived ourselves of for so long, and incorporating a much more balanced and rounded way of eating.  The body will only want chocolate cake for so long before it says, "Hey, you know, a chicken breast and some brussel sprouts sound really good right now."

That isn't to say that it won't occasionally say, "Man, I could really go for a cupcake right now!" but that's all right because the rest of the time it will be asking for grapes when it wants something sweet.  All that we have to do is trust it.  All that we have to do is to learn to trust ourselves.  WE know what we need, not some faux-medical professional wearing a lab coat in a commercial on television.  Not some so-called "doctor" who is really a psychologist but is constantly pushing "nutritional programs" that they claim is the next big thing but they haven't got the knowledge OR the research to back up those claims.  We know what we need better than some multi-million dollar corporation whose whole business model depends on you losing weight then gaining it back and coming back to them to buy their product again...over and over and over.

Take the chance, go through the struggle, learn to listen to your own body again.  I can promise you that it will not be easy.  There are so MANY obstacles in your way, put there by people who don't want you to trust yourself.  Some have been put there by you, because sometimes it is just easier to follow the pre-printed meal plan than to make one more decision at the end of a long, hard day.  But if there is anything that I can tell you other than how hard it will be, that is that YOU are worth it.  You are worth that effort, you are worth that struggle.  Living a healthy life, one in which your self-worth and happiness aren't based on whether you are following Dr. John Doe's Famous Meal Plan or not, that is worthwhile. 

Trust yourself.  Love yourself.  Believe in yourself.  Believe that you are worth that trust, love, and belief.  Listen to your body, your heart, and your own mind.  Dig past those tapes that others have pounded into your thought patterns and find your own tapes, the ones that you had when you were a child, before the world tried to convince you differently, when you knew how worthy of love and self-respect you were.  You are still that person, you are still worthy of it.  Believe it...and listen.  You can do it.  Just listen.

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