TW/CW disordered eating.
I’ve been retyping this sentence over and over, trying to find a more poetic way to say that a couple of years ago, my eating disorder was so bad, I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror. I don’t exactly remember what jolted me out of that strange misty stage in my life. It might have been a worried lover, or one particularly shocking comment from a stranger on the street. “Oh she is NOT eating”.
Whatever it was, I remember suddenly realising that I didn’t want to be sick anymore. I resolved to give my body every ounce of nutrition it needed. Every. Ounce. But as I gained weight I didn’t feel any better. My body was healing, but my whole being, my soul, was not. I hadn’t gotten rid of my eating disorder, I had traded one narrative of control for another: what I wasn’t eating for what I was eating. On the outside, it may have looked like a positive narrative, yes I was getting healthy, but I still constantly thought about food.
I wasn’t eating intuitively.
Because I couldn’t. My relationship with food was detached from my being and body. It was confined to my mind where every belief, narrative and judgement about “good and bad” food controlled me. You don’t have to have an eating disorder to relate. Haven’t we all wished that our bodies could just be bodies and that food could just be food, without imbuing them with moral implications or ethical dilemmas? Unfortunately for us, our minds are where we store subconscious messaging from years of passing Victoria’s Secret billboards on our way to school or memories of our mothers trying out diet after diet so they can feel worthy of love.
"Our minds are the ones telling us we need a thigh gap or that doughnuts are “bad.” Our bodies don’t care, they just are – perfectly."
Now, my healing practice, and what I’m so happy to be writing about, is about freeing my relationship with food from all these mental narratives, positive or negative. It’s about reconnecting with my body and being. I like to call what I practice now, intuitive eating. It’s all about getting out of your head, letting our ideas about food fall away and making room to be able to listen to what we authentically need.
So many of us live in a state of constant mind chatter, and make the mistake of confusing this stream of thoughts with who we are. But we are not our thoughts. We are the awareness of our thoughts. Every cell of our body is alive, that’s who we are. With intuitive eating, we can take our relationship with food out of our chaotic and messy minds and redistribute it calmly to where it truly belongs: our whole being. When we learn to communicate with this totality of our being, we learn how to nourish it.
Ah! Okay. Sounds like a big ask, right? But I promise you can do it! The first step towards intuitive eating is letting go of judgement, all those “good and bad” thoughts we place on food and bodies. Practice interrupting judgement thoughts when they pop up. If you eat something that is bad, don’t judge yourself for it. Question why you think the food is bad in the first place. How can an inanimate object be judged morally? It’s almost psychotic when you think about it, yet so hard for us to unlearn.
"Let food just be food, instead of imbuing it with a mental narrative. The mind is where we make judgements, and we’re trying to get out of that to allow space for intuition."
By judgement, I don’t just mean thinking negatively about something. Even basing decisions on supposed positive moral judgements isn’t authentic. For example: “If I only eat vegetables today, I’ll be a fundamentally better person.” Your body could have been deeply craving a steak, or some rich protein, but you wouldn’t have known. The thing about positive thoughts, is that its opposite is always lurking around the corner, and we’re interested in real peace, not the lifelong fluctuation from “ok ” to’ ‘not ok” that so many of us experience.
Non-judgement is especially important when it comes to cravings because they get a bad rap! An intuitive eater will listen to her cravings instead of ignoring them. Sometimes they can be signs that your body is deficient in something. Even if there is no biological reason for a craving, who cares!? Maybe you just freaking love jelly filled doughnuts! EAT THEM! LIFE IS SHORT!
And if you do want to stop yourself from indulging, honouring your cravings is STILL the only way to create a healthy boundary with food. (Healthy relationships are the sustainable kind.) If you honour your cravings without judgement, you can come to a solution that you feel good about. Instead of “Bad Lee, you want a doughnut,” It’s “OK, duh, you want a doughnut. I love you, but you’re going to get this apple instead.”
The first self-talk is filled with judgement. It draws on a mental narrative that craving is bad, and that doughnuts are a bad food. It creates a moral dilemma that will bite you in the ass with self-criticism when you eventually eat a doughnut. Because you probably will. It creates unnecessary suffering, and we don’t deserve to feel bad about ourselves.
So, what about eating when you’re sad? There is nothing wrong with eating to comfort yourself. Food unites us. Food is family and love and connection, it’s inherently comforting. Somewhere along the line, our obsession with diet culture and classism has made comfort food more like a guilty pleasure that should be hidden. F that! When eating to comfort yourself turns into a food addiction, or an unhealthy coping mechanism, that is *still* not a time to judge. It’s an opportunity to use your situation to go deeper and explore why. That’s where the real healing begins.
So, non-judgement and releasing mental narratives around food . . . check! The second step in your journey to intuitive eating is to practice body awareness.
This can be as easy as returning to conscious breathing. In and out. From your breath, begin to feel your body from the inside out. Can you feel your hand? Can you feel the aliveness in your chest and your legs? If you have a hard time connecting to your body in this way, first try and move into the present moment. The present moment is a great gateway to body awareness because your body only ever exists in the present moment. Your mind, however, loves the past and future but your body is here and now. Focus your senses on the world around you; the way it looks, smells, etc. Once you are present, turn that attention to the inner body. Maybe close your eyes and imagine your body radiating. You might feel a sudden rush of energy. This is your being waking up!
As your being awakens, communicating with it and hearing what it wants will get easier and easier. There’s no easy way to describe this kind of intuitive communication–most times it happens instantaneously. It is beyond thought.
Body awareness can also be practiced by observing how we feel (or don’t feel) when we eat. If you find that you often zone out while you eat, or eat while watching TV, this is especially important! Try NOT to zone out. Feel and taste every bite. Notice how your energy shifts while you cook. If you can, try to put positive energy into your food as you prepare. After you eat, also notice how you feel. Bringing awareness to your body when you engage with foods builds understanding within your inner body. These practices strengthen communication between you and your being, and allow intuitive eating to become second nature.
While it kind of seems like intuitive eating is a free card to just eat whenever, however and whatever, that’s not exactly it. Maybe it just feels so freeing because you’ve relinquished the judgement you’ve associated with foods and eating your whole life. When we start to practice body awareness in the wake of this freedom of non-judgement, we learn a new path. Non-judgement is like the new beginning, the clean slate, letting go of what caused our suffering. Body awareness is the tool by which we communicate with, honour, and love our whole being so that we can invite our own unique rituals and values in. These rituals and values will be about listening to what our body authentically wants and what makes you feel your best. Maybe in the end that does mean saying no to certain foods, but you’ll know you came to that conclusion for the right reasons. Intuitive eating is kind of like any other healing journey, you have to unlearn before you can start building. Also like any other healing journey, non-judgement and body awareness are powerful tools. When you invite them into your relationship with food, you might notice that the peace you cultivate spills over into other parts of your life.
Our minds are useful for so many things, but healing is not one of them. Our mind cannot tell us what our being needs to eat. Only our being can tell us. This practice takes presence, patience, forgiveness and stillness. It may not be easy, but it’s the only way I’ve found true and profoundly deep peace in my relationship with food. To whoever is reading this: that is all I want for you and I know you can have it.
I believe in you!
If you, or anyone you know is experiencing an eating disorder or body image concerns, you can call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (ED HOPE) or email email@example.com