My Intuitive Eating Journey:
A Client’s Story
My Love Affair with Sugar Begins
I love sugar. I’m fairly certain I always have. I remember being a kid and going the corner store (before 7-11 and Plaid Pantry invaded the neighborhood) amazed at all the candy options, struggling to pick the right one. Mostly because I wanted them all. I wasn’t picky…really any form of sugar would work but candy was especially perfect. When my mom ordered our birthday cakes from the cake lady at work – my favorite was a 3-D panda coated in frosting, sitting in a wagon filled with jelly beans. Cake and candy! Perfect.
Around 8 years old, things started to change…I started bingeing around this time and anything sugar was the best thing I could think of to binge on. I would buy candy any chance I got, including bags of fun-sized bars or king-sized candy bars. Halloween and Easter were my favorite holidays because of all the candy (including buying all I could leading up to the day). My parents would not limit my access, so I took advantage and I ate it all.
Sugar and I have always been on a first-name basis.
Sugar became an Emotional Band-aid
When I moved
I remember buying a cake and eating the entire thing by myself–with a fork. The shame was intense and by this point, I had learned to binge in solitude.
The Dieting Roller-Coaster Begins
Eventually, I fell into the dieting routine. I would stay “on course” for about 5-6 days and then immediately after “weigh-in day” I would binge. I would plan out what I was going to eat all week long. It was usually something sweet: ice cream, cake, candy. You name it, I ate it. I would keep candy in my office drawer or visit other people’s candy jars (something I became known for). I just had to get the sugar in. Eating one or two things wouldn’t bust my “diet” too much, right??
After doing this for years and trying all of the diet fads out there, I started seeing a nutrition consultant. That was the first time I heard the words “sugar addiction”. I thought that’s what my problem was. What else could explain why I wanted to eat sugar all the time? It was all I could think of. Clearly, this was an addiction (or so I thought) and there was little else I could do but cut myself off cold turkey.
Which is what I tried to do. There is a certain “cleanse” type challenge that is supposed to last 30 days which it’s intent is to help with sugar addictions. So, I tried it–and failed. Then I tried again–and failed. Then I tried a 3rd time and made it the whole 30 days without sugar! Then the first thing I ate after the 30 days: CANDY! I went to World Market and picked out something and ate it. It was not exciting. I felt like crap. But I ate it. Then I started consuming all the other things I had cut out during those 30 days.
Transition to Intuitive Eating
About a year ago I realized I needed to get off this never-ending story of dieting and bingeing. It wasn’t working. It was driving me crazy. Surely there was some way to stop the bingeing and just lose weight, right? That’s when I started to see a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and then a nutritionist who also specializes in disordered eating (Lynae). Through these two great individuals, I started to learn about the BS that is constantly shoved down our throats (sometimes literally) and burned into our eyeballs about “diets” and that diets do not work. The one thing that did work was intuitive eating and paying attention. This did not work to help me lose weight. No. That was BS that companies had worked very hard to try to make me feel that I needed to do. Fortunately, I started to realize I did not. It wasn’t an easy transition and it didn’t happen overnight.
I spent a lot of time in the first 3-4 months battling the inner voice that said I can’t eat that. Or if I eat THAT then I have to scrimp elsewhere. Then I started reading books like “Intuitive Eating” and “Health and Every Size” and I started to realize they were right. Every time I went on a “diet” I lost weight only to gain it back and then some shortly after. I started to think that maybe the problem wasn’t with me, maybe it was something else. I also watched the movie “Embrace” which if you have not seen it, watch it (available on Amazon Prime). It’s amazing and heartbreaking. I realized that there are not a lot of women out there that love their bodies. That nearly everyone has a “problem area”. But why? Because we are visually and audibly assaulted by images, movies, tv shows, ads; all telling us we have to look and be a certain way. Except NO ONE fits that image. No one at all. No one is happy with their bodies, no matter what they looked like. So why was I chasing that? What if I could stop the anxiety over every bite of food I put in my mouth? What if I could truly be at peace with food? I started to slowly change my way of thinking.
Making Peace with Food
I started to realize food is neither good nor bad. Food does not have value. I realized food is fuel for the body and if you pay attention to what the body is craving, you can figure out what you need. After a workout, I crave protein and carbs. So I eat protein and carbs. Sometimes I crave cucumbers; then I eat cucumbers. Sometimes, I really just want a piece of chocolate. So I eat a piece of chocolate. I began to realize that I was not addicted to sugar.
I have had my doubts during this process. After all, I had tried nearly every diet out there and they worked for a while but would eventually end up another failure. So why would intuitive eating be any different? What if this was a fad like the rest of them? I struggled with this a lot and I talked to Lynae about this. I came to the conclusion that really, it didn’t matter. It was working for me. I no longer had anxiety around food. I no longer saw food as the enemy. As something to fight or maintain complete and total focus on. It seemed to no longer have power over me like it once did. That was enough for me to accept intuitive eating. Paying attention to my body and listening to what the cravings are and thinking about why I might be craving a food, made more sense to me than anything else.
My Intuitive Eating Process
I finally had permission. Now I could eat what I wanted to, provided:
- I check in with myself to determine am I really hungry? Or was it something else?
- I check in and think, what do I want to eat at this moment? Figure it out and determine what I’ll have.
- After eating for a while and really tasting and enjoying the food, I check in, am I full? Am I still tasting the food? Am I aware of what I’m eating (or put another way, have I checked out and I’m just eating because it’s there?)?
- Afterwards, I check in and think about how I am feeling. Did that food give me a headache? Cause an upset stomach? Make me feel weird? Am I too full?
And joy of joys, I had permission to eat candy. Whatever I want. In fact, Lynae told me to go to the store and get whatever candy I love. To buy it and have it, eat it! Interestingly, once I had permission, the overwhelming need was no longer there. I did buy the candy. I did have it in my office. I still have candy in my office. I eat some on occasion. I have cookies, cake, ice cream. So much candy, so many treats in my pantry at home. I eat some from time to time. I like to try new things. No matter what they are, I like to try it. So I buy it and bring it home. And it usually sits there until I eat it. Or don’t. The treats don’t call to me. None of the sugar calls to me. I eat it when I want to. I realized I AM NOT addicted to sugar.
Has it always been perfect? Has the candy fully stopped calling to me? No. The holidays are tough, as they are for most people. I had my family over for too long over Thanksgiving. My wife left for a work trip the Monday after. I was alone and emotionally and physically exhausted and then the candy began to call. I realized I was planning a binge for the first night my wife was gone. And I stopped. I tried to figure out what else was going on. The calling of the sugar finally stopped. But it was tough.
Since then, things have been ok. I eat sugar in some form probably every day. Usually, it’s candy. But I don’t binge on it. Just yesterday I tried some new skittles flavors and had some cinnamon sugar-coated gummy hearts (Valentine’s candy is good too 🙂 ). I poured some of both into a little bowl and sat and ate. And then I realized I was good. I didn’t want anymore. I actually put the candy back. I never ever thought I would be the person to eat half a candy bar, put the candy back, say no thank you, and actually mean it. But I have. I never thought the voice of the candy calling from the pantry would go away. But it has. The peace of mind has been great and realizing it is not an addiction or something I need to be cured of has actually made it less of a taboo.