Intuitive Eating Meets Healthy Eating

First, the title of this post is tough for me. The word “healthy” is a bit of a trigger. As in the past, I tried to make ONLY healthy choices, or the healthiest choices, or eat healthy foods. The problem is, there is no one, true definition of health. At my work, there’s a vending machine with “whole grain” Poptarts and baked Doritos. And my coworkers call it a “healthy” vending machine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I care 0% if people eat chips or Poptarts. But don’t call these foods healthy. To me, it seems fairly clear those foods aren’t healthy. But part of my issue is using food to feel superior. I don’t WANT to feel superior, but correcting people that the vending machine isn’t healthy is almost a compulsion. One I’d like to stop. Why do I care what definition another person applies to healthy.

Side note: There is one really, really, really judgy woman at my work. She’s always talking about eating one healthy meal, going home and having lost two pounds, or talking about “eating crap” (herself or others), talking about how chubby her twelve year old daughter is (BTW when I met her daughter, I was shocked that’s how she described her, she seemed VERY average, even below average weight compared to many children that age). Anyway, she helped spearhead this vending machine, and she calls it healthy, so I think that’s why it triggers me so much. She throws her clearly dysfunctional food attitude around like it’s gospel. I wish she’d never talk about food again.

That aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about intuitive eating. And part of intuitive eating is letting that judgement and categorization fall aside. Let the shame of NOT eating healthy go. In theory, after eating what you want, give in to cravings, really start to eat when you’re hungry, what you’re hungry for, no foods are off limits. Work to take the “good” and “bad” labels off of food, you’ll stop ONLY wanting to eat the things you used to declare off limits or never eat. For me, some of those foods in the past have been french fries, non-low calorie bread, pizza, nachos, tacos, cheese dip, chips, etc. Other things on the “bad” list I’ve never really reintroduced are things like Poptarts, or even cream of anything soup. These types of more processed foods are so villainized, by so many factions of people, that I’d sort of just accepted them as so and avoid them. These are the things I’d put in a shopping cart and maybe hide under something else. Or I’d eat shamefully alone. I also feel similar levels of fear of judgement, shame while eating, and shame after eating for some of the other foods I’ve reintroduced. So I’ll eat them, but often wonder if I’m being judged. But I’ve done better reintroducing these foods. Even if they give me some anxiety while eating them.

As I’ve started to track foods again. And restrict some, even though I know I probably shouldn’t, I’m trying to find a good combination of eating what I want, not putting anything off limits, and eating a reasonable number of calories per day that keeps me from being endlessly hungry (like it or not, protein and fat does help fill me up, and carbs help satisfy me – so a good combination at each meal is the best match for me), help me feel good, and satisfy me.

Part of what I used to do was think I was eating this way for a short time. Then I was so anti-restricting and dieting, that I didn’t want to make any alternate choices. Now I’m to the point I’m trying to learn I can have cheese dip ANY time. And also trying to learn even though I CAN have it and the world won’t stop spinning, I shouldn’t have it all the time. For weight reasons, but also for health reasons. I’m trying to see the value in having a varied diet. But at the same time not FORCING any “healthy” foods. For example, I don’t like brussel sprouts. In the past, I’d force myself to eat them because of X, Y or Z nutritional reason. Now I refuse to do that. But I also went through a LONG phase of eating what sounded good, thinking eventually it would sort itself out. It never did. But I did realize when I’d eat with my parents, I was happy with meats, veggies and some bread, rather than pizza, burgers, fries and chips all the time.

So how do I add in some more balanced meals without feeling like it’s a requirement? My first instinct is to count “good” and “bad” meals, and set a goal. But I know that will quickly go bad. Wanting more and more and more and more perfect “good” meals. And I don’t want to qualify as good and bad. Then I think maybe I try to eat vegetables so many times per day or week, but that level of tracking and, again, good or bad grading, isn’t really where I want to go.

In fact, the coach I hired suggested I added some veggies to a meal (that already had veggies) and it was a horrible trigger. First, choose your battles, bro. Second, you don’t even know what’s in my meals. Third, I’ve eaten more veggies in the weeks since starting coaching that I can’t even compare “before” and “after.” But, mostly, I WILL NOT FORCE VEGETABLES AGAIN! It triggers my orthorexia, and I do not want to go back there. However, from a different perspective, when I’m thinking about what sounds good on days I’m NOT craving anything, I’ve been starting to consider whether a salad or maybe some broccoli sounds good. Sometimes it does, and I’ll order it. Sometimes NO vegetables or fruits sound good and I truly want chicken tenders and fries, so on those days, I go that direction and try to be observant of how I feel after (fine, as long as I don’t over-eat, btw), and how full I stay (very full, actually). And how the rest of my day goes (much better than forcing a salad down and not being satisfied, honestly). So it’s OK to have chicken tenders and fries if I really want them. But if steamed broccoli, grilled chicken and a salad sound good. Great! Have that! Or, some days, grilled chicken, broccoli and fries sound perfect. That’s great, too.

However, since I’ve been restricting by counting and trying to stay under a “goal” of calories, I’ve found more and more and more the vegetables sound less incing, and I start to feel ashamed not eating enough vegetables. Then I try to force them. Sometimes I’ll add a small salad to a meal and choke it down.

This is how I know what I’m doing now isn’t working. I’m considering, three months into this year long coach, just abandoning the coaching. Part of me feels like I’m running away and quitting. But I truly feel like he does not get food issues. You don’t make foods good or bad, but he does. You don’t make any sort of judgement statement surrounding food choices when things are going well. For example, if I’m making progress, don’t suggest I add more or take away something. Why not just let things keep moving forward. He never asks how I feel about the food. the problem is, I don’t think the company has any food issues coaches. So I could request another coach and go through more shame of feeling like it’s ME, when I don’t think it is me. Or I can keep working with this coach and lying (as I’m starting to do). Or i can walk away entirely, forfeit the money, and NEVER get a coach of any kind ever again. Probably the third choice is the healthiest for me right now. I need a break. I feel frustrated, tired, stressed, anxious. And now my weight has plateaued. And that’s adding more shame and stress to the mix. I keep trying to hit “reset” and can’t because I can’t get away from tracking.

The coach seems more concerned about probably marking some checklistof things he’s done than really understanding where I’m coming from. He thinks success means eat less, exercise more than you were. From a physical perspective, I’m sure this can essentially be broken down as such. But for someone withfood issues to have success, it’s not that simple. It’s more emotional than physical. It’s more emotional than logical. And it’s more balance than obsession and checklists and goals. And more and more and more and more and more.

I’m full of failure feelings. Full of shame. Starting to lie to others about what’s going on. Wanting to hide and eat and lie about it. I know I’m trying to escape and let the pressure evaporate. But I feel like if I walk away now, I’ll go on a food bender and lose any progress I’ve made. Then I’ll feel shame about that.

So what’s a better way forward? Unfortunately, I feel like with my coach, I HAVE to start lying about food. Bump up the vegetables, even when I’m not eating them. And level off my caloric intake. But then be honest with myself. (I realize this is sort of isolation that often comes with restricting. But I’d rather lie and NOT restrict. And get a break from the coach, who is only making things more obsessive at this point.)

I want to step back and instead of pre-planning days and food, I’ll be more in the moment with my options. If I bring lunch and it doesn’t sound good, evaluate why. Understand if I’m simply rebelling or if I’m craving something. If I’m craving it, is it a craving on repeat? If so, am I comforting something? I’ve found a lot of repeat cravings come from some sort of comfort. Almost like a security blanked or a warm bath. If I’m eating for comfort, why? Is it because I know the calories in a “bad” food (this is actually very common) and it’s a “safe cheat.” Or am I craving salty or crispy or some other flavor or texture? And if so, why?

I want to be more aware of my intentions with food. What’s really going on. Am I being “good” to feel superior? Or am I being “bad” to rebel because I’m frustrated or annoyed with the system? At any point have I said to myself, “I’d rather be fat than feel like this?” that’s usually the warning signal things are going sideways and I’m pushing something down. For example, I found myself saying I’d rather be fat than work with this coach anymore. But I’m too chicken to ask for another coach because:

  • I don’t want to be high maintenance
  • I don’t want to be mean
  • I don’t want to be a quitter
  • I don’t want to be weak
  • I don’t want to complain
  • I think I’m really worried the next coach will be worse. And I have no idea why I’m worried about this. If the next coach is “worse” then I can walk away from that. I think I think at that point it’s ME not them. But that’s not necessarily true. I think many people, like me, try to keep going even when it isn’t working. So just because these coaches have had success doesn’t mean the success is sustained.

I truly believe the things we complain about are generally in our control to change. And I know I can either try to communicate to my coach what needs to change. Or ask for a new coach. Or suck it up an try to do his program (for what it’s worth, I don’t think this is the best way forward, but it’s certainly the easiest).

I’m going to try to make it through this week, focusing on what I really WANT the rest of the week, and evaluating why. I also want to try to be more aware of what it feels like to go over on calories. What feelings to I feel? And do those feelings make the next day harder? What am I compromising to try to hit an, honestly, random goal? For example, I’ve set a goal of 2,000 calories. So if I go up to 2,200 calories, I’d probably still lose weight, just more slowly.

The anxiety centers around wasting my time. It centers around being weak. It centers around feeling like, “Everyone else does this, why can’t I?”So it feels like if I’m not losing weight, why bother?

But there is reason to bother. I want to work to get through this. I want to find a way that I enjoy eating a variety of food. Not just good and bad, but a mix of all of the kinds of food. I want to try new foods and new preparations. I want to try foods from other cultures. I want to try to make meats different ways, but also make fruits and veggies different ways. I want to keep moving forward, shut off the noise, and try to learn, grow and overcome.

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