Intuitive Eating Journey (So Far)

Intuitive Eating Journey (So Far)

A few months ago, I wrote a post for The Plaid Horse, called “I Am a Fat Equestrian and I’m Never Dieting Again.” This is not required reading, but gives a lot of background and context to what I’m about to write. The short version is that somewhere along the way, the idea that plus size equestrians could never be as good as thin (I won’t even say street or midsize because body shaming is very intense in the hunter/jumper world) riders baked firmly into my belief system. All my life, I’ve both limited myself because I thought I couldn’t accomplish as much while simultaneously trying different extremely restrictive diets to yo yo weight up and down, up and down. I’m 36, and I’ve been entrenched in diet culture since I was roughly 8 years old.

I’d probably still be on this pattern of believing that my life would “start” when I was skinny if it weren’t for two things:

  1. I lost a bunch of weight, and it didn’t solve my problems. Yes, I rode better, but I also had a super trained horse and great training program at the time. Even at the thinnest I’d been since probably high school, I still spent a ton of mental energy looking for things to fix on my body and obsessing over food.
  2. I’m so, so tired of this. Mentally, I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t.

Like many of us, I gained weight during the pandemic. That came at the end of doing Keto for about 9 months, gaining all the weight I lost back after I merely looked at a breadstick. Mentally, I didn’t handle it well. I tried to get back on Keto off and on for all of 2020. Super frustrated, I started working with a nutritionist (who is also an equestrian). She started me on a more intuitive, but still restrictive diet, and I found that while I felt better I still struggled with all of the freedom. Turns out I have no idea at all what I should eat if I just allow myself to eat food. My entire life, I’ve ever been following a strict set of “good foods” or saying fuck it and completely over-indulging on the “bad foods” until I felt awful. Then I’d start a diet again. Over and over.

After a few months of trying to get into a “good” pattern with the nutritionist, I finally told her I couldn’t do it anymore. I can’t diet. I can’t put myself through the mental anguish. I can’t focus on weight loss. She said the only reason to ever lose weight is for health reasons or if I am unhappy. Turns out, I was unhappier trying to lose weight than I was being fat.

Since January, I’ve been trying to eat intuitively. Basically, I listen to my body, give it what it wants, and try not to obsess about food. The key word here is try. I’ve been controlling food my entire life, either through a diet or through a phase of “I’m going to eat everything I don’t usually eat and I don’t care if I gain weight.” To let go of that control kind of broke me at first.

Walking into a grocery store and saying to myself, Get whatever you want felt crazy. I didn’t know what to do. Abandoning the idea that thinner = healthier and the BMI being garbage was difficult for me, because it’s been so ingrained in my education. My nutritionist recommended a science-based book, Unapologetic Eating, and I’ve been slowly getting through that (it’s dense). It says to follow cravings, and not restrict yourself, but also learn to listen to what your body really wants. Are you actually hungry? When are you full? It seems so simple, but when you’ve been artificially controlling your food for your entire life… it’s difficult.

At first I wanted sugar. So. Much. Sugar. But I didn’t dive into a diet of pizza, fries, and ice cream 24/7. I like vegetables. I like cooking. I found that searching for any recipe I wanted without worrying about carbs or calories was a delightful change. I started cooking 10x more than ever before. On a good week (see, I still love to use good as a label for food and eating) I would make 1, maybe 2, complete meals and do the rest of takeout, fast food or pre-made stuff. Now I cook 85% of my meals at home, mostly from scratch. I’ll freeze half of a big recipe, and usually have 2-3 homemade options in the fridge for leftovers. This makes late nights after riding very easy, because I just pop whatever I feel like from the selection in the microwave.

When I crave something, I eat it. It sounds fool proof, but it’s not. The first few months I was super frustrated, feeling uncomfortable without the control over my diet. I felt like I gained weight, which made me second guess everything. Don’t confuse my abandoning of diet culture as a complete and total acceptance of my body. I still want to be smaller. I think I will always want to be smaller. Trying to work on it, but it’s not easy. Especially for an equestrian.

Now about 3.5 months out, things have leveled out more. I still eat sugar, but not with an insatiable appetite. I still get frustrated and upset with my food choices, but it’s usually when I fall into old patterns instead of listening to what my body wants. I’m more active than I was in 2020 when I was trying to diet. I still struggle to accept my body, but most days I hate myself a lot less. And although I thought I gained weight with the lack of control, a recent doctor’s visit (I don’t keep a scale at home) proved otherwise. I actually lost a little bit since last summer, and am currently in the same 10lb weight range I’ve been most of my adult life.

This is going to be a lifelong work in progress. I think it’s always something I’m going to have to work at. I’ll probably write about it more, but for me it’s the right path. And I think it’s an important thing to share and talk about, because disordered views of eating and diet are all around us. I’m not telling anyone what to do. Food and diet and exercise and body are all personal choices. But if any of this resonates with you, it might be worth thinking through things a different way.

26 thoughts on “Intuitive Eating Journey (So Far)

  1. You go girl <3 Proud of you for choosing what works for you and listening to your body, which is not easy. I still feel best on keto, but I also listened to my body as I've increased my CrossFit intensity and added some carbs back in (mainly rice, since my body absolutely can't do gluten) and you know what? I'm PR'ing lifts I've been struggling with for years. It's not black and white and it continues to evolve and change, just like our bodies.

  2. I cannot handle the diet culture. It’s not sustainable. As someone who isn’t thin but isn’t extremely overweight, I’ve struggled a lot during my life as well.

    When my migraines got really bad, I stopped caring as much about weight and just started to feel good. I’ve been on different medications. One caused me to gain 20 lbs (2-4 dress sizes) when I barely ate anything. Another had me lose 4+ dress sizes. Then I gained 5lbs on another Now I’ve sort of stabilized. And realized it’s very hard to have any control on weight when medication does so much.

    My only “diet” is I no longer eat gluten and dairy due to intollerance/allergy that I discovered when trying to control migraines. I shouldn’t eat soy because it makes me feel bad (but that one is hard and I like some foods with soy). Beyond that? I pretty much follow an intuitive eating plan. If I’m hungry, I eat, if I’m not, I don’t (with an agreement that I am not allowed to skip 2 meals in a row because sometimes I just don’t eat so I have to eat something — a kind bar — if I don’t want to eat after skipping a meal). I eat a lot of fruit. I have my carbs I like. And I have junk food I like (I like fries and will eat them when I crave them). I eat sushi. Or whatever else I want. “Healthy” or “not healthy.” When I don’t want to eat any more, I don’t.

    Food will always be a struggle for me because sometimes what I crave is food I can’t eat (dairy/gluten). When I really want something like that, the substitutes don’t work. But, that is the only time I don’t give in because I know I’ll get sick or break out in hives. But, other than when I’m hungry and I can’t figure out what I want that I can eat (food meltdowns), this has been working for me. I did lose a random 10 lbs over quarantine, but I don’t think that was food related…

    1. That’s great perspective re medication. What I’ve learned from therapy is that my need for control is massive, and it’s all an illusion. We can’t really control our health. We can’t really control our weight (although diet culture tells us we can). It’s all a facade, and the best thing (at least for me) to do is try to live in whatever stage I’m in as happily as possible.

  3. That is fantastic! It should be about what makes you happiest. I find so much of this relatable. To stay my weight as I age I find I have to practically starve myself and it is miserable.

  4. Love this! I just totally geeked out on the podcast Maintenance Phase which really made me think about dieting and weight in a different way. Totally recommend. It’s not all about dieting, and I think it’s so eye opening to understand marketing that happens around dieting and those on diets. Really tough stuff. Anyway, I’m all in for whatever makes you feel confident and happy! Get it!

    1. Second that podcast, I love it.
      I have also started to eat more intuitively and I’m surprised at how difficult I find it at times. Often special events, being busy, or plain old habit will prompt me to eat things that don’t make me feel good. Not finishing everything on my plate has also been something I’ve struggled with because that is a rule that has been ingrained in me since childhood.
      Overall I’m enjoying the process though. Paying attention to what my body needs versus what I think it wants is eye-opening and is leading me towards a healthier, but not at all restrictive, diet.
      Good luck with your own journey 🙂

  5. i grew up around women who obsessed over their weight and appearances, with varying degrees of success and satisfaction (in some cases, very little) — and always promised myself i’d never be like that. but… ya know… none of us are immune. ugh. it’s so hard bc the marketing and social pressure is literally *everywhere* — and meanwhile the food industry is kinda straight up trash. i’m with you tho — having my own food at home is kinda the biggest difference maker vs always eating out, even when i think i’m ordering “good” food….

    1. What I’ve been surprised about now that I cook a lot more is often my own food that I have at home is way more appealing than eating out options. Not always of course. Sometimes I have a craving or just don’t want food I cooked myself, but often I think “Nah, my XYZ dish sounds way tastier right now”

  6. Good for you. Constantly focusing on your food and your weight can cause all kinds of mental anguish. I also struggle with being larger than societal norms say are ideal, especially for riders. I focus on making good food choices and giving my body times without food (not eating after dinner and starting my morning’s a bit later). My brother lost 100 pounds using intermittent fasting, but his rules make it hard for him to live his life with other people. He’s also gone almost completely vegan. His solution works for him; I’d probably be too cranky to exist.

  7. Good for you! I’ve really enjoyed cooking over the past few years and look forward to it most days (it also includes a glass of wine). I’m always looking for new yummy recipes and have plenty to share if you want to swap some favs!

  8. I’ve been on the same journey of intuitive eating to break out of binge eating and dieting disordered eating patterns! I don’t have the book you mentioned (have been using the Intuitive Eating workbook) so will need to get that. I also have “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat” by Aubrey Gordon who does the amazing Maintenance Phase podcast mentioned above. I’ve loaned it to family members under the guise of it being an awesome book but also because those family members are steeped in anti-fat bias and therefore difficult to be around at times. It’s all such a process but I feel relieved to give myself grace and space and be on my way not to a perfect relationship with food (I’ve done too much damage to get to “perfect”) but to one that frees up the immense mental and physical energy I had been using to focus on my weight and that doesn’t fuck up other parts of my life (hello friendships and relationships) but instead lets those be whole and happy. Wishing you a lot of joy!

  9. (Also if anyone else is reading this – Intuitive Eating is NOT what many people think of – ie another way to make yourself eat less by fighting with yourself over where you’re truly hungry enough – but is a full and complete shift in viewing weight and food. There is no good food. There is no bad food. There is nutritionally dense food and emotionally dense food and they can be the same or different, it changes. There is also no good weight or bad weight, there is only your body. You can’t just start intuitive eating by saying “okay I’ll restrict to just when I’m super hungry now” – you have to start by literally changing how you’ve related to food your whole life. This is especially hard when everyone around us functions within the crappy old paradigm and even those “not dieting” say they “avoid bad foods” – heads up, that’s a diet mentality – so the more people on board the better off we all are. And yes I hope some of the people commenting above read this.)

  10. (Sorry one more – intuitive eating also means not villainizing “emotional eating” – you can eat for joy! You can eat to feel cozy when you’re homesick! You can eat the thing you baked not because you’re hungry but because you want to taste your success! It is NOT about waiting until total physical hunger, it’s about embracing the ways in which food serves us emotionally and nutritionally to create a more fulfilling life)

  11. Good for you! I sometimes wish I liked to cook, but I just can’t get myself to want to spend more than 5 minutes in the kitchen ever. I’ve always been a person that does horrible with diets as well, so I try to stay away from anything strict because I know it won’t work and will only make me more negative. For me it’s easier to focus on working out or being more active because not only does that improve my mental status and make me feel better about myself, but I’ve found the more I’m working out and staying active the more my body craves healthy food and the less appealing processed food and sugar looks.

  12. I absolutely loathe diet culture. I grew up with The Biggest Loser and the idea that losing weight (not getting healthy, or loving yourself, or taking care of yourself, or any other positive message) was the ultimate goal above all else. I’ve always been skinny, but there is a constant stream of advertisements and sponsored posts that spread false information and focus on nothing beyond getting a flat tummy. When I went to college, I got into weight lifting and starting eating more regularly, gained about 20 pounds in the first two years, freaked out and spent the next two years restricting on and off. It is actually insane the way that we are endlessly forced to engage with diet culture.

    I use intuitive eating not for weight related purposes but because (unfortunately) my diet is one of the first portions of my life that can negatively impact my mental health. Most of the time it boils down to me making sure my sugar intake is on point (horrible sweet tooth that leads to irritability) and to get enough protein. It’s been far more beneficial for me than counting calories or restricting access to “bad” foods. I hope it makes you feel just as good 🙂

  13. Let met begin by stating that I HATE kitchen gadgets. Give me my cast iron skillet, some nice stainless pots and pans, wooden spoons and spatulas and I’m good.
    However, after our rice maker died my husband and I recently got a Ninja Foodi and I recommend it SO much! My husband hates mushy vegetables so we never made them and the ability to air fry stuff now is FANTASTIC for us! They are SO yummy and crunchy and he now will MAKE HIS OWN VEGETABLES because they are so tasty in that thing. The fact that they are far healthier in the air fryer is just an added benefit! It has also changed how I eat lunches when I WFH bc I can cook something more satiating without firing up the oven.

  14. I love this and it resonates with me so much. I also have been “dieting” since a very young age(9/10ish) and struggle with body image. I’m larger then I’d like to be, went through a phase where I lost a ton of weight and gained it all back, plus some. You are a huge inspiration to me and have really gotten me thinking about the way I think about food. Thank you for being open and honest, reading this and the article you wrote means so much to me!

  15. Everything you wrote could have come straight from my pen, word for word. I also did keto before the pandemic for a year, lost weight then gained it all back and then some (story of my life). I’ve been diet conscious since age 8, and hired a nutritionist/dietician half way through the pandemic, after gaining weight. I’ve since also seen an energy healer and am seeing a hypnotist to deal with the deeper shame I have from being overweight, and the chronic “I’ll start my life when I lose weight” or “I’ll be happy when I lose weight” mentality that has crippled my mental and emotional health. So thank you for your transparency! It’s like medicine, reading your words and finding someone who can relate, like a slow exhale…
    I’m so done with obsessing over food, and yet I haven’t been able to totally except myself just as I am. Thats part of my internal struggle. There is a serious battle in the mind to quiet those constant negative thoughts, sometimes they’re so subtle, so sneaky. Meditation has been really helpful way to direct those thoughts. Anyway, just wanted to say I relate(!) and thank you…

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