So… Is intuitive eating unhealthy?
I know it can seem this way. I certainly believed it myself during some of my worst, diet-obsessed and disordered eating days.
What happens if you tell someone like that to just eat whatever they want?
Well, here’s what I wanted. I wanted pizza. And carbs. All the carbzzzzz.
Endless amounts of carbs. I wanted to eat a loaf of bread with Nutella, and then another one, and another.
So… To me? “Eat what you want” meant “eat warm bread with Nutella, and loaves and loaves of it.”
Uhm, well. That is definitely not healthy in the mainstream sense of the word
And also not in a long-term wellness sense, because while living off warm bread and Nutella for a short time might have been beneficial for my soul and recovery… Probably not what my body would have liked forever.
To me it did seem like I would just start eating bread and never be able to stop, if I was to be allowed to have whatever I wanted.
And quite rightfully, that thought scared me. It is scary to feel that way, I don’t want to down-talk that, ever.
But then this happened:
I went on vacation to Croatia with my now-husband. And we stayed with his parents.
I was deeeeep deep deep into dieting/disordered eating/eating disorder not otherwise specified/whatever.
I was doing pretty badly feeling-wise. I cried every time we went to a grocery store, because every single food scared me.
I had lost any kind of touch with reality, what eating meant and how “normal” people consumed food.
My mind was absolutely fucked up. I thought in calories, I dreamed in calories and everything I did every single day revolved around calories.
So that was the state I was in when I insanely agreed to stay at my boyfriend’s parents’ house for four weeks.
Four weeks. Eating with other people, in someone else’s house. For four weeks.
You know what I mean, right? THE HORROR.
By nature, I need to be able to do my own thing at all times. Some might call it stubbornness, I call it living life on my own damn terms. So even now that I live in food freedom, I’m still not that comfortable when we stay with other people.
I mean, I can do a few days. It starts to get exhausting after a week. And by day 10 I’m about ready to flee, no matter how much I love the people in question.
But 4 weeks, with the twisted darkness that was my relationship with food?
It was pure and utter hell. Not even necessarily that other people pretty much told me what to eat. But seeing them eat so freely and happily, while I was struggling so so so badly.
And something in me just snapped.
I wanted this. I wanted to be FREE so badly.
I started researching. And I did all the wrong things.
I started counting food groups in addition to calories recommended by some health organization. You know, to get the “perfect balance of nutrients” somebody wrote down somewhere, in the exact same amounts, every single day.
While yes, the calorie count was higher than what I’d usually allow myself? It was still just another way to restrict and control and diet.
With the slightly increased energy, and also heightened obsession because I now also had to count carb grams and fat grams, I completely lost my mind.
This “normal” amount of calories made my anxiety explode to heights I never deemed possible.
I was living in constant FOMO. Deep in my heart I thought I’d need a million calories a day to stop the anxiety of not having enough.
But a million calories weren’t on my plan, so that obviously wasn’t an option.
But why did I feel this way?? I was convinced my food addiction was real and I’d have to heavily limit my energy intake forever and always if I wanted to keep fitting into my clothes (which was the wrong train of though anyways).
Then I tried “mindful eating” to ease the fear of wanting more calories, which was the game to eat slower than my mother-in-law. When really I had the urge to just stuff all the food in my face as fast as I possibly could.
And then I cried. Cried cried cried all the tears and felt all the feels.
I gave up. But not in a bad way. I just… Surrendered.
I had found a website called Your Eatopia and I read it from front to back, or at least the internet equivalents from front to back.
And I knew it was my only chance to ever leave this forsaken hell of restriction.
So I surrendered myself to it. And I started eating.
My new minimum goal for energy intake was so high, it was like a huge sigh of relief exhaled from my entire body.
Mind you, it wasn’t easy. I struggled with this new freedom. I started counting weird things, even though I wasn’t “supposed” to.
Things like nutrient blocks to make sure I was eating like a normal person (DON’T do that). But the more I combed through he forums on this Your Eatopia website, the more I realized it would be OK to NOT eat like a normal person for any amount of time I needed.
And ignore what people around me would think, which was hard beyond measure being in someone else’s house.
I ate and ate and ate. I worked very hard to ignore fear and anxiety while I was eating. I wrote about my feelings and my eating in an app that let you journal about your food and eating without weight or calorie incentives.
We cut our vacation short and travelled back home, where I spent a couple of weeks playing stupid video games, watching TV and living off frozen pizza, cheese sticks, chocolate granola and ice cream.
And bread, obviously. With Nutella.
But just as I wrote in my post about food freedom vs just not caring, it never happened that I just ate and ate and ate and never stopped.
And it also didn’t happen that I was addicted to all those foods previously deemed “bad” and “forbidden”.
In fact, after a few weeks, I couldn’t even imagine putting a slice of pizza in my mouth. Or a spoonful of ice cream.
I started craving protein and vegetables. And the beautiful thing about that moment was that I noticed.
This was such an amazing moment.
If you’re a person who feels like their body is just an enemy and cannot begin to understand how other people claim their body “tells them stuff”, I was the same. But then my body DID start giving me cues and it was so beautiful and surreal.
For a decade I was battling my body, sure it was just trying to tear me down, cheat me and be generally evil.
When I set my mind free and silenced the endless brain chatter about calories and fat grams and exercise minutes, my body started talking to me.
At first, I didn’t realize what it was. It was just amazing. And the more and more it happened, and I let myself listen, the more amazed I was by it.
I was not a broken human being after all. My body didn’t actually want to live off bread and Nutella. It wants it occasionally, but it doesn’t want it as its primary source of sustenance.
Now that it is not living in food scarcity, with a twisted mind dictating what it can and cannot eat, now that it is nourished and knows it will keep being nourished, it wants vegetables. And salad. And fruit, grains, protein, cheese, avocado, nuts…
Sure, it wants dessert and baked goods and ice cream, too. Not all the time, but often enough.
But I don’t sit there after a minuscule, “safe” portion, staring at the rest of the food and fighting over eating more or walking away.
I just eat however much I want. And then I move on.
So, bottom line, no.
To me, intuitive eating is not unhealthy. In fact, this entire journey and process I went through was how I got to my healthiest state, yet.
Of course there was much more to learn, things like what foods to keep in the fridge to make nourishing meals with, meals I’d actually enjoy eating.
I also had to learn how to cook and bake in a normal way (things like using adequate amounts of sugar in a birthday cake and making an amount of pasta that’s neither going to feed an army nor leave us starving – these are really difficult skills I had to learn once I was in place where I could tune into my body’s cues, I swear, as ridiculous as it may sound).
I also had to learn that it’s OK not to like certain things. That “eating what I want” doesn’t mean I have to force cookies and cake down my throat for every meal, because that’s kind of what the diet industry tries to tell us… That this is what’s going to happen if we don’t “control” ourselves in some way.
I also had to learn that there’s no bad foods and good foods, that “healthy diet” is a pretty arbitrary term anyways, and that nobody knows better what keeps me nourished and happy than my own body.
That I’m allowed to eat and enjoy stuff like quinoa and kale and chia if I damn want to, and that this alone doesn’t mean I’m turning into an obsessive eater again.
As long as there’s no obsession in my mind, and my body is fed and happy, and it’s all a matter of balance, and I can still take a slice of warm white bread with a thick layer of Nutella and enjoy every single bite of it, no shame or guilt (because life is just too short and beautiful to spend most of it obsessing over something so stupid as food).
I’m grateful to be here now.
Getting to a state of truly intuitive eating (where you don’t need to write down fullness levels on a scale of 1-10, COME ON that’s so obsessive) is a hard process and journey, but to me it was worth every single tear.
In my opinion, this is the single best way to care for your health and wellness, and it’s the way our bodies were meant to eat. Naturally, directed by what we personally need and desire, and not because of any diet dogma, weight stigma or other restriction we placed on our minds.
Here’s to food freedom, and freedom in every other aspect of womanhood. Because at the end of the day, this is what it’s all about.