What I learned about intuitive eating and my past eating disorder after 8 weeks of Italian food and no structured exercise.
After months of wedding planning and being a bit more structured with my diet than usual I was excited to start the ultimate test of intuitive eating on my 5 week honeymoon. Intuitive eating has been a hot button topic for the past couple years and to be honest, I have mixed feelings on the topic but that’s a blog post for another day. For those of you who have not heard of the concept of intuitive eating, it is an approach to health and wellness that focuses on getting in tune with your bodys’ signals and ditching the rules and regulations typically associated with dieting.
In my normal day-to-day life I eat intuitively… kind of… I eat what I want, when I want, without guilt. Sometimes this is pizza, fries and pies, but more often than not it is whole nutritious foods that make me feel my best. As nutrition professional I also take my health into account. I consider the composition of my meals, how my blood sugar is going to be affected, what components I can add to a meal to make it more satiating, how the foods will fuel my daily activities, ect. So, I was excited to have an opportunity to put intuitive eating fully to the test, in a time where I did not have to worry about maintaining my energy levels for a 12 hour work day or finding time to fit in my next meal. And let me tell you, I learned A LOT!
1) Intuitive eating on vacation is not as simple as one might think.
Access to food is somewhat limited when you are traveling which makes satisfying hunger cues difficult. A large part of intuitive eating is listening to your body and honoring your cravings, which is hard to do when you are craving a taco in the middle of the Tuscan countryside. Funny enough, the craving that I couldn’t seem to let go of on vacation was a salad with ranch dressing. As I am sure many of you have experienced after a long bout of eating foods atypical of your diet, my body was craving something fresh and familiar and I was unable to provide that. I think people stuck in diet culture are often of the mindset that when they go “off the rail” they will only want unhealthy foods, but this really isn’t the case.
2) Not balancing your meals makes a BIG impact on your hunger.
Of course I knew this on paper, but at home I make a conscious effort to include protein, fats and carbs in every meal so I had not experienced this sensation in ages. Because I am vegetarian, it was difficult for me to find protein sources within the typical Italian cuisine. So, Irregardless of the fact that I was eating significantly more, calorically speaking, than I would have at home I found myself to be hungry shortly after almost all my meals.
3) Drum Roll Please… I was still holding on to some DISORDERED EATING habits.
I had expected that my past eating disorder would rear its ugly head at some point during this trip, after all, it was centered on food. However, I did not at any point have the desire to restrict or purge. It showed itself in a different way by allowing me to see the disordered habits I held onto back home within my normal eating routine. I know, I know, I have been “recovered” for years, but there were some unintentional lingering thoughts that I had not unknowingly not challenged. As an example, on this trip I was able to recognize that I had still been limiting the amount of oil that I used with my bread before a meal. It seems silly, but when I had the realization it allowed me to open up my eyes and look for (and challenge) any other repressed judgements that I had been holding on to.
It allowed me to open up my eyes to look for (and challenge) any other repressed judgements that I had been holding on to.
So, I know that some of you are wondering how eating unrestricted amounts of Italian food and not working out for a month affected me physically. First, I had lower energy levels, plain and simple. I was MORE, not less, hungry. And drum roll please…. I DID NOT GAIN A POUND. And you know what, it would not have mattered if I did because my self worth is no longer determined by my appearance. Yes, my body composition and strength undoubtedly changed, but not much. This is because I went into the vacation with a good relationship with food. My body is at its most comfortable weight, and because I was not in “starvation mode” I did not need to rebound, binge, or hold on to all the nutrition that I was consuming because my body did not have any fear of when its next meal would come.
The backpacking trip changed my perspective on many things, but now that I have been home for a month, I know that it has changed the way I will approach food and “normal eating” forever. If anyone has experienced anything similar to this, I would love to start a discussion about it in the comments and hear your stories.