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Intuitive Eating: A Political Act of Radical Self-Love

We live in a world that teaches us in countless ways not to trust ourselves and, even further, not to love and accept ourselves as we are. The moneymaking machine that is industry in the United States profits greatly from each of us being dissatisfied with who and how we currently are. If we loved ourselves, why would we spend money on trying to improve the way we look or perfect the persona we are told we “should” present to the world?

In particular, the weight loss industry in the United States is a multi-billion-dollar-per-year market that brought in $64.0 billion in 2014. This business is specifically designed to convince you that you cannot trust yourself to make choices about what to eat—that you will be “out of control” if you don’t rely on someone else to tell you how you should eat. It gains greatly from you failing at your diet and coming back for more. The consistently proven fact is that DIETS DO NOT WORK—95% of diets fail with people regaining the weight they lost or more. To quote Alexis Conason, a psychologist and researcher at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, “If diets actually worked, we wouldn’t have to go on so many of them.”

ice-cream-1209239_1280Why, then, do we continue to depend on sources outside of ourselves to tell us how we should eat? Because we are used to living in fear of ourselves—that if we are left to our own devices, we will become the versions of ourselves we believe are unlovable. We are sold and told that if we present the unaltered versions of ourselves to the world, we will be shunned and alone. All diets (meaning any system that dictates what, how, and how much the dieter can eat) sell us fear of ourselves and of our needs and desires.

Contrary to diets, Intuitive Eating is a food philosophy that supports you to have a healthy relationship with food and your body through honoring your natural hunger and fullness cues and throwing out the food rules that dictate what and how much you are “allowed” to eat. “All foods fit” in the intuitive eating approach meaning that no foods are considered to be “good” or “bad” (i.e. permissible or off limits); satisfaction and pleasure are an important part of intuitive eating.

The overall perspective of Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, the authors of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, is that we tend to overeat or binge on foods because we label them as “bad” and do not allow ourselves to eat them freely. If we stop the condemnation of these foods, we can eat them in moderation without guilt and without thinking, “This is my chance!” and eating the whole bag/box/jar/etc. Ultimately, Intuitive Eating is about “Making Peace with Food” and as an extension, making peace with yourself.

For me, Intuitive Eating is not just a way to eat. It is absolutely not just another diet that teaches you to depend on a set of rules and restrictions to determine how you make choices about food. I believe Intuitive Eating is, at its core, about learning to trust yourself and your body again.

So, what if we take a step back from the “norm” of living in fear of ourselves? Why should we let someone else tell us what is right for us—how we should eat or how we should live? Intuitive Eating is a powerful reminder that we are the experts on ourselves. Not Weight Watchers. Not the Paleo people. Not even Michael Pollen is an expert on any of us as individuals.

Author and activist Geneen Roth writes, “After 30 years of working with emotional eaters, I can confidently say that I’ve never met anyone who has ever lost weight — and kept it off — by deprivation. We don’t overeat because we take too much pleasure from food, but because we don’t take enough…Imagine what your life would be like if you let yourself eat with passion. If you felt entitled, no matter what you weighed, to eat with gusto. You may discover that [food truly does] give you pleasure, and there’s no price tag attached. And that’s how it should be.”

The truth is that this is not just about food. This is about freeing ourselves from the expectations of a particular culture or industry. It is about operating from a lens of abundance rather than scarcity. In truth, it can be a slow and sometimes frustrating journey to reconnect to our bodies’ natural hunger and fullness cues and remove the moral judgments from food. We are out of practice, and it takes time.

Intuitive Eating is imperfect. It is a daily commitment to showing up to whatever our bodies are needing and wanting without placing arbitrary limitations on ourselves or condemning ourselves for whatever we hear when we listen to our bodies. For many of us, we have been so disconnected from ourselves that we do not know what we need or want anymore. It is a process to learn again how to listen to ourselves with love and patience and to make friends with our bodies again.

Intuitive Eating supports Intuitive Living. If you commit to the practice of honoring your hunger and fullness, giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, and discovering your satisfaction with food, the connection with your true self will grow stronger. Your capacity to listen to yourself and make decisions from a place of honoring yourself and your needs will carry into other areas of your life. You will begin to live intuitively as well. As you start to examine your relationship with food, it will illuminate patterns and problems in other parts of life: relationships, work, finances, self-care. Doing the hard work of healing your relationship with food will inevitably create and perpetuate healing in other arenas.

I am writing this article as a fellow imperfect human who has struggled with my own relationship to food and my body; Intuitive Eating was a huge part of healing my own eating disorder nine years ago. I am also writing this as a therapist who works daily with people who live in fear of themselves—of their own needs, longings, cravings, and desires. I have seen the Intuitive Eating philosophy help countless clients in their struggle with food, weight, and body image. I have experienced my own family and friends benefit greatly in their relationships with food and themselves by adopting Intuitive Eating.

I am keenly aware of the cultural climate we live in with regards to food and body image. It is an environment that makes it insanely challenging to recover from an eating disorder and/or let go of black-and-white rules about food and attachment to the “ideal body.” I continuously remind my clients that “swimming against the current” (i.e. doing the opposite of what most of society is doing) is the modus operandi of living recovered from an eating disorder. However, my hope is that this will not always be the case—that we collectively will come to recognize that we do not have to fight against ourselves. We simply have to be the truest and most authentic versions of ourselves we can be.

My wish is that each of us can stop the war with our bodies and ourselves and come to recognize that our woundedness, messiness, and vulnerability is the greatest gift we have to offer the world. And that it is acceptable and even wonderful to take our messy, imperfect selves out for pizza and ice cream and unabashedly enjoy it.

Rochelle Greenhagen

Rochelle Greenhagen

Rochelle Greenhagen is a San Francisco-based psychotherapist offering counseling to facilitate healing and growth. She specializes in working with eating disorders, relationship issues, and low self-esteem.

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