8 Things I’ve Learned on My Intuitive Eating Journey


1.  Perfection is a myth.  Tonight we had pizza and I wasn’t hungry at all but I was super cranky and irritable and pissed about everything…so I ended up trying to numb my feelings with 5 pieces of pizza.  Every time I think I’m past this, it happens again.  I may never fully overcome it, but it happens much less frequently than it used to, and that is how I measure progress.

2.  How not to respond to a binge or overeating episode: Taking a bunch of laxatives or other medication, going on a 2-hour run, swearing to all deities that you will not eat a single thing for the rest of the week, going on a liquid fast, mentally berating yourself and wondering when you are ever going to get your shit together.

3.  How to respond to a binge or overeating episode: Don’t freak out.  Seriously.  Acknowledge that it happened, acknowledge that you are sickeningly full and miserable and in pain–and realize that you will feel better tomorrow.  I try to go to sleep as soon as I can (as many of my binges happen at night), because by now I know that nothing is going to help the awful sickness pass but time.

4.  Food can be comfort, love, and an emotional painkiller.  Finding something to replace it is really hard.

5.  Talking about it helps.  Hiding your shame and pain and feeling like a worthless excuse for a human being with no self-control does not.  You need support.*  Find someone–a counselor, a friend, a family member, or an online support group–that you can talk to when you’re feeling shitty and all you want to do is eat your way into of a vat of chocolate frosting.

6.  You are not the only one.  You are not the only one who has ever eaten an entire pizza or package of Oreos by yourself.  You are not the only one who has pulled food back out of the trash and eaten it because you were like a (wo)man possessed and could not think of anything else.  You are not the only one who struggles.

7.  It is not about a lack of willpower.  You are not a weak person who just needs to suck it up and work harder.  You are someone who is dealing with something that others who toss “eat less, move more” at you may not understand.

8.  It gets better.  It can.  It does.  It will.

I promise.


*I am not qualified in any way to offer advice or counsel, but if you need someone to talk to and be on your team, I am always here.


Basic Intuitive Eating


The way I understand Intuitive Eating (hereafter referred to as IE in this post) at its most basic level is this:

Eat (whatever you want and whenever you want) when you are hungry, and stop when you are full.

That’s it.  Now there are ways to go deeper into the actual practice of IE, like keeping a food/mood journal, practicing mindful eating by only eating when sitting down and never eating while you’re distracted (i.e. on the computer or watching tv or reading), etc.  But let’s just stick with the simplest explanation for now, which is listening to your hunger/fullness signals and not depriving yourself.

This has worked wonders for me.  Now, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s not easy or quick to adopt (at least, it wasn’t for me).  It might be hard to allow yourself all those “bad” foods you’ve been trying to deprive yourself of for so long.  Even if you haven’t been successful at depriving yourself for more than a day or two at a time, you’ve probably been conditioned to think of foods as “healthy foods” or “junk foods”, so you feel guilty when you reach for the Cheetos instead of the carrot sticks.

For people who have lost the ability to eat in response to their body’s needs, IE can be a huge leap of faith.  You may be scared that your appetite is so huge that it will never be satisfied.  You may worry that all you’ll ever want to eat is cake and Cheez Whiz (not together, hopefully) and that you’ll gain weight and spiral into a miserable cycle of eating and eating and gaining and gaining and never being able to stop.

I had these fears.

And I’m not going to lie to you and say everything was smooth and easy, or that I ate “crazy” for a couple days and then got over all my cravings.  In fact, for the first several weeks, my new IE “diet” was primarily made up of homemade chocolate chip cookies.  I kid you not.  I baked and ate them every single day, without fail, for more than a month.  It was what I wanted, and as long as I was eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was satisfied (HARD to do at first, and even now), it was “legal”.

I definitely overate when I was learning, and I still do.  It’s okay to overeat sometimes–everyone does it.  Sometimes that’s part of intuitive eating.  It’s not about being perfect.

But you have to learn to eat without judgment.  This is so, so huge.  IE is, in a large part, about rewiring your brain, getting rid of the “overeating–>guilt–>restriction” mentality.  I threw out all the food rules I had memorized over the years (and I could write an entire book on all of those rules), and ate cookies when I wanted cookies, chips when I wanted chips, veggies when I wanted veggies, and meat when I wanted meat.

Eventually, you will get tired of the Cheez-its and brownies.  At some point, your body starts to crave other, more substantial, and more nutritive things.  And by putting all foods on an even playing field and removing the labels (good/bad, healthy/fattening, etc) that you had given to everything, you disempower those foods that once seemed to hold you captive.  Cheesecake is no longer a special, sinful food that you know you shouldn’t be eating so you binge on it whenever you actually let yourself have any.  Once you break down those mental barriers and let yourself have anything you want, a lot of those forbidden foods lose their allure.  

You might find out that you don’t even care for some of the foods you’ve been depriving yourself of.  Once I actually allowed myself to eat them deliberately, I found out that I’m actually not that fond of Oreos. Or any storebought cookies.  Or Hershey’s chocolate.  Now, if I want chocolate, I don’t binge on chocolate chips and hope that satisfies my craving.  If I want chocolate, I’m going to get myself the real stuff, the good stuff–because I deserve it.

That’s what it really comes down to–learning to love and respect yourself, and transferring that love and respect into how you feed yourself.  Getting rid of all the mind games you’ve been playing with yourself and finally being totally and completely honest about what it is you really want and need (which often isn’t even food–we’ll probably talk about that sometime soon).

There are a hundred things that could be said about IE, and a hundred people who have said it better.  But hopefully this is a decent starting point.  Feel free to weigh in, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How to Be Gentle With Yourself


Being gentle with myself was a pretty revolutionary concept for me.

I spent my teen years mentally berating myself for every tiny mistake, every shortcoming, and every faux pas.  This barrage of criticism and disparagement only perpetuated the unhealthy behaviors I had developed, and did a good job of keeping my self-esteem hovering in the negative digits.

I think it was Geneen Roth who first introduced me to the concept of treating myself with gentleness and respect.  I scoffed at first–I was never a believer in positive self-talk and bathroom-mirror-affirmations.  But I knew I had to change, and that the change needed to start at the root–in the battleground of my mind.

So I began talking to myself differently.  Rather than slamming myself with criticism after I made a mistake, I talked to myself like I would a child–reminding myself that it wasn’t a big deal, that I could try again.  And this silly, hokey stuff actually began to work.  Calling a ceasefire allowed me some space to breathe, some space to make mistakes and learn from them and move on.  For the first time, I was actually able to make some changes and stick with them.

I know many women (and men) aren’t in the habit of treating themselves with kindness.  So here are my top 3 tips for learning to be gentle with yourself.


1. Practice “it’s just okay”.

This is something my best friend taught me.  When I call her and tell her that I’m screwing everything up and that I let my kids watch two hours of TV this morning and didn’t get anything done and haven’t mopped my floor in weeks and I just inhaled seven doughnuts without even blinking, she says, “Heather, everything is okay.  You are okay.  So you let your kids watch six episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates?  They’re fine.  So you ate a bunch of doughnuts?  It’s not a big deal.  Everything is just okay.”

And it really is.  Most things, even the big things, are not the end of the world.  “It’s just okay” takes the pressure off.  Things don’t have to be good or bad.  They can just be okay.  And that is such a relief.

So the next time you mess up and your inner critic wants to jump in and yell at you, remind yourself that it is what it is.  Life goes on.  And it’s just okay.


2. Acknowledge your victories.

So maybe you screwed up at work or failed at your “exercise every day” New Years Resolution or yelled at your kids or forgot your spouse’s birthday.  Guess what?  You got up this morning.  You are breathing in and out.  Look at you, living!  You’re a genius.

I’m kidding.  But only a little.  Focusing on how everything is going wrong will likely do nothing but send you into a downward spiral.  In order to focus on the positive and keep yourself motivated, you have to remind yourself of what you are doing right.  Even the little things.  And even if it feels silly.

The past few days were…not good.  I was going through some personal stuff and not handling it very well.  I slacked off a lot in the parenting department, didn’t want to cook, haven’t really done much cleaning, and coped with my emotions using my old standby–food.  I felt like everything was sort of falling apart and I didn’t have the energy to gather it all up and fix it.

When I started to notice myself listing everything I was doing wrong, and thinking about all the things I “should” and “shouldn’t” be doing, I intervened.  I reminded myself that I had played play dough with the boys the other day, and that I folded three loads of laundry today.  I forced myself to acknowledge that even though most of our meals had consisted of rice and beans lately, at least I cooked something–and it was cheap and healthy!  Points all around.

For me, thinking about my daily “victories” forces me to acknowledge that I am, in fact, a decent human being who makes good choices sometimes.  I am capable of things.  It also helps protect me from extremist thinking, which I am prone to.  Everything is not falling apart–I went to the grocery store and then cooked dinner for four people, like a freaking adult!

Find your victories, even the smallest ones, and make them take precedence over your failures. Some days, just getting out of bed will be a victory.  And that’s okay.  It counts.


3. Retrain your mental voice to speak to you as if you were a child (and I mean gently, not patronizingly).

I am not kidding about this.  It works.

When I used to binge, I would think things like, “Ugh, I cannot believe I ate all that food.  I feel so sick.  I feel disgusting.  Why don’t I have any willpower?  Why am I so out of control?  I’m so weak, I’m so stupid.  I am disgusting.  I’m not going to eat any food tomorrow.  Water is all I deserve after eating like that.”

Let me just tell you that it did not help.

Now, when I binge or overeat, I say to myself, “Hm. I wish I hadn’t eaten that much, I don’t like feeling sick.  It’s okay, though.  I know I’ll feel better and I can try again tomorrow.”  And then I move on.  No dwelling on it, no wallowing in misery.

I don’t do this as much anymore, but when I first starting learning about intuitive eating I practiced gentle self-talk that would go something like this:  “Hey, body.  I’m really sorry for making you feel sick again.  I haven’t been treating you very well.  Thank you for always being strong and for taking care of me.  I promise I will try to take better care of you.”  Sometimes I would even talk to myself out loud (if I was alone, obviously), check in with myself, see how I was feeling and what was going on.

Yes, I’m serious.  Just try it.

The key here is kindness, gentleness.  Treating yourself with the love and respect you deserve.

And remember that progress isn’t linear.  We all wish it was, but it just isn’t.  There will be a lot of ups and downs no matter what your goal is–the important thing is not to get caught up in the peaks and valleys, but to look at the overall trend.  Most of the time, by taking a step back you’ll see that you are, in fact, making progress.  It’s just hard to see that when you’re in the trenches.


Is your inner voice supportive or destructive?  Give yourself a little mental hug today, loves.

Confessions of a [Recovering] Binge Eater


I used to be obsessed with food.

It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, and the last thing I thought about before my mind finally shut down and I fell asleep for the night.  I was constantly obsessing about what I had eaten, what I wanted to eat, what I was going to eat next.  I looked at recipe books and food blogs and ate and thought and planned and ate…and hated myself for all of it.

I remember looking at food and seeing numbers.  Calories.  I divided foods into safe and unsafe foods, good and bad foods.

Once I wanted egg-in-a-hole (if you do not know what this is then get yourself to my house with haste and I will make you a delicious breakfast).  But I couldn’t have it of course.  Too many calories.  Too much fat.  So I modified it.  I nixed the egg.  Eggs are bad for you.  I also tossed out the butter.  Butter would most certainly make me fat.

So I picked up a slice of spongy, disgusting 40-calorie bread and misted it with cooking spray.

Then I cooked it in a frying pan.  And ate it.

It tasted weird and metallic.  It was disgusting.  But I ate it and pretended it was good, pretended that it satisfied me and congratulated myself on my self control.

And then I inhaled a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips and half a block of cheddar cheese.

You see, the flip side of this sort of restrictive behavior for me was bingeing.  All that denying myself, all that carefully controlled portioning and measuring and counting and managing–it was like stretching a rubber band.  Once it reached its limit, it would snap back–with equal and opposite force.

A binge was a complete loss of that control.  I would just start eating and my brain would shut off; and I would have no clear memory of how I came to be standing in front of the pantry, holding an empty box of Wheat Thins and a decimated bag of trail mix.

I was so, so ashamed of this “dark side”.  I just knew that people would be disgusted with me if they knew how I really was.  Lazy.  Undisciplined.  Weak.  Every time I binged, I was left with a sickeningly full stomach and a massive black cloud of shame and self-loathing.

What is wrong with me?  Why can’t I stop eating?  I tried to counteract the massive amount of calories I would consume in my binges with purging, and with exercise.  I remember eating 8 pieces of pizza and then forcing myself to go on a 5-mile run, as if to atone for my “sin”.  (And just in case you think that is a good idea, let me tell you that it is a very, very stupid idea.  I once had to run into a hotel and vomit into a bathroom toilet because five pieces of jalapeño and pepperoni pizza do not make a good pre-run snack.)

I remember high school sleepovers, where our snacks of choice were Doritos + sour cream and anything we could find to dip into canisters of vanilla frosting.  I remember watching a movie, snacking on the Doritos, and not being able to stop.  I remember wondering how the other girls could just watch the movie, seemingly uninterested in the food; when all I could think about, all I could focus on, was that there was food next to me.  I would wake up the next morning with a food hangover, feeling nauseated and bloated, and all I wanted to do was go home and hide.

I literally could not concentrate on anything else when there was food in the room.  Parties and buffets were torture.  Everyone would be mingling, talking, and all I could think was when are we going to eat this damn food?!  It was like this pressure built up inside of me, and I needed to eat so I could move on and think about something else.

I used to bring my lunch to school–and eat the whole thing before first period started.  I literally could not ignore the fact that there was food sitting in my backpack.  It would be there, taunting me, consuming my thoughts, until I gave in and ate it to silence the voices.

One time I ate 36 cookies in one sitting.  (Not that you’re aware enough to count when you’re bingeing.  But I checked later, and that’s how much the recipe made.  I ate all of it.)

I was disgusted with myself.

I never, ever thought I would be able to escape that cycle.  I didn’t think I was strong enough.  I used to pray every day that I could have a normal, healthy relationship with food. I prayed that I could overcome this demon that haunted me; prayed that some day food wouldn’t rule my life anymore.  And yet it happened, again and again and again.

My prayers were answered, but it took a long time.  I had hoped I could overcome it in a month.  It didn’t take a month.  It didn’t even take a year.  It has taken several years of trying and failing and trying again, of changing my thought patterns and reimagining my relationship with food and with my body.  There were so many times that I felt like I would never break free.  It didn’t seem like I was making any progress.  It was only when I looked back and compared myself to where I was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, that I began to see the changes.

I rarely binge now, and I don’t restrict.  I can honestly say that I am not controlled by or afraid of food anymore.  It is possible.  It won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy, but it is possible. 


Since I occasionally get concerned emails when I talk about depression or disordered eating, I want you all to know that almost all of this stuff is in the past for me.  Writing helps me to process things though, and if you are struggling with something like this right now, I want you to know you are not alone and that you are not trapped–there is hope.  I found a few really honest blogs when I was struggling and it helped me so much to realize that I wasn’t the only one, and that I wasn’t weak or lazy.

If this post was upsetting or triggering for any of you, I am so, so sorry.  That was not my intention at all.  Please let me know in the comments.  I can preface all of my ED-related posts with a warning if that would be helpful, so you can skip the ones that wouldn’t support your recovery at this time.  I will not be offended; I have had to stop reading and watching things in the past because they were triggering for me.  Taking care of yourself comes first, and it’s hugely important that you be honest with yourself regarding what is and is not okay for you.


Teaching Children Intuitive Eating

[subtitle: How the Hell Do You Do It?]


Today, on two separate occasions, I followed the sound of silence to find one of my sons tucked in the corner of a room, frantically unwrapping and eating candy that he had found in the Christmas stash.

I’m still trying to sort out how I felt upon discovering him, hiding from me like he was doing something bad.  I have a swirling mass of needs-to-be-untangled thoughts and feelings about the topics of eating and bodies, and I don’t want to project my own drama onto my sweet, innocent, still-untarnished-by-the-world little children.  And yet, I want to raise them to value themselves and others, to look deeper but also to love the bodies they were born with and to have an easy, natural, untainted relationship with food.

But it is damn hard to know how to teach intuitive eating when it’s not a skill you grew up with or are even now passably proficient in.  I don’t know what mistakes I can make and still have my children turn out okay.  I don’t even know how many mistakes I’m already making.  I don’t know if fostering intuitive eating means letting them eat whatever and whenever and however much they want, or if it’s eating whatever they want at mealtimes only, or if it’s eating whatever they want of what is offered at mealtimes, or any number of options.  I just don’t know.

My boys are bread fanatics–they would subsist solely on baked carbs if we decided to restrict our diet to a single food group.  Because they’ve often loaded up on bread/rolls/naan/focaccia/biscuits/etc. and refused to eat any other dishes at dinner, my husband has instituted the “finish all your food before you have more bread” rule.  I back him because we’re supposed to present a united front and all that.  But inside, I’m conflicted.  The “eat food to get more food” concept just doesn’t quite sit right with me.  To me, it reinforces the concepts of  (1) “special foods”–things like bread and dessert get put on a pedestal; you have to suffer through a plate of “boring food” in order to get to them and (2) overeating/eating when you’re not hungry.  If a kid (or adult) wants a piece of cake but believes he has to join the Clean Plate Club to get it, he’ll plow through the food on his plate until he’s worthy of the prize.  And if he isn’t hungry anymore by the time he’s “earned” the cake?  Too damn bad.  He’s worked for this cake, and he’s going to eat it, hungry or not.

If it’s dinnertime and I’m absolutely craving chocolate cake, I think I’m better off forgoing the dinner and just eating the cake (provided I enjoy it, listen to my hunger signals, etc…all that IE stuff).  Maybe after I finish the cake, I’m full, so cake is all I have that night.  So what?  Worse things have happened.  But as someone who has worked really hard to eradicate the ideas of “good/healthy/guilt-free” foods and “bad/sinful/naughty” foods from her mindset, I feel really uneasy when we start talking about earning this food or deserving that food.

On the other hand, I really want my children to be open to trying new foods, and I don’t think I should have to make them something separate when they don’t like what is being offered.  But I’m having a really hard time trying to fit these two pieces of the puzzle together.  What if I let them eat whatever they want (of what is offered) at dinner as long as they try at least one bite of each dish?  Then I’m exposing them to new foods, but am I screwing up their chances at being intuitive eaters?

Maybe I am projecting.  (very likely) Maybe I’m overthinking this.  (99% chance)

But I hated seeing my son try to hide his candy-eating from me.  Oh, I know it wasn’t due to some deeply rooted body shame and mental anguish over his food choices–he was just hiding because he thought he would get in trouble (I’d already vetoed candy consumption when he asked me earlier).  But at the same time, I don’t want him or his brother to ever feel ashamed or like they have to hide what they’re eating.

I suppose the most impactful thing I can do is model all of these things myself–self esteem, body acceptance, a healthy relationship with food.

At least that’s easy.



Do you overthink your relationship with food?  Do you think it’s laughable that I use the words “relationship” and “food” in the same sentence?  Do you believe that children are the future? (teach them well and let them lead the way)