Warning: Vulnerability alert. From as far back as I can recall I have struggled with disordered eating. Since I was very young I have used food as a coping mechanism to numb out and never really feel the feelings that I was actually feeling. Does this sound familiar to you? I know too many other women, and men, who have done the same. They call it emotional eating for a reason, because you are eating all those emotions you don’t want to feel.
I had it all under control for many years, until Covid swept our country and we all went into quarantine. Then all of the old uglies started to rear their bulbous heads. At first it was just about being home with my loved ones, cooking gourmet meals and enjoying a cocktail or a glass of wine…or three. The food and alcohol really helped smooth out the rough edges of the unknown world and future that we as a collective were all experiencing. It didn’t take long for my extra glass of wine and fancy dinners to morph into that familiar back and forth dance of “cheating” on my so-called meal plan and then beating myself up for days about what I put in my mouth. This time, however, I started to recognize the old pattern right away. That was a huge win for me.
Evolution and growth are truly about pulling yourself out of the shit pit quicker. I’m not going to lie, I was actually really impressed with myself for doing that. I didn’t want to allow the stress of these uncertain times to trigger the feelings that twenty-one-year-old Katie used to feel. The Katie that was competing in pageants, working out three hours a day, living in an abusive relationship, and walking on eggshells—all while going to school and working full time. The stress I felt during that time of my life was immeasurable compared to the bigger stress I go through nowadays, but the branding of those years were still seared into my hide and will most likely always be there.
I have made peace with this truth. But it doesn’t mean I have completely tamed the beast, which is why I fell back into old coping and defense mechanisms. I am nowhere near the woman that I used to be. The two decades I have under my belt since then don’t mean that other Katie isn’t still buried deep down inside. My life is a far throw from what it used to be. I am successful, happy, accomplished, and in an incredibly healthy and supportive relationship.
Yet, when scary times that are out of my (and anyone’s) control come along, I begin waking up every day with a fear pit in my stomach. I become overwhelmed quickly. I feel afraid and then I eat to cope with that, and beat myself up for not following my own doctrines. The Old Katie vicious circle. I truly thought that all of my spiritual and emotional work had banished that part of me. It hadn’t.
Back to the drawing board I went. Whenever I began to feel a pull to incorporate some of my “off-limits” foods, I began to pay attention. This is not food that is off limits to my clients; it is a Draconian law that I made for myself many years ago when I was young and trying to control my out-of-control life. I realized there was no reason to be so harsh on myself, so I slowly started to allow myself to eat the “bad” food. As I did, I began to feel nourished, alive, and happy again. The fear and the anxiety and the worry started to slowly dissipate and I started listening to my gut.
Your intuition is there, just waiting to tell you what to do, and what foods to choose. I began listening to my intuition in all aspects of my life, including my food and supplementation. My intuition would whisper when I was feeling sluggish, and guide me toward the right things to reboot my day. I started to drink a green smoothie with unsweetened almond milk every day. In the afternoons, I’d snack on a honeycrisp apple with almond butter. A sweet potato with dinner, or a bowl of pasta or sometimes, a little bowl of Ben and Jerry’s. I set a timer to remind me to take my supplements. I chose ones that helped with adrenal fatigue and hormone regulation, and let me tell you this: I feel amazing.
I wasn’t on a diet, and when I put on a few pounds, I wasn’t upset, because I didn’t care about the numbers on the scale. For once in my life, I feel really incredible. I feel vibrant and alive. I am starting to feel whole. I want to work out again, not to fit a size or a tool to punish myself for what I’m eating, but because it’s good for me.
Then I started talking to my clients and they all said that they were going through the same thing I had been. So I went back to basics and began to streamline their protocols so that they too could learn intuitive eating and in turn, feel the same way I am feeling. I also started to study whatever I could get my hands on when it came to intuitive eating and I found the ten principles of intuitive eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND. This is what they said:
1. Reject the Diet Mentality
Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the diet culture that promotes weight loss and the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all the weight. There are no quick fixes. If you allow even one small bit of hope to linger in your mind, telling you that a new and better diet or food plan might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.
2. Honor Your Hunger
Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach that moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating become fleeting and irrelevant and you’re rummaging in the cabinets for everything you can eat to shut that rumbling stomach up. Learn to honor this first biological signal, because it sets the stage for rebuilding trust in yourself and in food.
3. Make Peace with Food
Call a truce; stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that then build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity it usually results in a kind of Last Supper overeating, followed by a dessert of overwhelming guilt.
4. Challenge the Food Police
Scream a loud No to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating minimal calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that the diet culture has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.
5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
The Japanese have the wisdom to make pleasure one of their goals of healthy living. In our compulsion to comply with diet culture, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes just the right amount of food for you to decide you’ve had “enough.”
6. Feel Your Fullness
In order to honor your fullness, you need to trust that you will give yourself the foods that you desire. Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is. A simple pause during a meal gives your mind time to catch up with your body, and builds that intuition muscle.
7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
First, recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger a loss of control, which can lead to emotional eating. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you, but food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger may only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion.
8. Respect Your Body
Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with an 8 1/2 shoe size wouldn’t expect to realistically squeeze into a size 6, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body size or shape. All bodies deserve dignity, including your own.
9. Movement—Feel the Difference
Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, like being energized or ready to tackle the day, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm.
10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while also making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy, from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Progress, not perfection, is what counts.
My hope is that you join the Ambitchious crusade to step into your power that you have had all along inside you. Power isn’t just about fierce boundaries and being an all-around HBIC. Power is also about treating your body like a temple and not a trash can. It is about self-love and self-acceptance. It is about eating to fuel your body. When you intentionally choose to eat that brownie sundae or bowl of fettuccine alfredo, you choose it knowing that there is power in choice. When you make choices like these you do it with hyper-consciousness and enjoyment, not to numb out and push down the fear and adverse feelings that you are experiencing.
I get it—we have never experienced times like these and many of us are struggling. We all had difficulty navigating this new world at the start, and sometimes still do because it’s continuing to shift in unexpected directions. Sometimes old ugly things that we have pushed down need to bubble up to the surface to heal. Let them come, and deal with them. Don’t judge yourself or your feelings. Simply refocus on making it about healing and love. I promise you will come out of the darkness and into being the eternal light that you were placed here to be. If you want more on how all this works and leads to your most Ambitchious life, listen to my podcast here, or buy Ambitchious the book here.