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Developing healthy eating habits can be tough for those of us recovering from disordered eating. When I finally swore off dieting and calorie counting years ago, I felt lost. I had spent the last 20 years eating, exercising, and living based on what I thought I should be doing, which was driven purely by external forces.
Women’s magazines told me to eat no more than “X” calories a day. My gym teacher taught us to do cardiovascular exercise at least five times per week. Weight Watchers allowed me to eat a bun with my burger or fries on the side, but not both. Well-meaning friends cautioned against eating anything after 6 p.m., lest we wake up 100 pounds heavier from having a bagel before bed.
I was stuck in this frame of mind for years and thought I would positively fall apart without structured food and exercise rules.
Never once did it occur to me that perhaps my body knew what it needed better than anyone else, and I could trust its signals if I would only take the time to stop and listen to them.
I’m not sure at what point I started to believe I couldn’t trust myself, but it happened at a very young age. The louder my body screamed at me to feed it and give it rest, the better I got at ignoring those signals. When I was finally ready to give Intuitive Eating a try, I was petrified because I didn’t know what to look for or where to begin.
After years of patience and practice — of taking two steps forward and one step back, Intuitive Eating has become a way of life for me.
I (usually) feel balanced and healthy in my own way, and listening to how my body feels (and acting accordingly) has definitely been the key.
When I finally let go of trying to lose weight and shifted my thinking to focus on feeling good, magical things started happening. Once I really started to believe I am good enough just as I am — now in this present moment, that I deserve to enjoy everything this life has to offer whether I am a size 2 or 22, my choices started coming from a whole other place I didn’t even know existed.
I took a break from the gruelling, dreaded workout routine I had been doing on auto-pilot for years.
I discovered while I truly do love working out, I need to tune into my body to see what would make me feel strong and energized rather than worn down and miserable. I found I loathe high-impact cardio but adore walking, bike riding, lifting weights, and power yoga. These things feel good, so they’re now the focus of my routine. Gone are the days of torturing myself with exercises I hate. I work out regularly because I love my body, not because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t.
I used to go to parties plagued with anxiety about the kinds of food that would be available and what I should and shouldn’t eat. Within minutes of arriving I would be face-down in whatever crackers, chips, and sweets were there, not because I was hungry or because they are my favorite food, but because they were “off-limits” snacks I never let myself have outside of parties or special occasions. Never once did I take the time to question whether or not I actually enjoyed eating these things. When I stopped dieting and started allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted, I discovered that I actually do not care for many of my old bingeables.
I recognize that I deserve to arrive at a party feeling relaxed and in good spirits, and I deserve to enjoy whatever food looks really delicious to me. Mindfulness and body awareness allow me to enjoy the foods I really crave, and self-love helps me stop eating before I get too full; I want to leave a party feeling good and satisfied, not sick and guilt-ridden!
These days I strive to make food, exercise, and lifestyle choices based on how I feel now and how I want to feel later.
It is incredibly empowering. Knowing I am naturally equipped to make choices that are right for me in any situation has removed a tremendous amount of stress from my life. I no longer do things impulsively or out of fear. And when I do fall into old habits or wish I’d done something differently, I don’t look at it as failure; instead, it’s a learning opportunity, and I know I’ll have the chance to do it differently next time.
Learning to love myself (on the good days and the bad) and focusing on how I feel has allowed me to tune back into the intuitive wisdom I believe we are all born with. I also ditched the women’s “health” magazines and any social media that makes me feel bad about myself, because life is too damn short to live according to someone else’s rules.
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In October 2007, after 20 years of starving, binging and everything in between, Sara promised herself she would never diet again. Intrigued by the notion of Intuitive Eating, she applied different principles to her life but wasn’t fully ready to let go and trust the process until late 2013. Mom to two young boys, Sara now strives to set a strong, healthy example for her kids. She enjoys yoga, the great outdoors, red wine, and being a Mom, and reminds herself frequently that happiness is not contingent upon the size of her pants.
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