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Intuitive Eating

            For my birthday this year, at my request, Mom got me an appointment with a nutritionist recommended by some of her friends who specializes in Intuitive Eating, rather than in creating meal plans or excluding certain foods. I’d found a book on this subject years ago, called When Food is Love by Geneen Roth. It was an exploration of how to teach yourself to feel your hunger cues, and trust your body to tell you what and when to eat. I could relate to so many of Geneen Roth’s stories about her own childhood eating issues and I was inspired by her journey to making peace with food, but I couldn’t translate her lessons into my own body and my own eating. I ended up going back to calorie counting, and then counting points, and then excluding categories of food altogether, and on and on. But it always stuck with me that, one day, I’d really like to be able to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.

“I’m never full.”

            My first visit with the nutritionist, on Zoom, was promising. She has experience working with people with trauma backgrounds and autoimmune disorders and a history of eating disorders, so nothing I said was shocking to her. And she was kind. Much kinder than I am to myself.

            I have been dieting since I was a kid, and I’ve had bouts of anorexia and binge eating and over-exercising and excessive dieting since then. My body is not built along the lines of the perfect American woman I see in magazines, or on TV, who is either taller than me with spindly bones or shorter than me with spindly bones. I am big boned. Even when I was anorexic and fainting from lack of nutrition, I could never get thin enough to fit into the skinny-girl clothes at the mall, because my bones stuck out. My mom was scared, because she saw that I was starving myself, but most other people thought I was just barely thin enough. Even my doctors weren’t concerned, though I was thirty pounds underweight for my frame, because they were looking at the wrong charts.

            The assumption behind every diet I’ve ever been on is that my body is wrong and bad and needs to be fixed, and I have believed that my whole life, but Intuitive Eating will require me to learn a new way of talking to myself, and I’m not sure I can do it. One of the first things the nutritionist told me was that I may have to accept my weight as it is; that people can lose weight with Intuitive Eating, but a lot will depend on what’s right for my body, not my expectations for my body. This is a hard thing to hear, because I feel certain that my body isn’t meant to be its current size, and that if I were a good enough person I would reach my ideal weight without effort.

“I’m perfect just the way I am.”

            I’m working on balancing out my meals, adding more protein to breakfast and more vegetables to lunch and more fat here and there, so that I feel full at the end of each meal. The nutritionist suggested that I replace the peanut butter powder in my overnight oats with real peanut butter, and the almond milk with Fairlife milk (high protein and lactose free). And she suggested making snacks ahead of time, like trail mix and bean salad, so that when I’m starving I won’t just reach for cookies.

“Did you say cookies?”

            But that’s the easy part. It’s sitting down and recognizing where I am on the hunger scale, from 0 (starving to death) to 10 (so full it’s unbearable) before and after each meal that’s getting me frustrated. I struggle to tell the difference between the kind of hunger I feel first thing in the morning, when my stomach is truly empty, and the hunger I feel after breakfast when I want to eat more but I don’t know why. I’m trying to honor my hunger, and eat when I think I need to eat, but it’s hard to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger, or even my long-trained instincts to eat certain foods at certain times of the day. Keeping a hunger journal is forcing me to look more closely at why I’m eating, and what I’m feeling and thinking as I eat, and it is uncomfortable every time. I’m also afraid that moving away from the dieting mentality will lead to weight gain, because I believe that there are monsters inside of me and if I don’t set strict eating rules they will take over and make themselves visible to the outside world instead of just to me.

“Monsters?!!!!!!”

            My therapist is excited about this new eating project and has high hopes that the work will help me get in touch with deeper issues that I’ve been avoiding for too long. But I’m scared. What if I’m still not ready to deal with those feelings? What if overeating is the only thing that works to soothe the pain?

            After I cancelled my Weight Watchers membership, they sent me an email survey, asking if I’d be interested in a new plan with them that would involve being connected with doctors who could prescribe diet medications through Zoom, and that idea is sitting in the back of my mind, as a temptation and a get-out-of-jail-free card in case Intuitive Eating is too hard for me. But I hope I don’t fall into that trap again. I want to be at the point where I can accept myself as I am, and sit with my feelings when they are uncomfortable. I just don’t know if that’s possible. Yet.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

96 responses »

  1. As someone who eats by the clock and gives in to appetite rather than hunger, I can totally relate. One thing I have found is that, if I am immersed in work (“in flow”), I can put off eating pretty much indefinitely. Unfortunately, this never seems to result in actually skipping a meal!

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  2. Wow, this is a different type of thinking than I have heard of for eating. I will be interested to hear more of your journey. Wishing you the best of luck!

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  3. All I can think is, why does everything have to be so hard? I can totally relate to eating issues as I have been battling my weight since my 20’s. Um, maybe longer. I thought I had solved it all when I lost weight in Basic Training (joined the army in my mid-30’s). Nope. Then I had great success with the South Beach Diet in my 40’s. Now I am post-menopausal and all bets are off. It is quite an idea to me: solve some of my emotional problems to solve my eating problems. I don’t want to go there! But I will totally follow your journey. Go, you!

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  4. Rachel–having doctors provide diet medications through Zoom sounds like such a bad idea. Give this new doctor a chance. Throw caution to the wind and try what she says to the letter. That way, you can talk with her about what worked and what didn’t, but at least you are giving it the old college try. I am not a fan of meds, but especially diet meds. That sounds more like a problem than a solution.

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  5. I will say that learning what the emotional hunger felt like as opposed to physical hunger brought up a great deal of pain. I am glad that if you do this you are working with your own therapist who has known you over time. I have also found that taking away an ever ready place to self condemn brings up the grief that self condemnation is hiding. Turns out that self condemnation is our backwards way of trying to take care of ourselves.

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  6. I am lucky enough to have a very forgiving metabolism, a happy childhood and a healthy eating family. So honestly speaking, I have very little clue what it’s like to go through what you’re going through. But I just wanted to say that “ideals” are perceived from the outside. I don’t know anyone who thinks their body is perfect. I know I am in a healthy weight range for my height but that doesn’t mean I like my shape or my individual bits. I heard a model interviewed who described himself as “a thumb with a beard”. And he is widely recognized as “hot”. So… what am I saying? I guess I just wish we could all stop comparing and being compared. And I wish our self esteems could exist separate to our bodies. Women are so hard on other women. And so we’re hard on ourselves too. I like the sound of this nutritionist. Kindness and self acceptance is critical. When you choose a dog you don’t buy a whippet and expect it to look and behave like a maltese terrier. You accept its whippetness. You love it for those qualities it was born with. We need to learn to do that for ourselves.

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  7. Julia Tannenbaum

    Thank you for sharing this, Rachel. I’ve been in recovery from anorexia for the past few years. In my last treatment program, which I was at in late 2015, we learned all about intuitive eating, how to achieve it, and why it’s so important. To this day, I always make a conscious effort to listen to my body and feed myself sufficiently and in moderation. I’m still not at a point where I can sit with uncomfortable feelings or be full without the ED thoughts creeping in but, looking at how far I’ve come and how much I’ve already accomplished, I do think getting there is very much possible.

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  8. I applaud the brave journey you’re undertaking and wish you success, however you define that.

    As a college sophomore (1977) I took one of those psychology 101 courses. All I remember is that the professor, who studied rats and eating, said that his research showed each person has a “set point,” the weight their body prefers being at, and no amount of dieting will significantly change it over the long haul. You end up returning to your set point, whether that’s thin or heavy or somewhere in between. All these years later, I think he’s right. The trick is accepting yourself at that set point.

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  9. I wish you the very best in facing the pain and turning around the issues with food. Not easy but I believe you will be able to find the path to yourself.

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  10. Hi I’m a health coach and I have lost 65 pounds in 4 months and feel great teaching myself too eat ever two hours and eat smaller meals threw out the days. I’m on a plan.

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  11. This post really speaks to me! Let me send encouragement from afar (northern BC, Canada).

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  12. I hadn’t heard of Intuitive Eating until I read this. It sounds like something I could benefit from. I wish you the best with this endeavor! ❤

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  13. Glad you are having a go at this. It makes so much sense. Good luck.

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  14. Feel well. Don’t let the mirror or the scale define you.

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  15. What an incredibly inspired gift. I can certainly understand your hesitation at so uncomfortable feeling coming to the surface….but what if some long awaited positive self-affirming ones rise to the surface as well? Wishing you the very best!

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  16. All the best with the nutritionist and the intuitive eating approach.

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  17. I rather like the sound if this. Rachel, I’m sure you can do anything you put your mind to. Good luck

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  18. Rachel, with many more years of life experiences than you have had, and an ongoing battle with weight since my toddler years, I have high hopes that this therapist will help you uncover the triggers that cause you to be unsuccessful in losing weight. I have never tried any kind of ‘diet pill’ and I never will, but I’ve tried 3 different types of weight-loss patches among other things. I truly believe that you have the strength within you to accomplish a better understanding of the difference between being physically hunger and emotionally hungry, and I pray you are able to learn the difference between “I am hungry” and “I am no longer hungry”. I personally believe if we eat until we are full, we’ve eaten too much. Once I changed that mindset, I found that I ate less, and that I was seldom actually “hungry”, and while it’s been very slow, I’ve lost – and kept off – over 40 pounds in the last 3-1/2 years. And yes, I still eat sometimes when I’m not hungry and overeat on rare occasions, but the gal who could once eat half of a large pizza without even thinking about it now has trouble finishing two slices!

    Anyhow, I wish you, as always, the best of luck at this endeavor. Believe you can, and you will!

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  19. We seem to be on the same page about eating. I look forward to any updates you share with us.

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  20. I hope the system works for you, Rachel. My ex-wife struggled with her weight for years, and tried Weight-Watchers, Slimming World, and many other similar groups. At one time she lost 95 pounds, but put it all back on the following year. In our consumer-drivem society, finding the right balance has become an art form.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  21. I am struggling with a new diet I am on too, for health reasons. Still, everyday has its challenges not to go into my old bad habits, but i definitely feel better 😊

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  22. If there is anything I have learnt through my years on this earth is that dieting is miserable- eating good foods that have benefits and enjoying what you eat brings joy😍 I’d rather eat a big plate of health than a tiny portion of processed food- and I come from a long line of big boned women – I was never meant to be a toothpick!

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  23. “Eat when hungry, stop when full” seems basic instinct but you are definitely not alone with this struggle. I have battled with this concept for as long as I can remember. I am interested to hear how the Intuitive Eating works for you. I have been looking into the concept too as it makes sense in theory. As we know, practice of course is a little harder … hope it works well for you 🙂

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  24. I know nothing in the world will be a magic fix… but I really hope you start to have a better relationship with eating as you work on this new process. I’m rooting for you.

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  25. This sounds like a great approach, and sometimes looking at things (and yourself) in a new way can make a difference. I try to think more in terms of to stop eating when you are no longer hunger and feel satisfied, not necessarily “full”. When I lived in Japan, I learned to have smaller portions and smaller meals and to eat slower. That works for me. Full feels like too much. I wish you well on your journey!

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  26. You will get there and only you will know where “there” is. Anything in life that I’ve learned to handle in a better way finally changed because I “failed” again and again. Don’t call set-backs failure and don’t beat up on yourself. You are unique, a true treasure. Love yourself as you are and love yourself in your setbacks, just as you would love someone else you saw struggling. Be careful how you talk to yourself. Every time something doesn’t work for you, you are learning something about yourself, not failing.
    My very best wishes to you and the pups!

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  27. Like you, I enjoyed Geneen Roth’s book. But I continue to struggle w/ binge eating, even after all this time. For abuse survivors, learning to love and trust ourselves (rather than using food as a crutch) is a process. The difficulty associated w/ it reflects the damage we sustained. I wish you happiness on your journey. ❤

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  28. I love how you illustrated your post with pictures of the dogs! It really helped lighten the topic.

    I’m one of those who will always be hungry and never be full. I FINALLY found a nutrition plan that works for me. But it’s been hard. I’m still obese, but I have lost weight and improved my health.

    Hopefully this will help you. Even if you go back to counting calories, it might help you relax and be more flexible about it.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the holidays.

    Nancy

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    • Thank you! One of the great things about the dogs is that they normalize hunger and all kinds of other body issues. It also helps to see that my two dogs have such different body types and metabolisms, and it has nothing to do with character.

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  29. I call it my Covid-15 and I am struggling to love that extra fat roll on my waist. So far, no love but we have a casual friendship that seems promising. For me the problem is closed gyms. Going from 8-10 hours/week of vigorous cardio & resistance exercise to walking out to pick up my pizza has been a big change in calories expended. Oh well, as the old joke goes, I’m still in shape. Round is, after all, a shape.

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  30. There’s a lot of money to be made in the diet business. I’m still a member of Slimming World having stayed within target for over a year now. I’ve had a couple of blips though, and getting back on the weight wagon can be hard. I’ve been dieting since I was a teenager thanks to being picked on by a teacher at school. It can take you over as you already know, so I hope this works for you. It sounds like you’ve made a promising start. Enjoy the festivities over the holidays. Treat and hugs by proxy for your fur babies. ❤

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  31. Thank you for sharing this part of your life. It has been a difficult thing to honor my body and nourish it in ways that feed it and my well-being. It sounds like it’s off to a great start and that you found a wonderful guide in the process.

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  32. Wow I can’t believe WW did that ? Ya know it’s real easy to lose weight, it’s a lot harder to maintain the loss. That’s what I have major problems with.

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  33. Sounds like an interesting program. I took a mini course on mindful eating and try to slow down and put those ideas into practice, even when I’m really hungry.

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  34. I hope the intuitive eating plan helps you. Best of luck 💕

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  35. Following. Let us know if you get insight into being hungry after breakfast. That one popped up during this pandemic and it’s a 250-calorie pain in the neck!

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  36. I have always liked the idea of intuitive eating and I think that it is probably the most healthy of these eating “trends”, as it enables us to listen to our bodies. However an issue is that it can take a long time to master, and it is sometimes hard to know how hungry we actually are😅

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  37. Great book and glad to have it in my library!

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  38. It seems like I’m always hungry! Even shortly after a big meal. IDK, my mother was like that also?… hungry an hour after eating at a buffet! I did a very slow dropping of about 25 – 30 needed lbs, but now I’ve gained some back. what did workfest was definitely adding more protein AKA protein shakes, but not as a meal replacement, more as a snack so I wouldn’t eat some other crap from work vending machines. Also, eating more often in the day, I had a really bad habit of skipping breakfast, or just coffee and then often, I would be starving by the time I ate! When I learned to add a sausage and egg type breakfast scramble (for about 5 days) to my meal prepping, it really did help also with that and losing weight. Which I’ve gotten away from doing again. I really hope this works for you. Definitely let us know if it helps you!

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  39. Oh, Rachel, Intuitive Eating has made a huge difference in my life and my happiness! I wish you good learning with it, wherever that leads you.

    May you have a refuah schleimah which arrived in it’s own time, real health, genuine wholeness. May we all be healed.

    Fondly

    Ruth

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  40. Hi Rachel,
    This is interesting I hadn’t heard of intuitive eating before. However, I have heard about being more conscious about your eating. I did Weight Watchers before we got married and the points system was quite good because I could steer myself towards less fatal food choices and I knew to stay away from cheesecake.
    Meanwhile, I did a financial management program and it was aiming to make you more conscious of your spending. To write down everything you spend and identify holes in your spending.
    This was so similar to what I learnt at Weight Watchers.
    I’m not great with managing my eating or my money. However, my dad does really well with both. He wears a belt and knows when he has to adjust it and responds immediately. He is very careful about what and how much he eats and he also does a lot of exercise which is great for a 75 year old. He recently had his arteries checked and there’s no sign of plaque. He’s a great role model. He’s very steady and controls his emotions too.
    I need to lose some weight myself, which is nothing unusual. I’d not usually all that bothered but I’ve put on a bit more during covid and would like it to go. Haven’t got on the scales. They’re not working very well and it doesn’t cross my mind with everything else going on here.
    I do notice that I might eat more when things get stressful, especially with the kids. However, I don’t really care about my weight then. i just need to feel better. Relieve the pain.
    Interesting to think about.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

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  41. Bravo to you. Good luck and Happy New Year.

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  42. Honest, lovely post. You are perfect for you. God doesn’t make junk. So…enjoy your new style of eating and give yourself permission to be YOU. God bless.

    Reply

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