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Intuitive Eating and Where I’m Struggling

             One of the basic arguments against dieting, in the Intuitive Eating Workbook is: A diet mentality is the false belief that weight loss leads to happiness. But this has always felt true to me. As a kid, I was unhappy, and I wanted to believe that there was something I could do to fix it: if I could blame all of my unhappiness and loneliness on my weight, then I could at least hope that someday I’d feel better. In reality, I have lost weight over and over again, and it has never resolved the depression or self-hatred or loneliness, and yet I’m still afraid that if I let go of the belief that weight loss will make me happy, I’m letting go of the hope that I will ever be happy.

            And it was reassuring to have a diet plan to follow. I’ve stayed on diets for months, or years, despite losing no weight at all, because the sense that I was doing the right thing made me feel better, even if it didn’t help me reach my goals.

“Two chickens a day would reassure me.”

            I crave a diet plan to tell me what to eat, how much to eat, how to prepare it, and even when to eat it. Diets feel like safe containers for someone, like me, who has learned to believe that food is dangerous and unpredictable; for someone who is overwhelmed with too many choices and who believes, fundamentally, that her body is wrong and must be controlled and limited and made smaller.

            The problem is that the diets themselves perpetuate those beliefs about the dangerousness of food and the dangerousness of my body. The diet tells me that I can’t survive without it; that I will crash and burn, and there is no alternative, except maybe for another diet. That’s why this transition to a no-diet life is so damn hard; because there is no plan, no safe container, just impossible lessons to learn, like: trust yourself, honor your feelings, respect your own body and wisdom.

            I’m no longer on a specific diet plan (Like Weight Watchers or Noom) and I’m not counting calories or avoiding carbohydrates or fats, but I still have the endless voices in my head telling me that I shouldn’t eat this and I shouldn’t eat that, and if only I lost weight I’d finally be happy. And the voices aren’t just in my own head, they’re everywhere.

“I hear them too.”

            The frustrating thing is that the research on diets has been clear: the majority of people who go on diets gain the weight back, and often gain even more than they’d lost in the first place. And it’s not just that diets don’t work, they actually create health problems, because the cycle of weight loss and inevitable weight gain is worse for the body than maintaining a weight above what the charts suggest. But no one I know actually believes the research. So, are we all in a collective delusion? And how do I escape from a belief system that is constantly reinforced?

            Doctors have been some of the worst offenders in creating shame around my weight. They have blamed any and every health issue on my weight, even when it was clearly unrelated, and they have had no interest in hearing that my health has never improved as a result of weight loss.

            I recently had to see the gynecologist for my yearly checkup, and she said that my health is good except for one thing and you know what that is. But I didn’t know, because I could think of a number of issues that are currently impacting my health. But before I could even try to answer her non-question, she said, it’s your weight. And, she said, You just need to eat less. Then she proceeded to show me what a small portion of food would look like, with her hands.

“No doctors!!!!!!”

            Aside from the fact that I probably know more about dieting than she does, and that the size of food doesn’t determine its caloric value, what she’s ignoring is that being on a diet and just eating less has taught me to feel like a bad person for eating anything.

            When I read in the Intuitive Eating Workbook that if I am hungrier on a given day then I should eat more, I was sure that that rule shouldn’t apply to me, because, of course, I would lie to myself about my hunger level, and sneak food past myself.

When the Intuitive Eating Workbook told me to respect my cravings and learn how to eat those foods when I crave them, and then to stop when I am full, I didn’t know what to do, because I was always told to do anything and everything to distract myself from cravings, and to never give in to them. I was supposed to drink water, or take a bath, or go for a run, to avoid eating the food I really wanted to eat, even if I had no interest in doing any of those things. I automatically assume that if I crave something, or even want something with any intensity, then I shouldn’t have it. I’ve read so many articles that say craving a food is a sign that it is bad for me, and that I will crave exactly the foods I am allergic to and that’s how I’ll know I’m allergic.

            But is that true? Are the things I feel most strongly about the things I should avoid? Then what am I left with? How do I decide what to do if wanting to do something is a sign not to do it?

            Who came up with this shit in the first place?

“Um, you said a bad word.”

            During this year of social distancing, a lot of people have experienced cravings for human contact, cravings so strong that they broke safety protocols to go out to parties or bars or restaurants, because the need for human contact was so insistent. Is it the craving for human contact that’s bad or the way they chose to satisfy that craving?

            My students at synagogue school often crave movement by the time they arrive after a full day of school. They crave it so much that if I don’t create a safe and productive way for them to move, they will move in whatever way they can. I can choose to create a safe environment for them to move in, or I can choose to ignore their need and leave them to disrupt the class or drive themselves crazy, but either way, the kids are going to move; not because they are bad kids, but because they are human.

“Like me!”

            Can I accept that in myself too? Can I ever find a way to give myself permission to be guided by what I want, without worrying that I’m taking the road to hell?

In a recent visit with the nutritionist she said that I was confusing taste hunger with physical hunger, because as long as the food still tasted good I still wanted to eat. Ideally, she said, the yummy taste of the food would diminish as I became full, but that has never been my experience. So we planned out a very specific sequence of actions for me to check in with my physical fullness, and my taste hunger, separately, with the commitment that I would rely on my physical feeling of fullness to tell me when to stop eating, even if the taste hunger persisted.

I want to believe that I can learn how to do this and find a healthier and happier way to eat and live, but it still feels like a fairytale; like something I want to believe in that can’t possibly be true. I still live in a world where everyone thinks they need to be on a diet, no matter what they weigh. I still live in a world where we have no realistic idea of healthy sizes for different bodies, and we judge each other based on standards that fit almost no one. How am I supposed to ignore all of that noise and suddenly learn to trust myself?

            I don’t know yet, but I will keep working on it.

“We’ll eat the leftovers. To help you.”

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.

85 responses »

  1. I don’t want to post publicly because it might offend people but there is a book, “The F*ck It Diet” that is life changing!!! It it beyond intuitive eating. It cover rest and emotional well being and body acceptance at all sizes!!! I highly recommend. My relationship with food has been so dysfunctional and this is the first time I’ve relaxed into living

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Girl, I hear the same voices. Feels like a losing battle.

  3. Wow- i feel the years and the scenarios with you. Breathe. Just breathe. Treasure yourself -and the feelings – they are legit not that you need me typing this…..hug the furries…. breathe.

  4. Could I perhaps interest you in purchasing some Girl Scout cookies today?

  5. This is a very powerful post that I think any and every person has known to be true, at various times in life. I commend you for your constant honesty and sharing truths that are so personal and so familiar to so many of us. I wish you much success in your journey. As I cannot offer fixings, I can offer you a reminder that you know YOU best and always will. Keep your mind person and soul at as much peace and self reassurance as you can. Especially during these trying times . Best wishes .

  6. Oh, Rachel, you are a gifted writer, astute and intuitive. You speak to many humans, particularly women, and especially to ME, in your last post! I will go looking for the book mentioned by another responder, “The FuckIt Diet”. The struggle is real, as they say, and no matter what weight control I have achieved this year, I still feel much fear and anxiety about my shape and size. It’s a love-hate relationship with food because we can’t break up with it altogether! I am sending courage from afar. 🥰

  7. Julia Tannenbaum

    It’s so hard when those voices come from both your own mind AND the diet-obsessed world we live in. I used to constantly worry about food to the point where it dominated my life. It’s not perfect now but it’s much better. I’m rooting for you 100% and think you’re so brave and inspiring for not only addressing this with your nutritionist in hopes of making a positive change but also using your platform to increase awareness of these very real issues.

  8. I feel for you, Rachel. I’ve done diets and eat plans. Now I do something which experts tell me not to do. I weigh myself daily. It gives me a guide on what the day should be like with respect to food. I also look at the way it’s trending and plan the food intake for a few days in advance. It’s like a titration experiment so when the trend isn’t changing or going up, I make a change. If the trend is down, I stick with it. I know this doesn’t work for everyone. It’s a matter of finding what works for you.

  9. A very timely post for me. I was about to check out Noom because of the ads on tv with all those happy people who have lost weight and no longer crave a piece of cake.
    I was thinking today that one of my greatest failures in life has been my inability to eat the “right” foods as a regular way of life. And now you have given me the perfect term: taste hunger. Yep. I am eat up with that.

  10. Many medications change your metabolism, causing weight gain or preventing weight loss, but doctors won’t admit this, probably because they prescribed the meds. For myself, I’ve found it doesn’t matter whether I watch what I eat or if I eat like a pig (like during holidays)–I stay the same. So I just try to eat healthy but allow occasional indulgences. I’m glad they decided chocolate is healthy.

  11. agingfaithandcreativity

    I’m not one to offer advice on diets. I’ve had issues with my weight since I was a kid. I’m now 69 and on a fluid and sodium restricted GI soft/cardiac diet. And, in all honesty, the only way I can stick with it is to focus on taste. Find the foods I can still eat and enjoy them. I tried the Mediterranean diet before my heart surgery and thought I lost 65 pounds. Until the last 20 pounds fell off in 10 days and I was diagnosed with cancer. So, I’m definitely not one to comment on diets. The bottom line is the truth that God loves us unconditionally. Never forget that! You’re a blessing Rachel!!

  12. This is why I like my doctor, I think because he’s young. I feel like he actually listens. You know your body, end of the day. If you don’t feel it’s right, only you can really change it. I’m currently on cholesterol medication, but I know my whole family has high cholesterol. The only people who have had heart attacks are the ones who have always abused their bodies. But I also don’t mind, because if it helps reduce it, that’s not a bad thing either, lol. Only problem is I think the increase is causing stomach issues for me. I’m actually going to go and talk to him this week about it.

    • The whole putting stuff in her/his hands to show a smaller portion is a bit silly too. All foods have different things in them, good and bad. I’m not even a doctor and I know this. Also depending how that foods be processed makes a difference too. I went on a diet a couple of years ago, I bought gluten free stuff because it was in the “Healthy” section. When I actually READ it, the amount of sugar!

    • It’s great to have a doctor you can trust!

  13. This is so powerful, Rachel. Thank you for sharing. Also? I wanted to smack your gynecologist. She was so out of line. Grrr.

  14. I would like to say something different, that may or may not be helpful. It’s my belief that it is biologically normal and natural to eat more calories than we need, if they are available. Most animals will (hence overweight pets). We are programmed to do this and our brains will try to trick us into doing this, if we’re not paying attention. We will “forget” that we had a snack or underestimate calories/overestimate portions. It’s normal. To lose weight (and not gain it back), we have to make peace with feeling hungry. There is no other trick. I find it helpful to record everything I eat to avoid my brain sabotaging me…

  15. The Bald Birder

    Thanks for liking my posts over the weeks and months @rachelmankowitz Wishing you well with your journey.

  16. Even as you write of the anguish of this struggle, your humour shines through in your photograph captions.

  17. I can relate to this 200%!! a few years back, I had at least two different doctors tell me all I need to do to resolve my chronic pain: was drop 20 lbs! Well prior to last year, I had done that, actually 30! but I did it really slowly … and it took me about 2 years to lose all 30… and then, last year I gained half back because I got away from a lot of what worked. Well after the 30 lb **was gone** nothing changed with my chronic pain. I feel like I brought it up with a different doctor and they just kind of shrugged or something, and said I needed to stretch/exercise more maybe? I think you and I have the same problem with “taste hunger”!! 😐😔 Frustrating…

  18. I’m waiting for a technological solution.

  19. Losing weight is so often associated with happiness in western society. But I never once met a happy anorexic.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  20. Oh, Rachel, I hear and share your pain (or is it panic?)! I battle CONSTANT taste hunger, and it doesn’t help that I take medications that require me to take them with food, so I end up eating even when I’m not hungry! I’ve never tried any of those diets that require you to eat their foods because I’m a very picky eater so I’d pick through and eat only what I like, then still be hungry! I believe what would work for me more than I use it is portion control plus being limited to only being allowed to have healthy foods in my home! I am my own worst enemy in that regard. I (subconsciously) chose to become overweight to avoid being ‘attractive’ due to sexual abuse in my early life, and as I’ve struggled with ego and self-confidence, one of the voices tells me that if someone can’t accept me as being overweight, then I don’t need them in my life! My friend, it is in endless cycle – and if you find the path through and out of the cycle, please share!

  21. I learned so much from this post. Two things in particular strike me. Equating losing weight with happiness is a big issue for me. When my weight was on its way to its highest (my first few post-army years) and my depression was also super high, I kept reminding myself that when I was downright slender after basic training, I was still depressed. I do feel proud of myself at odd moments as the weight goes down; feeling cute sometimes cheers me up. But, despite the messages we get from all around us, losing weight is not the miracle cure. The other issue I hadn’t thought about was diet as a means of feeling in control. This is HUGE with people with eating disorders, which I don’t think I have. Oh, three things, not two, because I SO identify with the doctor thing! Just be a few pounds overweight and they look no further for any means to help you. It is very frustrating. I hope you find some happiness and a resaonable amount of content with your body. Pet your dogs for me!

  22. I tried diet plans too, but they don’t work for me, discipline is one of keys hard to keep when we allow someone to upset us and we binge .. I am finally on WFPB and I don’t count calories. New trouble is ,my other half said I am not fun to be with cause there isn’t a lot of places to eat out when you eat veg and potatoes and no meat or you just can’t win. I often use pray now and it works. Hubby wanted to go Chicken place- I can’t stand eating fouls yuk, so I said pray and suddenly I noticed a Chinese restaurant across street, the Lord softened his heart , I got out of car went across street to get my meal when he got through long line in drive up he came over picked me up. He can be controlling as he hates to go to more than one drive up.I think its stupid that he isn’t more flexible.

  23. Like you, I struggled for many years doing this fad diet and that ‘safe’ one. Finally, I said to myself “this is b.s.” and I just stopped dieting. I’ve heard that garbage about ‘if you’d lose XX pounds you’d feel SO MUCH BETTER’ from countless medical personnel and now I just nod and do exactly what I was doing before. With the result that while I’m not thin (nor ever will be), I stay within a range. I allow myself to feel okay with that. I AM happier (as much as possible) too.

    There are a couple of things that impact your weight struggle and you might know of them or you might not. I speak from personal experience as well as professional (I was told by a dietician who ran a diet ‘clinic’). Those of us who have experienced trauma as children tend to have weight ‘problems’ as adults. Eating disorders. Food, for some of us, becomes a comfort, something we can control and which makes us feel better. It’s difficult to lose weight as long as we still feel traumatized (even subconsciously).

    I was at the clinic at the same time as another woman who had struggled with plateauing (where you reach a weight and cannot lose below it). She was within 20 pounds of her goal. One meeting (we held a group meeting once a week, weighed in, and so forth) she came in with the exciting news that she’d lost ten more pounds. She had gotten counseling and it helped her overcome some issues she didn’t even know she was still dealing with. She felt ‘safer’ and the weight came off. The instructor used her as an example and said it was evident that a lot of people ‘hold’ onto weight as a barrier to the hurtful outside world. I don’t know your struggle nor if any of those factors apply, but at least for me? The less I allow what others think of my physical person or my habits, the easier it is to eat in a healthy way. Because I make that choice for myself, not because some other person is pushing me to do it nor because of the ugly inner voices we all hear from time to time.

    My best wishes go with you on this journey. It’s not an easy road.

  24. Oh Rachel, I sympathise with the GP saying it’s your weight. I had YEARS of that, and one male doctor told me the only way I’d lose weight was to have 300 calories a day. My second word was OFF as I left the surgery and I never went back. I eventually found a decent doctor who explained that over the years I had screwed up my body so much that no matter what I ate, or in what quantities, I would not lose weight as my body had gone into panic starvation mode and stored everything. It’s taken over 20 years to get me where I am now, over five stones lighter, and I understand food better. The fad diets are terrific short term (I even went to a health club and was trussed up like a mummy for four hours to lose inches) but the weight piles back on and more when you finish the course or can no longer afford the products. Slimming World (like weight watchers) helped me and I am sticking with their guidelines, though do eat the naughty stuff…. sometimes often, sometimes not at all. I found keeping a food diary helped, including days when I was feeling out of sorts and that does reflect in our eating habits. We have to find the foods we like, then work out for ourselves what we can have the most of, and what has to be in moderation.
    There is a lot of money to be made in the the diet industry, and sadly some tend to strip away people’s confidence and sense of self worth in the process. We can’t all be Twiggy and curves are OK to be generous. Be yourself, be content with yourself and who you are. Covers are all well and good, but it’s what inside that counts, and you are beautiful .

  25. “… if I could blame all of my unhappiness and loneliness on my weight, then I could at least hope that someday I’d feel better” This resonates deeply w/ those of us who have had weight issues.

  26. Hi Rachel, Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m on a similar journey of listening to the gentle voice of wisdom/intuition re when and what to eat…but also how easy it is to ignore it and fall back into the old patterns. Oh how the critical voices have a field day with that one!!. But what do they know about anything,anyway? Not much apart from some outdated story they think I have the slightest bit of interest in!! Happy health to you and your four leggeds, from me and mine.

  27. I hear you saying that you need rules and structure. And you aknowledging that traditional diets are a bust. I would like to suggest the Dr. Gundry “diet.” Although my husband and I have lost weight on it, that is not it’s purpose. It’s purpose is to reliminate lectins from our diet, thus allowing our guts to heal and us to experience good health and longevity. There is no food amount limitation. There ARE foods that are very bad with lectins that should not be eaten. We got the actual books so we could write in them. Anyhow, just a thought, and if you want to know more you can google dr Gundry.

  28. Sweet little dogs 🙂 xo

  29. is ever ever enough to make us feel good about ourselves, hear something enough U start to believe it, then we start saying it to ourselves our critical self talk.?Say something enough times and you start to believe it.if you always wore Pink lenses in your glasses the sky would always look pink, it seems pink cause that’s all you’ve ever known. not true You might believe the sky is pink seems true to you. put a rubber band on yr wrist and snap it every time you say or think something critical about yourself snap it. is hock to see how many times a day we criticize ourselves . say something enough times and U start start tobelieve it counteract every mean criticism by saying something positive, even if you don’t believe it. thoughts are powerful. David Burns has awesome books, a student of Jung. cognitive theory. sorrh for being so presumptuous to think I know just what you should do. I’m admit i’m David Burns zealot.

    i really think helps us to gain control Sent from my iPhone


  30. Gentle hugs. Some doctors are much better about those conversations than others.
    I have been reading Wahls Protocol, which is based on nutrition science (unlike just about every diet out there). The idea is to choose foods that provide the nutrients we need. 3 cups of leafy greens for vitamins B,A,C, and K; 3 cups of brightly colored fruits & veggies for antioxidants & various vitamins & minerals, and 3 cups of sulfur-rich foods along with animal protein (which is huge since Dr. Wahls was a vegetarian when she began her research and discovered that there is no way to get all the nutrients we need without eating meat). Anyhow, I have been trying to split all the veggies up to get 1C of each category at every meal and it’s amazing how much better I feel – and my plates look like restaurant-quality fancy meals.

  31. I relate to this very strongly. I’m just about to post on this very subject!

  32. At home, mom did all the cooking and wouldn’t let me in the kitchen. When I moved out, I had a roommate who took charge, as I didn’t know how to boil an egg. But I started learning there. So when I moved on my own, and (finally!) there was no one to decide for me, I naturally asked myself what do I feel like eating. It always felt as if my body is telling me what it needs.
    It has been a little over three decades since. I am still alive, relatively well and active, happy when I can be (but life has a way to mar that sometimes).
    So it is doable. You just need to find your own way to do it. And that may take some time, as it is new to you still, and a process that cannot be shortened…
    And find other doctors 🙂

  33. Watch your language, the pups say 🙂 ..good writing, insights.. on the food thing, another blogger posted this today.. take a look..

  34. Keep up the good work with your relationship with food and your sweet dogs.

    I hope all of your work will pay off and someday you will wake up like me and it won’t even be a thought again!!!! It’s sooooo freeing!!! 💖

  35. Good post. Do what I finally did, hire a doctor who needs to go on a diet too lol

  36. Pingback: Intuitive Eating and Where I’m Struggling — rachelmankowitz | THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON...

  37. Hi Rachel,
    Your honest words help so much. Especially, the comments from Cricket really hit home.

  38. Thanks for sharing this post…your insights, and your humorous interjections from the pooches! Your story inspires me to check in with myself, not just with eating but with other “cravings” and what they are telling me. ❤


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