Monday, March 20, 2017

Intuitive Eating: Not the Hunger-Fullness Diet

After my 3 month stay in IP at age 18, I was given a meal plan to follow and had weekly meetings with a dietician back at home to help me stick to it.  We had read some articles and book chapters on intuitive eating during my IP stay, and had taken a few steps toward eating that way.

For example, people who were nearly weight-restored were allowed to leave a couple bites of food on our plates at meals.  We had snack challenges where we could meet individually with a dietician during a scheduled snack time and we were given a snack that was higher in calories than the one on our plan.  We were encouraged to eat it mindfully and leave behind whatever we weren't hungry for.  I remember doing this kind of snack challenge with my dietician and feeling surprised when there came a moment where I just wasn't really hungry for the treat anymore and could easily stop eating it.  She told me to keep the leftovers and either throw them away or eat them later.  This was meant to help me trust myself around the food.  I felt a sense of pride being able to throw away the rest of the snack and not feel like I really cared either way if I had kept it or not.

In the less intensive last few weeks of the program, we had restaurant challenges and also snack challenges where we ate out at ice cream places.  At these we were encouraged to follow some basic guidelines (like eating at least half of the entree and all the sides, or maybe at least half the ice cream) but beyond that, we were supposed to listen to our appetite.  I think we even had a "pot luck" group meal where we were supposed to try a little of every dish and then get more of what we liked if we were still hungry.  We were also able to shop for and pick all our snacks at the less intensive program, and we chose menus and cooked food in our housing groups which helped us decide what sorts of things we liked or didn't like.

At the time, I was ready for these challenges and they did help me learn to trust my body.  After treatment, having a combination of a meal plan and partial intuitive eating was useful even though I did eventually relapse.  However, it was clear that some of the people in treatment were not at all ready for even this fairly structured verssion of intuitive eating.  Some girls said they still weren't hungry for anything, ever and only ever ate the bare minimum requirements.

Some people, when allowed to leave 2-3 bites on their plates, could be seen to be portioning out the biggest possible bites into 3 piles, ready for inspection by the meal supervisor.  This particular behavior was kind of frustrating to watch since I thought it should be obvious to the professionals that this was definitely not intuitive eating, and yet I didn't see anyone get challenged on it.

When I stopped purging for good at age 20, my body was absolutely ravenous.  I had some weight I needed to regain at that point, and I did a lot of bingeing/reactive eating.  Sometime after that, I started to slide into bingeing followed by exercise compensation.  But at age 23, I got deadly serous about stopping all forms of ED.  I was so ashamed that, having claimed to be recovered, my eating and exercise were still so disordered.  So I decided to re-tackle intuitive eating, with a vengeance!  This time, though, I didn't have a meal plan to go along with it.

I became like a drill sargeant with myself. I wouldn't let myself eat a bite beyond what I felt hungry for.  If I did, I would analyze my behavior into the ground, picking apart the likely "triggers."  I completely stopped exercising or weighing myself.  Yet I dropped weight quickly as was obvious from the fit of my clothes.  Probably some of this was muscle lost fhat I'd gained from excessive exercise, but also, I had been over my IP-given weight range, which I saw as further proof that my bingeing was "ridiculously out of control."  I didn't give myself any mercy or think that maybe my body just needed that extra weight from years of starvation and semi-starvation.  And eventually, having lost too much weight by my self-imposed hunger/fullness diet (which I thought was the same as intuitive eating), I started occassionally bingeing again and really being angry with myself.  I didn't weigh myself so I didn't see the pattern of small wieght-loss followed by a binge, followed by more semi- "intuitve eating" and small weight-loss, followed by another binge.  I didn't really figure it out until I started weighing again.

Before I figured it out, I had become obsessed with hunger and fullness.  I could tell within a bite when I stopped being hungry and then thought I had to stop eating at that bite since I was "fulll."  I thought constantly about each bite and every sensation it created.  I thought that's what I had learned to do in IP, but didn't take into account the additional structured meal plan that had helped balance the intuitive eating.  I would find that within half an hour of eating and being "satisfied," I would feel hungry again.  But I wouldn't be sure if it was hunger or not.  Maybe it was anxiety.  If it was, I shouldn't eat more, or at least that's what I thought.  How could I tell?  I thought about it a good portion of the time.

Eventually, I did recover, but I had to stop analyzing every bite and every sensation in my stomach.  Intuitive eating is a lot more than strictly eating when hungry and stopping when "full" (or "not hungry").  When I did that, I was losing weight and setting myself up for binge after binge.  It was awful.

After time, I gained intuitions about how to eat until feeling pleasantly full (not just until "not hungry").  And I also learned that it was also normal just to eat a meal without thinking much about hunger and fullness.  I kept track of my weight just enough to use as external evidence to help me make sure I wasn't undereating because of my intuitions being off.  I didn't want to continue the accidentally restrict/then binge pattern.

These days, I don't spend much time thinking about hunger and fullness.  I definitely eat when I'm hungry, but I hardly think about how I feel after a meal.  I just get on with my day.  Sometimes I feel a little too full after a meal, but it doesn't stress me out and I no longer feel at all any need to dig into "the underlying reason" for why I ate more than I strictly "needed" (whatever that means!).  Generally, eating extra only happens when I eat too fast or the food is just really good and worth eating extra of.  My weight is very stable to the point that I don't weigh myself often since it is boring to always just see about the same weight come up each time.

I definitely wouldn't recommend intuitive eating to someone who isn't weight-restored (or nearly there).  And it's good to start with a structured plan as a minimum requirement.  It's possible to transition out of this later to more complete intuitive eating, but it's good to have someone making sure one isn't losing weight during the process.  There is potential for relapse during the transition time, so it's something to be aware of.  Also, there are different ways of eating intuitively, so really, there is nothing black and white about it, so be careful if it ever starts to feel that way.

1 comment:

  1. I did exactly the same with intuitive eating. I decided to stop weighing and counting calories and went along with 'what my body wanted.' I was underweight in the first place, and had real trouble eating when I perceived I 'wasn't hungry' so I did lapse into a pattern of literally not eating at all for weeks on end, and then having an all out binge every few weeks or so, and I lost a tonne of weight, more so than I did when I was actively trying to lose, and I couldn't understand why at the time (laughably!) because I was 'eating when I was hungry.' I think if you're not a healthy weight to start with, or you've been messing about with food for years, it's really not a good idea, and the whole psychological side doesn't help too, because I've always had this thing about 'excess' and 'greed' which is pure ED!

    I like the idea of intuitive eating, and I really envy people who can. I've accepted I might not ever be able to do it though, and that's ok.