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Dieting is a black and white world. You are either on the diet or off. You have succeeded or failed. You are good or bad. These words hold both extremes and judgments. Our society, our lives are centered to be black and white. Your child needs to attend the best school, get the best grades, and never color outside the lines. You need to live in the biggest house, in the best neighborhood, and drive the best car. I suppose it is easier to understand: clear cut.
Intuitive Eating is messier. It is not something you are on or off, succeed at or fail, and it doesn’t make you a good or bad person. It just is. It is a “practice” a way of life. A choice. It is neither black nor white. It is grey. It is not sexy like a diet that promises quick weight loss with glossy photos of flat abs.
And letting go of black and white thinking to get to the grey is not easy. The journey to grey is not linear. It requires letting go of the idea of perfect healthy eating, allowing for “bad” eating, to finally get to healthier eating. You bounce back and forth and then get to the middle and then start all over again. But slowly you get to where you find yourself spending more and more time in the middle. This bouncing is normal. And starting “over” again and again is normal. It is a new way of eating. It takes time. It doesn’t demand perfection just commitment.
My journey in IE started like many others who have had years of restricting food. I went from super healthy to the “other side”. I went from counting calories to eating many meals at my favorite ice cream store. It was joyful since I was now learning to nourish myself by actually allowing myself to eat things I always wanted to eat and actually letting myself enjoy it. But it was also terrifying. I had visions of myself as a huge blob of a person who gave up everything to eat herself to death at the ice cream store. I imagined that people would walk by me sitting on the curb outside the ice cream store in my Mumu dress and say “remember when she was a professional and was so fit and healthy and raise their eye brows at each other as they stepped over me on the way to spin class. This imaginary terror would make me drop my cone and go back to eating “healthy” for a bit until I felt better. I see-sawed this way for a while.
But after eating lots of ice cream and chocolate I slowly found myself wanting more. I discovered much to my surprise that I actually liked more foods than just ice cream and chocolate. In fact, I like good soft warm bread, and roasted cauliflower, and pistachios. The list of foods I wanted to eat got longer and longer. One day I almost fell off my chair when I wanted steamed carrots because it sounded delicious. You see I never thought I would ever like carrots again since it is the food I associate most with dieting. Food slowly become more neutral, more delicious, more varied.
Does this mean I don’t ever find myself back at black and white thinking? Of course not. After spending most of my life thinking in black and white it takes time and commitment to get to grey. I will probably work on this for a very long time. I personally find myself back at black and white thinking and judgment when I am stressed. A sign that I am there is that I catch myself prowling around the pantry looking for something to eat when I am not hungry.
When I notice I am in black and white mode. I will try to listen to what I am telling myself in my head and then try to imagine what the middle might look like. My life coach has taught me that the middle usually includes using the words and/both. I think it also includes a hug.
I start with going from one side to the other. For example, Instead of saying to myself, I eat like crap, I’m fat, and I can’t handle life I practice changing that to: I am a person who eats healthy some days and not so healthy other days. I feel fat some days and not so fat other days. I handle things well some days and not so great other days.
Then I try to go one step further and take out the judgment: I am a person who eats all foods, my body is ok and something I am working to accept with love, and overall I handle life pretty darn well. That is where I add the hug. I give myself a bit of love when I am judging myself so harshly.
So this process of getting to grey with foods also works with life. Being in a neutral, loving place makes both eating and life so much nicer and I find I can handle it so much better. Real life is messy. People are complicated. We are not all or nothing and food is not good or bad. Allowing for this is actually pretty awesome. It allows us to be real. Not a fake glossy picture of airbrushed flat abs that is only as real as the paper it is printed on.
Written by Sarah Gold, MS, RD, LDN, and certified intuitive eating counselor
For more information on Intuitive Eating read: Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, CEDRD and check out intuitiveeating.com.
Sarah Gold is an intuitive eater, dietitian, chocolate lover, and dog lover,