[eating disorder, food, calories numbers]
I have been throwing myself into intuitive eating for a fortnight now. In some ways, I am astonished with my progress as I haven’t binged and binging feels very far away. In other ways, I am frustrated that I am still getting all those disordered and painful thoughts.
For around a week before I really committed to intuitive eating, I tried some of the techniques of mindful eating (the book calls it ‘conscious eating’ in places as it predates the rise of the term ‘mindfulness’) but was still calorie counting, weighing and measuring all my food and weighing myself every day as I had done every day for nearly two years. My eating definitely improved with the mindful eating as my binge urges were easier to cope with but they were still frequent and insistent. Even looking back from a fortnight, I am amazed that I coped with how bad those binge urges were. It was pretty fucking horrendous at times and felt really desperate. No wonder I binged and binged so badly sometimes. I had a 4500 calorie binge on Monday 27th May and that was my last totally out of control binge. When I say 4500 calories, I mean that I added it up from the packets so it’s not a haphazard guess. I have had bigger binges in the past but I still find that number pretty shocking. I had a further, smaller binge of 1500 on Thursday 30th May which was triggered by seeing that I overeaten according to my calorie counting app during the day and then thinking “fuck it, I’ve ruined everything anyway”. This is a cognitive distortion called dichotomous thinking and also known as ‘black and white thinking’ or ‘all or nothing thinking’. I felt less out of control during this last binge but it was still a binge.
Now I am continuing the mindful eating, as much as I can while trying to be realistic and not fall into rigid perfectionism, and have stopped my dieting behaviours. I haven’t weighed myself since Monday 27th May and the only food I have measured has been while following recipes other than rice which I don’t know how else to cook a reasonable amount. I have sometimes been calorie counting roughly in my head. It seems to be a way to soothe and reassure myself that I am not eating ‘too much’ but it often backfires and I get anxious about the number I come up with. I spent two years determining how much food to eat based on a glorified calculator on my phone. I picked up rules and advice and recommendations some of which, maybe all of it, is bound to be bullshit and applied them to how many and what kind of calories my body received in a meal or a snack. No flexibility. Nutrition is so incredibly complex and I thought I could work it out in a few minutes on free app on my phone. Instead, now I am using my inbuilt system of analysing how many and what kind of calories my body needs. These internal hunger and satiety cues will supposedly meet all my body’s nutrtional needs and do it in real time too. I am still not 100% convinced that it will work on me as I am worried that I have broken my internal cues beyond repair by dieting. But I know that this last diet, while successful in the conventional sense in that I lost over 100lbs, also gave me binge eating disorder again, hammered my mood and took up swathes of my time and energy. It couldn’t continue as it was.
My major obstacle to trying intuitive eating is my fear of gaining my weight back. I was treated like shit when I was a fat person and my life is a lot easier now. It is partly aesthetics too but I actually look worse undressed as I am on the bad end of the spectrum for how much loose skin I have been left with. I just feel much more acceptable and therefore safer in an average sized body. So I am afraid of gaining weight and going back.
Two of the principles of intuitive eating are giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and to eat when you are hungry. Because I have dieting for so long, I have intense feelings of deprivation and don’t feel secure at all that my need for food is going to be met. I feel like I am just going to force myself to go hungry. I am lucky in that I still feel hunger despite my dieting, though I don’t feel it with much subtly, and I am trying to eat whenever I am hungry and what sounds the most appealing and gives me the most satisfaction (another principle). It is common for people to have a healing process at the start of trying intuitive eating where they eat a lot of ‘junk’ or ‘treat’ foods (which the authors call play foods) as a rebound to the deprivation of dieting. The foods you weren’t allowed are the ones that look the most appealing now you can have anything. They say that if you eat them when you are hungry, really savour them and stop when you are satisfied then those foods will lose their power and hold over you and you will eventually genuinely only want them occasionally. Ha, I thought, bet that’s rubbish and just another mind trick to make you eat less calories with less effort. Ha, I have found out that it’s actually true.
Like a lot of dieters, once I opened a packet of something not usually allowed, like a bar of chocolate, I feel compelled to finish it. It’s because I didn’t know when I was going to be allowed it again so I felt like I had to make the most of this current laxity. Never could manage “just one biscuit” or “just one square of chocolate”. One slip of the rules and it was often a full binge. But I currently have four opened and partially eaten bars of chocolate, and two unopened bars, in my cupboard. I have a craving for a particular type of chocolate and I go and buy it. Some wait in the cupboard as they then don’t appeal anymore. After dinner, when I want something sweet like I almost always do, I put one or two squares on a plate and eat them at the table as mindfully as I can. Somehow, and it feels like magic, something feels soothed and completed and when I think “I could have more now” then I think “nah, maybe later” or just not really bothered. It’s very strange. The fact that I know the chocolate is there and I know that I can go and get it whenever the hell I want makes me seriously consider if I really want it. I am not even sure anymore if I actually like milk chocolate. It doesn’t taste that special. If I had read this a month ago I would have thought that the writer was just lying to themselves in an effort to eat less but it seems this isn’t a mind trick as I thought but just the way (most?) human brains work.
I am trying to reassure myself that the other intuitive eating techniques will work as well the ones as I have used with the chocolate. If that bit works then maybe the advice that I won’t gain much weight if I thoroughly follow my hunger and satiety cues will also work. It’s a leap of faith and I think I am finally ready to take the risk.