So. Let’s talk a little bit about intuitive eating. Both intuitive eating and balancing intuitive eating while stressed.
Without going into much detail, I’m just gonna say that this week has been a fucking dumpster fire. My carefully planned schedule with appointments and color coded meetings in my Bullet Journal? Gone. Completely obliterated.
Every morning for the past week I have woken up believing that I knew exactly how the next 24 hours were going to go. And every single fucking day, life had other plans.
The last couple of posts I’ve talked about the various ways I honor and respect my body as it is right now, and one of those ways — probably the most important way — is by honoring my hunger, in whatever form it takes. I follow intuitive eating and today, I’m going to offer 5 tips on eating intuitively when life sucks.
#1 Emotional eating is not inherently bad
Bet you didn’t see that one coming, amirite?
Think about cake at a birthday party. You’re celebrating someone. You’re happy. Happiness is an emotion. Same with any holiday: turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas cookies.
Of course, when life is a dumpster fire, chances are I’m not doing the happy kind of emotional eating.
But this kind of emotional eating also isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s okay to eat the pint of ice cream. Or the bag of potato chips. Remember, food does not have a moral code. Ice cream is not a “bad” food. Potato chips are not a “bad” food. There are no “bad” foods and it’s okay to use food as a coping mechanism during shitty times.
Here’s the other thing about emotional eating: if it’s the dumpster fire kind, it’s a signal to me that something is going on that I need to address. Right now I know exactly what is happening, but other times I find myself mindlessly eating. Something just feels off but I don’t know what it is and apparently I think I’ll find it at the bottom of a box of cookies (which, again, are not a “bad” food. The eating of the cookies is not the problem, it’s the mindlessly eating of the cookies that is.)
When I catch myself eating mindlessly like that, I take a step back and mentally check in to figure out what is really stressing me out. Maybe it’s the work project due this week or a looming freelance deadline. Emotional eating isn’t always reactionary. Sometimes it’s symptomatic of a bigger issue and once I’ve identified that issue I can make a plan.
#2 Find other coping mechanisms
If you are feeling stressed or depressed and just eating and eating and eating without honoring your hunger or acknowledging your fullness, then it’s not eating intuitively. When we get stressed, it’s important to have other non-food coping mechanisms that will help us get through it. I even keep a self-care list in my bullet journal that I can pull out any time I need it. My list includes things like giving myself a manicure, seeing a movie in theaters, going to therapy, and watching Golden Buzzer videos.
#3 Honor your hunger
You can do both. You can both eat emotionally and eat intuitively all at the same time. When I was grocery shopping yesterday I had the biggest craving for mac and cheese. Not just any mac & cheese, I wanted that Kraft blue box, radioactive orange colored macaroni and cheese. That is one of my ultimate comfort foods.
In a previous life, Kraft mac & cheese was considered a “bad” food because I’d just eat and eat and eat. I’d eat the entire box in one sitting. I always thought it was because I didn’t have any self-control but, really, I just didn’t know how to listen to my body.
Yesterday I bought and made the macaroni and cheese. I ate what I was hungry for and put the rest in the fridge as leftovers. Because I no longer view it as a “bad” food, it’s easy for me to stop eating comfort food when I’m satisfied. Emotional eating while still honoring my hunger.
#4 Know that it’s also okay to not eat
Sometimes eating intuitively means that when life is a dumpster fire I don’t eat at all.
This is not intentional starvation. This is not fasting. This is not restriction or dieting.
This is not being hungry.
Saturday, I basically lived on coffee until about 2 p.m. when I realized I hadn’t eaten and was feeling kind of hungry. But not full meal hungry. Not even light lunch hungry. More like small snack hungry, so I had a little bag of Nut-thins. Mostly because that was what was available and that was it for a few hours until dinner.
So, we go to eat dinner and we end up at Moe’s and I’ve only had 90 calories for the day (and I only know that because it was on the fucking bag of chips. Thanks diet culture) and so I’m getting ready to order something. And, see, this is one of those moments where intuitive eating separates itself from diet culture because previously, I would have opened my Weight Watchers app or My Fitness Pal and calculated how many points or calories I had left in my day and ordered based on that: “Oh! I have 40 points left for the entire day. So let’s order something big and huge even if I’m not really that hungry but if I don’t eat them, I’ll ‘lose’ them.”
I checked in with my body. I looked at the menu and I ended up ordering a salad. Because that’s what I wanted. I didn’t track it or count it, although I can make a rough estimate of how many (or how few) calories I ate that day
Eating is not a zero-sum game. Calories are not “use it or lose it.” Don’t eat just so you can check off your calories or points. It’s like when you go to the store and strawberries are buy one get one and even though you only need one, you buy two because why not and then that second carton sits in your fridge and spoils (uh, not that I’m speaking from experience on the strawberry thing…).
#5 Accept that you will fuck up
As I said in the beginning of this post, life is a dumpster fire right now because there are a lot of shitty things happening and I just have to kind of keep swimming through all the shit and sometimes that means I eat past fullness or don’t honor my hunger or I ignore cues. It happens. Life happens. Perfect eating does not exist and you will fuck up and that’s okay. Your life has more value than what you put into your body and how much you weigh and if you fuck up sometimes, you fuck up sometimes. So if you take only one thing away from this list, let it be that. Let it be the knowledge that one meal, one day, one food does not define you. None of them define you. Your eating behaviors are not a reflection on your worth as a person.