Ten years ago, my cholesterol level finally hit a threshold that my doctor could refer me to a specialist for help with my eating issues. First stop, a nutritionist. The nutritionist agrees that I need more help than she can offer, so we review a list of clinics, therapists and doctors specializing in eating disorders. Some of the places have year-long waiting lists. I cannot wait this long for help. So I call a therapist that runs a group therapy program in Toronto; we meet and discuss my eating history. This was when I first learned of the intuitive eating movement.
After a few individual sessions, I joined an open-ended psychotherapy group. I hate to admit it, but I don’t remember much about the content or format of the group therapy sessions. I think we kicked off each session discussing how our eating went following the intuitive eating rules. Later on, we talked about our emotions, situations, food and eating; attempting to pin-point the reasons for our individual issues. Sometimes we had an activity; something to bolster your self-image. We closed the session with some sort of feel-good ritual.
Looking back, there were two main problems with group (from my perspective) therapy:
1) Despite being a part of this group for at least six months, I didn’t completely understand the intuitive eating rules, specifically, eat what your body wants. You would think that after participating in a group for this length of time, I would know that your body wants healthy foods, and it’s your mind that wants junk food. I also had trouble determining my specific hunger queues. After six months of weekly sessions, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that I would fully understand and capable of executing the intuitive eating rules without a thought.
2) Participation in this group did not bring me any closer to discover the reasons why I was a compulsive and binge eater. I had no answers. I assumed that I was eating for some sort of unresolved traumatic event or relationship. With no answers for my behaviour, I easily slipped out of the intuitive eating mindset shortly after leaving the group.
In cognitive behavior therapy, I discovered that my overeating and binge eating behaviors are reactions to dieting rules, or what I perceive as a dieting rule. So, a big reason why intuitive eating did not work for me is that there are seven rules to follow and rebel against.
Eat only when you are hungry? I’ll eat whenever I want.
Eat what your body wants? Forget about eating healthy, I’ll eat junk food.
Eat without distractions? I’ll eat in front of the TV if I want to.
Eat until satisfied? I’ll eat one or two mouthfuls more than satisfied just because.
Eat with enjoyment? I’m too busy watching TV and chomping down multiple servings of ice cream to enjoy it.
Eat sitting down in a calm environment? Well, I’ll eat my McChicken combo in the car if I want to.
Eat in full view of others? I’ll eat healthy food in front of others, but if I want to pig out, I’ll hide my box of Oreos in my desk.
Again, it’s the all-or-nothing, diet mentality. I had to follow completely or there was no point in trying at all.
Now I know that I overeat and binge to rebel against years/decades of dieting. As a result, I’ve had to alter my ideas on weight loss. I had to come up with my own set of guidelines. And looking back on it, funny enough, I think I may have actually become an intuitive eater by accident.
I eat when I’m hungry (mostly). I now recognize the more subtle signs of hunger (inability to focus, thoughts drift to food) and I am prepared with a healthy snack.
I eat until I’m satisfied. Somehow, through the CBT process, I don’t seem to mentally need food as much anymore. This is a result of telling myself that I can have it if I really want it.
I eat what my body wants (mostly). I’m choosing to eat lots of vegetables and fruit. I look forward to eating healthier meal options. Now that I’ve convinced myself that I can eat anything that I want, it took the magic away from “bad” fat and sugary foods. If I have a “bad” food every once in a while, I don’t worry about it and move on.
As for the other rules (eat with enjoyment, eat sitting down in a calm environment, eat without distraction and eat in full view of others) I would say that I now do those things naturally. I enjoy my food more now since I’m no longer in a frenzy to get to the next mouthful. I will eat a baggie of goldfish in the car, but the need for binge eating has decreased dramatically, so I no longer feel the need to binge in the car. Now that I have children, we seldom have the TV on at mealtimes, but I also don’t worry about it if I have a snack while watching the Bachelorette. It’s relaxing, I enjoy my snack; but it’s not mindless either. And lastly, now that the need for bingeing has decreased, I don’t feel the need to eat in secrecy.
So, there you have it. I did not fully understand all the rules and the group therapy did not help me get any answers as to why I overate and binged on food.
Disclaimer: I should tell you that I no longer have my copies of Geneen Roth’s earlier books on intuitive eating, Why Weight? A guide to Ending Compulsive Eating and Breaking Free from Emotional Eating and I have not read her popular, Oprah-endorsed book, Women Food and God. I haven’t picked up new copies to recall the finer points of each rule. My analysis is based strictly on my memory from 2001/2001 when I participated in an intuitive eating support group in an attempt to resolve my eating issues. In this particular group, we followed Geneen Roth’s seven guidelines for intuitive eating.
Rule 1: Eat when you are hungry
Rule 2: Eat sitting down in a calm environment
Rule 3: Eat what your body wants
Rule 4: Eat in until you are satisfied
Rule 5: Eat in full view of others
Rule 6 & 7: Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure; eat without distractions