Thursday, March 18, 2010

Building a Bridge from ED to Intuitive Eating, Part 8: Nature's Perfection... The way you were born to eat


As promised, we are now going to gently guide ourselves back into a natural pattern of eating according to bodily signals of hunger and fullness. Now that a solid nutritional foundation is in place and a sense of balance has been restored, the transition into natural, instinctive eating can be carried out with a sense of ease. For those who have attempted to grasp intuitive eating in the past but found it a struggle, you will discover that you feel more supported this time around.

If you have applied the approach that has been outlined in the, "Building a Bridge" series over the past three weeks, your body has been led closer to a state of equilibrium. Physically, you feel nurtured. You have greater clarity. Your mood is lighter and clearer. You have likely noticed that the signals of hunger that eluded you in the past are now coming through consistently like clockwork. As you take these first steps to trust your body and its communication, you do so from a new foundation. What once seemed complicated will now become easy to integrate. Finally out of your head and into your body, you will simply eat. It is an amazingly freeing experience.

Much like the first phase of this approach, there is a three week transitional period. Certain elements will remain in place as a life practice of self-care. In reality, the act of eating can never be a totally intuitive experience. For a state of balance to be fostered it is necessary to blend intuition with common sense. To try to divorce one from the other is to create division within yourself. It's like rejecting part of your natural makeup. This is largely why so many intuitive approaches fail. It is also the reason fad diets mire us in the over-thinking that disconnects us from our bodily wisdom. There needs to be a marriage of common sense with intuition in order for balance to take root.

Just as you can't cut yourself off at the head and have a totally 'heady' experience, you also can't disconnect from that beautiful brain of yours. Otherwise, chaos would reign. There would be people worldwide taking long walks off short planks and wondering how they landed themselves in such hot water. In the book, "Health At Every Size", By, Linda Bacon, PhD, there is reference to the experience of cavemen. Somehow they managed to survive without best-selling diet books, nutritionists, and 'experts' to guide them in their eating practices. This is because the act of eating is a biological event. It is hardwired into our genetic makeup. It doesn't require an instruction manual. However, if those same cavemen didn't also rely on common sense they never would have survived the ravages of winter. After bringing home the bounty of the hunt they may have been tempted to wolf down their lion's share, but they understood intellectually that they may not come across such bounty so readily in the future. Game was portioned and preserved to help the tribe survive during lean times. It is clear to see that we need to use all of our faculties when it comes to our self-care.

Another point that bears mentioning is that our current climate of convenience is a far cry from what it was even 50 years ago. There have been a lot of changes in the way we produce food, along with our current ease of access. We have more food availability and options now than at any point in history. As a species, we are evolving. Our bodies adapt to their environmental circumstances. However, in terms of genetic evolution, 50 years is a mere drop in the bucket. We have not adapted physiologically to the factory produced foods that grace most Americans tables.

Back when our parents were kids, dining out was a special event, not a regular thing. Meals were cooked at home and were balanced. Fruits and vegetables regularly found their way to the table. Foods were closer to the source, not so highly processed. People sat down to eat and used meal time as an opportunity for connection with their loved ones. They weren't eating on the run, shoving food in their mouths as they rushed out the door, or chowing down absentmindedly in the car on the way to work. They weren't using food as anesthesia, zoning out in front of the TV with seemingly bottomless bags of man-made snacks engineered to make their taste buds crave more. Mom made treats for movie watching in her own kitchen. She served up wholesome goodies like homemade cookies, freshly popped popcorn, or a batch of her famous brownies.

There is also another distinct difference between the way we live now and yesteryear. There were no video games back in the day. Computers had yet to take center stage. TV viewing was limited. People got out and about more. They connected with others. They found pleasure in more social activities. Kids didn't plop down in front of the tube and waste their days away. They were outside riding their bikes, building tree forts and having outdoor adventures. Dances were a popular social pastime. People moved more. Without all the modern trappings, people had to get up and do things for themselves.

The reason why we are seeing such a decline in our health has everything to do with the way our environment has shifted, along with the damaging message of the diet industry. The spin doctors of these corporations want you to be confused. Their wallets grow fatter the more confusion prevails. You have been programmed to believe that eating is complicated and that you need a trained 'expert' or the latest 'it' diet to guide you in one of the most intimate affairs... the nurturing of your body. The truth is, eating is simple. You were born to eat in a natural, uncomplicated way, but industry doesn't want you to know this because it would affect their profits. This is why 'Big Food', the beauty myth and the diet industry will set you up for failure every time. It's nothing more than a numbers game for these snake oil purveyors. They care nothing about you or your well-being.

It is impossible to look at our current state of health without considering the environment we are living in. Again, our common sense has to come into play. To try to discard this aspect is to muddy the waters.

When you were an infant, you didn't pull out a measuring cup to portion yourself out a serving of your mother's breast milk. You also didn't concern yourself with how that milk was going to affect your body size. You ate because you were hungry and your body demanded that fuel. Without it, you would perish. When you look at it this way, it seems completely asinine. However, in kitchens worldwide millions of people feel completely lost when it comes to feeding themselves. Make no mistake. It is not an accident. This is calculated confusion.

We were never meant to eat this way. We aren't designed to waste away. We are built to survive. Our bodies will resist us tooth and nail in our vain attempt to whittle ourselves to a size that will fit in the cookie cutter mold of the prevailing beauty ideal. Rather than blaming our bodies we need to recognize that they are responding appropriately. Our bodies are doing their job. In fact, the so-called 'obesity epidemic' is largely fueled by propaganda carefully planted by industries who stand to profit from our fear. Our expanding waistlines are our natural survival reaction to existing in the climate of semi-starvation that diets have created along with a reliance on foods that our great grandmothers wouldn't even be able to recognize. What we have here is a case of wag the dog. If we all believe that our lives are in danger because of our body size and we bear the brunt of the blame, won't there be an increase in demand for the quick fix promise of a diet? After all, according to media we are the ones who have dropped the ball. The overwhelming message is that we can't be trusted and need to rely on the professionals to resolve this crisis in the state of our nation's health. Corporations are well aware of the power of fear-based marketing. Here is the truth. We need to eat to thrive and well at that. It's time to stop putting the focus on body size and instead direct our attention where it really counts... on our health.

That's where the, "Building a Bridge" series comes in. In a very real sense, this has been a reeducation. We had to unlearn all the messages the diet industry has filtered through to us via the media. Now that we understand how to nurture our bodies well we can return to the way we were born to eat.

It will be important to continue to have breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. If you are not eating these three meals, you are under-eating and doing biological harm to your body that will prevent you from restoring health. I encourage you to continue to eat your breakfast within an hour of rising. This simply makes common sense. Why work against your body when you can get your day off to a solid start? Continue to be mindful of the composition of your meals as outlined in the preceding installments of this series. A balanced meal will include quality carbohydrates, protein and produce. If you have any questions about this, review part 6 of the, "Building a Bridge" series. This portion of the presentation boiled down balanced nutrition to its purest, most accessible form. Snacks will now be optional. If you become hungry in-between meals, it makes sense to have a snack. In fact, it's helpful to always have a small, portable snack on your person such as a grab bag of nuts and dried fruit, trail mix, a granola bar, or other quick and easy fuel that won't spoil. This way, if you get caught in a pinch and your hunger catches you off-guard, you are prepared.

You will no longer be planning the timing of your meals with the exception of breakfast. It truly is the most important meal of the day, especially when an individual has a history of eating disorder. Skipping breakfast leaves the gateway open for ED behavior to enter. In order to prevent this backlash it is essential to start your day with some nourishment.

For three weeks you are going to utilize a technique that will help you adjust to listening to your bodily cues to guide your eating experiences. When you are done eating breakfast, note what time it is. Add five hours to this finish time and log the result in your journal. For example, let's say you finished eating breakfast at 8:30 am. Adding five hours to this time would give you a time of 1:30 pm. You would write 1:30 pm in your journal as a reminder to eat by this time if you have not felt your hunger kick in before then. The reason for this is that you should avoid going for more than five hours without food. At that point, all the food from your previous meal is long gone. You need to nourish your body with fuel so you don't become depleted or court blood sugar fluctuations. Every time you eat, note your finish time and add five hours, then logging the result in your journal. This will ensure that you continue to take care of your basic needs if your hunger signals remain a little foggy.

You will only need to employ this reminder technique for three weeks. Within that period of time, you will fall into your own individual rhythm and pattern with your hunger signals. There will no longer be a need to remind yourself to eat. It will be automatic. If you think about it, it's pretty exciting to consider that in only three more short weeks you will be back to eating in a completely natural body-driven way. You will simply eat. Consider this helpful tool the training wheels that will prepare you to ride free.

Another element that will come into play at this point is paying attention to your fullness. Throughout the nutritional rehabilitation period you likely experienced a reality check about the bare minimum amount of food your body needs in order to function optimally. I know this was a very awakening part of the experience for me and probably the aspect that had the greatest healing impact. Coincidentally, you are now going to be ahead of the game. Your body has recalibrated and your sense of fullness is going to be more clear to you than it was in the past. If you continue to have a little fuzziness in this area, simply try to inject more awareness into your eating experiences. Pay attention to the sensations in your body when eating. True fullness will leave you with a warmth in your belly. You will be able to feel the food in your stomach. There will be a sense of substance there. You will know you have found the groove when you feel completely satisfied and content after your meal.

If you happen to overeat a little in these beginning stages of listening to your body be patient with yourself. Try not to over-emotionalize the experience. It really is no big deal. Since you will now be eating when you are hungry, your body will balance it out. You may find your appetite is held over a little longer when you overeat. You might be used to having your hunger come forward about every three hours. A meal overeaten will likely hold you over for a bit longer than usual, edging you closer to that five hour mark. Your body will make the necessary adjustments if you allow it to lead the way. There is no need for guilt or worry.

At the end of these next three weeks take a moment to acknowledge all the progress you have made. You are now a natural eater and can get on with the rest of your life. Congratulations!

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