Thursday, March 18, 2010

Building a Bridge from ED to Intuitive Eating, Part 7: Finding the Balance... My experience


Three weeks ago the, "Building a Bridge" series was launched at, "The Big Fat Lie" and "Through Thick and Thin" sites. I have been applying this approach alongside other members of our community with phenomenal results. Before I get into describing my experience with this approach, I want to take a moment to congratulate all of you who decided to give your body the gift of this care and compassion. If you have applied this approach as outlined, you are likely feeling quite a bit different than you did just three short weeks ago. If you have had anything close to the experience I have had, you have learned that food is powerful medicine.

I gained so many insights from this experience. I learned a lot about my relationship with food and my body... many elements I was completely unaware of before. Since beginning my healing process, this is single-handedly the most loving, nurturing act I have ever carried out for myself. It has also had the greatest impact in terms of my health and well-being, physically, mentally, emotionally, and yes... even spiritually. I am now on the road to wholeness. I have a newfound appreciation and respect for the gift of my body. I feel a bit like Dorothy in, 'The Wizard of Oz'. "Toto... I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." In fact, I have no point of reference for the space I find myself in now. All I know is that it feels damn good to arrive here. I haven't felt this level of vitality in over 19 years!

I realized through this experience that I have been chronically under-eating for the large majority of my life. My signals were so skewed when I first came to intuitive eating that I falsely believed I was honoring my hunger and feeding myself in a nourishing way. Boy, were my perceptions off! My body has been in a depleted, compromised, under-nourished state. This hit me hard when I first started to implement the, "Building a Bridge" approach.

First of all, I found the minimal amount a food a person needs to eat to be well-nourished absolutely staggering. I had no idea how I was going to manage eating all of that food. I almost couldn't wrap my mind around it. It seemed overwhelming to me. However, I chose to enter into this experience with a fervent desire to learn how to provide my body with the best possible care. I have never respected my body, let alone offered it the benefit of my love and attention. I felt I owed my body at least this dignity after all the years of neglect it has suffered through. A lifetime of physical self-abuse has taken its toll.

I do not want to give the impression that all my issues are now resolved. There are no magical cures. Our healing requires our commitment and the willingness to sometimes work through uncomfortable patches. The damage eating disorder has done to my body is very real. I have extensive repair work before me. However, I would be lying if I were to say the, "Building a Bridge" approach didn't change my life. It has completely altered my relationship with food in a positive way. I now have a very different experience of living in this body of mine. There is true healing taking root. The "Building a Bridge" approach has had a more transformational effect on me than intuitive eating itself.

It took me about a week to adjust to feeling fullness in my body. It was a foreign experience for me that in the beginning stages caused my anxiety to rise. This anxiety caught me off-guard. I wasn't used to feeling the nurturing warmth in my belly. It felt utterly alien to have the sensation of food sitting in my stomach. Strangely, it dawned on me that this feeling of nurturance was the source of my anxiousness. This alone provided me with plenty of fertile emotional ground to explore. Where did I develop this fear of fullness and nourishment in my life? How has this fear impacted other areas of my life... my relationships, the way I move through the world, my ability to be aware of my needs and get those needs met? I found so many connecting threads when I opened the door to explore this uncharted emotional territory. It helped clarify why I have had this contentious relationship with food and my body. I came to see the symbolism of these struggles. It lifted the veil on a whole new dimension of my life experience. Yes... all this from feeling fullness.

The meals felt quite large to me in the beginning. Remember, I was used to existing in a semi-starved state. A lone fruit smoothie could have held me over for hours on end just three weeks ago... or so I thought. Now when I sit down for breakfast that fruit smoothie is paired with scrambled eggs and a whole grain pancake. My ED mind felt this was so much food. Too much, in fact. How could I possibly eat all of this? ED put up a fight and resisted. As much as possible, I stayed out of my head throughout this process and continued to gently remind myself that I was doing repair work. This was self-care. A way of giving back to my body for all I had stripped from it. I became fully in-bodied, experiencing the unknown territory of true nourishment. It was amazing... life-changing. It's something very difficult to articulate in words. It has to be directly contacted within yourself. It may seem odd that the rote act of eating could have such a profound effect. This experience moved me and shaped me in a way I could have never anticipated. I don't think I will ever look at food and my body the same way again and that is a blessing!

At first, I had to pace myself through my meals. I would feel the point when I would normally stop eating, at 'just satiated'. The pull to stop at 'just satiated' was very strong. I became conscious that I was afraid of feeling full. I patiently worked through it. I would take breaks midway through my meal. When I felt ready to eat a little more, I would do so. I used this pacing approach to finish the food before me. Tuning into my body, I was able to discern my fullness. It felt unusual, a little awkward even, kind of like the first time you tried to walk in a pair of heels as a young girl. I also noticed that though it was an unfamiliar sensation, it was not physically uncomfortable in any way. This was completely revolutionary for me. My experience of food has always been one of extremes. I have perpetually bounced between starved/semi-starved, or sickly stuffed states. To be nourished and comfortably full was unlike anything I have ever felt inside my body before.

My body welcomed the care. Within a few days my hunger was kicking in and demanding this new level of nutrition. My fear that I would not be able to eat the minimum amount of food required for my basic nourishment was completely unfounded. My body was 100% on board and continued to request this nutrition. Not only did I eat three substantial meals and two snacks every day over the past three weeks, there were also some days I needed to throw a third snack in! This blew my mind! By week two, I was completely out of my head when it came to food. I simply had no need to think about it anymore since my basic needs were being met.

Food has returned to its proper place in my life. I now see food in a completely different way. Food is fuel. It's what keeps my body running and humming. When it's time to eat I now consider what is going to provide my body with the best quality fuel. I continue to enjoy dessert just about every day. I have always had a sweet tooth. However, since I now have sound nutrition in place, I only need a small amount to feel satisfied. A couple mini peppermint patties, or a single scoop of ice cream is more than enough to provide a pleasurable end to my dinner. Sometimes, I don't even desire dessert and find it's the last thing on my mind. This amazes me! I never imagined this could be possible, but it is my new reality. I also continue to enjoy other treats like a handful of chips, or a few fries, but really, I find nourishing food far more pleasurable. Not only do the nutritious foods taste wonderful, they also make my body feel incredible. To me, that is a win-win situation. I love everything I eat. I prepare nourishing foods in ways I find deeply satisfying and oh-so yummy. I have also discovered that the more fruits and veggies I eat, the more my body calls for them. My relationship with food is in balance for the first time in my entire life. No deprivation. No restriction. Eating is now an absolute delight. The added bonus is that my health is rapidly on the mend.

It has been almost three months since I have engaged in any eating disorder behavior. My energy levels are through the roof. I have not had this much vitality since I was 18 years old! I now understand that all these years of unrelenting fatigue were related to not eating enough quality carbohydrates. I have been to countless medical appointments over the years in an effort to address what had been diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome. Who knew all I needed to do to restore my energy was to eat enough carbohydrates? It seems so elementary... a no-brainer... but for me this was mind-boggling.

My blood sugar has stabilized, along with my blood pressure. I was shocked when my blood pressure registered 116/68 at a doctor's visit a week ago. Considering that at one point my blood pressure was sitting at 146/70 makes this improvement quite impressive. My mood has also lifted. I feel optimistic and generally happy. My stress levels have gone way down. I feel reconnected with my body in a way I have never experienced before. For the first time, I feel like me and my body are on the same page. I suppose that has everything to do with finally taking the time to actually listen to my body and address it's needs.

Over the past few days I have been shifting back to natural eating according to my body's signals. This transition has been completely different than it was when I first began to incorporate the intuitive eating approach about 4 years ago. I feel that this time, I am coming into this experience with a solid foundation under my feet. That alone, is making all the difference. My hunger signals are coming through like clockwork every 3-3 1/2 hours. I continue to eat three substantial meals and 2-3 snacks a day because my body is asking for that level of nourishment. I also feel a lot more satisfied when I get up from the table because instead of eating to 'just satiated' as recommended in the, "Intuitive Eating" book, I am eating until I am comfortably full. This one change alone has made an incredible difference. It has eliminated the cravings that used to be constant for me in the evening. I think the most important piece I take away from this experience is how necessary it is for our bodies to be properly nourished with a wide variety of foods and how essential it is to feel completely satisfied.

The final post in this series is going to outline how to transition from the, "Building a Bridge" plan to natural eating according to bodily signals. I strongly encourage you to give yourself at least 3 weeks on the plan for nutritional rehabilitation before transitioning into intuitive eating. If you try to take short-cuts with this, you are really only short-changing yourself. To rush this process along is to cheat yourself of it's life-enhancing effects.

Conversely, if you continue to feel disconnected from your bodily signals, you may need more than three weeks on the plan. Withhold judgment if you find this is the case in your situation. Every body is different. It may take a little more time for your signals to come forward and your body to recalibrate. There is nothing 'wrong' with this. It doesn't mean you could have done anything better. It only clearly points to how much you are in need of this nutritional rebalancing. Once your signals of hunger seem to be coming through fairly consistently you can begin to transition into natural eating.

We all heal at our own pace. There is no rush to get to an imagined finish line. All pressure with this process is self-created. Give your body the space it needs to find its equilibrium. This is one of the kindest acts you can engage in after years of inflicting your body with abuse. Practice patience. If you are not yet ready to transition from the plan, accept this. Rest assured that your body will let you know loud and clear when you are ready to move forward.

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