Embracing Intuitive Eating

Can we talk about something that is not skincare or makeup related for a bit?  Okay, great. Sit down, as this will take a while. I've been doing a lot of work on myself the 18 months or so. It's been a roller coaster. What I originally embarked on was "improving" myself by starting yet another diet.

In late January 2018, I joined Weight Watchers (before it rebranded to WW). My goal was to lose between 40-50 pounds and be the "ideal" body size. Whatever that means. I followed the"lifestyle change" (in other words, a DIET) diligently and lost 34 pounds as of the last time I weighed in. I earned my different charms, carefully measured foods, counted points, and documented every bite I took in the WW app. After shedding that weight, I should've been on top of the world, with renewed energy and confidence. Nope. In reality, I was unhealthier than ever. You can’t judge someone’s health based on what they look like. I think that is something we all need to make note of.

Last year at this time, I was feeling short of breath, could barely walk around the block when I had been taking morning walks for years, and started feeling really "off." I had zero energy. Something wasn't right. I was doing all the "right things" but feeling terribly.

Then the chest pains started. I ignored it. Finally, sitting at our friends' home Thanksgiving night, all I kept thinking to myself was, "Something is really wrong with me."

The next day, I was decorating the Christmas tree and the chest pains were worse and a pain shot down my arm. I just couldn't brush it aside anymore and ended up at Rochester General Hospital. I was moved to the front of the list in the busy holiday weekend waiting room with echoes of "43 year old woman with chest pains and shortness of breath" etched in my memory. I was clammy, felt weak, and within minutes was hooked up to monitors and being told to swallow aspirin because they thought I was having a heart attack. The initial EKG showed an enlarged left atrium and I had all of the symptoms for a woman experiencing a heart attack.

I cannot even begin to explain the thoughts that were moving through me. The sheer panic. The look in my husband's eyes. The image of my boys sitting at home wondering if I was okay.

It would take test after test, multiple visits to the cardiologist, and more tests, but in January I finally was diagnosed with Diastolic Dysfunction and Mitral Valve Regurgitation. I also have had hypertension since 2009 and, despite many lifestyle changes, it had not been controlled with diet alone. I am on two different medications, a beta blocker to lower my heart rate and blood pressure, as well as my ACE inhibitor for blood pressure. After a long winter, I gradually began to feel like myself again. I can exercise again without feeling winded. I have been free of the chest pains for months now.

Listen to your body.

What does my health scare have to do with diet? Let me explain. Life is SHORT. Anything can happen in the blink of an eye. Sometimes you get a wake up call that you need to make a change. For me, this change wasn't about finally hitting GOAL at WW. This change was something else.

This was so frustrating to me to be going through this. Last year at this time, I was the lightest I had been since I got married. I had a "normal" BMI, exercised daily (until the chest pains and inability to catch my breath began), and was eating "clean."

When I should have been at high point health-wise, I was very sick. Anyway, I continued along obsessively counting WW points. When I say obsessive, my Screen Time in iOS showed that I spent an average of 9 hours a week using the WW app. 9 hours a week of my life that I could only focus on food tracking. This doesn't even count time NOT using the app. EVERYTHING in life came down to points. Rolling over points, getting a "blue dot" for staying within my points, and earning "fit points" were always on my mind. Always. And the number on the scale was down, yet it did not in any way change the way I felt about my body. 

Something began to shift within me more and more thanks to being introduced to a book called Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole. This book, my friends, is a true life changer -- if you are willing to do some hard work.  You have to be open minded and willing to go on a little bit of a bumpy ride, but I promise you that, in the end, it will be worth it. YOU ARE WORTH IT.

I am a curvy girl.

At my heaviest, I weighed over 228 pounds and was a size 20. Twenty. Yep. Two zero.  I couldn't shop at my favorite stores anymore. Did I mention that I once weighed 228 pounds? The thought makes me cringe. I had Nicholas, lost the weight quickly, and got pregnant again. At the same time we found out I was pregnant with Ben, we found out my dad had pancreatic cancer and had a very short amount of time to live. In fact, it was the same weekend. We had joyous news and devastating news at the same time. Food made me feel better during a time of intense sorrow.

Dad died before Ben was born. I ate to feel better. After Ben was born, I lost most of that baby weight quickly again, only to fall down 13 steps and have a serious fracture that put me in a wheelchair for weeks. I was immobile for a good 3 months. I turned to food again and the baby weight--and a few extra pounds for good measure--piled back on. I was at my highest weight ever. It wasn't the number on the scale at that time that bugged me the most. It was how I felt.

Atkins. South Beach. Sugar Busters. The Sonoma Diet. The Cabbage Soup Diet. Whole 30. Wheat Belly. Weight Watchers. Slim Fast. Beachbody. Keto. The Fast Metabolism Diet, These are just the diets I can recall trying over the years.

I am 44 years old and have spent more than half of my life trying to shrink my body.

I am not a tiny girl. Never have been (except for getting down to a very unhealthy for me size 4 in 1997, but that is another story for another day), never will be. I am a size 12. Sometimes a 14....it all depends on the brand of clothing and the cut. And I am DONE with diet culture. Why? I decided I was unwilling to live my entire life chasing something unrealistic and unsustainable. 

In 2010, I started a curvy girl fashion blog called The Embrace Your Curves Project. It led to being interviewed in Canadian Living. The blog focused on body positivity long before it was a "thing." I stopped posting because I spiraled down the diet hole again and ended up doing South Beach. I was 35 when I last posted there. The next almost 9 years would be spent yo-yo dieting and trying to reach some impossible standard that I felt would make me more worthy, attractive, or deserving of love and friendship. Sad, isn't it?

My mindset in a nutshell: 

"Wow! You're down to a size 14. The last time you tried on a bathing suit, you were a 18."  So my inner voice gave me that praise for my hard work. And then, judgmental Karley would come into play, "Well, you may be a size 14, but you still have wide hips and bumpy patches on the backs of those thighs. Don't even think of going out in public wearing a bathing suit. Your friends are going to see how much weight you still need to lose and everyone will notice your cellulite." 

Those were my exact thoughts last July on a 98 degree day when my friends were having a pool party. I sat in the sweltering heat not stepping in the pool because of the way I was speaking to myself. I wanted so badly to just get in the pool with everyone else, but I couldn’t make myself do it.

Have you been there before? I think most of us have. I have a friend who has 3 children. She is a beautiful person inside and out and is so self-critical. She is thin and fit and she gets that same inner voice. Our life together as friends for more than a decade has gone something like this-- We can get together on any given day and talk about how we baked cookies and then we beat ourselves up for being at a weight loss plateau. Or we talk about how we need to "get back on track" or "stop eating junk." I know many of my friends and I do this. I think it is common. IMAGINE if we all got together with our friends and could sit and eat and drink without the conversation going back to shrinking our bodies.

Thank you, Amy.

One of my favorite Weight Watchers ambassadors, Amy of Beautifully Broken Journey, had reached her goal and appeared to have it all. Then she seemingly suddenly stepped down as a WW ambassador. She began talking about Intuitive Eating. I honestly rolled my eyes. I had heard about it before. I, like many diet addicts, believed that intuitive eating was flawed. I mean, eating what you feel like eating is what it means, right? You'll eat junk food to your heart's content and then gain all the weight back that you lost to begin with and be back on the same road. 

As I often am, I was wrong. This is NOT what Intuitive Eating is all about. I ordered the book and it has changed my life.

At my lightest weight, I was at the most unhealthy point of my life. I was literally passing out because my body was not getting what it needed. I remember working at a high end salon in the area and passing out in the bathroom. Another time, while on my shift as a 21 year old at the Express, I passed out and was taken away in an ambulance. I simply was starving myself of nutrients. At almost 5'8", I was 124 pounds. My comfortable weight in this body is really 165-170 pounds. I found myself being referred to a therapist who specialized in eating disorders. I eventually began the vicious cycle of binging and purging, which was "difficult" for me since I had just moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) and had to attempt to be quiet about it so he wouldn't know I was doing it again. He always knew, though. I am thankful for his unwavering support, patience, and acceptance. Not just 22 years ago, but always. 

Intuitive Eating has taught me to actually LISTEN to my body. To enjoy my food. To not FEAR food. I have not stepped on the scale since August. Have I gained weight? Probably. My guess would be anywhere between 8-10 pounds since I said, "Peace out, WW."

My clothes all still fit, but I am softer and I have a little bit more belly. Not stepping on my scale is pure freedom. Not trying to shrink myself in order to like myself more is freeing. Transitioning to Intuitive Eating was HARD. I had so many times thinking, "What did so and so think of me when she saw me eating ice cream at I-Square?" or "Am I letting down the people in my life if I do not hit 'goal' with Weight Watchers?" The truth is, though, that deleting the WW app, reading and RE-READING Intuitive Eating, and really digging deep within myself to CHANGE the way I think about food has been one of the best things to happen to me.

Now, I exercise NOT to earn WW Fit Points or to punish myself for having an 8 point craft beer, but I do it because I LIKE HOW IT MAKES ME FEEL. Every morning when I am watching Morning Joe, I get in a workout. On days when I don't feel like the rowing machine or Gazelle I do yoga or pilates. It is all about joyful movement. I do it to take care of my body, not to shame it or punish it for making a "bad" food choice. By the way, good and bad foods will be a thing of the past for you once you embrace Intuitive Eating.

The first several weeks of Intuitive Eating were all about TRUST. I did not trust myself enough and it was really, really hard for me to ignore the overly critical voice in my head. I felt so much disgust with myself for "quitting" dieting that I once reinstalled my WW app and joined again. After a few days of tracking again, I realized that I would never break the cycle if I was unwilling to step outside my comfort zone.

I am so thankful for the wonderful community of women (and men) on Instagram who are part of this shift and whose posts have inspired me to keep going. I did keep going. I did the work. I started really listening to my body and its hunger cues. Yes, sometimes I crave foods I once would have feared. Most days, however, I actually crave plant-based foods, want fruits, veggies, and my homemade quinoa pudding or granola. I am baking again without GUILT. I am no longer using artificial sweeteners or fat-free, processed foods. I am able to ENJOY my life without worrying about the number of carbs, calories, macros, or WW points. 

Yeah, my belly isn't firm and is a bit squishy. I'll never have a thigh gap. You know what? IDGAF.

My body seems to feel most comfortable in the 12-14 range. My bloodwork has been normal once again. My blood pressure is better than it has been in years. Yes, I will always need meds thanks to having a heart condition. That is okay. Another perk? My mood is no longer dictated by my weekly weigh-in. 

I cannot remember a time when I have felt free like this. Thank you, Beautifully Broken Journey, for introducing me to this book. Thank you, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, for writing this book. My mindset has completely changed. My goals have changed. I view my body in a different light. I now speak to myself as if I were speaking to a friend. Imagine that. That is the thing. In a million years, I would NEVER speak to a friend (or another soul) the way I used to speak to/about my body. Intuitive Eating has not just helped me to repair my relationship with food, but it has helped repair issues I have long had with my own worst enemy: MY INNER VOICE. I now focus on nurturing and nourishing this body. Instead of writing articles on self care for magazines, I actually practice what I preach.

Your relationship with your body CAN be changed. It will take time, soul searching, self doubt (at times), and a whole lot of trust, but it can be done.

*Note, I am a member of the Amazon Influencer program and if you should make a purchase through my link, I earn a commission.

Shop my favorites

$10 Off HUM Nutrition