Part 2 of 4: Why it was time to change my dysfunctional food relationship

Last week you learned about my personal history with food, eating and weight. I must say, I am humbled and grateful for the feedback I have received. I am not alone in the journey to find peace within myself and finally put an end to the internal war to achieve and maintain the “perfect” weight. There is no such thing. So, moving on, here is part 2 in this 4 part series.

Part 2: Why it was time to change my dysfunctional food relationship

Weight Watchers gave me the tools and knowledge to lose weight successfully, but I was not happy at the thought of spending the rest of my life tracking what I ate and budgeting meals with the points system (even though it’s effective and truly the only structured weight loss plan I would recommend to a friend). With Weight Watchers, I was still obsessing over food, but in a different way. I wanted to be free of constantly thinking about my next meal and how it will impact my next weigh-in (which I did at home on Tuesday mornings). The next Tuesday morning was always looming. It was time for a change.

I have been given the ultimate gift of raising three amazing little creatures. I know the pitfalls of womanhood and weight. I have been charged with helping my three girls navigate through life, most notably the choppy waters of adolescence, and aid them in fostering their own self-esteem, confidence, self-acceptance, and self-love in a world full of cyber-bullies and impossible ideal body images. As they grow, they will look to me for guidance and I serve as the ultimate female role model in their lives. This is a responsibility I take incredibly seriously.

I love my body for all it has done for me. It created three magical little girls, carried two at once for 38 weeks and 1 day! I view every stretch mark as a badge of honor and I would never consider plastic surgery or a tummy tuck to remove the physical evidence of the amazing feat my body achieved – bringing three lives into the world with full-term pregnancies.

I have been entrusted with the precious responsibility of leading by example, and this is where I want my girls to grow up in a home with a female figure who does not bash her body, admonish herself in the mirror, and constantly race towards an unattainable or maintainable size or number on the scale.

The goal is to live well and enjoy life. Food is an integral part of this. We need food for our survival. We cannot simply quit eating like you would quit smoking. It’s integral to every facet of our lives from sustaining bodily functions, to socializing, and celebrating holidays. So what to do?

The next step in my eating evolution

I have read my fair share on diet and exercise. I am all too aware of the obesity epidemic, but what is the solution? The one book I read which spoke to me on many levels describes intuitive eating.  Intuitive eating is something we are all born knowing, but lose sight of as we age.

I see intuitive eating every day with my three girls. My toddler will ask for cookies, take a bite of one, put the rest on her plate, pronounce she’s done, and then scamper off to play. She just wanted a bite of cookie and she felt sated. Meanwhile I fight the urge to say, “You don’t want any more of the cookie?! You can just finish the cookie! Heck, I’ll finish the cookie for you!” Still, the one bite is all she wanted. I see this in my babies who will nurse and unlatch when their internal hunger signal tells them they feel good. I cannot force feed them more breast milk (they are not pressured to finish a bottle of pumped milk either – this is perhaps where food dysfunction is first introduced into the lives of the young?). Moreover, they will refuse table food after they had their fill. I offer them spoonful after spoonful of delicious homemade baby food and they keep their mouths clamped shut and feverishly shake their heads no. At six months old they were telling me, “No thanks Mama, I’m good.”

Esther enjoying cake with rapture.
Esther enjoying cake with rapture.

Children are natural intuitive eaters. It’s amazing to watch what they will do if you don’t push them. Over the course of a week my toddler will eat from all the different food groups, but she may not eat from all of them in one day. She may have a day heavy on multi-grain toast, whole wheat pumpkin pancakes, and shredded wheat cereal, but the next day is all about garbanzo beans, black beans, and yogurt. She is eating what her body tells her she wants to eat and needs to eat. It’s remarkable to me.

I took a cue from my girls and realized the food habits I am accustomed to do not need to be followed. For example, I do not have to eat breakfast the same time every day because it’s what I have always done. I shouldn’t eat if I’m not hungry, I can wait and then the meal is truly satisfying. Also, if I don’t want a typical breakfast food first thing in the morning, then I can choose something else. There are mornings I really want something salty, savory, and light and I will enjoy a bowl of vegetable soup instead of cereal or yogurt (just this morning I ate a bowl of mushroom soup for breakfast). Likewise, eggs and toast has become one of my favorite meals to enjoy in the evening for dinner. The concept of eating what I really want makes a lot of sense to me now, but it blew my mind when I first thought, “Hey, I don’t have to do what I have always done!” I can choose what I really want to eat and be satisfied! This saves me the trouble of seeking out more food later in the day to satisfy me because my earlier meal missed the mark.

I am a bona bide Francophile

This is where my love of the French is introduced. Food is an event and they savor every moment. Their children grow up in an environment where food is celebrated and a huge part of their national culture. I employ many French techniques to teach my toddler to explore new foods and it’s wildly successful.

 

READ: Setting the Stage for Healthy Habits – from Pregnancy to Toddlers

 

Drive-thru meals, fast food, a habit of snacking, eating anywhere but sitting at a table, and prepackaged meals or snacks are not a part of the French food milieu (yep, throwing in French words now!). The French know how to eat, enjoy all the pleasures of food, and do this while maintaining a healthy size. This is often called the French Paradox. The French eat real food (fat free, low-carb, diet, etc. are not a part of the daily vocabulary), and I aspire to eat and live like the French in so many ways. What you need to know is I am a bona fide Francophile.

Since I started intuitive eating, the scale doesn’t scare me like it once did. I haven’t weighed myself in months, and this is after nearly 8 years of stepping on the scale at least once a week. To my delight and surprise, my clothes still fit! The French do not weigh themselves incessantly. If my clothes begin to feel tight, it’s a moment to pause and think about what’s going on in my life. Have I been overindulging unnecessarily? Is something else going on in my life? Stepping away from Weight Watchers points, the scale and other weight management tools has been liberating and frightening at the same time. There are times I feel like the structure provided a safety net and now I’m just going it alone. This is admittedly, kind of scary.

I have always thought about food on some level, but now I wait until I feel hungry (literally feel hunger pangs in my stomach), and then ask myself what am I in the mood for? What do I genuinely want to eat? There are times I want to eat cookies, so I eat them. This is a process I am still learning. It’s about progress and there are times I eat more cookies than I actually want or need because they are just there. I acknowledge this and move on instead of beat myself up. I know next time, I can listen to myself and eat the extra cookies if I really want them, but I may not. It’s OK. I do not deprive myself, I have given myself a free pass to trust myself and allow my body to tell me what I really want to eat and follow my body’s lead. I trust myself in every other facet of my life, why should eating be any different?

The other night I was having a “chocolate attack.” I really wanted chocolate and I knew I wouldn’t rest until I squelched my chocolate craving. I have been down the “overindulging to address a chocolate craving” road more times than I can remember. This time, I chose a different path. Instead of picking at m&m’s in the pantry (probably eating a whole lot more than the small handful I hoped would satiate my chocolate craving), or munching on some sort of low-fat, sugar-free chocolate substitute, I helped myself to the real stuff. I ended up sating the craving with half a chocolate bar. If I did not do this, I know I would have spent the rest of the night trying to find a good chocolate substitute, to no avail, to deal with the craving. If I tried to stay away from what I really wanted, by the end of the night I would have undoubtedly consumed the whole chocolate bar and then some more mediocre chocolate just because. I would have justified it because I held out all night. Depriving oneself is counter-intuitive. The whole scenario makes no logical sense to me, but it’s what I have done for years.

I realize the concept of eating what you really want sounds crazy to a lot of lifelong dieters, but I am living proof of trusting myself and maintaining a healthy weight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still skeptical of this myself. How can I eat whatever I want and still fit into my clothes?! The Intuitive Eating guide book states you will find your natural weight. It’s not about hitting a goal weight; it’s about finding the shape your body is meant to be at. If I am the type of person who always needs a dessert to feel satisfied, then my natural body shape is one where I eat dessert every night. I made peace with this idea, and it turns out, I don’t need dessert every night… but I like having the option!

Part 3: Putting an end to emotional eating

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