Intuitive eating is one of those things I always thought would be great for everyone else, but never for me. I placed it on the same shelf as eating disorder recovery, being an athlete, and being worthy in general. All of these things are great thoughts… and that is all they would ever be for me. To understand achieving freedom through intuitive eating, first you must understand why it was so hard and therefore so meaningful to find…
I have a story not unlike many – my eating disorder began when I was 8 years old. Both of my parents had addictions – alcohol for my father (though he did recover) and anorexia, bulimia, and exercise for my mother. I was a straight-A student, not athletic in a town where sports were everything, and the daughter of a pastor. The need to be perfect has always been ingrained in me.
With the exception of my two pregnancies, I have lived in and out of severe food restriction for most of my life, but hid it well as many do under the guise of “health”. After having my son, I became a group fitness instructor and personal trainer. It was so easy to be in denial about the degree of my disordered habits. Until April 2017. I was 18 months postpartum with my youngest and injured my back pretty badly. Once it seemed better, over a series of very poor decisions, I began training very hard in the gym and eating very little. I used a popular nutrition tracker to log every single calorie. I dropped pounds and body fat very quickly and everyone just saw the “mom who got her body back.” I was obsessed with my intake, and often used exercise as punishment.
I started work with a therapist in August 2017 and worked with her for almost 2 years. There were MANY ups and downs, and while I believe that every step in recovery counts as recovery, I know that I was not FULLY immersed in getting better until September 2019. I was always trying to hold onto the comfort of my eating disorder. It wasn’t until the week of my first powerlifting competition that I realized I was not giving recovery my best effort. My mom had recently been diagnosed with cancer, and my recovery was slipping hard. I was 8lbs UNDER where I should be. Could I have competed in the lower weight class? Yes. But do I sit there without restricting? Absolutely not, zero question. This was a wake up call to me. I was embarrassed that this had happened. I wanted my recovery walk to match the talk.
I knew I was still going to need help with learning to eat intuitively to ensure long term success. The problem is that there are almost no resources for athletes with eating disorder history who are now able to focus on fueling AND performance. Or, if there is a resource, it is likely macro-based which means having to track food. For me, this is dangerous and I know it. Even being here in recovery, I know that tracking numbers has no place in my life EVER. I was feeling hopeless in this endeavor.
And then I met Mary with Intuitive Athlete Nutrition. She said that I could in fact be in recovery, learn to eat intuitively, and learn to boost my training all without tracking numbers. We did a consult call and I knew immediately that she was the missing piece. Together, we made a plan based on where I was mentally to address hunger and fullness cues, and then as I grew more comfortable, she taught me how to be aware of making sure I was eating enough of each necessary macronutrient. She helped me identify what makes me feel my best, whether training or not, and has helped me overcome fear foods that I didn’t even know were still fear foods. And it wasn’t all smooth sailing. I have not truly included the emotional hell and roller coaster that accompanied this journey. In my four months with Mary, I had to learn how to be full (something I still wasn’t regularly allowing myself to feel), how to sit down with myself and eat a meal, I spent two weeks super sick (either the ‘Rona or a bad sinus infection), and right in the middle of our time, I had to sit with my mom as she passed away.
One of the most impactful things I’m taking from this journey into intuitive eating is how to experience fullness – that’s it’s ok to feel this, and that I strongly prefer it to the lingering hunger I would otherwise feel if I simply snacked all day as opposed to having solid meals. This is a break through for me!! Another freedom that comes with intuitive eating is that there is no longer a scarcity mindset. I have absolute empathy for people who say “I can’t keep XX in the house because I’ll eat it all!” I haven’t known that feeling in so long! I keep anything I want in my house because I know I can have it at any time and my world will not end. Sometimes I eat dessert, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I eat cheesecake for dinner, sometimes I eat lots of vegetables. Or all of the above. And it is all without judgment or the apocalyptic fear I used to have.
To be clear, getting a handle on intuitive eating doesn’t mean that your nutrition or body image will always be rainbows. It won’t be. But it has given me a much more solid mindset, which has equipped me with the ability to combat negative thoughts when they come. And it feels good to know I am caring for my body and helping it to become as strong as it can! As I have watched it grow in size and strength, I’ve been able to be proud of it, which feels amazing. I have spent my entire life seeking approval, just wanting to make others proud. And this accomplishment makes ME proud.