This next guest post is by Laura Burkett, a holistic nutrition counselor and eating psychology coach in West Michigan who works with local and national clients. I actually met Laura the summer I was learning and first experimenting with raw food. She came to speak at a nutrition workshop/seminar at Gazelle Sports in Grand Rapids, and I met her in her office a few months later to discuss holistic nutrition. Even with the very few times we talked, I was very interested in what Laura did for a living so I hope you all can learn a bit about what she has to offer about intuitive eating.
Hello friends. I am happy to be here with you. Thirteen years ago, I sat on the bathroom floor of my college dorm bathroom alone, bawling, stomach distended, after having binged, and knew deep within myself that part of my soul’s journey would be learn how to heal eating struggles with the deepest of integrity and would teach others to do the same. I was certain we were still in the Dark Ages when it came to how to thoughtfully and elegantly work with the areas of eating, weight, and health.
Let me begin by saying I am not posing as a physician or psychotherapist, but as a big sister on this path and woman who struggled intensely with binge eating and compulsive exercising who happens to work in the healing profession now. Rachael has asked me to speak to this thing that’s called “intuitive eating.” Let’s begin.
The Paradox of Intuitive Eating
For many, intuitive eating can sound like a distant land. – a place we’ve heard of, imagined, but have little personal experience with. Watch a 3-year-old approach food, and you get a glimpse of this place. The little one gets distracted and fussy when she is hungry, eats, and minutes later is ready to move on to the next thing (both mentally and physically) when she is satisfied. There is no overthinking. Intuitive eating, of course, happens in the body, not the head.
The problem is, over time, we learn that the body is not a safe place to live in. The body, after all, is the place where intense feeling takes place. A person who feels deeply without the inner or outer resources to navigate this will surely learn SOME WAY to create order for this inner chaos in the body. The psyche finds ways to take care of itself.
Thus begins the journey of meticulously trying to manage the body, eating, appetite, or weight. And it works. Kind of. Something feels “better.” And then it doesn’t. We get attached to our “highs” and try to re-create them again and again. But at least pain and struggle are now on our terms.
All this pulls us further and further away from the body. We become spilt in two. The mind calls the shots, runs the show, and makes all the decisions. The body simply acts as a vehicle to transport the head from place to place. We dis-connect. We stop listening. We live in management of the body instead of engagement, collecting all sorts of nutritional information, creating rules, without ever getting the body’s opinion.
It’s helpful to examine the collective strategies we champion when it comes to eating. Most people exclusively rely on left brain strategies. These include: willpower, discipline, lists, rules, variables, numbers, weight, comparisons, logic, exclusion, control, things that are measurable. “If I can measure it, I have a way of gauging that I’m still okay.” Energetically this is more of a Masculine energy, which has very little to do with gender and more to do with the deep roots of inner and outer patriarchy that span across generations, for both men and women.
Then there is the medicine – the Feminine. The Feminine is an energy that can be described as matter itself, the physical form, the human body, Life. The Feminine includes: appetite, pleasure, nature, cycles, matter, feelings, inclusion, change, SURRENDER, receiving, Life.
Intuition is an inner knowing, commonly described as a gut feeling. Intuition happens IN THE BODY. Intuitive eating essentially teaches us to eat in response to the changing needs of the body, and to let go of nutritional “rightness” or food moralism that happens in the head. It takes quite a bit of courage to do this work! But like most things that help us heal and grow, a good amount of courage is involved.
This is the paradox of intuitive eating for anyone who typically employs masculine strategies. One cannot will oneself into intuitive eating. The past strategy of forcing, muscling, or controlling does not work. Intuitive eating requires a heavy dose of The Feminine – of surrender, of self-trust. With surrender we are able to receive the messages of the body. We begin to learn the lost language of the body. This surrender can be painful and, yes, can literally bring us to our knees. We mourn the loss of a past way of being and have to call upon new ways of relating to ourselves and the world around us. But with any surrender, there is softness – and the deep reservoir of emotion begins to bubble up from below the surface – a process where deep healing can take place.
This is the sacred journey of intuitive eating. If it feels hard or overwhelming, it’s because it’s new. Then it becomes easier and eventually becomes a way of life.
Where to begin?
Bear in mind, going from a rigid diet to one that is entirely “intuitive’ is too far of a leap for most initially.
First, the mental patterns and beliefs around nutrition and eating must be unraveled. This is when we call on teachers, mentors, coaches, and therapists to safely deconstruct counter-productive food beliefs and offer support to what arises in the process.
In the beginning, the eating needs to have a familiar rhythm and routine. In fact, eating disorder or not, all of my clients feel much, much better with rhythmic, balanced eating throughout the day. The body is inherently rhythmic and naturally craves balance. Like responds to like.
After a supportive foundation is in place, we begin to take baby steps feeling into the body. Reminder: Being in the body is messy. People often desperately try and control this naturalness. But it’s part of the contract we signed when we came to this planet. So be gentle with yourself.
I will ask you, dear reader, if the time is right, to begin with a baby step: softening and noticing. Simply notice how your body feels in a beautiful place, like a favorite place in Nature, or in bed as you wake up in the morning. Then move on to food. How does your body feel when you have eggs for breakfast? What about a smoothie? All you have to do is notice. Noticing a large part of royal road to intuitive eating. Keep track. Stay curious. And rally a network of allies in this process.
I can assure you that the journey in intuitive eating is the journey back to yourself. It is a rich and soulful journey.