When I was seeing a dietician for my eating disorder, we often talked about Intuitive Eating, a concept outlined in the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. We read the book together and worked on helping me become more intuitive and less tied to my strict routines and rituals surrounding food. When I was really focused on doing the work of learning to listen to my body, intuitive eating worked for me. But over the years, something began to happen. My intuitive eating became less “intuitive” and more mindless. My default switch went back to the “routine” and “ritual” of eating. I would mindlessly eat, whether I felt hungry or not. I was checking out. I had solved the “not eating” problem but was still not listening to my body. I was just going through the motions. A few years ago, I sought to once again become more mindful with my eating. My IBS was out of control and I was constantly in pain. Still well in the “normal weight range,” whatever that means, many of my doctors did not see the problem, but I knew there was one. I knew I was becoming disassociated from feeling and listening to my body’s needs. Often not eating enough or eating “on a schedule” just because, not because I was hungry.
So, I worked with another “way of eating” that temporarily had me focus on my foods, the choosing of them, the cooking of them, and the eating of them. This was kind of scary for me, but I found much peace in spending time creating meals, trying new recipes, and turning off distractions during meal times to savor every bite. This seemed to do the trick for me and put me back in touch with experiencing food in a way that was healthy for my body and mind. I ate foods that did not cause me to hurt physically and focused on foods that gave my body fuel. I had arrived, I thought.
But lately, I have noticed something. This “mindful eating” has become a ritual and a routine for me. While I do think that having a healthy routine around how and what we eat is important, for someone in recovery, the routine itself can turn into something like an obsession. What at first was a way for me to figure out what foods were causing my body pain has now become something that causes anxiety when faced with the prospect of not having “the right foods.” This concerns me because “the right foods” sounds a lot like “safe foods,” a term I used when in counseling for my eating disorder.
I am working through this right now. How do I, on the one hand, listen to what my body is telling me about what foods are harmful to it and, on the other hand, not get stuck or become anxious when I can’t be in complete control over “the menu”? How do I have a healthy routine without turning it into an obsessive habit?
The further along I get in my recovery and the older my children get I also see the impact of the choices I make on them. What am I teaching my children about food, healthy habits vs obsessive behaviors?
I believe that freedom, whether it be food freedom or freedom from obsessive or ritualistic behaviors, is possible, but that doesn’t mean that we can just stop thinking about our bodies or our food. Part of healing is the journey of learning this balance.