Even from the dark depths of the freezer, the packet of peppermint-chocolate cookies would call to Alison…
“In the past, I couldn’t even keep them in the house,” explains Alison. Who felt out of control around those cookies. But things are totally different now. “Today, I can eat one and then leave the rest in the packet for a few days,” says Alison.
So what changed? Here’s a story about Alison’s journey from cookie-cravings to food-freedom through learning how to eat intuitively… I totally love my Zest client Alison’s story, so grab yourself a cuppa, find a quiet spot on the couch and let’s settle in for a good story (spoiler alert: it has a happy ending!)…
Alison was a confused serial-dieter, who didn’t know which weight-loss diet was the best, before she became an intuitive eater. “I was bewildered about all the different diet advice out there. From eat carbs, don’t eat carbs, eat protein, don’t eat protein – there’s just so much information,” says Alison. “I knew what I liked to eat, but felt unable to eat it, then when you did eat it, I felt bad about it, because it wasn’t low-sugar, carb-friendly, all that sort of stuff. It might just be peppermint chocolate from the supermarket. Of course, as soon as you say I can’t have something, I want that.”
“And I was thinking about food all the time. Thinking what am I going to have, what is the next meal? Making sure I had enough treats in the house, if I felt like chips, nuts, biscuits, lollies. All of that was in the house in case I felt like it.”
Guilt was never too far away when it came to food and eating for Alison. “Sometimes it was okay, and other times it seemed overwhelming,” explained Alison. “You almost don’t know where to start with what to eat, because everything seems to be forbidden. Also you’ve got to feed the family, and their taste range, and you’re trying to do better at it. It was almost like I’d do really well, do really well, and then do really badly; because you can’t keep it up, so let’s just go eat whatever. Then after a while, I’m not feeling good with this, we’re putting on weight, we’re not doing well. So then it’s back to ultra-healthy, which is just not sustainable.”
“So it’s those swings like that, those cycles of satisfaction, then guilt because you shouldn’t be eating this, you should be eating the lettuce leaf instead of the baked potato with butter on it.”
Alison tried a pile of different diets over the years. “I did Jenny Craig for a while. That was good, of course because that’s all prepared for you, but then you’ve still got to go back to normal life. Other than that, I’ve basically just struggled along on my own, looking at diet books, like the Atkins diet and things like that, and more recently online. I did plans in magazines of two weeks of grapefruit, those kind of silly things. But none of that is sustainable or tasty, so you just don’t keep it up.”
“The Atkins diet was quite good. I did quite well on a not too high wheat diet. But the strictness of it is just unsustainable, particularly when you’ve got younger children.”
Alison had also tried, unsuccessfully to count calories and track her food intake – in the years prior to smartphone apps. “I’ve tried to count calories, but as soon as you have something that you can’t count calories easily, like it’s a combination meal or something like that, then I’d give up. Unless you weighed literally everything, and made it at home, it was just unsustainable. So it didn’t help me know how much to eat to be satisfied. This was the portion you had and you ate that, and too bad if you were too hungry, or too bad if you were too full. It was really the strictness of it, I guess, it was too inflexible to fit in with day-to-day life.”
Alison was sick of the cycles of yo-yo dieting and realised she wanted more for her life than to just be “thinner” at any cost. “I wanted to nurture my body to get it to move and function as well as it can, and look okay. But I’ve been through the cycles of no fat, no eggs, now onto no sugar. I guess I’m a bit, not cynical, but aware now that this is just the latest fad, and I was left wondering: what are you trying to sell me, based on what you’re saying?”
When Alison realised that dieting wasn’t the only solution, that there were non-diet styles of eating, such as intuitive eating, she was keen to learn more about this more gentle approach. “It sounded like a good option, that it wasn’t going to be strict or judgmental. You could just gradually change to a healthier thing. It didn’t have to be all or nothing, it didn’t have to be perfect tomorrow. I didn’t have to get a whole lot of new food in the cupboard. It was just something you could gradually morph into.
Alison has seen real positive changes since she learnt how to eat intuitively. “I’m eating better, but the main thing is I’m getting enjoyment out of it, and satisfaction, and quite happy with how I am in myself. I don’t go around laden with guilt nearly as much, which is really good. It’s been good, I’m not having those big swings from super-healthy to unhealthy now.”
“Having permission to eat what you feel like in the moment, and listening to what my body’s trying to say, I feel like something salty now, I feel like something sweet now. Nothing is forbidden, I think that’s a big thing, that you can have anything you want, but stop when you’ve had enough to satisfy. That’s why I’ve been a lot better at leaving things on my plate when I’ve had enough. Whereas, you’re sort of brought up to eat everything because there’s someone starving in Africa. Or someone’s gone to the effort to make this for you, you should eat it.”
“It’s freeing knowing that it’s not an all or nothing, it’s the overall direction, rather than each individual meal or snack. It’s really cool. I’m, in a way, getting more fussy, which is also good, because I’m thinking if I’m eating potato chips, I realize I actually only like really salted. So I’m not going to eat any of the flavored ones. I think no, I don’t like salt and vinegar chips, I’m not even going to have one. So that’s really good.”
“If I’m going to eat chocolate, I want really nice chocolate that I like the flavor of, rather than just any old thing. Say you eat, white chocolate, which has got no cocoa in it. It’s not actually satisfying for me, so I can eat a lot of white chocolate without stopping almost, because it’s got no guts to it really, it’s just sugar. But a piece of dark chocolate, I only need a couple of squares, because it’s really rich and satisfying.”
Alison says she gets more joy out of food now. “It’s taken time to get to that point. I’ve had to try a lot of things. You feel like, alright I’m going to go to the bakery and buy one of every kind of cake, I didn’t but I did try some and they’re actually not that nice. So the next time you go to the bakery you think no, I don’t feel it, I don’t like any of those cakes. So I’m just going to leave all of them. Knowing that I can have anything has actually meant I’m choosing less.”
“It’s almost like eating like a rich person, if you like.” Alison.
“Where you have a small piece of filet steak, rather than a huge mountain of rump steak. In a way getting more fussy, I’m trying to get better quality, whatever it is. Better quality meat, better quality baking, if that’s what you’re having. You know, get a homemade something with real chocolate in it, rather than a mass produced chocolate chip cookie.”
Without intuitive eating, Alison is sure that she would still be yo-you dieting and getting nowhere. “I’d still be going on in that muddle of “I should be eating better! What is better? I’m not eating better!”And feeling bad about it.”
Alison no longer feels guilt about food and the way she eats. “That parts all really good. In myself I’m much more content, and happy with my choices.”
“I’m more content with myself, and my own body. It’s still not lean and svelte, and probably never will be, but it’s like this is who I am, I’m comfortable with it now. I’m enjoying what I’m eating almost all the time now, which is really nice. Just letting the pleasure of that food be a joy, rather than I have to eat something, so I’ll eat this, which I don’t really like.
“And I’m more confident in my own choices about other things as well, like what I choose to wear, or what I do with my time. That inner confidence, that my own choices are valid and it’s my life to lead as I want to, I don’t have to fulfill other people’s expectations.”
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