How intuitive eating helped heal my relationship with food


Duy Bui

I developed new habits like skipping breakfast on weekends and excessively exercising. I convinced myself that there was nothing wrong. Eventually, I began to skip breakfast every day, ignoring the constant growling of my stomach and neglecting my body’s needs.

By Anonymous

As my annual team banquet draws near, my pre-celebration preparation process begins: blowing out my hair, applying makeup and finally, putting on the dress. As I slip into the bright blue fabric, I ask my friend for assistance. She starts tugging on the zipper with no success in sight. Tears begin to roll down my cheeks, and my lower back stings where the dress is stuck. I place my hands on the wall and suck in my stomach, but the efforts prove futile. After an unsuccessful twenty seconds, six dreadful words fill my ears: “Maybe you need a bigger size.” 

Outgrowing my dress caught me off guard; it fit just two weeks prior. Self-critical thoughts about my weight rushed into my head, but I took a few deep breaths and dismissed them immediately, allowing myself to enjoy the banquet with my friends.

 Six months ago, this clothing incident would have sent me into a complete spiral of food restriction. Every day on social media, I encountered countless videos promoting fad diets such as keto, intermittent fasting and calorie deficits. Every online creator swore their specific method of eating was the key to losing weight and having an hourglass figure. What began as innocent scrolling became an obsession. The world of dieting and “clean eating” had me hooked.

Watching toxic weight-loss videos filled my time. I spent hours in my room scrolling from one to the next, stalking creators’ pages to see how long it took them to reach their “perfect body.”

I never particularly struggled with my body image until the spring of ninth grade, when friendship issues led to a rapid decline in my mental health. Negative thoughts drastically altered my body image, leaving me more conscious of how my stomach looked, how my clothes looked on me and how many calories I consumed in a day.

I developed new habits like skipping breakfast on weekends and excessively exercising. I convinced myself that there was nothing wrong. Eventually, I began to skip breakfast every day, ignoring the constant growling of my stomach and neglecting my body’s needs. As summer approached, I cut out certain food groups that I found too fatty or excessive in calories. Restricting my food intake led to unbearable hunger, creating a cycle of binge eating: the consumption of an excessive amount of food over a short period of time. Binging filled me with guilt, prompting my restrictions all over again. Restricting foods lowered my energy levels and triggered cravings, leading to more binge eating. The damaging cycle seemed endless. And much to my dismay, these eating habits didn’t help me lose weight. My body image worsened with each passing day, and I would walk around with my stomach sucked in to avoid being perceived as “fat.”

At the end of the summer, I reached my breaking point. After a trip to New York filled with sweets and an extensive exploration of New York City food culture, I forced myself to throw up. I felt disgusting, irrationally believing that I had gained twenty pounds. After the first instance of throwing up, my mindset completely changed. I decided I could eat whatever I wanted since I could just throw it up afterward. The unhealthy hole I had dug myself into grew, and the fatigue and lack of focus in class that followed made my grades slip.

After a few months, I realized how toxic this cycle was and opened up to my mom about my struggles, along with my therapist. My therapist suggested something called intuitive eating — the concept of eating whatever you want whenever you are craving it. Over the last several months, I had set so many rules around food and my eating habits that the thought of suddenly having to break those rules terrified me. I agreed to try intuitive eating, but in the back of my mind, I knew I couldn’t commit to it.

Picking up on my hesitation, my therapist explained another way to think about the strategy. I was overeating and binging because I never allowed myself to eat food when I craved it. Therefore, ending the restriction would simultaneously end the binge. She recommended trying intuitive eating for a week, and if it didn’t work, we could discuss other options. The idea terrified me, but my desire to break free of the vicious cycle overpowered that fear.

Knowing what my body wanted wasn’t easy, but I decided to trust my gut and eat whatever sounded appealing. I overdid it the first couple of days eating multiple meals and a lot of desserts but my therapist assured me that this was a normal part of intuitive eating. After one week, I regained the ability to eat a regular amount of food in a day while still honoring my cravings. I continued to work on intuitive eating for a couple of months, and my body found a natural balance over time. My constant cravings for sweets and junk food withered away, and I began eating healthier and more balanced than I ever did on any fad diet. Mentally and physically, I thrived.

It’s been six months since I began intuitively eating and, despite a few relapses, my overall relationship with my body and food improved. I’m no longer afraid of food. Instead, I see it as a way to nourish and strengthen my body. I’d be lying if I said I never have the compulsion to completely restrict my diet again. But every day, I prioritize recovery over my urges. I ended up switching out my banquet dress for one that fit comfortably and going about my day. My ability to keep it from ruining the event was only possible because of intuitive eating. I no longer cry over what I ate the day prior, and my overall relationship with my body has improved greatly. I’m much happier now than I ever was on any diet, and no amount of insecurities will ever be worth restricting myself again.