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Emily and Jan x
We have a new website: www.ieatwhatineed.com.
Please head over there for the latest content.
Or join our community on Facebook to see our events.
Emily and Jan x
So yesterday the Colchester IEWIN group met for our first Summer Party. A few hours of rest and relaxation together and a bit of playing in the kitchen, culminating in eating together. As a group with a range of “interesting” approaches to nourishing ourselves, this was a bold step. I want to share some of my insights from those brief four hours.
Firstly, when we sat with our drinks at a table full of recipe books (to supposedly inspire what we were going to prepare) it just felt all wrong. Both Jane and I confessed that buying cookbooks was a bit of an obsession in the past; multiple attempts to discover the “right” way to eat that would help us heal our relationship with food. Another member said “take them off the table!” as even the titles were another poke in our collective sensitive ribs. So we did…
Secondly, we chose to go into the kitchen if we wanted to and I chose to let them in. How many years of your life have you spent in your kitchen because you have to feed others? How many hours have you spent looking in the fridge? Cupboard cruising? Secretly eating? So sharing my kitchen with my group, my people, who know my food issues, felt daring and brave. See this kitchen? Herein is my pleasure and my pain.
Thirdly, when we sat down, looked at what we had created in such a short time and connected with our bellies, I took a mental snapshot of that moment. This is a new departure for us at I eat what I need. We never tell anyone what to eat and here we are sharing food together. Food that will nourish us and support our bodies. It all went a bit quiet. Sitting round the table with you all was sharing something significant. This was no ordinary meal for me.
The laughter and the closeness of yesterday will stay with me. Together, we eat what we need.
So, on our IEWIN Facebook page, we talk about ‘letting go of foods that no longer serve you’. That could mean not eating certain foods anymore. So am I unconsciously continuing to promote diet culture and restrictive eating?
Hmm… let’s explore.
When we first set up IEWIN a few years ago, I was fresh out of FA – the food addiction branch of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’d spent 5 months practising as close as I could get to total abstinence from flour and sugar in all forms. I ate weighed and measured meals, free from anything unprocessed, pre-agreed with a sponsor. In my personal opinion, that’s about as close to restrictive eating as you can get, although many members spoke of feeling free within the FA programme. I wasn’t feeling very free, but when you’re living the painful reality of an eating disorder, finding a supportive community with uncompromising boundaries is a huge relief. I will always be grateful for the ways that FA held me in my recovery journey.
In FA, we talked about how some of us react to stimulating foods like alcoholics react to alcohol. We can’t regulate these substances safely. Even small amounts can send us spiralling into binge town. And this had been my experience too. Certain foods, ingested regularly, just sent me crazy.
Fast forward a few years. I am living outside the parameters of FA. I’m giving myself complete and total freedom to eat whatever and however I want. Any food, any quantity, any time. Scary, huh?
Gillian Riley has some great work on the psychology of restriction, why we can never fully comply. Our moralistic thinking always gets us in the end. Our ‘good girl’ turns ‘bad’, we smash the bars of the prison of our own making, we rebel. We all know how it goes – the weekend blowout, start the diet on Monday mentality.
Our unconscious mind knows the taste of freedom, and will not leave us in peace if it gets even a whiff of restrictive thinking. And if we associate the taste of freedom with the permission to eat a ton of food, until our belly hurts, then that’s what we will be compelled to do.
So restriction and diet mentality doesn’t work. We are asking for radical acceptance of all foods, all ways of eating. We do not tell anyone what or how much to eat. Ever.
And yet, on social media the debate continues. A post on a recovery group the other day bemoaned the ‘clean eaters’ and the ‘demonisation’ of sugar. Ending diet culture means we can surely relax and enjoy our super-charged-chocolate-muffin-cherry-syrup-coloured-sprinkles-unicorn-sparkles-pop-tart ice cream sundae, right?!
There are some things I need to say about this radical acceptance of ALL foods.
Today, our food environment is laden with chemical stimulants; foods artificially engineered to overstimulate our taste buds and override our bodies’ inherent wisdom. Yes I can choose these foods. Yes I can eat these foods. I can choose to take crack cocaine too. No substance is inherently moral or immoral, it’s just a substance. But the people and corporations who made these substances, what intention lies behind their production and consumption? What purpose do these foods have?
In aboriginal traditions, wandering tribes encounter foods as they travel around the bush. An edible plant is found, an animal is hunted. The tribespeople meet the food, and before they pull the root from the ground, they ask:
‘Are you ready to be honoured for the purpose of your being?’
In this way, they acknowledge the nourishment the earth provides. We meet the sacredness of the act of taking something we need from Mother Nature.
Do you think that giant food corporations are really sending food out into the world for your nourishment, your wellbeing, your joy? What is the purpose of their being? Michael Pollen doesn’t even call them food anymore. He prefers the term ‘food-like substances’. I feel the same. Walking into a newsagent’s the other day, meeting a wall of colourful packaging, I felt (not thought, felt) – this is not food. There is nothing here for me. Nothing at all.
Advertising gives a good indication of what purpose the food companies would like you to associate with these food-like substances. It’s party time! Let’s get some… it’s a family meal! Let’s have some… This is a lovely happy food that will promote connection and fun and satisfaction and sexiness! Hurray!
The real purpose of their being is to be consumed in ever larger quantities. A way to guarantee an ever increasing quantity of consumption is to engineer substances to override our natural feedback systems that regulate our appetites. Make this broken feedback loop a habitual way of responding to the world and you’ve got yourself an addiction. ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop!’
So all this ‘all foods are good foods’ – I don’t buy it. But I also don’t buy into our obsession with ‘clean eating’ either. I live in the world. My body is perfectly designed to eliminate some of the dirt we encounter along the way. I can’t live in a cave surrounded by kale and spiralised courgettes. But I also can’t handle the stimulation of the modern supermarket, packed with stimulating foods that send me spiralling in ever widening circles away from the wisdom that sits in my gut.
So, if you can handle the stimulation of a modern western diet, good for you. I wish I could, life would certainly be easier and cheaper that way. Eating genuinely nourishing food is often inconvenient, lonely, and usually more expensive than the crap they throw at us.
Here’s the good news – your disordered eating is a wonderful sign that your sensitive and wise body wants to thrive. My eating disorder demands that I load up on plant-based, whole foods. It’s a fierce protection against the barrage of toxic food out there. Try it for yourself. Spend a week eating flour and sugar products. I did, in Italy. And when I came home all I wanted to do was go on a rampage on the streets of Brighton and eat all the things. Less fun than it sounds.
You must come to your own conclusions on this. Feel in your body the way that these foods hurt you. Don’t turn away. Don’t hide from your internal experience. The headache, the raging craving, the dry throat – did a plant food ever do that to you, my darling?
The transformation is subtle but profound. What begins as a moralistic restriction of ‘I really shouldn’t eat this’ becomes an embodied sense of ‘I don’t want this inside me.’ This food feels dead. This food hurts my bodymind. This food is part of a system of overconsumption that hurts my planet.
A mantra I took from all the way back in FA: Thank you Goddess, that’s not my food.
There are other ways that this feeling of ‘that’s not my food’ has played out in my life. In all my years of vegetarianism (since the age of five, when I became conscious of the link between animals and meat), I have never once strived to not eat meat or fish. It is not food to me. Just like babies are not food. Plastic bottles are not food. Shoes are not food.
No one needs to fight with themselves to not eat shoes, right? This is what we are moving towards. The integration of a truth that aligns with who you are.
Unpicking the addiction is a messy road. Navigating an environment that incites constant consumption is a messy road. Returning to the wisdom of the felt-sense of your body is a messy road. But it’s a road that’s worth walking, if you want to be able to respond with genuine freedom of choice, rather than moralistic imperatives, when met with certain foods.
Give this a try. Next time you’re met with a stimulating food that you think will be just super exciting and yummy and divine and heavenly, be present to that food. Be with the journey of your bodymind. Do you like feeling so hyped up, so driven and compelled? Do you like the taste sensation in your mouth? Do you like the feeling of needing more and more? Do you like how this food sits inside your internal space? Maybe you like some of this experience. My guess will be that you won’t enjoy all of it. On balance, did that ratio of pleasure/pain work for you? Mental note for next time you meet this food. Store it in your wisdom bank of conscious experiences.
It’s a tall order. We’re asking for genuine presence, awareness, an ability to stay with reality. Food-like substances generally don’t grant this ability, in my experience!
So when I’m asking myself if I could let go of some foods that don’t serve me, no I’m not talking about weight loss. I’m not talking about restriction. I’m not talking about dieting.
I’m talking about meeting the reality of the culture I live in, the food I eat, and the ways I unconsciously hurt myself.
Meeting reality is some deeply spiritual stuff!
Does this make sense to you? Please share away if it does. Let’s get a conversation going on how you feel about letting go of foods that no longer serve you… if you choose to…
Happy adventuring my friends!
Overeating literally immobilises me. This is convenient, because our unconscious minds are desperately trying to give us what we need.
Life is always moving. A constant, relentless tide from this to that. We may say we want change, we need change. But we are habitual creatures. Our brains are wired to create the illusion of homeostasis, of stability. There is a sense of safety in what is familiar.
Habit is when we settle on something, and it sticks to us. A pattern we’ve learnt by heart, and can repeat without thinking. The way I eat. The way I move. The way I breathe. The way I relate to others. The way I meet the world. The way I meet my inner world – my feelings, my thoughts.
We desire change when we become aware of how uncomfortable this current pattern is making us feel. The current pattern was only ever trying to help. Protecting us from feeling too much, too soon. Protecting us from knowing too much, too soon. Protecting us from something we had not yet grown a capacity to hold.
I am growing my capacity to hold my own experience.
The body loves incremental and gentle change. Beware the overnight transformation, the instant awakening. There’s nothing more traumatic than a deep release without warning.
I notice the sensations that overeating brings to my body. The felt sense gives me feedback, if I care to listen. A heaviness at my centre. A resistance to movement. It makes perfect physiological sense – I’m busy digesting. This is a complex and time-consuming process that takes energy and resources. So go and lie down if you want to feel more comfortable, my beloved.
It is all well and good for us to rest, digest, and experience slowness.
And I find it so interesting that my stronger patterns of overeating almost always correlate with periods of change, times of transition. Times when my life is taking me from this to that, and I reside in the space in between. The currents of my life are shifting, and within my human nature I am conflicted. I want change. I want safety, familiarity, stability.
My unconscious drives kick into gear to protect myself. When I overeat, I’m creating the somatic experience of inertia, of groundedness. Food becomes something to hold onto, in the dark waters of change. In my depths I know what awaits me – big unknowns, instability, a letting go of the safety of what had become familiar.
Perhaps I’m no longer a language teacher.
Perhaps I’m no longer a vegetarian.
Perhaps I’m no longer a people pleaser.
Perhaps I’m no longer steering my own ship.
Perhaps I’m no longer a disordered eater.
Perhaps I’m no longer a body-apologiser.
Perhaps I’m no longer a pretender.
Perhaps I’m not yet sure how my new business will unfold, will sustain me.
Perhaps I’m not yet sure if I can be vegan all of the time, with all of the people, in all the ways.
Perhaps I’m still attached to how others perceive me, to their approval and validation.
Perhaps I need the illusion of control, a sense of my own agency and power.
Perhaps I’m not yet fully able to let go of the ways I use food to process my life.
Perhaps I still identify with being small and slim as good, better, desirable.
Perhaps I find my own truth hard to swallow, painful to share.
Perhaps this shift from this to that is more nuanced, more subtle, and more complex than any ‘easy to follow 5-step plan’ could handle?
This much I do know.
I am committed to growing my capacity to stay with my own experience. Turn over the mossy rock, set the wood louse wriggling free from the dark places. We start with feeling. Feeling what it is to eat, digest, slow down, be heavy. Feeling what it is to not eat, move more freely, be light. Both experiences are good and right. You determine your own ratios. You get to carry out you own experiments. Your trials and your errors. Except there are no errors, just a mirroring of something you need to see, to get a wider perspective you need to move forward. Trust me on that one. I’m practising too.
There is wisdom here, within my own experience. Yes there are blogs and books and podcasts and courses and workshops and teachers. But they count for nothing if we don’t explore the practices ourselves in order to access our own deeper wisdom. That’s all any healer ever offers.
My bodymind knows the life she wants to lead. From my unconscious, my intuition bubbles up to the surface, laced with uncompromising truths and a sense of unease. She knows her needs. She doesn’t care if it’s impractical, improper, unconventional. All she knows is how to be a full and messy human.
Fully willing to be here, now, just as I am.
Fully able to meet what has not yet been met, incrementally and to the best of my ability.
Fully able to forgive that I did not have the capacity to hold my own pain, or yours, in the most healthy way.
I can wriggle and squirm and avoid and repress but ultimately, I come home to this still and fluid place of knowing that I don’t know and it’s OK that it’s not OK.
In love and truth, we meet our human selves.
If what you believe to be true about yourself has no space for kindness, then it isn’t fully truthful.
From a fishing pier, in Huelva, Spain, wishing you an interesting and gentle day today xxxx
At IEWIN, we are often working with our food thoughts. The thoughts that drive us to eat through habit, compulsion or overwhelm.
We practise holding space for these thoughts. Allowing them to be, choosing to eat or not eat. Making our way through, messily and imperfectly, but onward we go all the same.
The food thoughts are just one side of the coin. For every binge thought, there is a restriction thought.
The thought that says…
I won’t eat dinner
I’ll go on a juice fast
I’ll have nothing but salad tomorrow
Or any variation on the theme.
Working on your restriction thoughts IS JUST AS IMPORTANT as working on your food thoughts. They are one and the same. Two sides of a coin.
We may have held onto our restriction thoughts because we felt they kept us safe. Safe from further overeating, safe from putting on more weight, safe from our compulsive urges.
Thoughts of restriction keep us trapped in the cycle. Thoughts of restriction cannot possibly align us with our natural eater.
Our natural eater lives in the now. All she knows is how her belly feels NOW. She can’t know if she’ll want salad tomorrow. She’s not there yet.
As we observe both our food thoughts and our restrictive thoughts, we have a choice to entertain them or not. We can’t help our thoughts arising – we exist in a consumerist culture that promotes and benefits from this way of thinking – but we can choose how far we let them roll.
The restriction thought can start as a flicker…
I won’t eat tomorrow.
And then we fan the flames…
But I’m seeing my friend so maybe I’ll have to explain to her why I’m not eating…
And then we keep that fire burning…
So maybe I’ll tell her XYZ / I’ll cancel / I’ll just have something small / I’ll go for a run instead…
Blah blah blah blah blah ad infinitum.
Wherever we are in the loop, all we need is presence if we want to get out.
I saw this quotation the other day, from an unknown author:
What I allow is what will continue.
Yes my darlings, there’s more work to be done. If you’re only working on your food thoughts, you’ll keep falling down the hole my dear one. Hold space for those restrictive thoughts too. If you want to meet your natural eater, anchor yourself to the now.
Now, I am eating.
Now, I am not eating.
Now, I am feeling my belly.
Now, I am not feeling my belly.
Now, I am listening to her wisdom.
Now, I am not listening to her wisdom.
It’s a game of ratios. Day by day, moment to moment, we align ourselves through tiny acts of presence. We may still disappear down the rabbit hole for days on end. But we start to emerge more quickly and easily than before. Our belly calls us home more loudly and clearly. We listen to her more of the time.
I’m with you, gentle eater. I’m holding space for these thoughts too. I know it’s not easy. Come and get some support, if you can.
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You know how it goes. You’re busy living your life – working, walking, talking with a friend. And suddenly, something enters your stream of consciousness. A tiny flame kindles within your brain. And the brain says, in perhaps a small way to begin with, ‘eat’.
How do you experience that food thought?
For some it’s a craving, an impulse, a desire. A yearning, a longing, an irresistible pull towards the substance. Food is just food. And yet, when the flame is kindled, it’s almost as if food acquires an unseen force, like a gravitational pull. We are drawn to it like moths to a flame.
At other times, it doesn’t feel like this. Maybe you experience it as a suppression, a stuffing down of something else. Food offers a doorway, an escape route into another reality. There’s something in my life that I don’t want to feel. There’s a pervasive feeling of… I don’t even know. A general sense of unease, restlessness. So I turn to the nearest exit. Eating.
However you experience it, the food thought is a hijacker. Did you ever agree to having these thoughts each day, irrespective of hunger and the wisdom of your belly? I certainly didn’t. Yet as I look back on my life, I notice three things:
Before, the only choice was to eat. Maybe hold on for a while (don’t eat, don’t eat, don’t eat!), but ultimately, I felt driven to consume. And this still happens sometimes – I wilfully forget the wisdom of my belly, and lean on food to process my life. It happens, I’m not looking for perfectionism. But there is another path available to me, one where I don’t need to be completely hijacked by this intruder on my consciousness.
I am interested in how we can use our physical bodies as anchors to create lasting change. We need to feel and express in our bodies what we learn in our minds. I am playing with embodying the holding of a food thought. It works something like this:
I love the feel, texture and taste of food in my mouth. Who doesn’t?
I also love the feel, texture and taste of peace and spaciousness in my brain.
Which do I want more?
Cup those hands together. Hold space for your food thoughts. Don’t suppress, distract, run away. Let them breathe, let them be there. You’ll find a way through. Gently does it.
I’ve been playing with Marc David’s (founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating) Whole Body Eating. This is a simple yet profoundly challenging 5-step process:
I read this about two years ago, and the practice sat there, words on a page. And life moved on – I continued to eat, imperfectly, sometimes comfortably, sometimes not. But the idea stayed with me, and I was moved to start playing with this approach again, on my return to Brighton after three months away. This is what I’ve noticed.
This often happens for me as an after-thought. The food is already there, in front of me. I’ve picked up the piece of fruit from the bowl. The meal is sitting on the table. The snack is in my hand. Oh right – I say. Make a conscious choice to eat. OK. I am choosing to eat this. I am choosing to eat this. I am choosing to eat this. I like this step because it slows me down, gives me a second just to be with the food in front of me.
This is such a tricky step for me. I am practising being in my body more than ever before, with a committed and daily practice of feeling my insides. And yet, really knowing what MY BODY wants to eat is still rather mysterious. And often, I’ve already presented my body with a plant-based, non-stimulating option that I know to be nourishing. I haven’t actually given my body the chance to choose that option. It’s what people might call a top-down approach – give someone what you think they need – as opposed to bottom-up, which is about tuning in and responding to what emerges. But despite feeling wobbly around this step, messages do get through. Waking up thirsty in the night – the body is communicating. Feeling cold, needing something warm – the body is communicating. Being present to the vast array of processed food, and feeling how dead it is – the body is communicating. So even though I don’t quite feel that I am at the stage of asking my body what it wants, and then acting accordingly, I know that my body communicates with me, and I do what I can with this new information.
Wow. The pull of the phone, the radio, another person, the TV, social media… we will do ANYTHING rather than we present to the act of eating. If, at some point in your life, you believed your eating to be wrong (which is a LOT of us), it’s normal than you’ll want to avoid being totally present to what can feel like a shameful act. This is a HUGE step for a disordered eater. And what I don’t see being recognised, in the whole ‘mindful eating’ movement, is the massive challenge that mindful eating entails for disordered eaters. We have learned to use eating to NUMB out. We are being asked to use eating to FEEL our insides. This is a complete u-turn in behaviour. No wonder we struggle with this. I needed weeks of quiet solitude and low stimulation in the wilderness of the Galapagos islands before I experienced complete presence with my food. Now, back in the highly stimulating environment of Brighton, I feel myself pulled in all directions. Work. Family. Friends. Life. Shopping. Eating. Consuming. Other people’s lives. Partner. Goals. Dreams. Memories. Unconscious habits. Cultural norms. Societal expectations. Body image. Money. The list goes on… and on… So if eating with awareness feels impossible for you at this stage – don’t worry. Maybe you could take just a bite, just one bite, and be with that internal sensation. Tiny moments of awareness grow and deepen over time.
This is where my yoga comes in, and hallelujah for yoga! This is where I reap the benefits of months of rolling around on my floor, noticing what feels good, breathing, being present to the sensations of my body. Yoga, for me, at this moment in time, means FEELING MY INSIDES. And now I have this piece of my puzzle, I won’t let it go. I need to feel how the meal sits in my belly. I need to feel the buzzy lightness of the sugar hit. I need to feel the tight drum of a bloated belly. If I can base my eating decisions on how my body feels inside – wow, that’s a massive win for me. If I can’t, that’s OK. Just feeling what is, and DOING NOTHING with that information is good enough. Just feeling your insides, without any ambition or expectation that you need to change your behaviour or somehow “do better”, is hugely liberating. Otherwise it turns into a new rule, a new stick to beat yourself up with. Beware. There is a big difference between “I’m interested in how my belly feels. I’d like to investigate sensations of hunger and fullness” and “I can only eat when I’m feeling physically hungry.” Don’t make intuitive eating another prison to lock yourself up in. Feeling what you feel, and just allowing that to be there, is the most transformative practice you can do for yourself as an eater. Just feel.
I’ve only just started playing with this one. It’s an interesting process of letting go. This is how it went for me yesterday:
-Ate something in a restaurant. Belly feels full and satisfied afterwards.
-Mind yells “ice cream!”
-Two options here – Identify with the thought and say yes – I need ice cream. I definitely need this. Start to feel resentful because I know my natural eater husband will not entertain this desire, he won’t collaborate in me getting my hit. Store the craving up for a later moment – when I’m alone. I won’t have the ice cream now, but tomorrow, I can have… everything. Anything. Deprivation followed by binge thoughts. A classic!
-The second option – Wow. What a powerful memory. A good 15 years ago, this particular food was always followed by ice-cream. It was a highly stimulating and exciting combination that my teenage self really loved. I often had it with school friends, we bonded over this stuff.
What’s going on here? This is a memory of a previously pleasurable behaviour. My mind is desperately trying to give me that pleasure again. But my belly is clearly not agreeing with the mind on this one. Putting ice cream on top of what sits heavily at my centre will not be pleasurable. It will be uncomfortable.
Walking home, I stay present to my belly. I carry my meal within me, and I release the thoughts of it. I let go of moral judgements for having eaten this food (I’m a bad person because I ate this). I let go of future imperatives for having eaten this food (I must do something tomorrow because I ate this). I remember that my body anchors me to THIS MOMENT NOW and in this moment now, I am not eating. I am digesting. I let go of the meal. It is over. I do not know what is coming my way. But, for now, I am full. That is my truth, now. All else is habit, memory, old patterns of thinking and behaving. I can let them arise, and practise letting them go. Goodbye, meal. Goodbye, old memories. Goodbye, old judgements and criticisms. Hello body. Hello kindness. Hello forgiveness. Hello new responses, new ways of being, new neural pathways being forged into my wonderfully plastic and adaptive brain.
So that’s my practice friends. Interesting how internally, this all felt difficult, wrong, not good enough, frustrating. Yet, in words, I realise how deeply I am engaging with these practices, how perfectly my fumbling around it getting me to where I need to go. In conversation with another IEWINer, you might find that you are transforming in quieter yet more profound ways than you realise. Hope to see you at a group or workshop soon! Check out our events to come and play…