Intuitive eating is a term that has blown up recently in the social media/fitness/healthy living world. It basically means listening to your bodies hunger cues – eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full. Something that has come to us humans naturally since birth. Think about when you were a baby or a kid – you would eat what sounded good to you when you were hungry, and be done with it when you got full. It’s natural up until it gets altered for some reason, in my case, due to years of dieting and being hyper focused on my food intake, my calories, macros, types of food, etc.
I feel like I’ve been aware of my food intake for what feels like forever. I remember so vividly one day stepping on the scale when I was younger and seeing my weight be over 80 pounds. I’m not sure what triggered this weird response, but suddenly I felt like I couldn’t be over 80 pounds. Right then and there, my perspective shifted. It never turned into anything crazy at that time and I’m sure I forgot about it, but once I went into high school, this is when things changed.
I had a major growth spurt during the summer between 8th grade (last year of middle school) and 9th grade (first year of high school). I went from being only 5’1-5’3 to being 5’8-5’9. People would comment on my height, too, which didn’t help. I was self-conscious and always felt like I was “bigger” than everyone – girls and boys. Yes, I was taller, but in my mind I felt bigger all around (when I wasn’t).
After finally getting my period for the first time during my first or second year of high school, naturally my body started changing. Due to hormones, I started gaining some more body fat and getting a curvier figure. I remember feeling terrible about myself every time I went shopping because nothing was fitting like it used to. I would be so upset and feel bad about myself and complain to my mother. This was when she first asked if I wanted to start going to the gym with her to get healthier and also suggested that I try weight watchers with her. Although I was extremely embarrassed to go to the gym for a weird fear of people seeing me, I started with group fitness classes and loved it. This is where my passion for fitness started – thanks, Ma! However, I also started with weight watchers which initially started as harmless but later on definitely turned into something more.
Weight watchers really opened my eyes to the caloric content in food and taught me a little bit about nutrition in the sense that I was finally aware of the things I was putting into my body and how many calories they had. Half of me was still very balanced, I ate what I wanted when I wanted. However, the other half was obsessed with the points – I had to hit my points every day spot on. I think of it now as the early start to IIFYM.
I still ate what I wanted, sometimes didn’t track, and still partied a lot during high school. I did get fitter though due to watching what I was eating and getting more into fitness, which I loved. It wasn’t until my first and second years of college that things really changed.
I had a major life event that changed everything for me the first summer I was away at college (I was 17). Although I wasn’t grateful at the time, I look back and am now grateful because this was when I got back into blogging and really found my passion for health and fitness. I stopped partying and I started focusing on my body, more aesthetically.
This was during my first/second year of college when I gained quite a bit of weight – probably around 15 pounds since high school.
I decided to try out long-distance running and while at first I forced myself to like it, I eventually really loved and enjoyed it. However, this was when things were much different on the diet and exercise front. I was extremely over-exercised, under fed, and underweight. I never wanted to go out and be social because I wanted to focus on my food intake and the miles I was running. I would run tons of miles per week, but also throw in spinning as cross training and weight lifting group classes on top of that. I lost a TON of weight at this time and was the tiniest I’ve ever been. This was when I lost my period for almost 3 years and I thought nothing of it. When I went shopping, I was fitting into 0’s and 2’s and it made me so motivated and happy to see that since I had never seen that before in my life. I would weigh myself every day and hope to see a lower number on the scale. I would never allow myself to go out to eat unless it was at a “healthy” spot, and I would rarely ever eat the food my parents made or with them when I saw them.
These photos were at my lowest weight. I was probably around 120 pounds at 5’9 which wasn’t healthy for me personally.
After running my first half marathon, I was BURNT OUT. I mean, who would be with extremely low amount of calories, a shit-ton of exercise, the lowest weight they’ve ever been, barely any body fat, and no period for years? This was when I started seeing photos of fitness models and fitness competitors. Jamie Eason and Amanda Latona specifically made me say – I want to look like them. I started with Jamie Eason’s 12-week Live Fit Trainer (which I still recommend to newbies to this day), and I changed my perspective. I wanted to be lean but strong, I started fueling my body with a LOT more food and I stopped the excessive cardio. This changed my life for the better in one way, but I also got obsessed with my body aesthetically and with eating only “clean” foods. Sometimes I didn’t track my macros, but I would only eat specific foods (i.e. chicken breast, veggies, egg whites, oatmeal, sprouted toast, sweet potatoes, nuts, fruit). One part of me was getting healthier, while the other part was still stuck with a few obsessive tendencies.
This was after I found out about weight lifting and clean eating. I started focusing on getting stronger, fueling my body, but was definitely still tracking and eating only what I thought were “clean” foods.
After a couple of years of going through my “clean eating only” phase, I started hearing about something called “if it fits your macros” and “flexible dieting”. I first found Layne Norton on YouTube, and it made complete sense to me. So I did what I always do, and that was do my research. I had also thought of the idea of competing like Jamie Eason and Amanda Latona did, but I knew I wanted to be in a healthy state of mind before doing so. I started my research on flexible dieting and tried it out.
This was when things really changed all around for the better for me. LIFE CHANGING. I was able to eat different foods that fit my macros, I started eating things I hadn’t had in YEARS without fear of doing so, and I kept my aesthetic body that I had worked so hard for. It felt like a miracle. After a while of finding balance, allowing myself to eat intuitively as well during this time, I decided to prep for my first bikini competition.
I prepped the entire time with an IIFYM approach. So while my calories did have to get low still in order to get lean enough, I ate mostly Whole Foods but also fit in any food I wanted while still leaning out for my show. Finding flexible dieting literally saved my life. Of course I was strict as can be during my prep, as you should, but I never really felt restricted.
After my first competition, I moved straight into reverse dieting. This is a process where you slowly increase your calories and macros in order to build muscle, get your metabolism back to some normalcy, get your body back to homeostasis, and to put on minimal body fat in the process. My body responded extremely well during this time and I was able to get my calories up to a decent amount.
At this point, I decided to undergo a breast augmentation. After my surgery, I wanted to watch what I ate but I was also sick and tired of tracking macros and weighing every single thing I ate. I decided to attempt an intuitive eating approach, which I have tried before but always swayed back to macros.
You would think that after tracking macros for so long it would be easy to move into intuitive eating. Well, yes and no. Do you know proper portion sizes? Yes. Do you know how much food you should be eating? Yes. The problem is mostly psychological, at least it was for me. It felt weird not to weigh my food or track my macros. I found myself almost nervous to delete my fitness pal, it was almost like a crutch and it felt safe to keep it. It felt safe to track macros and it was outside of my comfort zone to try to eat intuitively. I mostly ate Whole Foods, lots of veggies, and not many processed things but I was lost when it came to the time I wanted something different? How do I know it’ll fit my “macros” that were still there but that I wasn’t tracking? How would I know how much to have? Not tracking was almost more anxiety-inducing than weighing and tracking itself.
I found myself struggling with either eating too much or way too little. After competing, you’re used to eating EVERYTHING on your plate. Licking the plate clean, because essentially you are starving. “No macro left behind” was a very common mentality during prep. You were in a deficit and you were HUNGRY, so no way you wouldn’t lick your plate clean. Once you stopped tracking, that was hard to break. I felt like I had to eat everything on my plate. Or I just wouldn’t eat enough in order not to go over the macros I knew I had but that I wasn’t tracking. It was hard, and I was confused as to why I was struggling with the concept that should come so naturally to us humans.
Of course I started to feel out of control and low and behold fell back to my safety net of tracking macros, my food scale, and my fitness pal. It was obviously a control issue, as what most eating issues are about. I didn’t like feeling out of control with my food or my body, so every time I tried intuitive eating I was craving that control, that structure, and that stability.
So there I was, back to tracking. Back to prepping for a show. It was a constant cycle of tracking, prepping, reverse dieting (which is also tracking), getting burnt out and trying intuitive eating again, not feeling comfortable or in control, and repeat… over and over again.
I eventually entered into another bikini competition which probably wasn’t the best idea. I thought I was ready and I thought I took off enough time, but my body just wasn’t ready. I also missed that “structure” and “control” of prep and tracking my macros. I ended up going through with the second show although it was the hardest 6 months or so of my life. After this show, I was extremely burnt out.
I decided I wanted to stop obsessing, stop starving myself, stop focusing only on aesthetics. I was tired.. tired of years and years of dieting, tired of years of not enjoying myself to the fullest because of my fitness and nutrition goals. There had to be a way to be healthy from the inside out, have an aesthetically pleasing but properly working body, eat without weighing every ounce of food and tracking it in an online app, and enjoying my life while still being fit. I decided that now was the time to embark on that journey – being fit for life. Not for a short time for a competition and then constantly dieting, reverse dieting, etc. So, I started a new leg of my fitness journey.
To be continued…