While discussing childhood nutrition in my undergraduate lifecycle nutrition class, I remember being so surprised at the simplicity of Ellyn Satter's teachings about eating. According to Satter, a child should never be forced to eat or not eat, but rather should learn to listen to their body's internal eating cues. The parent decides when and what to serve, and the child decides how much. Eating should be enjoyable. There is no guilt or praise. Food is just food.
I realized while learning Satter's concepts that I had lost touch with my internal eating cues. Even a college degree in nutrition could not protect me from feeling confused about the "right" way to eat or prevent me from feeling guilty for eating the "wrong" thing. My inner parent was constantly in conflict with my inner child - I wanted to do the right thing for my body and health, but I also wanted to enjoy my food.
Eager for more guidance on tapping into my intuition, I purchased the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and began incorporating the concepts into my life. Not only did this journey back to intuitive eating improve my relationship with food and my body, but it also allowed me to realize a key theme in my lifestyle: distraction.
Just like Satter's teachings, the idea at the heart of intuitive eating seems pretty simple: listen to your body because it knows what it needs. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full. Honor your cravings. Eat undistracted so that you can give full attention to your internal satiety cues. No TV, no podcasts, no reading -- just eating.
Initially, intuitive eating was really exciting for me. I was experiencing flavors in a whole new way, and the food that I regularly ate became either way more or way less satisfying than I originally thought. Steamed vegetables actually didn't taste that great, but roasted were amazing. A baked potato satisfied me more than French fries. The side salad didn't actually taste that good, so why order it? And man, vanilla ice cream - delectable.
Then, the honeymoon phase wore off. Intuitive eating began to challenge me. I slowly noticed that in addition to distracting myself while eating, I had been constantly distracting myself from myself. I turned on HBO to avoid feeling sad, scrolled through Instagram to avoid feeling overwhelmed, watched Mad Men while writing papers, and checked e-mails while cycling at the gym. I was rarely ever just being, just feeling. There was always something else there.
The distraction made me wonder: what is so uncomfortable or bland about my reality that I was constantly craving a reason to avoid it?
I didn't like my need for distraction, so I began to fight it. I set aside more time to cook satisfying food. I let myself feel the feelings -- which led to feeling a lot. I called people when I missed them. I told people when I was angry or scared or hurt. I planned my workouts around how energized I felt. Some days, I didn't work out at all, even when the gym bag in the back seat of my car nagged me to fight my exhaustion.
At first, it felt weird to be fully present. I was restless; I wanted that instant gratification that a distraction provides so well. But as I continued to fight the distractions, I became addicted to reality. I invested time in what made me happy and stopped wasting it on what didn't. My relationships began to feel more comfortable and real. I felt more satisfied and peaceful, which validated my experiences more than any amount of likes on Instagram ever did.
Of course, these changes don't mean that I now live my life totally undistracted. That's impossible. I'm constantly desiring distraction. Even as I write this post, as I pause to think of the next words to type, I want to check Facebook, Instagram, Gmail. I want instant gratification. Sometimes that's what I need - the best way I can cope is to distract myself with ice cream or an episode of The Newsroom or my Facebook feed.
I've gained a lot of knowledge about nutrition over the years, but I've realized that sometimes taking a step back and following my intuition can teach me a lot more than any scientific facts ever could. At the end of the day, I'll never be able to distract myself from myself, and I don't want to. There's so much life to live. I want to be there for all of it. I refuse to stand on the sideline, eating cookies, unaware of how amazing life's experiences truly are.