Trusting Yourself

by Andie Mitchell on October 18, 2010

Chinese Chicken Salad

This post is an oldie, but a goody. Since the Woman’s World article came out, I’ve met a lot of new readers. Many have questions about weight loss, about maintenance, about eating, and satisfaction. The post below is one of my favorites. I love it because when I wrote it, it felt true to me and true to what I believe about life and food. I think it might help some new readers, as I know how much it might have meant to me when I set about losing 135lbs. I hope that longtime readers will forgive me for sharing it again. You are so appreciated.

Someone asked me recently how I learned to eat until I was ‘just satisfied.’ Hmm. For the longest time I thought that any sort of eating should end with my pants unbuttoned, a few heaving sighs, and a three hour nap. Me telling my mom I needed to lie down in the back seat on the way home from the restaurant. “Jesus. Please drive fast.”

First, I must say this: there is a natural desire in all of us to experience pleasure, in all senses. When your dining companion is a Boston cream cupcake, it would be rude to not engage it. To lick the cream, take a bite of the tender-crumbed cake, and then swipe your finger through the dark chocolate ganache. Then shove the whole thing in your mouth. And look for another.

Delicious food is as emotionally decadent as it tastes. A pizza pie hits every pleasure receptor on the first slice and the third slice. The key is to notice that after you’ve eaten to capacity, to gentle satisfaction, you’re just chasing a taste. Trying to relive that excitement and pleasure from the first few bites.

Buffalo Turkey Slider Salad

People who habitually overeat, as I did for the first two decades of my life, are chasing a feeling. A flavor that doesn’t get any better, or any stronger, when it’s supersized. Trust me. I spent twenty years eating for every reason under the sun, the least important being hunger. I came to love that feeling of full. Those first few moments when you can really sense that your belly has reached it’s limits. You begin to picture your stomach, stuffed and puffed, like a whoopie cushion. I loved that.

Here’s the honest truth: I don’t think I really got in touch with my hunger and fullness cues until I had lost all 135 lbs. Sure, I started to realize that eating shouldn’t require elastic waist pants every time, and that I should stop after 2 slices of pizza, but it was just that: a “should.” My ideas about my body’s intuition were narrow and limited. I knew that losing weight probably meant that I wouldn’t be able to eat anything and everything in sight and that if I wanted to learn the art of normal eating, I’d have to get a hold of portions and practice moderation. It worked.

I retrained my brain. Reconfigured my plate, because truthfully I didn’t know that a small pizza wasn’t always “individual,” and that a Lunchable wasn’t a square meal. They really get you with that packaging, don’t they? Lucky Charms would have had me believe it was part of my complete and balanced breakfast. I learned later that this notion could be true if I removed the Lucky Charms part.

When you’re losing as much weight as I was, and good Lord that was a lot, all of your eating sensations are new. You come to think that the gentle tingling of hunger is par for the course. So when I lost all 135lbs, I visited a nutritionist to ask her one simple question: “How the Hell do I stay here?”

She told me to begin to listen to my body. Wait, the same body that likes to microwave a bag of Extreme Butter popcorn alongside a half stick of butter and then combine the two? Hmm.

I realized she was right. A few paid sessions later, I was on my own. Sure that if I was going to live a full and happy and un-obsessed life, I’d have to find balance. A number on the scale that allowed for a cupcake with my mom, an office cookie on Tuesday afternoon, and a handful of Cape Cod chips with my sandwich. Because, really, what’s a sandwich otherwise? I penned my own convictions. My eating manifesto.

The key to eating to satisfaction of mind, body, and spirit…is staying present. Absolutely and unfailingly aware of the moment you are in, and not the one five minutes ago or ten minutes ahead. Just being and accepting that all you have is the here and now. That food will always be there, whether you eat one slice of pizza, half a cupcake, or two candy bars, the food is not leaving the universe. Contrary to how it might lead you to think otherwise, one slice of pecan pie really is as satisfying as two. Let me walk you through an eating experience to illustrate my point:

It’s Monday night at 7:30. I’m with Daniel at a little Italian nook up the block from my home. I take in my surroundings. The sun is just low enough to cast that sideways orange spotlight on the sidewalk, to create shadows under the umbrella on our table for two. Breeze. When my food arrives, I marvel at it. A round of dough, spread with crushed tomato sauce, melted blobs of fresh buffalo mozzarella, sprigs of fresh basil. It is an Italian flag in color. My excitement is equal to, if not greater than, the night of my first prom. I lift a slice onto my small plate. I bring the plate to my nose just to really breathe that freshness. As if inhaling the fumes of hot garlic and olive oil will make my insides glow. It works. I take a bite. I leave the food on my tongue just a few seconds without chewing to fully embrace that first kiss of taste. I’m happy. I bite and chew, bite and chew, embracing every note of flavor, every subtle nuance of texture. I pause after a bite. I talk to Daniel about the food like it’s the only thing we have left in this world. We laugh, we grunt and “mmm” and “aaahhh” because good food feelings should be shared aloud. Eating is joyous. Don’t hold back. I remain in that precise moment and sense my body. How do I feel physically? What does my stomach have to say other than “Hot Damn!”? I begin another slice. I put the pizza down between some of the bites to sip my seltzer with lime. I finish that slice. I pause to tell Daniel a story about a dog I met that day, the one who sat on my foot for a rest. We laugh. At that moment, I realize that I’ve had all I want and need from this meal. I smile thinking about how much I enjoyed the taste. It will be here for me when I want it again, and so I push my plate away. There’s no “last supper” to furiously inhale. Pizza is always a block away.

Be in that moment. Go out to eat and eat with every sense. Realize that the food isn’t going anywhere and that your body, whether or not you are tuned into that station, is radio’ing to you all the time. You know when you’ve had enough to satisfy you. Trust that. Trust that you’re not a wild beast, who cannot be left to roam freely in food territory. You are the only you in the world, and you can eat what you please, enjoy it, and not fear it. Contrary to what may feel like the truest sentiment of your life, you will not eat with abandon until you are four hundred pounds, so long as you stay present and mindful of what your body wants, needs, and tells you about satisfaction. Life is worth believing that.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy @ Second City Randomness October 18, 2010 at 10:00 am

I remember and loved this post. :) The words you use to describe the feeling is spot on!

Reply

Leah @ Why Deprive? October 18, 2010 at 10:03 am

This IS a good post! I read it again just because. :)

Reply

Shanna, like Banana October 18, 2010 at 10:11 am

I thought this post was really fabulous and got me hooked on your blog.

(FYI, the font seems to be really light and blurry lately on your posts???)

Reply

Can You Stay for Dinner October 18, 2010 at 10:17 am

Thank you Shanna- for your thoughtfulness and for pointing out a problem with the font- I was so worried when I switched it that it would appear badly in some browsers! I’ll fix it!

Reply

Liz @ Tip Top Shape October 18, 2010 at 10:11 am

Wonderful post!! I think you bring up a lot of things that your readers can relate to.

Reply

Can You Stay for Dinner October 18, 2010 at 10:16 am

Thanks Liz!!

Reply

pursuitofhealthfulness October 18, 2010 at 10:13 am

My journey is outwardly much different than yours. However, the key of “listening to my body” is the exact same.

Reply

Can You Stay for Dinner October 18, 2010 at 10:16 am

So glad to know that even if the experience is different, the notion of trusting yourself and tuning in to your own body still resonates!

Reply

MelissaNibbles October 18, 2010 at 10:23 am

I love this post. I’m learning to eat intuitively and it’s a tough process, but worth it in the end. I never realized how fast I would shovel food into my mouth until I started paying attention. Food tastes so much better when you stop to actually taste it.

Reply

Niki October 18, 2010 at 10:47 am

I read it again, just cuz too!
I have a problem with eating too fast, so my body doesn’t recognize that I’m no longer hungry after eating half my meal until I’ve finished the whole thing and I’m home or the dishes have been cleaned and I can take a breath. I am always moving at warp speed and I haven’t learned how to train my head to remember, hey, remember that time you scarfed that chicken pesto down? Yeah, let’s not do that again, we don’t like feeling nauseous! Slow down!!!
But I have to say, before reading this post before (and now again), I never thought about it the same way as you explained… I never really thought, hey, I can have this any time I want. I don’t need to have two servings now.

Thanks Andrea. For sharing your life and your story. Even if it is an old post. Sometimes, I think we need to hear things a couple of times before it starts to sink in. :)

Reply

Can You Stay for Dinner October 18, 2010 at 10:49 am

Wow, Niki! What a thoughtful and inspired comment. Thank you so much for making my day! It’s unbelievably fulfilling to hear that anything I write resonates with people.

Reply

Mandi October 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I love this article so much. It is so true and inspiring. I have been obsessed my entire adult life with weight and I am reaching that point where I am saying, “Why am I doing this to myself?” Your thoughts remind me of what Geneen Roth says in “Women, Food, and God” and I think you are on to something. I just wrote an article about something similar to what you are saying in my magazine column, however I am still not as evolved as you… but I am work in progress. I would love for you to check out my blog at http://www.freedingo.blogspot.com!

Reply

Maile October 18, 2010 at 6:56 pm

My mom just read your article in Woman’s World and passed along your website to me. I’ve been a huge proponent of intuitive eating for a long time and so appreciate the articulate way you explain the concept. Congratulations on your long and successful journey with weight and food, and thanks for your insight and encouragement! (And can’t wait to try out some of the delicious-looking recipes you have posted…)

Reply

Can You Stay for Dinner October 18, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Thank you so much Maile! Intuitive eating is the way to go- it’s the evolution of my eating and I’m so happy to have come to a place of balance with it.

Reply

Kristy October 19, 2010 at 4:51 am

SO well written!!! Thank you for sharing. I also have lost a large amount of weight and really didnt have to think for myself until the weight was gone. Listening has never been so hard but the reward is worth the effort!

Reply

Can You Stay for Dinner October 19, 2010 at 6:37 am

Thank you Kristy!!

Reply

Susan October 20, 2010 at 6:47 pm

I am debating on joining Weight Watchers or trying in on my own. I read your article in Woman’s World and would like to know what was your meal plan for your weight loss. I really enjoyed your article.
Please, please tell me know you lost your weight and kept it off…
Thank you for your time…

Reply

Can You Stay for Dinner October 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Hi Susan! I think Weight Watchers is a great program, I really do. I also thik that it really helped me to learn the bare bones of nutrition- portion sizes, etc. It made me start to think about calories and fat and fiber. I followed it for a bit, but then I found that I just wanted to go with my own instincts and try my own route. It certainly isn’t for everyone. I believe you have to find the balance that you want in your life. For me, that meant I didn’t want to be counting points anymore, but rather the larger picture of whole, real foods, and paying attention to calories. This road was such a good one for me. I have maintained my 135lb weight loss for nearly five years and I can honestly tell you that I’m happy with where I am today. Food is not my enemy, it’s not my addiction, it’s just food. More of a passion than anything. I’ve learned to cook and bake and sharing those recipes is a joy. I think no matter what you do, you need to learn the basics of nutrition. You must learn portion sizes and you must learn at least a little bit about calories. Because it really is a matter of calories in versus calories out when it comes to weight loss. I wish you the very best!

Reply

Katie October 26, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I’m a new reader, and this post actually brought a few tears to my eyes. Everything you stated here is exactly the argument I have been having with myself my entire life, yet I never have been able to put it into actual words. “Chasing a taste” is something I am going to keep thinking about when I pick up a fork from now on. Why do I need that third or fourth slice of pizza? Why the second bowl of ice cream? It isn’t going to taste any differently than it did on the first bite! It makes such huge sense, yet it never, ever had occured to me.

I’m doing weight watchers for the second time in my life. The first time I lost 67 pounds but got lazy after falling in love and getting married. Now, five years later, and 67+ pounds heavier again, I find myself having to lose around what you lost. I need to lose 130. I’m 31. I’m scared I’m never going to be a mother. I’m scared that I’m going to die young. I don’t want to be just thin this time. I want to be healthy. So far I’ve lost 19 pounds and I am in a much more focused and positive place than I have been. Thank you for being an inspiration, and thank you for giving me a “THAT’S IT!!” moment today. Reading your post today may have altered a very skewed view I’ve had for the last 31 years.

Reply

Can You Stay for Dinner October 26, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Katie, I can’t begin to thank you for your comment. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazed I am at how brave and strong you are to head down this road to health. You know what you need to do and you know the things you want for yourself. Go with those notions. You are one of the reasons that I write and share my journey so openly on this blog- and to hear that you’ve been even a little bit comforted or inspired makes me feel fulfilled in some way. Thank you thank you thank you. You can do this, really you can.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: