by Samantha Cullen
No one likes hearing that they can’t have something. When someone starts a conversation with the word can’t a part of me inside goes berserk, yelling and stomping up and down.
I‘ve spent most of my life in a complicated relationship with food. There are so many diets out there and ways to manipulate our bodies in order to look a certain way, and I’ve tried many of them. None of these extremes ever made me feel good about myself.
I remember the day I discovered a different approach to my relationship with food. I was in the midst of an 11-hour bus ride while backpacking through Ecuador. I had downloaded onto my iPod the audio book of Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God. It was a book that had been recommended to me many times and now I had the opportunity to read—or, in this case, hear—it. I didn’t fully know this at the time, but my relationship to food was not healthy. I’d acquired a habit of controlling everything I ate in order to stay a certain size and this worked from a superficial level and helped with my confidence in my profession. However, this habit didn’t give my body the energy and fuel I really needed to do and feel my best.
What I learned from Geneen was a practice called intuitive eating. I heard this woman speak with such love and kindness about her own body, and that moved me intensely. All these years I’d thought I had to control the way my body looked by controlling the foods I ate. Never had I heard someone ask me what it was that I wanted to eat. Never had I heard someone say to me, You can trust yourself. I slowly began having conversations with my own body. It felt uncomfortable and hard at first. Here I was, asking myself what I truly wanted…and then saying yes to it? Sometimes I would notice myself wanting nothing but cake, and from there the dialogue would begin. Some days I would let myself have my cake and eat it, too. Other days I carried on the dialogue a bit longer to realize that I didn’t really want the cake. I craved something healthier, like salmon or a hearty salad.
What I began from that day forth on the bus in Ecuador was a conscious effort to incorporate intuitive eating into my life. Eat what your body wants when it wants it and stop when you’ve had enough. The diet industry tells us the opposite; it says we have to restrict what we eat to be happy. I decided it was time to see what would happen if I trusted that I knew myself best, and I vowed to be okay if I ate what I needed. I noticed that when I was able to stay present and listen to my body that it would tell me what it was craving. I believe that by practicing intuitive eating we can become more attuned to our deepest, most nourishing needs. We stop trying to control what we consume and instead start living more fully.
The idea of eating what you both need and want and having them be one and the same seems simple, right? Yet, for anyone who has spent their life in conflict with his or her own body image knows that it doesn’t feel so simple. But as Geneen says, “The moment you tell yourself you can have it, the taboo is removed, and hot fudge sundaes become as ordinary as sardines. Ask any woman who has fallen for a married man and see what happens when he becomes available. It’s an axiom between love and food that getting what you want is worlds apart from wanting what you can’t get."
Like any spiritual practice, we start with a meditation, and intuitive eating is just that. It’s a meditation on what we are choosing to put into our bodies by sitting with ourselves and tapping into our inner compass until clarity arises. This clarity is the underlying harmony and life force that sustains all of us. Speaking for myself and other women I’ve connected with through this process, the relationship with our body’s image and food is an epidemic. In order to heal from what the media projects onto us we must begin first by clarifying our relationship to food and redefine for ourselves that food is a means of support and not punishment.
Intuitive eating requires no diet plan, no special herbs or vitamins. Instead it asks us to take a deep breath and look at why we eat what we do and how we can begin to trust the wisdom within. With this, the same phrase we hear in many of our yoga classes arises and speaks through us, saying: All the answers to the universe lie within. The next time you sit down to supper, first have a conversation with yourself to find out what it is you really want to be your best in this moment.
Samantha Cullen is an actor and yoga teacher who writes a blog, The Yoga of Cake.
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