When you want something, odds are you tend to want it as soon as possible. That’s true whether the object of your desire is literally an object (a new car, house, pair of shoes) or a skill/attribute (to be a classical concert pianist or an intuitive eater).

Let’s pause on that last desire: to be an intuitive eater. I’ve helped many people learn and practice intuitive eating, and almost no one takes to it like a duck to water. There are bumps in the road. There are switchbacks. There are what feel like mountains to climb. I hear worries like, “I feel like I’m not making progress,” or, “I don’t know what happened last weekend…I feel like I totally backtracked.” (Of course, I also hear, “I thought going to that dinner party was going to feel challenging, but I was able to really enjoy the food and leave feeling satisfying, not stuffed.”)

There are certain situations where the destination is more important than the journey. When I fly to Paris, I’m going for Paris, not because I enjoy being on a plane for about 11 hours, even if I try to make the flight as pleasant as possible with books, movies, comfy clothes. But in many cases, what’s important truly is the journey. That includes the intuitive eating journey.

The never ending journey, Part 1

One big reason the journey might be important is because the journey does not have a finish line. For example, let’s say you want to be classical concert pianist. That’s your dream. You study and practice, practice and study, and one day you’re performing at Carnegie Hall. Hooray! (OK, you probably performed at smaller concert venues first, but still.)

You’ve reached a career high, for sure, but is that it? Is your journey over? No. You never stop learning, you never stop growing. I’ve read that concert pianists practice for 3 to 4 hours a day, and even prima ballerinas take daily classes to refine their skills and techniques.

I feel pretty confident that even elite pianists have days when they’re just not feeling the music, or they make a mistake when playing a piece that they’ve played beautifully hundreds of times before. Maybe have a performance where their technique is flawless but they didn’t put enough soul into it. Similarly, a dancer at the top of her field could become injured or put in a less-than-her-best performance because she grappling with some serious personal issues off stage.

So too it is with intuitive eating. It takes study and practice. A life of practice. One place I see people getting stuck is when they read “Intuitive Eating” but don’t actually practice skills like tuning into hunger and fullness and making peace with all foods. They “get it” intellectually, only to find that while they technically allow themselves to eat all foods, they still feel guilty about eating certain foods. In other words, their “permission” to eat was more like pseudo-permission.

The never ending journey, Part 2

Even when you can rightly say that you are an intuitive eater, you’ve studied it, you’ve practiced it, you’ve lived it, you’ve internalized it, you don’t get to dust off your hands and proclaim yourself “done.”

Why? Because you still live in diet culture. Even though intuitive eating skills are natural, because we were all born with them, they don’t seem natural, because most people are not intuitive eaters. We collectively swim in diet culture waters, not intuitive eating waters.

Now, there are things we can do to influence the quality of the water we swim in – and in fact, I recommend doing just that.

  • Following people and groups on social media that support intuitive eating, acceptance for all bodies, and positive self-care.
  • Continuing to listen to podcasts and read books on these topics, just as you probably did while actively shifting away from diet culture.
  • Continuing to set boundaries around diet talk and weight comments from others.
  • Continuing to tune into hunger and fullness levels, and to approach meals with some degree of mindfulness.

Continuing to actively practice your intuitive eating and body acceptance skills and surround yourself with resources that keep you connected to intuitive eating and related philosophies can help you proceed relatively smoothly on your path. It can also help you return to that path as soon as possible with self-compassion and lack of judgement when you do hit an obstacle or life sends you a curveball.

Speed bumps, twists and turns ahead

Let’s say you were a serious emotional eater before you began your intuitive eating journey. Then, through intuitive eating you were able to develop a more diverse coping toolbox, so that emotional eating was no longer your main go-to when things felt tough. But then you have the WORST DAY EVER. And, seeking comfort, you go straight for food. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

OK, it happens. You were feeling emotions that were just TOO much, and you turned to food. Maybe that was truly the kindest choice at the time (Intuitive Eating Principle #7: Cope With Your Emotions With Kindness), maybe you just didn’t think. You hit a speed bump. You got off on an exit that you didn’t really want to get off on. It happens. You didn’t fail…it’s just part of the journey.

The idea that once we set our sights on something, the road to get there will be perfectly linear, as in the illustration above, is really diet culture thinking. As in, “I’m going to start this diet and then I’m going to lose X pounds per week and then I’ll be at my goal weight and everything will be just peachy.” There’s so much wrong with that idea that it would take another whole blog post to dissect it. But suffice to say, that other than the fact that we’re all born and we’re all going to die, little in life is perfectly linear. So why would cultivating a more peaceful relationship with food and your body be any different?

Sometimes, the destination is PART of the journey

Let’s go back to my traveling-to-Paris analogy. (Because, Paris.) So the loooong plane trip is not your purpose for going. It’s simply a means to your desired end. But what happens once you’ve arrived (I mean, other than jet lag)? Do you just sit in your hotel room or your Airbnb? I hope not! No, you go out exploring.

And…hopefully you don’t do what I did the first time I was in Paris. That is, have a strict list of to-dos and to-sees that you try to stick too even if you’re feeling tired and, oh hey, look at this cute little café I wish we could stop but we have AN ITINERARY!

No, hopefully you are curious about the architecture, the paintings, the different-from-home groceries in the Monoprix, where that cute little cobblestone street leads, how it’s possible to ride a bike in high heels, whether the resident cat at Shakespeare and Company (that’s the actual cat above) will let you pet it today — and how the cheese, wine and bread can be so freaking amazing and relatively inexpensive at the same time.

In other words, the destination becomes its own meandering journey. (The only constants in our Paris trips now are that we eat dinner at the same authentic-but-not-fancy bistro the night we arrive, and we always go to the Louvre on Wednesday evenings and end our visit in the large statue room, staying until they literally kick us out. My love for those statues is as eternal as they are.)

When you get a new car, or a new house, is your journey over? No. Sure, there’s maintenance and upkeep, but you also take trips in your car and make memories in your house. That’s part of the journey, too.

Final food for thought

So, when you’re on your intuitive eating and body acceptance journey, and things were going SO WELL, and suddenly they aren’t, that’s OK. Or, when you were expecting to be on an autobahn, and instead you find yourself moving slowly on an unpaved road, that’s OK, too.

The journey takes the time it takes. It looks different for each person. And there is no final, absolute destination. No finish line. No goal posts. It’s about bringing more food peace, more body acceptance (or respect or love or liberation), more self-compassion, more curiosity into your life. It’s a gradual unlearning of diet culture, leaving a little bit behind at each rest area or truck stop you pass (and refusing to pick it up when it asks for a ride).

Hopefully, we never stop learning and growing. And that includes learning about ourselves, so we can grow and flourish.

Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!

Print This Post Print This Post