Intuitive Eating + Yoga: A Healing Combination

I never would have found yoga had it not been for finding my way *out* of the disordered eating and exercise habits that had consumed my life for over twenty years. As a physical therapist, I convinced myself that the countless dollars I spent on Weight Watchers and fancy gym memberships were necessary “for my health”. But, in actuality, my habits were anything but healthy. I ignored my hunger signals all week, eating too-small meals to stay within my “points” and exercising vigorously to earn a few more, only to binge on greasy food and alcohol all weekend long. Vacations and holidays became an excuse to overeat until I felt physically ill. As ashamed as I was about my behavior, I couldn’t seem to control it...until I gave up dieting completely.

This radical idea was not my own. In 2015, I read a book called Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, and it helped me realize that dieting was having the exact opposite effect I’d hoped: it was having an adverse effect on my physical and mental health. My painstaking attempts at weight loss would predictably lead to me regaining even *more* weight over time, leading me to start yet another diet. The book not only had a scientific explanation for why this was occurring, more importantly it offered an evidence-based solution! I was more than ready to find freedom from the food and body shame and anxiety that had plagued me for over 20 years.

Establishing a healthy relationship with food required me to quit exercising for about a year, and when I felt ready to return to it I knew I had to try something completely different. That’s when I discovered the power of a *gentle* yoga practice. Somehow, an hour of focusing on my breath left me feeling more relaxed, happy and empowered than ever before! In contrast, the decades I spent sweating on the treadmill or in the aerobics room usually left me feeling dehydrated and defeated, since I always felt so far from my “goal”. Once I established a regular yoga practice, I was finally able to do what I once thought impossible: accept and appreciate my body as it was, not as I wished it to be. I felt so confident that I started yoga teacher training just six months after that first practice.

So what is Intuitive Eating, or IE? Simply put, it’s the way humans were born to eat. Our bodies send us signals regarding what, when and how much to eat, but dieting teaches us to ignore these natural signals to the point where they’re often suppressed. Dieting also teaches us to reject entire food groups that contain vital nutrients our bodies need to run optimally, and to only participate in exercises that result in weight loss or body change. The goal of IE is improving your relationship with food and your body by promoting healthy thoughts and behaviors--NOT losing weight, though for some this is a possible side effect over time. Like yoga, it is a practice (not a perfect). It’s not a fad or a quick fix.

There are ten principles of Intuitive Eating, but the process can be summed up as follows:

Eat and move in ways that feel supportive of your health--including your mental health. Avoid feeling too hungry or too full. Be patient and forgiving. Aim for satisfaction, not perfection.

Kathleen Schwarz