Today is the day that my cat of 19 years is no longer with us. He was literally 3 months short of having spent half my life with me. This might not have been the opening sentence you were expecting but I promise I will explain…as well as it might explain if this post sounds sad, even when I am trying for it not to.
Watching a loved one pass, human or otherwise, is a strong reminder how fleeting life really is. And how at the end our bodies just can’t hold on otherwise. I have often said that BammBamm has lived this long as he is as stubborn as the humans he lives with, and loves with all of his being. It was when I was laying on the floor with him this past weekend reading through a few very long threads of diet vs non diet vs HAES vs diet culture on social media that I was struck with this gut punch. I did not care right then about whether he was eating or drinking or how much weight he was rapidly losing all I was caring about was giving him love. And then I had this weird flashback to a vet appointment when we were fat shamed for having an “obese” cat. Did I not know that I was essentially shortening his life by giving him diabetes?? (19yrs old and never had) he would need to go on cholesterol meds?? (nope no meds at all). Now I am not at all trying to compare this experience to a humans except to say that I felt like shit leaving that appointment and lets be clear…it was about my cat and not my child or myself. I couldn’t even begin to fathom the shame that is heaped on people. I will say however that experience was one of the reasons that I embraced the Non-diet and HAES approach. (thank you for letting me immortalize Bammbamm in my blog)
While reading many of the comments, within the HAES and/or Non-diet community, I was struck with how broad the learning spectrum is and how it appeared that there needed to be more conversations around this topic. We need to learn and grow. Once we say we have learned it all we are kidding ourselves into thinking that we have the learned experiences of all. This is impossible and will never happen. If you think you know all that there is to know about this type of work and how you fit in then that needs to be a red flag that you meed to learn more…do more….push out of that box. Listen, observe, ask questions! Why do some stop asking questions and assume that the answer is already known by them. I think we need more stories, more people of various lived experiences sharing. And we need to listen! It is our responsibility to do the work. So…I am going to tell you my story around intuitive eating…and why I would call myself an intuitive eater even if a black and white thinker I may not.
I have written before about having Crohn’s disease. For those of you that are not aware of what it is, it is a GI disease where my body attacks the lining of my intestinal tract causing ulcers to occur. There is inflammation in the intestinal tract as well as bleeding and sometimes infection. As one can guess this disease can also cause severe amount of pain. Couple with that I have to eat gluten free. I refused the biopsy for diagnosis of Celiac because I could not put myself through eating it for the month prior as the test was going to be months after blood work and a trial to see improvements. So I have not technically been diagnosed however I have been glutened 3 times without knowing and each time thought I was dying of a weird intestinal virus as the symptoms were so bad. So for all intents and purposes I do not eat gluten free because it is cool. Is it a choice? Well I think every food we eat is a choice so yes I choose not to be laying on a bathroom floor in tears for 24hrs after ingestion of gluten. So what does this have to do with intuitive eating? Some people say that intuitive eating is eating to your hunger and fullness cues and eating whatever your body tells you that you want. And yes, on a basic level this can be true but we need to look at the nuance. Over the years of having Crohns disease there have been long stretches of time where I couldn’t eat much fibre. All white flours, only vegetables that were cooked past the point of soft, blended fruit as long as it didn’t have seeds. I can honestly say that I didn’t enjoy eating like this. I made myself eat even when I felt too sick to eat because I knew my body needed nourishment. There was a period of at least a week once where the only thing that did not make me feel terrible were french fries. Yes this dietitian ate french fries for a week….and fyi I am still around to tell the tale. I was so sick one Christmas dinner that my mom had all the same veggies that were in the meal in pureed form for me so I could be part of dinner. Is this what some would say is eating whatever you want and listen to your cues? No maybe not but I will tell you I sure listened to what my body was saying.
Even now I eat what I want, with some planning. 16 years ago I had a bowel resection. I have a narrowing at the surgical site which needs to be dilated every year. I have obstructed on broccoli 3x in my life, each time leading to a few days in the hospital. So what did I learn from those experiences? I can’t eat a lot of fibre at a time (and broccoli is a vile weed!!). So even if my body really does want a salad for dinner I need to think about my meals and snacks earlier in the day. If I had a fruit and a raw veg in the afternoon I know that I can not handle a salad at dinner. If I am not particularly hungry at a meal time I know that I need to eat some but likely avoid fibre to see if it is that I am not hungry or if something is “stuck”. Couple this with making sure what I am eating is gluten free there is a lot of planning that goes into my daily eating plan. I have snacks in every bag in case I get stuck somewhere or am late (always!! late) because I can’t be spontaneous. But would I say I am intuitive eater? Yes. I would also say I am mindful and non diet. Yet I think that there are some that would argue. I eat the way I do with the patterns that I do and (lets be honest here) the rules that I do so that I can feel my best. If I eat gluten I do not absorb from the rest of my food. If I am not aware of my fibre or water intake I can get really sick. If I do not include the foods that have been restricted from me over the years I start to feel bad about my health. Example: I went years without much fresh fruit, so now I am in a place where I can get berries or something daily (Ontario peaches right now YUMMY!) and I will adjust a meal before or after depending on how well my gut is. And to me that is part of being in this community and being a non-diet dietitian. What works for me only works for me. And it will change. I might need another surgery. I might develop yet another autoimmune disease that will effect my eating. Or I might stay in this state for years. I don’t know. We can’t know.
Being a non-diet, HAES dietitian for me is, doing what is best for those around me. Listening to others experiences, and doing all the work…and when I say all the work I mean all the work. Learn about marginalized bodies and identities. Learn about oppression. Take time to evaluate yourself and your work. Have those hard conversations that need to be had. Don’t draw a line in the sand. Compassion- for yourself and others.
And for those of you that say “Intuitive eating is just another set of rules” look for the nuance in those situations, we can’t all eat the broccoli even when we want it.
Until next time be unapologetically you while I be unapologetically me….