How to Continue Eating Intuitively in Hard Times

Learn How to Approach Intuitive Eating When Life Feels Hard

You’re eating intuitively and feeling pretty good. You’re listening to your body, focusing on the good things in life, and you’re comfortable. It’s all good.

Until unexpectedly a hard thing happens and life becomes a little more difficult to navigate. A family member gets sick, someone dies, your job hits a hard spot, and you begin to feel out of tune and “off”.

Food becomes either a constant afterthought or an all-the-time-thought. You’re either eating all-the-food-and-feelings, or aren’t eating enough and find yourself having to force yourself to eat. This is tough. What do you do?

I experienced a bit of this when my mom first got diagnosed. At first, I didn’t want to touch anything. As time went on, it got to the point where it began to seem all too easy to eat more than I normally would at a meal. After a few weeks of getting too full, I knew I needed to check-in.

When a client of mine reached out this week and asked me to write this post, I knew it was necessary because I’d experienced a taste of how tough this can feel myself. Empathy goes a long way. We all go through tough stuff. Life is hard for everyone sometimes, and you’re not alone.  

First of all, I want to share that my belief is that when life gets hard, it’s not just that food gets tough, I believe a lot of things start to feel “off” – food just happens to be one of them. 

So, knowing this, let’s give ourselves some grace. It’s not that we don’t know how to get “this food thing” right. It’s that when life gets hard, for anyone, it’s easy for things to feel “off,” especially when we’re not checking-in with ourselves.

Life Thrown Off

Some of the life-things that can get thrown off are:

  • What you think about
  • Your schedule
  • Your priorities
  • Your “roll” (ex: you change to a caregiving roll)
  • Self-care
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Stress level
  • Patience (or what I like to call brain-space)
  • Communication (think: check-in phone calls, visits, updates, etc.)

All of these things start to shift and change when a hard thing happens, and food is just one of them.

The first step in getting ourselves through a tough thing is creating awareness – we need to check-in. If you’re going to through a life change right now, address it. Label it. What is going on? What specifically is tough?

Call it a “season” of life versus thinking “this is the rest of my life.” Even if something has happened that alters the rest of your life, I find it helpful to think of life in “seasons” because seriously, you guys, there is only so much we can handle. We need to chunk it down.

Now, in this season of your life, what do you need? Where are your priorities? Where do you WANT your attention to be? It’s OK if your main focus isn’t on exercise, sleep, or something that USED to be a priority. You’re in a new season, and priorities change – plus, things are tough right now. Grace. You will have many different seasons ahead as well. This is life.

Once you figure out where your priorities are in this season, ask: Even now, how can I take care of myself? What are the things that are still necessary for me?

For example, when my mama got diagnosed, gym time quickly flew out the window for me, especially  when I’d visit Ventura. It wasn’t a direct intention, but more so the thought “I don’t want to spend time at the gym when I’d rather be at home with mom. I don’t want to lose any minutes with her.”

However, I quickly realized that I needed (and wanted) that time at the gym, for just me. I wanted to  feel like I was taking good care of myself. So, I came up with the idea that for this season, most of the time I could go to the gym early in the morning before anyone else woke up. This way, I could get the exercise that I wanted AND see my mama.

Sometimes it works out for me go in the morning, and sometimes I go in the afternoon, but the point is that setting this intention and making an adjustment helped me to get what I wanted back (self-care/alone time at the gym that made me feel empowered/refreshed).

Emotional Avoidance

Before we move into food, I want to address emotions. When life gets tough, you’re going to feel a lot of ’em. Sadness, anxiousness, frustration, anger, confusion, and stress. This is normal, you’re not going to feel this way forever (as hard as it may be to believe it).

It’s going to be important to learn to sit through your feelings instead of trying to get rid of them or make the better. You don’t need to make a bad feeling better. All you need to do is care for yourself through it.

Trying to make a bad feeling better is like a friend saying to you “I’m so sad” and you replying “It’s okay, be happy!”

It’s the same if you eat when you’re having a hard time. This would be like saying to your mama “I’m so stressed!” and her handing you a big ol’ sandwich to make it better. Does that really make you less stressed? No. For a moment, you may calm down, but you’re still left with the stress the second you’re done eating (and maybe even more so now because you’re also stuffed).

So, our NEW way of dealing when we feel emotions: label, feel, and check-in. This sounds like (thank you Brene Brown & Kristen Neff for teaching me this): I feel sad. It’s hard to feel sad, and it’s okay to feel sad, everyone feels sad sometimes. Let me just feel through this – it’s okay. What’s going on? What do I need?

The anticipation of feeling a tough feeling is often so much more difficult than actually feeling through the feeling and sitting with it. 

Eating to cover up or get rid of a tough emotion will only make you feel worse the moment you’re done eating.

Eating Intuitively Through It

If intuitive eating is just one of the ways that life starts to feel off, we can look at it objectively. What’s happening? What’s changed?

For myself, I noticed that I started eating whatever was available as an attempt to not think about food. I’d grab what was at the house, I’d think less about what I wanted, and would regularly find myself standing and eating something quick, as if just to “get the food in” (not satisfying or pleasurable).

While parts of this made a lot of sense to me (I felt like I was doing what was necessary), I soon realized that I was starting to feel “off.” So I checked in and let myself know that even now it’s okay to eat in a way that feels good for my body. I can move this up on my priority list. 

When we eat in ways that feel good we are happier, feel better, and are more available to those around us. We are more patient, and tend to feel like we’re able to be better people to others. We feel more available. When I feel good, I have more space for others. Relate?

So, how do you eat intuitively when stuff-hits-the-fan? Just like you always have, really.

You check-in and ask yourself how you want to feel. For example, I want to feel good in my body; I want to be mentally clear, and have just food enough to enjoy it & nourish myself. I want to be able to show up for my mama, and have enough energy to support her and take care of myself, too.

What foods help me do this? What are the things I know I need to make the time for to enjoy my food more? Sitting down, taking the time to add veggies to my food, slowing down, and making time for solid meals.

When I feel healthy, I feel taken care of and ready to take care of others (tweet if you want to share this).

So, the premise of this post: When life gets hard, don’t stop taking care of yourself. Your priorities can change, and things can look different (they will), but continue to meet your most essential needs, because when you feel good, you’re more able to process and get through the hard things that inevitably happen in life.

Your Turn:

How does this post help you? When life gets tough, how do you care for yourself? What do you find difficult when life gets tough? I want to hear from you. 

If you have a girlfriend who’s going through a tough time, I would love for you to share this with her. You can also use the icons below to share on social media. I appreciate it!

Oh, and before you go…

The release of Authentically You, my new signature group program, is right around the corner. Get ready to say goodbye to comparison, guilt, and restrictive eating, and hello to a happier, healthier, brighter YOU. Join the waitlist for the next class here.

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