How do you do intuitive eating and motherhood? Is it even possible, considering eating may be ignored, chaotic and stressful when you have little ones to chase around?
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I’ve been wanting to write this post about intuitive eating and motherhood for a while now. Motherhood has a way of changing you in so many ways. Note: I originally wrote this in December 2018 and have since updated it!
More ways than I’d ever considered before having a child.
While sleep, exercise, daily chores and daily motivation are affected in obvious ways, my way of eating has also changed with this time in my life.
I think it’s important to remember that part of being an intuitive eater means you adapt to new circumstances and still find ways to care for yourself.
You understand that your eating habits and preferences change over time (and day by day) and you utilize flexibility and compassion in honoring those changes.
I’m so grateful for the concept of intuitive eating because if anything, it has made one part of my life much less complicated.
What Motherhood and Intuitive Eating Looks Like
I don’t have the time or brain space to put a lot of thought, stress or worry into my food choices.
I simply make them and move on with my day. In fact, when I was nursing, I was making more food choices than ever before due to the constant breastfeeding hunger.
Through these patterns, I’ve learned that when I’m busy and hungry, I reach for easy, convenient snacks. It’s important for me to remind myself gently to include enough protein to hold me over longer.
I thought it would be neat to go through the principles of Intuitive Eating (here’s the new 4th edition) and explain how each has affected me.
Reject the Diet Mentality
I have been rejecting the diet mentality for a long time now. In motherhood, though, it brings on new meaning.
While Camryn is getting to a point where she is old enough to understand food and guilt and rules and such, she is old enough and smart enough to model after me (and has been for a while).
I want to make sure I am doing the best I can to model what a “normal” relationship with food looks like.
Especially after this recent study shows that mothers’ experiences with their own weight and relationship with food may affect how restrictive they are of their child’s eating practices.
Honor Your Hunger
When we’re stressed, or busy (i.e. – chasing toddlers, not sleeping through the night, taking kids from one activity to another), it may be blunted. This is when you need to play detective and utilize some gentle nutrition to make sure you’re eating enough.
For me, my hunger signs include a “pit” in my stomach, and the inability to focus on anything besides food. I’m likely to eat whatever I can get my hands on.
It’s not always mindful, but it’s a way of trying to achieve satisfaction when I can. My favorite snacks lately have been Perfect Bars, Fage 5% (lots of protein + fat for satiety), spoonfuls of peanut butter, and Kind Bars (I build my own box for their subscription service!).
If you’re struggling with feeding your hunger, give yourself grace. Or, maybe your hunger is at a higher level than what is normal for you.
Try to think about how your body is using that food to care for your little one(s).
Remember that your body knows how to use all sorts of foods, and it can handle it no problem. By honoring your hunger, you are establishing trust and confidence within your body.
Making Peace with Food & Challenging the Food Police
Giving myself unconditional permission to eat is so freeing. Rather than beating myself up for eating in the middle of the night, I prepare for it by having a snack on my nightstand table.
Instead of feeling guilty for eating another bowl of ice cream, I feel happy that I’m able to enjoy my favorite flavor.
Sometimes, a reframe can go a long way in making peace with food.
Respect Your Fullness
This is probably something I could stand to work on a little more. Like I mentioned before, honoring my hunger is no problem, but there are some points where I find myself eating too quickly and then realizing that I’m a little beyond my “happy” fullness level.
I find that it’s easy to lose attunement and attention to my body when I’m chasing around Camryn or worrying about her. And if I don’t know when I’ll get to eat/snack again, it’s easy to eat more chaotically.
However, as an update to this post, respecting fullness has also been a bit more difficult being pregnant! I feel full more often than not now as the baby takes up more space.
Also, I think it’s important to point out that it’s okay to recognize that we don’t have to be “perfect” intuitive eaters.
Intuitive eating isn’t a destination with an endpoint; it’s moreso a process that changes as we change. So, how you eat while pregnant, or with a newborn, may change as your kids get older!
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
I have always been someone who enjoys ending meals on a sweet note. I could eat a big dinner that leaves me feeling full, but unless I’m feeling satisfied, something is missing from the experience for me.
Eating satisfying meals and snacks is something that brings me pleasure and enjoyment. We break down some of the differences between fullness and satisfaction in the workbook, but both are important for being able to eat and move on!
The satisfaction factor of food, I would argue, is one of the most pleasant aspects of eating. Sometimes, satisfaction means eating what I’m craving.
Other times, it means eating with my husband or with friends. And other times, satisfaction means a balance of carbs, protein and fat, followed by something fun, salty or sweet.
Satisfaction can be different depending on the day and mood, but I recommend you trialing different foods and/or combinations that are satisfying to you!
Honor Your Feelings Without Food
Motherhood certainly has its ups and downs. It is a HUGE life change, and nothing can really prepare you for it. There are times you feel alone and disentangled from your previous life.
There have been times when I’ve felt very anxious and I’ve had to sit with it. I think working through these feelings in my journal and expressing gratitude has been very helpful for me. Sometimes, exercise can also be an outlet.
Lately, I’ve been doing prenatal yoga classes during Camryn’s nap and they really helped ground me. The classes are just what I needed in terms of quiet, stretching and resisting the tightness I’m feeling.
It has helped to have a few different ways to cope with situations and feelings that I’m experiencing without automatically turning to food and food only.
Of course, a baked good or a bowl of ice cream will always be there when I need it, and it’s okay to sometimes choose that while I sift through feelings and emotions.
Respect Your Body
Sometimes, I think it’s easy for mothers to feel like their body isn’t theirs, especially if/when nursing or being pregnant. I realize that to properly provide for and nourish Camryn, I have to adequately fuel and nourish myself.
While I currently can’t fit into the same clothes that I used to, or run as far as I used to without tiring, I have so much respect for this postpartum and now pregnant again body.
I want to do everything I can to treat my body well, and really understand the changes it has gone through.
Exercise to Feel the Difference
When I ran my first half marathon postpartum, I talked about flexibility with training, which could mean cutting a run short or focusing on quality over quantity.
Now, as a pregnant woman, sometimes it means resting because I’m overly tired. Or just walking.
But, when I was training, sometimes it meant 3 off days in a row because I hadn’t slept well. It always means being realistic about the time I have available and checking in with how my body is feeling.
Sometimes, all I want to do is pound the pavement and feel the endorphins from a run.
Other times, I want something more gentle, or nothing at all. Like I mentioned previously, right now I often have needed some gentle stretching and reminders to focus on my breath, and yoga does just that for me.
Honor Your Health
I would argue that if you’re living within many of these principles, you are honoring your health. This is also where the gentle nutrition piece of intuitive eating comes in.
So, for me currently, that means making sure I’m consciously adding in enough protein. I have a tendency to grab at easy carbohydrate snacks (which are great for initially boosting my energy) but I know I need more protein for growing this baby!
I’ve been buying rotisserie chicken and deli turkey (don’t worry – I heat it before eating) so when I open the fridge I can just grab some to snack on. String cheese, greek yogurt and perfect bars have also been very helpful.
I don’t really have any trouble getting sufficient protein at meals, but making more of a conscious effort at snacks is a form of gentle nutrition I’m using.
Having a nighttime snack is important, even if I’m not necessarily hungry. Usually, it’s cereal with milk, popcorn or ice cream.
I’m really trying to employ as much self care as possible for me, and it is nothing extravagant. I’m also doing things like having decaf tea at night to unwind, using these blue light glasses when looking at my screen which is helping with sleep, trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour, moving my body regularly, and eating enough.
How do intuitive eating and motherhood “feel” to you? Chaotic? Applicable?