When I was a very little girl, the story goes, I didn’t eat very much. This made my mother anxious and insecure. In those days, babies were supposed to be plump. So with prompting from my grandmother, she found “creative” ways to get me to eat, what they considered “enough”. One strategy she used was dancing around the kitchen with a mop on her head. When I laughed, she shoved a spoonful of food in my mouth. Great plan to ease my mother’s anxieties. However, attuned eating proponents would argue, not a great way to support the innate wisdom of the body. By age five, I was grossly overweight and for the next two to three decades, I struggled – with my weight, with diets, and with my urges and cravings. I was driven by the socio-cultural messages to be thin – really thin – without regard for what my body was trying to tell me. It took many, many years for me to undo the harm that was done to me and that I did to myself.

This transformation was both a physical and psychological undertaking. Physically, I had to learn that my body sends me signals that I am hungry. What a concept! My body gets hungry and lets me know that it needs refueling. I also had to learn that when I am hungry, there are certain categories of foods that make me feel energized (those high in proteins and complex carbs) and those that make my stomach cramp (high sugar foods) or make me want to take a nap (foods high in fat). Becoming attuned to my body’s hunger rhythms felt both empowering and scary. Psychologically, I struggled. Back and forth from eating is good (it fuels brain and body and boy did I feel a difference) to eating is bad (it may cause weight gain and no one will love me if I weigh a few more pounds).

There were no programs at the time for those of us wanting to break the diet/ binge cycle, although there were a growing number of women writing about attuned or intuitive eating or demand feeding (among them Geneen Roth, Carol Munter, Jane Hirschmann, Susan Kano). It was a lonely journey for me, but ultimately a highly rewarding one, that led to my creating the BodySense program in 1992. The greatest gift that those women gave me and that I gave myself was freedom – freedom from food, weight, and body image obsessions – and freedom to enjoy food appropriately. I say appropriately because I am a now mindful eater. I eat when I’m hungry and I stop when my body (not my mind) tells me I’ve had enough.

Like me, most of my clients say that the easiest part of attuned eating for them is learning about their hunger. The toughest part, however, is determining when enough is enough. I remember grappling with the following questions as if they were the mysteries of the universe: Should I eat everything on my plate just because it’s there? What do I do if I’m still hungry (true body hunger!) after I’ve eaten the “serving size” of a particular food? I’m not hungry now, but I’m scared to get hungry in the middle of a staff meeting or on a three hour car trip?

With much trial and error (as it is with most things in life), I let my body lead me to a place of knowing when I was hungry and when I had had enough. And for those of us who have felt emotionally deprived in our lives, when we’ve felt we have never gotten enough, or no amount of anything could fill us up, this intersection between the physical and the emotional can be tricky. Hence the trial and error and the importance of paying attention during the eating process, experiencing how every bite of food changes our awareness of filling our bellies.

So now food has become fuel for my brain and body, tasty fuel, but fuel nonetheless. It is no longer my best friend. It is no longer a means to assuage my emotional wounds. When I stopped eating emotionally and stopped starving or stuffing myself into oblivion, I was able to identify the areas of my life in need of an emotional makeover.

So the little girl who didn’t eat enough for her mom and the woman who ate way too much or too little for all the wrong reasons, found her way to health and well-being (both physically and emotionally) by letting her body lead the way. This can be your story, too!

Author's Bio: 

Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with over 16 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women who desire more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who want freedom from food, weight, and body obsessions and who want to develop a peaceful relationship with themselves. Ilene can be reached at 518-570-6164, ilene@primelink1.net; or www.ileneleshinsky.com.