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EatingHealthy Mindset

Expert Series: What It’s Like To Start Eating Intuitively With Kelsey Miller

This is the transcript of my interview with author and creator of The Anti-Diet Project, Kelsey Miller!

Kelsey Miller wrote a book called Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life, as well as a column on Refinery29 all about intuitive eating.

Here’s what we talked about in our interview!

TK: How did the Anti-Diet project start?

KM: That came out of something between an epiphany and a panic attack moment for me. I was, like many people, a lifelong dieter, had my bouts with disordered eating as well, and I didn’t know any other way to be. Not only to eat, but to just live my life. It was just the lens through which everything else existed. I was one of those people that consciously thought things like, “my life will really begin at X weight or after X pounds.” It was all predicated on how I ate and the number on the scale. And, of course, nothing ever changes if and when those things, those goals, are actually accomplished. It’s a hamster wheel. It’s designed that way really.

My epiphany moment happened when I was 20 and on staff at Refinery29. I was on a press trip and they had arranged this warrior workout thing for us in the woods. Exercise can be a cathartic thing, and it was just this emotion and thought just bubbled up inside of me – I hit a wall. I was unable to physically keep going and I was just done figuratively as well. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore!”

I was just done, done with dieting. All the good things in my life had happened in spite of my obsession with dieting, with manipulating my body, and it happened a lot later because I’d been so focused on that. Nothing good had come of this and there had to be another way to live. I had to learn because I had been trying to change my body through food or lack thereof my entire conscious life.

All the good things in my life had happened in spite of my obsession with dieting, with manipulating my body, and it happened a lot later because I'd been so focused on that. Click To Tweet

TK: I think so many of us go through that. It’s sad that it’s a part of, in a way, growing up and it shouldn’t be, but we all experience this, as women especially.

KM:  Yeah. And it’s not even an affliction that we’re all individually given. It’s just the way the world is. You’re supposed to be unsatisfied with your body. You’re supposed to want to make it better. If there’s not a problem to be solved here, what are you doing with your life? That’s the message that we get every time we step outside the door.

TK: When you got back from your press trip, after hitting this wall, is that when you started the column?

KM:  Yeah. I had heard about intuitive eating before because when one diet failed, I would look for the new one, the one that would really work. I would look on Google and Amazon searches and stuff. Every once in a while, the internet would put intuitive eating in front of me and I would be like, “That sounds like a really great idea when I lose 100 pounds or maybe just 80. When I’m a thin person, then I can learn how to eat like a normal person.” I just wasn’t ready for it.

I knew about it and I was just thinking, “Well, great, now I have to relearn how to do everything starting with eating and I need some help,” so it just sort of came to mind and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to get the book (Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works). I’m going to find a specialist in this.” Luckily, I live in a place where there are a lot of RDs and nutrition professionals, many of whom do specialize in intuitive eating, so I was able to find somebody and I basically went to food therapy for a year.

All therapy is expensive. All nutrition counseling is expensive. I think that’s the best thing to do if somebody can do it, but, if not, I always recommend that people seek out support groups and things like that. Those exist out in the world and they exist online. I knew that I couldn’t do it on my own. I knew if it was just me and a book, I would just put the book down and go back to the only way I’d ever known. I started my journey and the column at the same time.

TK: For someone who has never heard of intuitive eating, how would you define it?

KM:  The easiest way to explain intuitive eating is diet deprogramming. It’s learning how to eat like a normal person again using all your own instincts and common sense with which you were born. I like to describe it as eating like a two-year-old, and two-year-olds, of course, are exploring food and learning and figuring out what is food and what is not and also they get really excited about certain foods for a really long time. And so I think we take a lot of lessons from two-year-olds, but we’re also adults and stuff like that, so it doesn’t mean that all common sense and logic goes out the window.

We learn emotional attachment to food pretty early on, like probably right around that age because of good foods, bad foods. Obviously, parents are trying to get their kids to eat all sorts of things.That’s how early I think it starts. I’m really not trying to sound like I’m judging parents because I am not a parent, but you learn very early on that you should be eating certain things and that some things not so much.

We learn early on something like, “This is a good food and, therefore, I am good if I eat it. That’s a bad food. I am bad if I eat it.” That’s probably the earliest food thing that we learn, and it’s so hard to unlearn that if, as you get older, the message doesn’t change. And for a lot of us, it doesn’t. Intuitive eating is really just about taking out all of the diet jargon and just getting rid of that false belief system and just letting you eat like a normal person again.

The easiest way to explain intuitive eating is diet deprogramming. It's learning how to eat like a normal person again using all your own instincts and common sense with which you were born. Click To Tweet

TK: It sounds so simple, but so many people struggle with this transition and I want to hear a little bit about what happened after you started seeing a food specialist. What was the beginning of your journey like?

KM: A lot changed. At the beginning, the foundation of it all is having permission to eat. It’s really tough. It’s something I’ve had to learn and do over again a number of times. A lot of us walk around with this sense of permission to eat as much of our “good foods.” Mine were green apples. I don’t know. It was just one of those things I got in my head, in my dieting days, is an okay thing to eat. I had to practice giving myself full permission to eat things and carbs were a big part of it.

At the beginning, the foundation of it all is having permission to eat. It’s really tough. It's something I've had to learn and do over again a number of times Click To Tweet

And one thing that does often happen for people when they’re first doing that, when you’re just sort of let off the leash, is your brain goes into that in-between diet mode, where you’re like, “I can do whatever I want,” and it grabs all the things that you’ve been restricting for so long. And so I did, I ate a lot of just like potatoey things and carb-based things, and I freaked out because I was like, “It’s true. I am going to overdose on pizza and I’m going to have to call 911 and I started this column and everyone will know that I overdosed on pizza.”

I talked to my counselor about it, who’s an RD as well. She’s a dietician as well as an intuitive eating specialist. I was keeping track of my food, which is also really hard to do in a non-diet way. I was writing what I ate and I was writing down any judgments I had about the food or any stressful thoughts, any thoughts that went into making the decision. Then you can see anything that you’re still wrestling with. We all have things that are particularly difficult. I was tracking all these things and I’d bring them in when I’d meet her once a week. Her name was Theresa Kinsella.

She would be like, “It’s not really that many carbs. Yeah, you’re eating carbohydrates, it’s true. Do you feel like you have permission to eat carbs yet?” And I was like, “Technically, yes,” but it wasn’t internalized yet. And so she was like, “You’ve just got to roll with this. This is just what happens.” And I rolled with it, not really being able to trust myself, but being able to trust her, at least, that I wouldn’t overdose on pizza.

it didn’t take that long. It took, I don’t know, two weeks of what I perceived as manic carb eating and what was really just slightly above average carb eating, but it took about two weeks for that to just sort of stop. What happens is your brain gets the message that the deprivation is gone and you don’t have to hoard it anymore. When that hoarding instinct is gone, then you can have all your natural food cravings that come up because of that sense of forbidden fruit. If you get that chance to eat that forbidden fruit, you’re going to grab it and grab it and grab it and when it’s no longer forbidden, that whole system just falls apart.

Every food option becomes equally attractive at any given time because sometimes you’re in the mood for bread and sometimes you’re not. And when they can all come down to that baseline neutrality, then there’s no restriction or binge instinct. That was one of the big things for me.

TK: After that phase, after that two weeks of manic carb eating, what was the next thing that was really challenging that you had to overcome?

KM:  I think learning to eat mindfully was very challenging. A big challenge and a big life-changing challenge, I would say, and certainly, it changed my food preferences in a very startling way.

TK: When I think mindful eating I think eating without any electronics or distractions. Is that what it is to you?

KM:  Other people would maybe have a slightly different definition, but, no, I think that’s good. My counselor suggested that I try just at least one meal a day without distraction, even if it was a snack. I hated it. It still drives me bananas because I don’t ever want to not be distracted. I want to be multi-tasking all the time and I want to be entertained all the time, like everybody else in the world, and I never want to be without my phone. It was hard, but it really made a huge difference.

TK:  What changed?

KM: It made me notice my hunger a lot more and it made me notice my fullness a lot more. It made me really know how much food I needed and also the variety of foods I needed. Theoretically, all meals should have a variety of foods and, really, that’s when I felt my best and that’s when I enjoyed meals the most as well.

TK: I want to ask you some questions from my audience! Do you think slipping back into dieting is part of the journey, is this normal and did you ever experience that?

KM: Oh, sure. You can be doing all the practical changes with intuitive eating, but it really is an internalized thing. That’s why it’s so challenging. With dieting, it’s all external and there are very clear rules and measurements and with intuitive eating, it’s all just inside. I’m often on the watch for that. I think, for me, the key is to not freak out when that happens.

TK: What are the clues, because that’s another question. What are the clues that you’re slipping back into it?

KM:  There are so many behaviors in dieting. I wouldn’t say it’s the kind of thing where if you notice you’re doing something diety that it’s all over, you have to start from scratch and stuff like that. For me, for example, one thing that happens is I get stressed out about a certain kind of food or I find myself thinking a lot about whether or not I’m going to eat something, really just thinking for a little too long about making the decision whether or not I’m going to eat something and I think, “Ah, yeah, that’s I probably don’t have full permission to eat that right now, so I’m going to take the time out to really teach my brain that it has full permission to do that.”

That happened to me a couple summers ago with ice cream, which is a big, tricky one for me. I realized I was buying ice cream constantly and filling up my freezer with it and not even actually eating it all that much, but feeling really compelled to have it. So I wrote little things like Post-it notes to myself and stuck it on all the tops of the ice cream. And then I put a picture of ice cream on my phone with messages like, “Anytime you want.”

I hammered the message home. And then, whenever I had the instinct or the inclination to eat ice cream, I just had a little bit before I even let myself think about it too much and that was a matter of days before I was like, “Okay. I’m over it again.”

If you find yourself stressing out over a particular food, then you know that maybe that’s a toughie for you and just work on that. Don’t blow it up into, “I have failed at intuitive eating.”

TK: Right. I feel like, in a way, there is no failure unless you commit to dieting again because that’s going to happen because it’s so ingrained in us that we will slip back into it and we will have these thoughts.

TK: Another common question is can intuitive eating align with fitness goals? That’s a big one, like people who want to be able to lift a certain amount.

KM: I think it just indicates that somebody still has that sense of exercise is opposite food. And fitness is, I think, one of the trickiest things. I think it was, actually, even trickier for me to relearn and one of the things that I think I am still learning again, having to start from scratch and relearn what exercise is because that world is even more focused on weight and on body shape and on things like that, so it’s really hard to shake that messaging. But if you want to lift a certain amount, I don’t see any reason why intuitive eating wouldn’t be compatible with that.

The counselor I’ve been talking about, the intuitive eating counselor, she is also a specialist in sports nutrition. A lot of her clients are athletes. I think it absolutely is. I just think it’s probably about coming at it from a different way. The same way I get questions a lot from people who are like, “I have such-and-such disorder or whatever that prevents me from eating a certain thing, so I can’t do intuitive eating,” and I think it’s obviously tricker when you are prioritizing things or perhaps need to limit certain things because of a medical condition, but it’s not inherently incompatible. It just requires, unfortunately, I think, a lot of extra effort to reframe whatever it is you’re doing with the food so it’s not about weight or dieting or restriction and things like that.

TK: My last audience question is, what do you eat when intuitive eating?

Kelsey Miller: The answer is anything, everything. Nothing’s off the table. I would say don’t eat things that are expired. Don’t eat poison. Don’t eat objects. You can eat all the foods!

Thanks for reading! Here’s where to connect with Kelsey:

Kelsey’s website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook Page

13 comments
  1. Morgan Kociemba

    This is great! I like that she points out that eating habits are formed at a young age, it’s extra difficult to unlearn bad habits!

  2. Vikki

    Oooh I love her! This was a great interview. I love the title of her book and how it ties into the idea that “life starts at XX weight” or “I’ll do X when I weigh Y.” It’s SUCH a stalling tactic and not even a good one at that!

    My favorite part was probably her hard tips for intuitive eating (like the ice cream on the phone, etc.). It’s a great reminder to really hone in on those foods that stress us out and stop stressing out about them!

  3. Jen Thompson

    This is a great interview! I love her approach and her honesty.
    This world is so much about how you look and what foods you can and can’t have. This teaches people they can enjoy food, and that they don’t have to earn that brownie. Love people like this that just want you to be healthy and happy in your own skin, and do whats right for you.

  4. Stephanie

    this was such a great interview! I had never heard of intuitive eating before this and now I just purchased the book on Amazon. My favorite take away has to be the eating habits formed at a young age. I’ve never thought about that before and it puts my current food attitude into perspective! Thank you both for introducing me to this!

  5. Noree

    I like that she talked about the hoarding mentality. When I was restricting my food and meticulously counting calories, everything seemed so desirable because it was forbidden. After I stopped telling myself I couldn’t have these “bad” foods, they lost their appeal.

  6. Kate

    My takeaway is that you can eat whatever you want and nothing is off the table. That eventually when you do not feel deprived of something your craving will subside. I found the whole article interesting and informative about our relationship with food.

  7. Priscilla

    Very informative post. Like Kelsey, I’ve heard of intuitive eating before but also thought I wasn’t ready for it without really looking into it. Now that I have a better idea of what it is I think I’m going to check out Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. Thank you!

  8. Sarah

    I’m enjoying your new focus in intuitive eating! I really appreciated the comment Ms. Miller made about realizing she needed to reach out for help. In sharing that, she’s pushing back the shame associated with asking for help and framing that request as a courageous and wise decision.

  9. Janice Bowers

    My biggest takeaway is to work on changing my thinking about food as quantifiable. So much of eating is about numbers. Intuitive eating is about experiencing food and learning what feels right for me at any given moment. I can see how this process would be life changing. I’m intrigued. Thank you, ladies.

  10. Alexis

    Thank you for introducing intuitive eating to me, Talia and Kelsey! I had never heard of it before, but when you step back and analyze it, it just makes sense. I have always been dissatisfied with my body and that, paired with my anxiety, has led to an unhealthy relationship with food. I just assumed that the societal idea of never being “good enough” and always striving for a different body was just going to be a constant in my life for the rest of my life. Learning about intuitive eating has given me hope that I can erase those daily negative body image/“bad food” thoughts from my life.

  11. Taylor T

    Wow.

    Reading this was so helpful for me as to where I’m at on my journey to weight loss. I’ve never even been able to successfully commit to a diet because I know how strong my urges and craving are for sugar and fat. So in my research, I’ve always thought I just had to find the *right* type of strict diet that would work for me and then I could start to think of food as something that should nourish me and be something I could think of intuitively.

    The part that Kelsey shared about our minds going into deprivation mode and hoarding whatever we can get our hands on is *Exactly* my issue. I’m put off by diets cus I know they make me feel deprived and I know when I feel that way, the *first* chance I get to get my hands on that forbidden fruit, I’ll take it and it’ll be an ugly, slippery slope back to where I started feeling guilty and unhappy with my weight.

    This interview was super helpful and I think I’ll check out both Kelsey’s book and the other intuitive eating book that she mentioned she read at the beginning of her journey.

  12. Michele

    Two phrases really jumped out at me “giving myself permission to eat” and “I have been trying to change my body through lack of food” These are huge! Through my experience with dieting I have found that I can follow a program and lose weight. Although, these “diets” are never something I can continue for a lifetime. This has reinforced to me that “dieting” is not the answer. Thank you Talia and Kelsey for this information. I plan to read more about intuitive eating.

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