Intuitive eating was a disaster for me!

Picture of Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

3 weeks ago, I posted a blog entitled “What happens if I give up my food rules?” after getting more and more fed up with my continued overindulgence on sweets even as I was telling myself to restrict the sweets. I was convinced that the restriction and the food rules (“sugar is bad!”) were leading me to feel even more urges and rebel like a teenager against my prefrontal cortex mommy brain by eating way more sweets. I decided to try dropping my rules and letting myself eat what and when I wanted, without beating myself up.

It was a disaster.

My primitive/toddler brain thought it was a great idea, and decided we should eat lots of sweets, every day. I found myself repeatedly ordering UberEats deliveries from the DC location of MilkBar even though I still had some goodies left from the last delivery… just in case I might run out. Hoarding their peppermint snaps, which I knew would be discontinued as spring neared. Stocking up on red velvet cake truffles. I watched the scale climb day by day, telling myself it was expected that I’d rebel initially and overeat sweets since I’d spent so long restricting them. That once I got over this initial period, I’d learn to calm down and eat sweets with intention rather than overeat them out of a scarcity mindset. I thought about stopping the daily weights so that I could ignore my weight gain as I worked through this brave new world of intuitive eating. But let me tell you: I didn’t feel good. I wasn’t doing what my body would want, I was doing what my primitive brain wanted. And those are two very different things. Eating and overeating sweets every day was super fun in the moments when I was planning the sweets: which cake slice I’d order from MilkBar that day, how I’d bake their crack pie from their recipe, or which flavor of DavidsTea matcha I’d mix into my morning iced latte. (I invariably went back for a second serving each morning because it was so yummy, and hey –  no food rules!) I thoroughly enjoyed the first few bites or sips of whatever sugary treat I was consuming, but after finishing off one cookie, I’d go back and eat several more even though they didn’t taste that great anymore, and even though they started making me feel bad (heart pounding, stomach bloated, heartburn beginning). I’d go to bed feeling like food and acid was right at my throat, and then I’d sleep badly, tossing and turning and waking much earlier than I’d prefer. And I’d just repeat the same pattern the next day. I noticed that it was the planning and anticipation of the treat that was possibly the most enticing, almost more exciting and rewarding than the actual item itself. It felt like I was full on in my crack den, getting that dopamine reward surge as I planned to execute my next high and continuing to seek that high even after experiencing negative consequences over and over.

It was nothing like what intuitive eating is supposed to be.

I decided on January 31 that I’d had enough. It hit me like a ton of bricks that what I was doing was clearly not serving me. I was rapidly gaining weight, feeling badly physically, and sleeping badly. I was only eating sugar mindfully about 20% of the time, and then giving in to urges and overeating sweets the remaining 80%. I decided that moment that I needed to reset, to stop eating sugar, and give my poor body a break from the beatings sugar was giving me. That day, it felt bad to choose sugar. So I decided to stop choosing it.

On February 1, my weight was up to 160.8: higher even than my initial starting weight back in May 2020! I’d gained 15 pounds since the week before Thanksgiving. This was the nail in the coffin. It felt so freeing to be out of sugar’s death grip on my body and mind. I felt excited to be in control again. Yes, actual excitement coursed through my veins, which was so weird. Instead of feeling like I was restricting myself from sugar while desperately wanting it, now my thoughts had shifted to something more like, “I don’t want it. It makes me feel like shit.” And that embodied disenchantment deep down inside helped my urges to eat sweets instantly fade away.

I didn’t have any urges for sweets at all for the first 3 days or so, and ate my touted no-sugar-no-flour diet faithfully and happily. On day 4, I noticed a MilkBar confetti cookie in my freezer and did have the urge to eat it, but looked at it and just thought, “nah.” And over the past week I’ve had a few more urges to consider having sugar, especially with Valentine’s Day treats in my vicinity and MilkBar cookies and cake truffles in my freezer. But the urges have been more of a whisper than a shout, and I’ve managed to put them aside. I’m planning on remaining sugar free for the entire month of February to give my body and brain a full 4 weeks to reset my dopamine receptors and calm the f*ck down, and then we will see where I’m at. I feel so much more mental peace right now.  I don’t currently envision my life remaining abstinent from sugar, but I’m honestly not sure whether I can incorporate it into my life again in an intentional, occasional way without losing my shit and binging on sweets again. My hope is that I can — that maybe if I only have sugar when it’s planned in advance for an occasional treat and if I never reinforce the habit of eating it on a whim, it’ll remain powerless — but this is an experiment I’m continuing with myself, and I’m not sure when or how it will end!

Over the past week, I’ve also make some new changes to my eating patterns (beyond avoiding sugar) that have had an amazingly positive impact on my sleep for the past few nights, and I’m excited to come back next week and tell you all about it! Until then, happy Valentine’s Day — and be sure to love yourself as much as you love others!

xo Jen


Project 135 stats:

Starting weight: 159.6 (May 2020)
Week 1: 157.2
Week 2: 155.6
Week 3: 155.4
Week 4: 153.8
Week 5: 151.0
Week 6: 152.8
Week 7: ? (Dad’s death)
Week 8: 150.8
Week 9: 152.6
Week 10: 154.2
Week 11: 152.6
Week 12: 150.8
Week 17: 155.2 (sugar binges)
Week 18: 154.4
Week 19: 153.8
Week 25: 146.6
Week 26: 148.2 (Halloween candy)
Week 27: 146.8
Week 28: 146.6
Week 29: 148.8 (Thanksgiving)
Week 30: 148.4
Week 31: 149.0
Week 32: 152.2
Week 33: 153.0 (Christmas)
Week 37: 153.8 (January 2021: Start intuitive eating experiment)
Week 38.5: 160.8 (on Feb 1, 2021: go back to NSNF)
Week 40: 156.4

Total weight loss: 3.2 pounds (2%)




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