Cheese! An Intuitive Eating Story.
The other day I was writing out my grocery list and noticed I needed a lot of cheese. Cream cheese for bagels, blue cheese for salads, cheddar cheese for sandwiches, and fresh mozzarella for pizza. And I thought,
“Whoa! There was a time when I would not have felt ok about eating this much cheese!”
Back in my diet-y days, cheese was on my (totally irrational) bad foods list. I’d convinced myself cheese wasn't a "clean" food and never allowed myself to eat it. (Unless it was a cheat day. In which case the cheat was always pizza, which meant there was never room for cheese on salads, cheesy pasta, or cheese and crackers).
One year, for my husband and I’s anniversary, we decided to celebrate with a bike ride and picnic dinner on Chicago’s lakefront. I didn’t keep food rules on special occasions, so I packed a dinner that included some delicious bakery bread, goat cheese, and a spicy cherry spread. By the time we got to our picnic spot I was overly hungry (I was hungry pretty much all the time those days) and ended up eating a lot of bread and cheese. Like, really, a lot. To the point where I didn't feel good. And even though I knew I was overly full, I felt like I couldn’t stop eating.
Our anniversary was lovely, but the cheese and bread incident left me feeling frustrated, guilty, and a little confused too. Cheese had been easy enough to restrict in the past. I liked it, sure, but I didn’t especially crave it.
I’d never felt out of control around cheese before and I started worrying that cheese had become a problem food – something I needed to be extra vigilant to avoid since I apparently couldn’t trust myself to eat it in moderation.
I understand now that this restrict/binge cycle is a trap of dieting. Was I addicted to cheese?!? Of course not! As soon as I’d started in on that picnic, I was already thinking about how I wouldn’t be eating bread and cheese again anytime soon. I was back in diet mode before I took my first bite.
Our brains absolutely hate feeling restricted!
It’s human nature: when we know something is in short supply, we hoard. Which totally makes sense when you think it through. Remember March 2020 when we were all stocking up on toilet paper – no one wants to run out of toilet paper! Our brains feel the same way, but more intensely, about food. Running out of food is a way more serious problem than running out of toilet paper.
Of course, there wasn’t a supply chain shortage of cheese back then, but my brain didn’t understand that. It understood what I was telling it – that this cheese was absolutely the last cheese I’d be eating for a good long while. Now add in that I was overly hungry, and my brain and body were conspiring to get me to eat as much cheese as possible.
As I began healing from disordered eating, I practiced getting comfortable with foods I’d previously been afraid of, foods I’d felt had triggered overeating in the past. A few years after the anniversary picnic, I served a cheese plate as a Christmas appetizer.
I reminded myself that there was nothing wrong with cheese and that I could eat as much of it as I wanted and that I could always have more tomorrow and any other time.
I stayed mindful, recognizing that I wanted to enjoy my holiday dinner and not be overly full on cheese. And I ultimately had a very enjoyable meal with my family that left me feeling totally satisfied without guilt.
It would still take some time before I felt fully comfortable with cheese – before I’d be eating in the quantities and varieties I am now. That’s the deal with intuitive eating. It takes time, it’s a process, and the progress isn’t linear. But now cheese causes me exactly zero stress. I don’t worry I’ll overeat it. I don’t feel guilty looking at my grocery list. I eat it, enjoy it, and move on. That my friends is intuitive eating.
This post is the first in a series of personal essays on my own journey to heal my relationship with food. My hope is to inspire! There is a full and vibrant life waiting for you after dieting. But please remember that my experience is unique, and your will be too. It’s ok if our paths are different.