Intuitive Eating in College

Mind and Body

Principle 9 contains a very helpful idea. This section proposes that emotional eating can actually serve a purpose. Once you’re eating intuitively the majority of the time, finding yourself overeating is a clear indicator to let you know that something in your life is off. You know that some part of yourself needs extra attention because it’’s leading to this coping mechanism. By decoupling the idea of emotional eating from feelings of guilt, it becomes instead an ally in taking care of yourself. Since going back to school for second semester, I have already seen how helpful this can be.

I felt some old habits kicking in when classes started. I was lucky enough to have about a month off for winter break, which gave me both a lot of time to work on intuitive eating, and a challenging holiday to work through. Now that I’m back at school, I’m determined to keep from reverting to my old ways.

One day at breakfast, after eating about half of both the yogurt and the oatmeal I had gotten, a friend sat down next to me with a bagel that suddenly looked very good. Though I know the dining hall has bagels every single day, I wanted one for that meal, though I’d already eaten. I thought about how everyone would notice if I got another thing to eat. But I wasn’t full, and I wanted a bagel.

I eventually got one and ate half. I’m honestly not sure if I got it out of fear of not having one later or because I genuinely wanted it. It was good, and for the most part, I didn’t feel guilty when I was done, but I’m just not sure what to take away from the experience, other than that adapting to eating at school again may be more challenging than I thought.

It was an interesting week. I was navigating having a schedule again and therefore having to put some more forethought into my meals. I definitely ate more at breakfast this week than I did most of the time I was home, but I also went to the gym before breakfast this week.

I usually have some kind of dessert after a lunch and dinner, but the need to keep eating more of that dessert has lessened. However, I’m also facing eating in front of people again. Of course, I ate with my family and friends at home, but it’s different at school. I imagine my peers counting each time I go up to get more food, thinking to themselves that I really shouldn’t be eating so much. Sometimes I asses what’s on someone else’s plate before I eat something. I tell myself repeatedly that no one’s paying attention, no one cares what I eat, but the thoughts still drive me crazy.

I move a lot more at school. I go to the gym, I walk everywhere, and some of my classes are movement-based. Needless to say, I expected myself to be more hungry once I returned, but it’s stayed the same for the most part. At night, after dinner, is when I feel strange. I don’t have the gnawing hunger that I feel before lunch, but I often feel empty. Like I could eat another entire meal. And it’s scary, especially on days when I feel gross in my body or I know that I haven’t burned very many calories. It’s difficult for me to discern if this is in my head or not.

After a few weeks of trying to figure this out, I think it’s a bit of an avoidance thing. I know when I’m done eating it’s usually time for me to do homework, and sometimes I want to delay that. To sort out whether I need more food or just more time to chill, I’m using a tactic I got from a psychologist a long time ago. When I get back to my dorm after dinner, I take fifteen minutes to do whatever I want. A lot of times it’s reading or scrolling online. This gives me a little buffer to see if I’m really still hungry. If I am after that time, I’ll eat something else. If not, I can usually get to work without too much trouble. I think this just helps to separate the idea of eating from that of relaxing. If I have another enjoyable time every day, I won’t try to drag out dinner and I think I’ll be happier overall.

I think that by focusing on what I love about my classes and everything I do throughout the day, I’ll rely less on food to structure my day and it will become more of an afterthought. Easier said than done, of course, but I’m hopeful.

I’ve had some really rough body image days since returning to school. At one point I nearly burst into tears during a voice lesson because I had to look in the mirror for a vocal exercise. I hated what I saw in that moment and I was thrown off for the rest of my lesson. The mirror in my dorm was throwing me off as well. I often found myself stuck in front of the mirror trying to measure what I saw or debating whether to change clothes. I probably wasted a couple of hours total in this way. Staring into the mirror, wishing myself away and pulling at my clothes. The idea that I could have spent that time learning, creating, being with friends, doing anything else really got to me, and now I’m trying my best to limit the time I look in the mirror. When I think of what I could do with the time I waste, I usually find it easier to shrug off whatever I see and move on. Some days I still get stuck, but I’m getting better. I even got through a few dance classes with mirrors, no tears involved.

Going back to school posed some serious challenges. It was frustrating and confusing and I briefly considered bagging the whole thing and counting calories again. But I know tons of facts that tell me that won’t work, and I have tons of evidence that shows me I’ll be happier if I keep going. So keep going I shall.

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