Kelsey Miller had spent her whole life dieting. She told herself that certain foods were “good” or “bad,” she counted calories, she punished herself for deviating from dietary “rules”—and she was miserable. So the Refinery29 writer gave up dieting for good, and turned to the much more sustainable model of intuitive eating.
The idea behind intuitive eating is simple. You pay attention to your body’s natural hunger signals, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. The concept has been around for some time, but became more mainstream in 1995 when Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D.N., C.E.D.R.D., Fiaedp, F.A.D.A., published their book Intuitive Eating.
“While a diet separates you from your body, forcing you to abide by its rules about food, intuitive eating aims to get you back in touch with your body’s own signals,” Miller explains. “Suddenly, no food is good or bad, no meal dictates your day, and there is no one but you in charge of what and how you eat. I KNOW.”
Miller’s Refinery29 column, The Anti-Diet Project, followed her experiences with intuitive eating and how she learned to heal her relationships with food and exercise. She’s conquered fears like being photographed in a bikini. She’s pushed back against the “rules” of plus-size fashion. She’s tried hypnotherapy. She’s confronted trolls. And she has recently published a memoir, Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting And Got A Life, about learning to come to peace with food.
Miller spoke to SELF.com about getting out of her comfort zone, writing the book, and helping other people know that they’re not alone.
Before you learned about intuitive eating, what were your habits like? What were you struggling with?
I had been in the diet cycle since I was a child. It was never like I was eating normally. I was either on a diet or in-between diets. And when you’re in-between diets, you feel like you’re being “bad.” You’re drenched in shame. I had gathered so much bullsh*t about food in my years of doing all these different kinds of diets: “This is illegal food, this is a food that makes me better, this is a food that’s basically poison.” I had this totally perverted sense of what was nutritious and healthy and what was not, based on all this garbage I had absorbed my entire life. I was a mess. Food was either salvation or the enemy, depending on the day.
Somehow, I wrote a book. And exactly five weeks from today, it’s coming out! Preorder your copy today, online, in stores — or just do it on your damn phone like everything else! Link in bio! #BigGirl #Bookstagram #Memoir #Preorder
What brought you to intuitive eating?
I’d heard about it, because I was always on the prowl for a new diet book. That was my self-soothing behavior when I felt bad or I felt that my life wasn’t going the way I wanted. I’d say “Oh, I’ll go on a new diet and that’ll just fix everything.” So I stumbled across it a couple of times, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. I would say, “That’s a really great idea, that I will definitely do, but I have to get skinny first.” When I hit this sort of bottoming out moment with dieting and with my self-loathing I realized that [intuitive eating] really was the way out. There’s a reason my brain kind of hung on to the concept. It teaches you how to eat like a normal person again. It dawned on me all at once. “Oh, I’m done with dieting. Oh, I’m done hating myself. And I think this might be the tool I need to help myself get out of the woods.”
Once you decided that this was the path you wanted to take, that would be best for you, did you start all at once? Or did you make smaller changes with the way you were eating? Retraining your brain to think differently about food must have been very challenging.
Oh, yeah, it’s a constant. The thing that’s disappointing to me—and to everyone—is that it’s never really over. With a diet, you have the rules in place and you follow the rules. But with this, there are principles, not really guidelines or rules. It’s never over. There were radical changes and the first thing was, no more food rules. Instead, learning how to actually listen to my body and my brain when it came to asking, “OK, what do you want to eat for breakfast?” And that was a radical change in and of itself. But that doesn’t stop your brain from looking at a potato and seeing it in Weight Watchers points. You have to practice it a lot to make the potato just a potato again.
Psyched for today’s #antidietproject, featuring some kick-ass, un-boring activewear for ALL sizes. High five to all the brands who know it’s not just the XS women of the world who enjoy a sweet jogging capri. (Photo by @laurenperlstein, styling by @bethiegirmai, my glammed-up hair and face by @andibeauty)
Did you work with any specialists? A dietitian or a therapist?
I was really, really lucky—I knew that I needed help. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own or I would feel like I was a crazy person. It does sort of make you feel like a crazy person at first, to be doing something that’s so antithetical to everything that culture is saying to you. So I found an eating coach who is a registered dietitian, and she specialized in intuitive eating. She was basically the person who sat there with me and talked through my day. I would journal every time I ate, but it wasn’t a food journal where I wrote down how many grams of carbohydrate or calories or points or whatever, it was things like, “I had a bowl of oatmeal with raisins for breakfast and I kind of stressed out over ordering the raisins because in my mind I think they’re sugary and bad for me. But I also knew that I wanted them, so I ate them, and it was a little stressful but I did it.” That kind of thing. So I would sort through all that stuff with her, and it was very helpful to have a professional. A big part of my mind when I went into this was like, “You’re just going to eat pizza forever and ever and ever. If you’re allowed to eat whatever you want, you’re going to literally overdose on Domino’s.” And it was very helpful to have somebody in the room there to be a witness to the fact that I was not overdosing on Domino’s, and to remind me that I’m not crazy.
So what made you decide to share this so very publicly? You wrote the anti-diet project column, which is so open and so upfront about the things you struggled with. Not everyone would be able to do that.
I think a lot of it comes from who I am as a person and as a writer. This is stuff that’s really hard for me to talk about with my friends and with my family, and it was easier to talk about it with an anonymous audience. And I knew, obviously, I’m not the only one who has been in this situation, who feels like a psycho around food and doesn’t know how to stop hating their body and just eat and live and exist. I also had a very messed up relationship with exercise. I really wanted to share the lessons I learned along the way.
Did you change the way you exercise as well?
Yeah. Before, I was really all-or-nothing with exercise. I have lifelong injuries from going too hard and just being an idiot. It was very extreme. I would burn out or get injured, and then I would be on the couch for like two years. So I realized, there’s got to be a way to be active. I had to learn the difference between being a gym junkie and being an active person. I had to relearn the way I saw exercise and really challenge my old feelings on that. I worked with a trainer for about a year, because I knew I needed somebody there to guide me and to help me learn my own strengths and my own abilities.
How do you feel about the reaction you’re seeing to your column and the book?
It makes me feel less alone. One of my goals as a columnist is to make people feel less alone, and to feel less alone myself. Even though you know in your head that this is everyone’s problem, it’s easy to feel like you’re the most messed up and you are the most damaged. That you’re unfixable. And that’s just not true.
Big Girl is now available online and in stores.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The post Kelsey Miller, Author Of “Big Girl,” Explains How Intuitive Eating Changed Her Life appeared first on SELF.