The Long & Bumpy Path To Peace With Food

25 April 2018 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

Many of my clients ask me about my experience in ending a 27 year long diet roller coaster ride and setting sail in the unchartered waters of Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is a set of principles and a process that helps you recover from dieting and craziness around food.

I was a chronic dieter, losing and gaining weight every year for 27 years. When I discovered the non-diet approach it was like winning the lotto. I loved the idea of giving myself unconditional permission to eat what I want. It was terrifying though – it was contrary to everything I had been taught since I was 12 years old! Initially the voice of the food police was noisy and my food judgements were haywire, but it didn’t stop me from eating pasta, chocolate and cheese. In the beginning I ate whatever I wanted simply because I could and it was allowed. As I worked with the principles of Intuitive Eating, I noticed that I had turned the principles into another diet – the “I can only eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full” diet. When I ate too much or if I ate mindlessly, I would beat myself up in exactly the same way I did when I was on a diet and ate forbidden foods. I also noticed that whilst I gave myself permission to eat what I wanted, I felt so guilty and feared I would gain more weight. With time and a lot of practice and much patience, I worked through this (it took a while – years in fact) and my inner critic’s voice (Cruella) became softer and softer. Eventually food and I stopped struggling and we had established a peace accord.

In 2014, I thought my relationship with food was healed. The food issue could be ticked off the list and I was ready to move onto the next thing to “fix” about myself. I was intrigued about clean eating. Promises of the health benefits enticed me, so I enlisted my somewhat reluctant husband, and we embarked on “Operation Clean Eating”. It was supposed to be a 21 day cleanse but I decided we should do it for longer. The pantry was stocked with almonds, nut butters, organic vegan protein and superfood powders. We bought a state-of-the-art juicer and dehydrator. There was mass production of organic kale chips and nut milk.

I spent hours making nut milk, making raw organic chocolate and bread out of flaxseed and almond flour. Lots of kale and quinoa. There was no cheese. No pasta. No coffee. No sugar. No alcohol. Oh and gluten – a serious no no! I felt “clean” just buying the stuff – I won’t mention what it did to my credit card – cleaned that out too!

Despite the cost and effort, did I feel virtuous and pure! Any deprivation was hidden by a high of righteousness around food. Our poor friend visiting from Germany was bewildered at our food austerity measures. (He has a very sane relationship with food). I would look down at people in coffee shops drinking cappuccino whilst I was nobly drinking my herbal tea or some concoction when all I really wanted was coffee.

Naturally, what followed after 3 months of strict eating was the expected (except that I didn’t expect it) backlash. This way of eating was simply unsustainable to my pocket AND my palate. I slowly started eating feta and baguette and my darling coffee came back into my life! But so did Cruella and her team, they came back with a vengeance. I was terrified we were suddenly going to get ill from all this “unclean” food. Horrible thoughts were going through my mind while eating Doritos and judging myself. The shame, guilt and fear I felt at eating these forbidden foods was unbearable. Fortunately my friend Vania came to the rescue! She recognised what was happening and helped me let go of clean eating and reconnect with Intuitive Eating.

Off I went back to the Intuitive Eating drawing board. I gave myself permission to eat what I wanted again. It took time to adjust (much longer than the cleanse lasted) and let go of judgement of every bite of cheese and wheat and get back to where I was before starting eating clean.  I was released from the shackles of the clean diet prison. Eventually, I rediscovered the pure joy of coffee and toasted cheese snackwiches guilt free! The battle had subsided and peace was restored.

Lessons I learned:

  • Dieting comes in many forms and aliases: Cleanses, Detox and Wellness Programmes
  • Cleanses, Detoxes, Wellness programmes can be very appealing and tempting. Do not underestimate the allure of dieting!
  • Food is not a moral thing – food is just food, it’s neutral
  • Upon reflection I realised that I have led a very privileged life filled with many choices. Clean eating is often very much the preoccupation of the western developed world while in many parts of our country and the planet, the daily struggle is to gain access to food for basic survival and clean drinking water
  • When applying the principle of giving yourself permission to eat what you want, it’s important to give emotional and mental permission
  • Be careful not to turn Intuitive & Mindful Eating into another set of rules or into another diet
  • Practice patience – lots of it
  • Change is damn hard
  • Focusing on weight and fear of weight gain will get in the way of making peace with food. What is the intention behind the action?
  • Focus on progress not perfection; this process is not linear
  • You never arrive – if food is your schtick it requires constant awareness
  • If you are judging your food, you are not practicing mindful eating
  • Eliminating and restricting foods (especially if you have a history of dieting) will most likely result in a backlash
  • When it comes to food, a flexible approach is vital
  • Mental health is just as important as physical health – eating kale and obsessing and worrying about health is not healthy
  • Food will always be like an old injury for me and I need to be sensitive to that and not mess with what works
  • Cutting out good coffee is a very bad idea (for me)
  • Kale chips will never ever beat Doritos and Flings (unless of course you love kale chips) 🙂

Where am I now, 4 years later?

Some days I only have 2 coffees for breakfast, other times it’s a green juice or rusks. There are days I only eat vegetables and there are days I eat hardly any vegetables. Last week I ate tarama and bread for breakfast, lunch and supper. I am not obsessed about buying organic and I no longer freak out if meat is not grass fed. I mostly eat intuitively and eat when I am hungry. Sometimes I eat  more than my body needs. I am by no means a perfect eater. Judgement still creeps in occasionally but I notice and let it go. Cruella is still there but doesn’t hassle me with food anymore – she has found another battlefield. Unless my mind is very busy, I generally trust my body to tell me what, when and how much to eat. I feel free and relaxed around most foods except Matzos – I still find it hard not to finish the box!

So dear readers, learning to embrace Intuitive Eating and practicing mindful eating, is not easy and it can be as messy as eating a mango! Dieting is much easier (until it’s not). Making peace with food is by no means a peaceful process. If you are ready to make the shift, be prepared for hard work! (it’s worth it). The best thing about this process is that eventually you stop obsessing about food and it frees your thinking and you can use that energy on other meaningful things in your life!

May you be well
May you be happy
May you be free from suffering around food
May you find peace with food

Love
Xen

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“I reached out to Xenia because 2021 started on a tumultuous note for me. Between deaths, businesses suffering, hospitalizations, and job losses in our personal circle, I felt depleted and found myself being available for everyone but myself. Then I was hit with an unexpected health diagnosis, which was the last straw as it meant giving up “healthy foods” and workouts that I leaned on for my well-being and stability. Despite working in wellness (Yes, coaches and healers are vulnerable too!), I found myself reaching out to desserts for comfort. I like to live a life of permissions (not labels or deprivation leading to bingeing), so I wanted to work with someone who approached healing from a place of mindful compassion. I didn’t want to be my own client. Xenia was great in reminding me to be kind to myself. Working with her, brought me peace and helped shift my mindset. I love how desserts and I look at each other now.”

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“Working with Xen was a game changer for me. After working together for a few months my relationship with food radically changed. I no longer felt like a failure. I now have the tools to nourish my body with foods that feel good in my body. I don’t feel guilty about eating cake or chocolate, I also don’t overeat cake and chocolate. I no longer feel the need to exercise to compensate for my eating. I feel much more free around eating and I am more accepting of my body. Xen has a nonjudgmental and compassionate approach to coaching and really supports you in the process.”

Rachel, Dublin, Ireland

“Working with Xen has been very empowering. Her approach is so refreshing from the usual. I have learned that I am in charge and that I get to choose what I put in my body and how to move my body in a way that I like! I get to make my own choices. It’s so liberating. Once you get a taste of freedom with food, there is no turning back to old ways! Thanks Xen for guiding me along the way to freedom.”

Heather B, Cork. Ireland

“This is the answer for those of you that struggle with food and all that surrounds it. Xenia said that I could make peace with food and it seemed at the time like an impossible dream. Turns out it isn’t. I recommend Xen and the mindful eating / intuitive eating approach unreservedly. If you have any questions about my experience, please get in touch. Thank you Xen. My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐”

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“Xenia was a walking, living, breathing example of what can be done. I laughed and cried my way through a short course in this fascinating and invigorating programme with her, and have gained a designer tote full of coping skills that go way beyond containing kilogrammes. I feel infinitely lighter. I am doing this for me and, yes, you can do this for you too! And believe me, I’m cynical!”

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Certified by The Life Coach School Certified Life Coach Certified and Trained by The Original Intuitive Eating Pro Professional Member of The Center for Mindful Eating