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Getting Personal: How I’m Juggling Intuitive Eating and Nutrition as a Mom

January 9, 2024

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

I’ve considered myself an intuitive eater for many years now, and for the most part it comes pretty naturally to me. That’s not to say that I never have a diet culture type of thought, because I do. But when I do I’m able to notice it for what it is and let it go without getting tripped up by it. 

There were a couple of things in 2023 that really threw me for a loop though, and forced me to connect with and relate to my body differently. 

The first is that my mom got diagnosed with cancer and died 2 months later. When she was first diagnosed my appetite tanked. It felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I felt nauseous. This is such a perfect example of how emotions show up in our bodies, and in our guts in particular. 

For a couple of weeks after her diagnosis I had very little interest in food, so from an intuitive eating standpoint I tapped into the wisdom of knowing that my body still needed nourishment even though I wasn’t hungry. I recognized that the reason I wasn’t hungry wasn’t because my body didn’t need fuel – it was because of the heavy emotions I was feeling. 

This is a big takeaway that I want you to wrap your head around: Sometimes we still need to eat when we aren’t hungry, and that’s still part of intuitive eating. 

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that intuitive eating means that if they aren’t hungry they shouldn’t eat. But that’s not necessarily true. We also have to look at the context of the situation and to consider what our bodies actually need. And hands-down our bodies need food each and every day, even if we’re in emotional turmoil and don’t feel like eating. 

A Difficult Surgery

The other thing that really challenged me in 2023 was a surgery that I had. I was diagnosed with a rare benign growth on my auditory nerve called an acoustic neuroma, or sometimes it’s called an acoustic schwannoma. Your auditory nerve sits inside your skull and attaches your ear to your brain.

The growth itself isn’t harmful or malignant, but the diagnosis was unsettling at first. The idea of having something growing inside your head is anxiety-provoking. I knew going into the surgery that there was a 50/50 chance I was going to lose my hearing in that ear because of the procedure, but I was also going to lose my hearing at some point if it kept growing – and the bigger it gets the more problems it causes and the harder it is to remove. So the risk was worth it.

The way they do this surgery is cutting into your skull behind your ear. I woke up from the surgery and was so dizzy I could barely open my eyes for about 36 hours. I was still dizzy and off balance for a few weeks, but with physical therapy that got better over the course of about 4-6 weeks.

Sadly, I did lose my hearing in my left ear. I went from perfect hearing in that ear to none, literally overnight. That’s been another grieving process. And it’s a lot to adapt to in terms of navigating the world. 

From the standpoint of my own intuitive eating process, and how I am relating to my body, this surgery was also a big challenge. Given my training as a dietitian and how I used to work in the hospital, I knew that it was really important both before and after surgery that I was well nourished – especially with calories and protein. Those are the 2 main things that allow the body to heal. Initially I didn’t have much of an appetite after surgery, but once I was off the pain medications I was SO hungry (despite resting a lot and being pretty inactive). My body needed fuel to heal, and I honored that.

I’m working on having compassion for myself and my body for what it went through. I feel mostly healed from the surgery. There are a few lingering side effects that I hope will get better with time. But the permanent hearing loss is frustrating at times, and it’s another type of grieving that I’m experiencing. 

So that’s my personal update in regards to my own intuitive eating challenges this year. Let’s shift gears and talk about how it’s going with my kids…

Raising My Kids As Intuitive Eaters

This has been interesting as the boys get older. Jackson is now 8 and Lucas is 5. They’re not babies or toddlers where I literally have to feed them anymore, but I still have to be very involved in putting food in front of them. Here’s where it’s gotten trickier – they can get their own food now. 

The other day I was sitting at home with Jackson and I looked up and he had this bowl where he made himself a snack. Inside the bowl he had put some mini donuts, M&Ms, chocolate chip cookies, almonds and a Poptart. While I do appreciate a snack mix and combining different tastes and textures, this was a bit over-the-top. Every part of me wanted to freak out and be like, “What are you doing?!” Both from the standpoint of getting his own snack when I wasn’t looking, and in terms of him putting so many sweets in that bowl. It looked like a stomach ache waiting to happen.

But I kept my cool. Because freaking out would have been shaming, which we know isn’t helpful with food. And it would have given those foods more power than they deserved. 

Here’s what I did: I observed to him that this was a creative snack idea. And I gently reminded him that we don’t get snacks without my help (because that’s part of the Division of Responsibility framework). I could have made him put it back or modified the snack, but I opted not to, again because I didn’t want to give the sweets more power. I simply reminded him not to get snacks without talking to me (he’ll be able to do that more on his own as he gets older), and told him that I wanted him to listen to his body when he ate that snack so it didn’t give him a tummy ache. 

You know what? He ate part of it and when he had enough he stopped. He didn’t get sick. He didn’t eat a crazy amount of sweets. He had what he wanted and then he was done. 

I’m continuing to follow the Division of Responsibility framework as much as possible. This basically means that I am providing them meals at consistent times, and that we intentionally have snacks between meals so they don’t have a hangry meltdown. And I’m in charge of figuring out what’s offered at these meals and snacks. I factor in their nutrition and make sure I’m offering all the food groups over the big picture of a day or week, and then I trust them to eat as much or as little as they want from what I’ve offered. 

There are 2 things I’m being really intentional about with my kids at their current ages:

  1. Offering plenty of variety. Yes, we are a typical American family where we rotate through the same dinners pretty frequently like spaghetti, tacos, pizza, and things like that. But I am intentional about offering a wide range of foods, flavors and textures because that’s how kids learn to like food. Studies show that a kid might need to be exposed to a food 20 times before they’ll learn to like it. So every night when my kids say, “I don’t like this!” when they see what’s for dinner, I don’t let it phase me. I just reassure them they don’t have to eat anything they don’t want to, and I show them the foods on the table that I know they like so they can see they do have an option for something to eat. Keep in mind that an exposure might just be them seeing the food on the table, and seeing you eat it. You don’t have to force your kids to try bites.
  2. How we talk about food. We don’t label food as healthy or unhealthy. We don’t call it “junk.” My kids have already started hearing these messages at school, and when it comes up I try to use it as a teachable moment. The older they get, the more of these conversations we’ll have. 

Intuitive Eating as a Family

With both Trevor and I working, it makes it hard. We have to get up and get breakfast on the table so everyone can get to where they need to go first thing in the morning. Luckily the boys both eat the lunch that’s served at school, so that saves me from having to pack lunches. 

And dinner is HARD. The boys are ready to eat around 5:30, and given that I work at home and Trevor picks up Lucas and doesn’t get home until right around 5:30, I’m usually the one in charge of cooking dinner. And in case you haven’t heard, I hate cooking. I get no joy out of it, I’m not good at it, and my goal is to do it as quickly as possible. 

One of the things that has made the biggest difference for us with dinners is strategic menu planning. Each week I look at our schedule and what we have going on, both at home, school and work, and I plan our dinners according to what makes the most sense that night. 

The strategy I use for planning my meals is 6 easy steps, and it allows you to plan for meals – breakfast, lunch and dinners – in about 30 minutes for the entire week. I like to keep breakfast and lunch super simple and we rotate through a few things, and then dinner is where I plan a wider variety of meals and recipes. And then from these menus that I plan, I am able to quickly create my grocery list and since I order my groceries online I put in my order and bing, bang, boom it’s done. 

If you want to steal my strategy I wrote it out in a free guide that comes with templates for your menus and grocery list and you can download it for free by clicking here. Even if you live alone, this is a great strategy because you still need to have a game plan for yourself. That’s part of intuitive eating – having satisfying meals planned and groceries available so you’re not constantly having to run to the store or Door Dash food quickly. 

Planning and having food options on hand is the key for intuitive eating working well for everyone in the family. I’m sure this will continue to evolve as my kids get older and as our routines change, but this is what’s working for us right now and I’m reminding myself to also stay flexible and willing to adjust as we go. 

Ok that’s my update for today. Thanks for letting me share more of my personal life. I know that when other podcasters have shared these types of episodes I really love getting to know them better, and I love to use their strategies as inspiration for how to do things in my own life. So I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you found some nuggets of wisdom inside. 

I’ll be back again next week. Until then, be kind and gentle with yourself and stay curious. We’ll talk soon!

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