IEWIN: A Community that Rejects Diet Culture, Embraces HAES and Reclaims Intuitive Eating

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‘I eat what I need’ (IEWIN) is a community of conscious eaters, led by daughter and mother Emily and Jan Holden.

At IEWIN, our mission is to reorientate towards a more comfortable relationship with food and our bodies.

In order to do this, we reject many of the current, mainstream approaches, focussed as they are on weight loss, calorie counting, and body shaming.  We reject diet culture in all its forms.  We reject the shame and stigma that is so often attached to disordered eating behaviours.  We reject both systemic and internalised fat phobia, trying hard to recognise it in ourselves (and it was deep in our systems!) and the wider society.  We also, controversially, reject toxic food culture, because we have come to understand that much of the ‘food’ we are sold today is not fit for consumption, as despite being both convenient and tasty, when consumed regularly it undermines our mental, physical and emotional well being.

We have come to embrace an approach known as ‘The Process’, which is everything we know to be true about recovery from disordered eating and fat phobia, in our own lived experience.  How to practise The Process, how to create your own freedom from disordered eating and body image issues, is what we teach.

Throughout our lives, my mum Jan and I have been fat, thin, and different sizes in between.  We’ve dieted and done exercise plans.  I even spent 5 months in FA, the food addiction branch of Alcoholics Anonymous, in a desperate attempt to tackle my bingeing.

At times, our overeating, and our obsession with weight, was the primary focus of our lives.  We wanted freedom.  We wanted to live comfortably in our bodies, as they are now.  We wanted to eat what we needed, without judgement or guilt.  We wanted to simply eat, live in a body, and be at peace with these two fundamental elements of a human life.

How did you come to create IEWIN?

After leaving FA (Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous), I didn’t know where to turn.  I couldn’t maintain total abstinence from flour and sugar, nor continue to follow the strict ‘guidelines’ (i.e. rules!) that the programme dictated.  I also couldn’t go back to my old ways of numbing out in front of the TV with all my favourite binge foods.  I spent the weekend talking things through with Mum, wondering where we could go from here, now I was out of the programme, on my own again.  We’d both struggled with overeating throughout our lives, and yet we knew at our core that dieting and trying to ‘get control’ of our bodies wasn’t working.

Together, we began exploring new avenues, building on what we already knew about what was and wasn’t supportive for our mental and physical health.  Based in Brighton, I began to explore therapeutic bodywork: cranio-sacral therapy, Scaravelli-inspired yoga, and somatic (body-based) meditation.  I also became very interested in spirituality, especially Buddhist teachings.  I learned about mindfulness and self-compassion, and applied these teachings to my recovery from disordered eating.

Through the bodywork, we began to understand that the natural eater, the eater we were born to be, who eats what she needs effortlessly and easily, could be accessed when we connected at a much deeper level with the sensations within our bodies.  Of course I’d known for a long time that I should probably just eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full.  That’s what my natural eater friends seemed to do without any conscious effort or strain.  But somewhere along the line I’d clearly forgotten how exactly I was supposed to access that information, as I never seemed to be able to do that in practice.  I was constantly striving to eat less and move more, and nothing I did was ever good enough.

In order to connect with the body, we had to learn to quieten the very noisy voice of the mind.  In the beginning, we were often bombarded with constant food thoughts (eat this, don’t eat this…) and ‘bad body’ thoughts (must lose weight, must get smaller, must stop eating…).  We learned to dive beneath the superficial layer of habitual thoughts, fears and obsessions, and access the feelings beneath.  We learned that in order to eat what we need, we have to simply feel what we feel.  We learned to sit with our discomfort, even though we desperately wanted to escape these difficult feelings, with pleasure-seeking or numbing out behaviours (for me, eating stimulating food while watching TV was the perfect zoning-out combo).  We learned to rewire our brains, using the power of neuroplasticity, unhooking from old habits and addictive behaviours.  We learned to stop, breathe, and connect with how we feel inside before rolling into habit, whether the habit was overeating or restricting, obsessing about food or obsessing about weight.  We learned that recovery, if anything, is a daily practice, and it involves noticing our thoughts and behaviours, pausing before we roll into habit, compassionate curiosity, body awareness, and resilience.  These are all elements that form ‘The Process’, our map of recovery.  Kindness and unconditional acceptance towards ourselves along the way underpins everything we do.

We shared these insights, for the first year, on our blog, daring to be open with the wider world about our eating challenges and body-insecurities.  Then we began running groups in Colchester and Brighton, for anyone who wanted to explore their eating and their relationship with their bodies.  Then we designed a 7-week course, each week focusing on a different aspect of ‘The Process’, to support people in the awakening of their natural eater.  We wanted to continue to understand how to eat what our bodies needed, and help others to do the same.

What groups of people do you typically work with?

In our experience, disordered eaters (and natural eaters) come in all shapes and sizes.   You can be naturally thin, or naturally fat; and, like in our own lives, bodies change shape over a lifetime, according to our unique and ever-evolving life situation.  Body diversity is a reality, and we practise the principles of Dr Linda Bacon’s HAES (Health at Every Size): that the pursuit of weight loss is futile, and that health is not a number on a scale, or the size clothes you wear.

In order to be a part of our community, you simply need to have a desire to explore your relationship with food and body.  We have fat people in our groups who love and enjoy their bodies, but who have a difficult relationship with food.  We have thin people in our groups who struggle with both disordered eating and body image issues.  There are no rules.  We don’t tell people what to eat, and we never weigh anyone.  We don’t think anyone needs to change their behaviour, or their body, to become a more valuable or valid human being.  The Process is offered to you, as a map and tool for reconnecting with YOURSELF – the part of you who knows what to eat, and what feels comfortable for your body.  We are not gurus.  We have no quick fixes, no ‘magic wand’ solutions.  We are guides who walk alongside you, on the path back to your natural eater.

And we are adamant that ALL bodies can enjoy doing bodywork, which basically involves lying or sitting down in a comfortable position, breathing, and feeling the spaces in your body.  If you can sit or lie down and breathe, you can do this yoga.  One of the great joys of this work is witnessing people who say they have been ‘numb from the neck down’ for many years finally reconnecting with their bodies.  People who have dieted and obsessed about food for years feel a peace they have never experienced before.  People who hated their bodies have ended the war.  It’s deeply gratifying to see that, when people commit to never dieting again, and stop blaming their bodies for everything’s that’s wrong with their lives, we can build new thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that bring us peace, comfort and ease.  We can learn to eat what we need and feel at home in our bodies, just as they are.

How did you learn to eat intuitively?

It was a long process.  It took time, patience, and perseverance.

The most supportive thing we can do, if we want to eat what we need, is to feel our feelings.  That means we need time, every day, to stop, sit or lie down, perhaps close our eyes, and breathe and feel what’s happening inside our bodies.  We need to reconnect the brain and belly, to open up the pathways of communication between these two places.  If we don’t have access to the feelings and sensations in our belly space, we can’t access our natural eater.  This is emphasised in the fifth stage of The Process: Being In Our Bodies.

Practising the second stage of The Process, ‘Creating Space’, was also crucial to learning to eat intuitively.  We are habitual creatures, and we had learned to use food as a panacea for all ills.  Tired?  Food.  Bored?  Food.  Need a treat?  Food.  Feeling lonely?  Food.  Want to show someone you care?  Food.  Our brains had come to associate the act of eating with a million and one different cues, none of which had to do with our digestive systems, the internal cue which arises to let us know that food is required to nourish and sustain us.

We had to wade through the incessant messages from our brains (eat this, don’t eat this, eat more, no eat less…) and simply unhook from the noise.  Creating space, which is really the art of re-wiring your own brain, is the hardest part for many of our tribe.  It requires us to notice, the first stage of the Process, to stay present to what’s happening right now.  Then we need to have enough perspective to step out of habit and into the unknown territory of not reacting, not responding to the usual cues.  It’s a messy and challenging process, but it gets much easier with time.  Our brains feel so different now.  We have literally re-wired our brains, from that which was obsessive, self-attacking and dysfunctional, to a place that feels more peaceful, spacious and compassionate.  With this brain, I can eat what I need.  We’d love to show you how to eat what you need, too.

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