Our motto? Take it step-by-step. We’re all on a different journey and nutrition doesn’t look exactly the same for any two people. To build sustainable healthful eating habits, you need a personalized approach and a deep-dive into the root causes of your concerns.
Your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist & Nutritionist Team
“I often chose cigarettes over having a meal” (or: “if you heal the relationship with food, you heal a part of yourself”)
After years of living a self-destructive lifestyle, suppressing his emotions, and having a negative relationship with food, Koen Vaessen burnt out. And he knew it was time for a change. He went vegetarian, started a course to become a personal trainer and got fit.
However, he still wasn’t happy. And that’s when he knew he had to go within. He needed to change his relationship with himself and learn how to deal with stress. He then went vegan and eventually started the Vegan Academy to help others thrive on a vegan lifestyle, but most of all, to create a healthy relationship with food and their body.
Burnt Out at 25
Koen’s relationship with food wasn’t always the way it is today. As a kid, he was what one would call a fussy eater. He was very picky with food. Dinner time was always a dramatic event with lots of stress and anxiety. His favorite food was Nutella sandwiches, a.k.a. white bread with chocolate hazelnut spread. Food became an escape for Koen, a way to comfort himself. Obviously, that didn’t really contribute to a healthy relationship with food. And it also didn’t teach him how to deal with his emotions in a healthy, sustainable way.
That all didn’t get better in adulthood either. During this time, he has quite a successful career in retail management, which is a super intense and stressful job. Koen is working 50 hours a week and living off Red Bull and cigarettes, essentially. He is smoking a pack of cigarettes a day and often choosing cigarettes over having a meal, because he is so stressed out. And the food that he does eat is ready-made meals from supermarkets, such as frozen pizzas and other convenience foods that tend to be low in nutrients.
The whole “destructive lifestyle” as he calls it, leads him to burnout when he is just 25. Imagine that: at a time, when the body can handle a lot more stress than in later years. Koen loses everything. His long-term relationship ends just before he loses his job. He has what he calls, a quarter-life crisis. But, looking back on it now, it is such an eye-opening experience that helps him decide to change his life for the better.
Reconnecting to Your Intuition
The next step for Koen is to figure out how to get healthier. As he already is going to the gym, his focus goes towards that. But then fitness becomes his escapism. He thinks if he just gets super fit, then he will also be happier. And it works – for a microsecond. And then it backfires even harder than before, which is followed by another breakdown. He realizes that change has to come from the inside, not the outside. He starts letting go of all the food rules. He stops tracking, and stops being so obsessed with the way he looks and how much he weighs.
That’s when he embraces the principles of intuitive eating – without even realizing it.
In Koen’s experience, change is always going to involve some trial and error. You’ve got to have patience and accept that not everything is going to go well. You’ve got to be kind to yourself.
He starts including more and more veggies into his diet at a slow yet steady pace. He weans himself off dairy to help with his acne and just takes it one step at a time. In the end, his patience and kindness pay off.
For Koen, it was intermitting fasting that really helped him learn to listen to his body – but not necessarily in the way you might think. He was never a breakfast person. Rather, he prefers to eat later in the morning, which suddenly became intuitive, which just happens to fall into the intermittent fasting schedule. And obviously, that was a very trendy thing to do a couple of years back.
But now, Koen realizes that it created more awareness around his relationship with food and his attachment to food. And it also taught him to actually listen to his body. And that might be one of the biggest mistakes that people make when they try intermittent fasting or fasting in general. They forget to listen; they start ignoring the signals because they have to look at the clock. That completely defeats the point of building a healthy relationship with your body and food.
How to Eat Intuitively
Intuitive eating only works if you really know how to listen to your body. But most of us come from a damaged place in the throws of diet culture. We have all these food rules that are basically preventing us from listening to our bodies – which was something we used to know all too well as a baby. We’ve learned to basically make all these decisions based on rules and external cues, instead of internal rules or internal information. A big part of the intuitive eating process at first is not intuitive. It’s, first of all, learning how to listen and to trust that your body knows what’s best.
The first thing that we often need is structure. And the structure is going to help us to listen. If you struggle with hunger and fullness signals and you’re not really sure where to start, then begin by having your meals at set times. Have breakfast at eight or nine, have lunch at one or two and dinner at five or six. Because the intuitive journey is all about collecting data and information. And the more information you get, the easier it becomes to make different decisions.
Having that structure can then allow you to start asking questions, for example, keeping a little food journal for yourself. Ask yourself:
When did I eat?
What did I eat?
Where did I eat?
How hungry was I before I started eating?
Are there certain thoughts or feelings or rules that are coming up before, during and after a meal?
How am I feeling physically and emotionally after the meal?
Based on the data that you’ve gathered, you can start shifting times and meals and see what works and what doesn’t. Once you find what works, you can let go of the structure, trusting that your body knows what it needs and when it’s hungry. Change, as Koen puts it, comes through awareness. The more aware you are about these rules, about the triggers and the tendencies that you have, the easier everything gets.
The first part is recognizing your food rules and turning inward:
What is triggering the rule?
What is triggering emotional eating or binge eating?
What is triggering the desire to suppress your emotions through food?
The more you can start to recognize these patterns and triggers, the easier it gets to redirect yourself from actually doing it.
The last part is about establishing new beliefs. You have to go out there and test these things, try them out, challenge your food rules and sit with your plate without distraction. Eat those foods for yourself that are off limits. Eat that food that you’re not supposed to eat. And that’s really where everything comes together. If you don’t heal what’s going on (i.e. the root cause), then it’s very difficult to heal your relationship with food because they are counterparts with each other.
On the other hand, when you heal your relationship with food, you heal a part of yourself.
Get weekly guidance to support your plant-based journey while strengthening your relationship with food, including weekly plant-based recipe ideas, tips, encouragement and so much more.
Join our newsletter
want blog updates?
We’ve helped hundreds of people just like you who were discouraged by strict diets to build sustainable healthful eating habits. Using a heartfelt, practical and personalized approach, we deep-dive into the root causes of your concerns to help you embrace a plant-based lifestyle.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.
click to LEAVE A COMMENT