Too Much Weight

And Eat It Too

How does it happen that a woman who for years, possibly decades, was afraid to make her own choices in regards to her food intake finally lets go and learns to trust herself? Enter Intuitive Eating (IE), an approach that is gaining explosive traction in the world at large, and in the frum community in particular.

“I was drawn to the name before I even understood the concepts,” says intuitive eating coach Rena Reiser, who is credited with helping spread this awareness to the community over the past several years. “To me, as a Jewish woman, our intuition is a cornerstone. I always intuitively understood what I needed to be eating, and yet I was stuck in some areas. Once I explored the intuitive eating program, it helped me fill in the gaps. The biggest takeaways for me were learning how to cope with our emotions without using food, and simultaneously, intellectually and emotionally allowing all foods — which doesn’t mean eating everything, a huge misconception about IE.”

What does listening to our intuition mean? “Many of us have experienced the feeling of being choked up when we hear something really sad. Or, our pulse quickens when we hear exciting news. Our bodies are in constant communication with us as to what resources we need in which situations. Often, we call this our ‘gut instinct’ or ‘intuition.’ Our intuition is a deep part of ourselves that speaks to us in a really quiet tone. In order to tune into it, our minds have to be quiet enough so we can hear it. The reality is that we live in a very masculine, fast-paced world, and so most of us have been habituated from early on to ignore the voice of our intuition. And so, we lose our sense of interoceptive awareness (an awareness of the internal state of the body). It can be as extreme as experiencing big traumas in life that cause us to dissociate from our bodies, or as subtle as well-meaning caregivers who said things like, ‘Oh, don’t cry.’ If we have a reason to cry and we don’t, we slowly end up disconnecting ourselves bit by bit from feeling what our bodies are saying to us. In order to heal ourselves and hear the voice of our intuition once again, we have to learn how to reconnect to and hear our bodies. Depending on the level of severity of disconnection, and the source of it, an individual may need to work with a professional who uses somatic methods of healing. The more the individual works on these skills, the more they are able to connect to and listen to their intuition.”

Rena was first fascinated by Intuitive Eating because she found that it goes much deeper than typical food programs.“It’s not really about the food,” she asserts. “Over time, I’ve learned that there’s room to go even deeper. Overeating, undereating, overspending, smartphone overuse, relationship challenges, and more are all manifestations of deeper wounds, calling out to be healed.” The more she’s done this work, the more she’s expanded her skillset to not just focus on the food, but on the roots of the challenges, so that the women she works with don’t just put bandaids on the symptoms. In a typical session with a client, she may use inner-child work, guided imagery, EFT, Focusing, or intuitive journaling. “Food can be an incredible gateway if we’re open to understanding what it’s coming to teach us,” she says.

When Rena first starts working with a woman who hasn’t been tapping into her intuition for a while, it’s very common for the woman to first feel afraid. “Telling her that she can eat whatever she wants is speaking right to her intellect, anxieties, and fears. I don’t believe that this is a statement that honors intuition. I believe it encourages impulsivity and black-and-white thinking. It’s similar to bringing a child into a toy store and telling her she can buy anything and everything she wants. You’ll usually have one of two reactions: either she’ll freeze up and not buy anything, or they’ll go crazy and buy more things than she’ll ever have time to play with, including things she doesn’t even really want. An individual first needs to go through the steps to relearn how to connect to themselves and understand what feels right for them, straight from their body. After those steps, the statement is moot. They already know that they can eat whatever they’d like, because they’re attuned with their intuition. Most of the time, that will be healthy, nourishing foods. Some of the time, it will be chips or chocolate.”

For those not yet familiar with intuitive eating, the thought that they can be trusted with their food choices may seem absurd.

“What? If I listen to my intuition,” they argue, “I’ll be eating chocolate all day. I don’t want chicken, and certainly not salad.”

But, the truth, Rena notes, is that when an individual feels that urge—such as to eat chocolate all day, it is usually coming from impulse and not intuition. “The journey I take my clients on is about relearning how to hear their intuition and distinguish it from impulses. Impulses come from a place of fear and disconnect. Intuition comes from a place of calm and connection, the ability to quiet the chatter of their thoughts and tap into something far more integrated.”

For Rena, watching the process is awe-inspiring. Her archetypal client, she says, “is a high achiever, usually a perfectionist — who hasn’t realized it until we start working together — and a self-help junkie. These are women who tend to over-intellectualize, understand that their overeating is covering up something bigger, and are ready to work hard. They tend to be successful professionals, rebbetzins of communities, and expert stay-at-home-moms. I help them quiet the noise in their heads so they can hear the voice of their intuition, heal the roots of their struggles, and live their truth.”

But what if a woman is so obsessed with being thin that she’s afraid to make her own choices in regards to her eating? “We start where the problem lies: her obsession with being thin. Where did it come from? What is it protecting her from? What is it stopping her from accomplishing in her life? When she heals from her obsession with being thin, she’ll feel lighter than she has her whole life. She can finally be herself,” says Rena, “That’s the ultimate goal — not whether or not she’s eating chocolate.”

This interview was published in Wellspring Magazine, Pesach 2020 edition. To read the full article, click here.

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