HORMONE SERIES | Intuitive Eating Q&A with Tara Miller and Simi Botic

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Ever since my skin went haywire I have struggled to get my diet in line. I tried the Candida diet after a naturopath recommended it for me, I gave up gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar, I ate more vegetables, I reduced my meat consumption, I increased my meat consumption, I ate more fat, and everything in between. If anyone in a book or on a blog indicated that it would help to clear up my skin, I tried it. But in the midst of this entire mess, I never stopped to consider my own body. I never even thought about my own personal tolerance for gluten or dairy or fat or red meat. I just blindly followed, assuming someone else knew better. 

But this just can't be right. Diet shouldn't be this restrictive or complicated. Of course, I'm not saying to fill your grocery cart with Doritos and Oreos, but I do think that there is more wiggle room than we currently allow for ourselves. We intuitively know that vegetables are good for us and too much sugar and processed foods are bad for us. And we feel better when we eat more of the former than the latter. That should be about as complicated as it gets. 

And I truly believe that the wisdom of intuitive eating applies even in the wake of fussy, hormonal skin. So I tapped two intuitive eating experts, Tara Miller and Simi Botic, to help explain the basics to me. Tara is a Toronto-based, holistic nutritionist and intuitive eating counselor, and Simi is a Columbus, Ohio-based health coach and intuitive eating expert. They both are extraordinary and really know their stuff. 

So sit back and let all the love-the-skin-you're-in vibes wash over you! 

What does intuitive eating mean to you? 

TARA: To me, Intuitive Eating means listening to your inner cues to dictate food choices, rather than a set of external ones.  It means giving yourself permission to eat all foods unconditionally, without judgment or guilt.  Once you take away the power of labeling foods as "good" and "bad", what feels right becomes so much clearer.

SIMI: Intuitive eating is a set of principles that help guide us back to having the normal, natural relationship with food our bodies were designed to have. To me, it means learning how to listen to my body and honor my health through those choices (not only physical, but emotional and mental health, too). It means practicing self-trust, compassion, and kindness along the way and letting food be food, rather than making it the answer to all of life’s questions or the fix for every problem.

What drew you to the practice of intuitive eating versus the myriad of diet options available? 

TARA: After years of practicing nutrition, I found that giving clients more information about food and diet plans was not actually what they needed.  Very rarely are people confused about what we are taught is "healthy", however they struggle with trying to follow a rigid prescription.  Restriction ultimately leads to binging, and diets perpetuate this dichotomous behaviour.  On the other side of the spectrum, I saw a huge rise of what I would consider disordered eating that is masked as "clean eating" and praised by our society.  As a practitioner, I wanted nothing to do with telling people what they should or should not do, for fear of either of these outcomes and their effect on our mental wellbeing and relationship with food.  I did however want to make help people feel better - about their food choices and themselves.  So I choose the empowerment of Intuitive Eating.  I love that everyone stays expert of their own body and things like pleasure and satisfaction are always encouraged!  Also, it was how I was living my own life - free to make the choices that worked for me.

SIMI: The myriad of diet options is actually the thing that drew me to the practice of intuitive eating. After years of struggling with the diet, restriction, and binge cycle, I knew something needed to change. So, years ago, I sought help from a health coach who helped me learn how to listen to my own body and let go of the “diet rules.” That’s when I first discovered intuitive eating! Ultimately it led me down the path to leave my career as a corporate attorney to become a coach, so that I could help other women on their own journeys, too.

What does intuitive eating look like in your clients’ lives? 

TARA: It is definitely a process.  It is not about them making the right or wrong choice, but rather learning from their experiences.  Really, it is about getting to know themselves.  If they have a positive experience, they are going to be more likely to repeat, just like they may try to avoid something negative.  It is a lot about non-judgmental observation.

SIMI: Since intuitive eating is really about listening to your body, having a relationship with food that works with your real life, and honoring your values in your relationship with food, it looks different for each person. But, there are definitely some themes: like letting go of food rules, making peace with all foods, listening to how things feel in your body, honoring your needs, practicing curiosity rather than judgment, and learning to make choices that promote overall health rather than focusing on the number on the scale.

Do you think there is a place for intuitive eating when addressing skin or digestive issues? 

TARA: Definitely!  Like I mentioned above, it is all about experimenting.  For example, instead of saying "X food is bad for your skin, you should avoid!", I would suggest seeing what it looks like if they have less of that food.  If there is a change in symptoms, it is likely the client will naturally want to avoid X food, for the most part.  It really has to come from the individual, rather than the practitioner.

SIMI: Absolutely. I think there is a place for intuitive eating in every person’s life. I will share a bit about my personal experience here, both with digestive and skin issues.

I have an autoimmune disease called Celiac and it caused me extreme digestive (and other health) issues. Learning how to listen to my body rather than take extreme measures has been so helpful to my digestive AND mental / emotional health.

I also personally struggled with terrible hormonal acne for years when I was struggling in my relationship with food. As I learned how to really nourish my body and stopped punishing myself, my body healed so much. Do I still get zits? YES!! Of course I do! But, my breakouts are much less intense since my body has a naturally regulated cycle, I’m managing my stress, and my body is getting everything she needs.

Eating intuitively has been so powerful for me in my healing journey. In my opinion, everyone can benefit from releasing restriction, listening to her body, and learning how to have a relationship with food that allows them the freedom of a full life (rather than one that promotes a singular outcome, like a smaller number on the scale).

One of the greatest benefits of intuitive eating is how it promotes self-compassion and leaves room for imperfection. There was a time in my life where I thought my skin should never have a blemish or my tummy should never be bloated. I’ve learned that experiencing occasional bloating or a zit don’t mean there is anything wrong with me. I can react to those experiences with curiosity rather than judgment now. I love helping other women really embrace the beautiful imperfections of life, too.

Have you seen any success in these areas with your own clients? 

TARA: I have.  When someone is able to feel in their body that something is not working, they generally are less interested in that food.  It make take some time (or a number of repeated negative experiences) to fully act on this, but by empowering the client to choose for themselves, I have seen some awesome results.

SIMI: Yes! Many clients come to me feeling incredibly uncomfortable in their bodies. The physical, emotional, and mental stress from a food struggle affects so many women. I love supporting them as they heal.

To connect with Tara, visit her website, follow her on Instagram, and/or Facebook. To connect with Simi, visit her website, follow her on Instagram, and/or Facebook. If you want to dive deeper into intuitive eating, both Tara and Simi offer remote consults. Additionally, Simi has created an online Intuitive Eating Coaching Program called Finally Free that looks spectacular (I'm planning to sign up!)