The Parallel Between Caring for Plants and Intuitive Eating

by

I am a notorious plant killer. You might say I’m a killer of plants. You could even say… well, you get the idea. For years I’ve professed to have a black thumb because I just can’t figure out how to keep plants alive. It’s the darnedest thing, too, because I follow ALL of the instructions (okay, MOST of them anyway). ​I read the little tags that tell me what to do, I water them on the days I’m supposed to and put them in the light like I’m told, and I pick off dead leaves and blooms as needed. At my very best gardening hour they were barely​ surviving—”thriving” was really never a term associated with plants in my care. 

Let’s Try Again, Shall We?

I recently got two plants for my office, and my friend (who manages the floral department at a local grocery, no less!) assured me that these two plants were Sydney-proof (re: idiot-proof). She told me to water them twice a week and keep them in diffused sunlight. “Cool”, I thought, “I can handle this.” 

So today was my first day to water them, and I got a little cup of water from the water fountain and went to town. The first plant felt dry so I gave him what I thought was a good amount of water. I noticed, though, that he soaked it right on up so I gave him a little more. He held on to that splash, too, but he looked nice and moist so I left him alone. I went into the other part of my office to water his brother, and I just watered him the same as his brother. When I did this, though, the brother’s pot quickly overflowed with water and made a mess all over the bookshelf.

I had an epiphany today and noticed the stark similarities between caring for a plant to help it thrive--not just survive--and Intuitive Eating.

The thirsty plant in the waiting room

So What Have I Been Missing?

Notice what I said above: “… I just watered him the same as his brother.” I didn’t even check the second plant’s soil to see if he needed to be watered—I just watered him. I made the assumption that because his brother needed x amount then he must, too. I also KNEW that it was watering day so I didn’t give it much extra thought. I’ve been missing the signs that all the plants I’ve killed, or at the very least severely maimed, have been clearly showing me.

​This time I watered the second plant when its soil was still wet. In the past I’ve not watered plants when they were bone-dry simply because I didn’t check them or it wasn’t their designated watering day. It’s not that I’ve got a black thumb, it’s that I haven’t been in tune with the process.

I had an epiphany today and noticed the stark similarities between caring for a plant to help it thrive--not just survive--and Intuitive Eating.

His not-so-thirsty brother inside my office

From Surviving to Thriving

Pay attention, folks. This plant situation I’ve encountered today and had an epiphany about is not entirely unlike what we experience with our bodies when we’re subscribing to (or even passively participating in) diet culture. I used to not be very good at tuning into my body’s needs and providing it with what it told me it needed. I wouldn’t feed it when it was hungry because “it wasn’t time” or because the food available wasn’t the most “healthy”. I would get anxious when my intake wasn’t at the “right” level of calories. I had all sorts of rules that were keeping me trapped instead of letting me be free. Just like the plants in my life, my body was surviving, but it wasn’t thriving.

You Had an Epiphany about Plants and Intuitive Eating?

Let’s be honest—Intuitive Eating can seem weird at first because it’s so different from what we’re taught about our bodies and how to be healthy. When I would purchase plants I would read all of the instructions and follow them to the letter. Time after time, though, I would have the experiences I described above with dead plants or barely surviving plants. Today’s experience with watering my plants made me realize, though—how can we expect our bodies to thrive by following rules and guidelines from a book or an instruction card when even a plant can’t?

Diet culture gives so many individuals the hope they crave because it’s marketed as a promise of something better, prettier, more successful—you name it. I was promised when I bought the plants that they were Sydney-proof and I could keep these alive. My friend is wise, though, and has known for some time I’ve lacked a basic insight into plant care. She’s tried to offer me tips to help pay attention to the plants, but I just didn’t understand. I guess I wasn’t ready to.

The Hard Truth

I used to practice as a pro-diet dietitian, but I realized that this was literally sucking the life out of my clients (not to mention my own life). I taught these individuals to follow rigid rules (like watering the plant twice a week and putting it in the light) and that if they did, they would experience the promised results. Y’all—this doesn’t work. Just like I can’t be disengaged with the plant care, we can’t be disengaged with our bodies. It just plain doesn’t work. 

It’s hard to help something thrive when we lack basic insight into its care. When we follow our intuition and listen to our bodies, they begin to thrive. Intuitive Eating is an opportunity to thrive in your life and enjoy it without thinking about food and your body 24/7. Just like plants can grow and become strong, so can we. We can make peace with food and our bodies and live a whole and full life just like a well cared for and nurtured plant.

Originally published 06/19/2018

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Hi, I’m Sydney!

I’m an anti-diet eating disorder dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor with a passion for enjoying life.