What Does it Mean to be an Intuitive Eater, and Why Might Your Happiness Depend on it?Jul 30, 2022
**Intuitive eating **is a completely different way to eat - for us postmodern folks that is. People from time immemorial actually did eat intuitively, eating when they were hungry and stopping when they were full. They didn't look at food as bad or good, it was all good if it tasted good and met their needs. For most of human history, mirrors did not exist. Our ancestors walked around not thinking too much about what they looked like. Nowadays we might be concerned that going back to that way of eating would result in obesity. We've been taught that if we don't consciously control and restrict our food we will balloon up. Because we have controlled and restricted our food, food has become an exciting forbidden treat, or a guilt-laden experience. This is where the term guilty pleasure comes from.
Strangely enough, it turns out that the opposite is true. Because of restriction and dieting, the body and the mind rebel. Think about your own experience- how do you feel after being on a diet for some time? What has happened to your best intentions in the past when you've been on a diet? Of course you have rebelled, eaten, even over eaten "bad foods", sometimes even secretly, out of shame. Then I'm guessing you ended up blaming yourself.
It's not strange that we don't trust ourselves around food. We don't trust ourselves at all, in any area. Why do I say that? Because I'm talking about our True Selves, the self that tells us unwelcome truths. The one that tells you you shouldn't be involved with that toxic person or that toxic job. You know the one I mean. Rather, we trust that other inner voice that says "that's not practical, that's not the way the real world works. I have to do this. I have to work in this toxic environment. I have to rush my meals and eat fast food. Bad things will happen if I don't live my life in the way that everyone expects me to. What would my boss say if I take enough time for lunch to eat calmly and let my body renourish itself? What would my children say if I tell them I'm not driving them to soccer/football practice at meal time because it's Meal Time! ?"
I am proposing something radical, but I'm not alone. All the way back in the 90s, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch wrote the book Intuitive Eating based on new research showing that dieting not only doesn't work but is unhealthy. That book is now in it's 4th edition. Since then over 100 studies have shown that Intuitve Eating reuslts in better health outcomes. For example, even people who diet for the sake of their health end up doubling their heart disease risk when inevitably they go off their diet and regain lost weight, usually more than they lost. This is called weight cycling and is the common experience of dieters.
Why do health professionals in most cases ignore this? They actually don't understand the reality of the body's physiology and the mind's psychology. They like to think that if you really try you can do it. It's very interesting to look at health professionals and their own weight and health. Next time you visit your medical provider look at the nurses and doctors and even dietitians, if you get to see them. They are as likely or even more likely to be overweight than the average person. Does that mean that they don't have willpower? They had to have a lot of willpower to get their credentials- years of study and dedication.
Willpower has nothing to do with it. The body needs food to survive, and deprivation feels like famine. There's nothing you can do to argue with your body about that.
So what is the answer? Am I advocating everyone through caution to the wind and live on donuts and fast food? Of course not. It turns out that when people really listen to their bodies, slowly and mindfully noticing the body's response, internal sensations occur to tell us the truth. Haven't you had this experience? You begin a luscious dessert and the pleasure hit is amazing. By the end it doesn't taste so good, and an hour later you may be miserable- that is, if you are listening to your body. Many of us go through this cycle without ever noticing what is causing our discomfort.
Does that mean we should totally avoid luscious desserts or other treats? Of course not! Next time, if you are ready, allow yourself a radical experience of your favorite food. Eat slowly. Notice the taste, texture and temperature. Give it your full attention, set your projects and your problems aside for this precious moment. Does it taste as good as you expected? If yes, can you gently notice when it stops tasting so good? What happens if you stop eating when that transition occurs. That is a normal signal telling you that you are getting full! Push your plate back or walk away for 10 or 15 minutes. If you still want to finish, feel into whether this is your body or your mind that wants it. You can always have it. This is not a trick. This is about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want and to trust your body to tell you when it's enough.
I know this sounds radical and also maybe like a fantasy. Learning to eat like this all the time certainly is not an easy or quick process. We need so much support for this radically natural way of eating because our society has given itself over to diet culture. Diet culture is driven by the profit motive because it's a multi-billion dollar industry. Do you want to be a victim?
The most exciting thing is that it turns out that people who eat intuitively have greater Life satisfaction levels.
They have better health risk indicators and they are happier. What more do we want for ourselves and our children?
Thank you for the reminder to listen to my body, eat slowly and enjoy my food.
I love the ideal of radically experiencing my food. I can't wait to try this next time with my favorite dish.