Intuitive Eating

Posted: March 10, 2015 in Diet
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[Image says: One zen student said, “my teacher is the best. He can go days without eating.:” The second said, “My teacher has so much self-control, he can go days without sleep.” The third said, “My teacher is so wise that he eats when he’s hungry and sleeps when he’s tired.”

I was first introduced to intuitive eating by a therapist as something she recommended for treating (in conjunction with therapy and other skills) disordered eating behaviors. It’s also very common I’ve found among practitioners of HAES.

I would not say that I practice intuitive eating myself (kind of counter I think to tracking macros), but still I was thinking about the topic.

Intuitive eating, as I understand it (and I certainly am not claiming to be any kind of expert) is about being in touch with your body and it’s needs and acting on that. A lot of people talk about this in terms of trusting your body.

I hear a lot of criticisms of this, that basically amount to a belief that it’s ridiculous to think we can trust our bodies. That our bodies are terrible at saying what they need or don’t and thus we have to force out bodies to fit how we think they should work regardless of the messages your body is sending.

The thing that got my thinking about this is my experience with my health conditions and the way I act around it. I was thinking about my diet/what I eat. When I’m lifting I tend to track what I eat- I want to make sure I get enough to eat and that I am getting enough of the right things (mainly enough protein), because I want to build muscle. This is where I do not practice any form of intuitive eating and I would not trust my body to tell me how much protein it needs to build muscle.

But during times when I am not working out much due to being ill I don’t really make sure I’m tracking what I eat, but I’m also not eating much. Shockingly, I simply don’t feel hungry enough to eat a lot of food when I’m not as active. So naturally, the less active I am the less I tend to eat.

There are other limitations to “trusting one’s body” I think. For example, I know that if I let myself get dehydrated I will start craving pop or juice- any kind of sugary drink, when really water meets what I need just as well. On the other hand, this really does fit perfectly with intuitive eating, as it has been described to me, because it is about understanding your body and the messages it is sending. Learning that when I start craving sugary drinks it means I’m getting dehydrated. this applies to all messages about food and hunger our bodies send.

It also reminds me of another conversation I had recently about letting go of recommendations/rules about how we are “supposed” to eat. Intuitive eating and listening to your body’s signals isn’t just about listening to when your body sends signals of hunger, but also when it doesn’t.

I’ve mentioned before practicing intermittent fasting. A large part of this is because it fits well with my own natural inclinations. I spent a lot of time in my life forcing myself to eating breakfast even if I wasn’t hungry because of being told that you need to eat breakfast, and a big breakfast, even if you don’t feel hungry, because if you don’t then you will end up eating more total because later on you will be so hungry you will eat too much. Just like you are “supposed” to eat 6 or so small meals a day instead of big ones. Neither of these ever worked for me. I was no less hungry in the evening for eating big breakfasts, and eating small means 6 times a day just gave me 6 times a day I felt like I couldn’t eat until I was full.

Intermittent fasting works much better to me. It fits what works for my body. I’m not typically hungry first thing in the morning. And a lot of the time I get busy with whatever I have going on, it’s not till dinner time that I get around to eating. And I would much rather eat one large meal for dinner where I can eat until I am actually full, than eat a bunch of small meals.

I’m not saying this is the one right way to eat. Rather, I’m saying that I think we need to let go of the idea that there is one right way to eat. If eating small meals throughout the day works for you, go for it. I think most people do need to get better in touch with their bodies though. I know a lot of people who talk about how if they don’t eat for too long they don’t feel well, and so they do well eating small meals more frequently. That’s great! They are doing what works for their body and makes them feel good. I feel good listening to my body’s signals though where I wait until I’m hungry, even when that means going long periods between eating. Pay attention to what makes you feel healthiest, and go with that over any stupid “rules” about what is supposed to be best.

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