I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile. but, as all tasks that make you admit personal weaknesses, this wasn’t the easiest to write, even if it’s ultimately positive.
But because this post was getting so friggin long, I’m breaking it into two parts. The first is the conundrum, the second part is a discussion of a book that I feel has really helped me answer some of my internal questions, or look at them in a different way.
First, what do you think of when you think of intuitive eating?
I ask this with all due seriousness. If I were to peruse the diet section of Borders, I would walk away thinking intuitive eating was the achievement of spiritual peace (a la Geneen Roth), the only “diet” that works, (a la Evelyn Tribole) and the only way to be in tune with your body (uh, everybody).
I flipped through Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God. Thank God I didn’t buy it. I thought her psychological insights were interesting, but, ultimately, the message I got was “Aww, love your fat self and eat the plate of cookies, because eventually you will stop wanting them…[20 pounds down the line]” This kumbaya approach may bring peace to chronic over-eaters. For me, it’s like handing out a rocket launcher full of cookie dough…which I would fire into my mouth.
I’ve taken a gander at Evelyn Tribole’s Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. Apparently you won’t ever lose weight (and keep it off) until you you master intuitive eating. I beg to differ. Losing weight comes down to a caloric deficit. Maintaining that loss comes down to a caloric balance. No intuition needed.
Ok, I’m being facetious. But I do think it’s an improper argument. The question should be, can you comfortably maintain your weight loss until you’ve learned to go by feel, not by logic. For some, I would say yes. For some, counting calories will ultimately drive them crazy (a la moi) or at least stir up way too many OCD tendencies. But for very math-oriented people who naturally think in numbers, I don’t think “going by feel” is a deadlocked requirement. Also, for some people who need to lose weight and understand proper nutrition and how fat loss works, short-term calorie counting is often the most precise way to create a deficet. “Going by feel,” as Leigh Peele recently discussed in a blog post, can be friggin hard. Your body reacts negatively to a deficet. You have to be very in tune with your body to understand those effects.
Of course, I’m not trying to lose weight, but I think Leigh brings up a good point. The reason why many people are overweight in the first place is because they aren’t in tune with their bodies. For some, it’s a gradual, learned process.
I’ve been questioning the nature of intuitive eating. A few general “principles” I’ve heard:
- “Eat only when you’re hungry.”
- “Stop when you’re satisfied.”
- “Never, ever eat out of emotion.”
- “Get back in touch with your natural rhythm.”
I have problems, phyiscal and mental, with all of these. 18 years of never listening to hunger and 1 1/2 years of disordered eating have gotten my body’s hunger/satiety more out of whack than an epileptic kangaroo. Sometimes I get hungry. Other times I don’t. As far as fullness, that’s another iffy one for me. If I’m hungry, I easily get “unhungry” within a few bites, most of the time. There’s a very loosey-goosey gap for me between “no longer hungry but obviously have not eaten enough” and “ungfh, FULL.”
Never eat out of emotion? Why then do so many holidays and celebrations involve food? Obviously downing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s to numb the pain is bad. But is having a modest scoop of ice cream to aid in calming you down until you can levelheadedly deal with the problem necessarily worse than a hot bath or manicure (because, of course, you can’t mention calories in the life of intuitive eating, so the fact those two activities do not involve calories while the ice cream does is a moot point).
And now we get to natural rythms. What the fuck is natural? It’s just like the argument for vegeterianism/paleo diet/raw food being “natural.” For human beings, “natural” is what keeps us alive. If we mean “natural” as in “an original state”…honey, in my original state, I was overweight, sedentary, and never listened to my hunger signals beyond “That smells good. Yup, STARVING.”
Original Mimi = not food-savvy Mimi.
Obviously, I’ve had to learn healthy habits. Some of those have sunk in. I crave fruit and steamed veggies, all that jazz. But if, say, I had a shitty day and let my thinking side take a total week off, I could still go through a sleeve of Oreos. Would I physically feel like shit afterwards? Yes. Would I never do that if I was thinking logically? Yes. Would I dip those suckers in peanut butter and track down some milk? Oh fuck yes. Eating that sleeve of Oreos would have nothing to do with hunger. It would have to do with old habits. The simple taste of that processed chocolate and cream goodness.
Recently, Leigh Peele, one of my all-time favorite personal trainers, had a very interesting post on the nature of intuitive eating. Her point was “just going by feel” doesn’t always work, because the body biologically works in ways that do not always contribute to weight control.
For example, after a day sitting at your desk arguing with a business client, have you ever wanted to just grab a candy bar? Your body is telling you to, not just your “weak willpower,” because it’s stressed and tired. Just as it would have a thousand years ago if you’d survived a battle with a saber-tooth tiger. Your body hasn’t caught on that you did not have any physical activity during this new age battle. Ultimately, most people do need to apply at least a little thought to their food choices, because our lifestyles typically involve stuff our biological processes haven’t caught up with.
In addition, one thing many intuitive eating books have in common is the audience. Which I do not seem to be entirely part of. I’m not a chronic binge-eater. I’m not a 40-year old mother who thinks she would be a total fox if she could just put down the post-work MooLatte and lose 10 pounds.
I like working out…and I need to fuel that activity. If I’m not hungry after a workout, sorry, I’m eating. From a biological standpoint I know it’s probably because some of the cardiovascular activity is creating an appetite-suppressing effect. But my body needs nutrients and to start repairing, so screw hunger signals.
Where does that leave me? Thinking too fucking much about food, that’s what.
I want to frolic in the fields, ride horses, and make out with Eric Northman from True Blood. Not think about being in tune with my earth mama body’s inner-most sacred signals.
What I am NOT trying to say is that I am still battling a lot of eating disorder-related demons. Have I come entirely “full circle?” No, I still sometimes have fluttery thoughts, or need to tell myself to chill out. I’ve shed so many of my irrational fears and thoughts about food. When I work out, I’m thinking about building muscle and staying fit, not burning calories. Thanks to many people, including Sophia, I’ve regained my love of food…and gotten a lot more adventurous about it!
But I haven’t grown “natural” with food. For me, I was never at a natural place with food, even before I lost weight. Even when I started eating more again, I would be concerned about eating enough. If I was actually full or just besotted with a very wily guilt. While I’ve long ago tossed my online calorie counter…honestly, I’d spent so long counting the suckers that I pretty much know what’s in anything by sheer habit.
Here is an example of something that bugs me.
Sometimes, I will have a plate of food. I will eat this plate of food. As I near the end, and am obviously no longer hungry, I will have one or more of the following thoughts:
- I know what’s in it–it’s an appropriate amount of food for me, so I need to eat it all
- Maybe my stomach’s just still mucky from over and under-eating–I REALLY need to eat it all
- Blah, don’t want to waste food, better clean the plate
It’s very difficult for me to stop eating because “I’m simply full,” especially with food I’ve made for myself. The third thought comes from early childhood–my father was always the “you put it on your plate so now you have to eat it” type…not the best mode of enforcing discipline.
Ultimately, I really want to listen to my body more and just not -care- so much about what’s going into my mouth. While still indulging my foodie passion and enjoying tons of great food, and eating things that will give me energy and fuel my workouts.
Still, right now, if I ate only when I was truly hungry, I’d probably wreck my metabolism…or get so paranoid about undereating I’d go bonkers and raid the closest Wendy’s. Or Whole Foods hot bar. Depends on if I’m PMSing. But if I ate every little thing that crossed my whims…I have a sneaking feeling the Yogurtland that is soon going to be in my lobby (happy dance!) would shut down to restock the mix-in station. Oh dear, here we go again. Eric dear, think of Eric.
So I did what I often do when I want to know something. I ask someone who walks the walk I want to walk. Skwigg has a lovely blog– she is a sexy lady who can do a mean kettlebell snatch, has tons of wit and snark, AND is an intuitive eater. Even “better,” she only came to this after many years of her own food-related condundrums. She recommended me a book. This lady reads a lot of books, so I respected her judgement.
And I’m so frickin glad I did.
The book is Naturally Thin, by Bethenny Frankel.
Frankel…the housewife in New York chick? Chea. Bethenny Frankel is a natural foods chef who’s cooked up delicious meals for celebrities on both coasts. She’s the snarkiest of the New York housewives, and has a lot of damn good common sense. And that’s just the show. Her book, Naturally Thin, is a great book for people who want to become comfortable around food while still having common sense. And their abs.
…as I will discuss in Part II.
But to get a little discussion going, if anyone’s interested, here are a few questions for the peanut gallery.
- What does intuitive eating mean for you?
- Have you ever had to struggle with just listening to your body?
- Do you think your past influences your current habits?