A Little Intuition (Part I of II)

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).

Do they eat the flowers?

Hmm…

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.

My intuition says oh hell yes like a naughty schoolgirl

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.

Except this guy. I'm pretty sure he just goes for it, frat boy style

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.”

Urgh. Confusion.

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.

Proof is in the pudding...which I ate way too much of :-P

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.

When Grok wanted to eat a candy bar, he probably needed it

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.

Eric Northman > getting all worked up about food

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.

A very colorful intuitive thought

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?

18 responses to “A Little Intuition (Part I of II)

  1. I’ve never read intuitive eating but I feel like I can understand the concept. At the same time I agree with you that some people probably need a more mathematical approach to it. I don’t enjoy that kind of structure but I think I could benefit from it more than I could benefit from listening to what my body tells me, because I’ve ignored it for a long time.

    When I was younger I would eat until I was uncomfortably full, and then other days I would starve myself. I think I’m too used to purposely not paying attention to hunger and to fullnses that I can’t properly recognize them.

  2. I read the overcoming overeating and so on books. I saw the sense in them, and I think for some people they could work, once they got sick of the sweet sweet devil that is junk food. But truly that is not for everyone, that is definitely not for me. If I told myself to eat whatever I want, I would be about twice my size, I crave junk and salty carbs more than anything else.
    I also am an odd crazy person that craves broccoli and vegetables and green monsters and fruit, but the junk cravings outweigh it massively.
    Also I get the bad day and understand the wanting to just sit there and eat the oreos, my god I have eaten crisps and bread till I could not eat anymore and still ate more.
    And I also agree that sometimes a food treat would not kill you and it should not be so frowned upon.
    Anyway, seriously awesome though provoking post, thank you very much.
    xxoxx

  3. I’ve definitely struggled with emotional eating. I gained the freshman 15 by doing just that. And then I lost it and more by being so depressed about my weight! I mean, there’s definitely an art with finding your healthy/balanced weight. It’s definitely a struggle!

  4. wow what a post mimi! i have not even seen Bethanny’s book just b/c well, i have found my path and am good with it and am not searching for whats gonna work for me anymore these days so dont bother reading some books. also never read skinny bitch but i have heard many ppl like that book too

    anyway, i know you will find your path!

    saw your comment on heabs site re my popcorn recipe today. if youre not opposed, 2 tbsp of dry popcorn kernels in an old school brown paper lunch bag, folded over, for 90 secs, will generate perfect popcorn. if you hate the mircowave, well, thats another story. i use it as a tool and dont care LOL

    • Yo hot mama!

      Yeah, one of the many things I admire about you is that you have your stuff together. Really and truly–you know what you want and where you stand, and you just go for it. You’re a big inspiration!

      Haha, I have nothing at all against the microwave…except when it makes my soup splatter or my oats runneth over. But that’s just me being dumb. No, my only problem with some microwave popcorns is the taste and funky ingredients, not the actual microwave. But dang, I’ll have to try your method when I get back to school.

  5. Excellent post, Mimi! I am all about intuitive eating…from experience, I am much happier, healthier and leaner than when I “obsessed” and counted calories, and thought about what I am eating next etc. That saying “I gain weight just looking at a doughnut” is actually true, to a point. When you are constantly stressing over food, your cortisol levels are always spiking, disrupting your endocrine system, which ultimately makes your body believe it’s in a war…the stress hormone can absolutely prevent you from reaching your goals..make you more inclined to over-eat or eat emotionally…so I believe its VERY important to learn your bodies signals and what it needs. Your body is smart, and it loves you and wants you to be alive and well…it’s our job to listen to it and love it back by giving it what it needs! Sometimes cravings can mean several things, you could be lacking in something…as simple as water. I could write a novel, haha…..anyway, thanks for stopping by The Fitness Dish! Have a great day!

    • Hey! Thanks for visiting! Yeah, cortisol’s such a cranky little bugger. But if I may ask, do you have any advice for -learning- your body’s signals in the first place, particularly if you never listened to them to begin with?

  6. Oh boy, interesting post!

    I *sort of* follow that intuitive eating stuff, except you really just have to tell the difference between what your body NEEDS, what your body WANTS, and how to balance the two. I mean hell, I could eat a bag of jelly beans and 4 slices of pizza, blame it on “intuitive eating”, and get fat. But that’s entirely besides the point. :) Just have to listen to your body, and ALSO use some practical common sense when it comes to your food choices!

    And enjoy yourself, above all. Don’t be afraid to indulge a little, but don’t overindulge, either. ;)

  7. Sorry, I meant “what your TASTE BUDS want” ;)

  8. THIS is precisely what my nutritionist and I are currently writing for our book: how normal-weight people can learn to deal with these kinds of food “issues”.

    Just now, I ate three big pitas with hummus. I was satisfied after the first one. But I’m really anxious because I have so many things to do today, so I procrastinated by eating.

    Sometimes it’s really difficult to listen to our bodies, even when we know exactly what they’re telling us… sometimes we don’t WANT to listen. That’s what I’m struggling with the most these days.

  9. ~Jessica Zara~

    This is one of the most incisive posts I have read in a long time, possibly ever.

    I have so many issues with the entire concept of Intuitive Eating that I could write fifty pages of invective in your comments section…but I’ll attempt to refrain a little.

    Firstly, if I see one more recovering anorexic blogger that berates herself for not eating intuitively I will scream. The focus seems to shift from being ‘perfect’ through calorie restriction to developing some mystic, zen eating pattern that is obviously the only way to ensure that you are treating your body well. The anxiety caused over it leads to so many obsessional thoughts, from not eating enough (legit, but it shouldn’t be a source of paranoia) to eating when not strictly hungry (because of course we all know exactly what hunger even is when we’ve suffered from an ED!) I do not believe that there is a single person in the universe (including those martians we don’t know about on Pluto) that eats intuitively. There, I said it. It’s an unattainable goal simply because 1.) Life gets in the way and 2.) The entire concept of intuition is subjective.

    The concept causes people to overthink their food choices: it made me constantly pay attention to my hunger levels, 24 hours a day (I am an insomniac so mean this literally), wondering whether I was hungry or not. While we’re at it, I’d like to see them define IE for people like myself with digestive disorders such as IBS: being full of air after two bites is no fun, and neither is food going through you so quickly that you can be hungry ten seconds after eating your body weight in food.

    If I ate what I wanted, I would never stop. Ever. I don’t like to eat crap but I would literally eat 24/7. There was a period in my life where I very nearly did. I would go through chocolate like every bar was my last. I binged on sweets daily and wondered why I was gaining weight. I was overweight, unfit, and in a similar position to yourself.

    I still overeat, but on mostly healthy foods. But I overcompensate with insane activity levels and keep injuring myself. I can’t justify the amount I am eating any more but at the same time I don’t have a clue how to listen to my body on any level: we do not speak the same language.

    I can’t thank you enough for this post: there are so many issues here that needed addressing and it’s great to see someone with the (metaphorical) balls to do it.

    I’d be intrigued to see how you rate Ms. Bethany’s book though. I wasn’t overenamoured to be honest: her intake looks to be less than mine was when I pinged into anorexia for a year and ended up with a BMI of 14. Some of her ideas seem very disordered to me…but I’m probably missing something!
    <3

    ~Jess~
    xxxxxxxx

  10. Hey girl, love your blog and this post kicks ass! I recently read Intuitive Eating..and I agree with you. It definitely has some good points..but I myself can’t do the Intuitive Eating. I actually just stick to a clean eating diet and I have certain macros that I follow so I fuel my body and have enough in my system for my workouts.

  11. Great post! I haven’t read Intuitive Eating but have heard good things about it. It is definitely an interesting concept but so difficult to master. I definitely struggle with eating out of emotion..it could be whether I am happy or sad, etc.
    I do try to listen to my body, eat if I am hungry and don’t eat if I’m not. You think it sounds simple enough but there are definitely times when that is difficult though.

  12. I find it hard to listen to my body in regards to eating because being in college too, a lot of the eating that I do is social and therefore I don’t eat when I feel hungry but when it makes the most sense to eat with others

    This is a great post though and you bring up a lot of interesting points

  13. I agree. You are thinking way too fucking much about food. lol.

    Intuitive eating should be just that: you just DON’T obsess over “am I hungry?” “am I full?” “why do I feel this way after I eat?” and all that annoying anxieties and question marks. For those lucky people who has never had an issue with food, they just feel hungry and eat, or even when they’re not, they may see something delicious looking at then take a bite or two, and when they start not enjoying what they’re eating, they stop and push the plate away….all without even really thinking about it.

    One thing: Intuitive eating comes naturally when you just GIVE up all your notions and knowledge and negative emotions towards food and nutrition. I can’t say I’ve mastered it yet. My past of ED still leaves traces of me not being completely natural with my food, but I can only hope that as I learn to give up more and more of my own control over them, I’ll slowly develop the good habit of true intuitive eating.

    Two: try to eat normally. Stop “tricking” your body. Don’t eat a bucketful of greens to make yourself full. Don’t avoid carbs. Don’t avoid anything. Stop drinking too much diet soda (which I find addictive, yes, but also messing up the hunger signals).

    That’s my take on this..but then we can go on and on about it…except we will also be defeating the overall point of NOT trying to obsess about intuitive eating to allow true intuitive eating to take place..OY! I’m losing my head here.

  14. This is a really fascinating and timely post! I picked up Women, Food and God from the library and seriously? It was (in my opinion) a total bunch of nonsense. Geneen Roth is just another author jumping on the weight loss bandwagon, reiterating what 100,000 other people have already said. Seriously, I was offended that her book actually made it into print, it was that bad.

    I get unhungry after a few bites as well. I am not sure why? Maybe I am just paranoid of being too full, which I hate. But this is the way I eat intuitively. If I am fine after a couple of bites than that’s that. I can’t overthink it anymore. I can’t decide if I’ve had too few calories that day or too many. It is what it is and I’ve come to accept it. Most of the time.

    I want to write more but Maya is driving me bananas so I have to go. I just have to note that I will be laughing about the epileptic kangaroo reference for the rest of the night.

  15. great post mimi!! and I love the new look for your site!

    I have tried to adopt an intuitive eating lifestyle, while still trying to conquer eating disorder thoughts from the past. I try to just remind myself of what I know is an appropriate portion and what I need to fuel my day- then if I want a cookie- its not that big of a deal as long as I’m not shoving down food to procrastinate on other issues I really could be addressing.

    It’s tough, it becomes easier, its not an “all or nothing”, but I enjoy reading posts like yours because they serve as a reminder for paying more attention to yourself and your needs!

  16. Excellent post

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