Azusom – the best advice is to trust your own intuition. It will tell you what to eat and when you are full.
Rachel – My intuition is telling me to eat a cookie.
Both (oh how I love you girls!!) make excellent points and this issue is one that almost every eater I know has struggled with to some extent. Those of you who are non-eaters, feel free to skip this post.
The Case For Intuitive Eating
A couple of years ago I read a book called Intuitive Eating written by two registered dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The basic premise of the book is that when we make certain foods (say, spam) off limits we create a psychological vicious circle. You want it but you can’t have it so it makes you want it more. When you finally give in and eat it, then you binge because you’re already thinking about how “bad” it is and how you will nevereverever eat it again. So, you know, you’d better eat the whole can of spam since you’ll have to live the rest of your life without it.
The authors contend that by dismantling this kind of thinking, you can focus on what your body is truly telling you that it wants. Sure your body will want spam sometimes (and jelly beans and ice cream and birthday cake) but a lot of the time – most of the time even- your body will crave the good-for-you stuff it needs to be healthy.
They also say that as children we all ate this way but as adults we have messed up our ability to listen to our body’s signals. The Intuitive Eating program focuses on helping you reconnect with yourself and your health by a variety of introspective exercises & charting. It also has you do what, at the time, seemed to me to be an almost impossible task. To break your bad-food labels and reassure your body that you are listening to it, they instruct you to eat as much as you want of whatever you want. They say that once your body realizes it can have spam any time it darn well wants, then you will eventually stop craving spam.
That’s right – you want a jumbo can of spam? Eat it till it’s gone, baby! I decided to test this out with jelly beans. I love jelly beans but avoid them like they contain a thigh-expanding bacteria that would frighten Michael Crichton. So one day while I was grading SATs (the bane of my existence – really, it makes me want to grab random high-schoolers on the street and scream “stop spelling ludicrous ‘Ludacris’ – the latter is a rapper and spelling it that way in your freaking college application essay is LUDICROUS.” ) Anyhow, I was grading SAT essays and I opened up a whole bag of jelly beans. Set it right next to my computer. And went to town.
I ate the whole thing. All 3 million servings. Which, given my issues with food, was a feat in itself. Predictably, I felt sick to my stomach and never wanted to see another jelly bean again. I thought to myself “this is it! I’ve broken my addiction to the jellies!!” Success was fleeting.
The first time I read IE, I ate it up. It just felt so right. Like this was what I had been searching for for so long. I mean, this is exactly the opposite of disordered eating and everything I wanted to be. And I still think that ideally this is how we were all meant to eat.
But it didn’t work for me.
The Case Against Intuitive Eating
I’ve thought a lot about this over the years. Mostly because I so desperately wanted Intuitive Eating to work for me. I wanted to have a normal relationship with food. I still think it is a good program. But here’s why I think it didn’t work for me:
1. Endless Variety. In our culture, for a price, we can have any food of any kind at any time. In a different time and place, we’d be limited to what was in season or simply the few things in our area. It would be a lot easier to remove the “bad” stigma from a limited number of foods. But for me to eat my way through every one of my naughty foods – well, I’d be bingeing the rest of my life. And I know the I.E’s say that eventually you’ll lose that desire to eat everything, that just didn’t happen for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a bad relationship with food for so long. But I think the limitless choice has a lot to do with it as well.
2. Addiction. Normal, real food is good for us – all of it (carbs included!). The problem enters with all the man-made permutations of “food” that take on a whole different set of chemical properties. Take high fructose corn syrup (AKA the Reason Our Kids Our Fat, so sayeth researchers) for example. It doesn’t exist in nature. And in it’s highly refined state – making a very calorie dense substance out of a not-dense food, it becomes (and I truly believe this) addictive. Your body gets desensitized to it and needs more to get that same sugar hit. In I.E., I can’t see anyone getting addicted to, say, mangoes. But I think HFCS is a real addiction – your brain chemistry and satiation signals are rewired to crave more of it. So in this case, eating all you want only makes you crave it more and at higher levels. (Don’t believe me? Go off ALL sugar and sugar substitutes for 30 days. You can do it. I did. Then try eating a candy bar. The sweetness is almost sickening.)
3. Altered Physiology. This works on several levels. First of all, man-made food substances trick the body in a way that nature never did. I’m sure you’ve already heard the news that those zero-calorie sweetners actually make you fat. It’s because your body isn’t used to a food that tastes nutrient dense but provides no actual nutrients. It’s the same with HFCS, but in reverse. Your body expects sweetness to deliver a certain amount of calories per teaspoon but HFCS packs double or triple the calories into the same serving size. The next issue was explored in the glowing-mice study I posted the other day. Specifically, overeating, especially high simple carb foods, changes the way our body metabolizes these sugars thereby disabling your body’s innate and sensitive “intuition” pathway.
In the End
…only kindness matters! Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Apologizes to Jewel. Ahem. In the end, I really wanted Intuitive Eating to work. I still do. It makes perfect sense to me. I just don’t think it is well suited to the world we live in.
Any of you have experience with this? (Alyssa??) Help me make sense of this!
PS> My second post, Hillary Clinton Does Not Have An Eating Disorder, is on HuffPo right now!!! Wahoo!