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Intuitive Eating Dilemma: How To Eat What Your Body Wants

Posted Oct 18 2010 6:56pm

Intuitive Eating is a roller coaster. I'm not going to lie to you. In concept - eat what your body wants, it knows you best - it's elegantly simple. In practice it's, well, as messy as the stretching mats of ill repute right after our high-intensity bootcamp class finishes our 100 push-ups. (Seriously, we did over 100 push-ups today. My name is sore. My middle name is stupid.) I've been officially following Intuitive Eating principles for 4.5 months now and in addition to losing a few pounds, I've dialed the crazy down from a padded-room Mel Gibson to a lovably kooky Sharon Osborne. I'm aiming for a sassy and serene Kate Winslet. (Anyone else measure their mental health against the celebrity scale of insanity? Anyone?)

I cannot emphasize enough how life-changing this mental shift has been for me. It's the freedom to walk into a party with a buffet and not feel trapped between my desire to shovel in all the forbidden goodies and my panicky need to hide in another room for the whole party so I won't shovel in all the forbidden goodies. It's the freedom to go to a restaurant without checking the menu online first. It's the freedom to skip over all the diet tips in magazines because the majority of them make no sense to me any more. Why should I drink 16 ounces of water before every meal to "trick my body" into feeling full when I already know, without tricks, what full feels like? Indeed, I no longer hide treats from myself (did that ever work anyhow?) and ended up giving away half a bag of Godiva chocolates because I just didn't like them. I know.

So now that we've had the sunshine-and-roses portion of our program let's move on to the down and dirty. It's not like the above paragraph all the time. Maybe not even most of the time. I wish it was. But I get tired, cranky, PMS-y, bored and all the other foibles of our imperfect natures. (True story: One day I ate half a bag of butterscotch chips out of frustration that I couldn't get " If I Die Young " out of my head. Stupid catchy song - I dare you not to sing it for the rest of the day. And if that's not the worst reason ever to eat, I don't know what is.) And so my weight loss hasn't been picture perfect either. This is the real reason it's taken me so long to write this post. Despite numerous e-mails from you guys asking for an Intuitive Eating update, I've been afraid to write about it. The abbreviated version
Good news: I finally hit my pre-pregnancy weight!
Bad news: for one day - the next day the scale jumped 2 pounds and hasn't come down since.
Good news: It didn't bother me as much as it would have six months ago!
Bad news: It still really bothered me.
Good news: I can still fit in 90% of my clothes!
Bad news: I still can't fit in 10% of my cute clothes.
Good news: I didn't cry in my closet!
Bad news: it still ruined my day.

All of which is to say I an not, in any way, the poster girl for Intuitive Eating (I'll leave that role to Geneen Roth and Ms. Oprah). So take the following advice with a grain of salt.

I got two interesting e-mails about IE recently and I think they sum up the main struggle most of us have with this program - knowing what our body wants versus what our mind wants.
Reader L writes, "How do you get past emotional eating? Do you have any tricks that get you through those moment when you "need" to eat an entire batch of cookies? And I mean literally, an entire batch! Its gotten really out of hand lately and though I feel like i have squared with the emotional causes, the pull to down large amounts of treats is really strong. Likely some of that is because sugar is like crack to me so maybe I should detox and go without for a while just to get it out of my system to reduce cravings, but with winter and its drearyness on its way , I am worried I will be diabetic by spring if I dont get a handle on this. Any thoughts?"
Reader C writes, "How did you decide what to eat? Did you eat anything and everything? Maybe I'm making this more difficult than possible but I just don't know. Maybe I should find a nutritionist or therapist with experience with IE. Who knows?"
My first suggestion would be to read Geneen Roth's books Breaking Free From Emotional Eating and When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair . (I know people love Women, Food and God right now and while it is an excellent read it isn't much of a how-to manual. These two books are.) She says it so much better than I can.

Second, I want you to know that it is difficult trying to figure out the difference between true bodily hunger and a craving. At the beginning it's very difficult. The first two weeks were agonizing for me as I questioned every.single.bite. But it gets easier! I thought that I'd so messed up my internal cues with decades of dieting that I'd never be able to know when my body was hungry and what it wants. But you know what? For the most part, I can now. And if I can learn to do it, you totally can learn to do it too!

Third: sometimes it's easier to know what you don't want than what you do and sometimes you can only learn that lesson after you eat too much and feel like crap. A couple of weeks ago I made biscuits (white flour, butter, sugar - the real, non-healthified version) and for whatever reason ate nearly the whole batch of dough. First I got the carb-rush euphoria. Then I got hit with a tidal wave of exhaustion, headaches, self-recrimination and, of course, guilt. But now I know. Healthy food makes my body feel happier, more energetic, and more calm. There's a world of difference between "knowing" that a food is bad for you and forcing yourself to avoid it and knowing that you can eat it if you want but you will have to deal with the inevitable sugar crash afterward. The end result may be the same (not eating the whole batch of biscuit dough) but the motivations are so opposite that it's the difference between diet rebellion/feelings of deprivation and taking gentle care of your body.

Fourth, a note on sugar: I still think the white granulated stuff is as addictive as the other white powder. I know I feel better when I don't eat sugar. And yet I still decide sometimes to take the accompanying icky feelings just to get that sugar high for a few moments. The idea of a sugar detox is a good one in theory. I think if you can do it without feeling deprived then you probably will find it helpful in managing your cravings. However, if you force yourself you're only going to end up face down in a plate of coconut cream pie at the end. Me, I can't go cold turkey for very long without feeling seriously pissy so my compromise (that I will emphasize works for me and may not necessarily be the solution for you) is to have a little bit every day. My only caveat is that it has to be what I really want to eat. No nibbling out of the bag of chocolate chips every time I walk past and pretending that I'm not really eating them because "it's just 1 chip". If I'm going to have a treat it's going to be coconut sorbet served in a bowl with hardshell fudge topping and I'm going to sit there and do nothing but enjoy it. (Ideally. Feel free to reference the butterscotch chips, biscuit dough above.)

How would you answer L & C? Do you have ways of knowing the difference between "mind hunger" and "body hunger"? What is your philosophy when it comes to sugar? Which celebrity are you as crazy as?
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