I would like to be clear that I do not intend to provide a guide to Intuitive Eating. I am just detailing the basic concept, and my experience of it. If you like the sound of it, you should buy the book! You can read up on the 10 principles here.
Principle 2 – honour
thy your hunger
The authors compare the dieting body to a starving body. It doesn’t know there is readily available food near by that it’s just not being permitted to eat. I have often wondered if I have manipulated my diet so much that my my metabolism doesn’t work like it should. The book actually includes a lot of “science” about how the body responds to starvation and how metabolism slows down. I don’t know well enough to question any of this, but I’d be keen to read it all elsewhere before I take it as gospel.
More interesting to me is where the physiological and psychological meet. The book is emphatic that over-hunger results in over-eating. This is very similar to the first principle (“reject the diet mentality”). When you get too hungry you become obsessed with food. People often then cannot control their eating.
This really rings a bell with me. I almost feel panicky when I am truly hungry, even safe in the knowledge I am never more than five minutes away from food. I mean, I live in London; there are two supermarkets within a few minutes’ walk of our flat. I often struggled to sleep as I would worry that I wouldn’t be eating for another eight hours and I was already hungry. I would of course over-eat when I finally “gave in” to hunger.
When it comes to letting hunger dictate when I eat, I have a few concerns:
I am not sure I even know what “hungry” is anymore. The book gives various descriptions and tips for identifying true hunger. It seems absurd that I would need this hand-holding, but that’s where we are. I am now trying really hard to assess when I am hungry, and accepting that sometimes I fancy food, but I am not hungry. Actually, this has been a source of some disappointment to me; I am less hungry than I think I am. I might want to eat a certain food, but I’m not hungry – so no banana (by which, I mean ice cream).
I am also nervous that my greed might take control. I swear, I can just think of a food – let’s say, a doughnut – and I am hungry. The authors call this “taste hunger” where you fancy eating something, or the occasion calls for it. “Normal” eaters won’t let this get to them; they can eat the odd thing when they’re not biologically hungry without the wheels falling off. I do worry that this will get out of control with me, and I think I really have to stick to the “eat when hungry” plan. I am very actively focusing on my hunger, questioning it, assessing it, and only acting upon real hunger (but equally trying to ensure I don’t let myself get too hungry – it’s hard work!).
My final concern is that social situations can make it as hard to let my hunger guide me. On Saturday we met at the Science Museum at 2.15pm and I would have ideally eaten lunch at about 1.30pm – but this wasn’t possible, as I was on the Tube. Equally, I can be very hungry an hour before a meal. Do I eat something to take the edge off? Will I then not be hungry when it comes to eating the delicious meal kind friends have cooked me? If I just wait, will I then overeat as I was too hungry? Sadly (and I really mean this sometimes) I don’t live in a bubble, and I don’t always have control over when I can eat.
A major “plus” though is that being able to eat when I am hungry is great for running. At the moment, I don’t have any goals on the horizon – but if I decided to train for another marathon, or did more training for my next half marathon (basically – if I start doing 13+ mile training runs) then this could prove invaluable. Marathon training left me ravenous all the time. I would run 18 miles, come home and just want to sleep and eat, eat and sleep. I could eat a large bowl of pasta, and still be starving an hour later. As I was “dieting” at the time (I know – the definition of insanity) I would try not to eat “too much” (as determined by me) and I would end up struggling. WeightWatchers gives you 1 point for 10 minutes of running. So a 13 mile run buys you about 9 extra points. This equates to about 90g of pasta, which wouldn’t even touch the sides of the hunger I felt. Deep frustration ensued, as I was running badly and dieting badly. I need to give some thought to my next race goal, but I am quite sure that eating when I am hungry will be invaluable.
This was one of the principles I was most keen to learn about (along with “respect your fullness” – more on which coming soon), and I will read and re-read this chapter. Fingers crossed I can get a decent grip on this quickly, as it seems like the most logical thing I have ever read in my life!