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.
Intuitive Eating principle #3 – make peace with food
“We are at war with food”. Clearly quite dramatic, but I am not sure the drama is unwarranted. It does often feel like food is the enemy, and it’s a constant fight. The authors feel you need to “give yourself permission to eat without condition”. Now, this isn’t actually quite true – as you still have to honour your hunger and respect your fullness (I know; it sounds like such bullshit, but the concepts are pretty sound).
If you’re not hungry, you shouldn’t eat. That is one of the un-wavering principles of Intuitive Eating. Eat when you’re hungry; don’t when you’re not.
The point here is more that if you are hungry, you can eat whatever you fancy. Ice cream sundaes for breakfast, cheese, chocolate, fats, carbohydrates – anything goes. There is a section on “nutrition” later on, but the authors strongly caution against entertaining this until you feel comfortable that you have eliminated your reliance on diets and fully rejected the diet mentality. If you start restricting what you’re “allowed”, it will all go wrong.
The logic is fairly simply. People want what they can’t have in all aspects of life, including food. If you restrict a certain food, you will crave it. The authors compare this to a see-saw. On the one side is deprivation, and the other side is guilt. One goes up, the other goes down, the other goes up, the one goes down. And so on. As long as a food is “out of bounds”, this battle will persist and you’ll never be happy.
In practical terms, I know this one well. If I fancy ice cream, I will resist….and resist….until I break and eat a whole tub. In my mind, one mouthful is the same as a whole tub. It’s the enemy, and once I eat it, I have lost. The guilt kicks in, and I feel terrible. I work on the basis I cannot control myself around ice cream, and it must be banned.
It ultimately leaves to rebound eating, which often has a “last supper” mentality. Tomorrow I won’t be allowed to have this, so today I will pig out. This can go far beyond over-indulgence, and actually involve eating as much as physically possible.
Oh yes, I know this one.
The book describes “once in a lifetime” eating: a special meal, in a special place, “you won’t get this opportunity again”. I often convince myself that if I don’t (over-)indulge, I will be “missing out”. If work take us out for dinner or there are treats in the office. Special events like Christmas, holidays, a meal out I’ve been looking forward to, birthdays, the “all you cat eat” proposition which is cropping up all over London – and so on. It would be fine if this were only from time to time, but I have a busy social life which all-but revolves around food. There is ALWAYS an excuse. I am kidding myself if I think the next “once in a lifetime” meal isn’t right around the corner.
I have been working hard to ensure I eat what I fancy when I am hungry; and only when I am hungry. The other day, I was shopping to make the dinner I had planned, when I really fancied cheese and biscuits. So I bought the cheese and biscuits instead. I knew what I wanted, and not having cheese for dinner that night would likely have meant a cheese blow-out another day (or even a trip to our local shop to get cheese after dinner). Totally counter productive. I made a very conscious decision to stop when I was full (which took a lot of evaluation, as it’s not something I usually entertain).
No one died. I didn’t immediately gain 10lbs. I didn’t go out and buy more cheese, or descend into a binge. Life went on.
The thing that has really struck me in doing this, is that I am not really very hungry. My biggest battle is eating when I am hungry (principle #2) but not when I am full (or just not hungry – principle #5, which I will write about soon). When I am on a diet, I am starving the whole time. Now I am eating normal food, with notably more carbs than in diet-world, I can go hours without any symptoms of hunger. This is actually quite frustrating when you’ve just given yourself permission to eat whatever you want!!
I’m obviously still tempted to eat when I am not hungry. This is going to be my biggest challenge, and one I really need to work on.