Listen to your body, it is the product of thousands of years of evolution. It knows what it needs. Honor your cues about hunger and satiety. This is the typical jargon you hear when you start looking into Intuitive Eating. Take a look around at some of the gurus and you will see them telling you to throw out the diet manuals and mindset, stop obsessively tracking calories, and you will magically become healthier.
If I listened to everything my body told me about food, I would weigh 200 lbs.
I know, because I did that twice.
The food my body naturally wants is not all that dissimilar from a toddler let loose in the snack aisle at the grocery store. Even on the occasions that my body has finally decided it needs something green or it will spontaneously implode, the quantity of food that I can consume before feeling sated is well beyond what my body actually requires.
I guess when it comes to intuitive eating, my intuition is broken.
If you’ve come here thinking – yes! I’m not the only one! – I can assure you, you are far from alone. There are a ton of factors that come into play with our cravings and make it hard to trust your gut when it comes to choosing your food.
1. Food Companies Manufacture Food to be Addictive
The word alone probably sent a pleasant tingle through your limbs. Great joy. Perfect happiness.
It’s exactly what the food companies want you to feel, and it has been scientifically documented.
In food talk, the bliss point is the balance of sugar, salt, and fat in a product designed to keep you coming back for more. After all, these corporations need to make money and the best way to get the customer to buy their food over and over again is to make it as addictive as possible.
Of course, we all have our individual tastes, but nine times out of ten are you craving an apple or craving a cookie?
We have a societal addiction to food that is not particularly good for us, which means actively trying to eat things which are not necessarily what we are craving.
I have made the conscious effort to keep certain food items out of my kitchen. Shortly after my move, I had a 1,000-calorie chocolatefest two weeks in a row. That was when I made the decision to keep chocolate out of my cupboards. There’s a bodega right around the block, if I really want chocolate, I have to put in the effort to get it.
(And maybe 1 out of 5 times I do go get some.)
Usually, after a few weeks of eating less processed food, we start to crave it less frequently. But make no mistake, it is a deliberate decision, not necessarily intuitive.
2. Being Overweight Messes With Your Hunger Signals
Most people who deny the CICO equation, claim that it ignores the importance of hormones like leptin and ghrelin. While nothing overrides the physics of energy balance, leptin and ghrelin are factors in our appetite which specifically affects the “Calories In” part of the equation.
So what are these little beasties swimming through our bloodstream? Well, ghrelin is a hormone produced in the stomach that stimulates appetite and signals the pituitary gland to release growth hormones. As we eat, levels of ghrelin drop and levels of leptin increase. Leptin is another hormone that makes us feel full and satisfied.
Your body gets used to having a certain amount of leptin in your system, and when it gets below that level your brain is under the impression that you need food. Up goes the ghrelin, up goes the hunger.
There’s just one problem. Unlike ghrelin which comes from the stomach, leptin comes from adipose tissue.
The more adipose you have, the more leptin you secrete. The more leptin your body is used to, the more your body thinks you need to eat to maintain that fat.
If you are overweight, you will experience more hunger more frequently.
As you lose weight, your body will eventually adjust to the lower level of leptin – like lowering a thermostat from 90 degrees to room temperature. You might, however, feel some hunger along the journey.
Usually, the urge will pass in a few minutes. Your body has the stored energy it needs. Let it use it.
Some people are leptin-deficient or leptin-resistant, though the exact mechanisms are not quite known. It was almost a relief to find out that was a real phenomenon. As a teenager, I had a talk with my mother. I never felt pleasantly full or satisfied. I ate and ate and ate until physical pain made me stop.
It is nice to know that there are biological mechanisms at play, but it also does not exempt me from the responsibility of taking care of my body.
3. Emotional Dependence on Food
For the longest time, the only thing I looked forward to about social events is what I would eat when I got there. It took a lot of therapy for me to realize the root: I was intensely socially anxious and food eased that anxiety.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of My 600 lb Life, there’s a running theme you will see. Food was always there for me. It never let me down.
Food can have a massive psychological hold over us, especially because of that bliss point mentioned earlier.
While intuitive eating does consider trying to break away from using food as comfort, it is much harder when you have underlying issues. Using food as an anti-depressant is very different from breaking a bad habit of boredom snacking.
You can train yourself to adopt new coping mechanisms, but seeking therapy will be essential. Refusing to deal with my emotional issues was one of the major reasons I regained what I lost on the first leg of my fitness journey.
So is Intuitive Eating all bad?
The organization that markets Intuitive Eating proposes some pretty good ideas.
Stop looking for short-term crash diets. Stop dividing foods into moral groups. Make nutritious choices. Exercise for the sake of feeling good. All of these are essential to living a happy, healthy life.
(Of course, they also compare fat loss to changing shoe size, claiming it is impossible. Fun fact – I actually went down a shoe size as I lost fat because they did not swell as much. But that’s another story.)
Keep in mind, Intuitive Eating is trying to sell you books, just like any other lifestyle or dieting expert. While it might be a term du jour right now, don’t fault yourself too much if you find that it’s hard for you to trust your own hunger signals.
Over time, as you you teach yourself new habits, they can start to feel more intuitive.
Remember, the best diet for weight loss is the one you can stick to! Make sure you know the energy levels your body needs, and adjust for a slight deficit or surplus depending on your goals.
Need to calculate your daily energy needs? Click here.
What is your experience with intuitive eating?
Do your hunger signals work right?
How do you go about planning your meals?
Let me know below!