Monday, March 30, 2009

Intuitive Eating

We humans love rules. Even when we hate them, we love them. Rules keep us on the straight and narrow. They keep us focused, able to follow through. They keep us in the good graces of the group we belong to. To be a good Jew/Muslim/Christian/ Hindu we do or do not eat certain things, we support or fight certain ideas or societal trends. Rules help us to define who we are, what we believe, how we act...

Going on a diet is one of the ultimate ways we follow rules: I will weigh myself and my food. I will eat certain foods, religiously avoid other foods, not mix my carbs and my proteins, count "points", eat at certain times, not eat at other times...

After my failed hip operation in 2003, which was followed by an initial weight loss (due to depression) and then a weight gain (when I was on anti-depressants), I came to the conclusion that I could no longer follow the rules of dieting. The psychological effort of constantly policing myself, constantly feeling deprived and hungry was more than my already battered psyche could stand. I recovered from my revision surgery, began walking again and resumed a fairly normal life. But my rejection of diets did not leave me. Thirty-five years of yo-yo dieting had left me completely exhausted.

Enter Paul McKenna and his "rules":
1. Eat when you're hungry.
2. Eat what you want.
3. Eat consciously.
4. Stop when you're full.

First, THIS IS NOT A DIET. Second, I would venture to say these are not rules. In fact, this "approach" is the antithesis of a rules-based system. It is intuitive--and that means that it's actually really frightening.

Leaving the rules behind and listening to your body is a very scary process. Not eating breakfast ("the most important meal of the day"), having a muffin for lunch (rather than a healthy meal of lean proteins, low carbs, etc.), eating before bed because that's when you're actually hungry are all very frightening acts. This is diet anarchism! This is folly! This will get us unhealthy and even fatter!

I'm not so sure these fears are at all true.

I have never been a particularly "bad" eater. My mom was into "health foods" while all my friends' moms were feeding them peanut butter and jam on Wonder bread. I like and appreciate healthy food. Since I have been following the McKenna programme, I have clearly seen that when I am truly physically hungry, I only want to eat real, healthy food. Only. My craving for junk only appears when I'm full. Only very occasionally do I succeed in reserving some physical space in my stomach for the sweets I love. For me, sweets are purely a treat, a psychological soother, something I consciously know my body doesn't need.

But let's put sweets aside for the moment and get back to intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating means putting total faith in oneself. Believing in one's own wisdom.

Rules mean giving up personal power and personal choice.

I can see how this "giving up" can be very seductive. The rules tell you what to do. You no longer have to make conscious decisions based on your own, inner knowledge. However, I refuse to let someone else tell me how I must eat. I refuse to allow someone else, or someone else's rules dictate to me what is good or bad. I am an adult, and a fairly intelligent one at that. One's man's elixir is another man's poison. And I don't believe that any "diet", larded and laden with iron-clad rules that one disobey's at one's peril will ever help me lose weight, or even maintain my weight.

The bravest--and sanest--thing that I can do for myself is to cultivate my own intuition and learn to live the principles of intuitive eating.

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