Friday, September 24, 2010

No Title, Part 2

Sylvia was really hungry by the time she got to the restaurant. She had been worried about overeating so she had eaten very little that day in preparation. When the waiter put the bread basket down on the table, she quickly ate two delicious hunks smothered in butter. No, actually she "inhaled" those pieces of bread before she even had any idea of what she was doing. She was ravenous. The bread certainly calmed down her empty stomach, as did the glass of wine that arrived soon thereafter. Then the Caesar salad was put before her and once again, she attacked it with gusto. About half-way through the salad, though, the taste started to change. It just wasn't all that appealing anymore. But it was Caesar salad, and a good one at that. She ate it all. The the fettuccine arrived and Sylvie groaned inwardly. She actually didn't feel like eating it. But all around her, her friends were digging into their main courses, the wine was flowing and the conversation was good. Before she knew it, her plate was clean. The meal was not over, though. Having ordered the special, she was also served dessert. Remember? The tiramisu, her absolute favourite and impossible to pass up. She ate it even though somehow it just didn't taste as good as she was expecting. She couldn't understand why, since the waiter had mentioned that it had just been freshly prepared and this restaurant was known for the quality of its food. By the time she got home from the dinner, she felt stuffed and sluggish and very, very sheepish about having eaten way more than she needed.

Martin stopped to have lunch around noon. He enjoyed his egg, toast and veggies and felt pleasantly full, but he was bored. The assignment he was working on was not particularly interesting, but it had to be done by the end of the day. The walnuts, followed by the grapes and topped off by the chocolate somehow made going back to his desk a little less onerous. He did feel a bit overly full after all these "extras", and the chocolate actually ended up tasting a bit bitter, but it was dark chocolate after all, and that's the aftertaste dark chocolate often leaves behind.

Fred and Ann just love cake. Neither of them consider that feeling full after a good meal is any reason to refuse a piece of cake. So they ate it. They both slept poorly and the next morning Ann felt a bit nauseous.

So many people think intuitive eating just means eating what you want, as much as you want and whenever you want. Well, yes it does and no, it really doesn't mean that at all!

Like cars, tractors and subway trains, we all need energy. A car won't run when it's out of gas. A human being won't function very well when he or she is hungry and ultimately, without eating anything over a long period of time, will die.

And just like a car, which has a dial or a needle or whatever to tell us that the tank is almost empty, we too have a signal called hunger to tell us that it's time to eat. When the car's gas tank is full, the gas we continue pumping in will start to overflow. There's no room and it just gets wasted on the ground. Humans don't have quite the same overflow mechanism, but we do have physical feelings of being too full. Ask any baby about overeating. They just don't. They'll turn their heads away in disgust. Once a baby is full, that's it. I considered posting a photo of a farmer force feeding a duck, but it's really too cruel and disgusting. Enough said.

Let's get back to the "I'm full" signal. You're not a baby anymore. Perhaps you were brought up to clean your plate at every meal. Perhaps you feel guilty about wasting food. Perhaps, for one reason or another, certain foods have come to represent comfort, reassurance, happiness. Perhaps you just love the taste of many foods. As long as you live and breath, you still have a "full signal", but it has been dampened by guilt, a need for comfort or any number of different feelings, or simply your love of cheese (or chocolate or pizza...). You practically need a hearing aid to sense the fullness signal. And even if you do feel it, even if your clothing is stretched to the max after a huge meal, even if your heartburn has you doubled over, you just don't listen.

And you go on eating...because you're unhappy or bored or just because, hey, it tastes good. You deserve that great taste after a hard day's work, a night with a screaming baby, to calm yourself after reading something disturbing in the newspaper or after hearing that your sister got beaten up by her boyfriend for the nth time but refuses to leave him.

Intuitive eating asks you to start listening to your body rather than to your emotions, your whims or that little voice that's always saying "ah, come doesn't matter and it tastes sooo good." It doesn't ask you to banish anything to the bad food pile. It asks you to take the time to "hear" what your body is telling you about the food you're eating by slowing down your eating, by savouring each mouthful of food, be it pizza or caviar or a grilled cheese sandwich.

In a way, intuitive eating is the opposite of a binge. It's the opposite of inhaling your food so fast that the bag of chips is gone before you know it. When you make a conscious effort to slow down your eating, to put the fork down between mouthfuls, to tear your eyes away from the TV screen or the book, you start feeling the satiety signal, telling you that your body has had enough to eat. It's surprising how little that can often be.

Let's go back to Sylvia. Actually, Sylvia's wonderful meal didn't taste all that good for the most part. She was really hungry by the time she got to the restaurant but instead of having a small snack to calm her legitimate, real hunger pangs, she arrived at the restaurant ravenous. The corollary of listening to the "full" signal is also listening to the "hunger" signal. Don't let yourself get so hungry that you get out of control. This is what happened to Sylvia. She "inhaled" two slices of bread. But two slices of bread do not a meal make. So she proceeded to eat the salad. Remember I mentioned how the taste of the salad changed as she was eating it? When something stops tasting absolutely divine, your body (via your taste buds) is telling you that you're getting full.

So we've established that Sylvia was actually full when she was barely half-way through her salad. What should she have done? If you live outside North America, the answer is perhaps trickier than it is here. But if you live in Canada or the States, remember these two words: doggy bag. Let's say that Sylvia had asked for a doggy bag rather than munching her way through a lot of food that actually didn't taste all that good (and we know that eating when you're not hungry is not a pleasant activity). She would have arrived home with (possibly) half a Caesar salad, a whole plateful of fettuccine Alfredo and the tiramisu. Listening to her body, that was still sending out a full signal, she would have put it all in the fridge. Maybe a little while later, she might have had a few bites of tiramisu. No big deal. And then you know what might have happened (and this is the story of my life)? Her teenage son, Nick, would have opened the fridge at midnight--long after Sylvia had gone to bed--and polished off the fettuccine and maybe the salad and the rest of the tiramisu.

Here's another thing that might have happened if the doggy bag went into the fridge: The next day, having eaten a very rich Caesar salad the night before, Sylvia's body may have craved something simpler, like steamed salmon, for supper. And the fettuccine, the rest of the salad and the tiramisu? Maybe someone else in the family ate the food...maybe the dog got the scraps...maybe she took it to work for lunch the day after...maybe it went in the garbage.

Part 3, coming up soon...


  1. every time going to a restaurant, without fail, i split a meal with my teenage daughter. if she's not there, i slide half of it to one side of the plate to take home. I can't possibly eat that much food anyway. and if i'm paying that much $ for restaurant food i'm going to savor it, and enjoy it hopefully for the next day. heck, even when we order chinese here at work the food lasts me 3 days...

  2. The first change I made a year ago was to skip the bread basket. It has made a big difference.

  3. I wonder if, when intuitive eating is well practiced, it leads to weight loss...or to a weight that is socially acceptable. For instance, when I think of the top female anchor women, movie actors, and CEOs (okay, this last is a stretch), I wonder if they could remain as thin, as many of them are, if they ate intuitively. I'm not saying that intuitive eating is not a great option for many people, but I do think it will rarely result in the very thin bodies that our society seems to demand from women in the public eye. I even doubt it will result in many bodies that can remain in the so-called *healthy weight* (vs. overweight) category. Perhaps dieting is more popular than intuitive eating precisely because it CAN lead to lower weights, and thin bodies, at least for a period of time. Thinness is not the natural body type for most women (just thinking of the bell curve), yet thinness is seen as attainable with dieting. Intuitive eating does not, necessarily, result in thinness or even *healthy weight* (BMI dictated). Nope. An intuitive eater may well end up *overweight*, and that DOES seem like a frightening risk when viewed from the perspective of someone who believes she *should* be thin.

    Thanks for presenting a great topic. I look forward to part 3!


  4. A friend of mine who is naturally casting-call thin once said that she thought it boiled down to one simple equation: Which is more uncomfortable to you, a feeling of hunger or a feeling of fullness? For us, it was a feeling of fullness. I can't fathom putting food on top of a full stomach. Even if it's free or discounted -- it's not a good value to pay money to make myself uncomfortable.

    I don't subscribe to the "food is merely fuel" attitude, though. I'm Italian -- I LOVE FOOD OMG I LOVE FOOD. But I love it when I want it. I guess that's intuitive eating.

  5. Rebecca-
    Some interesting thoughts indeed! I think if you talked to Paul McKenna followers they would say that IE can and does lead to weight loss. However, I intuitively (lol) agree with you that it probably doesn't lead people to become rail thin, which is usually the result of severe and constant deprivation (is that Janis's friend's situation, perhaps?).

    Thanks to all for your comments. More to come, hopefully not to the point of indigestion, though!

  6. Nope -- she's literally just thin and dislikes being overly full. She eats and cooks quite well.

  7. Janice-you`ve got a lucky friend!

  8. She's had health problems, certainly -- including a long period on enormous amounts of anti-convulsants when she got flattened by some fibromyalgia. :-( It hit her hard since she has always been athletic and suddenly could barely move. She's one of those (crazy) people who isn't happy unless she's lathered in sweat at least four times a week. That probably had a lot to do with her build. She just loves running around.

    Oddly, she didn't gain weight when she was sick, though. I think her appetite just compensated by ratcheting down. Mine does the same if I'm not active or more so than usual. I admit that coming from the point of view where "intuitive eating" and "eating" are pretty much identical, I'm a bit mystified at how those wires can get crossed. I can't understand the Sylvia example above at all, but a lot of people obviously can. It's always a surprise how much of a mystery other people's brains can be. :-)

    I'll stop blathering now.

  9. Oh, one other thing I wondered about: what if someone eats intuitively or is an intuitive eater and is fat? Do people assume that the fat person is doing IE incorrectly or badly? See, I can see IE used as a way to shame people, just like traditional dieting has often been used. Also, I have seen a lot of assumptions about people's quality of spirituality, believe it or not, being judged according to how *appropriately thin* or *inappropriately fat* they became/remained while eating intuitively. In fact, I wonder about "life coaches" who advocate IE while assuming that EVENTUALLY the client will learn IE with enough practice: as evidenced by (supposedly) achievement of a weight closer to that which is socially acceptable. This applies to sufferers of anorexia as well as obese persons who become clients. I saw very abusive examples of this in Overeaters Anonymous and in anorexia recovery.

    Thanks again for a great topic!


  10. I felt much more uncomfortable hungry. stuffing myself never felt bad it made me feel numb. Which was what I wanted.
    I don't want to be rail thin, just normal...not morbidly obese. I don't know if a food addict can go from food addiction to intuitive eating. maybe 'normal' people might be able to. But me, I don't think so.

  11. I "intuitively" stop eating when I get upset.
    But eventually, I get back to the problem.
    And work on the upsetness!

  12. It's probably like being a sober alcoholic -- they just need to follow different rules around booze than someone who hasn't had a problem with it. So yeah, IE exists but like the above comment says, it's just not a helpful concept.

    And it's not a matter of will power, either. I read a story on a blog where a woman was talking about having made and eaten 20 cupcakes when she binged. She couldn't stop herself from eating 20 cupcakes, and I couldn't MAKE myself eat 20 cupcakes if you held a gun to my head. But I don't have will power to resist eating 20 cupcakes, because there's no urge. I'm no more resisting the urge to eat 20 cupcakes than I'm resisting the urge to deliberately stub my toe on something. So telling people who overeat that they need will power isn't helpful either, because will power isn't why I don't binge. A lack of desire to binge is why I don't binge. Even if an overeater manages to eat like a "normal" person, I guarantee they will have arrived at that physical reality via a very different psychological route that has nothing to do with intuition.

  13. On the contrary, Janis, I think IE can be a helpful concept. Perhaps not for everyone, but it certainly has helped me.

    I think it's far different from willpower, which I believe is not a solution for life because no one is perfect. People who rely on willpower and slip up--as everyone does--often are so devastated by their "weakness" that they just jump into a binge.

    Rebecca--If you are seriously overweight, you are definitely ingesting more than you need. Many overweight people have found IE very helpful in naturally cutting down their eating. I really think you can lose weight doing IE but I doubt you can become really skinny doing so, because that would imply a conscious decision to severely restrict your food consumption.

    Watch out for part 3...