Friday, March 19, 2010

Intuitive eating

St. Luke’s Health Watch


The last time you had something to eat, were you really hungry? What were your motivations for that meal or snack? Was it really because you were hungry? Or did you eat those chips and guacamole because "they were there?" Were you eating because you felt tired, stressed, lonely or bored? Were you eating to avoid facing something going on in your life?

As described by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in their groundbreaking book, "Intuitive Eating," these are very common reasons why we eat. However, this type of eating is contrary to our intuitive wisdom. Intuitive eating teaches us that we are the experts of our own bodily clues and that listening to what our bodies are telling us can be very beneficial.

When eating intuitively, we eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. The urge to overeat is driven by the biological signal of excessive hunger. By adequately and thoughtfully eating foods—including carbohydrates—that supply energy, we can help prevent the impulse to overeat. The ideas of "honoring our hunger" and "respecting our fullness" allow us to intuitively trust ourselves and the foods that we eat so that we don't get to the point of overeating.

Furthermore, eating to fill an emotional need often causes guilty feelings about ourselves, in addition to creating physical discomforts from overeating, and compounds the emotional imbalance as we discover that the underlying emotional issues are still there after the food is gone. By learning to recognize and honor the difference between our physical needs and our emotional issues, it becomes easier to make healthy food choices for the purpose of nourishing our bodies and satisfying hunger, and we can seek more appropriate and effective ways to resolve emotional issues.

Becky McCarver, St. Luke's registered dietitian, points out that "the American culture may seem obsessed with diets and weight-management strategies, yet obesity is on the rise. Chronic dieting, as well as rigid rules about food and eating, result in difficulty in trusting your inner voice regarding food. Intuitive eating begins with the principle of rejecting the diet mentality."

When self worth is linked to food, we may experience "food worry." Food worry associates eating "bad foods" with being a "bad person." Of course, our value as an individual has nothing to do with our size, shape or food consumption, but learning how to break this pattern of worry can take conscious effort. McCarver reminds us that "losing weight quickly, easily and permanently are all false hopes projected by many diet strategies. When we fail to accomplish these unrealistic goals, we feel like we are a failure. By rejecting the diet mentality, we can be opened to intuitively eating for the purpose of feeling good about our health and ourselves."

The principles of intuitive eating proclaim: "Make peace with food." Depriving ourselves of foods that we "shouldn't eat" can lead to craving and binging when we eventually give in. Then our guilt steps in and sets the stage for feeling like a failure once again.

"To make peace, you need to rebuild a healthy relationship with food," McCarver says. "With intuitive eating, you learn how to get back to the natural state of eating when hungry and stopping when full. Most people know what healthy eating entails—the challenge is with figuring out how to make it work for you."

Erin Buell is the community outreach coordinator and educator for St. Luke's Community Health.

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