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Nutrition

Intuitive Eating: Trusting Your Intuition

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It’s part two of Ben Coomber’s look at intuitive eating…

The main gripe I have with the idea of intuitive eating is the name. It’s a misnomer, a completely incorrect term. This is not me just being pedantic either.

The definition of intuition is ‘the ability to understand something instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning’, with instinct being defined as ‘an innate, typically fixed pattern of behaviour in animals in response to certain stimuli’ or ‘a natural or intuitive way of acting or thinking’.

In other words, the idea of intuitive eating being a good idea makes a couple assumptions:
We have an innate drive to eat the optimal amount of food
We are in tune with this drive

And neither of these are true.

Your body did not evolve to maintain its weight effectively; rather, you’re a ghost riding around in a meat bag that’s driven towards consumption. We evolved over millions of years in environments in which the next meal was only a possibility – as such, we have evolved various mechanisms that preserve us against famine including a large, hedonistic appetite that seeks out more food than we need, and an almost limitless capacity for fat storage.

We did not, however, have the chance to evolve the opposite – a drive to *not* gain fat.

Obesity isn’t something our ancestors really encountered. It’s an evolutionary glitch, something that arose because a body evolved to deal with one environment has suddenly found itself living somewhere completely different; kind of like how moths fly towards artificial light. As such, our internal regulation guides us towards gaining weight rather than maintaining it.

Consider this:
Try to reduce your bodyweight and you’ll feel hungrier, you’ll move less, and your body will become a little more efficient. Basically, undereat and your body is all like ‘HELL NO’ and tries to get you to eat more. Start gaining weight? Your body basically does nothing unless you’re one of the very few people who seem to naturally maintain a lower bodyweight by having a low appetite and fidgeting more.

And this final thought brings us back to my point: those who promote intuitive eating tend to fall into two categories:
People who have always been lean. These people have a smallish appetite, fidget a lot, and are naturally predisposed to enjoy training (yes, your enjoyment of exercise has a MASSIVE genetic component. The ‘eats whatever and never gains weight’ people in your office.
People who used to track their food meticulously and have since stopped.

These people are, however, special cases.

In the case of the first group, the always-lean people, they meet the assumptions of intuitive eating very well. Their intuitions are dialled in so that they eat the amount of food their bodies need, and don’t really crave or feel hunger for more.

The second group have gamed the system – their intuitions sucked and they weren’t in tune with them, which is why they tracked food in the first place. It’s tracking without tracking – repetition of a learned behaviour…which is extremely different to intuition.

So, intuitive eating is a lie. It’s a lie because it has nothing to do with intuition. It requires practice at paying attention to hunger signals, education around food choice, attention paid to portion control, careful management of one’s food environment, mindfulness around snacks and temptation, a true understanding of moderation and the ability to stop once you start eating certain foods, more often than not.

Most of which almost nobody can do based on naturally occurring instinct because, in fact, all of those things are the opposite of what your body wants to do.

You have to spend time and learn what you’re doing, and that doesn’t sound all that intuitive to me…

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