Today I want to talk about intuitive eating.

If you’ve been following my blog recently, you’ll know that I’ve been bouncing back and forth between a few different dietary regimens – I tried the GAPS diet. Made things worse. Tried the RRARF. Made one thing better, caused new problems.

Now I’m truly just eating what I want, when I want it, and in the amount that I want to eat it.

For me, right now, this is basically a Weston A Price style whole foods diet. It includes vegetables, fruits, berries, raw milk, sweet potatoes, potatoes, grains (mostly non-gluten), honey, home-rendered animal fats like lard and tallow, coconut products, meat (mostly pastured beef right now), bone broth, homemade yogurt, eggs, beans, peanut butter, a few nuts and seeds, butter.

So… yeah. My diet is still pretty real and wholesome. Luckily that is what I’m used to. And it’s very well rounded! And I eat two to three good meals a day, but I don’t stuff myself. I feel satisfied and nourished, so I don’t really crave anything processed. But I am also not over-feeding to the point where I want to go into a coma after eating, and now I can function again! Yay.

And lucky for me, my stomach problems – the very reason I decided I needed to change my diet and restrict it even more by going on the GAPS diet (a completely starch free diet) – are all gone now that I have begun eating more starch. Who knew!

I also decided that because it’s what I want to eat, I’m eating some cheese regularly. Not organic, not raw. It’s convenient and cheaper and I like it and I want it, so I’m eating it. I’m also eating organic corn tortilla chips, because I like to make mexican dishes a lot, and enjoy a few *gasp* canola oil laden chips to go with it. And my beans…. yes…. they come from a can!! 

Okay so here’s the problem: there’s too many theories, studies, people, and opinions flying around about food and what we should be eating and what is the perfect diet that will solve all of our problems. The internet is awesome, but it’s also causing us a lot of fear and suffering when it comes to food.

Every single food and food group has something wrong with it, according to somebody out there. How are we supposed to eat anything?

Grains are hard digest because of their leptins and phytates and their gluten (it’s guaranteed to punch holes right through your gut wall!), and because humans haven’t adapted in ten thousand years to eating them, and we didn’t have them in the stone age, and it’s even worse now because the new fangled breeds of wheat and other grains are so hybridized and crossbred that our bodies REALLY don’t know what’s going on. And most of it’s all GMO too.

Meat is bad, you see, because it’s too acid and the body needs to be strictly alkaline to function properly. It’s hard to digest and it stays in your digestive tract for up to three days and causes constipation due to its lack of fibre. Not to mention all that saturated fat – that’ll kill ya dead, you know. Plus it has too much protein and our bodies actually only need a small amount of protein. Plus, think of all those antibiotics, hormones, and inappropriate feed those animals are eating! Also, it’s wrong to kill animals for any reason, so you should feel very guilty every time you eat it.

Dairy products – dude, cow’s milk is for cows, not people. That’s gross. Think of all the hormone in there to make baby cows grow so big!! That’s not for humans!! Plus the pasteurization hurts the proteins, and it’s SO allergenic, and it’s full of puss and feces and nastiness. Think raw grass fed milk is the answer? Nuh uh. Still got the hormones, plus there’s deadly bacteria in there. That’s why it’s illegal. Duh.

Think that juicy apple is good for you? THINK AGAIN, SIR! That stuff is WAY too high in fructose – that’s a sugar and all sugar is bad for you! It feeds candida, it spikes your blood sugar, you are on your way to certain diabetes!!! Totally rots your teeth too. Maybe ancient, wild, bitter fruit is okay…. but all the fruit these days are so hybridized to contain five times the amount of sugar, you’d be CRAZY to put that in your mouth! Also, don’t go eating your fruit with any other foods – it digests differently, and if you do, it will ferment in your stomach and ROT! Maggots will then feast on it! Good GOD!!

And what about the sweet, innocent VEGETABLE? That has to be safe, doesn’t it? No siree… got too much fibre!! Turns out fibre is bad for you. Oops. It stretches your intestinal tract and makes it lazy. .. or … .. something. It’s scratchy too! And you better stay away from those nightshade vegetables… those are allergenic… and those potatoes… nooo….. too high on the glycemic index… and carrots and beets…. too much sugar!… chard, spinach, and kale? OXALIC ACID!! That stuff binds to calcium and minerals and actually depletes you! and what are you doing?? are you steaming your vegetables!! ARE YOU CRAZY??? They’re toxic that way, along with all cooked food, didn’t you know that??! Oh, but actually, cooking disarms that oxalic acid stuff, so you really should be cooking your greens and not eating them raw. OMG, are you BLENDING YOUR VEGETABLES? That totally causes oxidation and ruins all the nutrients.

Lol – that was actually really fun and therapeutic to write! Let off a little steam there! Note that I’m not poking fun at any particular group or theories or think they’re all necessarily wrong – I’m sure you’ve heard me talking about more than a few of the things mentioned!

But hopefully my point is clear – the internet is making us nuts (oh, I forgot nuts! Well, don’t be eating those – got enzyme inhibitors and too full of Omega 6s, dontchaknow!)

So what can we do? There’s nothing we can eat that doesn’t have its supposed downside. We’re all full of fear now because we don’t want anything bad to happen to our bodies and our skin if we start eating the “bad foods”. That’s very understandable.

Eating via Intuition

I think that the answer is intuitive eating and listening to your body.

I know, I know… I’m sure you’ve heard the term “listen to your body” before and have been left going “HOW? How do I do that?!”. That’s how I have felt too. I was never really sure what to listen for when I ‘listened’. Plus, once you’ve gone down the nutrition rabbit hole, it’s very difficult to separate what your body says and what the mind thinks it knows about the goodness or the badness of certain foods.

What I’ve been learning though is that your body is constantly changing. We have so many different systems and balances that go up and down throughout the day, and even throughout the year.

There’s the anabolic and catabolic cycles (building and cleansing cycles), there’s the way that our body produces energy (sometimes from glucose, sometimes from fat), there’s the autonomic nervous system (whether we’re in a relaxed state or in fight or flight mode), there’s the acid/alkaline balance in the body (which changes all the time). Then there’s the water and electrolyte balance (ratio sodium to water, etc). These things can all be influenced by your stress levels, the weather, time of day, season, hydration, hormonal profile, respiration, amount of sleep, and a million other things.

So, as you can see, your needs are very complex and what’s good for you one minute, might be bad for you the next. And no person on the internet is ever going to be able to tell you on a minute by minute basis what you need. Your mind isn’t going to be able to tell you that either. But your body can.

Whoa! Did you hear that?

The Basics of Intuitive Eating

So how do you eat intuitively?

You just eat things that sound good to you at that time. If you desire it, it smells good, it tastes good, and you feel deeply satisfied after eating it and don’t crave other things, then it was a good choice for you at that time. Your body was letting you know that.

Other ways of listening to your body can include drinking when you’re thirsty and eating until you’re just full and satisfied (but not uncomfortably stuffed!)

If you wonder if this is a good strategy, think about these things:

  • Why is it that you might think a piece of salmon sounds delightful in the evening, but the thought of eating it for breakfast makes you want to throw up? (hint – your body may be more suited to break the fast with another type of food)
  • Why is that when you are hungry, something can taste amazing, but after you’ve eaten most of it and you’re good and full, it starts tasting a bit bland? (hint – your body has had enough)
  • Why is that when you are sick, you lose your appetite except for liquids and mushy things? (hint – your body wants to use that energy it would have put toward digestion to fight the virus)
  • How come smoothies and raw foods sound delightful in the summer but way too cold and damp for the winter? (hint – your body needs warming foods to bring your body temperature up)
  • Why is that you get thirsty when you eat salty foods? (hint – your body is trying to tell you it needs to dilute the sodium and even out your electrolyte balance)

So, basically, when you want to choose a food for yourself – just think – what is the one thing that sounds the most appealing to me right now? Don’t question its protein, carbohydrate, or fat content. Just eat it.

To help clarify all this, I am going to quote ten intuitive eating principles from the website www.intuitiveeating.org – it’s geared towards those who diet for weight loss, but you’ll get the drift:

1. Reject the Diet Mentality Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight. If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.

2. Honor Your Hunger Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing When you finally “give-in” to your forbidden food, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating, and overwhelming guilt.

4. Challenge the Food Police .Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake. The Food Police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created . The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loud speaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the Food Police away is a critical step in returning to Intuitive Eating.

5. Respect Your Fullness Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of a meal or food and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what is your current fullness level?

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence–the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food Find ways to comfort , nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you into a food hangover. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

8. Respect Your Body Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally as futile (and uncomfortable) to have the same expectation with body size. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.

9. Exercise–Feel the Difference Forget militant exercise. Just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise. If you focus on how you feel from working out, such as energized, it can make the difference between rolling out of bed for a brisk morning walk or hitting the snooze alarm. If when you wake up, your only goal is to lose weight, it’s usually not a motivating factor in that moment of time.

10 Honor Your Health–Gentle Nutrition Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well. Remember that you don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or gain weight from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters, progress not perfection is what counts.

Oh It’s Not That Easy – What About Processed Food?

So… what about processed food? You may be saying “Tracy, when you say food, do you mean ANY food? Because I crave a lot of processed foods”

Yes. Right. So here’s where this simple concept gets all convoluted. What is the deal with processed food? Should you listen to your cravings for it?

Well… I guess.. yes and no. Obviously most people out there actually do just eat whatever they crave, and things aren’t turning out so well. Diseases abound. That’s mostly why we’re all here at this website and on the internet scouring for health information in the first place! And it is a legitimate problem because I think that eating a lot of processed foods with their addictive chemicals and unnatural forms will definitely cloud your body’s ability to give you the right signals and allow you to eat intuitively in a healthy way.

Luckily I do believe that once you switch the majority of your food to whole foods, this intuitive sense comes back fairly quickly and then you can know that when you crave a food (even if your mind says it’s not good for reasons x, y, and z), you should just go ahead and eat it. Even if it’s a processed food, maybe it’s just exactly what your body needs at that exact time and it will get you back into balance.

So. Yeah. I guess my message is still that we want to be moving away from processed foods and towards eating the majority of our diet as whole foods. But we want to be eating a variety of them, and not limiting whole food groups due to things we read. If you want to be guided to what sort of foods to eat regularly in order to be healthier, just think of how that good group came from nature, you know?

Animals in nature don’t get hormone shots, milk doesn’t get pasteurized, vegetables aren’t sprayed with pesticides, grains aren’t refined. Continue to move toward that as best you can. If there’s a certain processed food you really like and want to eat all the time, get creative and think of how you could make it with healthier ingredients. You like chocolate milk? Instead of buying your jug of pasteurized milk and some Nesquik, make it out of raw milk, unprocessed cocoa powder, and some honey. Bam.

Lowering Stress as Part of Intuitive Eating

So even though I don’t condone a diet full of processed foods, it’s not to say that I don’t think processed foods have their place and that place is, by and large, their ability to reduce our stress levels.

Unfortunately, processed food is the norm these days. Most of us are coming from a processed food lifestyle. Most other people we know probably live a processed food lifestyle. If we don’t allow even the tiniest morsel of processed foods past our lips due to our fears – well…. goodbye, social life. Hello, loneliness and stress. Let’s invite some more pimples into our lives, shall we?

Another reason to eat processed foods may be just to reduce that enticing feeling of ‘wanting what you can’t have’. We may want processed foods more, simply because we have deemed them off limits. Maybe just eating them sometimes will cause you to lose interest in them because you know you could potentially go and eat them whenever you wanted.

Another reason that I believe processed foods can be good is because sometimes they just truly bring you joy. For example: those tortilla chips with my mexican food. And the cheese too. I adore cheese. Bread? I could take it or leave it. Don’t really crave it or feel a strong desire for it. But cheese? nom nom nom.

So if I like cheese, why don’t I buy raw, organic cheese and eat it in its most natural form? I don’t know. I just don’t know where to get it. Hopefully one day I will figure that out and get some raw, organic cheese. For now, I’m just gonna have some cheese and LOVE IT!

Which brings me to my next point in this saga: what do you do if you want to be healthier, but switching your standard american processed foods diet to a clean, wholesome one is stressful in itself? Should you just stick with eating garbage because it is less stressful?

Hmm.. no. Maybe. I don’t know. I guess that’s up to you. The way I see it though is that making a move to a more natural diet doesn’t have to be stressful, but we all make it that way because we are desperate. We have the health problem, or the acne, or the whatever, and we want it solved right now. We look at our diets, see it’s not healthy, and then immediately feel guilty, sad, and overwhelmed at the changes needing to be made. We may attempt it all at once, not be able to do it up to the standard we are trying to achieve (because, no kidding, it’s a big change), and then feel inadequate or just give up.

Take a second and visualize a person without any pressing, stressful health problems but with a desire to eat a better diet. Think about the way that person would make the changes. I think that they would just start looking up some recipes, buying a few different things at the store, and slowly replace the processed foods with better choices.

But it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

The changes would come along as they came along. Maybe they eat a truck load of refined wheat gluten right now, but the idea of giving it all up is too much. So instead, they switch to whole wheat. Maybe later they will then reduce the amount they eat. Maybe then they will switch what wheat they do eat to organic sourdough.

And maybe that same person would be happy because now they were eating more vegetables, instead of thinking about all the vegetables they haven’t eaten yet.

They would go out for dinner with their friends and really enjoy it because hey, they’ve been eating good all week and they feel good about that, instead of going out and focusing on all the little things that might be hidden in their food and feeling bad about that.

To take an example from me – I wish that I could afford to eat all organic vegetables, but I can’t. So instead, I am pleased that I am at least eating lots of vegetables! One day I may be able to go all organic and that’s cool. I’m not going to stress out about it until then.

Not to mention – once you have begun making changes and start to feel better physically from eating fewer processed foods, that becomes addicting and you will genuinely (and intuitively!) be drawn to a whole foods diet. And if you stray from it, instead of flogging yourself, you can trust that you will always be drawn back in when you start to notice that you just don’t feel as good anymore. I am personally finding this to be true.

A Couple of Inuitive Eating Links and I Will Leave You With a Song

So, ironically, both Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (the lady behind the GAPS diet), and Matt Stone (the dude behind RRARF) are big advocates of intuitive eating! Here are the links to their articles about the very subject:

One Man’s Meat is Another Man’s Poison – by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride

Intuitive Eating – by Matt Stone

And finally, I want to leave you with a song that I really like called “Don’t Follow the Guru” by Ganga Giri. The lyrics have always caught my attention because I guess, in a way, I might be considered a “guru” who is ‘all knowing’. But that’s not the case. I desperately wish I could solve everyone’s mysteries for them with exact precision, but there is absolutely no possible way. I can’t.

Only you have the answers.

“A wise man once said, fly your own magic carpet and be flying, flying ever so high. Free the mind. Don’t follow the guru. You are the guru”. 

What do you think of this concept of intuitive eating? 

photo by Pink Sherbert, garageolimpo, and sirsnapsalot