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Letting go of the ideal eater

December 30, 2009

I had an epiphany today. And it’s led to my first (and possibly only) resolution for the upcoming year.

I will no longer beat myself up for not being an intuitive eater.

You know, if at each meal time, I was presented with a well-balanced and well-cooked meal of veggies and grains and lean proteins or a plate of my favorite dessert, 9 times out of 10 I would choose the dessert. And you know what? That’s fine. I feel like I’ve spent several years waiting for this moment when sweet would no longer taste better than not-sweet; where the french fry would pale compared to the steamed broccoli and where all these choices about food would become as mindless as breathing.

But that hasn’t happened yet and, for me, it never will. Sure, I have periods of great eating. Where I have a varied diet full of nutritious foods while gently weaving in enough sweets and other such foods to keep me satisfied. But that’s a habit I get into, not a ‘default’ setting that I’ve discovered. I don’t have a default setting. My choices depend on my life. What’s happening. What food is available. Who I’m hanging out with and how stressed I am.

I’m not sure how I even feel anymore about intuitive eating as a concept. Like I said above, my preference is overwhelmingly towards sweet and/or fatty foods and I live in a world where those are ALWAYS easily available. So maybe for people like me, it’s not possible to rely on some inner sense that would have evolved at some point in our history where obtaining a bucket of french fries and a candy bar required slightly more work than driving to the nearest Sheetz.

Not that I’m against it all together. Whatever works for people’s relationship towards eating (which how messed up is it that it has to be SO HARD to figure out all this stuff about a completely necessary function). But like a lot of ‘natural’ ideas, I have often felt ashamed when I didn’t feel like I was living up to whatever standard I invented for myself.

So I’m letting it go.

And I know there will be at least a few people out there ready to tell me that the problem is that I’m defining intuitive eating too narrowly. That may be true, but to be frank, I’ve seen so many different definitions (from following basically every whim of appetite to following your tastes and hunger levels while still adhering to a weight-loss diet) that I think it would be silly to claim there is a single definition out there.

ETA: I should say that some of the concepts from intuitive eating were enormously helpful to me. As I’ve said before, surrounding myself with ‘forbidden’ foods until I understood that I could have them in the house without having to compulsively eat them was a big breakthrough for me. It’s just that choosing to eat a balanced meal instead of those once-forbidden foods is mostly down to my analytical brain. I still want the damn cookies, but I understand eating them instead of lunch and dinner is not a good thing.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2009 3:40 pm

    Good for you.

    I agree that there are too many definitions for intuitive eating out there. And it can make the matter really confusing.

    I say, take what you need and discard the rest. And then take what you know and make it into you own thing.

    That’s what you’ve done. And I think it’s the right thing for you to do.

    • January 4, 2010 2:50 pm

      take what you need and discard the rest

      Is basically my guiding principle when it comes to all this weight and health stuff. I do however have a big weakness for the ‘natural’ fallacy. And believing that there was some kind of ancient wisdom within me that always knew the perfect way to eat was very appealing.

  2. December 30, 2009 3:53 pm

    Can’t say I blame you. Honestly, if I was faced with a healthy grains, and proteins and veggies on one side, and a slice of chocolate cake on the other side, I’d probably have three bites of everything, but would absolutely be wanting only the cake. It helps that I don’t have a huge sweet tooth, and that I really want to lose weight and exert some external control that people who are truly “intuitive eating” likely don’t bother with. This doesn’t mean that I always eat healthy, but I do the best I can do without driving myself batshit. Hell, I went to a party the other night, and I ate salad, a few crackers with cheese, and LOTS of high end chocolate. Even if there was food other than that there that I liked, I may or may not have done the same. I don’t do this often, but occasionally it just tastes so damn good. I won’t keep cake, cookies, and ice cream at home, but will eat them out, especially if I’ve been drinking. It’s all about compromises, but I would be lying if I ever said I preferred brown rice and veggies (or really, anything) more than chocolate cake. It’s just that one is much more likely to make me fat, whereas the other one won’t, at least not in the amounts that I will willingly eat. If I had never been obese, I might make different choices.

    • December 30, 2009 5:19 pm

      Though if I had a choice between a carrot and a piece of carrot cake, as in David Kessler’s example, I would likely choose the carrot, at least 9 out of 10 times.

    • January 4, 2010 2:59 pm

      Yeah, exactly. And really, understanding that cake does generally taste better than brown rice and veggies doesn’t mean it’s a terrible sacrifice to eat the latter. It just means that when I have the choice between the two, what I want more isn’t the only criteria I use because, unless I’ve gorged on cake earlier, I’ll mostly want the cake more.

  3. January 2, 2010 9:06 pm

    I think people did start and stop eating naturally before simple carbs and fats got processed into super concentrations, but that day is long gone. We were not meant to process the super-concentrated attractions that are available everywhere in a sane fashion. I like veggies, and especially fruits, as much as the next guy, but if I am confronted with monster cookies or magic bars, I will no more intuitively stop eating them than I will intuitively put down a crack pipe.

    • February 4, 2011 2:49 pm

      Absolutely. There are buttons the food industry can push that cue us up to overeat that don’t occur naturally. They are designed to make us keep eating and eating and eating.

      I have learned – the hard way – that these hyperfoods are like alcohol. It’s all fun and games having more and more until later, when you feel like crap. I need to keep in mind how I’m going to feel later, not just right now. Another shot is rarely a good idea just at the very time you think it’s a BRILLIANT idea. Another cookie is rarely a good idea at just the time when your hand is moving almost on its own to grab another. But when you’re there you don’t think straight, so I want to say no after having two drinks or cookies or whatever the equivalent is. Build a base with lots of fiber and other satiating foods – never eat hyperfoods on an empty stomach – and then have a little just because it tastes good. But make sure something else makes you full!

      In this example, this would lead me to immediately decide to eat some of both. I want some cake, sure, but I know I’m going to feel awful when my blood sugar takes a dive if I only eat cake. I’m only going to enjoy the cake if I eat real food first. The cake is nice but optional. The food is not, because I can’t enjoy cake without it!

  4. meerkat permalink
    January 9, 2010 5:59 am

    If you weren’t restricting calories, you could have both. Although personally I would take the broccoli over the french fries most of the time.

    • January 9, 2010 6:26 am

      I do have both. This post was more about this ideal I’d created where ‘intuitive eating’ would lead one to a perfectly balanced and nutritious style of eating. Except so long as fatty/sugary foods are available, my intuition leads me to those more times than not. And eating more nutrient-dense food becomes a rarity when I’ve reached total sugar saturation. And not wanting that has nothing to do with calories. It’s hard to get essential nutrients from a diet that is 2/3rds snickerdoodle not matter how enjoyable I find it.

      Yeah, there are some ‘unhealthy’ foods that don’t really tempt me. I’d take roasted brussel sprouts over potato chips any day of the week.

  5. January 14, 2010 9:35 am

    Imagining how a food makes your body feel is also part of the “intuitive” equation. I’m sure that would change what food you choose at least some of the time–is the cake as good as how bad it will make you feel? If yes, eat it. If not, don’t. If somewhat, have a smaller piece/bite. Just mentioning this because it’s a concept important to me.

    • January 16, 2010 7:35 am

      I think it’s a good thing to be aware of and to work into one’s eating choices, definitely. And it is something I think about especially when faced with high fat/high sugar foods.

      Eventually though I got to a point where trying to decide what exactly constituted intuitive and what metrics might be used in choosing food and still calling it intuitive were more anxiety-inducing than just planning meals. Again, though part of that is just my own neurosis.

  6. January 19, 2010 9:31 pm

    Interestingly, I tried this out, sort of. I made brown rice, veggie curry. It was okay, I didn’t eat very much. I tried to melt chocolate chips, added vanilla ice cream. I would have been happier with chocolate sauce, chips poor substitute. Not a great dessert, not a great meal. Not a huge amount, then I did it again. Maybe 1.5 servings, altogether? One week later, I made pizza, tastier, I didn’t bother with the ice cream. I suspect if I had put more butter on brown rice, I would have eaten less ice cream that first night. For me, I suspect it’s the fat I am wanting, not the sugar (though I do put sugar in both tomato sauce and curry-not sweet, just until not bitter)

  7. meerkat permalink
    July 9, 2010 7:13 am

    Well, I would choose the dessert too. But if the choice kept on coming up at every meal, I would choose the veggies the 2nd or 3rd time (depending on factors like whether it was the same dessert and whether I would be able to have it again within the year), because if I don’t eat much veggies one day I really crave them the next day. For instance, today I had some vegetable stew for brunch and an avocado sandwich for dinner, but then I had some corn chips and chocolate soy milk, and right now broccoli sounds a million times better than french fries. Mmm, broccoli. Also, I would like some fresh fruit. Maybe you would choose the dessert 9 out of 10 times because you have been getting plenty of veggies normally. But would you choose the dessert 9 times sequentially?

    If your ideal eater would never choose the dessert, that doesn’t fit with my definition of intuitive eating, which allows that sometimes you really do want cake and donuts.

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