I have some limited knowledge of Intuitive Eating and as I understand it we listen to physical cues and sensations in the body to guide our eating. This being said, do you feel there is a role for listening to messages from the mind?
For example, I often experience physical hunger as an unsettled, spaciousness in my upper mid-abdomen rising into my throat… this cues me to know I am physically hungry (although can be confused with anxiety at times, but this is a different conversation). When I sense my physical hunger cue, I try and ask myself ‘what am I hungry for?’ and honour this by eating whatever it is that I am hungry for. Here is where I get a little hung up, sometimes what I am hungry for triggers a mental response of ‘how will that food make you feel?’ and sometimes the truth of the matter is not great. A concrete example is ice cream… I may receive a physical hunger cue and when I ask myself what are you hungry for the answer is ‘ice cream’. I honour this hunger by having ice cream and then seem to be wanting more, but my mind tells me when I eat ‘too much’ of the ice cream I often don’t feel physically well in a few hours time.
This leaves me feeling confused? Maybe I am confusing physical hunger with a deeper soulful hunger? Or maybe I am hungry for a little ice cream and also something deeper? Or maybe I am letting my mind run the show? Is it possible to integrate the wisdom of our mind (knowing from trial and error and in a non-judgemental way that certain food leaves us feeling this way or that) with the wisdom of our body?”
It’s midnight. You’re up late watching something funny on television. As you get up to go brush your teeth a craving hits you: the coffee ice cream downstairs in the freezer.
What do you do?
If you eat the ice cream, which contains caffeine, there’s a chance you’ll have poor sleep.
If you don’t eat the ice cream, you might be ignoring your hunger.
What’s the right decision?
Truth: there isn’t a right answer.
Seriously. You can’t get it wrong.
There are just different choices with different rewards and consequences.
Some days one choice will feel more optimal and other days you’ll go in another direction.
Neither making you a good or bad person. Neither being objectively superior.
Some days sleep will matter more. Some days pleasure and ice cream will matter more.
This is just one example of how intuitive eating works.
Intuitive eating is body-led, not body ruled.
We lead with our body, but we make integrated decisions because we’re whole people. Intuitive eating includes your emotions, your traditions, your history, your physical wellness needs, real-life limitations and so much more. When we eat intuitively, rather than simply for our physical or emotional needs, we integrate.
And how do we do that if we have spent years drinking the “eat for fuel” or “good food, bad food” kool-aid?
We do it through trial and error. Through being the awkward toddler. The beautiful thing about learning to eat intuitively is that every day presents at least three solid opportunities for practicing and usually more. And we never need to get it perfect because perfection doesn’t exist.
So maybe we eat the ice cream and we don’t sleep and we wish we hadn’t eaten it. That’s good information to know.
Maybe we eat the ice cream, don’t sleep, and feel that it was totally worth the lost shut eye. That’s good information.
Maybe we don’t eat the ice cream, we sleep well (or not), and wish we had eaten it. That’s good to know.
Maybe we don’t eat the ice cream, sleep well (or not), and feel great about skipping the midnight snack. That too is good information.
Every time we eat we get feedback from our body and our heart. We get to decide what works for us. And what works for us on a Monday doesn’t have to be what works for us on a Tuesday.
No need for guilt or self-recrimination. It’s just information. We file it away and another opportunity to practice and make informed choices will certainly present itself.
You’re allowed to eat purely for pleasure and because something tastes good. If you do this 100% of the time, you probably won’t feel awesome or deeply fed.
You’re allowed to eat purely for nutritive reasons. If you do this 100% of the time you probably won’t feel awesome or deeply fed.
It’s also possible to get a craving for a specific food, recognize that it’s a food that won’t leave you feeling the way you want to feel and to drill down to see if you can scratch the itch another way.
For example, a craving for ice cream might be a craving for something sweet, or cold, or creamy and all of those qualities exist in other foods. So you may explore alternative ways to get your craving satisfied OR you may decide that ice cream is really what you want, regardless of how it will leave you feeling and that is entirely okay.
What we want is for food to feel easy, guilt-free, and integrated so that, over time, your varied needs get met.
And because part of this approach to eating is curiosity and noticing there will be times, if you inquire, that what first appears as food hunger, is actually hunger for something unrelated to food. There are times when the urge to eat is a proxy for the urge for human connection, physical touch, adventure, or emotional comfort. This is normal and what you do with the information is up to you.
Dear Reader, you asked: “Is it possible to integrate the wisdom of our mind (knowing from trial and error and in a non-judgemental way that certain food leaves us feeling this way or that) with the wisdom of our body?”
The answer is yes. Emphatically yes. It is possible. It just takes practice, curiosity, a willingness to let go of perfection, and sometimes support.