We are all born with the intuitive knowledge to eat when hungry and stop when satisfied. Think back to when you were a child (or, if that is too long ago, think back to when your children were very young!). Until "rules" are imposed by mom and dad, we govern our intake purely by instinct. Children often have to be told to eat at mealtimes because instinct says that we do not need to eat yet if we are not feeling hungry. Before we "learned better," we ate the parts we liked best and stuck our tongues out at the rest; we did not feel guilty about eating one food vs. another food because it was fattening or sweet; we stopped when we were no longer hungry, even if the plate was not empty. As adults, we know it is important to make healthy food choices that nourish our bodies, but beyond that, why did most of us lose touch with our innate ability to eat only when hungry and stop when satisfied?
It is learned behavior to eat when not hungry, to feel guilt or shame about our food choices, and to eat beyond satiety. It can be unlearned as well. It is true that self-monitoring--telling yourself that it's not ok to eat an entire bag of cookies for dinner--is an important skill. However, it does no good to vilify certain foods and declare them "off limits". This only makes us want the food more! And then, consuming it results in negative feelings. We feel like a failure because we ate a piece of cake even though we know we "shouldn't" eat sweets. We feel so badly about ourselves that we resolve to try harder to adhere to a strict diet regimen. Next time we give in, we feel even worse. It's a vicious cycle. And how many of us eat things we don't even really like because it's on our plates?
Wouldn't it be so much better to eat what we wanted, when we wanted, and never feel guilty about it again??
This is what a "normal" eater does. You know, the naturally thin person that everyone hates! The one who never seems concerned with dieting, is happy to indulge occasionally, and maintains a healthy weight. They might eat the pizza and leave the crust. They might scrape the icing off a cupcake, lick the fork, and toss the rest. If this sounds like the way a child eats, you would be right! Most children are excellent intuitive eaters until deregulated habits become ingrained in their behavior. Normal eaters know that any food, in moderation, can be part of an overall healthy eating plan.
The secret is to eat when hungry, stop when satisfied, and, since we are all adults here, listen to your "inner grandmother" when it comes to nutrition. You know, things like, "Eat your veggies before you have dessert", and "Two cookies are enough, dear." It really is that simple. Now, normal eaters do occasionally eat when they aren't hungry and continue past satiety. They might enjoy popcorn at a movie, or celebrate a promotion with a fancy 6-course dinner even though they stopped being hungry long before dessert. These types of behaviors are the exceptions and not the norm. In general, they wait until they are hungry to eat, eat as soon as possible after noticing they are hungry (rather than starving themselves until some arbitrary point in the future), and stop eating when they are no longer hungry. This means stopping when satisfied -- not full. Adults often eat to the point that they are so full they feel physically uncomfortable. Have you ever known a toddler to do this?? No! They stop eating at the point that their body no longer signals hunger. Normal eaters also eat what they like and leave the rest.
Don't believe that intuitive eating can lead to weight loss or maintaining a normal weight? The following article profiles Steven Hawks, a professor of health science, as he gives traditional "diets" the thumbs down and "intuitive eating" a nod of approval. It helped him shed 50 pounds--painlessly and normally.