What is Intuition (in regards to Intuitive Eating)

I talk a lot about Intuitive Eating, but what exactly is intuition? It?s not as hard to grasp – especially as it comes to eating – as some might assume. In fact, someone called it ?psychobabble? in a recent class. I get it could be hard to wrap your head around – especially in a nutrition culture built on logic and rules – but I?ll bet you use it more often than you think.

Intuition is defined as ?the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning?. In fact, intuition is actually science based – neuroscience has identified how the brain receives feedback from our cells and tissues as well as feedback from our outside world. It, somewhat subconsciously, draws conclusions for us that could be described as ?instinct?. That isn?t psychobabble at all – but actual science for how our physical body?s many systems communicate and work together.

So what does this have to do with food? Intuitive Eating is not about not using reason and logic, but not relying solely on it. Instead, we take our thoughts and reason and science and logic and we combine those with intuitive signals of satisfaction, hunger, fullness and yes, even cravings. We tend to live in our own heads, completely cut off from the neck down, when it comes to making decisions about food. In fact, I would argue (based on what I have observed in those I work with) that people WANT to disconnect from their body. This could be due to poor body image, disappointment with it, lack of acceptance for it?s genetics (predetermined size and shape) or just plain lack of time and too much else to think about or do.

Why would that be a problem? Well, it?s really hard to want to take care of something that you dislike or don?t think much about. It?s going to be important to listen to your body in some degree if you hope to cultivate health and well being. Listening to your body and letting it help guide your choices will be essential. That doesn?t mean you don?t think and reason, it just means you integrate the two together. That integration and flexibility are characteristics found in those who successfully change their current circumstances (whether it be food, health or otherwise).

I?m sure you have experienced times when you really wanted to eat something but you tried to reason yourself out of it. Maybe it was cake. Instead of eating the cake, you decided to have fruit. You know, to satisfy that craving for something sweet. It may work and it may not. If it doesn?t work, you may have moved on to more fruit or maybe some nuts or some rice cakes?until you finally just gave in and had the cake. If you had started with the cake, you would have saved all the calories (and time) you spent on all the foods you ate to avoid the cake. This example is not about whether the cake is healthy or not, but how avoiding listening to cravings can backfire. From a weight loss perspective, allowing indulgences and responding to cravings from time to time can allow for greater success.

Take another example: Let?s say you look at your food journal and realize that you have 500 calories left in the day. You aren?t super hungry, but since you have the calories you might as well use them. You end up overly full and uncomfortable?but it?s OK because on paper it looked like a good idea even though everything else is saying that it wasn?t. The rules here did keep you safe though, it?s easy to avoid guilt if you feel like you didn?t do anything wrong – the biggest reason we hang on to food rules.

Or how about this: Let?s say you get hungry a few hours after dinner but you don?t have any calories left. It?s legit hunger, like hard to focus or even get to sleep. Instead of having something to eat, you toss and turn all night due needing food.

Oh here?s a good one: What if you aren?t hungry but you are headed into meetings and know you won?t have a chance to eat again for a while and are likely to get overly hungry if you wait. It would be smart to have something to eat prior to the meeting, which is where your logic and reason may trump intuitive signals since your body will not account for the fact that you have a meeting.

The point is, rules are only helpful if they are effective. These examples show how they could get in the way of using common sense – or instinct – to solve your problems. A basic tenant of Intuitive Eating is making choices that honor and respect your body. At the Resort we give you principles to help you with that, but at some point you gotta commit to noticing how your body is feeling and let that be a way to measure success. Weight loss says very little about health, to be totally honest. While I understand that it may be important to you, I think you will find greater long term success (read: weight maintenance – really the hardest part right?) if you employ your body?s feedback (read: instinct or intuition) in making decisions.

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD