I tend to make things harder than they should be. (Never, EVER ask me to give you directions. I write paragraphs just to get someone 2 miles in a straight line. I feel more detail is always better.) Apparently, I’ve been doing the same thing with intuitive eating.
I’ve been walking around thinking that intuitive eating means that, whenever I’m hungry, I’ll know PRECISELY what I want to eat. Like, Trader Joe’s chicken-and-apple sausage cut up into scrambled eggs with finely shredded asiago cheese, with a hunk of toasted sourdough bread from the tiny indie bakery down the street.
And sometimes my stomach DOES get that specific, and I honor that request to the best of my ability. (The best Thai food I ever had was in London, at Thai on the Thames in Richmond. Since I live right smack in midwestern America, I seriously doubt that my stomach will ever get Thai on the Thames again, so when it craves Pad See Ew, it’s got to be from the Thai place around the corner.)
But sometimes my stomach just says, “Hey, I’m hungry. Do we have any protein?” Or, even more vaguely, “Hey, I’m hungry. Put something in me soon, or there’s going to be fallout.” I had assumed that “real” intuitive eating involved honoring the craving for specific foods, not just honoring your hunger in general.
That’s silly, isn’t it? At its most basic level, intuitive eating starts with the non-specific idea that if you’re hungry, EAT! And from there, if your stomach requests something that’s within your power to provide, you eat that instead of a substitute that will inevitably be less satisfying.
But since I make things harder than they need to be, I’ve been stubborn and not eating when I’m hungry UNLESS I know specifically what it is that I want to eat. This has led, unsurprisingly, to low blood sugar, headaches, crankiness, and, ultimately, eating way past full because I waited too long to eat and my hunger became overwhelming.
Yesterday, it was 11:30-ish in the morning. And I was undeniably, stomach-growling HUNGRY. I kept looking at the clock and telling myself to just hold on and wait until noon. Why? Because noon is when you’re “supposed” to eat lunch. (For the record, no one at my company has to follow a rigid time schedule, so some people eat lunch at 2:30, some eat at noon — basically, we can eat whenever we want.)
After about 5 minutes of telling my stomach to stop growling, the sheer absurdity of it suddenly hit me. What the HELL? I’m an adult with a flexible schedule and a turkey sandwich in the refrigerator. There was no reason I couldn’t eat my lunch at 11:30 instead of noon.
My hunger wasn’t for a specific food; it was just general mealtime hunger. And that’s when it hit me that the foundation of intuitive eating is the simple act of eating when you’re hungry; from there, it can be more specific, but it doesn’t have to be. The Rotund talks about this in a recent post, saying, “The day I realized that I felt better and was happier and far more pleasant to be around when I actually, you know, ate food instead of ignoring my hunger cues, was a hugely important day.”
The best part was that, because I finally came to my senses and ate when I was hungry instead of forcing myself to wait, I stopped obsessing over how soon I’d be “allowed” to eat, and just got on with my day. Non-intuitive eating just creates an obsession — when you’re allowed to eat, what you’re allowed to eat, the amount you’re allowed to eat of the approved foods…and then when you’ll be allowed to eat AGAIN.
Eat when you’re hungry. It’s the simplest damn thing in the world. So then WHY is it so hard for so many people?