Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thoughts on Intuitive Eating

Lately, I've been thinking about intuitive eating and how that works for some and not for others. The idea that I listen to my body and eat what I need to when I need to until a point of satisfaction (and not being "full") is an attractive one. It's not like I enjoy the tedium of weighing food and entering data into an online database in order to track calories. In fact, it's just a little task I have to do everyday like washing dishes. It's not a big deal, but it's not exactly fun.

As my weight approaches the 170's (I am probably already there - high 170's likely but, as always, I weigh myself once a month so I don't know) and have been at this for just a hair over 2 years and have lost approximately 200 lbs., I have changed to some extent in my thinking on the concept of intuitive eating. That is not to say that I felt it would have been a good choice for me in June 2009 when I started making an effort to lose weight, but rather that me around 180 lbs. is different than me around 380 lbs.

Quite some time ago, I wrote about how our cells have a memory in regards to their life and how that makes reducing the amount of food we eat (particularly if we do so dramatically) quite difficult. Our organs also have a "memory" of sorts and have to make adjustments when we change our eating habits. Your body resists change and dragging it into a new realm of eating is difficult, especially when those cells are used to a certain amount of energy everyday and you disrupt that.

Additionally, your stomach capacity is going to be larger or smaller based on your average eating habits. One of the reasons I practiced gradual portion reduction as part of my process was that I wanted to slowly acclimate my stomach to smaller amounts of food. While not as dramatic as something like weight loss surgery, this did slowly make it harder to eat a lot as my stomach shrank. My intestines also gradually changed as I'm sure many organs did.

At 380 lbs., my "intuitive" eating would have been unlikely to result in any sort of weight loss as my body would have been compelling me to maintain the status quo, not lose weight. That's what bodies do. They seek homeostasis. Additionally, at that weight, my body is operating in a damaged way. What it seeks isn't necessarily what a healthy, balanced body would seek. When you eat too much too often (and I define "too much" as more calories than necessary for me personally, and do not define that for anyone else), you alter biochemical responses to food in your brain. You need more food for the same pleasure that others get from less food. It is not dissimilar from the way in which a drug addict needs more drugs to get the same reaction.

For these reasons as well as my utter lack of faith in my psychological balance in regards to food, I rejected intuitive eating as a possibility for me. I still firmly believe that it was the right choice and will continue to count calories until I reach a healthy weight (147 lbs. is the threshold at which I am no longer clinically overweight and where I hope to land some day so that I will qualify for health insurance without punitive costs). After I reach a healthy weight, however, I think that I may be ready to attempt intuitive eating.

It is my hope that, when I reach that weight and hold at it for an indeterminate amount of time, my body will have adjusted to the energy and consumption levels it has been receiving such that it will cue me naturally to hold at that point if I attend effectively to it. Much of the last year or so of my calorie counting has been a sort of "training" in recognizing different types of hunger and how much I "need" to eat versus how much I "want" to eat. There are times when I want to eat something, but I am simply too full or not hungry enough. This is a feeling that I developed about a year ago in a vague manner, but has been something which has become more defined as time has gone by. I have been slowly tuning both body and mind so that I eat when hungry and don't get hungry as often as before. These processes (psychological and biological) go hand-in-hand and one could not succeed without the other.

This is a profound change in how I feel about eating. When I was greatly heavier, there was literally no time short of a stomach bursting sense of being stuffed that I couldn't eat. My capacity to eat was nearly unlimited at that time and I would sometimes eat myself sick merely for the sake of the pleasure food gave me. Now, I can't come anywhere near that. My body and approach have changed such that I (generally) won't eat if I'm not truly hungry because I've changed psychologically in this regard.

All of that being said, I do sometimes ignore the fact that I'm not hungry (especially if I'm also "not full") and eat if I want to. I still indulge. I still eat for pure pleasure. I still eat the sorts of foods that you're "not supposed to eat". I just eat very little of such things and I rarely binge and what constitutes a "binge" now is laughably small by most people's standards. Food continues to fall into its proper context (enjoyment, nourishment, a social and cultural experience) rather than be something I use for psychological survival. It's been a long road to this point, but I feel like it may end with being able to eat intuitively and still not regain weight.