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A worry about “listening to your body”

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I like the idea of intuitive eating but unlike Tracy, who loves it and blogs about it here, it doesn’t always work so well for me. More evidence, as if it were needed, that we’re all different, and that the YMMV principle is right in matters of diet and nutrition.

I do aim to eat slowly, mindfully, to just comfortably full. But I’m open to guidance about what I eat and that’s good because sometimes my own instincts aren’t what I might hope for. Sometimes I’m also hungry when I know that really I have no need for extra calories, and other times, I can tell I’m running low on fuel but the idea of eating repels me.

So intuitive eating is for me a goal, something to strive for. But I’m not there yet.

I was fascinated then to see this piece of reporting, The New Theory On Weight Loss: Your Bad Diet Has Damaged Your Brain ,  in my Facebook newsfeed which puts some science behind my experience.

It reports on research by Louis Aronne, M.D., Director of the Comprehensive Weight-Control Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital /Weill Cornell Medical Center and gives an explanation about why my gut feelings might sometimes lead me astray.

“According to Aronne, scientists are finally finding answers to the mystery that has stumped them for so long: Why do some people seem to find it impossible to lose weight, despite numerous serious attempts to get slim using diets and exercise?

And what they’ve discovered might surprise you: Years of eating – and overeating – the typical American diet actually changes the brain. More specifically, it damages the signaling pathways in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates metabolism…..

Over time, consuming too many calories from fat and simple sugars damages the nerves that conduct signals through the hypothalamus, affecting the function of leptin and ghrelin, and thus the body’s ability to regulate weight and metabolism, says Aronne. ”Because of this damage, the signals don’t get through about how much fat is stored.”

In other words, your brain has gone haywire and you can no longer trust the messages it’s sending you about appetite, hunger, and fullness. “It’s like your gas gauge points to empty all the time, whether or not the tank is full,” says Aronne. “So you keep stopping for gas, and then eventually you start filling up gas cans and storing them in the back of your car because you’re so convinced you could run out of gas at any moment.”

Me, I’m still mulling and still taking the halfway path between following advice, reading nutrition plans, and making new habits and listening to what my body wants. What’s your experience with the idea listening to your body when it comes to food? How does that work for you?

Relevant past posts from here:

And elsewhere:

8 thoughts on “A worry about “listening to your body”

  1. It’s very true that one diet prescription doesn’t work for everyone, however blood sugar spike is a function which is the same for almost everyone. Simple carbs and sugar are metabolized and converted to energy rapidly. What happens then if we don’t burn that energy? It’s stored as fat. (you can blame your pancreas for this bad job!) . This is the time that blood sugar drops down and our body and mind ask for more simple carbs. Why? Because it’s more convenient for the body to absorb and use simple carbs when energy level is low. We may then call it “intuition” or whatsoever in a wrong way. I simply call it craving. The blood sugar fluctuation circle goes on for the whole day.( low , high, low, high….) So it ‘s the time that we should worry about listening to our body. We consume more sugary stuff while we don’t burn and as a result we gain weight.

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  2. Intuitive eating just plain does not work for me. Some might tell me I’ve not given it a fair shot. Some might say I haven’t committed to it properly. But I know myself – and as for “intuitive eating” being a goal – well – for me, that’s a romantic notion. For others it may be something more – realistically something more. But not for me. I have temptations I have to resist and disciplines I must implement and follow. And that’s just the reality for me – and it’s a reality I don’t actually have a problem with. I can be obsessive-compulsive, for certain; but that’s also why I need to discipline myself when it comes to my eating habits. I get the feeling I’m very very unlike women who have gone through bouts of scary over-the-top dieting and being so overtly image-conscious that their self-hatred knows no bounds when they gain, say, 6 pounds. Anyways and so, is intuitive eating for some people – does it mesh very well with their behaviours towards food, their psychological nature, their history of eating disorders, etc., – is it what can help heal them and make them well? Very possibly. Is it absolutely wrong for me though? You bet.

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  3. I’m with Craig, almost word for word. It doesn’t work for me either. In some ways, I think I am the opposite of what you describe – I haven’t had over-the-top diets or done any yo-yo dieting. But I also haven’t had a lot of food education. Sometimes diets give crazy (or inaccurate) information, but I think a lot of the time people who have been on a lot of diets have pretty good handle on smart eating. So, when they let go and go intuitive, they have a basis of knowledge to work from.

    Me? I am still learning. I food track, not religiously, but pretty close, I’ve been weighing food and measuring and setting myself rough eating goals. After 8 months I find I am still surprised by certain things. For me, being deliberate is helping me learn what works for my body. When something feels off, I know why. When things are really clicking and feel great, I know that too.

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  4. So long as I maintain an active lifestyle, intuitive eating–for the most part–works just fine for me. When I work out regularly, my body craves healthy food, and I find overly-sugary, high-fat foods repulsive. I can pretty much eat whatever I want whenever I want and enjoy good energy levels and a body weight which stabilizes exactly where I want it.

    When I allow my activity level to slide, however, I run into problems. If my lifestyle is too sedentary I crave things high in fat and simple sugars–even though I know that’s not what my body needs. And I invariably gain weight.

    My only food issue when I’m active is salt. I don’t get enough of it. I cook with very little of the stuff myself, and athletic training turns me off of eating potato chips, french fries and pretty much every salty commercially-prepared dish. This diet, coupled with long training sessions in hot environments has occasionally led to problems. So I’ve taken to packing Gatorade crystals in my gear bag and mixing them into my water when necessary. (I dislike the taste of every “sports drink” I’ve tried–no matter what kind of lifestyle I’m leading–so I have to force myself to imbibe the stuff before I become so loopy I can no longer recognize what my problem is.)

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    1. I’m similar: when I’m active I seem to be drawn to healthier whole foods. When I let up for too long I want chips and baked goods.

      What you say about salt interests me. How can you tell if you’re not getting enough of it?

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      1. I’ve never had my serum sodium levels checked, so I may be wrong, but if I’ve been sweating a lot and I start to experience brain fog and light-headedness, I guess low sodium is my problem and do the Gatorade.

        I have a considerable amount of experience working out in the heat and am normally dilligent about taking appropriate steps to ward off dehydration, overheating, low blood sugar and low blood pressure problems. (I have low blood pressure chronically but so long as I avoid saunas and–alas–hot tubs it’s normally asymptomatic.) So low sodium is a guess based on process of elimination and the observation that I only experience the symptoms on days when I’ve been drinking water and eating primarily fruits and vegetables.

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  5. Intuitive eating works for me, provided that I don’t get too absent-minded and eat mindlessly. For instance, I had 3 sweets today. Not good.

    Intuitive eating for me means:

    When I lack veggies, in a meal, I then put veggies in. ANY veggie. That’s how much my body misses it after only 1 full day of no veggie.

    When I lack fruit in 1 day, I definitely want any fresh fruit. Any. Or fresh fruit juice.

    And so on.

    Intuitive eating works when a person grew up as a child on a healthy diet for first 15 years of life or so. Their body becomes accustomed to certain food types for balanced meals. (Thank you Mom! I thank her from the bottom of my heart, that will be her legacy to me and other siblings.)

    So parents, most definitely should not give up feeding healthy meals to kids. It is building a child’s body up for intuitive healthy eating.

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