Hidden values in intuitive eating, or can I eat a Big Mac intuitively?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted here with some worries about intuitive eating, which is a key component of the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement. Here’s another brief installment.

There are a lot of things to love about HAES—it’s body-positive, emphasizing weight and body and self-acceptance. It also promotes physical activity of all sorts, stressing that bodies of all shapes, sizes, and capacities can be physically engaged, active, and fit. And this blog is all about that, as am I.

But their emphasis on intuitive eating gives me pause. In my previous post, I listed the principles of intuitive eating from a book about it that Tracy discussed here .  Here they are again:

  1. reject the diet mentality
  2. honor your hunger
  3. make peace with food
  4. challenge the food police
  5. feel your fullness
  6. discover the satisfaction factor
  7. cope with your emotions without using food
  8. respect your body
  9. exercise: feel the difference
  10. honor your health with gentle nutrition

All of these make a lot of sense as a reaction to the feelings of deprivation and anxiety that often result from dieting.   I mean, who wants to be stuck eating only this all the time?

Intuitive eating is supposed to liberate us from the tyranny of all-salad-all-the-time. Of course I love salad as much as the next person, although maybe not as much as all those online happy women alone eating salad. You know, like this woman:

But sometimes I really want a burger and fries. Or cake. Or doughnuts. Or tempura. Or fried dumplings. Or macaroni and cheese. Sometimes I really want foods that I know are not especially healthy for me, are very calorie-dense, are highly processed, and which contain a lot of sugar, salt, fat, simple carbs, or other ingredients that I know play a part in overeating or unhealthy eating FOR ME. Like these:

And yet at the time I want them. I really want them. I want them now. There’s no ambiguity about this at all. And when I eat them, I feel satisfaction.

Of course, the intuitive eating plan has a response to this feeling of wanting these sorts of foods—you invoke rule 7: cope with your emotions without using food, and also rule 10: honor your health with gentle nutrition.

My problem here, though, is this: my feelings or intuitions about what foods I happen to want at any given time are not always very fine-tuned. Yes, of course, we can often recognize feelings like the rush of momentary desire that results from say, walking at a street fair and smelling fried dough or cotton candy and thinking, “wow, wouldn’t it be great to have something like that?” For me, I try to acknowledge that feeling and keep walking past booths like this one:

I do so because I really subscribe to rule 10: honor your health with gentle nutrition. But there are also times like this past week when I was out and about, wanted a late lunch, passed this place in Harvard Square and thought to myself, oh yeah, I’d love a burger and fries. That sounds perfect. And it was– I ordered the People’s Republic of Cambridge burger with cole slaw and Russian dressing. Eating it felt fine and satisfying and yummy.

The problem is, my intuitions about what I want at any given time may lead me to gentle nutrition, but I know for a fact that they also lead me to corn dogs. In order to say no to corn dogs (which, for me, is what I would like to do in general for a bunch of reasons), I have to enlist other faculties:

Enlisting these faculties means ignoring or overriding messages from my body or my feelings or my intuitions or my desires. Of course we all know this—it’s no news. But it does present me with a problem: in the moment, it can be very hard to distinguish between eating intuitively and eating in a way that runs counter to my desire to honor my body with gentle nutrition. In order to make a judgment call at the time, I have to go outside the intuitive eating paradigm and invoke standard nutritional rules, like the one that says, “give me a break—corn dogs? Really? I don’t think so.”

I’m still thinking and working on these ideas, so I welcome others’ experiences and comments here.

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