I consider myself a mindful eater. I mean, isn’t it kind of my job? I’ve been wildly committed to my journey for years (with some good struggle sprinkled in), have read every single mindful eating book known to man AND am even certified in mindfulness based eating awareness training. Sooo… I would hope I am.
But even with all of this, it takes more effort to be mindful with the super sweet stuff. It’s always been that way for me. Some people have issues with the salty and crunchy, but those aren’t an issue for me. I always have a variety of chips at home and can eat a couple at a time and feel satisfied. But give me a piece of cake, or some granola, or ice cream, and I will always want to eat more of it. Always. I haven’t binged since 2014, so I never binge on these foods, but it does take extra effort for me to stop thinking about them and put them away and not want to eat more.
Like last night for example. I was eating some amazing grain-free granola and my hand mysteriously kept finding itself in the bag. Because it’s essentially toasted nuts covered with spices and nut butters and sugar. And even though it’s “healthy”, and “organic”, and “natural”, the combination of fat + sugar (or starch, in the case of chips or crackers or fries) + salt, together, can easily override our mindful eating mechanisms, because, um, we’re human, and we have a brain that likes dopamine (the neurotransmitter in our brain that lights up when we experience pleasure), so it’s super easy for our natural instincts to take over because we are, in fact, animals.
I recently read Wired to Eat, by Robb Wolf, and had the pleasure of hearing him speak about this topic. Wolf’s book is all about this, how, as humans, we are literally all wired to eat, and should not feel ashamed or WHATEVER when we feel we cannot stop eating a food.
I’m not talking about emotional stuff here. Just to be clear. I don’t want to jumble that with this topic. I’m talking about from a pure physiological level. Our brains love these these hyperpalatable foods (foods that are deliberately engineered in such a way that they surpass the reward properties of traditional foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts), so it’s no surprise that so many of us have issues with stopping. It’s no surprise that our country severely struggles with these foods. That there’s health implications to eating them. That disease has swarmed our population due to these foods being engineered and created to keep us reaching for more.
This is where intuitive eating can get tricky. Because it is dreamy to say “just follow your hunger and fullness signals and eat whatever you want” but I think it has to be a lot more deliberate than that. A lot more mindful. A lot more aware. Because if you’re going to begin your intuitive eating journey by eating lots of sugar…I get it, trust me I do, but you’re not going to feel awesome. Your body doesn’t really want sugar. It only wants sugar because you’ve fed it sugar. When we eat sugar, we just want more.
Now, don’t get it twisted: because I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever eat sugar either. Sugar is delicious and amazing. I LOVE IT. But I save it for special occasions. I almost always eat it in celebration with other people. I eat it when it’s worth it. I eat it when I feel like it. Which, nowadays, isn’t that often.
I know that if I begin to eat sugar, I will want more. It’s just the way it is. So most of the time, I don’t start. But the issue I have is that many people beat themselves up when they begin their intuitive eating journey and find themselves feeling sad, depressed, and bloated at the fact that they can’t stop when it’s really not their fault.
If you’re beginning your intuitive eating journey by eating sugar, then I’m encouraging you to up your level of mindfulness. Because then, even if you’re listening to your body and to your hunger and fullness signals, you will want to eat more. And you’ll think it’s your body telling you it’s still hungry because lo and behold, when you eat sugar, you want to eat more, and your body will tell you it wants more because dopamine, and also because the body craves nutrients, so even if you’re eating nutrient depleting foods, the body will cry out for more nutrients which can be mistaken for true hunger.
In all honesty, If someone is beginning their intuitive eating journey, and wants to get back into their true hunger, real, whole, unprocessed foods is the place to begin. In eating these foods (think one-ingredient foods like apples, almonds, chicken, rice, spices, herbs, potatoes, and any delicious combination etc.) our bodies become reacquainted with that it’s really like to listen to our bodies, because with these foods, our body can tell how much they want, because they’re real. With sugar, it’s much harder.
I need to reiterate that I’m not demonizing sugar, but as humans, we need to tread carefully with it, especially if our bodies are out of whack. There are people out there that portion it out and log it carefully with their macros and if you do that, I commend you. All I’m saying is to be extra mindful around it. Deliberate. Meaningful.
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