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Thursday, 30 October 2008

Just Eat What You Like

Devotees of the intuitive eating brigade tell us to eat like we did when we were small and we will heal our unhealthy relationship with food.

First of all, there are some people that have had weight issues all their lives and ate poorly as children as well as adults. Secondly, when I was a (skinny) kid my parents made me eat a hell of a lot of things I hated. I can remember retching trying to eat cauliflower and sitting at the table on my own for hours after everyone else had left, staring at a cold brussel sprout.

The fantasy of 'eating like a kid' is that we ate when we were hungry and stopped when we were full and ate healthy nourishing food. In reality, if left to my own devices, I would have lived on potato chips (crisps), aniseed balls and scones with jam and cream.

What I have discovered in contemplating this subject is that effortlessly maintaining a healthy level of fat during my childhood was a balance between eating what I enjoyed and eating what was good for me. I seem to have forgotten that good food choices are not completely dependent on taste. In order to stay healthy and well I need to eat some things that aren't particularly yummy.

I sometimes think that it is god's cruel joke that broccoli, spinach and cabbage are low calorie and bursting with vitamins and nutrients while hot cinnamon donuts take more nourishment from my body than they give. It would be much more logical for the healthy things to taste spectacular and the shitty food to taste like ... well, shit.

As sad is it may seem, the universe has conspired to present nature's best food offerings in ordinary packages so I have to accept it. I cannot base a mature, informed approach to nutrition on only eating what I 'like'.

There are ways to make vegetables taste amazing (which might or might not involve melted cheese) but the fact remains that I have to consciously choose to eat them in spite of the fact I don't really enjoy it that much.

Optimum eating is not choosing food based purely on taste and enjoyment. I suspect that at least 50% of our daily intake should be based on the actual nourishment the food provides rather than it's gastronomical pleasure.

This means having protein at every meal (even though the oats taste better without the protein powder), plenty of green (ugh) vegetables and hiding cucumber and tomato in a huge salad where I won't really notice the taste of it. I am sick to death of plain chicken breasts but it provides a complete protein source that keeps hunger at bay and prevents me continuously overdosing on carbs in the name of vegetarianism (otherwise known as "I am sick of boring chicken/fish so I'll eat wholemeal bread, vegie burgers and brown rice instead and oops I've eaten over 200g of carbs today and I'm still hungry" syndrome).

If I just limit my diet to nourishing clean food I will eventually binge because I need things that taste good too (and in my world there are some things that do taste better than skinny feels, especially when skinny means you can't sit on a chair for long because you have no butt to prevent your tailbone digging into the chair). Sometimes I am quite happy with the light version of my favourite food (low cal ice-cream, skim milk, sugar free chocolate, no-sugar maple syrup) but there are still deal-breakers that I have to include in my diet to prevent feeling completely deprived.

To eat like a 'normal' person means including things in my diet that I don't particular like but that are good for me. Naturally thin people have resigned themselves to the indisputable fact that they can eat some of what they love as long as they also eat some of what they need. It isn't a battle, it isn't deprivation, it isn't that the world is unfair, it is just the way it is.

It is, after all, god's cruel joke.


  1. I'm reading your blog for a couple of years now whenever I need inspiration, and you are totally amazing. This post contains so much information I cannot begin to grasp where on earth you've got such deep knowledge about what your body needs un what not. Thanks! You make me think (and many others I'm sure) about what I eat, how I eat and why I eat.

  2. I could argue with you over whether or not your quest is an emotionally healthy one, and debate the merits of Intuitive Eating to you... but it would be a waste of effort and time.

    I have discovered that dieting is like religion, and IE is like atheism. I happen to be an atheist and a former evangelical Christian. I also happen to be a former dieter and now an intuitive eater.

    I know that deconversion is next to impossible, whether one is talking to a theist or a dieter. It's a step one has to want to take on their own, and many choose not to take the step, for fear.

    Which is fine. But just as theists judge atheists, dieters judge intuitive eaters.

    I read your blog and think that your understanding of "obsession" needs some work. You'd read mine and determine I am "lazy," or unmotivated.

    All I know is, I am far, far happier since I gave up dieting... and far, far less afraid of food.

  3. Diana - I guess I think about things alot and come up with my own unique theories about what works for me.

    Juliet - I don't think I am in the 'christian' camp entirely I am just not an 'atheist'. I am probably a 'buddhist' in more ways than one! Please explain how consciously choosing to eat things that are good for me as well as those I really love means I am obsessed or afraid of food? Does IE mean only eating things from the tasty list all the time without any consideration of its nutritional value?

  4. I agreed with just about every word, Katie... except that (lucky for me) I really have learned to like broccoli, spinach and cauliflower.

    Not as much as chocolate though. Not even close...


    And I think intuitive eating is like dieting - everyone who does it has a different take on it and some simply use it as an excuse to justify eating rubbish and staying overweight and unhealthy. If it works for you, great....

    Personally, if I followed my intuition all the time, I'd live on toast, chocolate, ice cream and wine.

  5. I'm with Kek... my intuition says chocolate, hot chips, chocolate, wine and chocolate.

    As for sitting at the table by yourself... that was me too. And I also remember almost vomiting when my Mum made me eat peas. And hiding carrot in my pocket until I could put it in the garden later. I still don't enjoy my vegies... I eat them because I have to, and because I feel so much better when I do.

  6. Kek - In my win the lotto fantasy I employ you to cook all my food for me (and ship it by private plan from your place to mine) because I am absolutely sure I would enjoy every last bite of those 'good for me' veges.

    Em - I never thought of hiding food in my pockets - what a brilliant idea!
    I am still considering the 6am spin class but it is a fraction early for me ;)

  7. Love this post Katie. I do worry sometimes about making my kids eat their veges. As you know Jayden would live on chocolate if I'd let him! Wonder where he gets that from?

  8. Anonymous2:35 pm

    Hi Katie, I agree that I couldn't do intuitive eating either. It means to me eating bread, pasta etc, and beating myself up for feeling like crap when I do (I'm almost certain I have celiac disease after the last few weeks). My 'intuition' now tells me not to eat those things but only because they cause bloating, pain and a day in bed with stomach cramps with a visit to the toilet every few hours! I would still eat them if I could.

    I suppose I must be one of the very lucky people who love veggies. In fact I'm sitting down to a great big bowl of brussell sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and tinned salmon as we speak! My problem is motivation to get organised.

    And PS thanks for the 'Just show up' post I am now back at the gym with avengence, have a gym buddy and my car automatically turns right instead of left as I leave work! Erika

  9. Oh. My. God. Em's comment just brought back a flood of NASTY memories of sitting alone at the table gagging on cold peas. (I remind my children every opportunity I get that we didn't HAVE microwaves to warm up our unappetising dinner if we were slow eating it... But I digress.)

    WHY did I never think of sneaking stuff into my pocket and stashing it in the garden? Dumb kid. Dumb, dumb, dumb!

  10. Shelley - I think asking kids to eat their 'good' food before their 'treat' food is exactly the right approach

    Erika - I am so glad that my post prompted you to back to the gym

    Kek - Em is indeed most sneaky at avoiding those peas and carrots!

  11. My mom made us do the frozen cauliflower with that disgusting fake cheese sauce. I remember my sister throwing up from eating it. I wasn't as brave as her. I put it in my mouth and then deposited it into my napkin.

    I'm unfamiliar with this intuitive eating idea. Once upon a time it was intuitive for me to eat 4 Hostess cupcakes and a diet pepsi for dinner. Eating 4 cupcakes today would make me vomit. (I did that recently on a carb up! Lesson learned!)

    After over a year of eating clean, I freak out if I don't have broccoli in the house. I didn't have any yesterday and so I didn't know what to eat with my eggs for breakfast! So I skipped it - plain eggs are blah. I eat (and enjoy) a lot of chicken but I've NEVER eaten a plain chicken breast. YUCK! I usually stir-fry it with uhm, well, broccoli! ;)

    I rarely crave the danger foods these days. I just realized the other day that I no longer argue with the M&Ms and Snickers demons every time I walk into a convenience store. They no longer bother trying to even talk to me. It's weird!!!

    Food is just food. Healthy or not. It's all the same. We choose what we put into our bodies and why. We can choose both and still reach our goals.

    Be careful not to give food and thoughts about it too much attention and hence power over your thought process. We are what we eat. Our eating habits are influenced by our thoughts and values about food.

    The outter is a reflection of the inner.

  12. Riverbender - I found this on my blog reader this morning and it sums up how I feel about the whole subject.

    Considering the nutritive value of food is not optional for a healthy life and is entirely compatible with "normal" eating which is all about staying conscious about what goes into your mouth. If you find that thinking about nutrition is getting in the way of eating normally, reframe your beliefs about choice and deprivation. If you feel pressure to eat nutritious or non-nutritious foods all the time, you're working off some irrational beliefs and need restructuring of your cognitive system. You'll know you're on the right track when you feel more comfortable around nutritious and non-nutritious food and can balance cravings, pleasure, satisfaction, and healthy eating.

  13. I have done the Intuitive Eating process and it saved my life. Literally saved me when I hit diet bottom. For the first time in my life I had found moderation and wasn't afraid of food. Wasn't preoccupied.. was finally free.

    I assure you after a good week of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I was craving a good ol' salad. Craving it.

    I didn't have a weight problem until I started my first diet in 6th grade in an attempt to control some of the natural changes that my body was experiencing from good ol' puberty.

    One time I overate cheese curls at a friend's house while watching the Miss America pageant (my mother never kept junk food in the house). I threw up that night...I think I even had some come out my nose, but I haven't gone near them since.

    You live and you learn... that's all we can do.