In my opinion, eat what your body wants is the heart of intuitive eating. No food is off limits, no food is forbidden, no food is bad. The idea is that if you listen to your body and your body will tell you what it needs to eat. However, your body doesn’t want junk food; it wants healthy food to work properly, efficiently and to provide energy.
Again, Geneen explains it best when answering a question from Janet:
As you are discovering, your mind likes chocolate! But that doesn't mean eating chocolate when you are hungry feels good in your body. And there's the real distinction: Your mind will go on and on all day long about what delicious, fabulous-tasting thing it would like next, but your body wants to feel good. Your body wants to have energy. Your body wants to feel awake and alive and able to do what it needs to do to provide you with what you need to do what you love. So, next time your mind says, "Gimme pasta and chocolate," say, "Uh-huh, I hear you, mind. I hear that if it weren't for this teeny thing called a body, we could eat chocolate all day long. So, thanks for sharing. Now I am going to ask my body what it wants." And then, Janet, ask your body what would give it the most energy. Ask your body what would feel good in it. Not what would be the most exciting thing to eat. Not what would thrill you, but what would sustain you, awaken you, make you feel satisfied and well-nourished. See what happens.
I’m Janet. Ok, I’m not Janet, but I’m like Janet. After waiting for hunger signals and body queues, I told myself I required chocolate for lunch, even for breakfast. Sometimes it came to me very clearly, like an out-of-the-blue overwhelming need for a glass of milk. But, most times, I kept waiting for an answer, but nothing came.
The other purpose of this rule is to address deprivation. If your body is telling you to eat something (even if it is unhealthy) just have it. The dieting mentality tells you that chocolate milk is bad for you; drink skim milk instead. So, you drink skim milk. But you still want chocolate milk. So you eat a chocolate chip cookie. Hmmm, this tastes good. You eat another few chocolate chip cookies. You know what goes well with chocolate chip cookies? Chocolate milk. You finally drink the chocolate milk. You can see why you would have been better off drinking the chocolate milk in the first place.
My problem with rule 3, is the same issue with rule 1; it’s difficult to know what your body wants and make it practical for everyday use. Christie Inge, HHC, an intuitive eating counselor, suggested to eat every three to four hours to recognize the hunger signals (in reference to my post on eat only when you are hungry), and perhaps the same logic can be applied to eat what your body wants. Your body wants healthy foods, so eat healthy foods as much as possible and perhaps then, you will be able to hear what your body wants.
When I started down the intuitive eating road, I was overcome with intense cravings for bad foods and equally overcome with feelings of guilt for eating them. I deprived myself of bad foods to avoid the guilt and shame. Perhaps it was because of that state-of-mind that the idea of not depriving myself spoke to me more clearly. Thankfully, intuitive eating alleviated my paranoia, depression and guilt about eating “bad” foods. However, this also was a turning point. I went from having an eating problem to having an eating and weight problem.
From cognitive therapy, I have learned that depriving myself of bad foods causes anxiety and anxiety causes hunger. But unlike rule 3; if my body tells me it needs chocolate, I actually have a choice. I can eat the chocolate, or I can decide to sit with the anxiety and let it pass.
Failing to eat what my body wants was one of the reasons why intuitive eating did not work for me. I focused on not depriving myself more than eating the healthy foods that my body wants. I needed to do both.
Thank you Karen, Rae Rae J and Christie Inge, HHC for your comments!
Christie: good point, I recall eating on a schedule at first to help with the hunger queues. Recently my cognitive therapist advised me to eat every three hours, which has allowed me to notice the more subtle hunger queues.
Karen: perhaps you could consider eating every three to four hours? Have you looked into how anxiety may play a role in your eating patterns?
Rae Rae J: if you aren’t wearing a watch, do you all of a sudden know when it is time to eat? Like me, you may notice the subtle signs of hunger now.
Disclaimer: I should tell you that I no longer have my copies of Geneen Roth’s earlier books on intuitive eating, Why Weight? A guide to Ending Compulsive Eating and Breaking Free from Emotional Eating and I have not read her popular, Oprah-endorsed book, Women Food and God. I haven’t picked up new copies to recall the finer points of each rule. My analysis is based strictly on my memory from 2001/2001 when I participated in an intuitive eating support group in an attempt to resolve my eating issues. In this particular group, we followed Geneen Roth’s seven guidelines for intuitive eating.
Rule 1: Eat when you are hungry
Rule 2: Eat sitting down in a calm environment
Tomorrow Rule 4 - eat until you are satisfied