For many Americans, food is often a comfort device used after a difficult day at the office, a fight with a loved one or to cope with a busy lifestyle.
This is commonly known as emotional eating – the type of eating that often gets us into trouble with our bodies.
Enter intuitive eating – a practice in which one has to be more in tune with one’s body, eating only when the body is truly hungry for food as nutrition and stopping before becoming full.
The man driving this concept is Steven Hawks, a health science professor at Brigham Young University in Utah. Hawks experienced weight fluctuations for several years using several different diets. He found that when he stopped obsessing over calories and ate only when he was hungry and did not mindlessly munch, the weight came off.
Usually, when one goes on a diet, he or she has to continually eat the particular way that the diet designates to keep the pounds from coming back. For example, once on the Atkins diet, if one begins to eat bread and other carbohydrates again, this will likely contribute to future weight gain, because one’s body is not used to those foods anymore.
“You definitely lose weight on a diet, but resisting biological pressures (to indulge in the foods you want) is ultimately doomed,” Hawks said in an Associated Press story.
Intuitive eating sounds like a “duh” concept, right? However, it is surprising how many people do not follow this relatively simple logic, driven to eat by feelings and emotions.
“The intuitive eater has come to recognize external motives for eating (environmental, social, emotional) and has learned to effectively manage such situations to avoid emotional overeating and/or deprivation,” said the Web site for the National Institute of Intuitive Eating.
“Emotions are no longer dealt with through the consumption of food. Environmental and social eating occasions are managed through hunger-based eating with an emphasis on avoiding feelings of deprivation,” the site continued.
Dealing with problems by way of overeating is akin to drinking excessively when problems arise; both of these practices stand to harm one’s body. Excessive eating is not an effective way to cope and this is what intuitive eating emphasizes – to pay attention to the actual physical hunger of the body when eating rather than the emotional hunger, which is almost always not satisfied by food.
As the obesity rate in America continues to rise – with two-thirds of adult Americans overweight or obese, according to David Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston in a CNN.com article earlier this year – we, as a society, would be well advised to use our hunger pangs, not emotions, to decide when and how much we should eat.