Uncover the Natural Eater
In this chapter
Why diets are recipes for disaster
Understand your personal eating pattern
Learn to identify and respond to your body's natural signals
Become a mindful eater
Have you ever observed a toddler's eating behavior? Young children generally practice natural eating at its best. There are exceptions to every rule, but most children exposed to a wide variety of nutritious foods will balance calorie and nutrient intake over the course of several days or weeks to meet their needs for normal growth and development. When they're hungry, they are interested only in finding the next meal or snack; when their tummies are full, they cannot be coerced into taking another bite! Granted, toddlers have many advantages over adults in this regardtheir schedules are flexible, their stress levels are low, and media influence and exposure to advertisements don't exert quite as much powerbut the busy, health-conscious adult can learn a lot from their style of eating. This chapter is devoted to helping you uncover your own natural eater.
What Is Natural Eating?
Do you remember a time in your life when food was simply food? You ate when you were hungry, stopped when you were satisfied, and beyond food preparation and cleanup (if you were old enough), you spent relatively little time thinking about it. That is natural eating.
What if you cannot remember ever feeling this way about food? Perhaps for as long as you have known, food has been associated with everything but the messages your own body was sending. You might have been raised in an environment that did not support natural eating, one in which your access to food was overly restricted or you were required to ignore your body's hunger or fullness signals. Or you may have fallen victim to the dieting culture so prevalent today, the one that promises that happiness is just a few more pounds away. If this is the case, don't despair. As a human being, you were born with the ability to regulate food intake appropriately, and you can begin to uncover this ability again by working through some of the steps in the following sections.
Natural Eating Occurs Independently of Body Weight
Becoming a natural eater is not a guarantee that you will change your body weight. People who maintain unnaturally thin physiques will probably gain weight as they begin to respect their bodies again. People who are maintaining excess weight due to environmental, emotional, or other conditions will probably lose weight as they incorporate the principles of natural eating. If you have ignored your body's signals for a long time by chronically over- or undereating (or going back and forth between the two), it may be more challenging to decipher appropriate hunger and fullness signals. If you believe you may be such a person, work with your physician, a counselor, and a registered dietitian to develop an eating plan and healthy lifestyle that respects this history.
The vast majority of people can experience the freedom of becoming a natural eater by working through the material in this book and using other appropriate resources. Know that it may be a long and sometimes uncomfortable process, but the reward of a peaceful relationship with food and your body is worth every bit of effort you can afford!
For more information on this subject, consider reading Intuitive Eating: a Revolutionary Program That Works by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (St. Martins, 2003).
Before we get into the specifics of natural eating, let's talk about what it isn't.