Red Eat Neon Sign Turned on

Highly-Intuitive Eating

Disclaimer: While building on scientific facts, the final connection I made is my own – and I’m not a scientist. So, take it with a grain of salt (if salt agrees with you).

40 per cent of the worldwide population suffers from chronic gastrointestinal problems.

40 per cent of the worldwide population suffers from chronic gastrointestinal problems | UZ Leuven

61% of Americans reported having at least one gastrointestinal symptom in the past week.

Burden of Gastrointestinal Symptoms in the United States: Results of a Nationally Representative Survey of Over 71,000 Americans | PMC

Digesting is one of the most basic functions of a living organism. We are so evolved and have had billions of years to perfect it. How come we are so bad at it?

Our Guts Are Unique

“We are what we eat” is possibly the most accurate, literal cliché. Our diet defines us in trillions of ways1.

Yet, we don’t know how what we eat affects us. Heck, we often don’t even know what we eat (and who we are, but that’s a different story).

Throughout modern history, and probably even before that, we have tried to formulate the equation ‘what we eat equals who we are’ and to come up with a one-size-fits-all answer for what we should eat to be a better version of ourselves

In this attempt, as well as in many of our other endeavors, we failed to acknowledge that we are different from each other – and therefore one-size-fits-all rules don’t exist. Furthermore, trying to follow such made-up rules can prove to be dangerous, as they don’t fit many of us.

These attempts are probably some of the causes of the unhealthy relationships many of us have with food and eating.

In the context of digestion, our differences are embodied, among other things, in our gut microbiome – a set of trillions of bacteria living inside our intestines that outnumber our own cells by ten to one.

Generic Diet Advice Doesn’t ApplY

With trillions of variables, it’s no surprise that each one of us has a unique composition of gut microbiome2. Our unique microbiome affects the way we digest food, meaning each one of us processes food differently3.

This fact has been established and known for quite a while now. And yet, most of us, most of the time, keep operating under the assumption that all humans are identical and thus should be following the same diet rules.

Why do we keep trying to follow generic, inherently flawed diet advice?

Possibly partly because it has become a habit, and habits are hard to uproot.

But the other part is that once this generic advice is taken away from us, we are left lost and clueless with nothing to guide us through countless possible options.

If only there were a device that could sense what is good for each one of us and what is not…

But wait a minute, there is!

Intuitive Eating is Required – But May not Be ENOUGH

We are this device.

After all, if we weren’t able to sense what’s good for us and what’s not, we wouldn’t have been able to survive as a species.

How sophisticated of a device are we? We’ll get to that.

The problem is that, like in many other aspects, we have gotten used to not listening to and ignoring ourselves, submitting to external pseudo-knowledge and trends.

This is what Intuitive Eating aims to fix.

Intuitive Eating is an approach to eating that focuses on the body’s response to cues of hunger and satisfaction. The term ‘intuitive eating’, coined by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, first appeared in a 1990s peer-reviewed journal article4. Tribole and Resch later published a book titled Intuitive Eating.

Intuitive Eating – A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach.

The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating are:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  6. Feel Your Fullness
  7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Movement—Feel the Difference
  10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition

You can read more about the principles on Tribole and Resch’s official website.

As can be learned from the first principle, Intuitive Eating is very much a counter-movement to the dieting culture.

The discussion about Intuitive Eating revolves around subjects such as obesity, eating disorders, and body image. According to Intuitive Eating, instead of constantly dieting, we need to honor our natural hunger and fullness.

Intuitive Eating aims to deal with the extremes. This is, of course, important. Unfortunately, the extremes are common. In 2016, 39% of worldwide adults aged 18 and over were overweight or obese5.

Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating asks us to ‘make peace with food.’ Peace is essential, but even peace doesn’t guarantee happiness.

Avoiding the extremes might not be enough to cultivate a truly healthy relationship with our food. There is more to this relationship than weight, hunger, and fullness.

We’re Possibly Equipped for Highly-Intuitive Eating

I myself am lucky enough to have never had eating disorders or body image issues. And yet, for a long period, food caused me a great deal of discomfort.

As I believed my diet to be generally healthy, for a long time I accepted my situation as a given. I thought that it is what it is, this is life, and discomfort is a part of it.

Every once in a while, though, my stomach got me into really stressful situations, and so I was finally motivated to see a doctor.

After a gastroscopy, I was told by the doctor that my stomach was inflamed, that I didn’t have the bacteria that usually causes such inflammation, and that I should take the pills he was about to prescribe me.

My first question was: “For how long should I take the pills?” To that, the doctor answered, “Possibly forever.”

My second question was: “If I don’t have the bacteria that usually causes the inflammation I suffer from, what is the cause of the inflammation?”.

Only then did the doctor find it right to mention that my diet or emotional state could cause it.

The fact that the doctor didn’t find it right to mention these subjects before I asked, and preferred putting me on pills forever, is a turning point in my relationship with Western medicine.

Anyway, having an inflamed stomach without an obvious reason and taking pills for the rest of my life to deal with it didn’t sound right to me – so I decided to do some research.

I started with the more tangible option of the two the doctor mentioned – my diet.

Dairy was the usual suspect back then, so I booked myself a lactose intolerance test. The results showed that I have a very mild sensitivity to lactose.

Mild as it was, it was the only tangible piece of information I had. So, naturally, I blamed dairy and cut it off from my diet entirely.

It didn’t help much.

I kept going with my life with the usual discomfort until, again, a couple of stressful situations motivated me to go back to research. Long story short, at least for now, it seems that gluten is to blame for most of my discomfort.

Ever since I cut gluten, I’ve been much better. But still, every once in a while, I feel all sorts of unpleasant sensations. Nothing too bad, but I decided I wouldn’t settle and would try to fine-tune my relationship with food.

So, I started paying more attention.

A usual meal I had was gluten-free pasta with some vegetables, spices, Greek cheese, and ready-made pasta sauce.

One of the times I felt a mildly unpleasant sensation after this specific dish (if you can call it a dish, I don’t fancy myself a great cook), I was trying to focus on what I had just eaten, and I had a strong gut feeling that it was the pasta sauce to blame.

I changed the sauce and it seems I was right.

It wasn’t trivial, I think.

It could have been the pasta – which, although gluten-free, is a highly processed food; it could have been the cheese – after all, I was diagnosed with a mild lactose sensitivity; it could have been the vegetables and it could have been the spices. And still, I had a strong intuition that it was the sauce, as innocent as the sauce might look, and even though it didn’t contain any of the things I already knew that were bad for me.

It felt weird to me, though: how can my gut feeling be so specific and accurate? Maybe it was just a lucky guess.

I have since had a couple more similar lucky guesses.

Still, it’s nothing to build science upon or even write a post about.

But then…

We Are a Sophisticated Sensing Device

I had a conversation with a friend who told me about a podcast she listened to about our sense of smell.

In the podcast, Noam Sobel, Professor of Neurobiology, mentioned that it was discovered that we have smell receptors in all sorts of places on and in our bodies, not just our tongues. Among other places, we have smell receptors in our digestive system.

It struck me as interesting, and when I started researching it, I found out that not only does our digestive system have smell receptors, but it also has taste receptors6 7.

Suddenly, my gut feeling made sense: if our gut can smell and taste, doesn’t it make perfect sense that it can tell us what’s good for it and what’s not?

What previously sounded weird and unlikely now seems obvious.

Maybe billions of years didn’t leave us unequipped but actually turned us into a highly sensitive device. Maybe our intuition can have high resolution – beyond just hunger and fullness.

This could be an aspect of the gut-brain axis – two-way biochemical signaling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system – another well-established field of research that is often ignored in our daily lives.

How high a resolution might our intuition have? Recent research shows that we can detect at least 1 trillion different smells8.

We’ve all had gut feelings, but we often learn to ignore them. Research shows that intuition is a finely tuned cognitive skill designed to save our life. Our brain is wired for intuition, which we can access in various ways from cognitive to physiological.

Your Intuition Is Real and Research Shows How to Access It | Psychology Today

Eating and drinking generate sequential mechanosensory signals along the digestive tract. These signals are communicated to the brain for the timely initiation and regulation of diverse ingestive and digestive processes […] 

Neural signalling of gut mechanosensation in ingestive and digestive processes | Nature Reviews Neuroscience

If we only cared to pay attention and listen to our gut feelings, we could likely cultivate a nuanced awareness of how different foods make us feel.

But for the most part, not only do we not pay attention to our gut feeling, but we also actively choose to ignore it.

 26% of the people we asked said they choose to ignore their declining digestive health.  

UK Gut Health Report 2023 | Holland & Barrett

Mindful and Intuitive Eating, and Food Related Hobbies

To take advantage of our sensing capabilities, we need to be mindful. Mindful eating is actually another researched concept9, and it is closely related to Intuitive Eating, supporting it, and being supported by it.

At Hobbies 4 Life, we believe that food-related hobbies are a great way to practice and develop intuitive and mindful eating, supported by intuitive cooking.

Footnotes

  1. You are what you eat – how your diet defines you in trillions of ways | National Geographic ↩︎
  2. Current understanding of the human microbiome – PMC ↩︎
  3. Whitepaper: The gut microbiome | ZOE ↩︎
  4. Mindful eating and common diet programs lower body weight similarly: Systematic review and meta‐analysis – Fuentes Artiles – 2019 – Obesity Reviews – Wiley Online Library ↩︎
  5. Mindful eating and common diet programs lower body weight similarly: Systematic review and meta‐analysis – Fuentes Artiles – 2019 – Obesity Reviews – Wiley Online Library ↩︎
  6. An Evolutionary Perspective on Food and Human Taste – ScienceDirect ↩︎
  7. From the Tongue to the Gut – Negri – 2011 – Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition – Wiley Online Library ↩︎
  8. Human nose can detect 1 trillion odours | Nature ↩︎
  9. Mindful Eating – The Nutrition Source | Harvard School of Public Health ↩︎

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *