Intuitive Eating: Gut Matters

Research has shown that restrictive diets don’t lead to long-term healthy weight. While this may, in part, be because reducing food intake is not sustainable over the long term, unresolved unhealthy relationships with food may also be involved. For example, subconscious childhood messages to “clean our plates” of food we didn’t put there and enforced mealtimes that required us to either ignore our hunger until dinnertime or eat at a certain time—even if we weren’t hungry—may have led, eventually, to poor communication with our hunger GPS.

Intuitive eating is based on the premise that the body has an innate wisdom about the quantity and type of food required to maintain an appropriate weight and achieve nutritional health. It has been associated with less disordered eating, more aspects of positive body image such as body appreciation, and improved emotional functioning.

Essentially, intuitive eaters eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re satisfied. No food is off-limits unless it’s restricted by a specific health issue such as a food allergy or diabetes, for example, and intuitive eaters eat what and when they choose. In other words, intuitive eaters don’t consider the potential impact that a food might have on body weight.

This isn’t to suggest that intuitive eaters aren’t concerned about their health. On the contrary: people with higher body appreciation tend to focus on body function (what the body can do and feel) rather than body image (appearance) when making food choices.

Mixed signals

The body’s goal, always, is to achieve allostasis or balance. When it comes to eating, a multitude of mechanisms are at work to sensitize us to food cues when energy reserves are getting low. For example, the appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin and other circulating molecules are directed by the hypothalamus, which is the control center in the brain.

Another example is interoceptive sensitivity, which is the extent to which we can detect internal bodily sensations. Lower interoceptive sensitivity has been observed in anorexia, binge eating, overweight and obesity, as well as depression. Intuitive eating is associated with higher levels of interoceptive sensitivity.

Sensitivity training

Amping up interoceptive sensitivity can be a challenging process, not only because we may have unconscious food programming, but also because we may jump to conclusions about what body sensations to expect when we’re hungry, for example, or what the sensations we experience might signal. We also may have trained ourselves to ignore physiological responses like hunger, stress, and pain. Mindfulness therapies may be useful in helping to re-establish the mind-body connection.

Signs of hunger

A rumbling tummy is not the only sign of hunger. Other cues include

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • irritability
  • light-headedness or shakiness
  • loss of focus
  • thirst
  • thinking about food

Tips for eating mindfully

  • Take small portions; refill as required.
  • Sit to eat.
  • Focus on food: no screens!
  • Put down utensils between bites.
  • Chew thoroughly.
  • Notice flavor and texture.
  • Stop eating when satisfied.

Special Note: Vitamins for IBD

People with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis do not absorb foods well, making many deficient in vitamins and nutrients. In this study, doctors measured nutrient levels in 87 people with an IBD. More than a third were deficient in vitamin D; 18.4 percent were deficient in folate (vitamin B9), and 5.7 percent were deficient in cobalamin (vitamin B12). Those with higher folate levels had lower disease activity and inflammation.

Doctors usually evaluate IBD through blood and stool samples, but these results suggest vitamin levels may be a complementary way to measure disease activity, and a possible form of treatment.

Reference: Nutrients; 2020, Vol. 12, No. 12, nu12123734; Article copyright 2021 by Natural Insights for Wellbeing. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. The statements in this article have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Consult your healthcare provider before taking a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, or take prescription or over-the-counter medication.

Article copyright 2021 by Alive Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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