Intuitive eating is the default mode.
It’s the way we were all born knowing how to eat.
When we were babies, we made NOISE when we were hungry to let people know we needed food, and we didn’t feel the tiniest bit of shame about it.
We demanded to get our needs met. We saw those needs as valid and didn’t second-guess them.
We OWNED our hunger.
No one had to teach us how to do that. It was programmed into our DNA—like how baby sea turtles are programmed to run into the ocean right after they hatch on the beach.
Like all animals, humans just instinctually know how to honor our hunger.
As babies we also took pleasure in food, seeking out flavors and textures that we found satisfying.
We relished the foods we liked and asked for more—again without feeling any self-judgment about it.
We didn’t have much use for foods we didn’t like.
And when we were full, we started losing interest in food, turning our attention to other things—until we started to feel hungry again (or until there was birthday cake!).
We were all, at this early stage in life, intuitive eaters.
And we all can be again.
We all have the capacity to get back to a place where our relationships with food are as simple as they were when we were babies.
Where hunger and pleasure are nothing to be ashamed of, and where fullness is a signal that we can take our minds off food for a while, safe in the knowledge that it'll be available again when we want it.
Of course, there are a lot of things that can get in the way of that safety, that simplicity.
There are a lot of things that mess with our default mode.
Things like poverty and food insecurity, as well as things like dieting and body shame.
Whatever the circumstances, though, they all shake our sense of safety and reprogram our default mode through one common mechanism: deprivation.
Deprivation is the very real sense that food won’t actually be available again when we want it.
Deprivation is what makes hunger and pleasure and fullness stop feeling so safe and easy.
Deprivation is what makes our relationships with food get so complicated.
Diet culture—aka The Life Thief—creates a sense of deprivation in so many ways, both subtle and not-so-subtle.
It tells us that our hunger is “wrong,” that we shouldn’t own it or (God forbid) make noise about it.
It tells us that weight gain and larger bodies are “bad,” and that weight loss and smaller bodies are “good.”
(Never mind that before about 150 years ago, Western culture and other societies around the world were saying the exact opposite.)
Diet culture tells us that satisfaction and pleasure will destroy our health and lead down the road to those “bad” things, too.
It also demonizes fullness, telling us that it’s a sign we’ve eaten “too much.”
Diet culture convinces us that honoring our hunger, seeking satisfaction, and feeling fullness will lead down the road to perdition.
It tells us that our instincts—the innate signals encoded into our DNA—are bad and wrong.
And so we stop honoring our hunger.
We stop meeting our needs for satisfaction and pleasure.
We stop feeling safe in the knowledge that we’ll be able to eat enough, and eat things we enjoy, the next time we’re hungry.
And so fullness stops feeling safe, too.
Fullness stops being a signal that we can take our minds off of food and turn our attention to other things.
It starts being something that we fear, something that we question and condemn.
And that’s how The Life Thief makes us feel completely out of control and lost around food. Like we don’t know which way is up.
It's not our fault we feel that way. It's only natural, given everything diet culture has told us.
The good news is, now that we know how diet culture led us astray, we don't have to buy into it anymore.
You CAN return to the peaceful, easy relationship with food that is your birthright.
Of course, it'll take some work to unlearn all of diet culture’s harmful rules, but with practice and support you have the capacity and the right to break free from The Life Thief and reclaim your life.
That’s what happened for Megan Crabbe, the Instagram celebrity behind the account @bodyposipanda and a recent guest on Food Psych.
She shares how she internalized the message that she needed to start dieting to change her body size when she was just 5 years old, and how that mindset led her down the path to disordered eating and eventually a full-blown eating disorder.
Fortunately she was able to recover and become the body-acceptance activist she is today, and she shares what that winding journey looked like for her, and how she’s come to advocate for a brand of body positivity that embraces ALL bodies—especially the ones most marginalized by society and diet culture.
Here’s to getting back in touch with your instincts,
P.S. If you're ready to break free from diet culture and learn to trust your body (like you were BORN knowing how to do), join my Intuitive Eating Fundamentals online course so that you can make peace with food and make space in your life for bigger and better things.
This post was originally published in my weekly email newsletter.