Intuition and Chocolate Brownies

December 4, 2007

Well, I’ve got it bad.

It’s exam time at the college, and there are something like 204 papers to be marked by the end of the week.

Yet, as I sit here at my desk, wind vaulting stray flakes of snow across my window, what do I do? Do I even glance in the direction of those essays?  No. Do I take a few minutes to admire the vista of white that I haven’t seen in maybe 10 years? (Seems this new location is just above the no-snow line—two blocks, and suddenly, we’ve got real winter.) Uh-uh.  Do I stop and meditate for even 5 minutes, as I’ve solemnly vowed to do? Absolutely not.

No, what I do is go immediately to the Holidailies website and check out the recent posts. And read, and read, and have a laugh, and nod in agreement, and wipe a tear from my eye, and then go to my own blog and start writing.

It’s Day Four of Holidailies, and I’m totally hooked. Since I still can’t seem to figure out how to get that cute little icon pasted to my page, I’ve decided to honour the event in my own unique way: every day of Holidailies (well, except today, I guess, since the jig is already up), I’m going to attempt to channel Alfred Hitchcock (except for the weight part, that is), and surreptitiously add a link to the Holidailies site, somewhere in my post. Think of it as the “Where’s Waldo?” of blogging.

On a completely unrelated note. . . .

I’ve been thinking more about the notion of intuitive eating, as that seems to be the approach I’ve adopted, more or less, in my quest for normal eating. The idea, as I interpret it, is to learn to let your body eat what it really wants, and then stop as soon as it no longer wants it.

I’ve recently read several posts that touch on this idea, most recently at Angry Fat Girlz. Granted, for Erin, the writer of the post, the notion of intuitive eating was a short digression in her larger discussion of how we should each find what works best for us as individuals. But she seems to decry the concept of intuitive eating as basically self-destructive when she recalls trying out different diet plans, including Weight Watchers:

“I eventually ended up half-embracing Intuitive Eating, but I could never really buy into the idea of unconditional forgiveness if I decided to eat a 5 gallon drum of peanut butter because my body said it wanted it.”

To discount intuitive eating because it feels impossible (or downright wrong) to forgive yourself because you FEEL like eating, say, a kilo (oops, sorry American friends, that’s about 2 pounds) of Chunky Monkey is, I think, a misguided conclusion. Because in reality, a true “intuitive” eater would never WANT to eat a kilo of ice cream in the first place, so there’d be nothing to forgive. No healthy, intuitive body out there craves that much rich, highly caloric, sugar-laden food, unless it’s recently been lost in the Tundra for a week or so, or has been traipsing through the Sahara a little too long without provisions. In other words, true intuitive eating brings us to a life of balance and health, and is naturally inclined toward what is good for us. And unfortunately, my body is completely devoid of that sort of intuition.

Take my Human Honey, for instance. (He loves it when I tell this story, even if it is drawn and tired by now, but it’s true.) He has never had a weight problem, and has always been a “normal” eater. In his childhood home, dessert was just another course, take it or leave it; and there was never a need to “hide” food because Daddy Will Get Mad if He Sees That We’ve Eaten Four Donuts in One Day. So when my HH eats, he eats what he feels like having, he thoroughly enjoys every mouthful, and he stops when he’s full. Period. He might be eating something he highly enjoys—loves, even—but when he’s full, that’s it; the switch has been pulled, and there will be no more food going into that mouth just then, no matter what is still on the plate.

“But it’s just ONE PEA,” I implore, “Just eat the damned thing!”

“No,” he calmly replies, “I am full, I don’t want to eat any more.” And he pushes the plate away.

Now, that’s intuitive eating. And the only way to achieve it, I think, is to allow your body to learn how to do it, even if it means making mistakes along the way. Even if it means eating a kilo of ice cream once in a while.

I’ve come to believe that for overeaters, their appetites are somehow out of whack, just like an overactive immune system when it reacts to an allergen. The IgE antibodies detect something otherwise harmless and freak out: “Attack! Attack!” just as my appetite alarm detects something yummy and bellows, “Eat! Eat!” Even if, in both cases, the extreme reaction is totally unwarranted.

That’s why I don’t believe in guilt when I overeat (don’t get me wrong here: just because I don’t believe in it, doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t experience it; but I’m working on that one). Why would you want to punish yourself twice—first, when you eat the “wrong” thing, and then again when you flagellate yourself for it?

I’ve read that, for those of us who are overweight, part of the reason may be an enhanced sense of taste. Those who taste foods more “fully” may crave them more, because they appreciate the flavors on a deeper level (which makes you feel kind of sad for those taste-deprived skinny people, doesn’t it?). And since flavor is dissolved and distributed more in the fat content of foods, we well-padded individuals tend to crave fatty foods. Sugar is just plain addictive, so combine the two (chocolate, anyone?), and you’ve got a recipe (sorry, couldn’t resist) for disaster. For me, I’m sure this is the case. I’ve been indulging in sweets since I was a child, and it makes sense to me that I must have developed this kind of hyperactive taste sensitivity.

On the other hand, I have noticed one very positive by-product of eating only NAG-friendly sweets. To begin with, all the flours are whole grain, and on top of that, my baking uses a lot of fruits and nuts as ingredients (you kind of have to when you eliminate eggs, dairy, refined sugars, and wheat). So I end up with many products that are high in fibre, and relatively low in fat (though that’s not the goal of the NAG diet, anyway—it’s just aiming for healthy fats, within a reasonable limit).

Because these goodies are brimming with whole, natural ingredients, they are also much more nutrient-dense than other sweets, so they tend to fill you up more. I really, honestly, cannot eat the entire pan of my alternative Chocolate Walnut Brownies (made with spelt flour, flax seeds, dates, cocoa, organic walnuts, etc.) because I simply get too full too fast. But a whole pan of Sara Lee brownies? Or Entenmanns’s? No problem.

So I’m hoping that, over time, eating a whole foods, healthy diet will result in my body learning, even if it takes a while, how to say “no” when it’s had enough. Without guilt, and without self-recrimination. After all, how long would it take to learn any other new skill at my age? I wouldn’t expect to be able to successfully build a doghouse, or play the stock market, or conduct a symphony, either, without a few years of experience at it, or a few mistakes along the way. And anyway, eating brownies is so much more fun, n’est-ce pas?

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