We all know that person. The person who can ‘eat whatever they want’ and not gain weight. If they are not hungry, they may turn down the chocolate cake. If they are not hungry they might even skip a meal. If they want the cheesecake, they have it, and enjoy it. There was a time in history when we are all eating “instinctively”. And that’s a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to people suggesting we eat ‘ancestrally’ as far as I’m concerned and it’s often the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to physical, mental and spiritual health.
So what drives the instinctive eater? Hunger, pure and simple. For the instinctive eater, eating is driven by a need for fuel. Their tummy is empty and that is the trigger to seek out nourishment . Their need to eat is not driven by emotions, or environmental cues it’s purely a physical need. That doesn’t mean they never eat when they are not hungry, sometimes we’re in situations where it would be socially unacceptable to not do so. But they will probably feel like eating less the next day, and just get on with it falling right back into the cycle.
They eat the food that makes them feel good and enjoy it as a pleasurable experience and not something that has power over them. They feel no need to “exercise it off” the next day, they enjoy balance, variety, moderation and what’s available.
They are also in charge of the amount that they eat. They are able to moderate amounts in relation to their hunger and fullness cues.
Paleo Diet followers advocate eating what our ancestors did. Or in modern definition eating only foods from the earth that they believe were designed for human consumption. I have no qualms with this but I believe the important message that is missing is not so much eating WHAT our ancestors ate, but HOW they ate. Our distant ancestors would have not only eaten only when hungry, it would have been wasteful otherwise but they would have also eaten what was available. Eating was plasureable yes, because nooone likes to be hungry, but it was driven by a need for fuel.
There was another time in our history where we ate instinctively. When we were young children. It’s been said that we lose this ability around the time we are 5 and there are so many reasons for that. Babies will not drink more milk then they need and have you ever tried to feed a toddler when they have had enough? Good luck! So what happens to children as they get older? Many families encourage “finishing your plate” before dessert or before they can leave the table. Dessert becomes a reward for overeating! (But that’s a whole other blog post. ) We are told to eat our food because we don’t want to waste it and there are children starving in Africa. To me, eating food that we don’t want is not a better remedy for food wastage. Not only are we over-consuming but we are doing harm to our bodies that is not going to help anyone in other countries. The money you save on buying so much excess might though.
Then there is school. Children are conditioned to eat at roughly 10:00am and 1:00pm and if they do not finish their sandwich they do not get to go play (yet again, overeating = reward). I was a teacher for 7 years and was part of this out of fear of repercussions from some parents. Looking back I wonder if it was the best choice. I’m not sure what the alternative is as I know schools need to maintain a routine to fit everything in but eating by the clock and eating when we’re not hungry is not teaching children to listen to their bodies.
Another issue that gets in the way of instinctive eating is dieting. More and more teens and young children are going on diets. This restrictive nature of eating only certain foods, labelling some foods as good and bad, and eating less than our body wants sets us up for all forms of problematic eating. But more importantly this diet culture is robbing us of our own human right to be able to eat instinctively. That, to me, is a real tragedy.
So, over the course of our childhood, for some reason or another, many of us tend to lose the ability to listen to our own hunger cues. That’s why I am so passionate about an ancestral approach to eating that encourages yes, eating real wholesome food because it tastes amazing and makes us feel great, but also eating what is available without the risk of overeating or slamming ourselves with shame. More importantly, ancestral eating, I my opinion is about re-learning how to eat instinctively , our natural birthright as humans and a skill our ancestors had mastered because it was natural to do so. It’s also about being able to enjoy the foods that nourish our soul when we really want them, because it’s also our right as humans to experience pleasure!
Instinctive Eating is a way of eating that comes from within and is guided by instinct, a need for fuel and a love of good food. Book a consult, and find out more or join us in our Facebook Group, we'd love to have you!