As you may have intuited from my posts about eating disorders and the difficulty of not dieting, I’m not yet a model of the demand-feeding lifestyle. I’m certainly better than I used to be, but I will definitely still eat cookies just to prove that I can, or neglect to eat breakfast or lunch just because they’re not right in front of me.
What’s easier for me, at least so far, is recognizing what I don’t want. As I’ve mentioned before in this space, I have gastrological idiosyncrasies; basically just because something is edible doesn’t mean I can eat it. And eventually, usually, things that make me feel sick in retrospect will make me feel sick in prospect, and I’ll stop wanting to eat them. I’ve finally given up omelets, for instance, after years, because every time they’re available I say “it has so much protein, it’s a much better option than [insert wheaty/sugary breakfast food]” — and every time, as soon as I finish it, I can’t even think about having eaten an omelet without nausea. So it’s not a quick process, but eventually I’ll figure out what my body doesn’t want. (And then sometimes I ignore it. Can I have fatty foods? I cannot. Did I eat a big ice cream cone this weekend? I did. Did I regret it? Ask me rather whether I will have another one the next time I’m spending a beautiful day outside near an ice cream truck.) While you will definitely see me eat an ice cream or a burrito if you watch long enough, the “wait for it to make you feel bad often enough to stop sounding good” approach has to date been my most effective method of approximating intuitive eating.
Given that my forays into demand feeding have been more about reject feeding, maybe it’s not surprising that being sick totally crystallizes my sense of what my body needs. I’ve had a mild but unpleasant cold/sinus thing for the last couple of days, the kind I get regularly every spring and fall just when the weather gets beautiful enough that a cold will annoy me. My body knows exactly what it wants to eat right now: nothing. It wants zero gym time. It has a powerful desire to lie on the couch and be brought warm drinks. But when I got hungry in a 3:00 meeting, after having not eaten or felt like eating all day, my craving was incredibly sharp and specific. I guess it was thrown into relief by my general illness-related food aversion: my overall distaste for food created a white noise background against which the call “TOMATO SOUP” stood out starkly. I feel particularly strong in my choices today, both in what I do want (tomato soup, Tang) and what I don’t want (everything else). But it takes having generally reduced physical faculties for these things to come forward.
We sometimes talk about listening to your body — what to do when your brain says salad but your body says Cheetos, or vice versa — as though life were a Cathy strip, where your stomach gets a thought bubble of its own. It’s much tougher than that. Many of us don’t even speak the same language as our bodies. The challenge is not necessarily one of listening, but one of translating. Apparently getting sick for me is like getting drunk for people with two years of high school Spanish — it causes an unanticipated fluency that can’t be achieved in other states. But that’s hardly sustainable. What I need is a Rosetta stone, something I can use to translate back and forth between a brain overloaded with history and expectations and a body that can’t always make itself understood. That’s what I’m after, in my forays into intuitive eating. Meditative exercise like yoga and swimming has historically helped, as has really detailed visualization of my food options, actually imagining myself eating things and considering how I might feel afterwards. I’m still hunting for more, and hoping that one day I’ll have a fluent understanding, and won’t keep having to go back to a cheat sheet.
So what’s your decoder ring? How do you get your body to speak in a language you understand?