In a previous issue, I wrote about the first three steps to Intuitive Eating - eating when you want, eating what you want and eating as much as you want. These three steps involve the actual eating process. Equally as important is the other half of the equation - listening to your inner wisdom, trusting your body's signals and honouring your body's needs.

Eating when you want, what you want and as much as you want doesn't mean eating according to what you think you want. It means according to your body's needs, you eat when you are hungry, you eat what your body wants and you stop when your body has had enough.

When you attempt to eat intuitively, it is also improtant to recognize that the needs you have been meeting with food are not going to go away. If you just stop using food then you leave a void - a void that will not remain. If you nothing else, it will fill again with what you know - eating. Those needs are there and you are allowed to have needs. How else can you fill the void in a way that actually meets the needs?

Listening to Your Inner Wisdom
Listening to your inner wisdom is paying attention to the quiet, calm voices inside you that just know what is right for you and paying attention to the sensations in your body that give clues to what is going on inside you. In relation to Intuitive Eating, this means checking in with yourself each time you think about eating; asking yourself "Am I hungry?"; getting to know again what hunger feels like and learning to differentiate between physiological hunger and the other sensations that signal anger, fear, sadness or fatigue.

Our bodies give us signals - physical sensations that tell us domething is going on inside. If we don't listen and respond appropriately, the signals get increasingly stronger until we can't ignore them. Muscle tension, headaches, insomnia and fatigue are some of the possible stronger signals.

Where does anger reside in your body? How does it feel? How about anxiety? Fear? Love? Happiness? Where you feel it and how you feel it isn't necessarily the same as it is for others but when you begin to pay attention you will learn where and how you feel various feelings.

Trusting Your Body's Signals
Trusting your body's signals means through paying attention, experimenting and practising, you learn to read your body's signals and you begin to trust that those signals are tellling you what is really going on inside.

Part of the trust is also learning that it is acceptable to feel what you are feeling. You are allowed to feel angry, hurt, lonely, sad happy or excited. Perhaps you need to learn to trust that you won't be overwhelmed by your feelings; to know you can feel your feelings and not escalate them by what Joan Borysenko in "Minding the Body, Mending the MInd" calls "awfulizing". Awfulizing happens when the mind spews out a litany of "what ifs" and "if onlys" escalating the current situation to its worst possible scenario. At least, that's what is happening in the mind and the body responds. There is a difference between feeling your feelings and growing them.

When you trust the hunger signals, you can allow yourself to eat for your body's need for food. When you trust other signals, you can know what else you need to have or do.

Honouring Your Body's Needs
Honouring your body's needs means giving your body what it really needs - food when it is hungry ; rest when it is tired; some quiet time; a good cry; a hug; a walk; a dance class; a talk with a friend; standing up to your mother or doing something you have been avoiding.

At first, it might be challenging to find anything that works as well as food. Although food can alter body chemistry and thus have an effect on how you feel, often this metabolic impact has little if anything to do with the response you get. It is what you believe about the food that leads to the response. Thus, if you believe eating ice cream will make you feel better, you will feel better. You may even start feel better as soon as you get the first spoonful to your lips.

Likewise, when you try other ways to meet your needs, it might not work right away. You will probably need to experiment and practise with various alternatives until effective ones evolve. These alternatives become effective when you are able to allow yourself to believe they will.

When you put this whole process together, it feels good. You are taking care of the whole you in life enhancing ways. It is a process that takes time and patience for most to relearn. If you choose to follow this path, be gentle with yourself; forgive yourself for misjudging or ignoring signals and give yourself enough of a chance to change

Reprinted from Feminie: A Magazine for Women, June 1994