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The Loss of Eating Intuitively in America: A Root of our Eating Crisis?

Intuitive Eating means there is not one road to get to the finish.

Do you believe good health means looking at the root of what is health?

In one of my earliest graduate Nutrition classes I can distinctly remember the morning where my professor put a cartoon on the front board of the classroom for us to discuss. This simple black and white cartoon has shaped one of my deepest philosophies of health.

The cartoon was showing a sink with a small water leak. There was a bucket underneath the pipes of the sink which was used to catch small drips of water that dripped, dripped, dripping continuously and slowly. This leak wasn’t a big problem because someone was there to empty the bucket when it got full.

My professor equated this cartoon to how some of us use ‘our buckets’ as band aids to temporarily fix our health problems (through using medicine as one example) when in fact, looking deeper into the cartoon as a metaphor, you could understand that this small water leak won’t ever be fixed until the reason for the leak is found. It is the same for our health. Things run smoothly with our health until that day where we too ‘spring a leak’ (oh, la,la that sounds a bit scary but you understand). By not knowing or understanding the root of our health problems we cannot rely on just medicine, nutritional supplements, fad diets or other ‘band aids’ to fix our health issues.

Intuitive Eating

Now I will get to the point of this article: intuitive eating. Here is a definition of this term quoted from two dietitians who are experts in the field of intuitive eating,

The underlying premise of Intuitive Eating is that you will learn to respond to your inner body cues, because you were born with all the wisdom you need for eating intuitively.

This term is not to be confused with either mindful eating or conscious eating. Mindful eating is, according to the Center For Mindful Eating, “the use of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness helps focus our attention and awareness on the present moment.” Conscious eating is based on thinking about what foods and drink you put in your body.

In April 2010 I was interviewed by Fitness Magazine for an article on how the French eat. The article, called “Why Don’t French Women Get Fat,” was recently published in the October edition and it highlights three of my simple ways to stay slim and trim, using French techniques. In conjunction with the article, I have published here on BrightonYourHealth an E-report called “10 Simple Ways to Eat Like the French Without Having A Food Snob Attitude.” (You can get your copy of this report here, by subscribing to BrightonYourHealth). While writing this E-report and reflecting on these simple ways of eating, I was drawn into thinking about what is the real root here? The real trunk of these simple methods of eating slowly, enjoying food and recognizing our own bodies’ hunger and full cues? The real reason that fad diets don’t work over long time. The answer of how to get slim and trim or just have better health and not gain weight? Why have the French succeeded in their battle against the bulge and other differences with their health compared with other countries?

It is what I believe to be a combination of the cultural aspects of France but also their ability to use an approach to food: mindfully, intuitively, consciously.

Over the last ten years spent in France I have incorporated the cultural ways of eating à la Frenchy. Proudly, I am 100% American too and appreciate and treasure the American culture, food and relaxed atmosphere of eating. But America is in a food and eating crisis. This article would be too long to begin to discuss all the aspects of what this crisis is, how we can get out of it, what are the solutions.

And America will not be able to fully escape from the lifestyle related health issues without looking at the root of the problem. Knowing both cultures well, the American and French, and being acutely aware on the statistics on health and obesity in both countries, I believe that intuitive and conscious eating, habits ingrained in the French culture, make the difference in why Americans have higher rates of lifestyle related health issues. The French don’t necessarily eat ‘better’ foods but it is in the way they eat them.

Even in France, food traditions are dying

The French are not fanatics about always eating healthy food. You must know the French image of cream, butter and cheese: it is true, many French eat like this. But it is their way of eating, the slowness, the appreciation, the time cooking food, the ‘exigence’ (being demanding) on how the food tastes. The French are experts in this eating philosophy because it is part of their culture which has been passed down generation through generation. Even in France though, things are starting to change. ‘Quel dommage (what a shame)!’ Like a language that is disappearing, so too are the traditions of eating for pleasure and satiety, for longer meals, for intuitive eating. Is it all completely lost in America? Have we have given up the back to basics eating way too long to move forward again to restoring some practiced long ago food habits, before there were labels that some call intuitive, conscious, mindful eating? I would like to call it just EATING or just eating for pleasure and good health. What do you think? Shout out your opinion in the leave a reply below this article.

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8 Responses to The Loss of Eating Intuitively in America: A Root of our Eating Crisis?

  1. Deborah September 27, 2016 at 18:37 #

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences along with your knowledge. I have enjoyed reading your posts and will return often.

    While raising our children here in the U.S. I prepared fresh from scratch meals and kept our kitchen filled with healthy snacks such as fruit. My oldest daughter still thinks, to this very day, I was cruel and inhumane for providing them with healthy foods and not the junk and sweets she really wanted. She is now in her mid thirties with two children of her own. Bon bons grace her shelves today alongside fast, processed foods. To each their own, right?

    In my experiences I have found a sense of what is easy prevails. I am always surprised to find just how many people, young and older (my age) that merely do not know how to prepare a meal. Truly amazed! With all the cooking shows on television and websites, I would think it would be easy to learn. Then again, I also feel these shows give the impression that it is confusing and tedious to do, so let’s just drive thru or open that microwavable meal. Sad. We, as a culture have lost an honest connection with food, how it is grown and the creative process of contemplating flavors and textures to enjoy.
    We’ve become a ‘Big Box’ nation. This truly concerns me.

    • mbrighton October 3, 2016 at 16:10 #

      Dear Deborah, Thank you very much for your insightful comment. I totally agree with you about our disconnection with food. My kids are a bit younger than yours, I am worried on how they too will feed their kids and themselves when they are adults….At least as the grandma in your family can you connect with your grandchildren and teach them cooking? I am sure they would like this. Thanks again and wishing you a nice day! Mary

  2. Marie March 20, 2013 at 20:40 #

    Bonjour Mary,
    I love your article. I am living in France now for 3 years. My husband is French. I have watched the celebration of families come together and eat in France and America. The root, I would have to say is a hard question, but here is what I see… The French, premeditate meals, days in advanced, they spend one to two days preparing for a meal. They have smaller portions on their plates, they believe in the presentation and taste with each bit. For example, with green beans, they will walk to the open fresh market, pick out one by one all the good green beans, then they sit on home and pick off the ends of all the green beans, they soak it in water for 30 minutes, then they cook them for an hour, and on the side they are sautéing onions and in a special wine sauce to go on the side of the green beans, which took another 2 hours of preparation. They care for their food. They take like you said, 2 hours to fully enjoy and finish a meal, meaning from the 1st course to last course could be an hour and a half. They eat cheese at the end of the meal to help their digestion. They sip on espressos at the very end of the meal and sit, while letting their body digest comfortably.

    During the other times of day they eat baguettes, small sandwiches or croissants. They rarely eat alone, they walk everyday to get fresh bread, which for some elders can be a good walk. The bread has a few main ingredients, water, flour, and salt/yeast.

    Now McDonnell’s is flooding the towns of France. The French envy the American life, but are getting more then they are prepared for. Little do they know about the huge health problems that come with KFC, McDo… the French always go to the fresh markets and normally eat fresh fresh fruits & vegetables with little to no pesticides. Where is the bread coming from in Subway? How many preservatives are in a McDo hamburger? I say lets protect the French!!!! For their culture is too beautiful and vast to see dwindle. & if you can come experience Europe for their food and culture, then do! It has taught me to slow down, be aware, undistracted, and find a deep joy 🙂

    • mbrighton March 22, 2013 at 15:58 #

      Hi Marie,
      Thanks for your wonderful personal story and thoughts on living in France. You must continue to spread the word and protect the food culture in France. It is too precious to lose. Please keep reading and let me know how things are going for you.
      Warmly, Mary

  3. Marisa September 24, 2012 at 18:12 #

    I work for a dietitian that uses the intuitive eating philosophy and only the intuitive eating philosophy. She, and I as well, have had eating issues in the past — binge eating, emotional eating, restriction, compulsive exercise. In her experience with clients, the relationship with food has skewed away from ‘normal’ as a result of dieting (whether their definition of dieting mean a limitation on calories or limitation on certain types of food). Intuitive eating is the only solution. Since I learned about and started eating intuitively, I have never felt so ‘free’ of the control I felt like food had over me! Thank you for posting this article! It’s very true!

    • mbrighton September 26, 2012 at 23:07 #

      Hi Marisa! Thanks so much for your personal and professional experience on working with a dietitian and your own ‘eating intuitively’ experiences. Your words are very helpful and appreciate your support and encouragement.


  1. Suzanne Saxe-R, Ed.D - September 26, 2012

    RT @mbrighton66 The Loss of Eating Intuitively in America: A Root of our Eating Crisis?: In France eating intuit…

  2. Mary Brighton - September 20, 2012

    {Latest Post} After writing "10 Simple Ways to Eat Like the French Without Having a Food Snob Attitude" (get your…

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