By Brad Kearns
Instinctively, your body knows exactly how much to eat and what balance of nutrients to obtain to function at peak levels. Dr. Clara Davis showed this in her noted work with young children. In her studies, children were presented with a variety of foods, both healthy and unhealthy, and allowed to eat whatever they wanted and as much as they wanted. Over time, they naturally and intuitively chose healthy foods in the exact balance of nutrients and amount of calories that they needed for peak function.
All animals, including adult humans, have an innate ability to control appetite and nourish themselves properly. Unfortunately, adult humans happen to be the only beings on the face of the earth that ignore or override natural appetite. Reasons include:
1. Dieting: Natural appetite is displaced in favor of the latest, greatest, best-selling diet. Popular diets invariably ask you to restrict the amount, content, combination or time that you eat your foods. The negative consequences of restricting or manipulating caloric intake away from natural appetite are numerous and well known. Briefly, diets set off a chain reaction of negative metabolic consequences, including energy level fluctuations, sugar cravings, fatigue, slowed metabolism (your body enters a genetically programmed starvation mode, burning fewer calories as a survival instinct) and increased stress levels (this leads to breakdown of muscle tissue into sugar for energy--another "survival" instinct against inadequate dietary nourishment).
2. Emotions: Due to lifelong attempts to "control" diet and overwhelming cultural pressure to be thin, many people have strong emotional connections to eating. Food is often used as a vehicle to provide comfort, relieve stress or escape problems. Or, food is consumed in a destructive manner (under- or overeating or by blatantly disregarding good nutrition), which is behavior related to low self-esteem and other emotional problems. Regardless of the reason, eating for emotional reasons rarely achieves anything positive and takes you further away from healthy eating habits.
3. Environment: Corporate America spends billions of advertising dollars every year to convince you that consuming junk food is an exciting, rewarding way of life. Fast food restaurants, vending machines and convenience stores offer little or nothing in the way of good nutrition. Even with good intentions, this environmental influence can lead you to unhealthy habits.
While the negative consequences of ignoring natural appetite seem obvious and easy to avoid, the typical high-stress modern lifestyle makes it very difficult to follow your natural appetite. During a busy day, the temptation to eat quick, cheap, fast food is overwhelming. Then as you suffer the consequences of undisciplined, unhealthy eating habits--namely excess body fat--you turn to a quick fix in the form of a regimented, calorically restrictive diet.
The inconvenience of eating highly regimented, impractical meals compromises realistic chances of long-term success. Consider that humans and their domesticated animals are the only members of the animal kingdom that suffer from obesity--a direct result of failing to follow natural appetite.
Animals in the wild follow a couple of simple rules that we should pay attention to:
1. They eat when they are hungry.
2. They finish eating when they are satisfied, not full.
Even predatory animals whose big kills are few and far between will not overstuff when they score their private Thanksgiving feast. They know intuitively that overeating may slow them down and inhibit their peak performance to the extent that they may become someone else's Thanksgiving!
Eat when you are hungry; eat only to the point that you are satisfied; and don't eat again until you are hungry. Deprivation and attempting to control food intake creates an unhealthy obsession with food, which leads to overeating and compulsive eating.
About this Author
Brad Kearns is a former national champion and No. 3 world-ranked professional triathlete and popular author, speaker and coach in the fitness world for the last 20 years. Brad's books "How Lance Does It" and "How Tiger Does It" help you apply the champion attitude and behavior qualities of these sports legends to own peak performance goals. His Breakthrough Triathlon Training offers a healthy, balanced approach to triathlon.
Find more on this topic, and everything health and fitness at Livestrong.com.