How Neuroscience Can Help You Become an Intuitive Eater

by Elyse Resch, RDN, CEDRD, nutrition therapist and author of The Intuitive Eating Workbook

I can’t count the times that potential clients have said, “If you tell me that I can eat whatever I want, I’ll never stop eating it!” To them, Intuitive Eating means eating whatever you want and as much as you want, whenever you want. But Intuitive Eating is more nuanced than simply making impulsive food decisions.

Intuitive Eating is an autonomous process. As a nutrition therapist, I don’t tell my clients what to eat. Instead, I guide my clients through the process of rediscovering their inner wisdom that helps them make decisions about eating. After all, most people are born with all the wisdom they need to know how to eat. Unfortunately, they get distracted from this wisdom along the way and need to be led back to it.

To start that journey back to freedom and safety in eating, it’s important to understand the neuroscience behind Intuitive Eating. Our brains are the masterminds of our behavior, including eating. The multi-faceted development of the human brain has a lot to do with how we decide what we eat and how much.

Way back in time, when the earth was occupied by dinosaurs, eating was a very different experience than it is today. Dinosaurs had a primitive layer of brain functioning, which we call the “reptilian brain.” This brain had only one function: to survive. So if a dinosaur saw another dinosaur to prey upon—prey it did! The dinosaur went after food in an instinctual way. It didn’t have the ability to have any feelings about food. The dinosaur wasn’t scared to eat it, the way many people with disordered eating feel when they’re about to eat. Actually, the dinosaur didn’t feel anything. It didn’t feel scared, excited, or even bored about eating. It simply ate to stay alive.

When animals evolved into mammals, their brains developed another level of brain functioning called the “mammalian brain” or the “limbic brain.” This…

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