After the Vacation: Should We Trust Intuitive Eating (Mindful Eating)?

By Marsha Hudnall on 01/25/2006
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I just returned from a week’s vacation that included plenty of meals out with all the trimmings.  Perhaps it’s needless to say, but my pants are a tiny bit more snug than when I left.  So if I’m an accomplished intuitive eater, why did this happen?  According to intuitive eating ‘rules,’ I shouldn’t be eating more than my body needs if I’m listening, right?  Right.  But vacations present several situations that can interfere with successful intuitive eating.

First, vacations often don’t last long enough for one phenomenon that’s important to intuitive eating to occur.  It’s called sensory specific satiety.  In our everyday lives, we’re subject to that.  We get used to eating the same foods, even if we generally include a wide variety.  When we’re hungry, we look forward to eating those foods, but we often reach the point where we’re satisfied just a little bit earlier in the game than if the food is new, as it usually is on vacation.  When everything is new, it may take a few more bites to achieve satisfaction (if it’s tasty food).  If we continued eating these foods, then we’d eventually find them less interesting, and find our stopping point sooner.

Second, vacations generally mean eating out a lot.  When we eat out, we usually have a lot more courses than we might have at home.  Sensory specific satiety can play a role here, too, because with each new flavor, we often want to eat until we’re satisfied with that flavor.  That doesn’t mean eating a lot if we’re intuitive eaters because other factors that stop eating are more powerful.  For example, if we’re getting too full, then we stop because we don’t want to be uncomfortable, even though the taste might be something we really like and would like more of.  Still, we may often eat just a few more bites than we would at home when we don’t have as many choices, or again, when we have the choices as often as we like. 

There’s also another phenomenon with eating out that’s not well understood, but it has to do with portion sizes.  Studies show that when we have larger portion sizes, we tend to eat more.  And of course, restaurants – especially American restaurants — are generally known for larger portion sizes. In theory, this shouldn’t affect an accomplished intuitive eater, but because eating out is generally a social occasion, it could have an impact. Studies suggest that we eat more when we eat in groups than when we eat alone.  Probably has to do with not listening as closely to our cues, and the social role that food plays in our lives.  It’s a good time, but at the end of such an event, we might find we ate a bit more than we really want to.

So it makes sense all that can add up to tighter fitting pants when we return home.  What to do about it?  Nothing, really.  If we return to our usual intuitive eating or mindful eating behaviors, our bodies will take care of any extra energy (calories) we’ve stored from vacation.  We won’t be as hungry as usual, and will find ourselves eating a little less – maybe not noticeably less  but it will be less – until our bodies normalize at their healthy weight.  It generally doesn’t take more than a week or so.   Now that’s something to come home to!

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