Does Your Body Know (What to Eat)?


I’ve been reading The Diet Survivor’s Handbook,[1] by Judith Matz, LCSW, and Ellen Frankel, LCSW. They tell heavy people not to diet, but to learn to trust their bodies to pick the right foods. “Eat when you’re hungry; eat what your body wants; stop when you’re full” is the mantra. But would this work for you? Should people with diabetes[2] trust their bodies? Let’s think about this…

I’m a big believer in listening to your body. In my book The Art of Getting Well,[3] I have a chapter called “Your Body — Love It or Leave It. ” My e-mail auto-signature reads “Love your body. Love your life.” I believe that we should let our bodies call the shots whenever possible. And I believe that food should be a source of pleasure, not worry.[4] But I can see three problems with this when it comes to diabetes and food.

First, there’s so much bad food[5] around. It’s so easy to get. We may have been trained to eat that food from the time we were children. So now we might think our bodies like it, when really they have never had a choice.

There’s also the issue of emotional eating[6]. A lot of times we get stressed or depressed and reach for comfort food, usually something packed with sugar or fat. We might think that our bodies want it, when really we’re just soothing our feelings.

Matz and Frankel spend a fair amount of space helping people deal with emotional eating. They advise people to ask themselves, “Is this what my body really wants?” “Can I wait a bit on this, or am I really physically hungry?”

They realize people have gotten way out of touch with their bodies. It takes time to relearn how to be aware of the body’s hunger and to hear what it really wants. They also know that emotions will get in the way, but promise that it will get easier with time.

Where does diabetes fit in?
But if you have diabetes, do you have time to learn this way of eating, which they call “attuned eating?” Especially if you’re on insulin[7], don’t you need to measure your carbohydrate intake and be careful about everything you eat? Can you trust your body to do it for you?

I asked Linda Bacon, PhD,[8] author of Health at Every Size, about this. Bacon teaches nutrition at City College of San Francisco[9]. She said that people with diabetes can learn attuned eating without any special difficulty. Even for people using fast-acting insulins, matching carbohydrate[10] to insulin isn’t an exact science anyway. Both carbohydrate absorption and insulin action vary with physical activity, temperature, and other things, she told me.

Bacon, Matz, and Frankel would agree that restricting your diet with numbers and rigid meal plans gets in the way of your body trying to do what’s right for itself. You may have to restrict somewhat, but try to do it as little as possible.

I would say that a person with diabetes might have to set more limits on emotional eating than other people do. It might be more important to get to the root of the stressors that drive unhealthy eating.

As Laurel Mellin, MA, RD, recommends in her book The Pathway[11], we might need to get good at asking: What am I angry about? What am I feeling sad, worried, or guilty about that is pushing me to eat this food? What would be a more realistic way of thinking about my situation that wouldn’t be so painful? That way, eating can go back to being something we do for our bodies, something we enjoy, not a drug to treat life’s stresses.

But what do you think? Can you trust your body to pick the right foods for itself? Can you hear your body’s hunger signals, and do you listen to them? Does following a diabetes meal plan interfere with your eating what your body really wants? Please let us know…I’ll have more to say about this next week.

  1. The Diet Survivor’s Handbook,:
  2. diabetes:
  3. The Art of Getting Well,:
  4. pleasure, not worry.:
  5. bad food:
  6. emotional eating:
  7. insulin:
  8. Linda Bacon, PhD,:
  9. City College of San Francisco:
  10. matching carbohydrate:
  11. The Pathway:

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David Spero: David Spero has been a nurse for 40 years and has lived with multiple sclerosis for 30 years. He is the author of four books: The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness (Hunter House 2002), Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis — Who Gets It, Who Profits, and How to Stop It (New Society 2006, Diabetes Heroes (Jim Healthy 2014), and The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the road to wellness (Smashwords 2015.) He writes for Diabetes Self-Management and Pain-Free Living (formerly Arthritis Self-Management) magazines. His website is His blog is

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