Humans are born with the ability to tell when they need some of life’s basic necessities. They know when they’re tired, thirsty or when they need something to eat. Registered Dietitian, Jenna Bautch, said this innate knowledge is called primal hunger.

Infants and small children who can’t verbally express their hunger, or lack thereof, show it by either taking interest in a meal or turning away from it. But, as people go through life, Bautch said society’s influence takes over the body’s primitive hunger instincts and replaces them with schedules. Eating becomes more about the time of day and less about when a person feels hunger.

That, along with a host of other societal and possible family influences, it’s common for children and adults to have a negative relationship with food, Bautch said. The fact that many parents deal with picky, compulsive or secretive food behaviors when children’s relationship with food is unhealthy.

Knowing that issues with food and eating can develop at an early age and last a lifetime, Bautch created a no cost family nutrition program offered through CHI St. Gabriel’s Hospital focused on raising an intuitive eater.

“The non-diet approach that really encourages people to become more aware of their hunger and their fullness cues and relying more on their body to tell them when to eat versus an external cue like a clock,” Bautch said.

The program removes any focus on weight and focuses on healthy eating habits.

“You don’t have to do portion controlling. You don’t have to do restrictive dieting,” Bautch said. “You really listen to your stomach and your body on how much to actually eat as well as the types of food.”

The family approach in the program will, Bautch said, hopefully break the cycle of children growing up with issues around eating.

“I get a lot of kiddos that come through my doors here at the clinic that have eating issues where they are maybe overweight or underweight, they’re picky eating or compulsive eating, but either way their relationship with food is just kinda down the drain,” she said.

In six classes held each week for free over Zoom, Bautch will teach people that there is not need to diet, since she sees it as a stepping stone to an eating disorder. The program gets back to the basics.

“We want to focus on teaching a kid when to eat: when they’re hungry. And teach them when to stop: when they’re full,” Bautch said.

In her research, Bautch found that intuitive eating can help people build self esteem and body positivity and decrease pressures or anxiety around food and weight .

“Raising an intuitive eater is really focusing on how to rebuild the relationship with food and the adolescent in a healthy manner that supports both longevity health as well as current health,” she said.

One focus of the program is teaching people not to restrict food, from themselves or a child.

“We get this idea that a diet is the way to go. When that diet doesn’t work, the person blames themselves versus the diet plan, because diets are too restricting. As a human being when you’re restricting something, you start to obsess about it. We try to make it work, but biologically you really can’t because your body starts to change its metabolism, its views on food, psychologically you start to obsess about food,” Bautch said.

Diets can also add a lot of stress and confusion to a person’s life, she said, with every program saying they’re right and others are wrong. With intuitive eating, there is no right or wrong, and a person’s body is making the plan.

“The only person who knows your body is you and that’s where you have to start to look back on is how does your body say when and what not to eat,” she said.

To work with varying schedules or being out of the house while hungry, Bautch encourages everyone to carry healthy snacks with them to tie them over until a meal can be consumed. Having a small snack, even if someone’s expecting to eat a meal in an hour, can prevent overindulging at the meal.

“That whole internal instinct starts to get turned off when we start to follow external cues like the clocks schedule or society’s pattern, so to break that is hard

And if making time for snacks is difficult, Bautch said that eating filling, healthful meals full of fiber, protein and carbs will keep a person fuller longer than say a quick bowl or cereal or a piece of fruit.

Starting the day, even with a simple banana and peanut butter or oatmeal and a cheese stick will keep someone full up to twice as long as a less nutritional meal, Bautch said. Whether someone is snacking throughout the day, or eating a few filling meals, she never recommends restricting or going hungry.

“When you restrict, your metabolism starts to either do one of two things. It starts to slow down and that’s what happens with chronic dieting, is your metabolism actually drops. The other thing that happens is your body starts to go into a state of primal hunger, it’s like a do or die survival mode,” Bautch said.

Restricting food and dieting can lead to cravings and binge eating, usually of foods high in carbohydrates. Bautch said kids waiting too long to eat when they are hungry can eat up to three times more at meal time.

“Those hunger pains you feel, those are ways your body is saying ‘OK, you’re getting low on energy. We need to get some energy now.’ It’s almost like the light on a gas gauge, it’s the first signal. If you ignore it then you run out of gas on the side of the road,” she said.

Bautch hopes the intuitive eating program will teach people to be well and support their health without worrying about a diet.

The program includes six 30 minute classes offered via Zoom, starting Tuesday, Sept. 15. To register or learn more, call Jenna Bautch at (320) 631-5539.

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