Can You Trust Your Gut?

Intuitive Eating in an Age of Ultra-Processed Food

Manya Ronay

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Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

I recently attended a class on Intuitive Eating, a “revolutionary anti-diet approach” helping people connect to their bodies and minds. The philosophy is appealing: honor your hunger, listen to your body and eat consciously.

The framework was developed by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch after they got fed up with diet culture. Intuitive Eating empowers individuals to make mindful, guilt-free food choices aligned with their bodies.

The rules are simple: eat what you want, whenever you want, and however much you want. It might sound crazy, but the point is for people to listen to their unique biological cues instead of external cues telling them what to eat.

I love the concept…but something felt off. After years of studying sugar and ultra-processed food, I know we can’t always rely on our internal cues to guide us in the right direction.

We might crave something because it has addictive properties, not because our body actually needs it. In fact, what if much of our food supply is specifically designed to keep us coming back for more?

To answer this question, let’s start by exploring something sweet: added sugar.

A Sweet Reward?

Photo by Caspar Rae on Unsplash

Sugar is added to at least 74 percent of ultra-processed food products, including both sweet and savory foods. Cereal, packaged bread, frozen meals, protein bars, yogurt and salad dressing can all contain added sugar (even if they’re marketed as healthy)

Check the label to see if a product contains added sugar, but be careful: sugar is concealed in the marketplace by at least 300 different names. Rice syrup, cane crystals, glucose solids and fructose all mean added sugar. Thankfully, the FDA now requires companies to list the amount of added sugar on the Nutrition Facts.

Research shows that sugar activates the reward center in our brain and triggers the release of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone. Usually, dopamine is released when we consume new foods, and it…

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Manya Ronay

Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®) and Internal Family Systems (IFS) practitioner specializing in food and health.