The SparkPeople Blog

Poll: Do You Trust Your Own Body?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
3/10/2009 6:01 AM   :  92 comments

According to many experts, one of the things that separates “normal” from “abnormal” eating is that normal eating is based on listening to your own body. You eat when your appetite lets you know you’re hungry, and you stop when you begin to feel full; your food choices are guided mainly by your own preferences. You care about good nutrition, obviously, and you put in the effort it takes to know what your body needs, and where you can get those things. But you also trust your body to know what it needs and to let you know when things are out of balance. There’s no need to get all wrapped up in a bunch of rules about which foods are good and which aren’t.

Sounds pretty good, right? Who wouldn’t prefer this simple, pain-free approach over chronic worrying about calorie balances, nutrient ratios, and finding just the right approach for your individual metabolism, so you can get and keep your weight where you want it to be?

But how realistic is this? Does it really make sense to think your natural appetite and food preferences can guide you to healthy eating when there is so much good tasting, calorie-dense junk food around?

And what if you need or want to lose a fair amount of weight? Isn’t it your appetite and your preferences that, at least partially, got you into this situation in the first place? Can you really rely on them to get you out of it now, or do you actually need some rules to follow in order to get your diet and your exercise in order?

I don’t know about you, but when I was first setting out to lose weight, the idea that I should listen to my body and do what it tells me made about as much sense to me as putting the fox in charge of the hen house. I felt like my body was the problem, not the solution. If I had ever had a natural “appetite regulation” system, it must have broken down a long time ago.

I’ve since learned that I was wrong about that—it wasn’t broken. The real problem was something else.


The real problem was that my relationship with food and eating didn’t have much to do with how much energy I needed or even what I liked to eat. It was mostly about using food to deal with emotional problems and other aspects of my life that I didn’t know how to handle directly. It took me a while to realize this, and a while longer to turn that realization into some concrete, effective ways of dealing with all this other “stuff” without relying on food and eating to do it for me.

And then it took more time and work to get reacquainted with my body again, and learn how to listen to the things it had to tell me. That was pretty tricky. It had been so long since I hadn’t overeaten almost all the time that I actually had no idea what real hunger felt like, or how to tell I was getting full before I had already gotten to the point that I was totally stuffed. And I had felt so bad and hostile towards my body for so long that the idea of actually trusting it to know how to do the right thing seemed like a bad joke.

But these days, I think of myself pretty much as an intuitive eater. I know that, if I take the time to be mindful of what my body is telling me, I can enjoy eating what I want without having to worry about falling back into old habits and regaining a bunch of the weight I lost. It never even occurs to me to buy a lot of the foods that used to cause me problems, but I’m able to eat and enjoy them if that’s what the situation calls for, without worrying about it.

I don’t always succeed at being totally mindful. When the stress levels in my life go way up, so do my chocolate consumption, and my tendency to do some extra comfort eating on autopilot and compensate for it by doing more exercise. But I succeed often enough so that my eating is no longer one of the things that causes stress for me, and that’s a very big and welcome change.

So is actually trusting my body to know what to do, instead of being afraid of its “lack of control” or hating it for how it looks or feels. That fear and hatred kept me stuck on the yo-yo diet path for a very long time, and never produced a way of life I could actually live with.

How do you relate to your body? Do you trust it to be your guide when it comes to healthy eating and exercise?


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Comments

  • 92
    I am connected to my body and mind. I listen to my body when it's tired, ill, in pain, screaming because it's holding too many emotions, needs to move, needs to sleep, needs to eat, needs to drink water and so much more. I celebrate my body because for so long I wasn't even aware that I had a body. I've let my body down more times than I can mention, yet it always forgives even if it doesn't forget. My body is me and me is my body. In regards to eating, its simply a piece of a whole and when one comes through darkness, the body in all its imperfections is a wonderful site to see. - 2/19/2010   1:37:22 AM
  • 91
    No I certainly don't trust my own body, not yet anyway. I eat in the evenings, when I'm not even hungry. that is emotional eating, for sure. My body isn't telling me to stop, or at least not LOUD enough. - 2/18/2010   12:55:08 PM
  • 90
    It depends on how you look at it. Maybe at some future point when I’ve established more control and understanding of my diet, and fitness, and what exactly it takes day to day for me to be healthy, then perhaps it would make sense to relax a bit and listen more to body signals and cravings instead of constant tracking and unrelenting awareness. But at this point, I’d be a fool to leave it to body signals alone. That whole system is under repair. I need a lot more practice before I can trust my body signals or even my judgment. I have a palate to retrain, and better habits to establish. I need some real long-term success under my belt. Success that has eluded me so far. - 10/26/2009   5:07:04 PM
  • 89
    Lots of very good points here. Clean plate club was definitely an issue for me. I never knew how to listen to my body. I eat slower now, but I used to be able to inhale a meal very quickly. - 9/19/2009   2:58:58 PM
  • 88
    The fact that people don't listen to their bodies also stems from early childhood and parents who insisted that their children eat everything on their plate - as children, many of us did not learn to listen to our bodies - we were taught to obey our parents or other EXTERNAL authorities. We were not taught to listen to our bodies, so for many, it's a natural skill that was suppressed and now, as adults, we tend to rely on external sources again - diet pills, schedules, etc. to help us lose weight, rather than listening to our bodies. We, as a society, need to re-learn how to listen to our bodies and respect the signals it give us, whether about eating, pain, emotions. We need to relearn how to communicate with our body and help guide it to making healthier requests. And then we need to teach this same way of listening to our children before we continue an unhealthy eating cycle. Please...no more Clean Plate clubs!!! Let's teach our children to listen to their tummys and decide for themselves then they are full. Give them healthy choices when they are hungry, but don't make them eat everything on their plate - that's how many of us got to where we are today! - 9/1/2009   10:10:19 AM
  • 87
    This is a great article. I would love to be more intuitive. I am mostly on auto-pilot; I get a feeling of desperate hunger, but sometimes what I need is water or even more bizarre, I just need to relieve my bladder! How can I get confused with something like that?!? But truly, I can't tell you how many times I've been hanging on the refrigerator door, looking for SOMETHING, ANYTHING, to eat and realized I just need to pee! - 8/3/2009   5:06:42 PM
  • 86
    I am still having a problem with eating slowly. The jobs I worked didn't give us much time so I got into this bad habit of eating fast. As far as listening to my body I am beginning to learn so now just learn how to slow it down. - 6/7/2009   10:20:16 PM
  • PTREINER
    85
    A book I found helpful is Feeding the Hungry Heart: The Experience of Emotional Eating
    by Geneen Roth.

    The author was an emotional overeater and self-starver who finally broke free from years of bingeing and purging and went on to help many others do the same. Her book includes lots of stories from people she met along the way. I recommend it for anyone who battles against hunger that goes deeper than a need for food. - 4/30/2009   2:07:55 PM
  • 84
    This is far and away the single most important thing I have learned!

    Learning how to listen and respond to what your body tells you is the most amazing thing.

    I spent most of my life not paying any attention to it and I won't even start on all the problems that caused. Learning to listen to your body and understand what it is telling you is pretty much like learning any new habit. It takes practice, but eventually it becomes second nature.

    I can't even begin to describe how liberating it is to finally have my mind and body in synch rather that having them work against each other.

    Your body doesn't lie. You mind does. If your body says I need food, it needs food. It will also tell you when you have had enough if you are listening. The tricky, and rather ironic, thing is that the key to this practice is first being able to separate mind from body so that you know which one is "talking". Only then can they work together for mutual benefit. - 3/22/2009   10:14:05 AM
  • 83
    I'm working on it. I started going to the pool and went from burning 500 calories a week to over 8,000. My body had a BAD time because I needed to eat more before I went swimming, not at night (when I like to eat). I have finally figured out how much to eat and drink before and after. I'm learning to cut down on the salt and enjoy healthy cooking. I've also learned that there are some healthy foods I cannot eat. It has taken time but I think things are getting better. - 3/15/2009   11:49:25 AM
  • 82
    I look in the mirror some days and think 'yuk, you dont look good today' and other days when I exercise and do strength training I feel proud, I seem to dislike my middle area and bottom, I always have an issue with them. But I am still trying!! - 3/14/2009   6:52:54 AM
  • MEFAIRCLOTH
    81
    I have NOT listened to my body for a few years--and it's obvious. I relate to this article; I am an emotional eater and was today at lunch. Celebrating Friday and instead of choosing the vegetable medley, I chose the taco salad with big crispy shell. I even said "it's Friday!; lets celebrate". But, I am learning, especially after I looked up the calories and fat in a taco salad. It is an opportunity for change and even though my emotions overrode my good sense I will order it again, but without the shell. For that reason, I heartily agree: THIS IS A PROCESS for me and a lot of other people. The support on this website is tremendous and rather than beat myself up, I will make a better choice next time. - 3/13/2009   9:58:20 PM
  • 80
    I think that our bodies get adjusted to a cerain volume and caloric intake of food and drink (as well as a certian level of activity). If I typically eat a snack at 3:00, my body expects to eat then. If I usually drink 8 cups of water and haven't, I feel dehydrated. I think the process of losing weight and getting healthy is adjusting our bodies to the "new way". So early on you may not be able to trust your body, but over time you can. The other piece is accurately listening to your body. If I had a heavy work-out in the morning sometimes I feel hungry for most of the morning but I have learned that I really need to drink water to get hydrated, not keep snacking. We have to really work to be in tune with what our bodies are telling us - sometimes the message is "drink up", sometimes we need a certain nutrient and need to listen to the craving and satisify it in a healthy way - not just reach for the usual snack. - 3/13/2009   2:42:06 PM
  • 79
    it's soo true

    i stop eating when i'm full

    there is no point to still eat- and then feel stuffed

    and i feel so much better when i stop and save the food for later or another day - 3/13/2009   9:31:54 AM
  • 78
    Great article. At one time I was an intuitive eater. I think I am ready to go back to that way of life. I will first have to break the habits. Going out for a soda at lunch, just to get out of the building, getting a certain unhealthy food just because I'm stressed or because it is Friday or payday. I have recently learned that I have many food sensitivities, one being to wheat. I now find myself having to choose: eat this and feel like I want a truck to hit me to that me out of my agony or just not eat something wheat and eat something else my body will feel good having afterwards. Talk about emotional eating. This article is a good arrow for pointing me in the direction I wish and hope to begin travelling in. - 3/12/2009   10:21:05 PM
  • 77
    I think it really depends on your genetic disposition. I have that survival instinct that tells me to eat as much as possible of everything I see. But that doesn't work in our modern world of convenience where ample food is everywhere. I have to be very mindful. - 3/12/2009   2:31:47 PM
  • SHERRYBG1
    76
    I found that sugar makes me over eat ,when I leave sugar alone I have a ton of energy and feel great,remember sugar has lots of different names. - 3/12/2009   10:38:32 AM
  • 75
    I have multiple allergies and chemical sensitivities and it has taken me a long time to figure things out. I still don't always know what causes a reaction, but I know that spinach may be what I craved yesterday and today I can't face the thought of it.
    Generally if I listen to my body it craves fruit and vegetables; and if I am really listening to it I realize that eating chocolate is fine (in small one square blocks a day, or every few days), but I don't need it all the time.
    I definitely think taht listening to your body is important. But it is also important to learn self-discipline to start with. And to try new foods. How can your body tells you it needs beets if you've never tried them before. All food has SOME nutritional value and your body will work with the limits you set it (which is why many people here in Ukraine are able to survive just fine on a diet that consists mainly of potatoes, cabbage, beets, onions and garlic), but if you give it more options it will often kick in and tell you that instead of that donut it would actually prefer a stuffed pepper.
    I also have some gall bladder trouble. Which I was not aware of until last year, but from my teen years I have been sensitive to fatty foods and typically don't fry my own food and use less oil or other fats in my cooking--because I just don't like it!
    My new roommate is allergic to fruit; she used to gag and throw up fruit as a child (like baby/toddler), but of course her parents and others just thought she was a picky eater. But obviously her body was saying "BAD"!
    I think listening to our bodies is very important. I've made huge health gains in my own life by listening to my body (and sometimes it even asks for more exercise!). I still need to lose weight and get in shape, but the more I listen to my body the easier it gets! - 3/12/2009   7:41:08 AM
  • 74
    I feel queasy if I eat before 10:00 am. I get up at 5:30 am.
    I am happy eating at 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. I also find that if I eat breakfast too early, esp if not high in protein, that I want to graze heavily all day or take a long nap. I wonder if there is some research on this. Cereal and bagels really start my cravings.

    I have started using a high protein shake(about half of the can) in 2 cups of my decaf coffee first thing in the morning after my glass of water with lemon. I take a high protein snack for my break around 10:00. I try to eat a salad for lunch with a little protein and some fruit. Now, if I could figure out how to eat dinner at 4:00 pm, I would be set. I usually take a sliced apple in my lunch box and eat it on my way home to dull my appetite till dinner.

    That plan works for me to lose and maintain weight. When I cannot follow it, then I start gaining. A few years ago, I lost over 30 pounds by eating that way and asking myself 3 questions when I wanted to eat.

    1. Am I really hungry or bored or wanting fill an emotional void?
    2. I am not really hungry, so find a fun activity to do instead.
    3. Okay, I am really hungry, what do I want?
    When I listened to my body and ate what it was craving, I found that I ate in moderation and was satisfied. When I tried to substitute, I still felt hungry and was not satisfied until I ate what my body craved. Sometimes it was a piece of steak, other times just a baked potato and occasionally a small Hershey's chocolate bar. - 3/11/2009   8:26:56 PM
  • THEVEKA
    73
    i completely agree with you. I have a hard time trusting my body. my tendency is to restrict and try to eat perfectly. I get to the point where I want to binge on something fatty/carby and calorie laden. I feel worried that if I trust my body's desires that I'll wake up one day 5000 lbs overweight and realize that I've subsisted on ice-cream sundaes and pizza for the last year. The idea of this is so frightening that I tend to hyper plan my meals.

    But I look back on my eating habits and realize that I crave healthy food almost all the time. It's just that other 20% that still frightens me. I don't feel okay eating a dessert every day. I don't want to gain weight. I'm trying to lose!! - 3/11/2009   8:06:28 PM
  • 72
    I definitely was clueless at first about what my body really wanted/needed, but I've become more in tune with it. I let it dictate when I eat and what I eat, but I keep most of the control over how much I eat. I also religiously use the nutrition tracker, but I don't stress too much if my body tells me to eat over my recommended range, because I figure if I feel the hunger in my stomach, then I must need it. I just try to make sure I don't satisfy that hunger with too much food. - 3/11/2009   6:45:13 PM
  • 71
    I do listen to my body most of the time. However there is always room for improvement. - 3/11/2009   6:15:55 PM
  • 70
    Yes - at times I listen to my body. Sometimes I just eat cause I want it - sometimes I listen to my boy and its needs when I am feeling weak... like more protein, potasium, etc. - 3/11/2009   5:36:47 PM
  • 69
    No I do not trust myself with food! Otherwise I wouldn't need to lose weight. I do know when to listen to my body when exercising. I know when to push myself & when to back off. Now if I could just get the eating part right . I'd be in heaven. At least I think I would. : ) - 3/11/2009   4:59:20 PM
  • 68
    I don't! And for good reason. My body is amazingly slow at sendign thre full signal. Forget eating slower. It just doesn't work. So, I pre-propotion my meals. If by chance I do feel full before the food is gone, I stop, but otherwise I clean my plate and stop. If I still feel hungry 45 minutes-1 hour later, then I know it's real and choose something else. I also know that just beucase something doesn't sound that good to me (the healthy meal I have planned) doesn't mean I won't enjoy it. I just push ahead and usually really like my meal. I've gotten better at cravign what is good for me, but my brain is still better than my gut in planning my food, even after 3 years and 85 pounds. - 3/11/2009   4:42:31 PM
  • 67
    I have generally listened to my body, and ate when hungry. My problem over the past was I would eat too much when I did eat. Now I find myself having to say " good grief you have not eaten yet" I get busy and forget to eat, which is almost as bad as eating too much. I love SP as it has given me back my body's mindset about eat when hungry, quit when almost full and eat slowly. Its working. - 3/11/2009   4:00:27 PM
  • CATFANCIER
    66
    My body is sometimes clueless about when it should stop eating (or avoid starting!), but it's usually pretty savvy about what nutrients it needs. I know that when I'm craving leafy greens, for example, my body is trying to replenish the nutrients they're rich in, and the same goes for dairy and fruit cravings. And even though I rarely eat meat, sometime I suddenly crave beef or lamb -- which tells me my body probably needs some heavy duty iron or B12 or something else I can get in big portions from red meat. So I go with the flow there. Now, if only my body would be equally good at knowing when it's had enough.... - 3/11/2009   3:23:20 PM
  • 65
    I rarely listen to my body not yet I just try and make sure not to get hungry, so I eat every three to four hours, its a learning in progress - 3/11/2009   2:11:59 PM
  • 64
    technically I don't ever listen to my body. That's how I got overweight in the first place. I eat at the same times each day, I never let myself get to "hungry." Whenever I've done that, I am not satisfied by normal portions. I also eat my predetermined amount. I don't eat until my stomach decides it's satisfied, because I literally have two settings, feeling the same as before I started eating or too full. I eat very slowly, so I know that's not the problem. But I have to stop eating before I feel too full, so I eat as much as I set out to. Doing so has helped me lose almost 100 pounds, so I'm happy with it. - 3/11/2009   12:58:35 PM
  • CYNNANE
    63
    I find that the more I listen to the hunger calls from my body the more weight I lose. It is so counter intuitive to eat more. I have been exercising so much more that my body was craving more and more food, but initially I fought off this urge and stayed low in my caloric range and I didn't lose a pound! Then I decided this week that if my body wanted more fod I would give it more food, AND in three days I lost a 1.5 pounds. I am VERY happy about this as I had been stuck for about three weeks.
    I think listening to hunger is a great way of keeping your metabolism going and giving your body what it needs! - 3/11/2009   12:06:40 PM
  • ANGIENYC
    62
    I think that intuitive eating is a great idea! I think it can be combined with your weight loss efforts and actually help you progress toward a more intutive way of eating, which is probably something we all strive for. I think it's just unrealistic to expect that we will be able to track calories every day from now on.
    I find that thinking about what I want/crave helps me avoid binge eating. So if I want pasta for lunch, that's what I'll have, or if I want desert after dinner. I think that denying yourself can backfire in ways that are far worse that having chocolate or ice-cream and consuming, say, 200 calories over limit on a particular day...
    Listening to what your body wants and attending to its needs (even if it's sometimes agaist the diet you're trying to follow) is an act of self-love. - 3/11/2009   11:30:12 AM
  • 61
    several months before - no way i could have totally trusted my body to tell me what to eat. However after spending 5 months with spark - i know i now can. For the last 3 1/2 weeks i have been under tremendous stress. Traveling, out of my comfort zone and dealing with immense grief. And i can say without a doubt - i overate only once and i have not gained a pound. Now if that isnt a huge accomplishement - i dont know what is. When we'd sit down to eat, i'd choose from the 3 that really looked yummy and then tried hard to determine what it was that i REALLY wanted. Huge milestone for me - changing decades of emotional eating patterns. Wow - Thanks SP! - 3/11/2009   10:37:48 AM
  • JAVENGREEN
    60
    Do you find that you can be an intuitive eater and still lose weight? It seems like stopping when you are full and exercising regularly, as well as making sure your jeans fit well, are good ways to maintain weight. But what about losing weight? - 3/11/2009   10:09:00 AM
  • 59
    I absolutely trust my body when it comes to exercise. As for food, it's about 50-50. I trust it, but I still keep track of my calorie intake here on Spark. - 3/11/2009   9:35:22 AM
  • 58
    I've always eaten healthy foods, but along with that also all the junk food, sweets, chips, take out etc. I have learned to curb all those extras, because of Spark, I still allow a few treats here and there, but before It was everyday. I don't trust my body, because it cries out for sweets everyday, I have learned to control it . - 3/11/2009   8:26:32 AM
  • 57
    I'm with you, Coach Dean - I slip up, but most of the time I can trust what my body is telling me. - 3/11/2009   7:39:01 AM
  • 56
    I can listen to my body. I also know when to ignore it, thank goodness! - 3/11/2009   7:13:11 AM
  • 55
    My mind is telling me to start eating salads. I weighed 220 and went down to 135 from small portions and eating my salads. I did that for 4 months and trying to get there again, except I'm at 148 and don't have too far to go. - 3/11/2009   1:13:20 AM
  • 54
    My INNER BRAT lies to me and is lazy and hates to exercise, so I can't rely on Spondulex at all. - 3/11/2009   12:30:57 AM
  • 53
    Becoming an intuitive eater is a PROCESS. You aren't either an intuitive eater or a non-intuitive eater, you're always somewhere on the spectrum. It's absolutelly worth working toward the intuitive end of the spectrum. If you make it even halfway, that's a lot of time NOT spent worrying about food. - 3/10/2009   11:58:22 PM
  • 52
    Yes, I found that I can trust myself when it comes to what I need to eat. I am an "intuitive" person. Lately, I have found that with changing the way I eat, I no longer crave certain foods and I have a better idea when I am full(eating slower). That said, I find that I must trust myself within reason. If I were to plan ahead, the ideas would make me very hungry. Instead of plannin ahead, I wait to see what I am hungry for and how much. - 3/10/2009   10:32:11 PM
  • CHIARA.DC
    51
    I know exactly what you mean when you say:

    "…my relationship with food and eating didn’t have much to do with how much energy I needed or even what I liked to eat. It was mostly about using food to deal with emotional problems and other aspects of my life that I didn’t know how to handle directly."

    The more I didn't like the way I looked the more I ate. If one morning I no longer fit in my old pair of jeans you could be sure I'd be eating junk food all day and especially at night in front of the TV. It was completely irrational that my dislike for myself led me to actions that only worsened what I already hated.

    Now that I'm trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle I understand that I need to listen to my body's needs, not my emotions. It's hard, as I'm sure many of you know, to learn to trust what you don't like to begin with, but it's the only way I can learn to love myself again.
    - 3/10/2009   6:26:32 PM
  • 50
    Right on about the emotional eating. I tend to do the same thing when I am under stress.

    For an example... I got stranded at work because my car died in the middle of the parking lot. I couldn't get a tow because it was brutally cold today and the past two days, too many cars stuck and the towing company wouldn't even pick up the call. I called my husband who was stuck in a meeting and couldn't come to help. Called a few clients but they were all out for lunch, didn't pick up. My son was about to come out from school and I had no mean to go to pick him up. Stress level rocketed through the roof! I finally got my car boosted and took it to the garage. Now I am at home, carless. Not sure if I can go to work tommorrow. My stress level is still high. I have been eating since the minute I got home. Not hungry, just stressed out. I finally got out some chewing gum and chewed away. That's the only way I could do to stop myself from keep putting more food into my mouth.

    It's great to be able to trust your body but there will be time you need to do what you need to do, just to save yourself. - 3/10/2009   5:23:13 PM
  • 49
    I tried this and didn't work for me very well.
    My calories are supposed to be over 1300 or 1400 to like 1700. But many days I was only eating 1200 or below because I just wasn't hungry! So most days I just plan meals the day before and aim to get so many calories (more on days when I work out) and then I try eating that much in a day.
    Sometimes I do get hungry around the time I plan to eat my snack...but otherwise not.... - 3/10/2009   2:56:32 PM
  • 48
    eating for me was just something to do, I am still working at learning to hear my body telling enough. so I kep measuring & weighting things to be sure they are the the guidelines!! - 3/10/2009   2:32:17 PM
  • WITCHYGODMOTHER
    47
    I trust my body, I actually got into trouble when I started eating for so many other reasons such as boredom or anger. Now I really pay attention to my body and it really has made a huge difference. - 3/10/2009   2:11:47 PM
  • 46
    in general I trust it - when my thyroid acts up, all bets are off! But even thyroid crazed body is getting better at realizing the whacky cravings and reality are NOT related!! - 3/10/2009   2:05:05 PM
  • 45
    I dont' think I can trust my body. My body feels a little sick when I don't eat processed carbs for every meal, and that doesn't mean I should give in! - 3/10/2009   1:45:19 PM
  • 44
    I agree with ChickoryA2. I've never been a big breakfast eater, and I don't get hungry until about 11AM. I too am a morning person (up no later than 6AM without amn alarm clock). Whenever I make a point of eating breakfast, I tend to be hungry all the time and overeat all day. I don;t know if I should eat breakfast because of all the hype, or do it "My Way". - 3/10/2009   1:36:02 PM
  • 43
    I think that intuitive eating is a great idea, it is just hard to put into practice. I am working on eating only when really hungry, and eating healthy foods that are tasty and good for you. I know that I am not ready to rely on this solely, but I am using the "french women don't get fat" approach. Every thing in moderation.... - 3/10/2009   1:20:42 PM

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