What Is Instinctive Eating?

Instinctive Eating Buffet Spread With Raw Fruits, Veggies, Meat, and Dairy.

Instincto Buffet Spread!

Hi, this is Ano speaking (a.k.a. “Zephyr”). I’ve been living a raw-foods, permaculture lifestyle on the Big Island of Hawaii for more than 20 years. I was led to this way of life through my passion for understanding food and its relationship to bodily happiness and a sustainable lifestyle. My quest actually began in 1990, when I dramatically changed my diet and began instinctive eating, which is a way to eat raw foods using our inborn instincts. Later, in 1996, I published the book Instinctive Eating: The Lost Knowledge of Optimum Nutrition and began to formally teach about eating instinctively. I now believe that understanding how our instincts relate to food and health is crucial knowledge for anyone who eats. So I’d like to share the essence of what I’ve discovered over the last two decades of happily eating by instinct.

All diets are based on fundamental principles or assumptions. These may be scientific, cultural, aesthetic, ethical, spiritual or intuitive. And all diets have varying degrees of effectiveness and pleasure, for different people at different times. The reality is there are a lot of diets to choose from–if you are a Homo sapiens. But if you are any other animal on this diverse Earth, there is only one diet to choose: instinctive eating! Let me explain.

Instinctive eating is not a new way to eat. It isn’t the latest twist on vegetarianism, nutritional composition, body-typing, Eastern wisdom or health-oriented diets. Rather, it’s the inherent living system for selecting, eating and digesting foods within our native biology. The way it works is incredibly simple yet exceedingly effective. Imagine it’s 50,000 years ago. You are hungry, walking on the beach, looking for food. Essentially, the only foods available are raw, whole, organic and wild–what I call an “original” food. Next to a salt-water pool, you find a pile of seaweed, a group of rocks, a cluster of clams, a maggot-covered fish, fifteen fallen crab apples and a broken, evacuated beehive laden with honey. How do you know what to eat and what not to eat?

Class Group Partaking of the Buffet. Food from our permaculture homestead.

Smelling food at an Instincto Buffet Lunch!

Simply put: the nose knows. Like a dog, you smell the foods, look for the best-smelling item and put that one in your mouth. If it tastes good, you eat it. Then you forage for some more of that food. This is most significant. The smell of a food is valuable sensory data to the instincts. The pleasurableness of the smell indicates that it might be nourishing food. If after passing the nose test, it also passes the taste test, you know (bodily) that this is a good food for you at this moment. It’s that simple and direct!

So why would you stop eating? This is the most magical part. An original food’s taste will actually change in your mouth as your body’s nourishment needs are met (the ones that this particular food offers). In other words, the honey or seaweed that at first tasted exquisite will become less and less delicious until it is actually painful to continue to eat. Really! The sensory experience changes even though the food remains the same. That’s because the body is a most sophisticated signal-receiving and data-processing organism. It’s perfectly designed to prevent overeating thanks to the taste change. Even if you are still hungry, you will not be able to eat more of a particular food as long as you are sensitive to your body’s messages to stop. Why? It just won’t taste good anymore (unless you use condiments to mask and extend the flavor of this now non-nourishing edible).

Ano and a Student Doing Some Instinctive Eating Tests.

The nose knows!

This basic process is effortless and present in all animals. Essentially, instinctive eating yields tremendous clarity, liberation and the security that you’re eating the best foods for you – and only in the quantities you need – as well as generating profound, long-term health benefits. And it all happens through following your pleasure!

Jackfruits Laden on the Tree.

Jakfruits on the tree!

So what happens if you eat a non-original food that no longer accurately communicates with your instincts? Let’s take a look: A crab apple’s smell and taste clearly reveals the essence of what that crab apple is, what its “nutrient makeup” is and what its subjective value to you is. However, apple pie is a different story. The smell (especially right out of the oven) no longer accurately represents the essence of the food. And because of the cooking process and the combining of many foods, the taste change is now either completely absent, muted or blurred. But your body is genetically programmed to “believe” that if something smells good you might need it and if it tastes good you do need it. So it is totally natural to want to eat apple pie! Your body is following its innate intelligence. But the food is no longer living up to its end of the relationship by telling you the truth. It’s saying to your instincts (via its always-attractive smell and taste) that it is an always-needed food. Well, need I say, this isn’t always the case. And unfortunately, the symptoms of this tiny misunderstanding around food and instincts are displayed as immeasurable suffering worldwide.

Nowadays most of our dietary arts and sciences involve non-original food, eaten in a non-instinctive way. Additionally, they’re tragically unrelated to our bio-instinctual system, which is prior to all the overlaid culinary systems. Because of this, we’ve developed boundless techniques for deciding what to eat, when to stop, and, indeed, what is considered food. These include endless diets, cultural dictates, weight loss and weight gain programs, using willpower to control eating, gluttony, eating disorders, guilt, shame – the list goes on and on. These are all sadly ineffective and inferior approaches compared to our inborn instinctive system, which can be trusted to handle all our food-selecting, eating and digesting with impeccable grace and effectiveness. It’s the right tool for the job. What a relief!

Urbah drinks milk fresh from the cow.

Raw Milk Rebel!!!

So what’s the cost for this relief? Basically, there is one primary discipline: Only eat foods whose smells and tastes accurately represent their essence and that also communicate an accurate taste change.  Or as I like to say it, “I only eat foods that tell the truth.”  Practically speaking, this means selecting only from whole, raw and organic foods. This might sound like a frustrating limit, but there are many of us who have walked through this doorway and have been happily surprised to discover an oasis of deep pleasure, combined with sustainable health and Earth-intimacy.

There are also some secondary disciplines: Eat only one food at a time so that the taste change (or stop) on that particular food can be most easily “heard.” And provide yourself with a wide range of original foods to choose from. Of course having a bunch of other hairless apes to eat instinctively with helps!

One final point . . . This instinctive system doesn’t only work with raw fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, bee products and water. It also works with free-ranging, raw and organic fish, meats, eggs and insects. This might concern folks with ethical or spiritual considerations around eating animals or animal products. These are valid concerns and I honor the spirit from which they arise. However, the instinctive process exists and functions prior to ethics and religion. This is shamelessly demonstrated in the natural world where some animals are carnivores, some omnivores and some herbivores. There are many schools proclaiming which kind of a “vore” humans are. But regardless of the opinions of these different schools, raw meats do smell and taste good to many humans and are found to digest properly and nourish profoundly.

Kids chow down on raw meat and veggies.

A healthy and delicious raw meat meal!

Again, from an instinctive point of view, the fact that these foods are sensually attractive is important information that indicates the body truly needs them for health and well-being. So if you don’t like the fact that raw animal foods function according to the same principles as other raw foods, you might have some soul-searching to do. (And yes, it’s also true that some instinctive-eating humans find raw meat totally unnecessary for their particular bodies, and this, too, is fine. In fact, it validates the instinctive process: No two humans have the same dietary needs, and indeed, a particular human’s dietary needs usually change as that person’s age and circumstances change.)

Most of us have been trying to navigate the dietary maze in some form or other for quite some time. What I’ve found is that the body already knows the way, and as we follow its wisdom, the labyrinth becomes a delightful romp in the garden. I invite you to explore your own body and instincts, and see if this message is validated in you. It might herald the beginning of a whole new sensibility around food, diet, health, and life altogether. It certainly has for me, and I wish the same possibility for you.

If you’re interested in exploring instinctive eating further, here are some suggestions:

Read Instinctive Eating: The Lost Knowledge of Optimum Nutrition, by Zephyr.
Talk to me directly about Instinctive Eating/Raw Foods Diet Coaching or other aspects of sustainable and holistic lifestyle. E-mail me at our Contact page.
 Join one of our 16-Day GaiaYoga Immersion Experiences, where you will directly learn about instinctive eating.


Front cover of Instictive Eating by Zephyr. $15 –  Instinctive Eating: The Lost Knowledge of Optimum Nutrition, 1996 (paperback, autographed, w/shipping)

The truth about food underlying every other approach to diet on the planet!  Before there was vegetarianism, veganism, Aruyuvic diets, The Primal Diet, ethnic diets, grain-based diets, and every other man-made approach to eating food their was (and still is) Instinctive Eating.  End the confusion around diet once and for all.  Find out how our biology is inherently designed to interact with food.  Just like every other animal knows how to eat naturally without a diet or recipe book, humans can too!