Our bellies know more about what we want than we may think. "About 60 years ago, scientists identified what they called the enteric nervous system, the part of the nervous system that enervates the digestive organs," says Marc David, a nutritional psychologist in Boulder, Colorado, and the author of The Slow Down Diet (Inner Traditions, 2005). "It's basically a brain in the belly, a separate yet interconnected nervous system. The bottom line is, we really do have a lot of intelligence in our gut." Here are four ways to key into this center of wisdom.

  1. Take five to ten long, slow, deep breaths into your gut and ask the question, "What am I hungry for?" Wait quietly for the answer.
  2. If you're longing for a certain food (say, a pint of ice cream), before you indulge, imagine swallowing every bite and feeling it in your belly. Does your gut react in a positive or negative way?
  3. When you think of eating, name the feeling that arises in your belly. Is it warm? Dull? Rigid? A sensation of softness and warmth in the belly means you're probably on the right food track.
  4. Don't judge yourself. "Know that this is about trial and error," says David, "not right and wrong. Try out your intuitive hits and see what happens."