Okay, I see you. You’re tired of the emotional rollercoaster ride you find yourself on when guilt starts to set after “overeating.” The emotional turbulence that comes with refusing a food that you actually really wanted. The discouragement you feel when a diet that “worked” . . . until it didn’t. The shame you experience when you “break a food rule.” You’re mentally and emotionally drained. Maybe physically, too.
Allow intuitive eating to enter the chat. You’ve probably heard about it. Maybe you have even tried it. Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to finally making peace with food and your body. If you’ve been following our blog, you know we’re big fans of this concept. Intuitive eating is all about tuning out the external noise that influences our internal dialogue about food, eating, and our bodies. Practicing intuitive eating allows us to silence the “food police” and lean into a harmonious mind-body connection while eating. Intuitive eating gives us the tools to take foods out of figurative containers that are labeled as “good” and “bad.” However, intuitive eating encompasses much more than this; it operates on ten principles that go beyond honoring your hunger and fullness.
Intuitive Eating: Before Taking the First Step
If you’re recovering from an eating disorder or if you are simply exhausted from following diet culture’s lead, intuitive eating may sound equal parts inviting and intimidating. Both a breath of fresh air and scary trek down an unfamiliar road. And let me say: it can be all of these things. My own journey to, through, and with intuitive eating has been challenging, nonlinear, and, at times, discouraging. But it’s one that is incredibly worth it.
An important note before you read on: If you are in eating disorder treatment, it is always best to follow the treatment plan designed for you by your team. Everyone’s healing journeys are different, and your treatment team knows you best. Working toward a mind-body connection through intuitive eating is something that has been part of my own healing journey, but be sure to consult your own therapist, dietician, or other professional before engaging in anything new if you are in the midst of recovery.
The Internal Struggle when Starting an Intuitive Eating Journey
If you have tried intuitive eating and it just hasn’t quite worked, you haven’t “found your rhythm,” or if it feels frustrating and unattainable, I get it. Intuitive eating sounded so inviting and, well, intuitive when I first learned about it. We were born intuitive eaters, so it couldn’t be that hard to reengage with how my body and mind were designed to function as it relates to food, hunger, fullness, and all of the emotions wrapped up in all of these.
I desperately wanted to engage in strategies that would help me permanently break free from dieting, restriction, and control, and it sounded like learning about and engaging in intuitive eating would help me do just that. I envisioned that it would swiftly move me toward long-term healing in my own recovery journey. Much to my dismay and frustration, engaging in the principles of intuitive eating felt just about as far from intuitive as possible at first.
A Paradigm Shift
I found myself unable to actually engage my heart and mind into the process. I might choose the ice cream over the grapes when I was craving something sweet, proud of myself for shutting down the food police that was telling me that I “really should satisfy my craving with fruit.” But then I would sit there still wishing I had eaten the fruit instead.
This is when I realized that practicing intuitive eating is an entire paradigm shift. It’s not a new fad diet that you can just “start” tomorrow. It requires a lot of learning and unlearning. Dismantling old habits and beliefs about food and identifying and purging internalized constructs of diet culture (that can still be deeply embedded into our belief systems, even when we are in ED recovery). I had barriers that I didn’t know needed to be broken down.
So, if you have tried intuitive eating and felt overwhelmed, intimidated, or discouraged, but you struggled to identify why, specifically, or if you want to better understand barriers that may make intuitive eating feel impossible, let’s talk.
A Few Reasons Intuitive eating may feel challenging (particularly if you are just breaking out of toxic diet culture or are recovering from an eating disorder):
1. Your body is unable to send regular cues about hunger and fullness
- Questions to ask yourself to assess barriers that may be preventing your body from being able to regularly send hunger and fullness cues:
- Am I struggling to eat enough on a given day?
- Do I have an unpredictable or irregular eating pattern?
- Are there reasons that I am eating (or not eating) that are contributing to an unpredictable eating pattern?
2. Your body is sending the signals, but you may be struggling to listen to them
- Questions to ask yourself to assess barriers that may be preventing you from listening to your body’s signals:
- Do I still have “halo effects” around certain foods I used to restrict?
- Have I become accustomed to dismissing or ignoring my body’s signals through dieting or disordered eating patterns?
- Do I feel like I am on autopilot and unable to even hear the signals my body is sending?
3. You hear the signals your body is sending, but your inner “food police” is making it difficult to trust them
- Questions to ask yourself to assess if your inner “food police” is interrupting your ability to trust your body’s signals:
- Do I feel guilty after eating certain types of food?
- Do I feel guilt or shame when I eat at a certain time of day?
- Do I look to outside sources to tell me whether a food is “good” or “bad”?
- Do I avoid eating something I want because I have internalized a belief that I have not earned the right to eat that food? Or because I have “already eaten enough/too much”?
So, if you’re considering trying intuitive eating again or if you’re intrigued by the idea of intuitive eating but are facing barriers that may be preventing you from fully embracing it, it may be worth consulting with your (or a) dietician or therapist to help you identify and unpack your barriers. It may even be helpful to look into finding an intuitive eating certified therapist or dietician in your area.
Your Intuitive Eating Journey: Research and Realities
Research consistently demonstrates the advantages of intuitive eating over dieting, even over “flexible dieting” (which, by the way, is just dieting with an unnecessary adjective in front of it). According to the National Library of Medicine, one study found that individuals who practiced intuitive eating experienced “lower levels of psychological distress, higher psychological adjustment, and lower rigid control” in comparison to those who practiced “flexible dieting.” I have found that, because intuitive eating promotes a positive relationship with food and body image, it is a more healthy, sustainable approach to wholeness and healing than any other diet or advice that diet culture tries to sell us on.
As you explore what intuitive eating has to offer, remember that it is a process that takes time, practice, support, and a whole lot of patience and grace. If you have tried it, are currently trying it or want to try it but are feeling stuck, start by asking yourself some of the questions above to see if you can identify a barrier. Identifying a barrier can give you the opportunity to address it so you can be one step closer to making peace with your relationship with food, eating, and your body. You deserve to be able to fully embody, enjoy, and find freedom on your journey toward peace with food, your mind, and your body.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
How Can Eating Disorder Therapy in Philadelphia, PA Help You?
If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you unpack and approach the the complex set of emotions you may experience as break free from diet culture and consider exploring intuitive eating, our therapists in Pennsylvania are honored to help! You can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.
Other Mental Health Services Provided by Wildflower Therapy, Philadelphia, PA
Life is a unique and sometimes messy journey for each of us; we all have our own individual battles to fight. Our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s challenges and because of that, we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services.
We offer services for eating disorder therapy, services for anxiety, and depression, and have practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health , maternal mental health, therapy for college students and athletes. As well as LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapy. As you can see, we have something to offer just about anyone in our Philadelphia, PA office. Reaching out is often the most difficult step you can take to improve your mental health. We look forward to partnering with you on this journey!