Colorado: In Network with United Healthcare, Cigna, Aetna, and more! | Accepting New Patients in CO, TX, UT, NY, OH, KY, IN, TN, WA

Intuitive Eating: What Is It and How Can It Work in Eating Disorder Recovery?

Happy woman on a video call

In a world consumed by fad diets, wellness superfoods, and unrealistic body standards, it’s not uncommon for many of us to fall into the harmful trap of diet culture. In many cases, being constantly exposed to destructive diet culture trends can lead to negative body image, disordered eating, and long-term eating disorders.

You may be asking: If diet culture is so prevalent in our society, what can we do to combat its negative effects? One way is to use an intuitive eating approach when making food and eating decisions.

Just as the name suggests, the intuitive eating approach places trust in your body’s intuition to make decisions about what food your body needs at that exact moment. But for someone with a history of disordered eating or an eating disorder, how does the intuitive eating approach fit into the recovery process?

Let’s talk more about the principles of intuitive eating and how it fits into each individual’s unique recovery journey. Here’s what to expect:

  • What is Intuitive Eating?
    • 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
  • Moving From Structured Dieting to Intuitive Eating
  • Incorporating Intuitive Eating Into Everyday Life
  • Can Intuitive Eating Fit Into Your Recovery Journey?

What is Intuitive Eating?

When you first hear intuitive eating, it may sound like just another fad diet or trend – but this is not the case. Intuitive eating encourages eating choices in accordance with hunger and satiety cues rather than retracting to emotional or triggering eating decisions.

The intuitive eating approach was founded in 1995 by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch – two dieticians who aimed to help people heal from the negative effects of chronic dieting and diet culture. Their research also pinpointed that intuitive eating may be an effective technique for individuals recovering from eating disorders.

Tribole and Resch’s research on intuitive eating indicated 10 principles that all coexist with one another – let’s take a look:

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with food
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Feel your fullness
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor
  7. Cope with your emotions/honor your feelings
  8. Respect your body
  9. Gentle movement and exercise
  10. Honor your health with gentle nutrition

Even with substantial research on the positive effects of intuitive eating out there, many people still question how it can fit into eating disorder recovery. This is mostly due to people with eating disorders having minimized hunger signals, which does happen to contrast with a significant principle in this approach.

However, a 2017 study that examined different treatment approaches within the same eating disorder recovery center showed a significant link between the ability to eat intuitively and positive treatment outcomes in patients.

This study shows that intuitive eating can be an effective technique for individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, but only when accomplished with the help and support of a trained professional alongside them.

Moving From Structured Dieting to Intuitive Eating

While intuitive eating has been proven to help people develop healthier relationships with food on a long-term basis, it shouldn’t be the only approach.

Individuals with varying types of eating disorders often have rigid and structured rules surrounding their diet and food choices. When these rules are broken, it can often cause extreme distress and anxiety for the individual who’s struggling. 

Therefore, at the beginning of eating disorder recovery, it’s crucial to work with a specialized professional who can tailor a meal plan that supports your nutritional needs. This not only allows you to relearn and normalize healthy eating habits but also unlearn any negative thoughts or behaviors that could be destructive to the recovery process.

However, even with a structured meal plan to balance and restore nutrition, individuals in eating disorder recovery can still start applying the principles of intuitive eating during mealtime and other food-related instances. Here are some examples:

  • Remove the words “good” and “bad” from talk about food – instead, food should be considered X or Y
  • Handle “fear foods” (and cope with negative feelings/emotions surrounding them) 
  • Recognize hunger and fullness cues both during and outside of mealtimes

TIP: For people in eating disorder recovery, understanding the sensations in your body and how they might correlate to underlying emotions is extremely helpful for recognizing both hunger and fullness cues. The Recovery Box’s Body Sensations Wheel is an incredibly helpful tool designed to help you identify negative emotions with any physical sensations you may be experiencing. 

Once an individual has moved far enough along the recovery process, the goal is to apply the intuitive eating approach without rigid or structured meal planning. 

Although, it’s important to remember that the recovery process isn’t linear. Many people in eating disorder recovery choose to go back to a structured meal plan – with the help of a professional – that supports their nutritional needs. This not only takes the pressures of making food choices off one’s back but also prevents individuals from completely relapsing into eating disorder behaviors.

Incorporating Intuitive Eating Into Everyday Life

As you progress in your recovery, you may start to rely less on structured meal plans and more on your body’s intuition – especially when it comes to identifying hunger and fullness signals. In order to make this shift successfully, it’s always best to work with a mental health professional or specialized support team.

Using the principles of intuitive eating, here are some things you can do to combat the pressures of diet culture and stay on the right track to a healthy, successful recovery:

  • Challenge negative and/or disordered thoughts about food rules and eating habits
  • Practice gentle nutrition by making food choices that are good for your health and bring you joy
  • Cope with negative feelings and emotions surrounding body image or self-esteem
  • Incorporate gentle movement into your everyday life (engage in balanced and healthy exercise; not over-exercising)

Can Intuitive Eating Fit Into Your Recovery Journey?

Intuitive eating has proven to be an effective strategy for creating a healthier relationship with food long-term. Depending on what stage of recovery you’re in, intuitive eating may or may not be conducive to your recovery journey – but that doesn’t mean you can’t start incorporating some of the approach’s core principles.

The best way to know how the principles of intuitive eating can fit into your recovery journey is by seeking professional help. Especially for individuals at the beginning of recovery, having positive support and guidance is crucial for making long-term, healthy changes.

Here at VERY, we have an experienced team of specialized professionals who work exclusively with individuals diagnosed with all types of eating disorders. If you’re currently struggling with a disordered or negative relationship with food, schedule a free consultation to learn more about getting the help you deserve.