Intuitive eating is our birthright. We are born being able to innately listen to and trust our body’s cues around food. As we grow up, these cues can easily become distorted and ignored because of media messages that teach people how to diet, family rules around food like ‘finish your plate,’ and developing negative body image.
It’s powerful to re-discover these hunger cues and being able to trust your own body to guide you around what and when to eat rather than using self-imposed rules or diets.
Yet, during eating disorder recovery, you may not even feel hunger or fullness cues.
This isn’t irreversible, and it’s a protective mechanism for your body. In fact, it’s your body’s way to protect you by conserving energy and not feeling starving all the time when it realizes it’s not getting enough nourishment.
Fullness cues may be missing or distorted as well. You may feel full after a small amount of food, or you may try to avoid any fullness signals at all.
Along with that, many people have thoughts and beliefs attached to feeling hungry or full and may really enjoy the sensation of hunger while feeling anxious when feeling full.
In your eating disorder recovery, intuitive eating may be a goal for you, and it’s possible to work towards it. Yet, it’s important to consider where you are, and recognize that true intuitive eating may not be a possibility for you at first.
A structured meal plan is often set up for clients at first, and it can be incredibly helpful to re-learn what normal eating patterns and amounts are for meals and snacks. You can still use intuitive eating during this process, in these three ways.
Start to notice the cues for hunger from your body
Hunger feels different for everyone. Even if you no longer notice hunger from your stomach, you can notice signs like feeling light-headed, decreased concentration or focus, or feeling irritable. These are often signs from your body that it’s not getting enough energy and your blood sugar may be too low.
Honor any hunger you do have
As you start to use a meal plan, you may notice hunger cues slowly returning. It’s really important to honor the hunger you do have by having a meal or snack, even if it’s additional beyond your meal plan. Yes, you may feel hunger randomly in the afternoon after you’ve already eaten your lunch and afternoon snack. This could be a sign that your previous meal was too small to keep you satisfied, or that you just need a little extra food that day.
Make peace with food
Intuitive eating goes beyond hunger and fullness. It also means giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods and gradually removing the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ food labels. You could start by making a list of your fear foods with your dietitian and working together to add them back into your life. By challenging yourself, you can expand the variety of foods you are eating and change your mindset around previously feared foods.
If you’re feeling frustrated that you can’t eat intuitively during your recovery journey, don’t give up. Luckily, you can’t ‘fail’ at intuitive eating, and it’s a unique process for each person. By starting to notice and honor your own body’s cues, you can start to trust your body again.