It is nearly impossible to truly embody the principles of intuitive eating (eating what and how much your body—including your taste buds—tells you to eat) while engaging in an eating disorder. Eating disorders are about “should” and “should nots”, about impulse and control, about not trusting one’s body.
Intuitive eating is about mindfulness, about dispelling food rules in favor of flexibility, and above all, about body trust. An eating disorder brain cannot coexist with an intuitive eating brain, making intuitive eating one of our best tools to use in eating disorder recovery.
Here are six steps you can take to get closer to reaching recovery and becoming an intuitive eater.
1. Read “Intuitive Eating”
2. Keep practicing
Many people with eating disorders lost their ability to eat intuitively when they were young. Messages about foods being “good” or “bad”, rules about times of day when it is or is not appropriate to eat, and ultimately, the idea that our bodies are out to betray us when it comes to food can be learned early, when we’re most susceptible to absorbing cultural messages without question. If your connection to your intuitive eating voice was lost when you were very young, and if you’ve spent years to decades using external rules to choose when and what to eat instead of using your internal cues, it’s going to take a while to reestablish that connection. The key to success is to keep practicing, even when (especially when) you doubt your intuitive eating voice will ever come back. It will.
3. Keep a running list of your food rules, then practice breaking them.
Even people who aren’t struggling with eating disorders have food rules. Food rules usually include words like “should, shouldn’t, can’t, and have to”. Food rules are external, meaning they originated somewhere other than your own wisdom about what your body needs. While they may disguise themselves as helpful guidelines, their main function is to further separate you from your body and reinforce the idea that your body doesn’t know what it needs (which is just as preposterous as saying your body doesn’t know when it needs to breathe or sleep!). Breaking food rules can feel scary, especially at first, so start small and pay attention to what happens before, during and after the experiment.
4. Remember, body trust goes both ways
We talk a lot about relearning to trust our bodies in the process of eating disorder recovery. Remember that your body also needs to relearn to trust you. If your body doesn’t trust you to feed it when it’s hungry, stop when it’s satisfied, to feed it things that taste good and are nourishing, its voice will become quieter or even absent. A big part of rebuilding that trust is responding to your body’s cues whenever they show up. The more often you are able to do this, the clearer those signals will become. Think of relearning intuitive eating as both your mind and body taking baby steps toward each other, testing trust with each step. The more you show your body it can trust you, the bigger those steps toward mutual trust will become.
5. Build your support team
The process of healing the intuitive eating voice is often long and complicated, and you will definitely have days of doubting the journey. On those days, you’ll need your support team to remind you of why you started the journey in the first place and to problem solve how you can stay connected to your values, your body, and your recovery when the siren call of old patterns is loudest. Finding a team who knows how to speak to your core self and who understands the value of reconnecting with your intuition is critical to the process of healing.
6. Trust the process
This might be the hardest part. When you’ve set your mind to relearning intuitive eating, it’s natural to want to be a gold-star intuitive eater tomorrow. The fact is, the process takes time —often a lot of time — and there will be challenges along the way you could never have predicted or prepared for at the outset. That said, when you make the decision to go all-in come rain or shine, you’ve already taken a huge step toward reestablishing the connection with your body. Come back to that feeling on the hard days. None of us can predict exactly when we will land, but remember, the process is just as important a part of the journey as the final destination.