Eating Disorder Recovery: The First Step to Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is all the rage right now. It is a huge wellness trend that is sweeping the nation.

THIS IS INCREDIBLE.

I think women (and men) are finally fed up with being told we that need to follow diets and food rules to maintain our weight. I think we are realizing the truth: we are in fact, not out of control when it comes to food! Or at least, we don’t have to be. And the method we use to contain ourselves does not have to be restrictive. On the contrary, it can be the most liberating thing ever. Giving your body complete control by eating intuitively- that’s magic. Intuitive eating is founded by honoring our cravings with a whole, real foods diet. It is founded in eating to nourish our bodies- not in restricting calories. It is founded in honoring our hunger and satiety cues. Nothing is off limits. Nothing is restricted. You merely let your body guide you to the foods that it needs to be fully nourished and fully satisfied.

Unfortunately, many of us have become incredibly disconnected with our own bodies. In this case, our minds take over and tell our bodies what to eat and when to eat it. Diets and the food manipulation mindset have stripped away the innate wisdom we have to determine the right food choices. This makes intuitive eating difficult and downright impossible. 

The point of this post is to give hope to those who are discouraged or frustrated by this concept intuitive eating – particularly, those who are in the clutches of or recovering from an eating disorder. I feel like I am doing this population a huge disservice if I merely say, “Yea! Just eat intuitively! It’s great!” without giving merit to their frustration and guiding them in what to do about it. Because trust- I’ve been there. So with the rest of this post- I discuss the very first thing I did to start my journey to intuitive eating.

If it’s not already clear- learning to eat intuitively has changed my life. I now consider myself an intuitive eating dietitian, but it hasn’t been an easy or quick journey to get here. (You can read about my journey here.) I learned to ditch the disordered, manipulative eating behaviors and eat what and when I effing want. Everything I say here is based off of my own personal experience. I juggled extreme restriction and binge eating during my EDO, so the journey to intuitive eating may be different for you. However, I believe there are many out there who are in my old shoes. I hope this resonates with you.

So here it is: Begin the journey to intuitive eating by eating what you do not want to eat. Say whaaaaa? I know I know. This goes against the premise of intuitive eating and I believe this is why many are left feeling frustrated and defeated when they try to jump straight from eating disorder to “intuitive eating”. If you have not already begun the process of recovery, what you want to eat at this time can be translated as: what your eating disorder wants you to eat- not what your body truly needs. Your eating disorder will tell you to eat more broccoli, or celery, or egg whites. It will tell you to eat less or to eating everything in the house in one sitting. None of this is intuitive eating. It is simply impossible for one to go straight from disordered eating to eating intuitively overnight- so do not expect this out of yourself! You will only feel frustrated and disappointed. However, this is what you can do to empower yourself and start your journey to recovery and to intuitive eating: 

Don’t eat what you want to eat- eat the foods that you have placed “off limits”. In this way, eating can be scary, confusing and frustrating because there is an internal conflict between what your mind wants and what your body needs. But friends, do not think that there are certain expectations that you have to reach during this first step. Just take it day by day. Every day, challenge yourself to eat a new food that was previously off limits. Or maybe just eat more of a particular food. For example, if you usually to have one slice of toast for breakfast- have two instead. If you were use to eating PB2, challenge yourself to eat real peanut butter. For me, this was the very first step to intuitive eating: eating what I did not want to eat- but what my body and soul needed to be healed. I began by eating foods that I considered to be “fattening” or “off limits” or “trigger foods”. This included things like peanut butter, oatmeal, bread, egg yolks, chips, and actual milk instead of almond milk. I began by creating small challenges every day to eat a little more or to face a food fear. The only way you will be able to get to that place of intuitive eating is by eating foods that nourish and satisfy your body and by eliminating the fear around food. So, I challenge you to challenge yourself. Food fear and intuitive eating are mutually exclusive: the two cannot exist together.

Tackling food fear can be a daunting process. This stage can be extremely frustrating, confusing, and evening saddening. It can lead people to believe that intuitive eating is hard. It can cause people to give up and revert back. But remember: this is not intuitive eating- this is the journey to intuitive eating. And yes, it sucks. But take heart, friends: it gets better! The more you face your fears, the easier it gets. The more you shut down your eating disorder thoughts and desires, the more your true needs can shine through. Daily successes will amount up to huge forward motion and progress over time. As food fears subside, your mind will get out of the way and it will become easier for your body to communicate with you. Your body will learn to communicate and your mind will become more receptive to listening.

Eventually, as you eat more calories and more nutrient dense foods, your metabolism will speed up and your body will become receptive to this new normal. Your hunger cues will become more pronounced- learn to honor these. Eat when you are hungry and do not relish it or ignore it. Hunger is a physical manifestation of your body’s need for energy. It is talking to you- listen to it. Eat slowly and mindfully. Taking note of how the food tastes and feels in your mouth. Relish every bite. Eventually, you will begin to sense and honor your satiety cues as well- even to previously “triggering” foods. Yes- you may go over board a few times- or even many times, but have grace with yourself. This is a part of the process- it does not mean you should restrict that food. On the contrary, if you have a tendency to binge on a particular food, you should eat that food more often. Once your body realizes that it can have said food whenever it wants, the urge to binge eat will wane and eventually, it will be gone all together. (I wish someone had told me this years ago. This truth would have prevented a lot of heartache and late nights of self-loathing.)

Hunger and satiety cues are the most basic, fundamental commutation between your body and your mind. As you grow in your confidence with these, you will become more sensitive to other signals as well- such as cravings for specific nutrients or micronutrients. But again, this is certainly a process that takes time.

So alas friends—take heart! I and countless others have found such freedom in intuitive eating. The first steps to getting there are not easy- but don’t give up or mistake the journey for the destination. Have grace with yourself and take it day by day.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments section! How did you begin your journey to intuitive eating?

Have questions about intuitive eating? Ask below!

If you want one-on-one intuitive eating coaching, I am now accepting clients at my practice, Nourishing Minds Nutrition. Email me with any questions: hello@rootforfood.net