Eating disorder recovery and intuitive eating
Is intuitive eating recommended for eating disorder recovery? Science says yes. Here’s how dietitians can use intuitive eating principles to help clients who may be struggling with an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are complex and can affect everyone differently, which is why dietitians play an integral role in a client’s treatment and recovery plan.
As such, you can work with your client to recognize the difference between physical hunger and satiety cues, help them repair their relationship with food, and gain a desire for satisfaction regarding food. You can achieve this by using intuitive eating principles and gaining your client’s trust.
Before we discuss more how you can use intuitive eating principles with eating disorder recovery, let’s first understand what intuitive eating is and how it can affect your client’s overall health and wellbeing.
Understanding intuitive eating
Intuitive eating isn’t another fad diet or weight loss method–by definition, it’s a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought . This concept was created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch and is backed by over 125 studies.
The purpose of intuitive eating is not for a person to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, but to work with the brain and eat in a way that both satisfies and nourishes the person. Ultimately, the goal of intuitive eating is not to produce weight loss, but to provide a sustainable lifestyle change that allows your clients to have a deeper understanding of their body’s wants and needs.
Here are the 10 intuitive eating principles :
- Reject the diet mentality;
- Honor your hunger;
- Make peace with food;
- Challenge the food police;
- Discover the satisfaction factor;
- Feel your fullness;
- Cope with your emotions with kindness;
- Respect your body;
- Movement – feel the difference;
- Honor your health – gentle nutrition.
Tribole’s and Resch’s book, Intuitive Eating, outlines each step in detail and provides insight about how to counsel your client through each one.
Intuitive eating can be great for almost any client who wants to improve their relationship with food. However, it may be most beneficial for those who have struggled with disordered eating, yo-yo dieting, eating disorders, and weight fluctuation.
What are some benefits of intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating offers many health benefits, including a better relationship with food, increased self-esteem, and decreased depression and anxiety . Other benefits include:
- Reduced instances of binge eating. Studies have found that women who can recognize their body’s cues and stop eating when full have lower odds of chronic dieting and binge eating .
- Improved mental health. Research shows promise that intuitive eating may be used as a tool to improve mental and physical health in those who struggle with obesity and eating disorders .
- Positive eating behaviors. Studies have found that those who practice intuitive eating experience a decrease in reliance on hunger and satiety cues and start to eat for physical needs rather than emotional health .
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How to use intuitive eating principles with eating disorder recovery
Research suggests that those who are recovering from an eating disorder struggle to listen to their body’s natural hunger and fullness cues . As such, intuitive eating can be a beneficial strategy to use in eating disorder recovery.
However, you need to work with your clients to decide if intuitive eating is right for them; while some may be ready to take it on earlier in their recovery, it may take others longer. As a dietitian, it is your job to help your clients determine when (and if) intuitive eating may be appropriate for their recovery plan.
Here are some ways that you, as a nutrition professional, can use intuitive eating principles to help with eating disorder recovery.
- Re-learn hunger cues. Encourage your client to see hunger as a biological need rather than something to fear. You can do this by encouraging them to eat at consistent times and intervals, and taking pauses while eating to observe changes in their fullness level.
- Challenge food fears. No food is “bad” or off-limits. Help your client enjoy all foods by slowly adding spices and herbs to their meal plan and working your way up to some “scarier” items (like cheeses and fat-containing sauces).
- Be kind to your body. Regardless of how your clients view their body, you can help them start to treat it kindly. You can have them do this through daily affirmations, self-care, and healthy social media habits.
- Rethink exercise. While exercise has many health benefits, clients going through eating disorder recovery may need to take a step back. As a dietitian, you can help them uncouple movement and calorie burning as part of your nutritional support plan, but as recovery progresses (and it’s OK’ed by other health professionals), you may want to slowly incorporate gentle movement.
- Nutrition is more than eating healthy. Creating a meal plan for your clients is honoring their health. Nutrition is so much more than eating “healthy”; it can also help treat malnutrition, address chronic illness, and improve overall health. Since meal plans are designed to fit each client’s nutritional needs, you can encourage them to trust you as they go through eating disorder recovery. Meal plans can always be adjusted, so be sure to check in with how your clients feel and if there is anything you need to change to help their recovery.
Intuitive eating can be a beneficial strategy to use in eating disorder recovery. However, you need to work with your clients to decide if intuitive eating is right for them; while some may be ready to take it on earlier in their recovery, it may take others longer.
As a dietitian, it is your job to help your clients determine when (and if) intuitive eating may be appropriate for their recovery plan.
If intuitive eating is appropriate, you can utilize certain principles to help your client recognize the difference between physical hunger and satiety cues, rethink exercise, challenge food fears, and gain a desire for satisfaction regarding food. These things, among many others, can help your client make a full recovery.
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- Homepage. Intuitive Eating. (2019, June 3). Retrieved January 31, 2022, from https://www.intuitiveeating.org/
- McAdams, C. J., & Smith, W. (2015). Neural correlates of eating disorders: translational potential. Neuroscience and neuroeconomics, 4, 35–49. https://doi.org/10.2147/NAN.S76699
- Keirns, N. G., & Hawkins, M. (2019). The relationship between intuitive eating and body image is moderated by measured body mass index. Eating behaviors, 33, 91–96. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2019.04.004
- Denny, K. N., Loth, K., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2013). Intuitive eating in young adults. who is doing it, and how is it related to disordered eating behaviors? Appetite, 60, 13–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2012.09.029
- Keirns, N. G., & Hawkins, M. A. W. (2019). The relationship between intuitive eating and body image is moderated by measured body mass index. Eating Behaviors, 33, 91–96. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2019.04.004
- Keirns, N. G., & Hawkins, M. A. (2019). Intuitive eating, objective weight status and physical indicators of health. Obesity Science & Practice, 5(5), 408–415. https://doi.org/10.1002/osp4.359