Eating Disorders & Disordered Eating

What is intuitive eating? Is it right for you?

November 14, 2023

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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intuitive eating
Contents
Contents

Key Points

  • Intuitive eating is not a diet; some call it the anti-diet
  • You can lose weight with intuitive eating, but that’s not the goal
  • Intuitive eating is not about eating whatever you want, whenever you want it
  • The purpose of intuitive eating is to heal your relationship with food

What is intuitive eating? Is it right for you?

Intuitive eating is an eating lifestyle designed to offer freedom from disordered eating. If you struggle with an eating disorder, wouldn’t it be great to be free from the rigid rules, constant vigilance, intrusive thoughts, fear, shame, and guilt around food? Eating intuitively can help you heal your relationship with your body and mind.

But if you have an eating disorder, how can you trust your intuition around food? 

Many who battle with binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and other eating disorders may have this question. The key to intuitive eating is unlearning harmful patterns that stem from a culture obsessed with diets. It’s a process of shedding yo-yo dieting, calorie counting, and listening to actual nutritional cues from our bodies.

Unfortunately, many misconceptions about intuitive eating prevent some people from getting the help they need for eating disorder recovery. In this article, let’s explore intuitive eating, dispel common myths, and learn if intuitive eating may be right for you.

What is intuitive eating?

According to Rita Faycurry, RD, board-certified dietitian and experienced eating disorder nutritionist, “Intuitive eating is learning to relax and achieve a sense of peace around food. The overall goal is to help you enjoy your meals without the voice in your head telling you to stop eating, not to eat certain foods, binge eat, or make you feel deprived or ashamed about your eating.”

The process involves learning to listen to early hunger cues and choose foods without shame, guilt, or labeling them ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ You will learn to evaluate your feelings, make informed choices, and not live a life controlled by your food or social pressures surrounding body image.

Research shows that intuitive eating is associated with positive self-esteem and body image, lower rates of disordered eating, and a better general sense of well-being.

Intuitive eating is not a diet; it’s listening to your body

Diets, by their very nature, come with rigid rules around food. Following a diet often involves measuring or weighing food, counting calories or macros, restricting certain foods, or taking supplements your body may not need. Many diets label foods as “good” or “bad” or tell you to cut out entire food groups.

Diets can be extremely stressful, exhausting, and harmful for people who struggle with eating disorders. Most rigid food rules are not sustainable over the long term— causing more anxiety, stress, and feelings of failure and shame associated with weight fluctuations or portion control. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) lists a ‘history of dieting’ as a top risk factor for eating disorders.

Intuitive eating, on the other hand, gives you the freedom to choose a variety of foods. These principles remove the allure of ‘forbidden’ foods and help you develop a healthy relationship with eating.

The Intuitive Eating difference: Over time, diets and disordered eating can mask natural signs of hunger, and we may not read certain signals correctly. You will learn to change your eating habits through intuitive eating to match your wants and health needs.

Fay can help you find a registered dietitian and intuitive eating specialist near you, covered by your insurance.

You may lose weight with intuitive eating, but it’s not the goal

Unfortunately, over the decades, we have become a society obsessed with the number on our weighing scales. For example, researchers from the University of Vermont found that content on Tiktok about food and nutrition focused on toxic diet culture. This includes a philosophy of promoting weight loss as an indicator of health.

However, eating disorders are not restricted to teens and twenty-year-olds. Eating disorders during midlife are common and can be triggered by major life events like pregnancy, menopause, becoming an empty nester, chronic illness, grief, disability, and more.

The Intuitive Eating difference: Intuitive eating is not centered around your weight. Any weight fluctuations are secondary to the main goal of improving your connection with food. It’s about not engaging in emotional eating due to anxiety, boredom, stress, or other reasons.

Intuitive eating is not about eating only “healthy” foods

Obsessing over healthy versus unhealthy foods is a characteristic of orthorexia— an eating disorder that labels certain foods dangerous or bad and involves extreme restrictions. This includes compulsively checking food labels, cutting out entire food groups, spending a lot of time planning for and thinking about food at social gatherings and other events, and more.

The Intuitive Eating difference: Intuitive eating principles do not label food as bad or good. Certain foods can fill our nutritional needs more than others, and intuitive eating is about learning to make choices that honor both your health and wants.

Intuitive eating is not about eating all you want all the time

At first, hearing that one principle of intuitive eating is to remove all restrictions around food can be frightening. Take the brakes off? How can that be good?

The Intuitive Eating difference: At its core, the goal of removing all restrictions around eating is to eliminate taboos around food. Restrictions cause a feeling of deprivation, leading to binges, purges, and an endless eating disorder cycle.

Rita Faycurry, RD, adds, “Getting familiar with and following the principles of intuitive eating is not an overnight process. It takes time to unlearn old patterns and better understand your physical and emotional connections with food. There are 10 principles of intuitive eating that act as gentle guideposts. So I want people to know they do not have to figure it all out alone. It’s ok to get support along your intuitive eating journey.”

How do you get started with intuitive eating?

If you would like to learn more about intuitive eating to see if it is right for you, Fay can help you find a registered dietitian near you, covered by your insurance.



The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


Sources

Fay Nutrition has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.


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Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Written by Chandana (Chandy) Balasubramanian

Chandana Balasubramanian is an experienced healthcare executive who writes on the intersection of healthcare and technology. She is the President of Global Insight Advisory Network and has a Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.

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