Intuitive Eating: What Is It and How Is It Used in Eating Disorder Recovery?

In today’s age of social media and influence, image is everything.

It can help to recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Emotional eating cannot fill your emotional needs and can lead to eating disorders and weight gain.

The second you open your phone and hop onto any social media app, or even while perusing the internet, reading a magazine, or watching TV, you’re inundated with messages connected to society’s ideal beauty standards.


Whether it’s a new tea cleanse, anti-aging creams, or an add for a new fad diet, we can’t avoid it, and even if we try to, we can’t deny that diet culture a part of it. Many of these messages are so subtle that we may not even be aware of their influence. They use words like, “clean eating”, “wellness” or even, “psychology based” to give the illusion that they are about health and wellbeing over appearance.


Does Diet Culture Cause Disordered Eating?

Diet culture was around long before the age of social media and goes beyond being on a diet. It refers to a system of social expectations, beliefs and values that hold thinness, appearance and shape above health and wellbeing. Many of us are indoctrinated into this diet culture mindset at a very young age.


Diet mentality teaches us that it is normal and even okay to ignore hunger cues, restrict how much food we eat, and even avoid certain foods completely. For some, this may eventually lead to a feeling of disconnection to our body and its needs. We may lose trust in our hunger cues, which for some can lead to dysregulation and disordered eating.


While diet culture is not the only risk factor for disordered eating, it can play a significant role in the development and perpetuation of eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating disorders, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders.


While diet culture is not the only risk factor for disordered eating, it can play a significant role. Eating disorders can be very dangerous and have the highest mortality rate of any other mental health disorder.

Eating disorders can be very dangerous and have the highest mortality rate of any other mental health disorder. In addition, if left untreated for an extended amount of time, they can lead to an array of physical health complications later in life such as heart disease, loss of bone density, tooth decay, ulcers, and type II diabetes, among many other things.


So, what can we do about eating disorders?

One concept that has gained popularity in the past couple of years is called intuitive eating. While the word seems like a rather new one, it was first used by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in 1995, and its philosophy can be traced back even further to 1973, when Thelma Wayler used these ideas for a weight management program.


Intuitive eating is a concept that allows an individual to better connect to their body and its needs.


The goal of intuitive eating is to encourage a healthy attitude towards both food and body. Intuitive eating is not a diet, in fact, it rejects diet culture and goes beyond food. Eating intuitively involves reflection, mindfulness, and challenging beliefs that certain foods are “good” or “bad”.


What makes intuitive eating different from diet culture is that there are no restrictions, no set rules, and no one size fits all definition of health. With this being said, intuitive eating does not mean eating whatever you want, when you want, but rather, learning how to connect with your body, identifying hunger cues, understanding the difference between physical hunger (the biological signs or urges that tell you it’s time to eat) and emotional hunger (driven by emotional needs such as anxiety, sadness and boredom), and figuring out what foods work best for you and your wellbeing.


Intuitive eating is based on 10 key principles:

  1. Reject Diet Mentality

  2. Honor Your Hunger

  3. Make Peace with Food

  4. Challenge the Food Police

  5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

  6. Feel Your Fullness

  7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

  8. Respect Your Body

  9. Movement-Feel the Difference

  10. Honor Your Health-Gentle Nutrition

Read more on these principles here.


For many, this may be easier said than done, which is why seeing a professional regarding any disordered eating is highly recommended while reestablishing your relationship with your body and food.


If disordered eating is something you are concerned about and you think you might need extra support, you are not alone and that there are many clinicians at Mindsight who can work with you on your journey of health and wellbeing.


We at Mindsight want to be able to support you in your journey through life. Every situation is unique and sometimes it can be lonely to navigate. If you want to talk about things like this or any other mental health concern please give us a call at 606-401-2966!


Cailin McKinney is a clinician based in Louisville. She is a proud cat mom of two and will make sure you know it. For fun, she enjoys trying TikTok soup recipes, flexing her green thumb, and starting (but most likely not finishing) new art projects. On a typical day off, she’s most likely doing something outdoors, watching reality television, or looking for a place to get a great cup of coffee.


Check out her professional bio here.


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