As a Registered Dietitian (RD) specializing in eating disorders over the last few years, I have worked with a variety of different approaches to the nutrition component of a person’s eating disorder treatment. While each approach had its own pros and cons, there was one approach that I find to stand out above the rest for long-term recovery – Intuitive Eating. Before I talk about what Intuitive Eating is, let me tell you what it is not.
Intuitive Eating is not mechanical eating. Mechanical eating, often used in higher levels of care, requires a person eat a predetermined amount of calories or exchanges in one sitting, regardless of hunger and fullness cues. Mechanical eating can be helpful in early stages of treatment for someone trying to reach a goal weight or for someone who is having difficulty recognizing their fullness cues.
On the flip side, Intuitive Eating is an approach that asks a person to listen to their body for cues about what to eat, when to, eat and when to stop eating. For someone in recovery from an eating disorder, this can be a very scary concept as they have likely spent months and even years ignoring their body’s hunger and fullness cues. Intuitive Eating will take practice and requires a person to begin to trust their body to tell them what they need nutritionally. It is helpful to have guidance and assistance from an RD during this introductory time.
Intuitive Eating also employs practices of mindful eating whereby a person savors, notices and appreciates each bite they eat. This can be opposite of what someone with an eating disorder may have experienced in their past. They may be used to eating a meal very quickly, ignoring the taste of their food or working hard to not put too much thought into what they are eating. Instead of rushing through a meal, a person who is eating mindfully with take notice of the smells, appearance and taste of their food. This practice allows a person to really appreciate their food and begin to discover their true likes and dislikes.
When I first talk with clients about Intuitive Eating, I often get reactions of disbelief that this style of eating is possible. Some feel that if they were left to listen to their body for cues about what to eat, they would just eat “junk food” and would probably eat too much. While this may be true in the beginning, what I find instead is that when people give themselves full permission to eat anything they want, the allure of some of their “forbidden” foods is taken away and they are able to eat these foods in moderation. Intuitive Eating is not just for those in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s a great practice for everyone. So ask your RD about Intuitive Eating today.
By Stephanie Ayala, RD, LDN. If you or someone you love is interested in nutrition counseling at The Body Image Therapy Center call (877) 674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org