For a person who is in recovery from an eating disorder, learning to eat intuitively can be challenging. To practice intuitive eating, an individual must be in tune with their body’s needs so that they can recognize hunger cues and acknowledge feeling full. It’s important to understand that learning to listen to your body and eat consciously is not a short-term goal — it is a process that takes time.
The practice of intuitive eating promotes mindful eating habits like engaging in gratitude rituals before mealtimes that can be beneficial tools for people who want to improve their relationship with food. This intentional way of eating can help people learn to appreciate how food nourishes, heals, and fuels their bodies.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
When a person practices intuitive eating, it means that they are constructing their eating patterns based on their body’s natural hunger and satiety signals instead of societal cues. It is a nondieting approach to eating that encourages a person to trust their body’s innate wisdom while making food decisions. The practice of intuitive eating promotes a strong mind-body connection, and studies show that it can lead to overall improvement in mental health .
This simple, holistic method can help individuals build confidence in their eating habits by providing them with a framework for how to navigate food choices. Registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch conceptualized the intuitive eating movement and established the 10 guiding principles, which include :
- Dismiss diet culture: Reject the idea that you need to lose weight quickly based on societal norms.
- Honor your hunger cues: Decrease your risk for overeating by keeping your body adequately fed.
- Give yourself permission to eat: Deprivation can lead to bingeing; make peace with food and don’t limit your food options.
- Resist restrictive eating: Reject the intrusive thoughts that tell you to follow the unreasonable rules of diet culture.
- Find pleasure in mealtimes: Be present during mealtimes so that you can enjoy the experience.
- Observe the signs that indicate fullness: Allow yourself to pause during mealtimes to assess your hunger levels.
- Learn to cope with feelings: Avoid emotional eating by implementing strategies for addressing emotional highs and lows.
- Respect your body: Celebrate your unique shape.
- Discover the joy in movement: Focus less on intense exercise; instead, simply get active and notice how it makes you feel.
- Respect your health: Make nutrient-dense food choices that taste good and help you feel energized.
Implementing Intuitive Eating During Anorexia Nervosa Recovery
Intuitive eating can help a person find the abundant joy surrounding food that they have long been missing. However, the process of reading hunger cues can be triggering for someone who is in recovery from a severe eating disorder like anorexia nervosa.
A person who is navigating life in anorexia nervosa recovery may battle distorted body image and restrictive eating habits that can be a barrier for learning how to eat mindfully. There are many hallmark signs of anorexia nervosa that sharply contradict the principles of intuitive eating, such as refusal to eat, weighing food before consumption, exercising excessively, and denial of hunger.
While it may take more time for a person who is recovering from anorexia nervosa to learn to eat consciously, it is not impossible. In fact, it can help them find peace with food and trust their intuition. Eating mindfully can help a person find the deep connection between the food they eat and their mental, emotional, and physical health.
Every journey begins with the first step. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, you should consult a professional about how to implement intuitive eating gradually. Depending on a person’s situation, they may begin by simply journaling their hunger cues or implementing breath work prior to mealtimes.
The diet culture of modern society can have negative consequences on the way people of all ages view food, exercise, and their body image. This is particularly concerning for young people. When a person develops unhealthy restrictive eating patterns at an early age, it can affect their relationship with food for a lifetime.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), eating disorders are more than twice as prevalent in adolescent females as in adolescent males, and the pervasiveness of disordered eating increases with age . For this reason, it is important for any young person to seek early treatment for the concerns they are facing.
Educating the youth on the process and benefits of intuitive eating can help them reduce their chances of experiencing negative long-term effects of disordered eating. By learning to honor their bodies and health, young people can build a foundation for a positive connection with food.
 Van Dyke, N., & Drinkwater, E. (2014). Review Article Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: Literature review. Public Health Nutrition, 17(8), 1757-1766. doi:10.1017/S1368980013002139
 (2019, December 19). 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating. https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
 Eating Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders
About Timberline Knolls
Timberline Knolls is a residential treatment center located on 43 beautiful acres just outside Chicago, offering a nurturing recovery environment for women and girls age 12 and older who are struggling with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health conditions. An adult partial hospitalization program (PHP) is available for step-down and for women to directly admit. By serving with uncompromising care, relentless compassion, and an unconditional joyful spirit, we help our residents and clients help themselves in their recovery. For more information, please visit www.timberlineknolls.com.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on December 15, 2022. Published on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 15, 2022