Intuitive Eating or Not?

If you’re a binge eater trying to recover, you’ve likely come across the term “intuitive eating.” Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that uses hunger and fullness – as well as the way foods make you feel – to guide what and how much you consume. In theory, your body intuitively knows what foods are best for you, and how much you need to eat; and if you can just be in tune with your body’s sensations, you’ll be able to effortlessly maintain a healthy weight. 
Intuitive eating is about trusting your body’s innate wisdom. It involves following your tastes and cravings, but it’s not just about eating what you desire in the moment.  It’s also about being connected to how certain foods make you feel, and making food choices based on that. The result of intuitive eating should be a good diet that fits your lifestyle and fuels your unique body in the best way possible.     
Intuitive eating does work for some people, and I do see some value in this philosophy – provided it’s understood properly, and not simply thought of as an “eat whatever you want whenever you want it for the rest of your life” approach. Intuitive eating can and does help some binge eaters give up the dieting mentality and food rules. 
Even though some aspects of intuitive eating may be useful, I think it presents several challenges for recovering binge eaters. Hunger and fullness, as well as food preferences and cravings, aren’t usually very reliable after prolonged periods of binge eating/overeating. Stomach stretching, “addiction” to certain sugary/processed foods, digestive problems, and other physiological imbalances caused from binge eating can render your body lacking much innate wisdom. I know I could not have relied fully on my hunger and fullness when I first quit binge eating.  
Even those who aren’t binge eaters should know that many of our modern foods make our body’s natural hunger/satiety mechanisms less effective. As I talked about in my Listen to Your Body? post a few years ago, I don’t think the appetite is completely dependable for most people, which is why we also need to use our higher brains when making food choices. 
If you want to explore more on this topic, the best source of information (in my opinion) on why intuitive eating might not be working for you is Gillian Riley, author of Ditching Diets, and Eating Less. She has a free e-book titled What is Wrong with Intuitive Eating? available on her website, if you sign up for monthly updates. The e-book is a great little summary of some of the pitfalls of this approach.     

21 thoughts on “Intuitive Eating or Not?

  1. I love all of her books Kathryn. After you recommended her I read them all! She is a wonderful resource and a great compliment to your book. I even got her audio CD!

  2. Oh and I also feel that intuitive eating is really challenging when trying to recover from BED. My “intuitive” eating abilities are very out of whack right now!

    1. I completely understand. I had to use my higher/rational brain to gauge normal eating more than I could use my appetite. But, it wasn’t long before I discovered my hunger/fullness again.

  3. I love your book and blog! I love that you’re getting people talking and thinking about these things. I do have a different perspective about your criticisms about Intuitive Eating, though. I feel like your criticisms are based in a bit of a misunderstanding of what IE is.

    For example, it’s definitely true that some foods wreak havoc on our brains and bodies, but if we’re really listening to our bodies, our bodies tell us what is going on. We crash in a hour, feel anxious, or brain dead, or have insatiable cravings….which when we’re being honest with ourselves, we can understand as our bodies telling us that those are a negative consequence of eating those foods.

    Sometimes we have to make peace with those foods before we’re ready to hear the truth from our bodies though. Definitely the hard part is being honest about it. Like I don’t want to admit that I get tired after eating bread at lunch haha.

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents. I’m glad you’re getting people talking and thinking!

    1. Thanks for the response and clarification about Intuitive Eating. I do understand (and said above) that Intuitive Eating is about how foods make you feel as well, not just about what you are craving in the moment. I liked the way you explained it..and your point about being honest with yourself. I think this approach, coupled with considering what other factors are leading to any troublesome symptoms (sleep-deprivation, stress..etc) can help people become healthier. I just don’t think it works for everyone, especially recovering binge eaters. Thanks again for sharing your insights!

  4. Hi Kathryn, This is a great post! I know what you are saying. Intuitive eating can be rough because for some, it can just feel like a free-for-all and retrigger their binge eating. I do think that intuitive eating is possible though if one puts boundaries around it. Not restrictions, but loving and kind boundaries, like how we give our children boundaries, not because we are punishing them, but because we love them. Without boundaries– who knows what would happen to them. I think we have to treat ourselves the same way. Of course there’s a fine balance we have to walk between loving boundaries of a healthy, normal eater and the rigid restrictions of an eating disorder. I’ve not read Gillian Riley’s work. But I will check it out. Thank you for the recommendation!

  5. I have been working on intuitive eating for the past two years (Tribole and Resch) after reading the book. I had been dieting, exercising excessively, and binge eating for 25 years and decided to give it a go. It has been hard at times but I have learned to eat based on hunger and fullness and personal choice again. I had not done that since I was a kid!

    My binges have gotten better. I binge less, but I still binge. It can be 2-3 times a week or I have even gone two months but then it’s back (at my worst it was every other day). This past month and a half I have binged 7 times. I am so ready to be done with this! I have been telling myself I am done but then it happens so quickly that I am in it before I know it! I have been able to resist the urge to binge a couple of times in the past but it took a tremendous amount of energy. If I resisted for a while it felt like I just had to do it, to get it out of my way, so I could go about my life again.

    I only read your book a week ago and have used it to my advantage a few times. So far so good, I just need to keep going with it. I finally have a “tool” to actually deal with the bingeing part. My triggers are all over the place and I never thought I had any deeply rooted issues. It makes sense to me that it is a habit. I love your take on what it is all about.

    I have made some huge strides with Intuitive Eating (less bingeing, listening to my hunger and fullness cues, and toning down exercise to a reasonable amount). I feel like your contribution may just be what I need to complete my recovery.

    I read your book all in one day and had dreams about it that night where I was pushing the urge away and practicing resisting my binge urges. That has to be a good sign!

    Thanks for giving me a new perspective to work with. I also appreciate the blog and website.

    Thanks again!

    April

    1. I’m glad you think my book will complement what you’re already doing. It sounds like you’ve made some great progress, and I hope that you have success resisting the binge urges. Thanks for sharing some of your story.

  6. hi kathryn ! I already wrote before. rational recovery and your book helped me a lot. I think it would be very useful to others that you put a link to your blog to- bullets for my Beast , which are located at the bottom of this page: http://www.rational.org/index.php?id=59 Bullets for my Beast was very helpful to me, in one second I
    disconnect
    from the beast, and never did binge in the last 6 months.
    in the last couple of months I eat intuitively and it made me so happy ! with intuitive eating I was so relaxed , happy , enjoy the food without the fear of the beast. I eat when I’m hungry , as much as I want and what I want . Of course not overeating , just eat as much as need my body . so my recommendation as binge recovery, after the heal anyone can try with intuitive eating . Only patience , there is no wrong foods , only those corresponding to the moment and your body . when we learn to recognize the beast then we’ll know exactly which desires comes from our bodies and which are from that beast . then we listen to our bodies , and ignore the beast . and of course enjoy ! 🙂 If my body is asking for ice cream, and I’m full after 7 spoons , and I hear a voice that says he wants to eat 20 more I know that is the beast , not my body , and I ignore it . Lately though the beast is almost gone.

    sorry for my English, I hope you understood what I wanted to say 

    Ivana

    1. That’s great! Thanks for the recommendation to link to the Bullets for the Beast…I will try to do that soon. I’m glad Intuitive Eating has helped you. I agree that having freedom to enjoy food without worrying about the beast taking over, is a wonderful thing.

  7. I think intuitive eating is an interesting concept. I also think the human body is amazing. That it can know what nutrients it needs and what food to eat to get those nutrients. I don’t entirely trust my bodies judgement when it comes to picking food, but like you said, that’s what our brains are for!
    Claudia Rosenburg | A Weigh Out

    1. Yes, I agree with that. I’ve struggled with adrenal fatigue for a while now, and because of that I get these strong cravings for fruit and juice. Following those cravings doesn’t necessarily make me feel bad physically, but I know that too much fruit/juice isn’t good for this condition; so I don’t always follow those cravings…I’ll choose water or other foods. Just one example of not being able to entirely trust the body and having to rely on the higher brain.

  8. Hello all. I am writing because I feel like I have no where else to turn and therefore am turning to the internet like any rational person would do, lol. My daughter who is 14 is in a partial hospitalization program for binge eating. She has been there for 6 weeks and I must tell you that I have all the food locked up in my home and while this may sound terrible to some her binge eating is really serious. We started this program when I noticed that she was restricting (a little meaning not everyday of the week) but during breakfast and lunch and then really binging at night. My question is this… and remember I am really out of my area here…in the 6 weeks she has been at this program she has gained a total of 10 pounds. I was absolutely blown away by this as she was already slightly over weight. I am being told by the staff that this is considered “leveling off or stablilizing” however that much weight gain seems very excessive to me. I am having been doing much research and I just cannot find anything that directly relates to what we are dealing with as far as this weight gain is concerned. Can someone please discuss if they faced the same thing or basic comments on whether this is a somewhat normal. Please help us if you can.

    1. Thanks for writing. I think it’s very important not to worry about weight in recovery. Her body is adjusting, and will eventually level off at a healthy weight for her. Trying to lose weight while also trying to stop binge eating is not recommended because binge eating is an adaptive response to dieting and restriction. Focusing on her weight may encourage her to diet/restrict again, leading to more binge eating and more weight gain in the long run. You may want to see my post titled “Weight after Recovery.” I’m sorry your daughter is having to deal with this, but I’m glad to hear you are getting her medical help. I truly hope she is on the road to complete recovery.

  9. Intuitive eating has been one of my worst choices, it has worsened my eating disorder and my medical examination after 6 months were worse than ever (my cholesterol and trygl. that were normal before ie were very high, my insulin level which has always been perfect was near the prediab limit, my pressure became high), it’s not a good idea at all. If anybody has dieted even once in his/her life or limited or watched their food content, he/she has lost that intuition which almost every kid has.

  10. I agree with many of these comments. While intuitive eating in principle offers sound sense, I have found it can become one more way for binge eaters to beat themselves up with. It is only one component to a simple yet complex, integrative healing process. There are principles to ‘intuitive eating’ that in my opinion, are essence to recovery but it isn’t the answer in and of it self. Lisa Sherrill – Emotional Eating Coach. https://bodybasediet.leadpages.net/cureforemotionaleating/

  11. Hi Katheryn!
    I’m glad you addressed this. First off your book truly made me quit binge eating for good, has changed my life for the better and I want to thank you in so many ways. I have my life back !
    I’ve just finished reading gillian Riley’s book “eating less” which has massively helped! It reminded me that I could chose to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to and that I am in control. Urges to overeat are much like urges to binge and are only a habit! Intuitive eating never worked for me but this book really helped along with Judith becks “diet solution”
    While ultimately intuitive eating is good for some people and people that have never had eating problems (if it ain’t broke don’t fix it) it really didn’t help me as I have a history of really screwed up eating habits.
    Xx

  12. Hello to all,
    I am in recovery from years of disordered eating. I have not yet read Kathryn’s book but based on previous research and experience I’ve had, what I have read here, and by listening to an interview Kathryn did with the founder of the BulimiaHelp program, her method is definitely effective. I am also a huge proponent of Intuitive Eating. My personal opinion is that they are both used in recovery but at different times. In my experience, I used a system of what’s known as Structured Eating (regular meals every 3-4 hours) to teach my body how to digest food properly again, to re-feed it with proper nutrients, and to learn to eat regularly instead of going long periods of time without eating. This helped dramatically and I was also fighting binge urges during that time, making sure I did not purge. I felt binge urges decrease DRAMATICALLY just by eating regularly and trusting that food would be available again soon. Now, many many months later, I am adding the principles of Intuitive Eating and trusting that my body really does know what it needs. When I am at peace and not famished or otherwise emotionally unsettled, my body knows whether it wants a vegetable salad or steak and potatoes. I truly believe in both approaches. Yes, it is imperative to learn to stop listening to the binge urges and categorize them as “neurological junk” as Kathryn calls them. And…I also believe that proper understanding of our cravings, appetites, personal preferences, emotions, society’s messages, and so many other factors that influence eating will ultimately lead us to a place when food become just that: food. I’m looking forward to reading your book, Kathryn and I will definitely stay tuned to your blog and website. Thank you for the interesting perspective, I feel it is very helpful and needed.

    1. Another thing I want to say is: whatever you do, DON’T COUNT CALORIES! If you’re doing it, stop! If you’re tniikhng about doing it, don’t start! I did that the other day and in just that one day it became obsessive! It is almost as compulsive as bingeing! Don’t add to your food addiction problems by becoming obsessed about calories, it’s not worth it! Luckily I stopped, and I’m never going to do it again!

Comments are closed.