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.