4 Ways to Apply Intuitive Eating Principles When You Have Unreliable Internal Cues

It might be because you aren’t able to find internal signals, like hunger and fullness, or you have some disordered eating that you’ve been battling. Even after chronically dieting, it can be challenging to find what your body has to say about food because you’ve ignored it for so long and have pushed away any signal you previously had for the rules of the diet.

If you’re recovering from disordered eating or are finally giving up dieting after years of doing it, don’t lose heart, you can still utilize intuitive eating in your freedom journey. It might not look like being the full-fledged intuitive eater that you’ve made up in your head, but that’s ok, you need to start where you are, be kind to yourself, and heal your relationship with your body first. This way, you can lay the foundation to become the intuitive eater you dream of later.

It will take time, so you will have to learn to be patient with yourself, but it will be so worth it.

Here are some ways to eat intuitively, before you’re able to fully embrace all of the internal cues:

1. Select Sound External Cues

If you’re one of those people that is working on recovering from disordered eating or you’ve just jumped off the chronic dieting train, you’ll probably want to start by eating based off of external cues, rather than expecting your body to give you all the cues you need from day 1.

This may seem counterintuitive since I’m always talking about how we need to trust our bodies and that they give us all the information that we need. You’re right, I do talk about that and fully believe that.

The problem is that when we’ve gone for so long without listening to our bodies and have other circumstances that are blocking those true signals, in order to care for our bodies best, we must not rely on our bodies’ ability to give us cues at first.

What types of external cues am I talking about?

  • Eating at regular time intervals, usually not going for more than four hours without eating (unless you’re sleeping). This might even mean using a meal plan or guidelines that your dietitian has helped you create to support your eating in the beginning stages.
  • You eat within guidelines and framework, usually given to you by an outside trusted source, like a dietitian. This will probably mean three main meals with snacks in-between.
  • You do not allow your mood, emotions, or external circumstances change whether or not you follow these regular meals.
  • You choose a well-balanced meal, full of all of the great nutrition you need — fats and carbohydrates included.
  • You stick to the regular plan and know that you will not always feel hunger or fullness. The more you eat on this regular schedule, the more your body and brain are able to heal and eventually give you reliable intuitive eating signals.

In this stage there are times for doing food exposures, where you challenge yourself to eat foods that were normally off-limits or “bad.” When you hear the disordered eating rules in your brain, you are able to challenge them and choose an opposite action.

(You can download a cool table from the book, Almost Anorexic, about external and internal cues of normal eating here.)

2. Ditch the Dieting

No matter where you are in your intuitive eating journey, you can work on Principle 1 of Intuitive Eating*, which is to “Reject the Diet Mentality.” Learn more about how dieting doesn’t work long-term, how many dieters end up having eating disorders, and the diet-binge cycle. Throw out dieting books, unfollow unhelpful social media accounts that promote dieting’s allure, and journal about how you feel about dieting failing you time and time again.

3. Quit the Dichotomization of Food

In Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating, we learn to “Make Peace with Food.” Let go of all the food rules you have in your head and all the nutrition facts you think you know. Let all foods be on the table, all foods can fit. The sooner you can make peace with every single food on this planet, the sooner you’ll get rid of the depravation, which can lead to cravings and bingeing (again, that diet-binge cycle). You have unconditional permission to eat.

The freedom that comes with allowing any and every food to be acceptable to eat, is almost unexplainable.

You may even discover you don’t even want that “off-limits” food you thought you wanted for so long now that it’s neutral.

Funny, huh?

While doing this, you can also work on Principle 4 — Challenging the Food Police. If you’re working on recovering from disordered eating, this will involve a lot of recognizing thoughts that are from the disordered eating place, rather than Truth. This is where working with a dietitian can be extremely helpful. When you’re freaking out about eating a cheeseburger, she/he can explain all the nutrition to you, and what amazing properties are in that tasty burger that you’re so scared of. Or if you just can’t seem to shake certain beliefs you learned in your disordered eating phase, like that carbohydrates are The Worst Thing Ever, she/he can help you come to a more appropriate conclusion.

4. Treat Your Body with Respect

Although you may be far from loving your body (and that’s totally fine!) you can begin to slowly ease into Principle 8 — Respect Your Body. All of the other principles help with this one as well.

  • When you honor your body’s need for food by eating on a regular schedule to start, this is respecting your body.
  • Buy clothes that fit you right now.
  • Enjoy pleasurable activities involving your physical body like baths, sipping tea, lotion, massages, manicures, pedicures, etc.
  • Replace negative thoughts about your body such as, “I hate my body” with neutral thoughts first like “I have a body.”
  • Learn how the disordered eating was the opposite of respecting the body, and utilize new ways of dealing with stress and emotions in order to avoid self-harm.

See how that works? You can apply each of the 10 Intuitive Eating principles to your body-food journey now, you don’t have to wait until some idealistic day in the future. You don’t have to have it all figured out yet.

Start where you are.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments: Which principle are you going to start applying this week and how? What aspect of intuitive eating are you still scratching your head over? I’d love to help, and maybe I’ll even write you a blog post to answer your questions!

Intuitive Eating is a book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, you can get it from Amazon.

(Image from Unsplash.)

Originally published at www.breatheandnourish.com.