Taking steps towards intuitive eating

This article explores how to learn intuitive eating principles when recovering from disordered eating.


Intuitive eating involves going back to basics, by listening to your body and responding to its cues. You eat when you are hungry. You stop when you are full. It rejects dieting wholeheartedly. The ‘food police’ rules and dietary restrictions are thrown out the window with gusto. Everything is back on the menu: from delicious, gooey pizza to soft, fluffy croissants – all the foods that would be vehemently avoided on a diet.

It’s a return to eating these previously ‘forbidden foods’ out of a genuine desire to satisfy hunger, stimulate taste buds and take satisfaction from eating. Not a mindless stuffing of biscuits at the cupboard door, to numb the stress of a hectic workday. And it encourages body respect, through self-care and gentle movement. 

Doesn’t it sound so natural and instinctual, like breathing in and out? It may sound simple, but it has sadly become complex.

In a culture, where a smaller body is deemed better at whatever cost, and diets are sold by multinational companies in brightly coloured packages called 'Wellness', it is tricky not to be seduced down this road.

Devastatingly, body trust is a rare and unusual quality to possess these days. Appetites are kept in check by rules, plans and the external. You can probably count on one hand, the number of people you know who have a healthy relationship with food and genuine body peace. And if life has thrown you trauma, events that have impacted self-esteem, painful loss, or relationship break-ups, then this food/body relationship is incredibly fragile. It can go flying off the rails at any point.

In these instances, controlling food and weight can become an unconscious coping strategy for emotional survival. This is when disordered eating and eating disorders creep in, grabbing the diet cultures messages as a desperate attempt to raise self-esteem and feel a little better inside.

If you’ve struggled with your relationship with food, being governed by the rules and dietary restrictions, then getting back towards an intuitive eating relationship can feel like an impossible and unfeasible feat. 

And of course, treatment for an eating disorder requires psychological therapy and often intensive support. The deeper coping strategies need unpicking and the pain processed safely and over time. There is no quick fix for this.

Early research studies indicate that people who practice 'Intuitive Eating Principles' in contrast to those who impose rigid dietary control, show lower levels of body image concern and disordered eating behaviours. This has a profound benefit on mental wellbeing and self-esteem, indicating that the principles could definitely be worth learning and practising.

Re-learning to eat intuitively is not a quick fix process and should not be treated as such. If you have been governed by food restrictions for months or years, this will naturally take some unlearning, and a patient and compassionate approach is vital.

If you are interested to find out more you can read about the '10 Intuitive Eating Principles' and start applying them to your eating behaviours. These were cemented as an official philosophy of eating in 1995, by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

You may want to consider working with a professional therapist to help you overcome negative eating behaviours. Counselling Directory offers a searchable database of counsellors so you can find the right fit for you. 

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet is a counsellor, writer and trainer working in eating disorders.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist

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