Intuitive Eating with a Medical Condition

Intuitive Eating with a Medical Condition
by Alex Cisneros, Registered Dietitian Student, University of Houston

Intuitive Eating is for everyone. How intuitive eating may look for everyone, differs tremendously. Being diagnosed with a chronic or lifestyle related disease usually leads to being placed on a specific diet to help treat and manage your health condition. While this is meant to be helpful and effective for your health and well-being, sometimes our relationship with food can be altered or further altered negatively if an individual already has a poor relationship with food and eating. Our relationship with food when having a medical condition impacts our physical and mental health in so many ways. Positively, it can be a way to nourish ourselves, help treat our health circumstance and be this incredible tool to improve our quality of life. In contrast, adversely it can be a way to cope or compress our emotions (aka, emotional eating), prevent ourselves from experimenting new foods, and be an obstacle from finding peace with food.

There is no doubt that medical conditions such as diabetes, renal disease, and obesity are complicated situations that involve more than altered treatment of diet. However, nutrition is researched to have a strong correlation to support treatment with these conditions and because of that strong correlation, individuals experience treatment plans that involve restricting certain food groups and/or change their eating patterns. This change of eating impacts an individual’s lifestyle and can create resentful behaviors and emotions towards food when presented as a restrictive and unenjoyable change.

The common misconception of intuitive eating with a medical condition is the idea that “all foods fit” for everyone regardless of unique circumstances, thus this way of eating is not approachable for them. When having a medical condition, this concept does not apply to those individuals with their health condition being a top priority, foods that need to be avoided or limited are being so in a place of self-care versus a rigid restriction. Discussed below I define what is intuitive eating is and three ways you can incorporate this way of eating into your lifestyle!

What is Intuitive eating? Intuitive eating can be best defined as an eating practice that honors both physical and mental health, it includes becoming more self-aware of hunger cues, rejecting diet culture thoughts, and finding a healthy relationship with food.

Here are three ways you can incorporate intuitive eating today:

Release learned behaviors of judgement:
Bring awareness to any past judgements you have regarding food. Tangibly, feel free to take a piece of paper to write down all judgements you have. Notice any of those thoughts that may have been passed down by family or peers about specific foods being “bad” or good.” Accept the effects those commonly labeled “bad” foods have on your body and health, and recognize that they are just that, specific types of food that don’t necessarily optimize your well-being. Acknowledge any other groups of food that you have been told by your health care provider to limit or avoid for your medical condition, and find acceptance (through time) that those foods are being altered in your diet for your self-care and improving your overall health.

Include mindfulness when eating                                                                                                                                                        Mindfulness while eating is an aspect of intuitive eating that is a practice focusing on an individual’s experience before, during and after a meal. Including mindful eating in your lifestyle can be another helpful tool to improve the relationship with your food because of a strong emphasis towards self-awareness with eating.

One way of being mindful while eating is paying attention to your hunger cues. Noticing when in your body you are experiencing physical hunger (hunger that occurs gradually and non-emotionally induced) versus emotional hunger (occurs instantly and tied to a emotion such as excitement, fear, or sadness).

Another way to be mindful when you eat is to be fully present. Refrain from TV or cell phone or other distracting devices when you are eating. Notice how the food looks and smells before starting your meal. Then slowly and mindfully enjoy and savor each bite. You can add affirmations such as, with this meal I am nourishing and healing my body.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are feeling strong emotions before eating, give yourself a moment to pause and acknowledge what emotions you are feeling. It may be helpful to mentally note or tangibly write down in a notepad what those emotions are so you can become more aware of any patterns that might lead to emotionally eating. A useful approach to emotional eating could be to try some of the following strategies going for a walk, practicing yoga, journaling, spending quality time with a loved one (maybe even a pet) or even considering seeking help from a professional licensed therapist. However, it should be noted that the best way to address emotion eating will look different for different individuals.

Be compassionate to yourself                                                                                                                                                                        Give yourself grace. We are only human.

Food is meant nourish your body for your physical well-being yes, but food can also be used in an enjoyable way. When we focus so much on eating to look a certain way or be a certain number on the scale, we lose track of the more significant goal when treating our medical condition, which is getting to an optimal and sustainable health.

For example, being compassionate to yourself looks like being able to distinguish when you have made a health impeding dietary choice such a high glycemic (high sugar content) food as a type 2 diabetic or a high cholesterol meal (meal with heavy content of animal products and oils) as heart disease patient and refrain from inflicting guilt upon yourself or allowing anyone else to shame you. Instead, notice any unpleasant symptoms followed by consuming the food and reflect on what decisions you can make next time to implement a healthier choice. We can still enjoy food with dietary limitations by being creative in the kitchen, looking up different classic recipes that include nutrient dense ingredients to support your medical condition.

In summary, focus on the future positive choices you can make ahead of you versus the past choices behind you with compassion and grace for yourself.

This blog post was inspired by the book ‘Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Work by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole.’ Check out the following link to find more information about the book:

This blog post is not intended to replace medical advice. Always speak to your health care provider for any advice and questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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