“Can I eat intuitively with a health condition?”
This is one of the most common questions I’m asked when it comes to Intuitive Eating (IE). I think one of the reasons why people get confused is because IE can be misunderstood as eating whatever, whenever. This feels like it can wreck havoc on your health when we think about traditional diet culture messaging.
But Intuitive Eating is more about making decisions based on what’s best for your body by listening to its hunger and fullness cues, paying attention to how satisfied you are after eating and taking gentle nutrition into account.
Considering this big picture, it’s easier to see how you can implement Intuitive Eating for diabetes and other health conditions without eating whatever you want whenever you want.
Intuitive Eating for diabetes, heart health and other conditions
If you have a health condition like diabetes, PCOS, kidney disease or a different condition that is treated in part by what you eat, you might have been told you need to avoid or completely restrict certain foods and nutrients. However, you usually don’t need to be on such a strict eating pattern as your doctor might prescribe; for example, you shouldn’t completely give up carbs with diabetes and it’s still ok to have some salt with heart conditions. In fact, your body needs sodium to work properly!
Consider what you can add rather than restrict
Considering what to add into your eating pattern can help you eat intuitively. For example, when practicing Intuitive Eating for diabetes, instead of having the mindset that you need to eliminate all carbs, think about what you can add to your diet.
Adding fiber, (which is found in foods like fruit, nuts, whole grains and veggies), fat (found in options like nut butters, nuts, cheese and fat-containing milk) or protein (found in foods such as meat, fish, edamame and eggs) to simple carbs, which include white bread, sweets or pastries, can help stabilize blood sugar. This is an effective way to eat for both diabetes and PCOS, as blood sugar plays a role in both conditions.
|Fruit, nuts, whole grains, beans, vegetables||Nuts/nut butters, oils, avocados, butter, fatty fish, full-fat dairy products||meat and poultry, eggs, fish, beans/legumes, dairy products|
In that same light, if you need to limit salt for a health condition, think about what you can add to your food to add flavor. You can get creative with herbs and spices. And when it comes to finding alternatives to salty processed foods, consider making your own and choosing options lower in sodium.
Salt-Free Seasoning Tips
|Onion and garlic powders||Cinnamon||Cayenne pepper||Vinegars|
|Chives||Basil||Mustard||Lemon/lime juice or zest|
|Sage||Mint||Fresh, chopped hot peppers|
|Toasted sesame oil|
Kidney disease, especially as it progresses, requires more and more nutrient restrictions. If you find yourself missing your favorite foods, what are substitutions you like? Are there foods with potassium, for example, that you can cut back on to allow for your favorite potato recipe?
When avoidance is necessary, consider your why
Some conditions do, unfortunately, require total avoidance of different nutrients. For example, if someone has Celiac Disease, the only treatment is to not eat foods containing gluten. When this is the only option, it’s not possible to focus on what you can add into your eating pattern to better treat the condition. Instead, some people focus on their why, such as no longer having GI issues or having more energy. When symptoms are gone, it’s easier to continue avoiding whatever nutrient or food it is that your body doesn’t agree with.
Still, grieving the food or nutrient you aren’t able to eat is absolutely valid and normal. Even if you know you are better off not eating certain foods, you likely still miss the taste, emotions or memories associated with what you’re avoiding.
Working with a registered dietitian like Erin who is trained in Intuitive Eating is a good way to navigate the process of managing a health condition with nutrition while dealing with the emotions and different situations that can come up. These HAES Health Sheets are another resource for anti-diet lifestyle guidance.
Gentle nutrition as a part of Intuitive Eating
The last part of the Intuitive Eating journey is gentle nutrition. When you’re at this point, you’ve made peace with food, trust your body’s signals and know which foods do and don’t satisfy you. You’re ready to implement Intuitive Eating for diabetes or other health conditions without the nutrition component triggering food rules or anxiety. But to get to that point, it’s a great idea to work with a registered dietitian, such as Erin, who is versed in Intuitive Eating and can guide you through the process.
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