Intuitive Eating with a Medical Condition
People with medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or gastrointestinal disorders may feel like intuitive eating will not work for them because of their diagnosis. They may understand that, due to their diagnosis, they need to avoid certain foods or ingredients. They also may assume that they aren’t good candidates for intuitive eating. While all of this is understandable, as dietitians who regularly work with people with medical conditions, we find that the opposite is actually true. Intuitive eating can promote health and wellbeing for people even if there is a medical condition to take into account.
While intuitive eating encourages listening to internal cues regarding how food makes you feel, the principles focus largely on cues from hunger, fullness, and satisfaction to make decisions about eating. While these three cues are important, especially as yo
u begin your intuitive eating journey, there are many other factors to take into consideration in regards to learning to listen to your body’s wisdom. These cues may include how a food makes you feel after you have eaten it or how you feel when you eat more or less of that food, how foods affect athletic performance, and how eating at certain times may affect your sleep or overall energy levels. These are all things you can explore further as you progress deeper into your intuitive eating journey.
When applying intuitive eating for someone with a medical condition, there may be some additional data available and some additional questions to ask. Let’s think for a minute about a person with diabetes. Looking at blood sugar levels regularly gives some immediate feedback about the effect certain foods and eating patterns have. Some people approach this as good if their blood sugars are lower or bad if their blood sugars are higher. I invite you to take a different stance, though. Rather than approaching this information with a good or bad lens, what if you instead approached it from a place of curiosity and non-judgment? What if you used this data to just give you more information about your body?
Here are some examples of questions you might ask yourself after looking at your blood sugar reading:
Did that food cause your blood sugar to increase in the way you thought it would?
What happens if you eat that food with other foods that have protein, fat, or fiber in them?
How did your body feel after eating that food or meal?
Are you able to give yourself more insulin to accommodate the additional carbohydrates?
Have you truly given yourself full permission to enjoy these foods now and in the future?
These are all questions (and there are so many more) that can help you approach eating and your medical condition with more self-compassion to determine what foods feel good in your body and how you might be able to adapt your eating to accommodate them when they sound good to you.
This mindset can be very different from what you may have heard in the past, including from medical professionals. It makes sense that not every medical professional has been educated in this way of thinking. Weight stigma is a relatively new topic in the literature and many medical professionals don’t get training in nutrition interventions. It is also important to remember that while medical professionals are providing the best information they have at the time, we are all learning all of the time. The message they are sharing of paying attention to your lab values isn’t wrong - it just isn’t the only thing for you to be noticing. That’s why it is so important to approach your lab values or test results from a place of inquisitiveness and without guilt or shame. These are data points that can help you explore how eating different foods or eating in a different way impacts you rather than a measure of how well you are or are not taking care of yourself. Think of yourself like a science experiment where you’re learning what feels good, what functions well, and what gives your body energy. Approaching your objective and subjective data that way can help avoid shame and can help keep your eating sustainable and realistic long-term
Remember, too, that intuitive eating isn’t all or nothing. While one part of intuitive eating involves listening to what your body is craving and giving yourself permission to eat what sounds good, that is only one element. Intuitive eating is so much more than just that and learning to look inward to help you determine what, how, and when to eat includes many other components. If you have a medical condition, you may need to focus a little more on those other data points, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn to honor your body and your hunger. There is a lot to this and it all takes patience, time, and some experimentation to find your path. Learning how to eat in the context of a medical diagnosis can feel scary. If you feel like you need additional support, we’ve got you! If you would like to learn more or make an appointment, you can do that by going here.