Intuitive Eating in Eating Disorder Recovery

Treatments often repeat the refrain, “You cannot practice intuitive eating when recovering from an eating disorder.” Is this true? This post discusses the ten principles for intuitive eating and how these can be used to help with eating disorders recovery.

When I began training in intuitive eating, I was told that it wasn’t suitable for people with active eating disorders. I didn’t know why at first, but it always bothered me. Even so, I continued to defer to the experts and put off further training in eating disorders because I loved intuitive eating and did not want to leave it.

Since then, I have gained A LOT of training and experience on intuitive eating as well as eating disorders. This myth is well-intentioned but problematic. Let’s discuss…

Why is it that people claim you cannot practice intuitive eating during eating disorder recovery?

People say that intuitive eating is not appropriate for eating disorder recovery. There are a few reasons behind this. In eating disorder recovery, it is often necessary to use meal plans in order to aid with nutritional rehabilitation. This means re-nourishing the body after a period of restriction. The use of meal plans can also be used to normalize eating habits and ensure that someone eats enough throughout the day.


Meal plans come in many different types, from more structured exchanges to less structured patterns like a plate plan. The amount of structure required varies depending on the individual’s nutrition and mental health requirements, as well as their dietitian’s approach. A structured meal plan can be in conflict with intuitive eating. This is a paradigm that involves listening to your fullness and hunger cues.

When you are recovering from an eating disorder, your hunger and fullness signals can be all over the place. All eating disorders are affected by this. Anorexics, for example, may feel very full after eating a small amount or not even experience hunger cues, despite needing to eat more. Binge eaters and bulimics may have difficulty recognizing subtler signs of hunger or fullness. They often wait until their stomachs are growling before they eat and then overeat.


Intuitive Eating is based on the idea that hunger and fullness signals are usually closely related to one’s energy requirements. How can you use this paradigm if the hunger and fullness signals aren’t a reflection of your needs?

Thirdly, intuitive eating can be harmful to eating disorders recovery because many people require much more food than they think. You need to eat to replenish your body and pay off the nutritional debt accumulated by long restriction periods.

You can see many reasons to be cautious regarding intuitive eating. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that intuitive eating can’t be used to heal from an eating disorder.

What’s wrong with saying you can’t use intuitive eating for recovery from an eating disorder?

If someone tells you that intuitive eating can’t be practiced in eating disorder recovery, they rely on a false (and simplistic) understanding of intuitive eating. In the field, intuitive eating can be called the “hunger fullness diet” because it ignores eight principles and focuses on hunger and feeling full.

The ten principles of intuitive eating were designed to be tools, not rules. These principles can be tailored to the individual who is using this paradigm. If you say that someone with an eating disorder can’t do intuitive eating, it implies they cannot practice instinctive food if they don’t follow the rules to the letter or all of the principles. This reinforces the rigid binary thinking of many people with eating disorders.

It can be depressing. When I began working with clients in recovery, many expressed their frustration at being told that intuitive eating was not allowed. Many people who learn about involuntary feeding immediately relate to its message and see it as an alternative way of eating that is not so rigid or restrictive. It can be liberating to learn about intuitive eating. It helps people see a different way of eating that is not based on an eating disorder. It can be hard to hear that they cannot use this tool.

We integrate intuitive eating into our work with clients recovering from eating disorders. We do this by adapting intuitive eating principles to the client’s current stage of recovery. Here I will discuss the principles of intuitive eating and how they can help with eating disorder recovery.


Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating in Eating Disorder Recovery

It’s difficult to break free from the diet mentality if you are trapped in an eating problem. You can start to challenge the diet mentality if you learn more about intuitive eating or Health at Every Size. You can read Intuitive Eating or Anti Diet. You may find it helpful to read What we don’t talk about when we talk about Fat in order to learn more about fatphobia and The Fear of the Black Body in order to better understand the origins of cultural body standards.

Understanding the harmful effects of diets is essential for anyone who struggles with binge-eating disorder or bulimia. NEDA’s website contains helpful information about the health effects of eating disorders. You can read Sick Enough by a doctor specializing in treating eating disorders for more detailed information.

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