In my recovery I used both the MinnieMaud calorie guidelines and intuitive eating to achieve full recovery from my eating disorders (bulimia and orthorexia). I will say they both have their positive and negative aspects for recovery and different things work for different people.
I have prevously talked about the MinnieMaud calorie guidelines for the eating disorder recovery (read HERE.) and how I used it along with intuitive eating for my recovery (watch video HERE.). But today I want to solely focus on how to recover from an eating disorder by only following intuitive eating.
Note: This is not a “one size fits all” kind of post but what I have seen worked best for my recovery and the clients I have worked with. And as always, none of my posts are intent to be taken as medical advice or treatment. This post is mostly concluded by my own observations, research and experience regarding this subject.
“You can’t trust your hunger”
Counting calories, even in order to get enough, can be very triggering for most people with an eating disorder past. This is the biggest downside to eating according to the MinnieMaud calorie guidelines (eventhought it’s not restrictive). I think the reason why following the MinnieMaud for a few months worked so well for me was becuase:
1) I did not felt triggered at all by counting calories to eat enough
2) I found it quite easy to stop counting after a while
3) I actually felt a relief that I saw I wasn’t actually “bingeing” (as I thought before) but just eating enough. So it calmed down some of the irrational fears about my “huge appetite”.
But this is not the same for everybody and the more I learn and hear peoples stories I see that intuitive eating, in this case, is the best answer for them.
Maybe in recovery clinics or listening to multiple doctor people with eating disorders have been told that: “You can’t trust your hunger when you come from an eating disorder”. Understandably, your hunger cues are messed up: you do not know what means “hunger and fullness” or what even are “normal hunger cues”. Eventhought there might be truth to it (I felt like this as well) your hunger cues are not entirely swiched off or absent, you just have to learn to listen to them again. And this is where intuitive eating comes in.
People with anorexia
I have seen with many people who are recovering from anorexia that at first their hunger might, indeed, be a bit suppressed (not for everybody thought) and they may eat too little at first. The mental fear of eating also plays a big role. But when the food is introduced on a more consistent basis, with regular times, increased over time, their full hunger will return as well.
They start to feel more and more hungry again, which is actually good and normal.
They start to feel more and more hungry again, which is actually good and normal. Their hunger hormones and metabolism finally “wake up” and start to ask more food so the body can recover. They will very likely go through a period of extreme hunger (Read HERE.) and start to feel like a bottomless pit. They may start to eat several breakfasts, lunches and dinners a day. They may even sometimes feel it’s only “mental hunger” but I still encourage them to trust their hunger (the intuitive eating) and just follow it. And calm them down that this period will pass, because it will.
Then, after a while, they start to get used to it, they feel good eating more normally, having regular food and start to feel hungry for more average food amounts. The extreme hunger decreases a lot as their body recovers. They also start to feel less and less obsessed about foods and can even go several hours without any thoughts about foods. Their hunger becomes more and more balanced.
All of this may take several months, so please give it time! Read more about the phases of recovery in this post: “Recovery Road – What To Expect?”
During this time they also eat what they crave. Their body tells them to eat chocolate, cheese, ice cream…all the foods they previously deprevided themselves from. But in time their cravings start to balance out. Over time they notice that sometimes they even do not fancy chocolate every single day. Also, they report craving a salad after a long time! Their intuitive hunger signals tells them to eat nutritious foods too, and they find it more satisfying than ever.
The mental aspect of “going intuitive” may be the biggest challenge, however. They do not trust themselves with food and eating and therefore continue relapsing back to restriction unnecessarily. They may feel that what they crave or how much food they want is not normal or “intuitive”. For that it is beneficial to have constant remindsers and recovery support. But if they get past these fears the full recovery will be possible.
People with bulimia
For people with bulimia this is a very similar scenario. Instead of insisting them to stop “bingeing” on foods I advise them to stop purging and skip any calorie comepensation first and foremost. No more purging, exessive exercise, dieting, fasting, using laxatives or diuretics. No restriction or dieting ever again.
The bingeing cannot be stopped when restriction is not stopped first.
Of course, it will freak them out, but logically they understand how restriction and calorie compensation (such as puring) will only lead them to the next binge episode. The bingeing cannot be stopped when restriction is not stopped first. It doesn’t even work the other way around.
So they just follow their hunger. For the first weeks they may feel like they are just developing a binge eating disorder instead of bulimia. Again, I explain to them how their hunger will decrease in time as they stop all restrictions. And just to trust the process of how our body recovers from our restrictive past, and trust the intuitive eating.
At first, they may still be triggered to purge as eating so much feels uncomfortable, but time and time again they realise it will just continue the neverending binge-purge cycle if they do not stop the purging first. They are also developing a more regular eating pattern, eat frequently all thoughtout the day and continue to eliminate any restrictions.
Along with that I remind them that they never have to be afraid of future restriction. Even if today they ate more than “normal”, feel uncomfortable and too full, it does not mean that from tomorrow they will start a new diet. So they realise: “What is the point of eating until stuffed, If the food will always be there, any time I want?” They see that there is no point to eat like it’s the last time they are ever allowed to eat. So their hunger calms down becuase they stop restricting and compensating and also becuase mentally they are not in a constant fear of future restriction. Also their cravings start to decrease and eating becomes more balanced.
They might slowly start to experience a feeling of “I am not so hungry today” which is a sign of normal hunger cues returning. Wanting to eat more normal portions without any willpower. They eat now regularly and are not triggered to binge eat at every meal. Sometimes they even report forgetting about food becuase they got busy with something interesting.
And from here it all starts to get better…
The basic blueprint is the same
And then we have people with orthorexia…or with various other types or combinations of eating disorders. The basic blueprint is the same – stop restriciton and calorie compensation, eat what you want and eliminate the “good and bad foods” mindset. Eat regularly and do not get too hungry. Only by doing these steps you can see a significant reduce of your eating disorder symptoms. For one, your body can recover and come out of the starvation mode and two, mentally you are not living in a contsant fear and terror of restriction and deprivation. Your hunger can balance out and therefore it will send you less signals of “Binge now because you know you gonna starve later!”
To recover from eating disorder by intuitive eating you basically have to trust your body, have to follow your hunger and know that your body has an inner built in mechanism of how to restore your hunger and fullness cues back into balance and return back to intuitive eating. Of course, what I explain is very general and abstract, every recovery is different, but this is to show how you can use intuitive eating to recover from your eating disorder. This is also exactly how I used intuitive eating in my recovery and am now fully recovered.
Of course, there is more to full recovery than just intuitive eating. Particulalry, the mental recovery that can be one of the biggest roadblocks. Such as developing healthy body image, practicing self-love, having a positive realistic mindset, letting go of the fear of particular foods, the fear of weight gain and so on. But this is an entire different subject. But one is for sure, once the physical recovery is in place the mental recovery has also progressed and is much easier to deal with. Without adequate food and nutrition mental recovery is impossible to tackle.
Do not be freaked out by the extreme hunger and the increased cravings.
The most important tip from me about intuitive eating for eating disorder recovery is this: do not be freaked out by the extreme hunger and the increased cravings of the foods you normally restricted. They are part of the recovery and help you get batter. You have these weird hunger cues because of your restrictive past, not because you are going crazy. And if you want to recover using intuitive eating you should trust your body with this.
Only by following these signals your body can balance out. To have normal hunger cues and make peace with all foods. Instead, what you want to work on is your mindset: to love your body and yourself unconditionally, stop the judgement of what you eat and trust that your body is never working against you but tries it’s best to help you to recover and return back to intuitive eating. Along with practicing intuitive eating work on your mental recover as well. Only this will secure a full recovery.
I hope this post gave you some encouragement and an idea of how the recovery basically looks like with intuitive eating. By listening to your intuitive hunger cues, yes a bit extreme at first (extreme hunger, extreme cravings), but still a true intuitive hunger signals. If you just follow them and do not restrict or compensate ever again they will start to get back to normal and balance out. And you can be eating intuitively just as any other normal healthy individual.
If you want to know more about intuitive eating then please watch my playlist on Youtube about intuitive eating HERE.
Cover image from HERE.