Why you need intuitive eating, per a dietitian

dietitian tips

As a registered dietitian, I work with clients who want to support or improve their health by having a better relationship with food. But, unlike what people first think, that doesn’t mean eliminating or even necessarily restricting what you eat.

Forget the strict diets. Let’s rework your mental hang-ups about food

Nutrition is about honoring your body’s cues, having the emotional freedom to enjoy what you’re eating, and nourishing your body with a wide variety of foods—because that’s what your hormones and gut ultimately want. 

For the average person, strict diets just don’t work. Even though some foods don’t sit well with some people, no one food is inherently good or bad. And eating something you wouldn’t normally indulge in doesn’t make you (or your diet) good or bad either. 

Many women have absorbed our cultural message about what they should or shouldn’t eat or look like. It’s important for us to re-work that message and mindset before ever talking about what’s on your plate. At first, we focus a lot on identifying beliefs surrounding food, body image, and self-care. That leads to more openness about food and how to embrace eating to best support your body.

What intuitive eating really means

We are all born with some intuition about eating, but we lost it somewhere along the way. Intuitive eating is an ongoing process of letting go of eating patterns that don’t serve you or your body well. It means giving yourself permission to eat when you feel hungry and acknowledging that, yes, many of us turn to food when we are emotional or stressed. Doing this constantly may be an issue, but doing it every now and then is simply human—and that’s not something to beat yourself up about.

How to make a move toward intuitive eating

My clients have a lot of success with journaling and coaching. Patterns and hidden beliefs about food, eating, and the “thin ideal” usually emerge. We’re able to navigate through those blocks and re-learn how to view food. Sometimes, I use the example of Girl Scout cookies. If you’re denying yourself any types of sweets, all you can think about (and all you want) are Thin Mints. It is our body’s own adaptive response to “lack of” foods called the Restriction Binge Cycle. What this means is that anytime you feel that food is not going to be there for you or won’t be available to you, it could be very triggering.

Why intuitive eating is good for gut health and hormone balance

Many people believe elimination diets are the first step toward gut health. In my opinion, the problem with elimination diets is that taking out too many foods from your diet can be counterintuitive to healing. Improving gut health and hormone balance means building up and maintaining good microbiome. Microbiome is the collection of organisms in the gut that helps with digestion and your immune system. 

One of the worst things for your microbiome is to focus on eating the same types of food over and over. And, one of the best ways to support it is to find freedom in your diet and allow yourself to eat a wide variety of foods.

Many clients come to me with fertility and ovulation problems, acne, and low progesterone or high cortisol from stressful jobs and over-exercising. Because they have been under-eating or focused on a limited number of foods, they usually have micronutrient deficiencies that need to be addressed. 

Intuitive eating when you think you might have food sensitivities or allergies

There are always exceptions, but, in most situations, I’m not an advocate of eliminating foods and working them back in. For many women, cutting out so many foods at once leaves them feeling worse and with little to no energy. Because they’re feeling worse, it can get confusing as to which foods are really the issue. So, I have many women work in reverse. We rely on journaling to identify patterns of symptoms or how she felt after eating certain types of food. 

My path to intuitive eating at the Pantry Doctor

I’m always researching and evolving. When I started out as a registered dietitian, my mindset was very different than it is now. I focused a lot on the “rules” around a healthful diet. For clients who came to me with gut health and hormone imbalances, we focused on elimination diets. My clients were able to stick to those rules for a while, but they just weren’t sustainable over the long haul. When I started to emphasize intuitive eating, I noticed my clients were having more and more success feeling better. 

Advice for women struggling from hormone imbalance

Sometimes, we need medication for whatever reason. You should go over those pros and cons with your physician or nurse practitioner and take your meds as prescribed. But food is powerful, too. Getting the right micronutrients is powerful. And just as powerful is changing how we view food. For many women, there’s a lot of stress surrounding eating and body image. This is what I love about intuitive eating and finding food freedom. If you aren’t dieting and you are just living your life, that brings so much flexibility. Improving your relationship with food can help get us out of fight-or-flight mode, reduce high stress hormones, and help with overall hormonal balance. 

Want to chat about intuitive eating?

Think you could benefit from intuitive eating or want to talk food relationships or gut health? Sign up for a free 20-minute consult to chat concerns, questions, and how I can help.

Wendie Taylor, RDN, LD, MBA
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