Integrative Nutrition Blog

Insights on Autoimmune Health and Inflammatory Conditions

Intuitive Eating with Food Restrictions

Nov 10, 2021 | Inflammation & Autoimmune Disease, Intuitive Eating

Today I’m taking a little bit of a detour to talk about intuitive eating.  Intuitive eating teaches us to really throw food restrictions out the window and give yourself permission to eat everything. But what happens if you have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances? Is it still possible to be an intuitive eater within this restrictive framework? I think it is. So today I’m breaking down how food restrictions can help you become an intuitive eater, and why doing an elimination diet can still help you follow the principles of intuitive eating.

What Is Intuitive Eating?

So let’s talk about food restrictions and intuitive eating.  Intuitive eating and its principles are based on three core characteristics.

  1. Eat for physical reasons, not emotional reasons
  2. Rely on your own hunger and satiety cues.
  3. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. That includes what, when, and how much.

The last core value is where many people may argue that avoiding certain foods for health reasons is not within the intuitive eating framework.

Restrictions With Intuitive Eating

However, many people with autoimmune diseases and digestive issues are sensitive to certain foods. So avoiding these foods help manage symptoms, and can reduce inflammation.  Since they are avoiding these foods, these are technically food restrictions. They can create so called food rules.  I believe that there is some gray area around the all food fits approach. Because if you are intuitively eating and paying attention, you start to recognize how foods make you feel.

Elimination Diets

So next, I want to talk about elimination diets.  There are a lot of misconceptions that elimination diets are really restrictive, and they are just another diet. But I’m here to tell you that elimination diets can actually help you be a better intuitive eater.  So think about this. Elimination diets are designed to help my clients heal from inflammatory and trigger foods. Removing these trigger foods helps brain fog disappear.  It helps to minimize bloating and bowel irregularities like constipation and diarrhea.

Food Triggers

By removing food triggers, you may also relieve joint pain and fatigue. So once these foods are removed, and the immune system and the digestive system have a chance to calm down.  Most people find they are better able to recognize trigger foods.  People become more in tune with their own bodies, they notice how foods make them feel. Therefore they’re becoming a bit more intuitive with their eating.  Discovering food triggers can be life saving for my clients. However, they still have a decision to make about what what they eat. So now they just have another data point to consider when choosing certain foods.

So for instance, let’s say you found out that tomatoes trigger brain fog and make you super tired.  But you are really craving a bowl of spaghetti with meatballs. So by allowing yourself to eat that spaghetti, despite you knowing how it’s going to make you feel, is really your choice. It’s not a bad choice. It’s simply a choice you made because you’re honoring what you wanted at that time despite the consequences that you may feel afterwards.

Tips For Intuitive Eating

Here are some tips on to how to eat intuitively with food restrictions.

  1.  Honor your hunger and fullness. One of the most basic principles of intuitive eating is still totally possible when you live with food sensitivities or intolerances. Hunger is a basic need and a signal to your body that it needs energy. So if you’re eating when you’re hungry and you’re stopping when you’re full, it helps you tune into your body and helps you improve your relationship with food.
  2.  Find alternatives to satisfy your cravings.  Many of my autoimmune clients cannot tolerate gluten or dairy.  There are so many fantastic alternatives for many of these products that can help you avoid eating your trigger foods, but yet satisfy a craving that you may have for them.  I stock my pantry and freezer with plenty of goodies to keep me satisfied for when I have those doughnut or cookie cravings, without triggering my bloating, or joint pain.
  3. Focus on foods you can eat.  Rather than wallowing in the loss of your trigger foods, think about the many foods that you can eat that are still nourishing your body.  Having a positive mindset can also help reduce stress and improve your autoimmune symptoms.
  4.  Learn how to manage your emotions without food.  Another very basic principle of intuitive eating is to separate your emotions from food.  Many autoimmune disorders usually come with a host of emotions.  So many of my clients turn to food for comfort. While this is fine to do every once in a while, it’s really important to investigate if your emotions are dictating your eating habits.

Tools To Manage Your Emotional Eating

One way to start working on this is to use a hunger and emotion journal. Each time you eat, notice if you’re eating for hunger, or for another reason.  If it’s an emotional reason, try to find another way to deal with those feelings without using food. I know for me personally, I am a total stress eater. I tend to eat when I’m stressed or when I’m bored.  So I actually have to really tune into myself and recognize that I am eating, and I’m not eating when I’m hungry. So just because you have food restrictions does not mean that intuitive eating is out of reach. Being an intuitive eater means that you’re listening to your body, you’re honoring your hunger and fullness, and eating in a way that makes you feel good. For those of you who need help with intuitive eating or discovering your food sensitivities please contact me to set up a free discovery call. You can also follow me on Instagram at @the.autoimmune.dietitian or Facebook at @annierubinnutrition or my website.

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