- Intuitive eating is the practice of focusing on healthy habits without dieting or restricting foods.
- Research has linked intuitive eating with improved blood sugar and A1c levels in type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.
- You can practice intuitive eating for diabetes by eating when hungry, stopping when full, and listening to what foods make your body feel good. It’s important to be nonjudgmental when monitoring blood sugar readings and carbohydrate counts.
A diabetes diagnosis often comes with a list of foods you should limit or avoid altogether, but your diet doesn’t have to be so restricted. Having your favorite foods off-limits in the long term can be challenging. For many, this can lead to a cycle of feeling restricted, overeating foods that aren’t “allowed,” and then feeling guilt and shame.
Intuitive eating involves listening to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues to guide your eating rather than external rules like calorie goals or portion sizes. Evidence shows that these eating strategies help with blood sugar control in diabetes.
Read this article to learn more about intuitive eating for diabetes and how it might be the answer you’ve been looking for.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach that shifts the focus away from restrictive dieting and instead emphasizes tuning into your hunger and fullness signals, enjoying food, and accepting your body. Research shows that eating based on your body’s internal needs is associated with lower body weight, improved diet quality, and healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Intuitive eating is an alternative to restrictive dieting, which has been shown to be unsustainable for most people in the long term. In addition, intuitive eating can help improve body image concerns and reduce the risk for eating disorders, which may be heightened by dieting.
Principles of Intuitive Eating
- Reject the diet mentality.
- Honor your hunger.
- Make peace with food.
- Challenge the food police.
- Discover the satisfaction factor.
- Feel your fullness.
- Cope with your emotions with kindness.
- Respect your body.
- Movement– feel the difference.
- Honor your health– gentle nutrition.
These principles are rooted in trusting your body to guide your food choices. If you are used to dieting, this may feel scary, like you won’t be able to control your eating or health. However, intuitive eating is based on the idea that when we diet, it can put us in a vicious cycle of overeating, guilt, and restriction.
Intuitive eating is a way to break this cycle. Many fear that this equals a “free for all” regarding food. However, when we learn to trust our body’s needs, we can shift the focus to healthy lifestyle changes that feel good and sustainable, all while finding joy in eating again.
Benefits of Intuitive Eating for Diabetes Management
Though blood sugar monitoring and awareness of food choices are still important, research supports the benefits of intuitive eating when it comes to diabetes management.
A 2020 study on intuitive eating (IE) and type 2 diabetes found that people with greater IE skills had better blood sugar and A1c levels, regardless of body weight. Other research supports this association, even in people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and children.
People with low intuitive eating skills tend to experience higher rates of emotional eating and disordered eating, both of which are risk factors for elevated A1c levels in diabetes. Developing intuitive eating skills, along with an awareness of fullness cues, can help minimize elevated blood sugar levels resulting from overeating.
Tips for Practicing Intuitive Eating for Diabetes
You may wonder how something like intuitive eating could be applied to diabetes management because food choices impact blood sugar levels. This is where you apply the tenth principle of intuitive eating: honoring your health with gentle nutrition.
Gentle nutrition means eating in a way that promotes health without restriction. In the context of diabetes, this may look like building more nutritious foods into your diet, focusing on what you personally enjoy.
For example, choosing whole-grain carbohydrates can help blood sugar management due to the fiber content. Instead of making sugar and refined carbohydrates “off limits,” think about which high-fiber carbohydrates you enjoy and how you might build more of these into your day.
Monitor without Judgment
Though intuitive eating does not focus on external eating cues, like calorie goals, many people with diabetes need to regularly monitor their blood sugar levels before and after eating. They may also have to count carbohydrates to properly dose insulin. This can be done nonjudgmentally to stay true to the intuitive eating principles.
Say you have a busy day at work and skip lunch. You feel ravenous by dinner time and overeat on takeout on the way home. You check your blood sugar and notice it is above your post-meal goal. Rather than feeling guilty, you can reflect on the situation neutrally. Perhaps prioritizing a balanced lunch meal next time will help prevent over hunger and overeating in the evening, which will help your blood sugar management.
Tune Into Your Cues
It can be helpful to start noticing your hunger and fullness cues and using these to guide your food intake. Think about your appetite on a scale of one to ten, with one being ravenous and ten being overly full. When you’re at a one, your biological drive for food takes over, and it can be hard to plan a nutritionally balanced meal.
Try eating when you first start feeling hungry. Check in with your body throughout the meal, and stop when you are comfortably full.
Consider booking a virtual consultation with a registered dietitian through Nourish for individualized guidance on applying intuitive eating to your situation.
Other Non-Diet Approaches to Managing Diabetes
You may have heard of other non-diet approaches, like mindful eating and Health at Every Size (HAES), which are similar to intuitive eating and may also benefit diabetes management.
While mindful eating emphasizes the importance of tuning into your internal hunger and fullness cues, it also focuses on how you eat. For example, eating very quickly or while watching TV can make it challenging to stay connected to your body’s signals and be satisfied with your meal.
Compared to traditional dietary approaches for type 2 diabetes, research shows that mindful eating can result in comparable improvements in blood sugar levels, making it a valid option for diabetes management.
Health at Every Size
Health at Every Size (HAES) is another non-diet philosophy. It rejects the idea that losing weight is the only way to improve health and includes the practice of intuitive eating. HAES also advocates for equality in healthcare access and encourages body acceptance.
Non-diet approaches like intuitive eating reject restrictive dieting for improving health and instead emphasize listening to your body’s internal cues to guide your food choices. Intuitive eating for diabetes has been linked with improved blood sugar and A1c levels.
You can get started by listening to your hunger and fullness cues to help you guide when to eat, what to eat, and when to stop.
Managing Diabetes with an RD
If you want to learn more about how a non-diet approach may help you achieve sustainable improvements in your diabetes management, consider booking a virtual appointment with a diabetes dietitian through Nourish.
We’ll work with you to maximize your insurance coverage so you can spend your time focusing on a healthier you.
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