6 Tips To Help You Eat Intuitively While On A Healing Diet

intuitive eating on a healing diet

I consider myself an intuitive eater, but I also follow a healing diet. I know, crazy right? But just hear me out.

I’ve been called out for this, being told that you can’t eat a specific way (aka paleo and SCD in my case) and be an “intuitive eater.”

I didn’t get offended by this individuals’ (rude, might I add) message, but instead I paused and really thought about it. How do I do it? And how can I explain it and help others do the same?

Living life with a chronic illness that disrupts your gut means you have to make changes to your life and diet. For me, that means following a healing protocol and having a smaller “can eat” list than “can’t eat” list. And I understand that it seems ironic – being intuitive yet having a long list of foods I “can’t” eat. But keep reading and I think it will start to make more sense.

The intuitive eating craze has seemed to skyrocket over the last year or so, and I love that. I love that we’re encouraging others to ditch the restrictive diets and macro tracking and calorie counting and food rules, to embrace food freedom, to eat what they want when they want, to not be afraid to eat enough or indulge or not be “perfect.”

But I also think intuitive eating can be polarizing. What about those of us with severe sicknesses? What about those of us with such messed up guts that eating “whatever” we want could land us in the hospital? What about those of us that have so many food intolerances that always flying by the seat of our pants with food will make us extremely sick? What about those of us where ditching all semblance of a specific “diet” would mean a life half lived because of how sick we would feel?

intuitive eating on a healing diet

If you’re like me, dealing with stomach issues, know that it’s okay to choose foods that make you feel good. It’s okay to turn down the doughnut, or ice cream cone, or burger, or candy, or margarita, or whatever it may be, if you know you’ll feel sick. It’s okay to bring your own food and plan ahead and pack snacks on trips. It’s okay to make a different meal that your family and friends. And not only is it okay, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be an intuitive eater too. Because intuitive eating encompasses so much more than simply the foods we choose to eat.

According to benourished.org, an intuitive eater is simply defined as a person who “makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating.”

It doesn’t say anything in there that you have to allow yourself to eat anything and everything under the sun. That may be an important part of one person’s intuitive eating journey, but the intuitive eating journey for someone with IBD may look different.

intuitive eating on a healing diet

People have an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to intuitive eating, but I don’t think it has to be that way. I still think there are ways to be intuitive within limits when limits keep you healthy and living your fullest life.

Here are a few things I keep in mind to keep myself on the intuitive eating train:

 1. Establish What is Necessary When It Comes To Your Limits

Get comfortable and accustomed to your healing diet or protocol. What are absolute “no’s” and what can you maybe be a little more lenient on? I know when I first started SCD, I was 100% strict with zero exceptions because I wanted to give it my all and see how it truly helped my body and ulcerative colitis. After my big flare last summer, I added a couple things back in because being so restricted was making me reach for far too many raw veggies and full nuts which are super rough on my digestive system. Allowing a tiny bit more freedom with sweet potatoes and rice cakes has helped that. After adding them back in I noticed they made me feel fine, so I let myself have them in moderation (not going overboard because I still know a mainly low carbohydrate diet is best for IBD). Recognizing areas like this where I can be a little more “intuitive” with my choices and not stick to the SCD “legal list” has been helpful.

2. Ditching Food Rules As They Relate to Meal Timing

Just because you can’t eat WHATever you want, doesn’t mean you can’t eat WHENever you want. I used to have the strangest food rules when it came to meal and snack times, which led me to becoming extremely out of touch with my hunger cues. Breakfast couldn’t be before 9:30am, lunch had to be at noon, dinner had to be at 5 (in college). I could only have one snack between lunch and dinner (typically right at 2:30), but never a snack between breakfast and lunch. I would literally wait, looking at the clock waiting for it to be noon, even if I was starving at 11:30. Now? Now I eat whenever the heck my body tells me to. Somedays breakfast is at 7:30, while other days it’s at 11. Somedays lunch is at 11:30 and other days it’s at 3. Somedays dinner is at 6, other days it’s at 8:30. Somedays I eat five different snacks, other days I eat no snacks. Somedays I eat dessert after dinner, somedays dessert just doesn’t sound good. Tune in, eat when you’re hungry, not when your brain tells you it’s an “okay” time to eat.

3. Ditch the Idea That Certain Foods Can Only Be Eaten At Certain Meals

I used to put foods in boxes – breakfast food, lunch food, dinner food, snack food. I’ve learned to honor my cravings even if it means salads for breakfast and smoothies for dinner and soup for a snack. There is no right or wrong when it comes to what kind of food you can eat for each meal.

intuitive eating on a healing diet

4. Overall, Get Rid Of All The Random Food Rules

Along with time-related food rules or meal-type-related food rules, getting honest with yourself about other food rules you may be placing on yourself is important. Some of the food rules I used to constrain myself by were – I could only have one banana day. I could only have 2 pieces of fruit a day. I had to have some sort of vegetable with breakfast (tbh I still eat air-fried carrots almost every morning but that’s just because I truly LOVE them), etc. etc. etc. When I let those silly rules go, I finally felt in-tune with my body.

5. Honor Your Hunger Cues

This goes back to ditching time-related food rules – eat when you’re hungry. Even if it’s not “breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack time.” Even if you “already had a snack.” Even if you think you “shouldn’t” still be hungry. Even if you feel like you have eaten “enough” for the day. Honor it. Eat something. Go on with your day. Your body is smart, I promise.

6. Finding New Ways To Honor Cravings

Along with honoring hunger cues, honoring cravings is clearly a big part of intuitive eating. But what can you do when you crave a food you know will just about kill your stomach? Find a NEW, safe way to honor that craving. I talked about this a little bit in my most recent recipe for the mini paleo everything “bagels.” I had been craving an everything bagel like CRAZY. If I didn’t have ulcerative colitis or a severe intolerance to gluten and simply ate healthy for the sake of being healthy, then heck yes, I could’ve just sent it and ate the dang bagel. But me being me and my stomach being my stomach, I knew indulging in a bagel would be close to a death wish. So instead, I got creative and made my own, stomach-friendly option. This doesn’t mean I’m not intuitive or I’m restrictive, it means I’m smart and know my body well. It’s just another form of honoring my body. So, if you’re craving a food you know will make you sick, you can still honor that craving, but simply in a “safer” way.

intuitive eating on a healing diet

So, with all of that said, to me, intuitive eating means…

Eating “whatever” I want within the limits of what I know makes me feel best. 

Eating WHENever I want with no weird food rules about the timing of meals and snacks.

 Eating multiple snacks if I’m extra hungry one day and not questioning it.

Eating a big dessert after a big dinner if I’m feeling it one day and skipping dinner if my stomach isn’t feeling its best the next (and not getting upset at myself for either).

Eating what I want for whatever meal, without the constraints like “but a smoothie isn’t lunch food.”

Ditching food rules that I used to have like “one banana a day,” or “no food after 8pm,” or “only one snack between lunch and dinner.”

Eating food without guilt, without ethical dilemma, with respect for my hunger and fullness and enjoyment for every bite.

So I say HELL YES – you can be an intuitive eater and be paleo. You can be an intuitive eater and follow SCD or AIP. You can be intuitive and gluten free, or dairy free, or refined sugar free, or soy free, or meat free, or nightshade free.

You can even be intuitive and be any of those things even if being those things is simply a personal choice and not a necessity for your health. Because just because you CAN eat gluten, dairy, soy, meat, etc. doesn’t mean you have to do so if it doesn’t interest you and you don’t feel restricted by your decisions.

All that truly matters is ditching the food rules that make you feel restricted, eating without guilt and honoring your hunger.

Truly. It can be that simple.

Some of my favorite “safe” foods when the random cravings strike:

If you’re craving girl scout cookies, try these Samoa-taste-alike energy balls

If you’re craving ice cream, try this mint chip banana ice cream

If you’re craving oatmeal, try these cauliflower “oats”

If you’re craving everything bagels, try this mini paleo version

If you’re craving mashed potatoes, try this paleo cauliflower kohlrabi mash

If you’re craving a chocolate milkshake, try this chocolate smoothie bowl