When we embark on the journey of substance abuse recovery, it is normal to feel as though we can no longer trust our body’s cues or cravings. Unfortunately, that distrust can trickle into our relationship with food.
Intuitive eating — the concept of trusting your body to naturally make healthy decisions — is making headway in the wellness world. Invented in 1995 by registered dietitians Evelyn Trybole and Elyse Resch, intuitive eating is all about regaining that inner trust that your body actually wants what’s best for you. It is a self-care approach to food that integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought. In a nutshell, this means rejecting the toxic ideals and misinformation that pervade diet culture.
Studies also show that intuitive eating benefits psychological health and well-being. Participants in intuitive eating studies showed improvements in their self-esteem, body image, and overall quality of life while experiencing less depression and anxiety.
However, if thoughts such as ‘but if I ate whatever I wanted, all I would do is binge sugar and carbohydrates’ pop up in your mind, you are not alone. However, it is precisely this kind of thinking that intuitive eating helps you overcome.
For example, when we demonise these substances — and their ‘power’ over us — we invest them with emotional meaning. Consequently, if you see sugar as ‘bad,’ you might then start to crave it more when you feel low. In this instance, it is likely that you are not actually craving sugar. Instead, you could be craving a way of acting that helps you express how you feel. You feel bad, and sugar is bad. Intuitive eating helps us navigate these kinds of emotional-eating landmines.
What is Intuitive Eating?
The Intuitive Eating framework is built upon ten core principles that work in two fundamental ways. Firstly, they help increase your awareness and attunement to the physical sensation of both your biological and psychological needs. Secondly, they help you remove the roadblocks and disruptors to that attunement, which are usually in the form of thoughts, beliefs, and rules.
1. Rejecting the Diet Mentality: intuitive eating is an anti-diet. It involves intentionally letting go of the belief that you need to control your weight.
2. Honouring Our Hunger: we trust that our hunger cues are a sign that our bodies need fuel. Instead of ignoring them, we eat whenever we feel hungry.
3. Making Peace with Food: when we fully allow ourselves to eat as our body wishes, we remove the emotional meaning associated with previously ‘banned’ foods. Poignantly, because it’s no longer forbidden or tied up in emotional states, the food tends to become less appealing.
4. Challenging the Food Police: try to become aware of the internal negative thought process that categorises foods into ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ When you hear the food police chime in, try to actively challenge that self-punishment by showing yourself as much compassion as possible.
5. Respecting Our Fullness: try to think before you eat. To do that, try to eat slowly and focus on your experience of food. The key is to tune into your hunger cues and to stop eating when you are full, regardless of whether your plate is empty.
6. Discovering the Satisfaction Factor: savour the experience of eating via mindful eating techniques. Specifically, focus on the experience of food. That means not eating in the car, dashing to an appointment, or being distracted by a tv show or on your phone.
7. Honouring Our Feelings without Using Food: try to figure out what foods trigger you to engage in emotional eating and then create techniques for dealing with them in a different way. For example, if it is loneliness or boredom, plan to call a friend the next time that feeling hits.
8. Respecting Our Bodies: try to embrace the fact that we are not all the same shape or size, and whatever size you are, unless a professional has told you it is dangerous to your health, then it is right for you.
9. Exercising: Instead of exercising to burn calories, focus on how it makes you feel.
10. Honouring Our Health with Gentle Nutrition: Constant dieters can have an encyclopedic knowledge of different foods' calorie, fat, and carbohydrate content — but forget what they enjoy eating and what helps them feel full. Try to practice choosing meals that, while nutritious, you also find satisfying and enjoyable.
…How Does This Relate to Substance Abuse Recovery?
Intuitive eating can be a useful aid in recovery because it helps you regain trust in yourself. Realising we have spent years acting in a manner that was — ultimately — harmful to our health and well-being can be traumatic. It can make us feel as though we cannot trust ourselves. Unfortunately, societal ideas about eating and diets tend to affirm this. But, when we release ourselves from these ideas, we can actually foster a deeper connection to our body and our own capacity to nurture ourselves.
However, that being said, intuitive eating is not a one-size-fits-all. If you struggle with any kind of eating disorder — whether presently or in the past — you must first speak with your GP before trying to adopt any kind of intuitive eating practice. For those of us in early recovery, it is also common to replace alcohol or drug dependency with a dependency on addictive substances found in food, such as sugar. Thus, while intuitive eating can absolutely help you navigate this, you must first discuss it with a professional and proceed with caution.
This is because if you would like to start intuitive eating, it is important to understand that this is a lifestyle alternative. You are not going on a diet, and it is not about weight loss. Instead, it involves implementing changes in your relationship with your body that can enable you to live in a more compassionate manner. To that end, try to see intuitive eating as just another (while vital) tool in your self-care box.
At Paracelsus Recovery, when deemed necessary or appropriate, we include intuitive eating practices in many of our treatment programmes. Whatever the root of our suffering, our treatment programmes are always tailored to address your unique health needs. We use a multidisciplinary approach (our 360-degree treatment model) to address all the underlying issues, not just the symptoms. A thorough assessment is carried out to determine the exact treatment and therapies required. We will design an individual treatment plan based on the results of these assessments.
We work exclusively with UHNW individuals whose mental health challenges often go unnoticed due to the misconception that financial security ensures mental stability. We only treat one client at any time and provide the strictest confidentiality. Our international team of highly qualified professionals will work with you around the clock to assist your recovery, seven days a week.
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