A lot of dietitians recommend intuitive eating or mindful eating for eating disorders. But does intuitive eating for binge eating disorder have the same impact as it does for others?
My own experience is a little bit mixed.
What Is Intuitive Eating?
In short, intuitive eating is a way of eating where you listen to the signals your body is giving you – what it needs and when it needs it namely – and trust your body to steer you on the right path.
In a lot of ways it is the opposite of what any other diet does. Instead of you imposing rules on your body, you remove all of these. Your body tells you what to give it.
Intuitive eating works especially well in cases where certain food, or even any food, has been demonised or banned by someone and the relationship with food is largely damaged.
So for example if you’re consistently trying to suppress hunger for fear of weight gain, intuitive eating can help you build some trust in your body’s ability to regulate its own needs and actually focus on nourishing it instead of punishing it.
In other words, eat when you feel hungry, enjoy the taste and texture of your food, get a varied nutrition intake, and also listen to it when it tells you eat feels full.
Basically – trust your intuition.
And What Is Binge Eating Disorder?
If there is one eating disorder I know from first-hand experience, it is binge eating disorder.
The NHS in the UK explains the main symptom of binge eating disorder is:
…eating a lot of food in a short time and not being able to stop when full
This can include eating when you’re not hungry, giving into cravings, and feelings of shame, guilt, depression, and helplessness afterwards.
You can end up on a binge straight after a big meal even though you feel full.
Or you could still be eating even though you’re literally telling yourself to stop.
We all have different triggers or signals which can spark a binge.
For some people it is going to be a starting to have a specific food. It tends to be chocolate covered pretzels for me.
For some people it may be stress or another emotional response – my more recent ones have definitely been linked to work stress and a little bit of depression.
Binge eating disorder has been the bane of my life in recent times.
I grew up eating huge portions and clinically obese. But even when I lost over 140 lb, I was still prone to an occasional binge.
There wasn’t really a set pattern for it.
Sometimes it would be while at a buffet and I wasn’t able to control my portions or I wanted to try everything.
Sometimes it would actually be coming back from a meal out and thinking to myself “I just need something rich and sweet to round off that meal.” That ‘little finisher’ often ended up being an extra 2,000 calories or sometimes more.
It happened on some special occasions – birthdays and Christmas I was especially bad with self control.
And a few times it also happened when I went slightly over my planned calories and thought “oh well, I might as well just go all-out now!”
It is a bizarre feeling being in the middle of a binge. I’ll save the details for another post.
The main crux of it for this post is simply that you can be fully conscious of your thoughts but feel like you have no control over your actions.
Which brings me back to my main question.
Does Intuitive Eating For Binge Eating Disorder Actually Work?
If you’ve read any of my past posts you’ll probably notice that I very rarely give an absolute definite yes or no answer.
Which of course makes sense because different things will work for different people. And that applies to almost everything that I talk about.
In The Middle Of A Binge
Remember that all I have to go on here is my own experience. Intuitive eating for binge eating disorder can work, but it’s not a definite.
Like I said above, when in the middle of a binge, you may be conscious of your thoughts but your actions completely ignore that and ignore your body’s signals as well.
But because of this disconnect between your mind and body, the very idea of intuitive eating feels like it flies out the window.
So I don’t think intuitive eating does much to help when you’re mid-binge.
When You’re Not Mid-Binge
That isn’t to say intuitive eating can’t work to reduce the risk of a binge happening.
If you are listening to your hunger signals and not banning or demonising any foods, there is a better chance you’ll feel better, more nourished, and more satisfied throughout the day.
This makes it less likely that you’ll turn to one of your “trigger foods” which could spark a binge.
Also if you’re fuelling yourself correctly, you may feel more calm and less stressed, which can also reduce the likelihood of an emotional trigger.
Lastly, you start to get accustomed to listening to when your body is hungry and when it is full. You get used to knowing how both of those feel.
If you fuel yourself better throughout the day and the idea of a binge doesn’t even cross your conscious or subconscious mind.
Intuitive Eating For Binge Eating Disorder
Remember that we’re all different and we all have our own mental and physical ups and downs. We all have our own coping mechanisms and we all have our own ways of handling stress.
In my own view, intuitive eating doesn’t do much to help when you have already started a binge.
But it can make a huge difference to the likelihood of a binge starting in the first place.