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Three Tips for Intuitive Eating with Diabetes

AUTHOR: MADELEINE WHITE, RD
Associate Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Nutrition Instincts – San Diego Nutrition Therapy

At first glance, it’s easy to believe that those with diabetes or other chronic diseases can’t incorporate Intuitive Eating (IE) into their lives. You hear or see the messages like, “eat whatever you want,” and know that as someone living with diabetes, it’s not that simple (it’s not that simple period but that’s for another blog). Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who misconstrue what Intuitive Eating really is (and what it is not, for that matter). But the truth is, intuitive eating really is for everybody. Here are three ways you can begin to repair your relationship with food, your body, and your diabetes – and begin to live intuitively.

1. Intuitive Eating Invites You to Start Where You’re At

It doesn’t take long into the intuitive eating journey to realize how distorted our relationships with food, body image, exercise, wellness, and health are. When stumbled upon, people often overlook the complexity of intuitive eating because – thanks to our societal norms – it’s instinct to view it as another diet, lifestyle change, or chapter of one’s wellness journey. Plot twist: it isn’t a temporary program. The truth is though, it takes a lot of self-reflection and inner work to begin to live its core values, there really isn’t a shortcut. Rather, intuitive eating empowers you to begin to relearn your body which is critical for someone learning to manage their diabetes. Everyone starts this process at different places and there is no wrong place to begin. While the principles are established in a somewhat purposeful order, they are not meant to serve as boxes to check. In fact, guidelines like “honoring your hunger” and “feeling your fullness” actually aren’t always intuitive for some people. If you’re new to managing diabetes or intuitive eating and you’ve struggled to use your hunger and fullness to guide you, you’re not alone. It takes time and introspection to re-connect to those cues and evaluate what messages or symptoms may impact them. Giving yourself time and finding a supportive registered dietitian nutritionist can help.

One IE principle that anyone with any body at any point in their journey can begin to explore is: Reject the Diet Mentality. Like I mentioned, there is a gentle order to the principles and a big reason that this is number one. Start inward – gently observe your own judgments, internal preoccupations with body size/weight stigma/food rules, and learned ideals of wellness and health. Explore your own values – What does health mean to you? What are things you enjoy? What are things you feel pressured to enjoy, but actually don’t? What decisions are you making about food and exercise that come from external cues (diet rules, workout regimens, societal pressures, etc.)? If you’ve begun to learn about how nutrition can help you manage your blood sugar – what has that been like for you? Is it getting mixed up in your history with dieting? Does it feel like you’re swaying between all or nothing when it comes to eating? Note when you speak to yourself unkindly and practice reframing those words, making room for more compassion and less judgement. Let go of the rigid ideal that there is a perfect way to eat (or do anything, for that matter) and simply observe your thoughts as you begin to do so.

2. Recognize Your Needs & Incorporate the Satisfaction Factor

Our physical, emotional, and mental needs and satisfiers are always ever-changing. By recognizing and including both, feeding yourself becomes intuitive in nature. The satisfying choice doesn’t always include a biological need, but that doesn’t mean we have to avoid it completely! For example, you may want that cookie fresh-baked and still warm because it’s delicious and reminds you of grandma (satisfaction factor). You also know that your body needs some protein to help keep your blood sugars level, otherwise that headache post glucose-spike will really put a damper on your afternoon (need). After asking yourself, “what is the most supportive right now,” the intuitive choice might look something like: a half of a turkey and cheese sandwich paired with that ooey-gooey warm cookie.
This could (and likely will) look different prior to each eating experience throughout the day. And the answer may not be based just on your physical body cues, but rather putting your situation in context:
– A quick snack before a long work meeting, even if you aren’t that hungry (need)
– A piece of birthday cake at your best friend’s party, because chocolate is your absolute favorite (satisfaction factor)
– A lighter-than-usual dinner because you wanted to try it all at your colleague’s retirement potluck and are feeling less hungry than normal…with the exception of that tuna casserole you know sat out all morning (Both! need: lunch meal; satisfaction factor: variety & something new)

3. Gather the Facts by Listening to Your Body

No, I don’t mean scour the label for the nutrition facts. I mean, run an ongoing observational experiment on yourself. Every body is different, so it only makes sense that our biological reactions to even the same stimuli are as well. Take caffeine, for example. One person may be able to enjoy a cup of coffee before bed and drift off no problem, while another person can’t have a single drop after 11 am or they’re awake all night. The same goes for blood sugar response following your intake. Testing your blood sugar regularly, and recognizing the what, when, how, and why of eating provides the necessary insight to make an intuitive choice. If you know your blood sugar is sensitive to sweet potato, you can make the informed decision to split the basket of sweet potato fries with a friend and avoid the painful side effects of a blood sugar spike. Or, you can choose not to, because maybe the fries are worth it to you in that moment. Regardless of your decision, by doing the work to gather that data on yourself – the decision is an informed one. Find a method that works best for you – a note in your phone, an app, or a good ol’ fashioned journal – and give yourself the gift of knowledge. At its core, intuitive eating is about attuning the relationship between mind, body, and food which starts with recognizing what’s actually happening IN your body.

Don’t let your diabetes stop you from feeling like you can’t mend your relationship with food and your body. No doubt, living with a chronic disease adds a layer of complexity to your life each and every day. And at the same time, you deserve to feel confident and comfortable around food – and diabetes doesn’t have to get in the way of that!
Did you know that Nutrition Instincts offers care for people with diabetes? We take a fresh, holistic, body-centered approach to diabetes management. Learn more about our nutrition services for diabetes and intuitive eating.

AUTHOR: MADELEINE WHITE, RD
Associate Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Nutrition Instincts – San Diego Nutrition Therapy

Headshot of Maddie White Registered Dietitian at Nutrition instincts

Maddie White, an eating disorder and diabetes care provider at Nutrition Instincts is passionate about helping others restore their relationships with food, body, and mind. Maddie also works as a clinical dietitian in a local San Diego Acute Care Hospital and previously managed youth programing at the American Diabetes Association for San Diegans living with type 1 diabetes. Maddie believes intuitive eating holds a space for everyone and every body. By taking an individual approach with each client, Maddie walks alongside her clients as they learn the best way to navigate your journey to food and body freedom.   Interested in working with Maddie? Schedule a clarity call today!

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