Intuitive Eating with Diabetes: Is It Possible?


Intuitive eating is an approach to health and food that has nothing to do with diets, meal plans, discipline, or willpower. There is no counting of calories, no off-limit foods, and not even a strict meal plan to follow. So, how exactly is this non-diet approach possible for people with type 1 diabetes? In this blog post, you will not only learn about how intuitive eating is possible for people with diabetes, but how it can actually help improve your diabetes management.


What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating (IE) is an evidenced-based, non-diet approach that is composed of 10 principles that was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. The principles of intuitive eating is a personal process of tuning into your body’s internal signals of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction to meet your physical and psychological needs.

Intuitive eating helps to rebuild trust in yourself and your body and enjoy a renewed relationship with food by breaking free from external rules and restrictions on what, when, and how much to eat. This process is about re-learning to eat without a dieting mentality.


Is Intuitive Eating Possible with Diabetes?

Learning how to eat intuitively means trusting your body to communicate what you need and following through on giving that to your body. Basically, trust your body to tell you what it wants, and your body will trust that you’ll care for it.

The ability to sense and trust your body’s needs is oftentimes hindered with a diagnosis of diabetes. Many people with diabetes are taught to eat in a particular way to manage their blood sugars which may include limiting the number of carbs eaten at each meal, avoiding foods that are too high in carbohydrates, and following a strict meal-timing schedule. Intuitive eating with diabetes helps you get back the layer of body trust that has been broken and allows your body to communicate when, what, and how much to eat rather than placing your trust into outlandish food rules and restrictive diets.


Intuitive Eating with Diabetes Quote

How to Manage Blood Sugars with Intuitive Eating

Is there a voice in your head that is screaming “But I can’t eat intuitively because that will wreck my blood sugar!”? Or is your anxiety voice revving up with lots of “oh, not me, I couldn’t do that”?


Intuitive eating with diabetes doesn’t mean that you start eating with no regard to your diabetes or blood sugar. You will still be checking your blood sugar, counting carbohydrates to bolus insulin, and considering how these foods may impact your blood sugar later on. These are all helpful steps in taking care of your health.


With intuitive eating, you pair what you know about your body and blood sugar patterns to help make decisions surrounding your food intake. When you learn to tune into what your body is telling you, you can use this to ultimately take better care of your blood sugar and diabetes.


For example, if you went out to eat at an Italian restaurant and as you take a look over the menu you realize that everything on the menu is mainly carbohydrates. Traditional diabetes education or diet culture will encourage you to find the lowest carb item on the menu (insert grilled chicken salad here), but what if you truly wanted a bowl of fresh penne alla vodka?


From an intuitive eating perspective, you would begin to ask yourself a few questions like how hungry am I? How much pasta do I plan to eat? Is there any way I can add in protein or fiber? Will I feel restricted if I choose something else? How can I adjust my dosing so I can enjoy this food?


The dialogue that you have with yourself with intuitive eating is led from a place of non judgment and curiosity. This opens up more opportunities for you to eat to manage your blood sugars while enjoying all foods rather than feeling restricted in your food choices.


Restricting a particular food or food group can lead you to obsess over those foods. When you are finally around those foods, you feel a strong pull to give into the restriction. It doesn’t take long until you finally give in and when you do, you may find yourself eating past a comfortable level of fullness and see that your blood sugar levels have spiked very high. Afterwards, you convince yourself that this is the reason why you never eat this food in the first place and place blame on yourself for not having stronger willpower.


When opening up to intuitive eating, you learn that you can eat any food at any given time and foods that you once restricted no longer have an intense pull over you like they had before. When this uncontrollable desire is gone, you are able to be more mindful about how much you’re eating and how much insulin you are giving yourself.


Benefits of Intuitive Eating with Diabetes List

Benefits of Intuitive Eating with Diabetes

When starting to become an intuitive eater, you start letting go of some of the restrictions and rules you have held onto about how to eat with diabetes. You may experience moments of questioning and doubt, but there is plenty of research studies supporting that people who eat intuitively often have better health indicators than those who diet. The benefits of intuitive eating with diabetes have been associated with:

-Lower A1C values and improved glycemic control

-Improved cholesterol levels

-Decreased rates of disordered and emotional eating

-Greater body satisfaction with eating

-Higher self-esteem

There are a number of mental, physical, and emotional health benefits of intuitive eating with diabetes. It is a slow and scary process, but by improving your relationship with food other areas of your life and health will reap the benefits as well.


How To Start Eating Intuitively with Diabetes

I’m so excited that you’re interested in this work and curious about starting an intuitive eating practice with diabetes. Keep in mind that your relationship with food and with your body is a process- certainly not something you can change overnight. It takes time to unlearn diet culture and food rules you have been conditioned to follow.


If you are interested in working with a dietitian with type 1 diabetes to start your intuitive eating journey and learn to manage your blood sugars without giving up the foods that you love, use this link to apply for coaching today.


References

1. Ramos MH, Silva JM, De Oliveira TAV, da Silva Batista J, Cattafesta M, Salaroli LB, Soares FLP. Intuitive eating and body appreciation in type 2 diabetes. J Health Psychol. 2020 Aug 13:1359105320950791. doi: 10.1177/1359105320950791. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 32787671.

2. Van Dyke N, Drinkwater EJ. Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review. Public Health Nutr. 2014;17(8):1757-1766. doi:10.1017/S1368980013002139

3. Wheeler BJ, Lawrence J, Chae M, Paterson H, Gray AR, Healey D, Reith DM, Taylor BJ. Intuitive eating is associated with glycaemic control in adolescents with type I diabetes mellitus. Appetite. 2016 Jan 1;96:160-165. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.09.016. Epub 2015 Sep 25. PMID: 26403933.