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IBS and Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating has been growing in popularity in recent years and is gaining popularity amongst people who are fed up with the "diet rollercoaster." It was developed by 2 registered dietitians as a self-care framework that integrates instinct, emotion and rational thought as a means of guiding eating.1

At its core, intuitive eating is about letting go of dieting and restriction, and instead focusing on hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues to help guide our eating. This means focusing on your body’s unique needs rather than following any one specific "diet." Today we’ll dive into what intuitive eating is, and how you can incorporate its principles into your life – even if you are living with IBS!

The 10 principles of intuitive eating

Intuitive eating is made up of 10 key principles which are centered on self-care and regaining trust in our body's innate wisdom.2 It is important to remember that these principles are not rules, but rather, guidelines. The 10 principles of intuitive eating are:

  1. Reject the diet mentality
  2. Honor your hunger
  3. Make peace with food
  4. Challenge the food police
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor
  6. Feel your fullness
  7. Cope with your emotions with kindness
  8. Respect your body
  9. Movement – feel the difference
  10. Honor your body with gentle nutrition

At first glance, it may seem like intuitive eating just isn’t possible for someone living with IBS – after all, anyone living with IBS knows that there are often certain foods that are sure to trigger an IBS flare. I’m here to share that eating intuitively with IBS IS possible and that it’s possible to use these principles to develop a healthier, happier relationship with food.

How can intuitive eating help with IBS management?

People living with IBS may wonder how it’s possible to incorporate intuitive eating into their lives while also managing a medical condition. That’s where the last principle of intuitive eating (honor your health with gentle nutrition) comes in. Since IBS can have many different underlying causes, different approaches are helpful for different people. Just because one person feels better when eliminating a certain food doesn’t mean you will!

There are several ways that intuitive eating practices can help with IBS management:

  • Paying attention to how food makes you feel may help you find out your specific triggers
  • Learning what it feels like to be comfortably satisfied can be helpful, as overeating can trigger symptoms
  • Learning to feed your body consistently throughout the day can help with symptom management, as hunger can also be a trigger for symptoms
  • Learning to incorporate gentle movement can benefit some people, as vigorous exercise may trigger symptoms for some people.
  • Continuing to honor your hunger by feeding your body with enough of the foods that you know you can tolerate can help you ensure you’re getting enough nutrition.
  • Developing a healthier relationship with food may help reduce anxiety about eating, which can help with symptom management (as anxiety is a common trigger for flare-ups)

6 tips for eating intuitively with IBS

Now that we know why intuitive eating can be helpful for IBS management, let’s review some strategies for incorporating these strategies into your life. Remember, it’s always important to review any changes to your treatment plan with your doctor. The following tips are things that my patients have found helpful, but you know your body best – take the tips that resonate with you and leave the ones that don’t!

  1. Many people find that eating consistently throughout the day (for example, every 3-4 hours) helps promote good digestion.
  2. Aiming for balanced meals and eating a variety of foods from all food groups is great for gut microbes, which may play a role in IBS symptoms.
  3. Eating according to your internal hunger and fullness cues can be a great way to get back in tune with your body. However, if you notice that you never feel hungry because you feel sick, it’s important to provide your body with enough food regardless of whether you’re hungry.
  4. Eating foods that feel satisfying can promote enjoyment and prevent food boredom from setting in.
  5. Getting curious about how your body feels after certain foods may help you identify previously unknown triggers.
  6. Engaging in gentle movement (like yoga) that feels good for your body can be a great way to de-stress.

Takeaway

Intuitive eating is all about getting back in tune with your body’s inner wisdom. If you’re living with IBS, this inner wisdom could be the guide you need to start getting your symptoms back on track. Regardless of where you are in your IBS journey, there are principles of intuitive eating that can be applied every step of the way.

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