The Benefits of Intuitive Eating with a Chronic Condition

Incorporating intuitive eating philosophies into your lifestyle is possible even with a chronic condition.

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Photo by: Kseniya Ovchinnikova/Getty Images

Kseniya Ovchinnikova/Getty Images

Intuitive eating concepts like food freedom and ditching diet rules often don't match up with the strict food guidelines for many chronic conditions. You may be thinking, is it possible to eat intuitively and manage a chronic condition? The short answer is absolutely. Let me elaborate.

When being diagnosed with a chronic condition like diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol, it’s common clinical practice to create diet plans based on foods that are off limits. Often, weight loss is highly encouraged. It’s normal for patients to have health-related fears around food given the strict recommendations usually provided to them, and telling a patient to intuitively eat foods that feel right for their body within these restrictions might not resonate.

The truth is, there are no perfect diets for chronic conditions. Nutrition education and guidelines are important, and are considered with factors that impact food intake like medical history and medications by healthcare providers when designing a nutrition plan for someone with a chronic condition. Recommendations should always be individualized on a patient-by-patient basis.

In addition to your healthcare provider's recommendations, it’s also important to assess how food choices make you feel and to let your healthcare provider know. Making informed adjustments with your healthcare provider around guidelines and weight loss goals can result in sustainable changes. Letting go of the shame around making the perfect food choices for a condition can reduce stress and may even help to improve that chronic condition.

In addition to lower stress, below are three more benefits you may experience eating intuitively with a chronic condition.

Meeting your nutritional needs during mealtimes.

Intuitive eating paired with education on the nutrition guidelines for your condition can help you plan meals that are satisfying and take into account your unique needs. Aim to eat at least three meals throughout the day that have protein, fats and carbohydrates. This will help you meet your nutritional needs while also feeling satiated until the next meal or snack. Also assess how you feel before, during and after meals, so you can share that information with your healthcare provider to make more informed choices for your unique needs moving forward.

Finding new foods and recipes you haven’t tried.

Having a chronic condition doesn’t mean you have to stick to a rigid list of foods or recipes. Prepare some of your favorite meals or explore new recipes you’ve been meaning to try, even if it means substituting some ingredients. While you’re at it, also look for fun and creative ways to add vegetables to meal times consistently for added nutrition and flavor!

Sparking curiosity about food.

The ongoing process of figuring out what foods and eating patterns help you feel your best allows for lots of curiosity and experimentation during mealtimes. Food doesn’t have to be a scary or overwhelming thing, and every meal time can be an opportunity to see what patterns and behaviors align with your goals.

As a registered dietitian/nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator, Wendy Lopez, MS, RDN, CDCES is passionate about accessible and culturally relevant nutrition education. She is the co-host of the Food Heaven Podcast, and the co-founder of Food Heaven, an online platform that provides resources on cooking, intuitive eating, wellness and inclusion. When not working on creative projects, Wendy also provides nutritional counseling and medication management to patients with diabetes.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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