Intuitive eating can make a difference to those in recovery. It is not a diet, fad, or some weird trend in Hollywood, but a philosophy that embraces making peace with food, your body, and honoring your hunger. It is also a practice that many people in the addiction recovery community have embraced, especially those with co-occurring mental health issues like eating disorders.
The overall mission behind intuitive eating is to change your relationship to food. Keep reading to learn the tenets of this philosophy and how they can help those in sobriety by reminding them of the importance of making healthy food choices, loving your body, and mindful eating when recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. We also look at how one woman suffering from an eating disorder found healing and self-love through the practice of intuitive eating.
Liv’s Recovery Kitchen (LRK), an online community founded by Olivia Pennelle in 2015, provides followers with information and resources needed to live a fulfilling life in sobriety – including the impact our relationship with food has on our well-being and addiction recovery. Pennelle lives a healthy life in recovery and helps others do the same through her work with LRK, nutrition coaching, and a podcast she and co-host Tiffany Thoen produce called Breaking Free, Your Recovery, Your Way. In a recent episode, Thoen – a nurse, integrative coach, and 20 years sober – shares her journey with intuitive eating and how this experience is helping her overcome an eating disorder and heal.
From a very early age, Thoen struggled with eating issues. After a horse accident where she ruptured her spleen, her eating habits became increasingly erratic and unhealthy. She recalls, “After the accident, I wasn’t allowed to eat because they thought I would need surgery. For a week, I was on a limited diet and this began a restrictive eating mindset and “weight-cycling” that followed me long after I left the hospital.”
The accident and its aftermath eventually led to a full-blown eating disorder that involved a large amount of shame and guilt for Thoen. Luckily, she found a therapist trained in both eating disorders and intuitive eating, and soon her healing journey began. Her biggest takeaways from this experience so far include:
The last takeaway, “body attunement,” was initially challenging for Thoen. Even with all of her years of hard work to stay sober, her work in therapy, and her experience as a holistic nurse – none of these delved into the importance of getting in touch with your own body. Thoen believes that after discovering intuitive eating, the process helped to heal her relationship with food because she was able to lose the shame and guilt surrounding her eating disorder. As she explains, “We spend so much time shaming ourselves and believing we are broken, and I want to help others use intuitive eating principles to stop that cycle of guilt and shame surrounding food. Because once we are free of those, we have so much time to do amazing things.”
Thoen admits that it is not a perfect relationship and an ongoing process, but also adds, “the program doesn’t expect people to achieve perfection – only progress, similar to the goals of addiction recovery.”
After detox from alcohol or drugs, our body slowly returns to a normal stasis, but our eating habits and love for our body may need to be re-learned. Discovering how to listen to our body and respect it for the way it is designed can be a difficult process during recovery. These intuitive eating principles from Intuitive Eating.org may resonate more deeply with those on their sobriety journey, especially individuals battling a co-occurring eating disorder.
Individuals need to realize that “food restriction, both physically and mentally, can trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion.”
This principle encourages people to “accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. All bodies deserve dignity.”
“Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making you feel good. Remember that you don’t have to eat perfectly to be healthy.” And just like in addiction recovery – progress, not perfection, is what counts.
When it comes to treating co-occurring disorders, it is important to find ways to combat depressive or anxious feelings without relying on substances. At The Kimberly Center, we teach holistic methods of addiction and mental health management through plenty of exercise, a healthy diet, ongoing counseling, and mindfulness. If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction and has also been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, or is exhibiting symptoms, we encourage you to reach out today. Contact us at 855-4-KCENTER (855-452-3683) to learn more about our programs and how we can help you overcome co-occurring disorders and live your healthiest life in sobriety.