Intuitive eating with celiac disease is important and it’s possible.
I started my journey to becoming a dietitian specialized in celiac disease with a focus in gut health. Then I found intuitive eating and I knew it would be the game changer in my practice. Hear me when I write: you can manage celiac, heal your gut, and find food freedom all at the same time. And you do that with intuitive eating.
So what exactly is intuitive eating?
Founders Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch define Intuitive Eating as “a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought”. At its core, it focuses on honoring your physical and mental health without the shame, guilt, and moral values shoved onto us by diet culture. With over 100 research studies proving the effectiveness of intuitive eating on health, it’s earned my respect and is a huge part of my practice.
Intuitive eating is also about rebuilding your relationship with food and your body, something most celiacs need help with after years of fearing food and distrusting your body. And rebuilding takes time and patience; and maintaining a good relationship will require a commitment for the rest of your life.
Intuitive eating is guided by 10 principles:
These 10 principles help unpack diet culture from your life. The challenge? The principles of intuitive eating can fall flat when you’re following a medically restrictive diet for food allergies, intolerance or in this case, celiac disease.
When one of the huge guiding factors of intuitive eating is unconditional permission to eat whatever you want, that falls flat for people who quite literally can’t. Like with celiac, we can’t eat whatever we want because we have to avoid gluten, so unconditional permission is conditional in that we can have whatever we want as long as it’s gluten-free…
So how can celiacs practice intuitive eating?
Practicing intuitive eating with celiac disease might seem impossible given some of the general intuitive eating guidance. However, intuitive eating at its core is about being flexible, the exact opposite of diet culture. With that, we must accept intuitive eating goals with flexibility.
Some of the more challenging aspects of managing celiac disease with intuitive eating is making peace with food and challenging the food police. In these steps we work to undo food restrictions, rules, and fears we might have. However, one rule we can not undo is the golden rule of celiac: stay gluten-free.
In this way, we must remain flexible and reframe living gluten-free from a rule to an act of self-care. Because by avoiding gluten we are directly being kind and respectful to our body. By avoiding gluten with celiac we are preventing literal immediate damage to our small intestine.
And by finding peace with food and challenging the food police, we can start to remove ourselves from external measurements of health and really tune into what our body is telling us.
And that can be another scary thing for celiacs; tuning into your body. After years of your body being gas lit by you or providers, or after years of feeling betrayed by your body, it can be hard to want to listen. Especially if your body is telling you it was or is in pain. And listening to your body is the key to unlocking internal wisdom that will break you free from dieting, guilt, and shame with celiac disease.
Intuitive eating with celiac disease comes with many benefits. As mentioned above, it is the key to breaking free from diet culture, guilt, shame, and moral value around food and your body.
More importantly, intuitive eating is what will break you free from over-restriction, get to the root of constant hunger, stop you from overthinking every meal, prevent celiac burnout, and overall: stop you from feeling like celiac is suffocating you and stopping you from living your life.
Intuitive eating offers a gentle and kind path towards health with celiac disease. So how can you practice it?
Food is one of the first things a human needs in Maslov’s hierarchy of needs and yet this point is not driven home enough in nutrition.
Even if you have access – if your relationship with foods is so heavily disrupted like it is with going gluten-free, we can’t move up the heirs of needs until that’s addressed.
Because if your relationship with food is disturbed, if you aren’t eating enough, if you’re still feeling restricted then your physiological needs will never be met. They will never be met and it will serve as a distraction from everything else.
Basically, if you don’t address your relationship with food with celiac disease, eating gluten-free will consume your life. From constantly worrying about your next meal, to not being able to decide what to eat, to being scared of being around food in events…
You will not get better until you address the elephant in the room: your relationship with food and your body, and intuitive eating will help you do just that.
Practicing intuitive eating with celiac disease is a lifelong journey of building and maintaining a strong relationship with food and your body. There are some core practices you can incorporate into everyday life with celiac and what many people miss are the smaller lessons you learn as you unpack your beliefs around food and your body.
Below I will share some quick action steps you can take today to jump start your intuitive eating journey with celiac disease, but please know that intuitive eating goes much deeper. True food freedom involves facing food fears, rules, and restrictions head on. It requires fully letting go of dieting, and committing to listening and understanding your body, even in the face of diet temptation.
These are just a few ways to start eating intuitively with celiac disease. And please know, that there is so much more to repairing and rebuilding your relationship with food. This is just a starting point, and if you ready for more help.
If you’re ready to stop fearing food, stop overthinking food, stop feeling constantly tired or hungry, then the In Tune with Celiac Group Program was designed for you. In this program I’ll hold your hand to intuitive eating with celiac, where you can achieve healing, health, and food freedom with celiac without sacrificing your life to get there.
And if you don’t need help or you’re not ready, know that I am here if you change your mind, and I’m happy even if this post serves as a start for you on this journey.