Intuitive Eating: Connecting With Your Hunger and Fullness

Woman utilizing intuitive eating

For anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder, whether it be anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or any other form of disordered eating, there is no question how abnormal eating destroys your ability to listen to and trust your body.

In fact, eating disorders involve behaviors that are in opposition to the body’s natural instincts and mechanisms for survival and wellness. For example, an individual who struggles with anorexia may starve themselves through severe food restriction, even though their body is signaling that it is hungry.

In another case, an individual with bulimia may binge on an abnormally large amount of food, continuing to eat even though the body is giving signs of fullness.

Healing the Body From the Inside-Out

Engaging in eating disorder behaviors often cause a person to become disconnected from the body in many different ways. Although we are all born with the ability to regulate our food intake naturally, these intuitive signals are lost when repeatedly engaging in behaviors like restricting, binging, purging, overexercising, and the like.

Essentially, these behaviors go against what is natural in the body, making the ability to eat normally or intuitively feel like a foreign concept. Research has found that the ability to innately regulate energy intake can be disrupted by a change in focus from internal cues to external cues [1].

The longer a person has engaged in an eating disorder, the more difficult it might feel to remember how to eat normally, or how normal eating even looks. Intuitive eating is learning to return to this innate wisdom of eating that we are all born with, but the journey takes time, healing, and practice.

lady struggling with intuitive eatingThe first step toward learning how to become an intuitive eater is connecting to help and support for an eating disorder. Because eating disorders destroy the basic intuitive functions of the body, it is necessary to put processes in place that allow healing and recovery.

Many individuals who begin their eating disorder recovery process are often unaware of what hunger or fullness even feels like anymore, and this is because the extremes of both are what characterize eating disorders.

A person may only know what severe hunger and fullness are, but the reality is that these signals in the body are actually much more subtle.

Reconnecting to Hunger and Fullness

How does a person undo years of eating disorder behaviors and learn how to reconnect with subtle signals of hunger and fullness? For many people in eating disorder recovery, this begins with slow steps, starting with regulating eating habits and normalizing hunger.

With the support of a registered dietitian and specialized treatment team, you can have guidance in helping you regulate your eating habits. Your registered dietitian may give you meal plan guidelines that help you know how much to eat and at what times throughout the day.

Because this is something that is often lost when engaged in an eating disorder, normalizing your eating habits can support your steps toward regulating your body and reconnecting with your instincts of hunger and fullness.

As you move toward eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day and reincorporating a variety of food are powerful steps toward helping your body heal and reconnecting to your intuitive eating senses that have been there all along.

Working gradually with a meal plan can also help you take steps toward normalizing foods, especially those foods that you may have been fearful of eating or foods that may be emotionally charged. Have patience with yourself through this process and know that you are exactly doing what is needed to allow your body the time and space to heal.

Progressing Toward Intuitive Eating

After regulating your body by eating regular meals and snacks, you should begin to be more aware of the subtle feelings of both hunger and fullness. You may also be more aware of how your body feels after eating certain foods or cravings for particular foods that you might want to eat.

Couple eating togetherIt is important to be aware of these aspects without judgment and also to begin responding to and honoring what your body is needed. The more you begin to do this, the more you can learn to trust that your body does exactly know what you need. Intuitive eating has been associated with several markers of improved physical and psychological health [2].

There are many different aspects and principles involved with intuitive eating, so it is important to not go through this process alone. Be sure to lean on the support of your eating disorder treatment team as you work toward the process of becoming an intuitive eater. No matter what your journey has been like, you have the potential to heal and rediscover the intuitive eater inside you.

Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing. As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: Denny, K. N., Loth, K., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2013). Intuitive eating in young adults: Who is doing it, and how is it related to disordered eating behaviors? Appetite, 60(1), 13–19.
[2]: Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutr J. 2011 Jan 24; 10():9.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on October 3, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 3, 2017.
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