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How to Practice Intuitive Eating with an Autoimmune Disease

intuitive eating Jun 13, 2022

Autoimmune diseases are becoming increasingly common, but thankfully there are ways to manage them through practices, such as Intuitive Eating (IE). IE is a practice that has gained popularity in the last few years, and for a good reason. Through IE, you can develop a better ability to listen to your body to guide yourself toward making healthier food choices without restriction.[1]

As someone with two autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren's syndrome, I know firsthand the benefits that an IE practice can have in your life. Not only will it support you in navigating which foods work best for you, but it will also provide you with the ability to engage in healthy indulgences without guilt. So, if you're looking to get started with intuitive eating with an autoimmune disease in this article, I will show you how.


What is IE and How Can It Help People with Autoimmune Diseases

IE is an approach to health and wellness based on the idea of listening to your body. It is sometimes described as a "non-diet" approach, as it does not involve counting calories or following rigid food rules. Instead, IE allows you to hone your ability to listen to your body's hunger cues and choose foods that make you feel good.

While IE may sound like a recipe for disaster for people with autoimmune diseases, who need to be careful about what they eat, evidence suggests that intuitive eating can be beneficial. For example, a 2016 study found that in adolescents with type 1 diabetes, a strong correlation existed between intuitive eating and glycaemic control.[2] Further, research has shown that IE can help decrease disordered eating behaviors, increase physical activity, and reduce depression.[3] Thus, IE can positively impact our physical, mental, and emotional health.

As autoimmune diseases can be challenging to manage, IE prevents the opportunity to stop applying a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Instead, through IE, people can focus on finding a more sustainable and satisfying way of eating that helps them to feel their best. So if you're struggling to stick to a restrictive diet, it may be worth giving intuitive eating a try.


How to Start Practicing IE

Despite what you might think, IE isn't about eating whatever you want whenever you want it. In truth, IE is a sensible approach to food that can benefit everyone - especially those with an autoimmune condition. That's why I'm sharing four tips to help you start IE.

#1 - Commit to Listening to Your Body

First, commit to listening to your body. Forget everything you think you know about health. IE is all about listening to your body and giving it what it wants when it wants it. That means no more rigid rules or restrictions. Instead, it's about tuning into what your body needs and rebuilding that trust with food again.

#2 - Tune Into Your Hunger Cues

Second, start paying attention to your hunger cues. Doing that begins with relearning how to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're satisfied. If you're struggling to do that right now, know that you're not alone. It takes practice. Once you start feeling more reconnected to your hunger cues, you'll know when your bodies need physical or emotional nourishment.

#3 - Practice Mindfulness When You Eat

Third, get into the habit of eating slowly and mindfully. One of the benefits of intuitive eating is that it can help you tune into your satiety cues to prevent yourself from eating more than you intended. To do that, you may need to limit your eating distractions. For example, whether turning off the television or putting your phone on silent, you're more likely to take time and savor each bite when you're not distracted when you eat.

#4 - Unapologetically Honor Your Cravings

Lastly, make sure that you honor your cravings. You must ensure that every meal or snack is something you enjoy. When you find yourself craving a specific food, it might be because your body needs something that food contains. Like salt when you're dehydrated or carbs when your energy levels of low. So go ahead and indulge - within reason, of course! And, let that craving be a reminder to start nourishing yourself better in the future.


FAQs about IE and Autoimmune Diseases

I know I've provided you with some quick tips to help you get started. But I know you'll likely run into some obstacles along the way. Or, there might be some questions in the back of your head that might be preventing you from getting started. If so, here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about intuitive eating and autoimmune diseases.

#1 Can I still practice IE if I have food sensitivities?

Yes! Just because you are sensitive to certain foods doesn't mean you can't still eat in response to your hunger cues. However, you may need to be more selective about your chosen foods. Remember that knowing what foods work and don't work for your body is an IE practice.

#2 What if I'm worried about triggering a flare-up?

There's no need to worry. IE can help you manage your symptoms while still eating in a way that feels good for your body. Similar to the first FAQ, if a particular food you eat does cause a flare-up, now you know what doesn't work for your body. So, avoiding that food is knowing that there might be foods you enjoy but aren't the healthiest option for your body.

#3 What if I'm not sure what my hunger cues are?

That's perfectly normal - it can take some time to get in tune with your body's signals, especially if you've been dieting for years. However, past clients have found it helpful to check in with themselves regularly throughout the day. Whether that's a body scan or capturing thoughts in a journal, it's essential to know how your body is feeling. And, when needed, you can adjust your dietary and lifestyle habits accordingly.


So, There You Have It

If you want to start managing your autoimmune disease through IE, you've made a great decision. It may seem daunting at first, but I promise you it's much easier than you think. Just follow the simple steps outlined in this article. If you want not just to eat intuitively but transform the way you think about exercise and your body, download Chapter 1 of my book, A Fitness Mindset: Ditch Dieting for Good and Adopt an Intuitive Approach to Health and Wellness at!



  1. Falk, M. (2021, November 5). The 'Health at Every Size' approach to health care is aiming to put an end to weight stigma. Shape.
  2. Wheeler, B. J., Lawrence, J., Chae, M., Paterson, H., Gray, A. R., Healey, D., Reith, D. M., & Taylor, B. J. (2016). Intuitive eating is associated with glycaemic control in adolescents with type I diabetes mellitus. Appetite, 96, 160–165.
  3. Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015). Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the "obesity problem." Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(12), 678– 695.

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