Intuitive eating with PCOS may seem like a radical idea in a society that is quick to tell women with PCOS to simply go on a diet and lose weight.
But intuitive eating may actually improve PCOS, because intuitive eating allows you to be the expert of your own body and provides tools to help you manage PCOS long-term.
In this blog, you’ll learn the why diets don’t work for PCOS, why intuitive eating is helpful for PCOS, and the 10 principles of intuitive eating and how they are different when you have PCOS.
Why Diets Don’t Work For PCOS
You’ve probably been told to go on a low-carb diet for PCOS. But I’m here to tell you that diets are NOT the answer to managing PCOS.
In fact, dieting can actually be harmful, especially to those with PCOS!
- There is no restrictive diet that has shown to be effective for PCOS long-term.
- Weight cycling, which often happens with dieting, can make inflammation and insulin resistance worse. Both of these are highly prevalent in women with PCOS and drive your symptoms.
- There’s a higher prevalence of strong cravings, binge eating and disordered eating behaviors in women with PCOS. Food restriction can make this worse.
- Chronic dieting can damage your metabolism, thyroid, and cause more stress— all of which can make PCOS worse as well.
The above are also reasons to start exploring a different approach to PCOS: intuitive eating.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a non-diet framework created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch that helps to break the chronic dieting cycle and use internal cues and knowledge to guide your food choices.
It gives you the tools to change your mindset from restriction and rule-based thinking to a behavior-focused, learner mindset.
Intuitive eating would just be simply eating, if dieting didn’t exist. Most babies are born intuitive eaters. They know when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full.
But somewhere along the way external pressure comes into play. We are told what and how much to eat, adopt diets and restrictions, and stop using our innate intuitive abilities.
Much of our society is worried about weight. We see thin as good and fat as bad. But weight doesn’t determine health or worth. Nonetheless, there is a definite bias.
From the need to be accepted, worthy, and healthy, people adopt diets. This is only worsened with you have PCOS. But diets almost never work long-term.
We cannot control every aspect of our body’s shape and size, and restriction often leads to obsession, disordered eating, too low energy intake and overcompensation later. Again, diets fail.
Is intuitive eating just another diet?
Intuitive eating is not a diet. It’s everything but that.
The 10 principles of intuitive eating outline the path to ridding of dieting mentality, trusting your body, relearning how to use internal cues, and respecting your body with joyful movement and gentle nutrition.
Practicing the principles of intuitive eating is one of the foundations of the Peace with PCOS framework I use to help my clients eliminate PCOS symptoms and experience peace with their bodies and food.
The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Below you’ll see the 10 principles of the intuitive eating framework, how they are different with PCOS, and what actions you can take to get started.
Reject the Diet Mentality
Evidence clearly shows that dieting doesn’t work long-term. Weight-focused approaches to nutrition and health often result in disordered eating, shame, guilt, and weight GAIN.
Rejecting the diet mentality is rejecting the idea that dieting is a solution to your health and your body image. Diet programs offer false promises of weight loss that’s quick and permanent, but they never are.
They blame YOU when they don’t work. Reject the idea that you are the failure here. You’re not!
How it’s different with PCOS: Diets + weight loss are often the first advice given to those with PCOS. It’s hard to reject diets because of this.
But we know that diets don’t work for PCOS, and can actually cause more harm. Diet mentality prevents you from being an intuitive eater + from truly pursuing health with PCOS.
- challenge your diet mentality
- toss out any dieting tools (like tracking calories and the scale)
- never give in to the promises of diets again
Honor Your Hunger
Hunger is a biological sign we need to eat. It is not to be ignored. Your body will continue to fight if it doesn’t get food. Ignoring hunger will likely lead to intense cravings and overcompensation.
Listening to hunger is one way to honor your body’s needs and stop dieting behaviors. The hunger scale can be a helpful tool when learning to listen to hunger.
How it’s different with PCOS: High insulin levels and insulin resistance, which are highly prevalent in women with PCOS, can make you feel hungrier and crave more. Addressing insulin levels is essential in feeling more “typical” hunger.
- address insulin levels
- give attention to when your body is hungry and act on it
- if not currently able to feel hunger cues
- eating regular throughout the day + practicing tuning-in can help
Make Peace with Food
Food is not “good” nor “bad”. It’s just food. Making peace with food means allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods, and taking the power away from specific foods. Humans are naturally rebellious. We want what we can’t have. When you are finally able to have the forbidden foods, it’s likely you will feel out of control and overeat. This can lead to shame or guilt. The deprivation—overeating—guilt cycle is called the diet cycle. Making peace with food is breaking the cycle.
How it’s different with PCOS: There’s a lot of talk about what foods to avoid with PCOS. This brings worry + guilt. Understand that not one single food must be avoided with PCOS. You can include all foods in a way that feels best for you.
- Give yourself permission. This doesn’t mean you will or won’t, just that it’s your choice. You get to choose what feels best for your mind + body, not just follow rules or “shoulds”.
Challenge the Food Police
The food police is most often YOU! Challenging the food police is to challenge the belief that you are good or bad for eating a certain food. It’s challenging unreasonable food rules that don’t serve you, so you can eat with joy instead shame and guilt.
How it’s different with PCOS: Again, there’s so much talk about “bad” foods for PCOS. Your PCOS diagnosis or how you eat doesn’t define you as a person.
- Challenge your food rules!
- Consider how you might include all foods you enjoy in way that supports your mind + body.
Feel Your Fullness
Just like hunger, fullness is also biological and helps us decide when we’ve had enough. Listening to your cues for fullness help you recognize when you feel satisfied so you don’t end up feeling sick. Checking in with your body and giving attention to how food tastes, smells, and feels can help you be more aware.
How it’s different with PCOS: Hunger after mealtimes or never quite feeling full (often related to high insulin), or binge-eating behaviors may influence fullness cues.
- practice pausing during mealtime to observe your level of fullness
- consider how full you feel after (or even hours after) your meals/snacks
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
There’s a difference between fullness and satisfaction. We have cravings or feel the need to have certain foods that make us feel good and satisfied. Pleasure is also important in eating. Asking yourself what you really want so you can feel satisfied and pleased with the meal is essential for a great food experience and relationship.
Appreciate how food provides pleasure. Food is fun! Allow yourself to have the experience of being satisfied and content.
If you’re not satisfied or content, you may find that you tend to eat more of others foods that aren’t bringing the same pleasure or satisfaction.
How it’s different with PCOS: Strong cravings for sweets + carbs is common in those with PCOS. You may find more pleasure in these foods. This is not a bad thing, but may be skewed cravings related to insulin resistance.
- think about what foods sound good to you, what foods you enjoy, and what satisfies you at meal time
- include those foods + while addressing insulin resistance as well
Cope with Your Emotions With Kindness
We have emotional connections to food. Emotional eating is normal and common. Although food can help soothe emotions in the moment, it often does not fix the problem. Emotional eating can become a problem if it is the only way you are coping with emotion. Finding other ways to cope with emotions is important.
How it’s different with PCOS: Mood issues, depression, and anxiety are common in those with PCOS. Emotions relating to PCOS may influence eating behaviors.
- Be kind to yourself and find ways to cope with emotions effectively.
Respect Your Body
Comparison is the thief of joy. Comparing your body to others’ is never going to bring you peace or confidence. Acceptance is the first step to respecting your body. If you can accept yourself as you are, you can seek to care for it rather than just change it.
How it’s different with PCOS: PCOS has genetic components + there is currently no cure. Accepting that this condition is part of your life + choosing to work WITH your body as it is can be liberating + helpful in learning to truly care for it.
- stop being too critical about your diagnosis/body/weight/size
- strive to accept it and work WITH it
Exercise-Feel the Difference
A healthy relationship with exercise is also important. Exercise isn’t solely for those who want to change their body or lose weight. Exercise has many other purposes. Choosing joyful movement is part of being intuitive.
How it’s different with PCOS: Movement is one of those things that you “should” do for your PCOS, right? Yes, it can be helpful, but you get to decide why + what + how you go about it. There’s no rules for PCOS, despite what you may hear.
- find ways to move that you actually enjoy
- name the benefits beyond body shape that motivate you to move
Honor Your Health- Gentle Nutrition
There is no perfect way to eat. It’s not all or nothing. Experimenting with how foods makes you feel and getting curious about what makes you feel best is one step to honoring your health. Gentle nutrition means providing your body with foods that care for it. This is the last principle for a reason. You must understand and work through your relationship with food before embracing gentle nutrition.
How it’s different with PCOS: Nutrition does affect PCOS outcomes. You can use it to your advantage! Gentle nutrition for PCOS keeps in mind how food affects your body + how you feel/what you truly want to eat.
- consider what you know to be true about nutrition and PCOS
- consider how to include a variety of foods you actually enjoy and that help manage both your mental health and PCOS
Intuitive Eating is Possible with PCOS
Dieting doesn’t work for PCOS. Although there are some differences with PCOS, like insulin levels, that must be addressed, intuitive eating can be a valuable tool in your journey with PCOS.
Learn more about how I teach my clients to practice intuitive eating and manage PCOS at the same time in the 1:1 Peace with PCOS Experience.
Get the book “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch to learn more about intuitive eating, too.
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