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You might be curious about this as I discussed in the last blog “the best diet for PCOS” and touched a little on intuitive eating and gentle nutrition.
When it comes to what to eat with PCOS, it gets confusing due to the conflicting information you may see. You may have turned to diets and restrictions. You don’t see results and you still feel that the symptoms are worsening. I hear your frustration!
You may have tried many diets in the past and they kept you in a state of food fear, body hate, fatigue, and other issues.
There are also few issues that arise as well when it comes to eating with PCOS such as intense cravings and high levels of insulin, stress levels, and chronic inflammation. Additionally, the focus on weight loss as “the ultimate solution for PCOS” leads to more confusion and disordered eating practices.
I’m a big believer in weight-neutrality, anti-diet, HAES, and intuitive eating, but the question here is intuitive eating for PCOS possible? If yes, how is it done?
Imagine a life with no diets, no counting calories or macros, no hating your body. A life full of satisfaction and joy, food love, and body respect.
Today, I want to go into details of what intuitive eating is, misconceptions about it, and how to apply it with PCOS.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is an anti-diet approach that allows you to rely on internal factors versus external ones to determine when, what, and how much to eat.
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based way to improve your relationship with food and body.
Intuitive Eating is a tool that includes a great deal of self-awareness, self-care, and self-compassion.
Intuitive eating is not a linear process to reach peace with food and body and everyone’s journey within it is unique based on factors especially dieting history.
Intuitive eating is a framework that allows you to break free from diets via ten principles to navigate your body and your relationship with food.
Pros of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating has many benefits, physical, mental and beyond. There are also benefits to certain conditions.
According to Tribole, and Resch (2020), intuitive eaters have lower disordered eating, triglycerides (type of fat in the blood), emotional eating, self-silencing, binge eating, weight bias internalization, blood pressure, and body dissatisfaction.
Intuitive eaters have higher self-esteem, well-being and optimism, variety of food eaten, body appreciation and acceptance, HDL (good cholesterol), and life satisfaction.
From that, For PCOS, there is a need to have a better relationship with body and food. This leads for less binge eating, better blood lipids, more self awareness and self compassion and appreciation. All of that affects the levels of inflammation and stress (cortisol levels), which in turn have a positive effect on hormones. I would love to see specific research studies on people with PCOS and intuitive eating.
I found one study on intuitive eating and PCOS by Schillinger, (2014), who found that “The results of this study showed that women with PCOS who eat more intuitively feel more confident about sustaining healthy habits than women with PCOS who eat less intuitively. This is an important advancement in the treatment of PCOS because a sustainable nutrition intervention has not been found”. Very cool, right?
Why Intuitive Eating for PCOS?
When understanding PCOS, its symptoms, its drivers, the common treatment options, and the consideration of consequences and risks that come with PCOS, I thought about the following reasons (note: there might be more reasons):
Focusing on Weight Loss is Not a Good Approach to Managing PCOS
I’m starting with this as the first thing you may have heard when diagnosed is: “just lose weight”. Weight loss is not a behaviour, and weight loss approaches may harm people with PCOS. There are also other factors that need to be addressed such as insulin resistance, inflammation, stress and any other ones such as gut health and mental health.
Weight loss and weight loss advice many times isn’t innocent. It may cause weight stigma and weight bias. Plus, not everyone with PCOS needs to lose weight!
Weight cycling causes more issues than weight stability such as inflammation and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and more, which are also high risk with PCOS.
Diets Harm People With PCOS
If I can say this louder, I would! Diets lead to a disordered relationship with food. Diets affect the body physically and mentally. Diets reduce metabolism, affect hormones, and affect your relationship with food.
You may have tried many diets with PCOS, how did they make you feel? You can tell us in a comment below.
People with PCOS are at Higher Risk of Developing Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are higher in people with PCOS versus the general population. Eating disorders are serious and lead to other issues.
Intuitive Eating Affect People Beyond Food, Which is Needed in PCOS
While intuitive eating is about food, but effects of intuitive eating goes beyond food. It affects self-esteem, self-care and compassion, and life satisfaction.
Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating and PCOS
Intuitive eating has 10 principles that are made clear not to be rules or rigid ways of thinking about eating and food.
Here, you’ll see what each principle means and how it can apply to you with PCOS.
Principle #1: Reject the diet mentality
This is not an easy one, but when it’s achieved, it leads to great freedom with food. Diet culture is everywhere around us. You see it in books, magazines, the internet, your community of family and friends, who keep talking about their latest diet or “lifestyle” to lose the last 20 lbs.
It starts with a mindset of rejecting the diet culture and following diets to manage your PCOS.
Principle #2: Honour your hunger
I get it, you may always feel “hungry” with PCOS, but what is actually hunger? And how can we differentiate different stages and different types of hunger in our bodies, especially with PCOS, when hunger and fullness hormones may also be resisted?
Feeding your body regularly is key here. Feeding your body every 4-6 hours to give it nourishment and energy and ensure that you don’t reach very high hunger (starvation). There are degrees of hunger and fullness that are shown in the Hunger and Fullness Scale. It can be a good practice to tune in and check with yourself once meal time comes or you feel you want to eat.
Principle #3: Make peace with food
Food is food is food. Food has no moral value or special ranking. When you stop giving food this power, it will have less power over you.
When food is dealt with in a neutral way, it helps with your relationship with it.
Principle #4: Challenge the food police
Food police is that critical voice that affects your relationship with food. It guilts and shames you and creates a reaction that feels wrong and then keeps you in a vicious cycle. Have you experienced it?
Don’t let the food police dictate your relationship with food, instead, try to re-frame the food police thoughts into more understanding thoughts.
Principle #5: Discover the satisfaction factor
Satisfaction is one of the great feelings that we want you to get from food. Food has the ability to give us pleasure. When we choose foods that allow us to enjoy the experience of eating. Sight, taste, smell, mouth feeling, and sound have an effect on our experience with food.
Having PCOS does not mean you “should” eat foods that you don’t like in order to be “healthier”. Instead, choose foods that satisfy you considering what makes you feel “good”.
Principle #6: Feel your fullness
Checking in with your body at some points while eating can help you figure out when you are full.
This might be challenging with diets and PCOS, Again check in at different times while eating, where you are at on the Hunger and Fullness Scale.
Principle #7: Cope with your emotions with kindness
Have you found yourself eating when you feel bored, stressed, or sad? This is called emotional eating, and it is normal. However, turning to food when experiencing a negative emotion won’t solve the problem.
Trying to identify the issue by journaling and maybe working with a professional.
Principle #8: Respect your body
Being critical of your body does not help. Your body deserves care and respect no matter your size or symptoms. When you look at your body from the aspect of self-care rather than “fixing”, you’ll feel more at peace with your body.
Wear comfortable clothes and create a self-care routine that works for your life.
Principle #9: Movement – feel the difference
Movement is so important for health in general and for PCOS specifically. Shifting your mindset from exercise as being a way to change your body or punishing yourself because of what you ate. Rather think about what you enjoy and your body can do.
Principle #10: Honour your health — gentle nutrition
Instead of diets and rigid rules around food, food choices can be made to feel good for your body’s health. In gentle nutrition, we look at the bigger picture with food, not one or two foods that you have.
There are simple gentle nutrition tips for PCOS, I listed below.
Misconceptions on Intuitive Eating
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about intuitive eating. Here are a few:
Misconception #1: Intuitive Eating is Another Diet
Intuitive eating is an anti-diet framework and a diet alternative to have a healthy relationship with food and body.
Misconception #2: Intuitive Eating is the Hunger and Fullness Diet
Intuitive eating is more than just “the hunger and fullness diet” as many people who don’t know it describe it.
Misconception #3: Intuitive Eating is Anti-health
Intuitive eating is totally the opposite of anti-health. It takes a different approach to health and wellbeing. It helps you make peace with food and body. It has a physical and mental health benefits and research has approved that.
Misconception #4: Intuitive Eating Means: You Can Eat What You Want Whenever You Feel Like It
This is a very common misunderstanding of intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is a non-linear learning process. When your body makes peace with all foods and with gentle nutrition, you learn what makes you feel good without overeating or undereating.
Misconception #5: Intuitive Eating does Not Work for PCOS
There is this claim that intuitive eating does not work for PCOS due to the underlying issues, especially insulin resistance that leads to cravings and changes in the hunger and fullness hormones in the body.
Yes, it might be challenging, especially at the beginning to apply intuitive eating with PCOS, but it is possible and improves your health in so many ways.
How to Start Intuitive Eating for PCOS?
- Remember that all experiences with intuitive eating are learning experiences. Perfection is not required.
- Know that there is no food that you need to restrict for PCOS, except if you have allergies, intolerances and a medical condition to do so. Give yourself permission to eat.
- At the beginning, it might be challenging to tune into your hunger and fullness cues, so set some regular times to eat. Have at least 3 meals and snacks if needed.
- Listening to your body might be challenging at the beginning. Give your body sometime to adjust. Use tools such as the Hunger and Fullness Scale, mid-point check-in with self.
- Eat your food mindfully savouring the taste, the smell, the appearance, the sounds, and the feel or texture of food.
- Apply some gentle nutrition ideas that will help with your medical nutrition therapy to manage insulin resistance, inflammation, and others:
- Pair carbohydrate with protein and/or healthy fats.
- Have enough protein at every meal.
- Choose foods that add more fibre, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
- Choose a variety of colourful foods.
- Hydrate with water versus other drinks.
- Intuitive Eating (Book) by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch*
- Intuitive Eating (Workbook) by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch*
- Intuitive Eating Cards by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch*
- Intuitive Eating for Every Day by Evelyn Tribole *
While intuitive eating is a great tool and framework and can be used in PCOS, it is still not for everyone. It is a great idea to start with the support of a dietitian who understands PCOS and intuitive eating.
Schillinger, M. O. (2014). Study of intuitive eating ratings and self-efficacy differences in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Eastern Michigan University.
Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. St. Martin’s Essentials.