I work with a lot of women with type 2 diabetes, and when I first purpose ditching the diets for good and instead practicing intuitive eating as a way to manage their blood sugars, they almost all have the same fear. They all fear that if they give themselves full permission to eat all of those “forbidden” foods that their diabetes will become unmanageable. They feel like they will lose control. This fear ultimately stems from diet culture telling us over and over again that our bodies and our hunger are not to be trusted, which is unfortunate and just not true. While I completely understand this fear, it is not something I see become a reality for my clients.
Intuitive eating is absolutely something that can be used to manage diabetes, and I would argue that is much easier, healthier and effective at doing so than dieting. So, how does practicing intuitive eating manage blood sugar? Let’s dive right in! Intuitive eating helps manage diabetes by:
1. Minimizing overeating
One of the principles of intuitive eating is honoring your hunger and fullness cues. This differs from dieting because dieting often tells you to ignore or suppress your hunger cues while being hyperaware of your fullness cues and never eat past feeling full. This is a big reason why diets don’t work. When we ignore or suppress our hunger, we end up becoming too hungry. This leads to decreased decision-making abilities, increased susceptibility to external cues and feeling ravenously hungry. The result? Wanting to eat everything, yet not being able to decide on anything, so you grab something that is fast and easy (whether or not it is actually what you want to eat) and you scarf it all down as quickly as possible. Later, you probably feel stuffed, physically uncomfortable, lethargic, and your blood sugar has spiked.
With intuitive eating, you first learn to honor your hunger. This means recognizing when you are hungry and giving yourself permission to eat when you are hungry. By doing so, we avoid the situation outlined above. Then we learn to honor our fullness. This isn’t a rule about never eating past full. It is simply bringing awareness to what it feels like when we are starting to get full, when we are comfortably full, when we are a little beyond full, and so on. This then allows us to choose when to stop eating. With practice, we start naturally stopping when we feel comfortably full because we know that eating past full often leads to physical discomfort, in addition to knowing that whenever we feel hungry again, we can eat. Honoring our hunger and fullness cues ultimately leads to better blood sugar control.
2. Minimizing binge eating
Binge eating, especially on foods higher in carbs, can be caused by a couple of different things. The first being letting our blood sugar drop too low. This can happen when we don’t honor our hunger and go too long without eating (see above), or by restricting carbs. Either one will lead to an increase in sugar/carb cravings, and ultimately bingeing on ice cream, pasta, bread, cookies, etc. Binge eating is also more likely to occur when we restrict certain foods like is promoted with dieting. When we restrict foods, studies show that we are much more likely to binge on those foods when we do allow ourselves to have them. Think about the last time you tried to restrict sweets. What happened when you gave yourself permission to eat them for that one night? Chances are you ate a lot of them, most likely to the point of feeling uncomfortably full and resulting in a large blood sugar spike.
With intuitive eating, we give ourselves full permission to eat all types of food while removing the moral value from food (good vs bad food). When we know that we can have a certain food anytime that we would like, we don’t actually want that food all the time and when we do have it, a little bit of it is usually enough to satisfy us. This might seem far fetched if you are just starting on your intuitive eating journey, but I promise with practice, this will become a reality. Giving yourself permission to eat all foods, will lead to better blood sugar control by avoiding spikes and crashes.
3. Decreasing sugar cravings
This is mentioned above, but to reiterate, our body needs carbs and sugar to survive. In particular, our brain uses glucose as its preferential fuel source. When we restrict carbs, either by avoiding certain foods or by ignoring our hunger cues, our blood sugar can drop too low. When this happens, one of the main ways our body can increase our blood sugar is by increasing our sugar intake. How, you may ask. Well, hello sweet tooth. It may sound counterintuitive, but by removing restrictions around carbs, sugar cravings will decrease.
4. Addressing emotional eating
Part of intuitive eating is learning to distinguish between the different types of hunger. One of these types of hunger is emotional hunger. I want to be clear here that emotional eating is not a bad habit. It is a coping mechanism that we develop to help get us through tough times. The power comes in being aware that we are having these emotions and then being able to choose what we want to do to take care of ourselves. Sometimes that may be eating, but sometimes it might be journaling, calling a friend, going for a walk, etc. Acknowledging unconscious emotional eating patterns also allows us to examine parts of ourselves that we make have been neglecting and gives us an opportunity to give those parts a little TLC. By increasing awareness of unconscious emotional eating patterns and broadening your coping mechanisms, unconscious emotional eating decreases and along with it the blood sugar spikes.
5. Introducing gentle nutrition
I want to draw attention to the fact that we have discussed four ways that intuitive eating can help manage blood sugars and we haven’t even mentioned the types of food that you are eating!! After addressing the stuff mentioned above, then gentle nutrition is brought in. There are no rules here, just some basic nutrition knowledge that can help you honor your health and further manage your blood sugar.
6. Increasing enjoyable movement
Last, but not least, intuitive eating encourages you to find movement that feels good and that we enjoy doing. This means not worrying about how many calories you burn or how much your heart increases. This could be dance parties in the kitchen with our kids, playing basketball, walking the dog, etc. When we find movement that we enjoy, we are more likely to continue doing it. This means that our overall physical activity will increase, without having to drag ourselves to the gym or suffer through another class we don’t enjoy. Increase movement leads to decrease insulin resistance and better blood sugar control.
To bring it all together, intuitive eating can help you manage your type 2 diabetes by minimizing binge eating, overeating and sugar cravings, addressing unconscious emotional eating, introducing gentle nutrition and increasing enjoyable movement. In addition to better blood sugar control, intuitive will help you improve your confidence, body-image and self-love. Are you ready to start you intuitive eating journey? Click here to schedule your free breakthrough call with me, Dr. Nicole Largent, to determine if Terrain Integrative Medicine’s program is right for you.
You can also join our private Facebook group for women with type 2 diabetes who are interested in managing it with intuitive eating.