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Intuitive Eating as a vegan: Is it Possible?

While intuitive eating requires rejecting food rules and stopping labelling foods as ¨good¨ or ¨bad¨, the vegan diet is based on the principle of banning all animal products. 

So, does it mean that individuals following a vegan diet, founded on the exclusion of certain food groups, cannot aspire to eat intuitively? Or is veganism consistent with the principles of intuitive eating? 

The answer to these questions is clear: As a vegan dietitian and nutritionist, I believe it is possible to practice intuitive eating as a vegan despite the generally thought idea that both approaches are incompatible. 

But why are vegan diets a source of debate in the intuitive eating community? Here are some commonly believed myths and misconceptions about intuitive eating and veganism, and why they are unfounded.

Myths about intuitive eating 

Myth 1: Anyone can become an intuitive eater overnight 

We were indeed all born intuitive eaters. As kids, we were able to trust and rely on our hunger and satiety cues to self-regulate our food intake. 

However, growing up, most of us lost touch with our inner cues, due to the diet culture and guilt-ridden environments dictating to us how much we should eat and what type of food we should choose.

Intuitive eating as an adult requires making peace with all types of foods, recognizing our hunger and fullness signals, rejecting internalized misbeliefs about dieting, and much more. 

Thus, becoming an intuitive eater again takes time and often requires the support of a vegan registered dietitian.

Reach out to our team of vegan dietitian who are experinced with  intuitive eating and see how we can help you become more attuned to your inner cues.

Myth 2: Intuitive eating means indulging in burgers and ice cream all the time 

On one hand, one of the principles of intuitive eating encourages us to identify the foods that are satisfying to us and to consume those without guilt. When certain foods are seen as ¨bad¨ and off-limits, we tend to obsess over them and crave them even more. 

Thus, in the early days of intuitive eating, it is possible to feel the desire to eat more of certain types of play foods, especially if we were deprived of those for a long time.

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, the registered dietitians who developed the principles of intuitive eating, call this intense desire to eat the ¨primal hunger¨. 

They compare it to holding our breath underwater for too long. When reaching the surface after prolonged submersion, our first breath would be a profound inhalation, rather than a polite intake of air. The same biological response applies to food deprivation.  

On the other hand, intuitive eating is not only about our instincts. It also involves our thoughts and emotions around food. 

Studies show that being regularly exposed to a variety of foods, including play foods, contributes to us being less preoccupied with them and experiencing fewer cravings. When all types of food are deemed acceptable, it becomes easier to appreciate them without feeling guilt.  

By disregarding dieting rules and seeing all foods as equal, over time, most people reconnect with their internal cues. They find their balance, and choose nourishing foods that make them feel energized more often.

plant-based intuitive eating

Myth 3: Intuitive eating allows you to eat only when you are hungry 

It is true that some principles of intuitive eating focus on honouring your hunger and respecting your fullness. However, intuitive eating also acknowledges that there are no hard rules defining the perfect levels of hunger and fullness. 

Additionally, food can be used to celebrate, show our gratitude, and create memories. Healing our relationship with food also implies eating for social reasons or merely for pleasure. 

Thus, there is no harm in eating past the point of comfortable physical fullness for the simple joy of sharing and honouring a delicious meal with others. 

As vegans, eating intuitively does not instruct us to aim at achieving a flawlessly balanced diet at all times or to only eat at a predetermined level of hunger or fullness. 

Remember that you will not gain weight or develop a nutrient deficiency from one meal or one day of eating a certain way.

Myth 4: Intuitive eating does not care about nutrition 

One of the ten principles of intuitive eating is to honour your health and practice gentle nutrition. 

While nutrition is recognized as an undeniable aspect of health, it is only one of the many components of intuitive eating. 

Rather than only focusing on the nutritional quality of our diet and our physical health, intuitive eating enables us to also honour our mental and emotional well-being. 

Gentle nutrition allows us to develop an understanding of how food feels in our bodies. It encourages us to honour all parts of our body. Gentle nutrition is about choosing foods that not only taste good, but also energize us, and support our health. 

Intuitive eating and chronic illnesses

Similarly, intuitive eating can be used to manage chronic health conditions by enhancing our awareness of how our body reacts to different foods. 

Connecting with our physical cues and prioritizing the body’s well-being actually make disease management through diet easier.  

Research show that an intuitive relationship with food can help people with diabetes recognize signs of impaired blood glucose. They can acquire a better sense of how different nutrients can impact their blood sugar and how to prevent carbohydrate restriction and binging cycles. 

People with digestive sensitivities can also gain a clearer understanding of which food trigger physical responses and which food sustain their well-being. 

To know how vegan intuitive eating can help you manage your health through a personalized plant-based diet, reach out to our team of vegan registered dietitians and nutritionists.

intuitve eating vegan

Myth 5: Intuitive eating is the latest weight loss trend 

Although some people may undergo unintended weight loss when starting intuitive eating, it is not a weight-loss plan.  Some people may regain the weight they had lost due to prolonged food deprivation, while others will see their weight stabilize. 

Moreover, trying to use intuitive eating to manage weight would turn your attention to external cues and distract you from your inner signals. 

Trying to maintain your body within a certain weight range or trying to reach a weight goal through vegan intuitive eating would undermine your capacity to connect with your body. It could also set off the restriction and binge cycle of dieting.

What is the set point weight? 

Research suggests that the human body has a set point weight and tends to return to it despite our efforts to change our body weight.

The set point weight varies for every individual and is based on what our bodies need to feel good and function optimally. 

According to this theory, when we try to lose weight by reducing our calorie intake, the body slows down its metabolism to burn fewer calories. It also secretes higher amounts of hunger hormones to increase our food intake and keep our weight steady.

The set point theory stipulates that our bodies will adjust to periods of deprivation to keep our body weight stable.  Although our lifestyle can have an impact on our body weight, physiological adaptations beyond our control also have an important role to play. 

Myth 6:  Individuals with eating disorders cannot practice intuitive eating 

On the contrary, intuitive eating is essential for long-term and sustainable healing from an eating disorder. 

At the beginning of the recovery process, fullness and hunger signals will be skewed in most people. At this step, individuals with eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating,  benefit from a structured nutritional plan. 

To get rid of the eating disorder’s voice, prevent undereating and relapses, normalizing eating through  nutrition support is crucial. Most people also need to regulate their emotions through psychotherapy. 

Once the food intake and weight are normalized, hunger and fullness cues become more reliable. Intuitive eating can then teach us to reconnect with our cues and make peace with food. 

Besides, studies show that individuals following the principles of intuitive eating go through a better recovery. They experience fewer depressive symptoms and unhealthy compensatory behaviours. They also develop higher self-esteem and body image satisfaction. 

If you are struggling with disordered eating, a plant-based registered nutritionist can support you build a more peaceful relationship with food through vegan intuitive eating. 

intuitive eating vegan

Misconceptions about vegan diets 

Do vegan diets promote eating disorders? 

While the percentage of people following a plant-based diet is higher among individuals with eating disorders, veganism itself does not promote dieting or restrictive eating.   

People struggling with eating disorders tend to experiment with different eating patterns and cut food groups from their diet.  Adopting a restrictive food pattern can be a way of legitimizing food avoidance in a socially acceptable way. 

Choosing a plant-based diet, just like any other type of elimination diet, could be a sign of a disordered relationship with food. However, it is not the cause of eating disorders.

Why do people choose plant-based diets?

Most individuals following a plant-based diet want to do their part for the environment, condemn animal suffering, and improve their health. 

Find out more reasons to decrease your consumption of meat and choose plant-based food more often here.

However, exploring our deeper inspirations when choosing a certain diet and lifestyle can be challenging. To investigate and better understand your motivations in choosing a vegan, reach out to a nutritionist expert in plant-based diets.

Intuitive eating and veganism: can they coexist? 

The answer is yes! When picked with the right intentions, a vegan diet can be practiced with an intuitive eating mindset. 

In fact, when our vegan lifestyle is motivated by our ethical values and our desire to sustain our bodies with nutritious and balanced food, it is not a restrictive diet. 

Furthermore, for some people, choosing food that feels good through intuitive eating means choosing plant-based foods more often.   

Besides, vegan diets can reduce the risks of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and various types of cancer.  Thus, choosing to follow a plant-based diet to honour our health through wholesome food is coherent with the principle of gentle nutrition of intuitive eating. 

Moreover, it is possible to be vegan while choosing meals that are enjoyable, satisfying, and feel good to our body, as recommended by the principles of intuitive eating. 

An appropriately planned plant-based diet can be nutritionally adequate and provide the body with all the nutrients it requires, while also being enjoyable and tailored to our food preferences. 

In conclusion, while a vegan diet can be an exciting way to practice non-diet eating, it can require planning and  support from a plant-based registered dietitian. Here’s how you can book a free discovery call with a nutritionist expert in vegan intuitive eating. 

To find out more about veganisms and intuitive eating, check out our answers to frequently asked questions about balanced vegan diets.