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Intuitive Eating with IBS (Guest Post with Joyce from The Hungry Caterpillar)

Today I have a very special guest post for you! My dear friend Joyce from thehungrycaterpillar blog is not only a FABulous writer – clear, relatable, open, honest – but has also paved her way as a “go to” in the world of IBS and low-FODMAP eating. She has shared her journey through the elimination phase of the low-FODMAP diet in order to heal her struggles with IBS, and now continues to help others going through the process by sharing recipes, research and her own well documented experiences. In addition, Joyce adds another level of personal experience by sharing her history of disordered eating. Recovering from an eating disorder whilst struggling with IBS is no joke. It requires a great deal of complexity, both physically and mentally. What she has been able to conquer and all that she’s learned amazes me. 

As you may know, I’ve been experiencing my own digestive issues as of late – for the first time in my life – and thus have been wading the difficult world of balancing food triggers/eliminations and not giving into a restrictive mindset. I’ve been working hard to eat (and live) intuitively, but when physical stressors come into play, it kind of takes the rug right out from under you. It’s such a tough world to navigate!! Glegh. No doubt, when it was first suggested I try the low-FODMAP diet, Joyce was who I ran to. 

I am grateful that Joyce has agreed to come to you guys and speak a little more about her experience with Intuitive Eating whilst managing IBS. I have many thoughts and things I want to say in regards to the points she makes, so I will look forward to doing so in a follow up post. But without further ado, I turn it over to Joyce!


Intuitive Eating With IBS


As I write, I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to take me back home after long weekend visiting family. As I checked my bags and went through security, I noticed a very uncomfortable feeling in my gut.

I have severe IBS, so I’m used to uncomfortable feelings in my gut. Cramps, gas, bloating, nausea are everyday occurrences for me, although I’ve learned to manage this over time through a combination of making sure to eat enough, limiting some high-FODMAP foods, and taking probiotics.

All this is confused by the fact that I also have a high metabolism, meaning I get hungry about every two to four hours despite whatever bloating or cramping or nausea I might have going on.

So as I found a seat at my gate, I thought, “What is this feeling? Am I hungry? Am I still really full from lunch? Is my stomach cramping? Am I nauseated?”

For many people, these may seem like absurd questions, but for someone with GI issues and a history of disordered eating, it can be really difficult for me to tell these feelings apart.

Intuitive eating is hard enough to learn when your brain is full of stupid cultural interference about weight loss, calorie counting and the like. It’s even harder if your GI system makes it hard to identify fullness and hunger.

intuitive eating IBS


But learning to eat intuitively despite GI issues is possible. I’ve been doing it—or doing my best at it—for a few years now. Here are a few strategies that work well for me:

  1. Pay close attention to how full, bloated, hungry, nauseous and cramping feel like for you. This is a lot easier said than done. For me, for instance, bloated and full feel almost identical, especially because I’m almost always bloated when I am full. For me, bloating is a distracting, uncomfortable tightness in my abdomen, out of proportion with how much I’ve eaten and how hungry I was before I ate. Fullness, by contrast, is subtle. In fact, because my tummy so often distorts the way I feel physically after I eat, I have to pay attention to more psychological things like “Do I want more food? Am I still distracted by thoughts of food?” as well as simply asking myself, “Was this a reasonable amount of food?” Which leads me directly into…
  2. Remember it’s okay to use your brain. Recently I was reading an article addressing popular myths about intuitive eating. One of these myths was that intuitive eating somehow promotes thoughtless eating. But that’s not true at all; using your head is a big part of intuitive eating. If, for instance, it’s 6:00 or 7:00 pm and I haven’t eaten since lunch, I usually go ahead and eat, even if my tummy’s still feeling tight and uncomfortable. Food, after all, is fuel, and I wouldn’t try to run my car on an empty tank just because there’s something wrong with the tank nozzle. 
  3. Trust yourself. Sometimes I tell people I can’t possibly determine whether I’m hungry or full or bloated or whatever else—there’s simply no way. Which is sort of true, but I’m also being a bit…uh…dramatic? Yes, the discomfort is real and it sucks. But I find—and this is the really intuitive part—I often can determine what that uncomfortable feeling is at a gut level. (Sorry ?) But really, I can’t even describe it. Often, even when the physical sensations of, say, nausea and hunger feel very similar, I just know whether it’s one or the other at a very instinctual level. Which sounds sort of New Age and hippie, but I actually think it makes sense, since knowing when to eat is one of the most basic survival mechanisms of any life form.

intuitive eating IBS

Don’t think you’re quite ready for that level of self-trust yet? Don’t worry. Here’s my final tip.

  1. Remember that intuitive eating is a low-stakes game. It’s not really a “game” at all, in fact—there’s no winner or loser. Sometimes when my tummy is really acting up, I just can’t stomach a real meal. That’s okay once in a while. Sometimes I eat more than I need to feel full, and that can cause my GI issues to flare up. Also okay. Really.

So how did my pre-plane-ride internal hunger debate end? I decided I was hungry and ate a piece of leftover cake I had packed. Yum!

intuitive eating IBS

Thanks, Joyce!

This caterpillar can also be found on facebook and Instagram!

Strategies for Intuitive Eating with IBS! #IBS #intuitiveeating #recovery #useyourbrain Click To Tweet

So tell me,

Have you learned any strategies for balancing intuitive eating with IBS, food intolerances or digestive discomfort?



  1. danielle | 19th Sep 17

    This is so interesting and seems very challenging! The only time my stomach doesn’t feel bloated and whacky is when I don’t have carbs with my meal, but that is the kind of thing that I don’t want to implement because I want to have a balanced relationship with food. I want to be OK with all foods and and just heal emotionally, and then trust that my body will heal as well. I know that having had an ED for 20+ years I can’t just expect to eat and feel normal. I’m giving myself time and space to feel yucky physically. At the same time I’d like to enjoy my food and not physical discomfort so I am trying to balance it all out. It’s the ongoing conundrum.
    Sometimes when I just ‘eat the food’ and forget about all the things I actually do feel OK. Sometimes it really is all in my head… so I guess I’m not much help here but I am so fascinated! I admire anyone who has the courage to take their health into their own hands. Our health is the most important thing we have, it’s our quality of life.

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      Oh Danielle – I want to just forgoe all thoughts of eliminations/food triggers and just focus on healing my mind and my relationship to ALL food, and then TRUST that my body will just heal naturally. And I think maybe that could be the real answer?? That’s what many people tell me, after all. But in the short terms it is sooooo hard to trust that :(.

      I guess I can’t just expect to eat and feel normal, either. Geez. Is that really asking too much!? (aha….. ugh). It is such an ongoing conundrum.

  2. Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar | 19th Sep 17

    You are the sweetest person, Cora. Thank you so much for the kind words about me and my blog. I really appreciate it.
    Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar recently posted…10-Minute Low-FODMAP Olive Tomato SauceMy Profile

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      Of course, Joyce. I mean it all. Thank you again for the post <3

  3. Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets | 19th Sep 17

    Let them eat cake.

    In all seriousness, it was great to see Joyce via your blog and I’m so glad she’s been able to be a resource for you during your own search for good gut health. I’m rooting for you.
    Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets recently posted…Week in Review: #100My Profile

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      I’m very grateful to have found her and have her camaraderie through it all!

  4. chasetheredgrape | 19th Sep 17

    Trust your gut = so true! I think ‘intuitive eating’ has become this buzz word that no one really understands so its great when folk address it head on. Go Joyce!

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      And… that is means all sorts of different things. Can get confusing for something just beginning to grasp the concept.

  5. Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table | 20th Sep 17

    My betterhalf has IBS but refuses to do anything about it. She loooooves pizza and spaghetti. Tomatoes are 100% going to set it off… yet she eats it anyway. At least I’ve managed to keep her gluten-free at home (another trigger).
    Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table recently posted…Leg Day Workout for Hump DayMy Profile

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      I totally don’t blame her. After trying some eliminations, I’ve gotten back to kind of saying “screw it” and eating everything. It’s SO hard to limit yourself! Even if you know it’ll backlash…. 🙁

  6. Sarah @ Bucket List Tummy | 20th Sep 17

    Thank you for sharing your story, Joyce! It’s so great to see how intuitive eating plays out differently in each of our lives, because there’s no real end point to it. It sounds like you have come a long way and have really come to understand your body. That cake looks amazing!
    Sarah @ Bucket List Tummy recently posted…Fueling for Activity + What I Ate WednesdayMy Profile

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      Yay Joyce! That’s the thing about IE, it is so unique to each person. It shifts and transforms and plays out in each of our journeys so differently.

  7. Casey the College Celiac | 20th Sep 17

    These are AMAZING tips! Can’t believe I wasn’t already following the Hungry Caterpillar…thanks for guiding me to another awesome resource <3
    Casey the College Celiac recently posted…Chunky Banana Bread Energy Balls (Gluten Free, Vegan, Nut Free)My Profile

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      Ehh I’m so glad you hooked you two up!! Both two of my favorite ladies and both HUGE inspirations with your journeys!

  8. My Comments on Intuitive Eating with IBS: It's Okay To Use Your Brain | 20th Sep 17

    […] On Tuesday I shared a guest post about Intuitive Eating with IBS.  […]

  9. Evangeline | 21st Sep 17

    Ahh one of my favorite bloggers guest posting for one of my other favorite bloggers. . .perfection. Joyce, these strategies make so much practical sense. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. Number four hit home. Intuitive eating IS a low stakes “game.” It’s supposed to be for our benefit, so if we need time to figure out how it works best for us individually, no biggie.
    Evangeline recently posted…Having a lot to say but not saying it well.My Profile

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      No kidding eh? And since it is all just for US and only US, no one should be able to tell us if we are doing it “right” or “wrongly.” Joyce is a smart cookie 🙂

  10. jamie | 22nd Sep 17

    Just as I thought I was the only one who had these same issues…this post comes along! Thank you for validation and the relief that it;s not just me with this iBS rubix cube!

    • Cora | 24th Sep 17

      Oh it is definitely not! It sure helps to learn you aren’t alone in all the mess though, ya?

  11. Miss Polkadot | 24th Sep 17

    Knowing Joyce’ story, I’m still really impressed by how she’s been working on becoming an intuitive eater while “managing” IBS. Like she said, it’s hard enough to eat intuitively when you’re “just” fighting those nasty ED voices alone. Her insight on how to juggle these two issues is amazing and I’m glad she’s been a help for you in navigating your current stomach issues.

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