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My Comments on Intuitive Eating with IBS: It’s Okay To Use Your Brain

On Tuesday I shared a guest post about Intuitive Eating with IBS

What a friggen HARD thing to figure out. 

And that’s just the two contenders. When you throw in a history of an eating disorder and therefore a still learning/shifting/growing mindset about food intake,  you’ve got one seriously messy pool to wade through. 


I thought Joyce’s’ post was spot on. A few things she said spoke strongly to me and I felt relieved to know I’m not the only one who makes certain – adjustments – when it comes to the stereotypes of “intuitive eating.” Or that I’m not the only one who deals with some the questions/concerns/worries that this provokes.  I wanted to make my own comments on the topic, so I’m linking up with Amanda for some TOL

In particular…

That it’s okay to use your brain.

pumpkin oats / banana / almond butter / chocolate granola  

“I have to pay attention to more psychological things like “Do I want more food? Am I still distracted by thoughts of food?” 

Thank you. 

I often feel a lot of guilt, because I feel like more often than not I am eating “mentally” rather than physically. By this I mean eating because something in me just feels like I “should,” rather than because of any physical sensation of hunger.  Whether it is just common sense or whether it is because I am still stuck on the “meal plan” and eating times that got engrained in me while I was in the ED recovery program, I find myself eating at certain times just….because. 

That could potentially sound wrong, couldn’t it?

When I realize after the fact that I wasn’t actually “hungry,” and yet went ahead and ate that meal anyways, there can be a lot of self deprecation. 

You have no will power

You have no self control

Why did you eat that much? You didn’t need to…

Everyone else can go hours without eating… why can’t you?

Beer cheddar scone with butta

It’s hard to have these thoughts. They can raise a lot of internal questions about my level of control around food and…

…. do I ever eat intuitively!?!

But, as Joyce wrote, maybe it is okay to use your brain, too? If scientifically we know that food is our fuel and that our bodies and brains need that fuel in order to thrive and work at their best, maybe it is okay to simply ensure it has energy to use – at healthy increments of time. 

Brunch with the parents. You may not believe it but I actually wasn’t the one playing with my food. Two fried eggs on sourdough dough + back bacon + a little extra smile. 

“…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.”

Thank you… again. 

If one has a history of an eating disorder, a slew of other factors need to come into play as well. Psychologically and physically. I still have no idea where my hunger ques are at. As I’ve mentioned before, my main signs of hunger are anxiety and irritability. I rarely get stomach pangs or any physical signs of hunger other than maybe feeling weak. 

I also know I am hungry if I can’t stop thinking about food. I’ve been becoming more mindful of this. When I am totally able to focus on my work or task at hand and realize – after the fact – that I was not thinking about food, this is when I know I was properly fueled. Our body-brain connection is fascinating. 

Ham/cheese sandwich + garden tomatoes + green juice with kale/spinach/chard/lemon/ginger/cayenne

So if my hunger signs show up more mentally than physically, intuitive eating – to me – doesn’t really mean waiting for my body to tell me I need to eat. 

Instead, it has meant forming a lifestyle where I eat just because I know I probably “should.” Even if this elicits guilt, I know based on my weight and mental history of wanting to limit what I eat, I need to continue to disregard that guilt and trust that what I am doing is okay.

It’s hard. No doubt about it. 

Farm-to-table pizza with the parents: Half Eggplant Parmesan / Half Spicy Prosciutto with honey and lemon ricotta

“…as well as simply asking myself, “Was this a reasonable amount of food?”

This has been a hard one.

With my recent digestive issues and stomach pains, I’ve been finding I get either bloated or a sore stomach after certain foods or amounts of food I would have easily had in the past. This, again, can elicit a lot of guilt and feelings of having no control.

You didn’t need that much – why didn’t you stop?!

For example, one night after work last week, I ate a bowl of soup with rice and some sweet potato. I was really hungry as I was eating, but once I was all done, I was painfully full. It was so easy for me to think I had eaten too much and more than I actually needed to. But…. 



Sweet Potato. 

Those are all good things and the amount I had shouldn’t have normally been that filling. 

Just because my stomach now sometimes decides to flare up or disagree with what I eat does not mean I’ve done something wrong. 

These new stomach discomforts I am now learning to face – though they have been a lot better lately (knock on wood please!!) – are so misplaced and confusing that I cannot have them dictate my guilt when it comes to food. And I can’t let a bloated belly tell me I’ve eaten enough. Sometimes my belly feels full but something else in my body feels unsatisfied. When this happens, I have to go to my brain. 

Sometimes you have to go to your brain when it comes to Intuitive Eating. #useyourbrain #intuitiveeating #ibs #recovery #eatingdisorderrecovery Click To Tweet

One day when I ate these “broccoli tacos” – my current favorite meal at work –  my stomach definitely did not agree. But they also made me very happy, so I decided it was worth the risk. I didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, I was choosing happiness. ‘Cause seriously…. quinoa battered broccoli + cabbage slaw + avocado + jalepeno lime dressing + pumpkin seeds…. #heaven. 


If I see a clear connection between a certain food and bloating or pain, then eating intuitively would mean staying away from these things. Otherwise, relying on psychological factors such as a) what am I craving?? b) will this meal make me happy?? c) how many hours has it been since I ate? and d) was this a normal amount of food? can also be tickets to what it means to eat intuitively. 

Carrot cake + my cottage cheese fluff as icing + chocolate covered ginger. Mmmm late night dessert time. 

To conclude, I think intuitive eating whilst struggling with IBS is totally possible, as long as you are not stuck on any sort of “stereotypical” definitions of what IE means. Intuitive eating should mean doing what is best for you, feeling clear about your choices, and knowing your “whys.”  If you know you need to eat at certain times or else you will start to feel irritable, or you know your healthy amounts of food intake even if your stomach gave you discomfort afterwards, you are making clear choices focused toward your health. And I think that is intuitive eating. 

What It Means To Eat Intuitively When You Have IBS #intuitiveating #IBS #eatindisorder #recovery #health #mindbody Click To Tweet

So tell me,

When do you feel like you are eating intuitively? 

What are your hunger markers? Are they more physical or psychological?

Do you ever rely on your brain more than your body? 


I also really appreciated this article. Especially the author’s comment on eating out of “habit.”  

“I’m not always hungry when I first wake up in the morning, but I almost always eat breakfast at home before I leave the house so that I don’t eat something I regret later. One benefit of having strong and consistent healthy eating habits is that your brain learns to moderate your hunger levels according to the rhythms you set.”

As well as her reminder that

“…Many of these may seem like “bad” reasons to eat…. However, the underlying needs behind all these motivations are perfectly valid.”






  1. Dee | 21st Sep 17

    Oh once again I can totally relate to your journey. You are in my thoughts so often. I see you getting stronger through your words, even when you share your setbacks. I’ve struggled so much with intuitive eating because I don’t experience hunger pangs as often as I would like to. My main signs of hunger are extreme irritability, anxiousness, and weakness. When I eat, these feelings almost immediately dissipate. I hate it. I hate it because when I don’t have the feeling of hunger, it creates so much anxiety in me to eat. I have to rely on my brains wisdom. Like you, sometimes I won’t have any of those feelings but I will still be thinking about food and then I know I just need to eat, even though I don’t have any of the physical hunger signs. I know they say these things will become easier with time. That eventually more hunger signs will return. But honestly, I’m not fully convinced (it’s been a long time now). I think I just may be wired more this way and that I will always need to rely on my brain more than others when it comes to eating. I hate that part. I also get confused at times because I will feel like i’m eating all day and i’ll have a meal (like you described with the rice and soup) and know it’s not enough so I eat more even though I don’t feel like it and others that I know will eat very little all day (in a normal way for them-not restrictive) and they are fine. They are at a healthy weight and have a healthy relationship with food. It’s confusing to me because I second guess myself. Well MAYBE I did eat enough because I’m eating way more than them and I don’t feel hunger etc. Thank you for sharing as always. In it together!


    • Cora | 28th Sep 17


      Every. single. thing. you say here, Dee…. I 100% get. I experience it all. The eating more just because our brains think/know we should… seeing others seemingly eat WAY less than us (I just don’t get it!)… the anxiety at eating when not hungry. Its all still very confusing and like you, its been a long time so I really am wondering if this is just how its going to be for my entire life.

      Sigh. As along as we know we aren’t alone, we need to stand by the belief that we know what we need to do for OURSELVES, and not compare ourselves to anyone else.

  2. Evangeline | 21st Sep 17

    1) Quinoa battered cauliflower tacos are my new new favorite food. I haven’t tried them yet. But I just felt an immediate, spiritual connection. Now I have to go search them out…or wait to make them when I go home for a holiday.

    2) Although I don’t have IBS, digestive issues with normal foods leaves me asking similar questions. Did I eat too much? Why didn’t I stop? The difficulty for me is separating the food itself from the reaction that my body experiences. It’s easy for me to play the “good” food “bad” food game when a certain food makes me bloated or crampy.

    3) Hmm I actually never really thought about whether I use my brain or body signals the most often. I guess using either one predominately could lead to problems, but they both should get a equal say in the food choosing process. I’ll have to think about that.
    Evangeline recently posted…Having a lot to say but not saying it well.My Profile

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Haha! Those tacos are a spiritual experience – I do admit. If you can figure out a way to make something similar yourself… bring me in!!

      Ahhh separating the food itself from the way your body reacts. Yes! I’m really learning that it doesn’t even often matter what the food was. My body is going to react at weird times to weird things so it is NOT the foods’ fault.

  3. danielle | 21st Sep 17

    ya know it’s hard to admit because it’s so hard to turn my brain off with food. i have no idea what i want, yet simultaneously i know exactly what i don’t want… like i might want some cereal. but i see that adding some maca would be good, i like maca. then how about some coconut? i like that. how about some bee pollen. i like that. gelatin? i like that. then banana because i dunnno… potassium? i just ran and need the potassium?? i can’t turn my damn brain off. same thing with every meal.
    the best meal is when i can turn the noise down and just eat. i remember recently when we were rushing after work to eat dinner before dashing off to couple’s counseling, my hubby made me a grilled cheese with egg sandwich on sourdough. it was the best thing i’ve had in a long time, and it was so freaking simple. i complicate the crap outta crap. it felt amazing, it tasted amazing, and i dind’t feel uncomfortable at all. just in my head. yet i didn’t think i could eat a sandwich and avoided them for 30 years. 30 years!!!! and here i am eating them like a pro. it’s fucking nuts excuse my french. seriously though, when i just let go and live a little amazing shit happens. hmmmmmm 🙂 rant over, thank you. i know i got off subject but this is what it made me think of. think less, live more. simple. should be, right???

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17


      “when i just let go and live a little amazing shit happens.” Uh huh. Its so freaking hard and yet so freaking true. SIMPLICITY. You know, I’m going back and forth so much with my “idealization” of food. Sometimes I want to really really LOVE a food experience and savor it and taste the best things, but then the other part of me – the part that is getting so sick of even being someone who is interested in food and wants to put my thoughts onto OTHER things – kind of wishes food was simply functional. That I just put something in my mouth because I’m hungry, don’t think about it much, and move on. You know?? Like…. do I wish I wasn’t a foodie?? I kind of want to stop caring about food entirely and just eat the simplest things and don’t even think about it.


  4. Samantha | 21st Sep 17

    This post and the guest post the other day are so helpful. I am currently still weight restoring (recovering from anorexia) so its more listening to my mind right now vs my body when it comes to eating. But I am hoping one day I can eat intuitively again!

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Hey Samantha! Yes! It IS. I’m glad you are aware of this, and – hopefully – accepting that right now the brain is boss. It’s still kind of the boss for me, as you can see, though I’m trying hard to tune into any signs my body may be giving me. Right now you are eating intuitively – its just in a different way. Every choice you make is conscious and for your health. I hope that gives you comfort as it has me!

  5. Ellie Pell | 21st Sep 17

    Girl I’m honestly at the point where I don’t want to think about food, so I’m not. I just don’t want to use up extra space for it. Sometimes I feel like it would just be easiest to eat the same damn thing everyday.

    Blah that’s not true, but I’m over it. Vegan. IBS. Gluten-free. Whatever I just want to be me.
    Ellie Pell recently posted…SignsMy Profile

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Ellie…. I know.

      If you read a response I made to Danielle above you, you’ll see that I’m in this place where i’m so torn between wanting to enjoy food, and simply just not wanting to care about it at all and just see it as something FUNCTIONAL. Like – stick some bread in my mouth because I’m hungry and know I need to eat but don’t even think about it, or whether it was even good, and move on. Use my brain for OTHER things. Ugh its such a toss up and I don’t really know who I am right now giving up this foodie interest I’ve had for so long….

  6. chasetheredgrape | 21st Sep 17

    I need my brain in order to eat intuitively. I still struggle with the concept of feeling hungry – especially if I am outwith my usual routine. Often it’s only until my tummy starts growling loudly do I actually realise I need to eat – prime example of this was during the bloody long walk. I was so shocked that my tummy was so loud with hunger, I didn’t expect to need to eat by that point. But I had to undestand that this day was different, as is every day, so what I need one day is different from another. Only my brain can help me truly understand this and help me to give my body what it needs. Maybe I will never get those hunger cues back again… But it’s ok, I know my brain has my back!

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      I love a stomach gurgle!! I wish I had them more often!

      I think I’ve accepted that my brain is kind of the hunger boss, and maybe always will be. Its getting easier and easier as its just become my routine.

  7. Patricia @Sweet and Strong | 22nd Sep 17

    First of all, all your meels look amazing! I have a hard time with all of this, espcially becuase my job has only certain time periods that I am even able to eat. I know if I don’t eat something during that time I’ll be starving later. Somtimes I eat too much because I know I won’t get to eat again for several hours. It’s really hard to find the right balance especially when you need to pack your meals to eat during the day.

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Ah yes. If only life were perfect and we could be on our own schedule all the time and always eat when it is more comfortable. Sigh. NOT a part of life. Working around a schedule definitely means using your brain often over your body. But that’s okay. Its better than not using your brain and then malfunctioning and not being able to focus or do your best work…

  8. Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar | 22nd Sep 17

    Cora. I’m so glad to hear my thoughts spoke to you. I’m actually having a bit of a crummy tummy day today and just ate a regular-sized supper despite not being that hungry because, well, it was time and I hadn’t eaten in a while. It’s actually really reassuring to hear that I’m not the only one having these moments of confusion about whether or not I’m a “good” intuitive eater because my IBS is getting in the way.
    Also, I want chocolate-covered ginger now. 🙂 And carrot cake. And cottage cheese fluff. Yum.
    Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar recently posted…WIAW: When Enough Is Not EnoughMy Profile

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      We’re in it together, Joyce. You are definitely not alone. Knowing that fact (which having this blog has really helped with) really helps.

      …yes that was an excellent dessert combination and one that I need to repeat asap.

  9. Alyssa | 23rd Sep 17

    i can TOTALLY relate to this. often times my hunger cues are off bc of ibs and i have to use my brain which is totally ok !! my ibs has been flaring up pretty badly recently so I’m just using my bodies cues as much as possible but also being super gentle with myself and still giving myself what it needs
    Alyssa recently posted…Snippets From My WeekMy Profile

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Ugh I hope your tummy stuff has calmed down again by now! It can be pretty empowering to know that we’ve learned enough about our bodies that we can make the right decisions, even if they are totally brain dominant.

  10. Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table | 23rd Sep 17

    Those smily eggs are so cute! And good for you sorting out your hunger cues. It’s not an easy thing!
    Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table recently posted…One Pan Mediterranean Chicken Sausage & VegetablesMy Profile

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Its not easy and I don’t think they are ever actually “sorted out.” More like learning enough to know you can make the right decisions, even if they are totally brain based. And that even then things won’t always feel good or be perfect.

  11. Naomi @ Naomi Why: Roots | 23rd Sep 17

    So well put. I’m so glad you wrote this, because these are things I’ve been grappling with lately. I agree, it’s more than okay to use your brain when making food choices. Something may sound good for a brief second, but if I actually stop and think about how it will make me feel and if I actually even want it, I sometimes realize that no, I don’t really want it right now. I love how one of the principles of Intuitive Eating is honor your health through gentle nutrition. Thankful we have our bodies AND our mind for making choices!
    Naomi @ Naomi Why: Roots recently posted…Random Roots 16My Profile

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Its a tricky balance between trying to think about what you want/how something will make you feel so that you make the “true” choice…. and NOT thinking too much about it so that it becomes a bigger deal than it needs to be!! I wish I – and a lot of us – could take a lot of the pressure off of food and food choices and just eat “whatever” and move on. But then with IBS and everything else this brings up a lot of understandable fear! Ah!

  12. Sarah @ Bucket List Tummy | 23rd Sep 17

    YES, this post is so spot on. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the subject. I completely agree that intuitive eating requires a mental state, and sometimes rationality over feeling, like if you aren’t experiencing hunger cues. Overall, it’s about being kind to your body, and knowing that even if you may not be hungry (stress, exercise, non existent hunger cues), your body needs fuel. It’s easy for me to question this sometimes too. We hear so much about intuitive eating meaning eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, but it’s so much more than that. Sometimes, food is just there for social reasons or to create memories when there is no hunger whatsoever.
    Sarah @ Bucket List Tummy recently posted…Fueling for Activity + What I Ate WednesdayMy Profile

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Yes, and you are one of the best out there hi lighting all of this. I think… its great when/if our stomach grumbles and we *know* we are hungry, but I don’t think that actually happens as much as we think. For ANYONE. I think more often than not our minds take the reigns, and as long as we are making true decisions for ourselves, that’s totally normal and more than okay.

  13. Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets | 24th Sep 17

    Well this post was food for thought; literally. 🙂

    I think your points are valid and it’s important to listen to your body, your brain and some common sense when it comes to sorting out hunger cues especially for people who’ve had ED’s in the past. It’s not an easy thing and I applaud you (and Joyce) for tackling this topic so visibly. Blows kiss.
    Meghan@CleanEatsFastFeets recently posted…Week in Review: #100My Profile

    • Cora | 28th Sep 17

      Thanks Meg. I wish eating weren’t such a “thing”… for anyone. Ya know? Like whether it be your brain or body telling you that you want something, it doesn’t matter. You just do it. And move on. Those with a history of EDs have some more complications to deal with, unfortunately, but I think this should be the goal for our whole society.

  14. Caterpillar Crawl: September 2017 – The Hungry Caterpillar | 30th Sep 17

    […] My Thoughts on Intuitive Eating with IBS: It’s Okay to Use Your Brain from My Littletablespoon. Cora and I have been going back and forth lately about our common experience of what it’s like to try to eat intuitively when we have GI issues and a history of disordered eating. As always, Cora is so good at writing about the emotional complexity of it. […]

  15. WIAW: Stopping When I’m Full – The Hungry Caterpillar | 25th Oct 17

    […] always best to eat when I’m hungry, I’ve also learned that I sometimes have to use my brain about eating when I’m not all that hungry because I know enough time has passed and my body […]

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