Ultimately, intuitive eating helps end binge eating and other disordered behaviors. But at first, intuitive eating can feel pretty binge-y. Especially if you’ve been restricting for years! Here’s why that’s OK, and what to expect.
Months ago, I hosted a live workshop on the restrict-binge cycle. (I actually hosted it twice, because of technical difficulties and forgetting to press record…) One question that came up was about the early days of intuitive eating, when you feel very drawn to previously off-limits foods.
And, it got me thinking. There’s so little guidance there is out there for the early days of intuitive eating.
Really, there are two phases at the start of the intuitive eating journey: The Honeymoon Phase and the Attunement Phase.
Both phases are about unlearning your diet rules and disordered behaviors. These early phases are when both your body and brain learn that food isn’t scarce anymore. Remember, it takes a while for you to truly believe this.
Although it’s all part of the process, people tend to get really freaked out by these early phases. Why? Because during these early days —especially in the Honeymoon Phase — learning to eat intuitively can feel like bingeing. Heck, you might actually experience a couple of binges.
Is that comfortable? No. But is this how it’s going to be forever? Also, no. When you releasing yourself from food restriction, you overcompensate and tend to binge. But eventually, things will even out.
Here’s more about the early stages of intuitive eating.
The Honeymoon Phase is when you might go a little wild with previously forbidden food.
The Honeymoon Phase is basically what all the naysayers (wrongly) believe that intuitive eating is all about: Eating whatever you want without a second thought. Essentially, the Honeymoon Phase is the “F*ck Diet Culture” Phase. It happens in the first days, weeks, or months of intuitive eating — generally, the longer and more extremely you’ve been dieting, the longer it could last — and it’s a little bit of a free-for-all.
In this phase, your only objective is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat — what you want, when you want, however much you want.
If you’ve been on a low-carb diet for a long time, you might eat large quantities of bread and pasta at every meal, because you’ve been craving them for so long without any relief.
If you’ve been a dedicated calorie counter or “portion control” devotee in the past, you might eat large quantities of food during the Honeymoon Phase, rebelling against your old food rules.
If you’ve done diets like Whole30 or “clean eating,” you might go nuts on packaged desserts and snacks.
Honestly, the Honeymoon Phase can feel a little binge-y.
At first, you’ll probably feel like you can’t control yourself around these foods. You might binge — which means eating a much larger quantity of food than you normally would in a similar situation, and feeling out of control while doing it. You’ll likely find yourself gravitating towards these foods all the time, in a way that can feel a little obsessive.
If you’re recovering from an eating disorder, you may have heard the term extreme hunger. That’s what this phase is.
Yes, binging and obsessive thoughts about food are two things that intuitive eating is supposed to help “cure,” so this early phase can feel confusing. You might even feel like you’re doing it wrong — like you missed some key instruction, or like you’re just not wired for food freedom.
But the Honeymoon Phase is a crucial part of the intuitive eating journey. It’s when your brain and body learn that no foods are off limits. It’s when you habituate to having unlimited access to all the foods that you restricted before. Without this habituation, and this unconditional permission to eat, you won’t really be able to go any further in intuitive eating.
There’s no set amount of time that the Honeymoon Phase is supposed to last. (Although, as I mentioned before, a longer or more extreme dieting history could mean a longer Honeymoon Phase.)
Eventually, the Honeymoon Phase makes way for the Attunement Phase.
All that said, the Honeymoon Phase must end. Or, maybe a better way to think about it is that you must gradually phase out of the Honeymoon Phase when you’re ready.
So, what does ‘ready’ look like? Well, it’s gradual, but a good first indication is when the foods you’ve been craving intensely start to taste a little less delicious, or maybe your cravings aren’t quite as strong.
When this happens, it’s time to start adding curiosity, or attunement, to your unconditional permission. When you eat, start being more mindful. Think of how you’re feeling at the start of the meal or snack, during, and after. Maybe keep a journal that tracks your hunger and fullness levels before and after you eat, as well how satisfied you feel and any other feelings that come up. You can even start to note how various foods physically feel in your body.
All of this information gathering is important! At first, it feels hard — and not at all intuitive. But learning this stuff — how to feel hunger and fullness while you eat, how different foods feel different in your body, and what actually satisfies various cravings.
At this point in your intuitive eating journey, eating should stop feeling binge-y. Sure, you might still be gravitating towards certain foods, but that out-of-control feeling should start to fade.
Remember, anti-diet work (intuitive eating, body acceptance, etc) is all about learning to respect your body.
Ultimately, that means paying attention to what feels good and satisfying for you, not just eating whatever you want, forever, without a second thought.
If you’re sick of falling for terrible diets and “wellness” trends, I can help. I’m a dietitian who specializes in eating disorders and disordered eating. I take a weight-inclusive, gender-affirming, patient-centered approach. Learn more about my nutrition counseling, offered to clients in several states. If you’re not ready to commit to counseling but want more information about the anti-diet approach, subscribe to my weekly newsletter.