Intuitive Eating after a Celiac Diagnosis

A month or so after his Celiac diagnosis, my partner’s body decided that it was finally absorbing nutrients again and started clamoring for certain things.  Because his illness was so severe and took so long to diagnose, he had developed a host of illnesses from nutritional deficiencies, including osteopenia, hypothyroidism, vision problems, severe anemia, and blood sugar issues.   It took between a year and three years for the health problems to begin resolving, but in the meantime his body was clamoring for the nutrients necessary to heal.  For the first year, he went through two or more gallons of milk every week, along with several pounds of red meat, two bunches of bananas, and a lot of raw calories from chocolate and ice cream.

Intuitive Eating means paying attention to your body’s needs through hunger cues.  Many of us have spent a long time destroying our ability to listen to our bodies by manipulating our diets to meet some external guideline.  Most people who discover they have Celiac or gluten-intolerance have already experienced malnutrition to some extent.  When you’re glutened, your body cannot absorb essential nutrients.  If it goes untreated long enough, you can develop the same kind of health issues one would see in a person with an eating disorder, or who had been starved for a long period of time.  Once you go gluten-free, it is important to pay attention to what your body needs to rebuild itself after a long-term deficit.

At first you may simply crave calories.  This is a normal response to starvation and your body may urge you to consume easy-to-digest sources such as simple sugars and fats.  You may have a sudden craving for dairy products as you body looks to rebuild your bones.  You may crave iron foods such as red meat or dark green vegetables, or high-protein foods. You might want to eat an enormous number of carrots one week, and then completely ignore them for potatoes the next.

Listen to your body.  You are recovering from an illness, and now is the time to give your body what it needs, not what you think it “should” need.  If you seek a dietician, you’ll want to find one who has experience with eating disorder recovery, because your body’s starvation experience and recovery (regardless of your weight or what you’ve been eating) is probably similar enough to eating disorder recovery to compare dietary plans.

Some people may be tempted to avoid food they’re craving from a fear of gaining weight.  Right now your focus should be on healing the damage to your body.  People who practice intuitive eating sometimes do gain some initial weight.  But as your body rebuilds itself and learns to trust you to fulfill its needs, the cravings will taper off and your weight will return to a natural level for you. This may take a year or more, as bodies tend to conserve fat after starvation as a protective measure, but it will happen.

See the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating at Intuitiveeating.org for more information, or the Health at Every Size paradigm for treating health conditions without focusing on weight.

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