Intuitive Eating & Christianity
By: Rachel Dodson RD, LDN & Gabby Morreale M.A. LPC.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating was developed by two Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, in the 1990’s in an effort to combat what we’re sold in diet culture. The authors define Intuitive Eating as, “a personal process of honoring health by listening and responding to the direct messages of the body in order to get your needs met.” Intuitive Eating is an anti-diet and weight-neutral approach to food and eating. The focus is not on body size, but on cultivating a healthy relationship with food, mind, and body. Intuitive Eating is made up of 10 principles - reject the diet mentality, honor your hunger, make peace with food, challenge the food police, discover the satisfaction factor, feel your fullness, cope with your emotions with kindness, respect your body, movement - feel the difference, and honor your health - gentle nutrition.
How does Intuitive Eating fit with God’s design?
Eating disorders, disordered eating, and diet culture are unfortunately problems that we really cannot avoid. When God designed our bodies (Genesis 1:27), He called them good (Genesis 1:31). I don’t believe God ever intended for us to experience the external pressures to look a certain way or to be in bondage to feeling shame about our bodies, but it’s the direct result of living in a broken world. Creation is subjected to futility (Romans 8:20).
In this world, we are in a constant battle of fighting to listen to the truth of who God says we are over who the world tells us we should be.We are all vulnerable to worldly standards and in turn feel shame about our bodies if we don't live up to what the world defines as good.
“The Bible speaks to bodily shame. When Adam and Eve turned against God in the garden of Eden, it wasn’t just their relationship with God that was spoiled.
The first thing to happen when they sinned against God was that they became physically self-conscious (Genesis 3:7). All of us feel the need for covering. All of us have some degree of self-consciousness. In many cases, the brokenness is not so much the body itself, but how our experience has taught us to view the body.
The brokenness of our culture, our family, our friendship circle, our own distorted view of who we are meant to be and what we are meant to look like - all these things interact and contribute to our sense of shame” explains Sam Alberry. Again, I don’t believe God ever intended for us to experience the external pressures to look a certain way or to be in bondage to feeling shame about our bodies, but it’s the direct result of living in a broken world.
The messages of this world are loud and leave us vulnerable to worship the culturally created idols like manipulating our body size, obsessing about what we eat and how much we exercise. When we create idols of the things of this world, they distract us from our relationship with God (Exodus 34:14). God is jealous for you - for your time and attention because he loves you that much - it’s always been about God’s desire to be in relationship with us (Hosea 6:6).
Intuitive Eating and the Gospel
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatins 5 tells us it is for freedom that Christ set us free. Freedom. God sent his Son Jesus into our broken world not to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:17). Christ did not die for us on the cross so that we would be slaves to food or exericse or to spend our lives on earth striving for a body size we weren’t meant to have.
God doesn't want food or movement or attempting to control our body size to take over our lives. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Following Jesus doesn’t mean a life without troubles and hardships, but we have access to the peace only Christ offers us. Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are no longer enslaved to the things of the world - the things Christ died for. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Your identity is not in your body size or your body’s abilities or your eating disorder or what the world says about who you are supposed to be. Your identity is in Christ. So, who are we in Christ?
We are complete in Christ - Colossians 2:9-10
We have been redeemed and forgiven of our sins - Colossians 1:13-14
We are God’s handiwork - Ephesians 2:10
We can approach God with freedom and confidence - Ephesians 3:12
We are children of God - John 1:12
We are chosen and appointed to bear fruit - John 15:16
We are free from condemnation and are set free - Romans 8:1-2
We can be confident that God will complete the good work He started in us - Philippians 1:6
We are God’s temple where His spirit dwells - 1 Corinthians 3:16
We are made new - 2 Corinthians 5:17
When we diet and obsess over our body it takes us away from God. God longs to be in close relationship with us. When we diet our brains become obsessed. Also we know dieting leads to the development of eating disorders. We have to stop this vicious cycle. God does not ever desire for us to engage in behaviors that will lead us to hurt ourselves and more importantly take us away from Him. Diets don’t work and they are not aligned with God.
Let’s look at the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating from the lens of the Gospel…
Reject the diet mentality
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
You are not a failure if a diet has failed you (or counting calories, or only eating safe foods, or restricting, or any other disordered behavior.) We have been sold the lie that our bodies can’t be trusted to tell us when we are **hungry/full and we have to abide by food rules and muster up “willpower” in order to “be in control” around food.
In the Intuitive Eating book, we learn the word “discipline” comes from the word disciple. “If you are a disciple to your own deep values that have an overriding purpose, it’s likely that you’ll have the will to carry them out.” When we reject diet culture, or the patterns of this world, we are able to look to God’s will for our lives/bodies - his good, pleasing and perfect will. Also we know that if God
created our bodies and we trust God, so therefore, we can trust our bodies.
Honor your hunger
God made and designed your body, and says it is very good indeed (Genesis 1:31). He designed us beautifully and intentionally, and he gifted us the ability to know when we need to nourish our bodies.
Honoring our hunger allows us to partner with God and participate in the way he designed us instead of distracting ourselves or ignoring how he made us.
“The truest thing about you is that you are made and loved by God. And the truest thing about God is that He cannot make bad things.” - Jess Connolly
Make peace with food
Making peace with food means giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat all the foods. Deprivation that comes with most diets leads to uncontrollable cravings, and often binge eating.
Permission and gluttony are not the same thing. Marci Evans says, “we are so stepped in diet culture that the notion of non-dieting creates visions of gluttonous eating that knows no bounds. Turns out there is a lot of space for healthful and respectful nourishment without being on a diet. Let’s not let diet culture force us into extremes.” The Bible says, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corithains 10:31). You can glorify God and believe all foods fit. And let us not forget, grace compels us to change (2 Corinthians 5:14).
In the chapter on making peace with food in Intuitive Eating, it says “the only way that you will come to believe that you will be able to stop eating is to go through the food experience, to actually eat. That’s why we are fond of the word ‘process.' This is not about knowledge of food, but rather rebuilding experiences with eating. You cannot have an experience through knowledge; rather you need to go through it bite by bite.” I think this is a lot like our relationship with Jesus, you have to have experiences with him to know him.
Challenge the food police
You are not “good” or “bad” for eating or not eating certain foods. Food does not have any moral value. Food is not good or bad. Just food! No where in the word does God give food moral worth or value. Sneaky diet culture at it again!! “The Food Police is a voice that’s developed through dieting and diet culture. It gets strengthened through new food rules learned perhaps through social media, friends or family.” Perhaps this is a tactic of the enemy in order to distance us from the voice of God?
Jesus spent A LOT of his time on earth calling out the Pharisees for being legalistic and adding extra rules to God’s law. Legalism fails to accomplish God’s purposes because instead of inward change, outward performance is emphasized. We are saved by grace, not our own works, but through the work Jesus did on our behalf (Epsheians 2: 8-9.) We cannot earn our salvation, and we aren’t better worse humans based on our food choices. God will never love you more or less based on what you consume. God loves you always! YES always!!
Discover the satisfaction factor
When we eat, we can experience pleasure and satisfaction. Eating what you want, eating enough for your body, and your eating environment all matter. Who you eat with, community, and fellowship all matter. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:46). We see the importance of fellowship, sharing a meal together all throughout scripture. Jesus himself, YES Jesus dined with tax collectors, sinners, people who agreed with him, people who disagreed with him, social outcasts, and his disciples. After his resurrection he even invited them to “come and have breakfast” (John 21:12). Jesus valued the intimate moments with people he shared around the table.
Eating disorders/food rules/ disordering eating are all so isolating. The quality of our relationships and loneliness all impact our bodies as much as our food choices do. Feasting and savoring and appreciating God’s gift of food on the table is so valuable to our overall health. Food is fuel, but it’s so much more than that. It’s community + comfort + joy + intentionality, and an avenue for connection + intimacy with others.
Feel your fullness
We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). God created the feelings of fullness/satiety - fullness can be uncomfortable and triggering, but it’s not a feeling that needs to be feared. God created the feelings of fullness in response to the goodness of the food he’s provided us with. He created our digestive systems that know exactly how to break down food in order to get the nutrients our bodies need!
Cope with your emotions with kindness
When this principle is discussed in the Intuitive Eating book, we are reminded that any form of restriction (physical or mental) can lead to feeling out of control around food - resulting in what can feel like emotional eating. We all feel emotions like boredom, anxiety, loneliness… but food won’t be the solution to any of these feelings. Prayer, scripture, community and a trusted therapist can be so helpful in navigating how to deal with your source of emotional stress
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). If we are solely looking to food to help us with our emotions, we aren't getting to the root problem. It is ok to use food for comfort but it cant be our only comfort. God is our source of everything, an ever-present help. When we put something else in his place, or create idols, we won’t be able to receive the peace he offers us.
Respect your body
As you navigate becoming an intuitive eater, 3 things can happen to your body - you could gain weight, lose weight, or stay the same. Intuitive eating is not a diet, but an avenue to help you find your way back to who God designed you to be. God created us in His image in diverse ways. Our bodies are diverse in size, God called our bodies good, so we can conclude that body diversity is good.
In her book, ‘Breaking Free from Body Shame,’ Jess Connolly states, “When we treat our bodies as projects, we shift the focus from God’s glory to our own and we miss out on the abundance God already has for us in our here-and-now lives.” Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch talk about accepting your genetic blueprint - we wouldn’t try and squeeze into a shoe size that is too small, so why would we do that with our body size? You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and your worth is in Christ, not in your body size.
Movement - feel the difference
“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” 1 Timothy 4:8.
Movement is awesome - it makes you stronger, reduces stress, improves mood, keeps your heart healthy, boosts immunity, and more! I think movement can be an act of worship too - we know it is of some value. But when it becomes an idol in our lives, it can cause injury, decrease immunity, is used as a way to escape our feelings, and keep us from doing other important things in our lives, like distracting us from our relationship with God. Find movement that brings you joy, that allows you to connect with God, and remember that godliness has eternal value.
Honor your health - gentle nutrition
Eating honors our health because God designed us to need food to survive. The Bible says we were bought with a price, that price was Jesus’s life. We are called to glorify (or honor) God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We can make food choices that honor our health and taste buds, and that leave us feeling able to serve the God who created us. And God created and gave us the food that we need to nourish and sustain our body, down to the chemical components!
Healthy eating is about having a variety of foods in your diet that make you feel good and that you love. Healthy eating is also about having a healthy relationship with food. When we have a healthy relationship with food, we have the brain space and the energy from a nourished body to steward the lives we’ve been given to live well, to glorify God in our bodies.
**If you are just beginning eating disorder recovery, you cannot solely rely on hunger/fullness cues for when/how much to eat. Your body still needs meals/snacks even if your body isn’t receiving those messages. This is where working with a registered dietitian can be helpful in creating a meal plan for your individual needs.**
Why does God care about our bodies?
God cares about our bodies for many reasons . He created them. Think of it like this the creator or the sun, moon, and stars thought so much of YOU he made YOU! The same creator who made the incredible mountains and the beautiful oceans he created YOU! God created your body and God does not make mistakes, as we mentioned earlier. Secondly he loves us with the most unconditional love there ever could be, and it is NOT because of what we look like, it's because of who we are through Him. Also he cares about our body as a vessel! When we let Him, he can use us for His glory!
A great example of this is in the book, Breaking Free from Body Shame, the author shares a story about a time she wore high-waisted jeans to church. A piece of clothing she said “some women with my body type may avoid.” Because of her choice, another woman in her congregation came over to her and said, “thanks for wearing high-waisted jeans. Seeing you love your body makes me love my body. Seeing you worship in your body makes me want to worship in my body when I come to church.” This is why this matters.
One woman's act to take captive the lies she had believed about her body and walk in freedom led to another woman feeling like she was invited into that freedom too. And it led to worship. The author continued, “She saw that I agreed that I was made in the image of God. She saw me naming my body as a blessing, not a burden. She stood in agreement with me adopting that freedom for herself. Together, for a second, we were our own community of freedom fighters, sharing this sacred and worshipful agreement: our bodies were good.” This. matters.
“If excessive exercise and rigid food rules are required to maintain my body size, then that is not the body size I am meant to have. While God doesn’t view me any differently if I’m in a smaller body or a larger body, I’ve found I’m able to have a deeper relationship with him when I have made peace with my natural body size because my mind isn’t being preoccupied with pursuing staying a certain size.” - Kylie Mitchell, RDN
A prayer for body image:
Lord, thank you for creating us and designing our bodies - the One who created the moon and the stars and me (Psalm 8:3-5). I pray that how I treat, think, and talk about my body today would reflect thankfulness toward You, my creator and savior. God, give me eyes to see myself in the way You see me (Psalm 139:14). I pray that my pursuit of Jesus would come before anything else in my life (Matthew 6:33). Jesus, help me look to You instead of what our culture and the world says about what is beautiful (Psalm 34:5). Lord, remind me that I belong to You. I was intentionally made by You and have a beautiful purpose on this earth (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus, take away any guilt or shame I’ve felt about my body, and replace the lies I’ve believed about myself with Your perfect peace (John 14: 27, Romans 8:1). And Jesus I thank you that my identity is rooted in You, not in my appearance or body size or my body’s abilities (Ephesians 1: 7-8). Thank you God for the gift of this body, where your spirit dwells and where I get to worship my Savior here on earth until the day comes where I get to worship You in eternity (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). In Jesus name, amen.
References and helpful resources:
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND
Breaking Free from Body Shame by Jess Connolly
What God Has to Say about Our Bodies by Sam Alberry
The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND
The Intuitive Eating Workbook for Teens by Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND
Prayers for Body Image Cards
Other Blog posts: