The Role of Self-Compassion in Intuitive Eating - Part 2

The Role of Self-Compassion in Intuitive Eating - Part 2

Published on Wednesday, September 27, 2023 by Brooke Orr

Unlocking the Power of Self-Compassion in Your Intuitive Eating Journey

The Role of Self-Compassion in Intuitive Eating- Part 1 illustrates how shame interferes with becoming an intuitive eater, but it is not the only emotion that stands in the way. Shame and guilt are often used interchangeably but differ significantly. Shame arises when you perceive that others hold a negative opinion of your actions, whereas guilt stems from your own internalized judgment.

My clients frequently report feeling guilty about their diet and physical body attributes, and recent research indicates that almost a third of the food consumed by Americans generates feelings of guilt. Guilt interferes with Intuitive Eating based on the notion that there’s a correct way to possess a certain body and eat rather than honoring the body and its individual characteristics and needs. Consider the following scenario.  

M.K. lives with colitis. Due to their condition, they have always been underweight (based on growth charts and BMI). Their parents always worried they were too thin and bought high-caloric foods that only they could eat– their siblings hated that. As they grew up, people often commented, “You are so tiny- do you have an eating disorder?” and “You’re lucky to be able to eat whatever you want and still be so thin - I kind of hate you.” 

M.K. has developed a belief that there is something deeply flawed with their own body. They try different diets and workout plans to meet an ideal of what they think they should look like. This approach often involves eating large serving sizes and food groups that make their body physically uncomfortable and vigorous strength training that ends in injury and over-fatigue. 

The guilt that M.K. experiences is a barrier to becoming an intuitive eater because it stops them from letting their body decide how much, what foods, and when to stop. Their circumstances have led to a no pain, no gain attitude at the table and in the gym.    

What would it look like to flip the script and respond to the above-lived experience with self-compassion? 

People often consider Intuitive Eating a hall pass to eat as much “junk” food as possible, but that ignores Principle 10– Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition. This compassionate view of food includes making dietary selections that prioritize your well-being and flavor preferences while promoting a sense of well-being. Simply put, it’s the right for an individual to eat foods that taste good and make them feel good– both of which will change frequently and look different from person to person– I.E. requires attunement and flexibility.  

Next, replace the no pain, no gain attitude at the gym with Principle 9- Movement– Feel the Difference. Get in tune with how different movement makes you feel- do you feel energized after a morning run, or does it make your body ache for the rest of the day? Does yoga calm your mind or increase anxiety?

Do movements that bring joy and make the body feel good. According to Dietitian Rachael Hartley, “joyful movement recognizes the right to rest, as well as the benefits of it, and your choice in whether to engage with physical activity that day or not.” 

Intuitive Eating is a journey, and working with a counselor or Intuitive Eating Dietitian may be helpful. Notice why you eat what you do and move the way you do. Consider how your body feels about these choices and your internal beliefs that may not serve you well.   


  1. Batcho, K. (2017). Why shaming doesn’t work. Psychology Today.  
  2. Knoblauch, M. (2021, September 6). Americans have the most food guilt after treating themselves to these items. digitalhub US.
  3. Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2019, December 19). 10 principles of intuitive eating. Intuitive Eating.  
  4. Hartley, R. (2022, January 2). What is joyful movement?. Registered Dietitian Columbia SC - Rachael Hartley Nutrition.  

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