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How to navigate intuitive eating with dietary restrictions

Updated: Jan 12, 2020

SO MANY PEOPLE have dietary restrictions for biological or philosophical reasons.

Note: ☝these food limitations☝ are very different from restrictions that are rooted in fear and the "diet mentality."

Personally, I've had dietary restrictions throughout my life. I was vegetarian for a few years and I've sporadically had digestion problems that led me to avoid certain food groups.

Learning how to listen to your body's needs while also eat satisfying meals can be tricky, but totally doable.

Let's dive in!


First, ya gotta do the emotional work.

Dietary restrictions entail a loss of freedom.

And it's important to recognize that any loss can evoke a spectrum of emotions.

Sometimes this loss is by choice - being vegetarian, for instance - but often it comes out of the blue or is part of your DNA.

Allow yourself space to grieve.

Grief can look soooo many ways. The official stages of grief are ✨ Denial ✨ Anger ✨ Bargaining

✨ Depression ✨ Acceptance

Although not all-inclusive by any means, here are a few examples of what grief could look like:

Denial: "Nahhh... I'm not allergic to this food. I'm just chronically tired because I have an infant in the house."

Anger: "This isn't fair. How come she gets to eat whatever she wants and I have to eat stupid rice cakes instead of birthday cake."

Bargaining: "Maybe if I just eat a little bit here or there and make sure I drink plenty of water it won't be so bad."

Depression: "I can't enjoy anything anymore. Every party I go to there's food I can't eat and I'm just the weirdo with all the picky food needs. What a buzz kill. This is really hard."

Acceptance: "This is my new normal. I can work with this. I understand what my body needs and I'm going to find a way to make this lifestyle shift as enjoyable as possible."

Recognizing the grieving process doesn't make it go away.

But it does help normalize it.

It makes TOTAL sense that you feel angry, resentful, or depressed in response to losing some food freedom.

Heck, even when I chose to be vegetarian, I still struggled with not eating Chick-Fil-A and bacon. Sounds petty, but it's true.

I felt a strong tug on my heart to refrain from eating animals and wanted to become more conscious of how they were being treated... But DANG did I experience moments of frustration and resentment.

Especially when I would go out to eat with friends in college and couldn't order anything because most everything had meat. And the foods that didn't, had cheese which upset my stomach. This was a legitimately tough time for me.


When you label an experience ("I feel sad that I can't eat bread anymore"), you've tapped into a new level of awareness.

You're no longer just blindly riding the waves of emotion or wondering why you might be feeling the way you do.

Coming face to face with your dietary restrictions, limitations, and needs makes you an active player in the journey towards acceptance.

So how does this work with intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating is all about listening to what your body wants, needs, and craves. Which can be a little tricky when certain foods are off-limits.

In fact, because something is off-limits, you might even want it more than you normally would.

When you notice yourself craving or desiring a food that you can't have for health or philosophical reasons:

👉 First figure out if your body ACTUALLY wants this food. Or if you're simply caught in the seductive scenario of "I want what I can't have."

If this is the case, it's time to pull out the 'ole journal or hire a food and body image coach 😉 to begin working with these thoughts.

👉 If your body DOES ACTUALLY want this particular food to satisfy hunger or bring you joy, get curious about what flavors or textures you're craving.

Chances are if you're craving ice cream... another cold and creamy food might do the trick.

Or if you're craving something salty and crunchy but you have a nut allergy, you could shoot for potato chips or pretzels instead.

I highly recommend you make a list of your go-to alternatives for whatever foods you're bummed you can't have anymore.

And make sure the alternatives you put on the list sound good to you.

There are so many different ways to get your sweet, salty, creamy, spicy, savory, and crunchy fix.

But if you haven't thought about them ahead of time, it can be hard to think of substitute foods on the fly when all you really want is pizza.

Also, part of the frustration with navigating dietary restrictions is the amount of thought you have to put into altering your meals. Whether that's finding something at a restaurant or grocery store.

The more you can be prepared - the better.

👉Make a list of common foods you enjoy, but can't have at all or in excess.

👉Carve out 30 mins in your day to brainstorm all the different foods that sound good to you with a similar flavor or texture profile to what you can't have.

👉 Make sure you always have those alternatives on hand... especially if you're living with someone who can eat bread/meat/dairy to avoid becoming resentful.

And guess what? I've created a list to get you started!! Woohooo!

Download the FREE GUIDE

for my all-time

favorite alternatives to

dairy, gluten, nuts, meat, and alcohol.


I hope this is a great starting place for your journey with dietary limitations. I know it's not always easy.

But with a few new tools in your toolbox, you're well on your way to lasting food freedom and peace. ❤


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