When you have a child with an eating disorder, your family can help by learning attuned eating, by Tracy Brown, RD

If your child who has an eating disorder is seeing a nutritionist, then there is a good chance (I hope!) that the nutritionist is teaching some form of Intuitive Eating or Attuned Eating. One powerful way that the whole family can help your child recover is to learn these techniques, which can positively transform anyone’s relationship with food and will benefit the whole family.

Whether you call it Intuitive Eating or Attuned Eating, the idea is that we want to learn to pay attention to what is happening in our bodies, emotionally and mentally. When a child has an eating disorder, she or he is not attuned to her or his bodily needs.

Attuned Eating means that you are:

  • Tuning into how my body feels
  • Paying attention to which hungers are emotional vs. those that are physical
  • Honoring all types of hunger with awareness and conscious attention
  • Recognizing that sometimes we’re going to eat for emotional reasons, and that’s OK
  • Respect the body when it feels physical hunger, and feed it nourishing food on demand
  • Noticing how the body feels as you are eating
  • Thinking about levels of fullness, and how you feel emotionally and physically when you are full or over-full
  • Knowing that sometimes food has a memory associated with it that drives us to overeat or undereat. By noticing the memory, we can begin to untangle the memory from the food.

Someone who has an eating disorder has disassociated themselves from their bodily and emotional needs. Attuned eating is a way to re-integrate what the body, mind, and soul need on a daily basis.

For example, if we start craving a soda every day, what does that actually mean? Is there something beyond the nutrition that soda is providing? If I want a soda every day, why is that? What am I looking for from soda? Does it signify having fun? Do I really like the taste of the soda and the way it makes my body feel, or am I looking for a way to have more fun, more sweetness, more pop in my life?

When we eat in an attuned manner, we can recognize when our bodies need nourishment, and we can also recognize that sometimes we want, and will eat food for reasons other than physical nourishment. This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to eat for emotional needs, we just want to pay attention, because our hungers can tell us amazing information about our lives.

You can’t do this incorrectly. Just get curious about why you want to eat certain things. Stop all the judgment about what, when, where and why you SHOULD eat, and just tune into how you feel while eating.


tracy brown rdTracy Brown, RD, is a nutrition therapist, registered licensed dietitian and attuned eating coach. She established her private practice in 2006 in in both north and central Florida and now in Naples, FL. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating in children, teens, and adults. She teaches Intuitive Eating and works with people in person, individually and in groups, online and via phone.

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