Updated: Dec 11, 2020
This is a common question I get all the time. "I need to lose X #'s to be healthy, can I still lose weight with intuitive eating?"
The majority of the time when I get asked this question, the questions I ask back are: why do you really want to lose the weight? What is the main reason why you think that losing X amount of #'s will make you be "healthy"? Now this takes further diving into, but it is super important to ask yourself and get to the root of why you think weight loss will make you happier.
For those not familiar with the concept of intuitive eating, it is an evidence-based approach to eating that is framed around getting in tune with your body and its individual and unique needs. It's meant to help chronic dieters and those who have been following restrictive or disordered eating patterns to get back to eating like a 'normal' person again, rather than focusing on external food rules to determine what, when, and how much to eat. If you personally have ever been on a diet, I am sure you've experienced the challenge when it comes to eating certain foods that aren't 'allowed' and feeling guilty or even shameful for doing so. The moral of the story here is that food and nutrition should not be as complicated as the diet culture we live in makes it out to be. We should be able to nourish our bodies without fearing food, feeling guilty, or shaming ourselves for what we eat.
Intuitive eating is more than just eating what you want when you want, which is what most people see it as and how I understand it is seems confusing how this can be a healthful approach to eating... While it IS about eating what you want when, it's also about listening to your bodies hunger and fullness signals and honoring them (rather than trying to hold out a few more hours or skip a meal to eat less). It’s also about the practicality of eating when you’re not hungry because you might not have a chance to eat for several more hours if you didn't now. Intuitive eating is also about satisfaction. Which means, yes, you can have something you really really want simply because it will satisfy you.
For example, society tells you that ordering a salad is good, but for you, ordering the salad will only leave you searching for something else to eat later on to actually allow you to feel satisfied. With intuitive eating, you can choose to have the burger and fries when it's what you really want and not feel guilty about it. OR, you are able to choose the burger and with a side salad and not feel you had to choose the 'healthier' option, but rather because that's what would make you personally feel better. The principle here is that by paying attention to what your body and mind are asking you for, you will feel satisfied and be able to move on after your meal. You won't be left feeling guilty, restricted, or deprived and craving the foods you aren’t 'allowed' to eat because of your diet. The mentality behind your food choices has a lot to do with your relationship with food- which should be positive!
Now if you are sitting there thinking, wow that sounds great! It would be so nice to not have to feel guilty for honoring a craving for ice cream when it strikes and be able to have a less of a mental battle when it comes to your food choices, you are not alone! But, if you are sitting there thinking, can I still lose the weight I want by practicing intuitive eating?
So my short answer to this question is: No, intuitive eating and weight loss aren’t really compatible. Now I want you to keep reading even if you do have weight loss goals, because there is more to be discussed. The reason I say that weight loss and intuitive eating are not compatible is because they are not solutions to the same "problem." Sure in life you are often able to work towards two different goals at the same time, but when one goal requires behavior changes (example: counting calories) that the other goal requires you to forgo, the answer is no.
The truth here is that intuitive eating is its own journey. Making peace with food, ditching the diet mentality, and being able to eat in a way that supports your health rather than working against you takes a lot of work. But before getting there, you have to take a leap of faith emotionally as well as making huge mentality changes around the way you view food, which means you need to let go of the desire to control your weight. Most of my clients find it helpful to explore their dieting history and remember it is why they have continued in the cycle of diet -> binge -> restrict and maybe even the same cycle of weight loss and gain. Some questions I may ask include:
Has the pursuit of weight loss worked long-term?
How did you feel around food when you were trying to lose weight?
What did you have to give up in order to get to a lower body weight?
Did you feel good physically?
Was it affecting your relationships?
These are just a few of the questions to consider, but by digging deeper and helping clients to connect some of the dots for themselves is a good place to start.
So, I am not saying that you will gain weight with intuitive eating. I am not saying that you will lose weight with intuitive eating. Your weight may remain exactly the same or change just in the slightest! All I am saying is that when practicing intuitive eating, you are not intentionally seeking to change your weight. You are looking to heal your relationship with food, body movement, and to respect your body or, at the very least is to learn to be more neutral about it. Your weight is not meant to stay the same throughout your entire life and your body weight is dependent on many other factors that are worth diving into. The end-all-be-all here is that weight loss goals and intentional weight loss are not proponents of becoming an intuitive eater.
Now that being said, I am firm on my anti-diet perspective, but not necessarily anti-weight loss in general. Once you get to a better place in your relationship with food, then weight loss goals may be addressed from a completely different lens, if you even deem it important to you at that point. At the end of the day, your body is your business. If you decide that weight loss is what is best for you, then I do not judge you or discriminate, I just pray that you make healthful decisions that support your body, your mental health, and your relationship with food in the long term.
That being said, it is important to remember that diet culture sells us (literally a $71 BILLION industry) on the idea that smaller isn’t just better; it’s healthier. They profit off this concept and make us believe we need to lose weight to be healthy. The reality is that, even when it comes to health, a size-6 person isn't inherently healthier than a size-12 person. Sure weight is one marker of health, but it is far from the only one and this is something that we all need to remember!
If you, like many others, still feel that weight loss is going to be the solution to all of your life problems, I get you and have been in those shoes myself. I won't ask you to change that right here and now, but what I will ask you to do is to challenge yourself and consider this... If you could learn to change your perspective on the way you want to change your body physically from the outside, to changing how you mentally feel in your body, how would things be different? It does takes work, but it is so worth it to get to a point where you don't wake up every morning and bash yourself for what you see in the mirror. Remember that all bodies deserve love and respect, including yours.