CAN YOU USE INTUITIVE EATING FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
Something I hear a lot from clients and listeners to the podcast is that often when you start intuitive eating you love what it does for your mindset and your relationship with food, but that you still struggle with the will to lose weight.
Maybe that is because you are feeling physically uncomfortable in your bigger body, maybe there are aspects of life that you feel that you can’t do any more or are too ashamed to do because of your weight or size, or maybe you just like the way you used to look, when you were thinner.
All very natural thoughts when so many years have been spent dieting.
So is there a middle ground? Is there a way to use intuitive eating for weight loss? Can you lose weight without dieting?
This post is also a podcast episode, and you can listen to that just below. If you like it, you can find more episodes here, on the Intuitive Eating & Body Positivity Podcast page.
Principle 1 - Reject the diet mentality
The very first principle of intuitive eating is to reject the diet mentality. It’s there at the beginning because it really underpins the rest of the principles, and is key in improving your eating behaviours and the way you see your body.
However, I do believe that it is the most difficult of all the principles to conquer. We are told for so long that we should be smaller, thinner, lighter, better. It’s all over social media, it’s in magazines and on TV, it’s in conversations around you. It’s accepted as the norm.
So with diet culture chipping away at you 24/7 it is difficult to just switch that off. An on/off switch would be great, wouldn’t it!
Sadly though, there is no switch. It’s work that you have to do for yourself, but once you crack it it’s amazing. You see through the diet culture BS. You see through the beauty standards ideal. You start to value yourself and see that you are incredible as you are, in your unique self.
However difficult it might be through, intuitive eating for weight loss just doesn’t fit this principle of rejecting the diet mentality at all.
Can you lose weight while intuitive eating?
There’s no easy answer to this. Maybe yes, maybe no.
Intuitive eating allows you to be guided by your body. When you listen to it, it will tell you what you need to eat – how much food, what type of food, what will satisfy you. The beauty of this is that because you will be listening to what your body says it needs, it will be allowed to do what it naturally wants to do.
Your body has its own genetic blueprint. It knows what it is intended to be. Before you are even born your genes have decided what you will look like. It has already been decided what colour hair you will have, what shoe size you will be, what you will inherit from your parents….. and what shape and size your body will be.
That is what is known as your weight set point. It is the place that your body is at its happiest and healthiest. It is what you were designed to be.
Every time you diet you are forcing the body to fight that ‘ideal’ weight, and so when you stop dieting your body makes an effort to get back to that, often with a bit more as a protective measure. In fact, it happens even when you are still on your diet – have you ever hit that plateau where it feels like even though you’re doing your diet the weight just isn’t shifting??
So you see, weight is not a choice. Your body is too clever for that!
Maybe when you start intuitive eating you will gain weight, and maybe you won’t. Whatever happens, your body will do what it needs to do to be at its happiest.
Diets that advertise intuitive eating
Don’t be fooled by the diets that advertise intuitive eating either!
Many diets now are getting sneaky and trying to factor in intuitive eating to their advertising, and saying you they are about weight loss through intuitive eating. But it’s important to remember that if there are any kinds of restrictions in place it cannot be intuitive eating.
Every diet will be based on some kind of restriction. Whether that is cutting calories, macros, or whole food groups, there will always be rules and restrictions in place somewhere.
Yes, even in the diets that tell you you can ‘eat whatever you want’. You may be able to eat whatever you want, but how much? There are always limits in place.
If you are eating in a way that is intended for weight loss, you will always be holding back somewhere. You’ll be questioning whether you’ve had too much food, too much of one type of food, or whether you’ve done enough exercise.
Your food choices will be dictated by your weight loss plan. Your movement habits will be dictated by your weight loss plan. You will never truly listen to your body if your end goal is to force weight loss.
Weight loss and health
A common justification for losing weight is health. Doctors often go straight to advising weight loss for helping to ease medical conditions, or even preventing future medical conditions.
‘Being overweight causes diabetes’, ‘lose weight and reduce your cholesterol’, ‘lose weight and your joints will feel better’….. do you recognise any of those?
Diet club consultants will often use health as the selling points for staying on their diets and as goals to aim for. I often heard how you can come off your medication if you lose weight, and how X amount of pounds would equate to X amount of pressure on the knees for example.
Allow me to reframe that for you!
What if the reason your joints feel better when you are dieting is because you are doing more physical activity and your body is getting stronger?
What if the reason you are seeing improvement in your cholesterol levels is because you are eating different foods and it’s having a positive effect on your body?
Correlation does not equal causation.
One example of this is drowning and Nicholas Cage films! In the US, there is a correlation between the number of people who died falling into a swimming pool and the number of films that Nicholas Cage starred in. Does that mean that Nicholas Cage appearing in films is increasing the number of swimming pool drownings? No! That would be ridiculous. Yet it’s the kind of logic we apply to weight and health.
Health is very much a product of behaviours, not simply weight. If you eat a wider range of foods you will naturally eat a wider variety of nutrients. If you take up more movement that you enjoy you will feel the physical benefits such as becoming stronger, having more flexibility, better stamina etc. You can make these changes without the goal of weight loss.
I just can't let go of wanting to lose weight
I know myself that the body does feel differently when you are in a bigger body compared to a smaller one. Your body feels physically different. Maybe you’re struggling to come to terms with how it looks. There are practicalities that change such as clothes shopping, travel, and accessibility to facilities. So I get it.
A part of the work to become an intuitive eater will be around the mindset of being in a bigger body. You will learn new ways to do things, more ways to find clothes that fit you, more ways to advocate for yourself when you travel or go somewhere that should have better facilities. It’s tough to start with for many people, but this work is important if you’re going to be happy in your choice to stop dieting.
You may not realise it, but quite often we are driven to lose weight by the opinions of others. Once you’ve finished here, you might find it helpful to take a look at my blog post on why you think you want to lose weight, and why you really want to lose weight.
So how can you start to change that?
A nice way to approach this is to ask yourself what are your values?
What do you want life to be like? Do you value being more relaxed around food? Do you value being more confident in your body? Do you value not passing the dieting behaviours onto your children? Do you believe that you should be able to eat or be yourself without fear of judgement? What is it that you would value for yourself?
What are your goals? You didn’t start your intuitive eating journey because you were happy with dieting, so what are those goals that you want to set for yourself? What do you want to achieve that isn’t weight loss related?
It can be helpful to do some thinking around those values and goals to come back to when the drive to diet is strong. Maybe take some time to write them down.
Consider what you have in your life that isn’t food or weight related. What brings you happiness? Do you have a family that don’t give two hoots what you look like? Do you have a hobby that is enjoyable no matter what your shape and size? There’s so much more to life than weight. Try to find those things that matter to you, and have them there alongside your values and goals to bring your mind back to your initial reasons for starting intuitive eating.
So can you use intuitive eating for weight loss?
Is it ok to want to lose weight? Of course. I’m not here to tell you that it’s wrong to be wanting that.
Is it ok to try to lose weight? Yes. You have autonomy. I’m not here to tell you that you are wrong to do that, I’m just here to give you intuitive eating resources and help you understand why it’s not necessarily a good thing to put your body through weight loss and weight cycling (that’s yo-yo dieting).
Can you use intuitive eating for weight loss? Absolutely not. That is not what intuitive eating is for.
So I’ll finish here by saying I understand. I know the drive to lose weight can be strong, intuitive eating and weight loss do not go hand in hand. They are not compatible. They’d never get a match on a dating site!
Just take your time, and start slowly if you need to. Make the effort to learn more about diet culture, body positivity, and intuitive eating. You have a lot of diet culture unlearning to do, and a lot of new information to absorb, but the benefits of doing that and learning to be happy in your own skin, as that looks now, are vast and you’ll be pleased you did it.
Stick with me! I’ll guide you through it.
If you’d like me to help you to unpick some of those thoughts there are a few ways that I can do that. I would love to coach you personally (you can find out more about that here), or if you’d like more self guided information with some group coaching sessions you are welcome to join the Eat From Within membership (you can find out more about that here).
If you’re not sure which would be best for you, feel free to book a discovery session and we’ll have a cuppa and a chat for half hour. You can book that at the bottom of the personal coaching page here.