There comes a point, in the early stages of every intuitive eater’s journey, when they convince themselves that they’re horrible failures, destined to overthink food forever.
Certain that they’re approaching eating all wrong, and presuming that if the whole “trust your body” thing isn’t coming easy, it probably never will – they consider calling it quits.
They wrestle with the temptation to give up on recovery, halt the process of reconnecting with their body, and return to the familiar ways of dieting and disordered eating instead.
It’s a tale as old as time.
Or, a tale at least as old as the brilliant work of Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, co-creators of the anti-diet, body positive approach known as intuitive eating.
If you’re a regular around here, then you’re probably already familiar with the concept of intuitive eating. But, just in case you’re new to this space, intuitive eating is – in a few words – the antithesis of dieting.
It teaches a return to your innate wisdom around food by rejecting diet culture, honoring your body, and exposing weight stigma and internalized fatphobia.
All the while, opposing the socially-constructed food rules and beliefs you’ve been steeped in (likely since birth) and provoking a personal rebellion to the counting, controlling, restricting, and micromanaging you’re used to.
Now, despite intuitive eating being the most natural way for humans to engage with food – it’s also quite challenging to navigate initially, due to the pervasive effects of diet mentality and the multi-billion dollar industry that fosters it.
So if you’re struggling to make sense of your body signals, silence the food police, and cultivate whole-person health through self-kindness and gentle nutrition, I want you to know this one thing – intuitive eating gets easier, I promise.
You’re not a failure.
And you’re most certainly not alone.
Just this week, I received several texts and emails from clients reporting some version of intuitive eating beginner’s fatigue.
They shared common worries like:
“I feel like I’m doing this all wrong. It’s hard to listen to my body. I think I may be misreading the signals.”
“I’m feeling a lot of shame around eating outside of regular meal times. I’m trying to be intuitive, but it just doesn’t seem right to snack so much.”
“I don’t think I’m making progress, and I’m eating a lot of ‘bad’ foods. What about balance? What about health?”
“If I keep eating like this, I’m afraid I’ll gain weight and never find peace with food. Maybe I need a plan to keep things under control.”
That’s because my clients are just like you.
They’re sick (mentally, emotionally, and physically) of disordered eating. And they know, from experience after frustrating experience, that diets don’t work. Still, the transition to food freedom isn’t without its hardships.
While they’re desperate to spend more time living their lives and less time tracking their food intake, critiquing their reflection, and scheduling punitive workouts – recovery doesn’t come easy.
That’s because reframing long-held, unsupportive mindsets and practicing new behaviors around food and body is exhausting.
Becoming an intuitive eater is a process that requires the deconstruction of fatphobic beliefs and the abandonment of diet dogma.
But, ditching diets feels a lot like swimming upstream.
And despite knowing that restriction doesn’t age well (meaning, it’s unsustainable and self-destructive), it’s tough to kiss dieting goodbye.
Diets are Straightforward
It’s incredibly unnerving to be left to your own devices when it comes to eating and moving your body. It feels scary, unsafe, and cumbersome. Especially after years, or even decades, of following someone else’s plan.
You see, diets are direct.
Comprised of instructions that are relatively easy to understand and, for a time, not too difficult to follow – diets take the guesswork out of eating. If you simply abide by the “expert” determined counts, measures, and methods – you’ll be “good” and eventually look “good” too.
How easy is that?
While there’s no room for trial and error, and no space for curiosity with dieting, there is convenience in obliging specific eating demands and temporary confidence that with a continued commitment to the rules, you’ll get the outcome you’ve been hoping for.
Diets Promise the Results You Want
You see, the diet industry talks a big game. Using short term data, inflated claims, and carefully composed “transformation” photos, diet companies and “wellness” coaches insist that their products will work for you. And by “work,” they mean “pounds lost” (no matter how temporary).
Their compelling marketing strategies, along with emphatic praise of the small fraction of “success” stories in their arsenal, trick you into believing that restrictive eating will give you the body (and life) you’ve been hoping for.
And, in our thin-obsessed culture, the short-term weight loss effects of dieting are much more alluring than the outcomes of intuitive eating.
Eating intuitively can lead to a range of possible body changes from weight loss and weight maintenance to weight gain.
That’s because the goal of this approach is food freedom and body peace. Any changes in size are simply a side effect, as varied and unique as the humans who experience them.
The uncertainty inherent in intuitive eating is enough to keep you in dieting’s grip.
And you’ll probably be in good company.
Dieting Keeps You From Feeling Lonely
While intuitive eating and the anti-diet movement are certainly gaining traction, they’re still not the norm. So then, choosing to ditch diets often means being excluded from some of the most common talking points and bonding behaviours at work, school, family functions, and community gatherings.
It means being consistently misunderstood by colleagues who assume that eating intuitively is just another diet and fielding unsolicited questions from your fatphobic, Whole30 enthusiast neighbor.
In a world convinced that weight loss is indicative of health and body size is a product of willpower, dieting protects you from scrutiny and isolation. And that’s not all.
Dieting Insulates You from Facing Your Feelings and Challenging Your Beliefs
Engaging in restrictive thoughts and behaviors around food prevents you from being truly present in your life. In that way, diets are a distraction – a tool for suppressing emotions and avoiding difficult situations.
Think about it, when you’re hyper-focused on the calories in a slice of bread or preoccupied with the mathematics of macro ratios and fasting schedules, you’re much less likely to face the marriage that’s broken. You don’t have the mental space to address the boundaries that are being crossed at work or the past trauma that’s threatening to spill into your present experience.
Dieting, then, is a defense mechanism that keeps you so consumed with eating “right,” you’re shielded from the deep, personal work of facing whatever’s actually going “wrong.”
Ditching Diets is Tough
Now, it might seem like I’m marketing the benefits of restriction and dieting, right here on this anti-diet, disordered eating recovery blog. But, I can assure you that’s not where I’m going with this.
No, my intention behind listing a few of the reasons dieting is so enticing isn’t to convince you to find your nearest paleo influencer and set fire to all the satisfying, delicious grains in your house. My purpose in sharing the “advantages” of dieting is simply to communicate that I get it.
I really do.
It’s hard to leave dieting behind. And scary to take one day at a time when it comes to anything, let alone food and body.
Bucking the system and opting out of behaviors and beliefs that friends, family, and colleagues readily uphold is not for the faint of heart. Neither is exploring emotions and developing better coping skills than the distraction of hunger or the fixation on control around food and fitness.
But, that doesn’t mean becoming an intuitive eater isn’t worth it.
Because it is.
The Advantages of Intuitive Eating
Intuitive eating is a necessary component of recovery from eating disorders and dieting that completely revolutionizes your relationship with food. Over time, you’ll notice a range of evidence-based benefits that far outweigh the diet industry’s unsubstantiated claims and the temporary high of micromanaging food and body.
- Improved body image
- Peace around food
- Increased self-awareness
- Metabolic healing
- Hormone regulation
- Decreased stress
- Variation in coping skills
- Improved digestion
- Enhanced mind-body connection
- Higher self-esteem
- Improvement in personal relationships
In Time, Dieting Gets Difficult But Intuitive Eating Gets Easier
Sure, dieting might be relatively easy – at first. It may promise you the body you think you need, a purported prerequisite to the life you want to be living.
Of course, it’ll shield you from feeling left out of the keto-fied cupcake recipe exchange going on at work, and save you from feeling “restrained eaters club” FOMO when you’re dining with friends.
It’s surely a welcomed distraction from the relationship that isn’t working, the trauma you aren’t facing, or the emotions you can’t seem to escape.
But, those outcomes are only temporary.
Sticking to external food rules (diets) gets harder over time, usually backfiring completely when primal, physiological responses to deprivation take over. What follows is a predictable cycle of reactive eating experiences, self-blame, shame, and further restriction that, if left unchecked, can lead to a lifetime of yo-yo dieting, binges, and negative body image.
Intuitive eating, which encourages eating in response to internal signals like hunger, satisfaction, desire, and fullness, is quite a different story.
There’s no falling off the wagon, no failing, no getting it wrong. Because there is no “right” when it comes to intuitive eating, there’s only relationship (you + your body).
There are no gimmicks, no tricks; there’s simply trust – in yourself and the process.
So, forget the tracking apps with their impersonal formulas.
Stop starving your body into (temporary) submission.
And don’t ever go back to the days of dieting and deprivation.
Why would you, when you can make peace with food instead, by becoming an intuitive eater?
While I’ll never deny that applying the principles of intuitive eating is a challenge (especially after seasons of restriction and negative body image) and I wouldn’t dare downplay the beginners’ fatigue that sets in when you’re faced with this new approach to food, I’ll also never stop encouraging it.
Because with time, practice, and support, intuitive eating gets easier, I promise.
Originally posted at Seven Health, HERE.