The biggest reasons I see people struggling with Intuitive Eating is:
- fear of gaining weight,
- accepting that they have gained weight or
- fear that they won’t lose any weight.
In a world that is fatphobic, in a society where weight stigma is a very real (and very harmful) thing, in a system where weight is consistently conflated with health – of course people are scared shitless of being or becoming fat(ter). It makes complete sense.
The solution to this problem is not to try for decades upon decades to become or stay a small(er) size. The solution is not to spend your life obsessing about food, your body or your health. These pursuits will rob you of your joy and the contribution you could be making to the people in your life and the world around you. Dieting ironically ends up causing weight gain (detoxes and so-called ‘lifestyle changes’ that involve restricting food groups have the same effect). So if weight is a concern, this approach is most likely going to be counter-productive. (Don’t you have your own evidence for this? If I had £1 for every person who told me they wished they were the size they were before they ever started dieting, I’d be a rich by now). If health is a concern for you, know that weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) has been linked to the same health issues as fatness: a greater risk of diabetes, hypertension, gallbladder stones, cardiovascular disease, in fact, all-cause mortality and more. Listen to this excellent 6-minute radio interview talking about the very latest research on health and weight cycling (and he also mentions the health implications of weight stigma!).
Given that the highly likely outcome of dieting will be weight regain, you’re not doing your health any favours by dieting!
So what IS the solution?
As I see it, the solution to this problem is 3-fold:
- Educate yourself about:
All of these can be learned about by reading: Intuitive Eating (latest edition), Body of Truth, Body Respect and The Body Is Not An Apology. Take notes. Highlight things that stand out for you. There is so much diet culture around us, we’re practically swimming in it – we need all the help we can get to keep reminding ourselves about what is true, as opposed to what we’re told is true but is doubtful at best or not true at all – and most importantly, what is helpful for our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
- Reclaim the autonomy of your own body
This means to turn in, towards it; to become an ally to, rather than an adversary of your body. It means to take your cues from within, instead of to turn away from it and take your cues from the outside world, which is perpetually telling you how wrong it is (if you’re already fat) or how wrong it will be (if you become that way). It means rejecting society’s demands of how you should look or what you should do with your own body. It means wearing whatever you want. It means wearing clothes that fit your here-and-now-body. It means eliminating the word ‘flattering’ from your vocabulary. It means choosing what sort of relationship YOU want with food, eating, health and exercise and then allowing your body to be the size it wants to be when you’re cultivating those relationships. You might choose a relationship with food and exercise that fits with the Intuitive Eating model. You might not and that is fine!
- Be an ally and/ or an activist for body liberation
I’m not going to say a lot about this now, but I do want to put it in here as it’s such an important piece. We are in this together. For your body to be truly liberated from the clutches of capitalism-run-amok, racism (even if you’re white), the patriarchy (even if you’re male) and all forms of discrimination (even if you’re not actively discriminated against) all bodies need to be liberated. An ally is someone who has privileges (perhaps in a smaller body, white, educated, with financial and basic needs met, able-bodied, cis-gender – any or all of these – and more) and uses them to influence the culture (which might be in your children’s school, your neighbourhood, a dinner party – it doesn’t need to mean ‘the culture-at-large’). An activist will do things like write letters, start or sign petitions (for example to stop that awful show Insatiable), go to marches, call out fatphobia, weight bias and weight stigma in a public way – and more. Being an ally and an activist are not mutually exclusive. Start where you are and what you’re comfortable with. Join up with others, so you’re not alone in this.
To get back to Intuitive Eating and how weight concerns get in the way…
When consistently practised, the principles of Intuitive Eating lead you to a place where, most of the time, you’ll eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’ve had enough, eat what you want to eat, enjoy your food, learn to meet your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual needs in ways that are satisfying to you and improve your overall well-being. In short, Intuitive Eating helps you to tune in to yourself for your unique and very individual answers when it comes to food and exercise choices and amounts. It also helps your body to reach and stabilise at what I call your happy weight.
Here’s what happens if you’re constantly worried about your weight…
- Instead of eating when you’re hungry, you might decide that it’s better to be hungry than to eat because then you will lose weight (this is a myth… starvation slows the metabolism and signals the body to store fat). Also, getting too hungry can cause binge eating (which is a natural response to starvation).
- Instead of eating what you want, you’re more likely to monitor what and how much you’re eating for the food’s potential impact on your weight, rather than according to your hunger, fullness and preferences. When you do this, you stay in the dieting mentality. You’re more likely to not eat what you want to eat which will set up a deprivation mindset. This, in turn, flips what I call ‘the fuck-it switch’. That’s your all-or-nothing thinking. ‘Oh well, I’ve blown it now, may as well eat the rest to get it out the way, so it won’t tempt me tomorrow.’
- Instead of stopping when you’re comfortably full, you might either stop before you’re satisfied, so you eat less and lose weight, or you might overshoot your fullness, because the food tastes really good and you haven’t given yourself permission to have this food as often as you like (because of your beliefs about its impact on your weight).
- Instead of being kind to yourself and moving on when you’ve eaten emotionally, you’re more likely to beat yourself up (because you ate more than you think you needed and you believe you’ll gain weight) and either punish yourself by starving (thereby getting too hungry and bingeing later) or continuing to eat all the things you believe you shouldn’t eat because you flipped that ‘fuck-it switch’ again.
Getting the picture?
Sometimes I suggest to my clients that they think ‘how would I engage with food, my body and my life, if I knew for a certainty that my size would never change; it wouldn’t get bigger and it wouldn’t get smaller. What then?’
For most people – they feel relief. If there’s nothing they can do about their weight, almost all the pressure around food dissipates. There may be some initial disappointment that they’ll never be smaller – but then they get real around getting on with creating the best life they can, in the body they have. Perhaps to start with they might eat chocolate day and night (because there’s no fear of weight gain) – but after a bit, this settles down because they start wanting other foods.
This is how Intuitive Eating works!!! Let me know if you’d like some help putting all of this into practice in your own life – so you too can live a life of freedom with food and your body.