"But What If I Gain Weight?"
If you're like many people who have heard of intuitive eating, you don't feel comfortable with all 10 of the intuitive eating principles. Maybe you want food freedom, but are afraid of the cost it will take to get there.
On the surface, the idea of focusing on developing healthy behaviors rather than focusing on weight sounds great to a lot of people. But, when the concept of honoring hunger comes up, people say, "I'm hungry all the time. If I honor my hunger, I'll gain weight." The principle of making peace with food usually feels even more distressing. "If I allow myself to eat foods like chocolate and pizza, I'll gain even more weight because I won't stop eating."
Because of these fears, it might be tempting to give up on the intuitive eating process and go back to the very behaviors that originally motivated you to begin your intuitive eating journey, even though you know they haven't worked for you in the past.
If you've ever found yourself in this place, consider the following:
Remember Why You Started
For a lot of people, learning intuitive eating skills can feel like a roller coaster. Some days, you're thrilled to have more energy and to have freedom to eat what sounds good. Other days, you're terrified that you're gaining weight, feeling tempted to count calories, or are overthinking your hunger and fullness cues. On the difficult days, it can be helpful to remember what motivated you to seek food freedom in the first place. Was food constantly consuming your mental energy? Did you fluctuate between periods of restriction and overeating? Are there certain foods you felt unable to keep in your house because you eat all of them in one sitting? Maybe your relationships with your family, friends, and significant other were affected because of the high level of stress you had surrounding food. Remembering these things can help you acknowledge that this process, though painful at times, is worth it because it is moving you toward something that is valuable to you.
Evaluate Whether or Not You Actually Ditched The Diet Mentality
Even though this is the first step of intuitive eating, many people overlook it, jumping straight to working on tuning in to hunger and fullness cues as an attempt to forge a hybrid between intuitive eating and a weight loss attempt. Ironically, establishing weight loss as the target of your intuitive eating process will render intuitive eating impossible! When weight loss is your motivation, any internal cue you receive will then go through a second filter of, "What will this do to my weight? How many calories did I eat today so far? Wait, this is more food than I ate yesterday. I think my hunger cues might be inaccurate." All of these thoughts serve to deteriorate trust with your body rather than building it up. And as long as you are in a place of distrusting your body, eating will feel chaotic.
You might be thinking, "But if I stop trying to lose weight, my weight will balloon!" While this concern is understandable given our culture's distrust of our bodies, research shows this assumption is inaccurate. Studies show that restricting for the purpose of weight loss actually increases your likelihood of having a higher weight. Not only that, research shows that individuals attempting to lose weight actually have only a 5-10% likelihood of keeping it off long term. Restricting increases feelings of deprivation, which spikes the reward response of food. That's code for saying that restricting will cause even stronger cravings around high energy, "off-limits" foods. If weight loss trials were backed by research to be health promoting, we'd be all for them. However, health and weight are not the same thing and research continues to show that trusting your body and engaging in healthy behaviors (eating consistently, mindful movement, stress management) is the key to achieving long term health.
Don't Forget The Other Intuitive Eating Steps
Intuitive eating, at the beginning, can feel like you're jumping off the cliff of health into a world of "bad" foods...forever. If you've restricted for months or years, the most appealing foods to you might be doughnuts or candy for awhile. It's important to remember that there is more to intuitive eating than reintroducing "off-limits" foods. As you progress in your journey, the foods that once were trigger foods won't have the same effect on you. Furthermore, the steps of feeling your fullness, intuitive movement, and gentle nutrition are also important parts of becoming an intuitive eater. The first few steps of intuitive eating are often the hardest because they are the most counter-cultural. They are building on the foundation of internal cues, which many have overridden and mistrusted from a young age. As you rebuild this foundation, the remaining steps will likely feel less intimidating as you learn to eat in a satisfying way that nourishes your body.
When you begin eating more intuitively, it isn't really possible to know what will happen to your weight: it weight may go up, it may go down, or it may stay the same. The important things to remember during that process are that you are a valuable human being regardless of what your weight does and that your health is not defined by your weight. When you can embrace these truths, you can come to a place of peace with food, making space for all of the other important aspects of your life.