So, you’ve decided that you're sick of the diet roller coaster and want to try something different. This is amazing! And I know it also comes with lots of questions and uncertainties. If you’ve been on and off diets for many years or have only just recently come to understand the extent of your disordered relationship with food, you are not alone!
Intuitive eating can seem like a very foreign concept, and it's normal to have lots of questions. Here are three common questions and concerns that you may relate to:
1. If I eat whatever I want, I will be out of control!
Diet culture tells us this lie constantly! That we need to have “willpower,” that we need to restrict ourselves, that we need to manage and control our eating carefully otherwise we will be out of control.
You know what is really freeing to learn and begin to truly understand? That restriction breeds feeling out of control around food. The more rules, restrictions, and conditions we put on a particular food, the more out of control we feel around it. When I work with my clients around this concern, I like to think of it as looking underneath the iceberg. We think the problem is “overeating” or being out of control around food. What is underneath? There's often a deep sense of scarcity around it, which creates a sense of urgency and breeds a lack of trust in ourselves.
It is only when we tackle the scarcity mindset (which includes tackling food rules, restriction, mental restriction, and compensation for eating) that we can begin to feel at peace with these foods.
So no, unconditional permission to eat does not mean you will be out of control. It means building body trust and relieving the sense of urgency around the foods you fear.
2. Will I gain weight?
Here’s the thing, when you work towards intuitive eating, you may gain weight, you may lose weight, or you maintain your weight. It may be hard to believe this now, but none of these outcomes are “better” than the others. I can’t tell you what your body will do as you become an intuitive eater, but I can help with navigating the emotions that come up with body changes and avoiding falling back into the diet cycle. If you are maintaining a certain body weight through restriction, over-exercise, or other unhealthy measures, this is a sign that your body may not be at a healthy weight *for you*.
Fears about weight gain (or desires for weight loss) make so much sense in the world we live in. We live in a culture filled with anti-fat bias and weight stigma, in healthcare, media, the workplace, academia, you name it. Working on healing your relationship with food and body doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to have a desire for weight loss or fear of weight gain. It does involve moving away from the pursuit of intentional weight loss and towards body respect. This looks like reframing negative body thoughts and making choices around feeding and moving your body from a place of self-care. It also means confronting our own internalized weight bias and reflecting on our values. This isn’t about judgement. It’s about being curious and having compassion for ourselves as we learn a new way to relate to and care for our bodies.
3. What if I need to eat a certain way for my health?
This is such a valid concern! You may have a food allergy or intolerance that you need to be mindful of. You may have a chronic health condition that is impacted by diet. And there are many ways to integrate health concerns into the practice of intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is actually associated with eating a wider variety of foods and improved nutrient intake overall (1). The principle of gentle nutrition addresses integrating honoring body cues and internal wisdom with external nutrition information to make choices that feel and taste good.
However, gentle nutrition is the last principle of intuitive eating. If we jump directly into gentle nutrition without addressing the underlying diet mentality, food rules, negative body image thoughts, and chaotic relationship with food we miss out on the opportunity to make truly health promoting and sustainable changes. We risk turning intuitive eating into just another diet (I mean “healthy lifestyle change” ahem). Making peace with food allows you to create a strong foundation upon which you can use nutrition knowledge in a way that actually works for your unique needs.
It is also useful here to reflect on how you define health. Is it healthy to feel anxious and guilty around food? To force ourselves to do excessive exercise or move in ways we don’t enjoy? Not at all! Health is not just about what we eat (or how much we exercise). It includes emotional, mental, spiritual, and social well-being.
Do you have more questions about Intuitive Eating? Let us know in the comments or on our Instagram @loveandgrits!
Do you want to become an Intuitive Eater and need more support? Check out our individual nutrition therapy services and reach out to us to schedule your free 15-minute discovery call to learn more about how we can help!
1. Camilleri, G., C. Méjea, F. Bellisle, V. Andreeva, E. Kesse-Guyot, S. Hercberg, S. Péneau. 2017. Intuitive Eating Dimensions Were Differently Associated with Food Intake in the General Population-Based NutriNet-Santé Study. Journal of Nutrition. Jan;147(1):61-69. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.234088.