Can I Lose Weight with Intuitive Eating?
I trailed across the parking lot behind my mom and climbed into our minivan feeling discouraged, tears welling up as I recalled what the doctor had said about my weight. “It’s a little high for your age” she explained, pointing to a pink graph with stick figures that got rounder and rounder across the page.
There was talk over what could be done about it, as I silently vowed to myself that I’d figure out how to fix the problem. It was not the first time I was told in one way or another that my body was wrong, but perhaps the most directly.
I was 12.
For the proceeding
years decade, every time I discovered a new diet, or supplement, or mythical potion I’d ask, can this help me lose weight? Will this fix my body, so that I can finally be free of this shit? So people don’t need to worry about how I look and will finally stop commenting on it?
It’s a quest many of us know only too well, weight loss. And despite the duration and severity in which it chips away at our collective sanity, with the homemade almond milk making and the macro calculating, here we are. Desperately demanding tips from Google on how to drop a dress size.
You may have stumbled upon Intuitive Eating during one of said Internet adventures. It’s pretty common these days, since every media outlet is covering the latest “healthy eating trend”. Eat whatever you want. Whenever you want. AND feel good in your body? It might sound too suspicious to sign off on. It might have you wondering, can I lose weight with Intuitive Eating?
I’m going to answer that for you today. And then I’m going to pose a question that I think will be even more helpful in your desire to feel better in your body and upgrade your confidence.
So, can I lose weight with Intuitive Eating?
The honest truth? It’s an unpopular answer, and it’s a cold, hard fact: you might. You might not. Sorry to bury the lead there. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear, so annoying. I can feel you giving me the finger right now.
But let me explain.
See, you know that traditional dieting a la SlimFast or South Beach doesn’t work. You’re smarter than that, the jig is up. So instead of a restrictive meal plan, or bland boxed food situation, you’re looking for a way to lose weight that doesn’t sound like it will suck every ounce of joy out of your life, right? One day you stumble upon Intuitive Eating, which seems promising. You get hopeful.
It’s an easy thing to do, because like I said there are tons of reporters and bloggers jumping on the Intuitive Eating train. It’s having a moment. Media outlets are capitalizing on it with headlines exactly like this one, and wellness influencers are publicly denouncing diets while pinning listicles about how to hack weight loss.
But weight loss is not the intention of Intuitive Eating. Which is why seeing headlines like the one above can be so damn confusing.
Intuitive Eating (which we describe in depth in our complete guide to Intuitive Eating) into is all about reconnecting to your internal cues around food and honoring what your body needs, rather than relying on external guidelines or rules. Rules like “no carbs allowed” or “only eat within an eight hour window” or “under no circumstance should sugar ever enter your mouth not even half a banana”.
It’s also about finding pleasure and satisfaction in eating again, and removing all the guilt that diet culture has injected into the wonderful world of food. Sometimes you might be craving something crunchy, nourishing and vibrant, while other times your body asks for a warming, comforting, delicious dish. Intuitive Eating is about tuning into where that internal compass is guiding you and following it with your choices. By doing so you can break free from the shame-studded shackles of dieting, and create a healthier relationship with food and your body.
There’s a bit of a catch though, if you wanna call it that.
If you’re focused on losing weight above all else, you’ll inevitably make choices that contradict those intuitive cues. Whether it’s choosing to deprive yourself until 12 pm even though you’re really hungry, or opting for a serving of steamed chicken when you’d prefer pasta. And when you ignore your body’s wisdom, all sorts of shit can go haywire. You find yourself eating handfuls of shredded cheddar straight from the bag at 11 pm. You avoid social events because you don’t want to risk going off the plan. Or maybe you do hit the weekend BBQ and you hit it HARD after “being good” all week because a. your hunger is kind of like Jaws and completely ungovernable as your body is reacting to being in a perceived state of famine (it doesn’t care that your WW points are up for the day), and b. you know you’ll have to “get back on the wagon” soon. You end up physically feeling like garbage, and mentally beating yourself up. I know, because I’ve been there more Monday mornings than I could ever try to count.
If you want to truly embrace Intuitive Eating and put an end to the battle with food, you’ve gotta put the question of weight loss on the back burner. You can’t escape the crazy diet cycle, reclaim all the time, energy, money and mindspace you’ve spent trying to change your body, start to eat normally, AND pursue a change in your weight with equal vigor.
As our friend and Registered Dietitian Megan Fahey, MS, RD, CDN says, “Experience working as an eating disorder dietitian has not sharpened my ability to calculate a client’s “set point.” Instead, time has shown me the complexity of the question: ‘Will I gain or lose weight with Intuitive Eating?’”
Through witnessing countless Intuitive Eating journeys, she now understands that the food freedom her clients are so desperately seeking cannot be defined by a number.
“Intuitive Eating is an evolving journey that will shape a woman’s body in ways that far exceed physical size,” Megan says. “By releasing the energy bound up in the cycle of dieting, a woman clears space to hear the wisdom of her intuition and the true weight of her inner self begins to emerge.”
“It is that weight,” she continues, “The weight of her deepest longings and desires, the weight of her voice and her creativity, that she unknowingly set out to reconnect with in the first place. The reason why the question of weight gain is even posed, is because we are all so saturated in diet culture that we have lost touch with the innermost part of our selves that craves this healing work.”
Could you lose weight when you stop dieting and let your body settle at its natural place?
Yes. There are definitely instances when one stops weight cycling as a result of ending the restricting and binging (which can push your weight set point up over time). The longer you’ve been dieting, the more your metabolism and hormones have been impacted, and the quicker you’ll likely gain the weight back. But, just like Megan notes above, no one can calculate what will happen with your body. Not me, not you, not Oprah, not your doctor, not your favorite Instagrammer. And remember, it’s not the goal here. You might lose weight, you might gain weight, you might stay the same. It’s just sorta neutral.
So if it’s real freedom, joy, and peace around food that you’re seeking, we’d lovingly ask you to try to set aside the desire to lose weight for a sec. We’re not asking you to be 100 percent comfortable with your body right off the bat, that takes time. And we’re not going to suggest you ditch dieting and then leave you floating around out there like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. That’s where the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating come in, there’s an actual framework to fall back on. But you do have to do a bit of emotional gymnastics to let go of that desire to shrink yourself.
This is where that second, more important question comes in.
That being: why do you want to lose weight?
We’d never shame you around here for wanting to lose weight, by the way. It’s a very normal desire given the looks-obsessed, diet culture we live in. One that promises the thinner you are, the better off you’ll be. But we would nudge you to go a little deeper.
You might think you need to lose weight in order to be healthy or happy. Maybe your confidence is dragging, and you think that changing your appearance will raise your stock. Or maybe you have some deeply-rooted beliefs about your weight and your worth that are keeping you stuck in this paradigm (if you’re a woman, I can almost guarantee that you do). Answering this question for yourself and unpacking what’s underneath your desire to lose weight is one of the most important things you can do. Just by journaling out whatever comes to mind using the prompt “why do I want to lose weight” and bringing these beliefs to the surface can be so enlightening and can help you embrace Intuitive Eating for its true purpose.
These are all stories we work through with clients in our coaching program, and all myths to debunk. But the truth is, what most people who have been battling food forever actually want, even if they don’t realize it right away, is to be at peace with their bodies and just eat in a way that feels good, mentally and physically. Without all the drama and the rules and the late night binge sessions, and the repeating the cycle every week. Waiting on the weight to start the rest of their lives.
Feeling at home in your body and respecting it is something that dieting can never, ever provide so long as you’re trying to change it. If you’re being honest, has dieting ever worked for you long term? I’d bet the farm probably not. I don’t have a farm, just enjoy that saying.
Diets (sneaky diets disguised as “lifestyles” like paleo and keto included) usually make things worse. They make you addicted to food, fuck with your hormones, and in the end most people end up gaining more weight. Which shreds your confidence because you’ve “failed” again, which piles on the body image issues.
What’s underneath your desire for weight loss?
To circle back to the question of can I lose weight with Intuitive Eating: I’d counter that with a different question: what do you really want?
Eating with ease? Upgraded confidence? More trust in your body’s innate wisdom? Because the intentional pursuit of weight loss will simply never deliver those things.
But if you want (and I’m really rooting for this) lasting feel-good habits and better mental health, an unwavering sense of self, and most importantly sweet, sweet freedom around food, then Intuitive Eating is definitely for you.
And if you’d like to learn more about our coaching program, where we help women heal their relationship with food and their bodies through a mix of Intuitive Eating and body image resilience, let’s find out if it’d be a good fit for you. Set up a free breakthrough session today!