The 5 Stages of Intuitive Eating
Today I’m going to walk you through the five stages of becoming an Intuitive Eater, so you can understand what to expect and perhaps see where you’re at in the process.
Before we dive in, I gotta note one important thing: this is not going to be a quick fix or some extremely advertisable 30-day fix. It goes much deeper than that, and it looks different for everyone. It can depend on how long you’ve been dieting, how strongly entrenched you are in diet culture, how long you’ve been using food to cope with life, how willing you are to trust yourself, and how willing you are to put weight loss on the back burner to make becoming an Intuitive Eater the true goal.
It’s also not linear. Sometimes you’ll move back and forth among the different stages, which is very normal and does not mean you’re backsliding or not making progress. Diet culture trains us to believe there’s a neat and tidy checklist: that if we follow the steps laid out for us, we’ll easily move from point A to point B and everything will be smooth sailing and we’ll finally be happy. And if we don’t move from A to B, something’s wrong with us and it’s our fault we can’t get our shit together around food. But rebuilding your body’s trust and tuning into your intuitive guidance is much more complex and nuanced. It’s also more effective and sustainable, if your true goal is making peace with food and feeling good in your body.
By the way, we have a neat little free quiz if you want to know if you’re an Intuitive Eater. You can take that right here, then come back to see what stage you’re in, if you’re unsure.
Okay! Let’s talk through the five stages you’ll move through in this process.
Stage 1: The Diet Rock Bottom
Most of our clients are hovering around here when they come to us. Dana and I spent a significant amount of time here ourselves. In this stage, you’re painfully aware that every attempt to lose weight has ended in failure. You’re beyond sick and tired of measuring your worth by what the scale says each morning. You’re exhausted from thinking and worrying about food all the time. And you’re tired of having good or bad days based on your willpower.
You’ve lost touch with your inner hunger and satiety signals. You’ve forgotten what it’s like to eat something you enjoy without guilt or shame. You have a shit relationship with food and your body. And you know deep down that your quality of life has been affected by this obsessional preoccupation and painful cycle.
This stage continues until you decide you can’t live like this anymore and you’re ready to do something about it. You might feel that inner pull toward another diet, but know deep down that it’s not what you need. You’re ready for something new that will bring you back from this abyss.
If you’re in this stage, it’s critical to get support because it’s likely not going to get better anytime soon without it.
Stage 2: The Exploration and Learning Phase
As you learn about Intuitive Eating you’ll need to practice hyper awareness to help reacquaint yourself with your intuitive signals: hunger, taste preferences and fullness. This is a lot like learning to drive. At first, each step requires thought and a mental checklist. Like: fasten seatbelt, turn car on, check your mirrors, put foot on break, shift into reverse, slowly back up while checking each mirror, etc.
It seems a little awkward and uncomfortable. You might be a little nervous or obsessive about getting it right. But hyper awareness is different than being obsessive. Until something becomes second nature, we have to learn it and practice it. And we have to pay attention to make sure we’re really getting it. It can feel so foreign and strange at first to walk these steps. And you’ll have to practice hyper awareness until you start to feel the effects and make those internal shifts but eventually, it will be your default setting.
You’ll start to make peace with food and your body, by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. It’s gonna feel scary. But you’ll learn to get rid of the guilt-induced eating and rediscover the importance of satisfaction around food. Because the more satisfied you are in eating, the less you’ll think about food between being hungry. You’ll be letting go of deprivation, beating yourself up and feeling guilty. And as you rebuild a positive relationship with food, each eating experience will be a learning experience that builds on the last.
This phase is very challenging to do without guidance and support. Most of us are so entrenched in diet culture that eating without any restrictions or guilt feels extremely foreign. Many people who attempt Intuitive Eating on their own end up stuck in this phase, thinking it’s not working, because they may allow themselves to eat everything without any rules. They’re past the dieting rock bottom, but they’re not sure what to do from here, or how to fully rid themselves of the guilt and shame. They likely don’t feel physically great either, because they don’t know how to fine tune and utilize their interoceptive awareness and hunger and fullness cues. We go in depth on how to actually do this in our coaching program.
Stage 3: The Crystallization Phase
This is where things really start to shift. You’ll begin to feel the results and reconnect to the Intuitive Eater that’s always been inside you, just buried under the debris of diet culture. You’ll start to feel a payoff for the work you did in stage 2 and you’ll start to feel your behavior shift in a real way.
Your thoughts about food will no longer be obsessive. And the need for that hyper awareness will begin to wane. Your food decisions won’t require as much energy and you’ll start to trust your instincts and follow them. You’ll be honoring your hunger most of the time and it will be easier to figure out what you want to eat when you are hungry. You’ll continue to reinforce the peace you’re finding with food. It will be easier to connect to your fullness while eating, even if you eat past that point. You’ll start to be able to identify and separate true hunger from emotional hunger. And because of this clarity, it will become easier to acknowledge different ways of handling your emotions.
Far more important than weight loss, will be the sense of well-being and empowerment that comes in this stage. You’ll begin to respect your body and understand that if you’re over your natural weight set point, it’s because of dieting, and not a lack of willpower. Getting to this phase takes some time and effort (and likely guidance and feedback) which is why 30-day quick fixes or even an intellectual understanding of Intuitive Eating isn’t very effective.
Stage 4: When the Intuitive Eater is Awakened for Real
In this stage, all the work you’ve done starts to culminate in a more comfortable, easier relationship with food and your body. You’ll consistently choose what you really want when you’re hungry. And it’s easy to stop eating once you’re full – because you know any and all foods are available to you at any time.
You may begin to choose foods that support your health, not because you feel you should, but because you feel better when you eat them. Morality around food will disappear. And your deprivation backlash will be gone. You’ll start to experience true pleasure in eating again. Your self-talk around food will be positive, the peace you’ve made with it will be firmly established, and eating will no longer be a conflict.
You’ll have stopped being angry with your body and disrespecting it. And at this point, you’ll be on your way to your body approaching its natural, healthy set point weight. It’s very exciting to see our clients get to this place in the process because there is a noticeable difference in how they talk about food, and it’s also clear they have freed up a lot of mental space to focus on other things. They start to realize where else in their lives they may either want to or need to allocate some attention, but dieting hasn’t allowed them to.
Stage 5: The Final Stage
At this point, your inner Intuitive Eater is in full force. You’ll trust your body, honor your hunger and respect your fullness. You’ll feel no guilt or worry about food choices. You’ll feel good about your relationship to food and you’ll feel the relief that comes with enjoying it as a natural part of life. You’ll exercise when you want to, to feel good instead of as punishment, and nutrition information will be a helpful ally in your life.
You’ll feel empowered. And protected from the burden of diet culture moving forward. You’ll feel free from the shackles of the diet binge cycle of hell. It might seem scary or impossible to you right now but, if you do the work to implement each of the principles that follow, you can become an Intuitive Eater and finally end the madness of dieting.
We have many stories from other women who have done it here. You can do this too.
How to Get to Stage 5
If you want to get to stage 5 and become an Intuitive Eater yourself, especially if you’ve been stuck in one of the earlier stages for a while, support is key. Set up a free Breakthrough Call, and we’ll talk about where you are in your own life, and exactly how to get you started moving forward.
If you’re just dipping your toe in, our masterclass is a great place to start. We give you an overview of how to break the diet-binge cycle, and why what you’re probably doing isn’t working.