When people first hear about the principles of Intuitive Eating, they think it's mainly about eating whatever you want whenever you want. Many people may react to the idea with disgust, thinking it is irresponsible and can only lead to weight gain. (And we all know what our society thinks of weight gain.) I remember when I first read about this concept a few years ago. This is what I wrote in my journal: So the latest book I read says eat whatever I want. I am going to do it. I know this isn’t entirely a new concept. It’s “intuitive eating” and apparently your body will go a little nuts with freedom and then will start craving salad. But what if it never does? What if it is perfectly happy with a plate of nachos for dinner every night? Then where does all my healthy and clean eating research go? All the paleo ideas, the natural sugars, almond flours, healthy fats and all the things I’ve focused on for the last several years. I actually like eating that way but I’m afraid I will eat crap just because I can and if I don’t eat the crap I will feel like I am subconsciously depriving myself. Wow – it gets really messy and complicated fast. Add to that the emotional eating aspect and I’m a mess. But what an awesome time to do this eat anything you want experiment! It’s the beginning of summer and I’m going out with friends and out for my birthday and to the Cape and to a bunch of parties. I would love love love to eat whatever I want! Onion dip and ice cream here I come. Margaritas and guacamole with a bowlful of chips, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, fried mozzarella (I never ever eat that and now I am craving it because I can). Oh but wait, eat only when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full and don’t make it a rule. This is so messed up. I feel like I will be walking off a cliff. I can feel the weight coming on and it’s summer, I want to be light and fit, not bigger than ever.
This book also said that exercise doesn’t matter. What?! Now I have actually been doing exercise so long that I like it but if I don’t have to do it 7 days a week then 3 is probably all I’ll do. The book says that’s ok. Then it says you should go walking because it’s good for your mood. Ironic how that would also get you off the couch and not eating and moving and burning calories. I think all these books are just trying to trick people into doing things to lose weight without saying move more and eat less because lets face it, that would suck. No one wants to hear that. How boring and awful is that? So anyway, I’m going to give this all a try. We’ll see what happens! Oh and I’m not going to weigh myself. I know if I’m getting fatter or thinner and sometimes the scale agrees and sometimes it doesn’t. I am going to accept myself as I am and say Fuck it to the scale.
And so I began my journey. It can take awhile for the principles of Intuitive Eating to really sink in. It is also a practice and as such, some days are better than others. I have been practicing it for a few years now and I still have debates with myself in my head over it. I realize that the negative side of the debate is often fueled by what I think other people must think about it. So I am constantly seeking to quiet the critic and remind myself of the evidence that Intuitive Eating is the right thing.
As it turns out, Intuitive Eating is the "right" thing. For me. I recognize that it is a choice and it may not be for everyone. Some people may choose to keep dieting and if that works for them then that is ok too. We are all different people at different places in life with different wants and needs and we all need to make our own choices.
Scientifically, I know that diets fail 98% of the time. Scientifically, I know that overweight people actually have lower mortality rates than thinner people. Scientifically, I know that intuitive eaters are happier and healthier than their peers. Intuitive Eating is evidence based, which means that there have been studies that show it is a safe, healthy and effective way to feed and nourish our bodies. There is not one study that can say the same about dieting.
So scientifically, I'm sold. I am on board and I will never diet again. I get it and it makes so much sense and I love it. It is validating and empowering and freeing and has brought so much more joy to my life in feeding my body and my family. Where I stumble is with the external appearance/body image part of the work. This part is so much harder.
When we live in a world that is constantly telling us we should be thinner and we are unattractive if we are fat, and in a world where diet talk is the norm, and people are admired and praised for restricting themselves, it can be very triggering and challenging to hold your ground as an intuitive eater. Especially if the journey leads to weight gain. That might be where some folks simply want to get off the train.
The truth is, intuitive eaters may gain weight, may lose weight or may stay the same when they start intuitive eating. It all depends on the history of the person and at what point in the diet cycle they may be in. I gained weight when I started intuitive eating. And for two years I blamed that weight gain on intuitive eating. It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized - wait a minute - what was I doing before intuitive eating? I was DIETING. So what was bound to happen when I stopped dieting? I gained weight. I was a really "good" dieter. I was able to restrict myself for years and years until it started to get harder and harder. I stopped for the sake of my sanity.
I can't believe it took me so long to make the connection between my weight gain and dieting even after reading how dieters gain back their weight plus more within 1-3 years of every diet. That was eye opening for me. It helped me understand that it's not my way of eating now that is "causing" my weight gain and that my weight is simply trying to find it's normal place in the world after 30 years of my fucking with it. It doesn't know what it's doing right now and my mission is to help it out and to give it some time. "Do what you need to do body - you are now running the show. I'm sorry I tried to control you and override your needs and wants for so long. I hope you can forgive me. "
The other thing I would like to note is that when I started eating what I wanted, what I wanted changed. So for the people who think they will eat cookies , cakes and pies and continue to gain weight, that is simply not true. I ate my fair share of all the forbidden foods that I would deny myself on diets, and then I got sick of them. They didn't hold their appeal when I knew I could have them anytime. And while I gained weight, it also then leveled out and has been the same for the past year or so. I know because of how my clothes fit. I haven't stood on a scale in years. (I face the other way when I go to the doctor and ask them not to tell me, I know the number is completely irrelevant to my state of health).
So what is my long winded point? If you are curious, Intuitive Eating is more than worth checking out. I want people to know there is another way to live that does not involve restriction and misery. If you are tired of hating food and your body and have spent years on diets and are still miserable, it is the light at the end of the tunnel. And that light will guide you through even though the process may be long and is not at all a straight line. It's a process and can be slow and does not promise any quick fixes. But it gave me my life back and maybe it can give you yours too.