Intuitive eating has become big over the last few years, but often it is misrepresented or misunderstood. While some state intuitive eating is a great diet for weight loss, others claim that its purpose has nothing to do with weight loss.
First, it’s important to understand what intuitive eating is. And the best way to do that is by reading the book “Intuitive Eating” by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. Click here to purchase the book on Amazon (affiliate link).
This book goes into detail about what intuitive eating is, how to implement it, as well as it’s benefits. I highly suggest reading this book before embarking on an intuitive eating journey.
As for the question at hand, it’s a complicated answer, so let’s jump into it!
What is intuitive eating?
But just to review them quickly, the ten principles are as follows:
- Reject the Diet Mentality
- Honor Your Hunger
- Make Peace with Food
- Challenge the Food Police
- Feel Your Fullness
- Discover the Satisfaction Factor
- Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness
- Respect Your Body
- Movement – Feel the Difference
- Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition
To summarize the principles, intuitive eating involves stopping dieting, eating based on hunger and fullness cues, allowing all kinds of foods into your diet, letting go of food rules, eating mindfully and focusing on pleasure, finding ways to cope with negative emotions without food, accepting your current body weight and shape, exercising for enjoyment and making small sustainable changes to improve your health.
So, by reading the principles you may have noticed one or two of the following. First, there is no mention of weight loss. Secondly, the eighth principle, respect your body, implies that you should learn to accept your body vs. try to change it.
These two things are important to consider as we move on to answering a few more questions having to do with intuitive eating and weight loss.
Is it possible to lose weight with intuitive eating?
The quick answer is yes, it is possible to practice intuitive eating and experience weight loss. That being said, it’s not the main objective of intuitive eating.
You can lose weight with intuitive eating, but you can just as easily gain weight or maintain your current weight. There are several factors that are going to come into play that determine what happens with your weight when you start intuitively eating.
Here are some predictions of what will happen to your weight when you start intuitive eating.
You will likely lose weight once you start intuitive eating if…
- You frequently eat past fullness or binge eat
- You eat when you are not hungry often
- You tend to eat emotionally
- You are at your highest weight since starting to diet
You will likely gain weight once you start intuitive eating if…
- You have to work really hard to maintain your current weight
- You are always on a diet or trying to restrict your calories
- You are constantly low energy, hungry or irritable
- You are at your lowest weight since starting to diet
This being said, everyone is different, so even if you predict you will gain weight, you may find yourself losing weight in the long run or vice versa.
Another thing to consider is that weight gain is common when just starting to eat intuitively, especially when you start reintroducing fear foods. Over time, your weight will even over and you will be able to maintain your set point weight easily.
Is it ok to want weight loss while eating intuitively?
So we know that weight loss could happen with intuitive eating, but it is not the point of intuitive eating. Knowing this, is it ok to want to lose weight while eating intuitively?
This is another tricky answer. A huge part of intuitive eating is letting go of diet rules and the temptation to diet for weight loss. Without achieving these principles, you will not truely be eating intuitively.
But simply shutting off the desire to lose weight is also something that is incredibly difficult to do. Many people who try intuitive eating tend to have a long history of dieting which goes back to their early teenage years, maybe earlier.
Therefore the desire to be in a smaller body dates back years, often decades. Relearning this is a long and difficult process. Therapy is often helpful and needed to help heal this thought pattern.
Here are some things to consider that may help you reframe your thoughts around weight loss:
- Consider why you want to lose weight. Typically the reasoning falls into two categories: health or appearance. Usually it’s a mix of both.
- If you want to lose weight to improve your health, consider focusing on healthy behaviors and habits vs. weight loss. Focus on exercising more, eating more fruits and vegetables, and reducing stress.
- If you want to lose weight for appearance reasons, consider why your appearance is so important to you and what you aim to achieve by being thinner. Also consider the fact that you may be chasing an unrealistic beauty standard that is impossible to achieve.
- Contemplate all the pain the pursuit of weight loss has caused. How many times did it leave you crying? Did it lead you to skip out on social events? Skip out on a delicious meal or dessert? Constantly thinking about food? Is it really worth it?
While having the desire to lose weight is naturally and rather normal, you will need to slowly learn to let go of this desire if you truly want to implement intuitive eating correctly.
Is it normal to gain weight with intuitive eating?
This is another complicated answer. The answer is usually going to be yes though. In the first few months of eating intuitively, weight gain is fairly normal.
Of course, this depends on the person. I personally experienced weight loss to begin with, followed by weight gain. Now my weight fluctuates about 10lbs depending on the time of the year or what’s going on in my life.
The reason why weight gain is so common during the first few months of eating intuitively is due to a few factors. First, you are introducing foods that you haven’t had in a long time, which may lead to overeating. Next, if you have a long history of dieting, your hunger and fullness cues are going to be different, meaning you may feel hungry very often and not be able to sense your fullness as strongly as before.
These are both factors that will improve over time. As you expose yourself to more foods, they will become less interesting and you will be able to eat them in moderation. Also, as you eat more and fuel your body properly, you will strengthen your hunger and fullness hormones, making it easier to feel your hunger and fullness.
Why should I try eating intuitively if it won’t make me lose weight?
You may be wondering, what’s the point of intuitive eating if it isn’t going to help me lose weight? Well, there are many benefits of intuitive eating that have been shown to us through research.
One review of studies revealed that intuitive eating is associated with lower BMI and better psychological health.
Another review found that mindful eating and mindfulness (principles within intuitive eating) helped reduce binge eating, emotional eating and eating in response to external cues.
One review found that an intuitive eating approach reduced disordered eating behaviors, increased body image and increased emotional functioning.
While there still is much more research that needs to be done, studies have already shown that intuitive eating has many psychological benefits, especially when it comes to disordered eating behaviors.
So while intuitive eating isn’t a weight loss diet, it can be a very effective tool in healing your relationship with food and improving your overall mental health. Which is even better than weight loss, right?
If you struggle with binge eating, an unhealthy relationship with food, or a long history of yo yo dieting, I have a ton of resources on my website and social media to help you out! Along with this I have a self-paced online course and provide both individual and group counseling.