Is the Goal of Intuitive Eating Weight Loss?
There are many articles and practitioners who promote Intuitive Eating for weight loss. I believe those practitioners are setting up their clients for disappointment and not being true to the tenets of Intuitive Eating. The goal of Intuitive Eating is repairing your relationship with your body and with that, you cannot predict what will happen with your weight. It may go up, down, or stay the same!
Read on to find out more…
What is Intuitive Eating?
Before I delve into the topic of Intuitive Eating and weight loss, I’d like to recap what Intuitive Eating is:
Intuitive Eating is a way to heal your relationship with food and your body. It focuses on tuning IN to your body’s signals and tuning OUT external messages.
For a more thorough explanation of Intuitive Eating, check out my article, What is Intuitive Eating?
What’s the problem with using Intuitive Eating as a weight loss tool?
What separates Intuitive Eating from other eating frameworks, such as mindful eating, is that Intuitive Eating is an eating methodology that has been scientifically validated and is measured by a diagnostic tool.
Intuitive Eating incorporates many elements of mindful eating, such as a non-judgmental awareness, but it is also much more.
Intuitive Eating has 3 key features:
- The unconditional permission to eat;
- Eating for physical rather than emotional reasons; and
- Reliance on internal hunger and satiety cues to determine when and how much to eat.
You may be wondering: what does scientific validation mean and why does it matter? Scientific validation means that Intuitive Eating has been rigorously studied.
Over 125 scientific studies have demonstrated so many incredible benefits of Intuitive Eating*:
- better mental health,
- a high degree of body satisfaction,
- internal awareness of our body,
- improved cholesterol,
- a reduced incidence of eating disorders.
All of these measures of physical and mental health rely on taking weight out of the equation. Intuitive eating is not a fad diet or passing phase; it is scientifically shown to help you lead a more fulfilling life as you’re no longer burdened by the diet mentality.
The punchline: If you use Intuitive Eating to lose weight you aren’t doing Intuitive Eating!
One of the core elements of Intuitive Eating, Reject the Diet Mentality, asks us to take weight loss out of the equation. To that end, Intuitive Eating is what we call a weight-neutral practice.
We use this neutrality to help us become Intuitive Eaters. That degree of neutrality or non-judgment enables us to do the hard work that lets us reach the other side of the chronic-dieting rainbow:
- Where you eat an apple or a cookie depending on what you really want (not your daily calorie count!);
- Where you can have all of your favorite foods in your house without feeling anxious or binge on them;
- Where you can go out to eat with friends without worrying about what you’ll eat.
Does that sound freeing to you?
Be honest with me. How would you react to this scenario?
Katie regularly weighs herself every Monday morning. She has been dieting off and on for years but can’t stand the obsession with food anymore. So, she decides to try Intuitive Eating this year. She notices that when she weighs herself on week 1 of Intuitive Eating, that she has gained 2 pounds. Then on week 2, she notices that she has gained 1 more pound.
What do you think Katie will do?
Will she be able to tune out that number on the scale to do the work of giving herself unconditional permission to eat all foods? Will she be able to eat when she is hungry, or will she try to ‘see if she’s really hungry’ by drinking a glass of water instead?
The beginning of the Intuitive Eating journey can be challenging, but, for those who are courageous enough to do the work, the results are for a lifetime! Many women find that having the support of a professional, like me, helps them stay the course and get the results they deserve.
What will freedom look like, for you?
- No more hunting for a new diet every January and every summer.
- No more obsessing about foods.
- No more overeating or binge eating.
But, shouldn’t I lose weight if I start tuning in to my body?
This common thought is a sticky trap for so many women. It seems like common sense that if you eat according to hunger and fullness and start to treat your body with respect that you will naturally lose weight.
It is valid that Intuitive Eating can help you achieve a weight that is right for your body. But there are several issues around this premise:
- Sometimes the weight that you want doesn’t necessarily line up with what your body wants! All too often, women choose a desired weight that their body can’t achieve with healthy behaviors. We need to be honest with ourselves around this topic. Typically, we all know a weight that is easy to maintain for 3+ years with adequate food and moderate movement. That is the weight your body wants.
- Our history of dieting may change our body’s intended weight. For women with a history of yo-yo dieting (or weight cycling as it’s called in medical circles), the weight your body seeks may increase with each subsequent diet. Your body doesn’t know that you have access to lots of food when you are dieting. So it responds to dieting by altering our metabolism and hormones that make us crave food.
- Our body weight changes throughout life stages. It’s normal to gain weight after age 18! I know that media tends to praise women who can fit into their prom dresses, but it’s just not the norm!
It’s also normal to gain some weight during perimenopause and menopause. No, it’s not fun, but fat is a source of estrogen and your body is trying to protect you by storing some abdominal fat. There are even some health benefits to the changes in your waistline. I’ll be covering weight gain in peri-menopause in-depth on a future blog so stay tuned!
If you can’t guarantee weight loss with Intuitive Eating, what’s the point?
This is a question I hear so frequently.
To be candid, almost every woman I speak with wants to lose weight. They might not want to lose it to fit into their prom dress or their wedding dress, but the pursuit of weight loss is high on their list of desires.
Most of these women have achieved weight loss in their lives. They have gotten to or near their ‘goal weight,’ but like 90+% of people who intentionally** lose weight, they regain most or all of it within 5 years. It’s not their fault! Diets fail and the research on them is terrible. They never follow participants long enough to see that weight regain.
Yes, there are exceptions.
There are also women who practice unhealthy behaviors to maintain their weight loss that would get them diagnosed with an eating disorder. (FYI: You can have an eating disorder even if you’re not at a low weight, and eating disorders in women over 40 are on the rise.)
Ultimately, each woman must decide if she has hit her diet rock bottom.
If you are considering Intuitive Eating, you may have hit your diet rock bottom – or perhaps you’re just near. But, if any of the statements resonate with you, you may have found your answer:
- “I just want to feel normal around food!“
- “I’m worried about my health but I can’t stick to a diet anymore.”
- “I know I can’t diet again but I don’t know what else to do!”
- “I feel like my body is betraying me; I’m not losing weight on diets anymore.”
- “I think I’m addicted to [insert favorite food]. Every time I eat it, I just can’t stop until I feel sick.”
- “I’m so tired of all the dialogue in my head about what I can and can’t eat!”
Each and every one of these statements indicates that your health is suffering.
Perhaps you could go on another diet and lose some weight. But you’d still be stuck living in a prison of weighing, measuring, planning, and judging.
And you certainly won’t feel free around food or your body.
You deserve freedom around food and eating.
If you want the true transformation that comes from Intuitive Eating, you can’t make weight loss your goal. I know that it can be too hard to let go of entirely, which is why I ask you to put it on the back burner.
If you are ready to end the constant stress around food and your body, why not try something different this time? I work with women to help them find food freedom and feel at home in their bodies.
If you’re looking for 1:1 coaching, schedule your complimentary Take Action Call to see what it’s like to have professional support.
*Initial research was conducted by Dr. Tracy Tylka at Ohio State University (2006). Citations of all research to date can be found at IntuitiveEating.org/
**Intentional weight loss is weight loss that occurs as a result of actively trying to lose weight. With Intuitive Eating, we make a distinction between intentional weight loss as compared to a weight change that may occur when we engage in health-promoting behaviors.
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”