Why are you delaying? When will be the right time to start healing your relationship with food and your body?
This came up recently with a client who said it was a yes for her across the board that she decided to hold off. We had a little more conversation about it and realized there were some extenuating circumstances. She ultimately decided that she wanted to have support while going through such a difficult time, especially because the stress increased her food preoccupation.
Talking through that with her brought up this idea of holding off on starting intuitive eating. I find that people tend to think of it like starting a diet; “I'm going to start on Monday,” “I'll start after my vacation,” “I'll start after the holidays,” “I'll start when I'm not so busy,” “when I'm done with school” or “when my kids are older.” All of these things are related to external life circumstances.
Yes, it's important to honor when we have extenuating circumstances and when our focus and attention needs to be entirely somewhere else. For example, If you are in the middle of moving, it may not be the best time, although I had had clients work with me when they were moving, and they appreciated the extra support during that time. If you are going to school and working, or something along those lines, maybe it isn’t the right time to learn a new skill like intuitive eating.
On the other hand…
Learning to become more in tune with your body, heal your relationship with food in your body, develop eating skills, work on a more secure attachment, these things do take some focus. There is a big learning curve, and it does take some attention. But it is nothing like starting a diet. There isn't a list of foods that you have to run out and buy, there aren't foods you need to get rid of, and there aren’t specific exercises you need to do every day. I typically don't assign any homework, and there aren't a bunch of hoops to jump through like there is with a diet.
Building a secure attachment and healing your relationship with yourself is even better when done in the nooks and crannies during your real life. If you have young children, you're going to have young children for quite some time, and this is part of the reason you eat the way you do. If you have an intense job, that could be a big part of the patterns creating behaviors around food and your relationship with your body that aren't ideal. When you're in challenging circumstances, that is when you need support. When you can really benefit from examining the patterns of your life, what's contributing to disordered eating or eating in a way that doesn't feel aligned, supportive or nurturing.
And, It's also great to do it during the holidays or while you're on vacation because you often have more flexibility, and you may be more relaxed and happier. I had a client who went on vacation; when she came back, we discussed what her eating had been like. It was easeful, enjoyable, she felt good physically and was not overly preoccupied with food. It was exactly how she wanted to eat day to day. So rather than calling it Intuitive Eating, she called it vacation eating from then on. It's not something that is similar to diets; you're not going to be restricting or counting things; you're going to be learning how to tune into your body and see what's happening to your body. There are a lot of situations that come up that are unique to those times where food is a big piece of the celebration, or maybe you're seeing dodgy family members, or you're stressed and busy. If you're someone who finds that you have less than ideal eating patterns when stressed and/or use food to soothe, it actually can be a great time to look at what's underlying and contributing to that pattern.
It's ideal to do it right now, in your everyday life. It doesn't require a significant time investment and is more about intention and focus. Most people are spending so much mental and emotional energy on food and body, and it's just shifting some of that energy into learning these new skills and tools since you're already thinking about it.
I had some clients who took my food attachment style quiz say that they were thinking about food and body about 80% of the time, previous to working with me. After working together for six months, it was closer to 20%. In the process of working together, they were able to free up a lot of mental and emotional energy and do things they were excited about instead. One client started a business and has been wildly successful. It has been so cool to see someone go from investing their energy and trying to control or manage food in their body to putting that energy into a business that they're passionate about and love.
What are some of the reasons that you might be delaying? You might be thinking that you need to lose weight first. This was something a client recently brought up and thought they needed to get down to a specific size, and then they would do intuitive eating even though they knew dieting and restricting food was harmful to them. The problem with that plan is if you use restrictions to lose weight, which I can't think of a diet plan that isn't using restriction, you're restricting the types of foods you can eat, you're restricting calories, carbs, or macros in some way. Every weight loss plan I've seen uses restrictions on some level. Even though you may lose weight, that restriction leads to a decrease in metabolism and a decrease in muscle mass. You're not able to burn the same number of calories as it slows everything down so that those calories will go further. Restricting also increases your hunger signals, preoccupation, and desire for food and decreases your fullness signals. You tend to eat beyond fullness when you eat, so you're setting yourself up for a much bigger pendulum swing.
When you start with an extreme restriction to attempt to lose weight, then when you go through the refeeding (learning to eat normatively), you have this huge pendulum swing and a really increased appetite and desire for food. You're not able to metabolize it at the same level that you used to be able to, so you're very likely to have this rapid weight gain, along with this pendulum swing and eating in a way that kind of fulfills that increased desire. You're setting yourself up for this big pendulum swing. When that happens, when people gain weight and eat in a way that feels out of control, they're going to be concerned that Intuitive Eating is not working and tend to want to go back to dieting.
It's better to start now, wherever you're at, than to try to lose weight first. That weight loss is not likely to be sustained. I'm curious to know, has any intentional weight loss that you've tried been sustained for five years? Even if you didn't try to switch to intuitive eating, it's highly unlikely dieting will work. The research shows that 85-95% of the time, people cannot sustain intentional weight loss.
The other issue with losing weight first is that you're still elevating thinness. By disregarding your body signals, dieting and ignoring yourself, you're starting with an attachment rupture, which is why you're struggling with food and body image. You're deepening that rupture, so you're going to have even more work to do to come to a place of healing with food with your body.
Just doing a quick survey of your past dieting and weight loss attempt history will tell you whether that's worked for you or not, likely not.
Another reason you might be delaying is that you tend to be scared that you're going to gain weight and eat everything in sight. Maybe you're scared that intuitive eating just means disregarding your health. That is not the case. Sometimes you go through a refeeding phase where your body tries to trust that there is enough and that you're not in an actual famine mode. You have that increased desire, so you want all of the foods that have been off limits, and often when you've been restricting and have foods that have been off limits, it makes them more appealing when you do eat them. It's very normal to eat them in a way that feels out of control. This can be part of the process.
There is a way to get support and develop more body attunement not to have such an extreme pendulum swing. There's a way to go slow and steady. By getting support, not only are you going to have more ease and not quite such an extreme shift in behavior. You're also going to ensure that you're moving past the phase to a phase where you're in a more secure attached relationship with food and your body, where you're in a relationship with food, you are attuned to your body, and you are eating in a way that feels nurturing. That might look like soothing using food sometimes. But it's also going to look like eating foods that are nourishing, make you feel good, and bring you vitality. You're going to have more ease and balance here. I would recommend, if you have these fears, to seek support from someone who has personally experienced this, from someone who has the training and the knowledge and has supported clients through this, and potentially in a community of people that have had that experience as well, so that you've got people reassuring you while you're in that phase.
The other piece about gaining weight sometimes with intuitive eating, people do gain weight, sometimes their bodies stay the same, sometimes they lose weight. But actually, weight cycling is very hard on your body and harmful for you. Typical people will come to a place of settling out, and maybe what you've heard of is called a setpoint. Your body is likely doing whatever it needs to do to get through this pendulum swing. All of these shifts from experiencing self imposed famines over and over and over, your body is wise and doing what it needs to do and ultimately come to a point where things are stable and settled. That's much better for your health than weight cycling, even if you're at a higher weight than you like to be.
It's worth healing your relationship with food, your relationship with your body, really looking at what are the underlying issues here, and healing all of those, rather than kind of perpetually doing that cycle.
One of the things that can be helpful is to ask yourself, what has dieting, restricting, trying to control, manage, contort my body, what has that cost me, and do I want to continue to pay that price? Decide whether you want to keep doing that for another week, year, five years, or even decades. You'd be surprised to find how much it really costs you; the heaviness, the weight of that mental and emotional energy that you're putting into it, all of the pain, suffering, and shame.
Ask yourself, what is this costing me? And do I want to keep doing that? Or do I want to find a different way to heal?
Download your free hunger scale now!
The first step to healing our relationship with food is reconnecting with the signals our body gives us. One of the ways to do that is by checking in with your hunger before you eat. Here's my spin on the traditional hunger scale.