I hear it a lot - “Intuitive Eating is a nice idea, but it doesn’t work for me.” Since I think Intuitive Eating is SO much more than just a nice idea, I thought I would take the opportunity to explore why some may feel it doesn’t work for them.
First, I must emphasize that someone in recovery from an eating disorder will need much more structure around food than Intuitive Eating provides. While IE would be the goal, the process of getting there will be through a treatment plan provided by a therapist, dietitian and medical team.
For those of you who are looking for a more peaceful approach to food and would like to learn more about IE or apply it’s principles, I really encourage you to actually read the book (and ideally work with an IE professional to implement). Go to the source, you know? There are 10 principles for Intuitive Eating, and only two of them have to do with eating when hungry and stopping when full. The other 8 are what make it possible to respond to those intuitive signals. So if you make it just about listening to hunger and fullness levels, it probably won’t work.
You will also need to:
- Say SEE YA NEVER to diets and the diet mentality (you can read more about that here)
- Make peace with food
- Say NO to the food police
- Allow yourself to feel satisfaction from food
- Build new coping strategies for emotional distress
- Respect YOUR body (with less obsession on weight)
- Exercise to feel the difference rather than to manipulate your body
- Honor your health with nourishing foods (the book calls it Gentle Nutrition - balancing taste and satisfaction with health - which I really love)
The thing about Intuitive Eating is that you can’t just flirt with it and expect to see results. It requires a highly conscious commitment. If you want to try it, you gotta jump in with both feet and totally trust the process. It’s definitely a process and wherever you are in that process is EXACTLY where you need to be. There are 10 principles for a reason and they all are connected. Only applying 2 or 5 or 8 or 9 will not lead to becoming an Intuitive Eater. But if you do all 10, you are promised a more peaceful relationship with food, yourself, your body and the ability to find YOUR healthy weight with vibrant physical, mental and emotional health. I can attest to that.
But here’s the thing - you’ve gotta allow yourself time. I’ve come to deeply appreciate that healing and growth take time. I can see the wisdom in that. What we set out to heal, actually heals us. It’s the process of healing that heals - it fosters strength, resilience, trust, confidence, patience, compassion, understanding and wisdom. It’s BECAUSE this process takes time that it has the potential to truly heal your mind and body. We learn by experience so don’t ever sell yourself short.
I’ll also note that if you find applying even one principle from this list helps you have a healthier relationship with food, I fully support that.
In my experience, there is a specific reason why IE doesn’t work: You cannot use your intuition if fear is present. If you are afraid of food, afraid of gaining weight, afraid of accepting your body, afraid of making a mistake…then your decisions will be based on fear rather than wisdom. It’s not that you won’t feel fear, but you can learn to effectively work with it and make decisions that are in your best interest. This is why we must make peace with food and our bodies, and fully accept where we are, if we ever hope to move forward.
You can’t fail at Intuitive Eating. In fact failing at it is actually what brings increased capacity to be great at it. It’s a learning process, and the only one that can learn about your body and it’s needs at that level is YOU. I get it, it’s hard. Dieting and weight obsession are socially acceptable while feeling peace with food and your body isn’t. The ultimate goal for IE is to develop self-trust with food. While it might seem counterproductive to give yourself unconditional permission to eat when you feel fearful of or out of control with food, that’s exactly what has to happen to put yourself back in charge of your own decisions.
So what is holding you back? Do you fight against your natural genetic set point for body type? Are you afraid of eating what you actually want to eat for fear you won’t be able to stop? Do you beat yourself up with exercise? Is food used to distract or numb emotions? Do you feel worth taking care of? I would encourage you to start with just the first principle. Take it one day at a time. Once you feel more comfortable with that, tackle the next. Quick results can often derail effective progress, so give yourself grace, patience and compassion as you move forward.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD