'Not dieting' can sound very simple in some respects. But it's more than telling yourself I'm not going back to Slimming World or WW. It's often more than trying to stop looking at food labels for Calories and fat grams. It's typically more involved than saying I'm trying just to focus on my health, rather than my weight.
Now these are all fantastic steps and ones that are very much part of the journey of moving away from dieting. But what often comes up when we consider taking the bull by the horns, are questions around nutrition and the reality of our food worries.
When I refer to dieting, I'm addressing the most common meaning which centres around food restriction. If you've ever attended group slimming classes, have a substantial collection of low Calorie cook books or like to track your diet on MFP, it is likely you have created and allowed eating rules to help you feel more in control of your eating.
And I get that feels safe. You have boundaries to 'keep you on track'. You may well feel on top of your eating and oblivious to having a diet mentality at all. I mean you're just weight and food conscious and that's good right?
Until you decide to stop the rules and really explore your thoughts and behaviours around food. You can feel scared about the prospect of 'letting go' of those boundaries because what if you just can't stop eating?
Fear of overeating and further weight gain is really common for people who are first learning about non-diet nutrition. IE encourages you to use your bodily sensations of physical hunger, cravings, fullness and satisfaction to drive what you eat (instead of rules).
If you've been restricting (even lightly) for some time, you may have no idea what hunger really feels like. Not the subtle signs anyway. Or have any idea what comfortable fullness feels like, what foods fill you up and satisfy you and feel confident about when you want to stop eating.
Beginning IE can bring a feeling of liberation as your body takes advantage of the new freedom you have given it. You may well discover how much your body has been restricted (which is actually experienced by your body as starvation) and you may feel uneasy with the associated feeling of wanting to eat more.
One of the principles of IE involves giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.
Not being familiar with what's really involved in IE means people can assume intuitive eating is 'just an excuse to eat whatever you want'. That it's 'unhealthy' and 'lazy' which couldn't be further from the truth. It's much more nuanced than that.
Contrary to popular belief, giving yourself permission to eat a food whenever you want, means all foods are on an equal playing field. There is no judgement or hierarchy and you know what, the 'off-limits' foods become less interesting.
If you've restricted what you eat, you may well recognise that telling yourself you can't have something triggers a strong desire to eat what it is you are saying you can't have. You can't stop thinking about that food so it becomes a 'when' will you give in test, rather than a 'will you give in’.
Typically, your indignant self saboteur will rear it's ugly head and before you know it, you've removed all food limits, because you can. I call this the 'restrict, rebel, repent' cycle and it can feel as if you are literally stuck on a swing moving from one end to the other. It can also feel impossible to break.
This is where Intuitive Eating can be so effective. I’ve explained the 10 principles of IE that you can read about here)
We know that traditional (restrictive) diets, that focus on weight loss as an end goal are not sustainable in the long term. They encourage weight cycling (yo-yo'ing) that is associated with many negative health effects.
IE is not a diet and it is not intended to be used as a method for losing weight (although I am seeing this happen on social media).
It is not possible to predict how a person's body will respond to IE. If someone has been restricting for a long time, they may see weight changes and possibly weight gain when they become more attuned to what their needs are.
BUT Intuitive Eaters are less likely to weight cycle which means their body will find their natural weight and be able to stay within a relative range with ease.
IE has also been shown to improve people's relationship with food- they are less anxious around food, have fewer body image concerns and lower levels of disordered eating.
There's also another misconception, that IE isn't for everyone. I disagree here because anyone can benefit from just some of the principles. It can serve as a sub-current, helping you to become more self aware, think more about your eating experiences and your body, regardless of your own food story.
If you have certain chronic health conditions like PCOS, diabetes, coeliac disease or fibromyalgia, IE can provide a really useful framework that can be applied to any medical condition.
Over time, IE gives you a natural desire for a whole range of foods. You will have faith in and trust your body that it knows what to do (it really does if you let it). Without guilt.
People who practice IE (and it IS a practice, not something you can just 'do'), they find a balance between higher energy (fun or play foods) and high nutrient foods. You learn to respect your body's needs and desires as well as your taste buds without it taking up all your head space.
Often the last (and often biggest) challenge is letting go of the possibility of losing weight. IE doesn't bring you all those external 'rewards' that you get with dieting. You are refurbing the inside of your head and other people won't necessarily see that.
IE reconnects you with your body which enhances more than just your physical health. It certainly changed my life and now I’m helping others to change theirs. Oh and it's never too late to learn.
If you're interested in trying IE with support and guidance, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's have a chat