I’m So Scared that Intuitive Eating Is Making Me Fat
Over the past few months I’ve been getting a similar question over and over again in both my private practice and from my readers. “I’m so afraid that Intuitive Eating is making me fat…” They tell me that they really think that they should be on a weight loss diet again because they believe that they have been gaining an unacceptable amount of weight with intuitive eating protocol. Here is the most recent email I received:
I read a comment on another Facebook support page, where intuitive eating is promoted, and some steps have been very helpful, but this particular comment really upset me…Someone wrote that with intuitive eating she gained weight and she has to bring some of her old clothes back from storage and someone else replied that she was going through the same thing due to intuitive eating. Since I am trying so hard to implement intuitive eating and I feel better physically, I got a panic attack thinking that I am going to put on more weight and had the urge to weigh myself, but I didn’t, but my head is still messed up 🙁 I am trying to make sense of it all that it is probably different for different people. If someone had just stopped a very restrictive diet and started intuitive eating, chances are that she will regain some weight! If on the other hand, someone has been eating mindlessly (until the plate is finished, irrespective if full or not), emotional eating, habitual eating and sometimes binge eating (like me!) Then chances in that case are weight loss. I am not turning intuitive eating into yet another diet, I am very aware of that, I am not aspiring to be mega thin, I want my body to find it’s natural weight on it’s own by guiding me, when what and how much to eat. I feel heavy, sometimes very out of breath when climbing stairs and the last thing I want is to get heavier.
Although the email above assumes many different outcomes and looks at different angles of the situation, there is something underneath it, which is what lays underneath this question consistently.
The fear underneath is due to the following beliefs:
1. I don’t trust my body to do what it needs to do. I must control it brutally in order to keep it in line.
2. I don’t want to gain weight.
3. Weight gain is bad.
4. I am afraid of being out of control.
5. A diet is the only way to control me.
6. I can control what other people think of me by being skinny.
7. Controlling what other people think of me is extremely important to my well-being. (Read How to Stop Worrying about What Other People Think About My Body.)
Let’s start by discussing what intuitive eating is and what intuitive eating is not. Intuitive eating is what happens when you are allowed to eat what your body needs and wants to keep it vital, healthy and peaceful without you having to think about it. Intuitive eating is not a diet. However, because of both the diet industry and the food industry, most of us have lost our internal cues for eating what our bodies need. We are told that we need to be skinny and thus we shouldn’t eat carbs or fat or only eat fat or we should eat like a caveman or we should never eat fruit or we should only eat fruit or we should never eat meat or we should only eat meat or we should put butter and coconut oil in our morning coffee because we aren’t eating enough fat. At the same time, we are being advertised to by unethical food companies with never-ending pasta bowls and packaged food with so many chemicals preservatives in them that our bodies have completely lost their abilities to correctly process food and figure out what nutrients they need.
The food and the diet industry are both out for their bottom line. They don’t care about you. They want you to spend your money. And the only way they can get you to spend money is to completely distort your relationship with food and your body. SCREW THEM!!!!
This is actually the way I quit smoking. I got real, real mad at RJ Reynolds, the tobacco company that made my beloved Camel Lights that I smoked regularly from the time I was fourteen until I was thirty! Anyway, I realized one day that this horrific company was getting rich off of people like me who were tragically addicted to cigarettes. And they did what they needed to in order to keep us in their clutches. I just didn’t want to contribute to that and I didn’t want those evil conglomerates having power over me. My anger is what caused me to quit a habit that I’d done for more than half my life.
Now most people in my general eating disorder milieu would argue that there is no such thing as food addiction. Fair enough (we all argue a lot over semantics in this field). However, what is true is that there is a distinct addiction to the process of both dieting, binge eating, feeling guilt over eating, and the way our mind tells us that once we start a diet and get skinny, our lives will be perfect. So once we start to incorporate intuitive eating, we don’t just do away with diets– we do away with a whole way of thinking, behaving, and we get rid of specific ways of behaving cognitively (letting our mind obsess about food, diets, controlling what people think when they see us, believing that being skinny is the answer to all our lives troubles, etc.) Intuitive eating isn’t just giving up dieting and eating whatever you want whenever you want it, it’s rejecting the dominant paradigm about food, our bodies and control.
The problem is, intuitive eating has been co-opted as another weight loss method. And if you are still focused on losing weight, your stress about diets, weight loss and changing your body are going to continue to nag at you. As long as you continue to obsess about your body and weight loss, intuitive eating ceases to be what it is meant to be, intuitive.
Don’t blame yourself. As I said before, your environment has set you up for this. You are controlled by the environment to be obsessed with both food and with weight loss. You are being controlled by a nasty industry that makes money off your desire to lose weight and your survivalist desire to eat food.
If you want to know the truth, in both my private practice and in my five week binge eating program I don’t have people start with intuitive eating. For the reasons I mention above, I think it’s too difficult. I start by having them track their emotional and physical sensations around food. Some people notice that beans give them energy, strawberries makes them anxious, steak makes them happy, bread makes them tired… etc etc… this is just an example. But the truth is, only you and your body know what happens for you emotionally and physically when you eat a certain food. It’s true that there are certain foods that might cause anxiety because they were previously thought of as “bad foods” like grains or bread or dairy or whatever they’re saying is bad right now… so it’s important to distinguish if these emotions are due to the food that you’re eating or due to the conditioning you’ve gotten from the diet industry.
I also ask people to take the emphasis off of losing weight. The more weight focused you are, the more likely that your weight won’t normalize. Instead, focus on doing things that your body enjoys and helps you to feel strong. For example, of course moving your body is a good self-care ritual, but so are things like getting a papsmear, paying your bills, flossing your teeth, washing your sheets, donating old clothes, working through your laundry pile, getting rid of stacked up papers around your house, and generally just lightening your load, the things that make you feel heavy and overwrought.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to people around you. Be kind to the food that you’re eating. Send love and gratitude to food that you consumer. When you thank your cream for being rich and creamy and delicious, your greens for being crunchy and life affirming and keeping you regular, your chocolate for being soothing and sensual, your coffee for being dark, hearty and the best part of your morning, you are more likely to eat it with love and thoughtfulness rather than to eat it quickly and without regard for the food and for your body. Be kind to your body. Thank it for digesting your food, for carrying you, for keeping you alive, for giving you freedom or for whatever your body does for you.
The emphasis on weight and weight gain and doing things like calling intuitive eating the “intuitive eating diet” (I swear that’s a thing) completely undoes any positive effects that intuitive eating has. Intuitive eating is also intuitive body-ing. It’s letting your body do what it does when you are moving it and eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re feeling satiated. When you try to control your body, you come back to the position where you were when all of your food issues began.
I hope that this was helpful for you.
Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating? Send an email to leora at bingeeatingtherapy dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location. Are you interested in individual therapy or online coaching sessions to deal with your binge eating? Please contact me to discuss getting started.