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Are You On the “Intuitive Eating Diet”?


Have you tried applying principles of intuitive eating, only to find your unwanted eating and body issues getting worse? You may have thought, “This just doesn’t work for me,” or, “I knew it was too good to be true!” Before going back to the misery of dieting and diet mentality, allow me to suggest that you may have accidentally found yourself on the “intuitive eating diet.

In my 15+ years of learning about, applying and coaching others on making peace with food and intuitive eating, I’ve witnessed many amazing successes. I’ve seen women who went on diet after diet, always in the gym trying to burn off calories, having no life and believing she didn’t deserve one – until she lost the weight.

And I’ve seen these women absolutely transform when they give up the dieting and endless exercise, make peace with food and their bodies and get on with living their lives right now. When they discover how obsessing over food and weight all day, every day has been holding them back from living, there’s no stopping them! Their thoughts, beliefs, behavior and focus all turn around, allowing them to get on with the lives they are meant to have.

Intuitive Eating Does ‘Work’!

What continues to break my heart and pushes me to keep getting the word out, are those people who begin to work on intuitive eating, but give up in frustration, insisting it doesn’t “work”.

I see blog posts and articles (and posts in intuitive eating forums), from those who haven’t seen “results” declare that intuitive eating caused them to eat more “junk food” or gain weight. Without understanding what the actual problem is, they warn anyone listening that intuitive eating simply doesn’t work.

I know it’s difficult to gain weight or to find yourself compulsively eating foods you were trying to make peace with. But what I know from my years of practicing and coaching intuitive eating is that it’s not a problem with the process of becoming an intuitive eater. It’s actually a misinterpretation of what intuitive eating actually is.

Instead of embracing intuitive eating, these people are on what I call the “intuitive eating diet.”

It’s Actually a ‘Practice’

Sure, I know intuitive eating is not a diet. I go to great lengths to help my clients understand it’s not even a program. It’s not a plan, a system, a project or a method. It’s not something that has a beginning or an end. It is a journey, a continuous experience that brings challenges and triumphs along the way. You have setbacks, but they turn out to be learning experiences that help you move further along your journey.

My favorite way to describe intuitive eating is by using the word “practice.” In a practice, you have days that bring obstacles and other days that flow quite easily. The biggest difference between a practice and a “program” or a “system” is in a practice, you expect to have setbacks and you welcome them as much as the triumphs because the learning from setbacks is powerful and motivating.

Would you beat yourself up in your yoga “practice” if, after learning about headstands, you couldn’t do one perfectly? Hopefully not. Even if you did, I bet it didn’t send you into days of guilt, shame and negative self-talk.

How Do You Define ‘Success’?

You may be wondering how, exactly, intuitive eating, the most popular term used for the process of rejecting diets and learning to make peace with food and your body, becomes an actual “diet”. There are several ways, all stemming from the disordered thinking that comes from the diet culture we all live in.

First is how ‘success’ is defined related to the practice of intuitive eating. What outcomes are you looking for? Right from the beginning, it must be clear that while weight loss may or may not happen, it is not an outcome we have control over. If weight loss is your one and only objective, intuitive eating isn’t your approach.

I’m NOT saying that another approach will help you achieve weight loss. There are no diets, programs, approaches, systems, etc., that have been proven effective beyond two years. In other words, no matter the diet (meaning “intentionally trying to reduce your body’s weight”), for 97% of all dieters, the weight loss is not maintained any longer than two years.

I typically work with people who are sick and tired of all things diet. They’re disillusioned with the weight loss-weight gain cycle and diet-binge cycle that disrupts all aspects of their lives – relationships, career, social, happiness, purpose or satisfaction to mention a few.

With intuitive eating, instead of trying to control your body (which doesn’t work), you make peace with food and body. This is what changes your life for the better… whether or not you lose weight. And changing your life is the real “success.” You may think you want weight loss, but think about it… you really want a better life.

Seeing in Black & White

Black and white-thinking (a big factor in diet mentality), turns the best attempts at overcoming overeating and embracing intuitive eating on their head. Also known as all-or-nothing-thinking, it allows for only two choices, black or white. All or nothing. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Restrictive, rigid rules-based dieting or all-out, eat until you need to sleep it off overeating or binging.

Intuitive eating suggests eating when physically hungry and stopping when satisfied or comfortably full. This doesn’t mean you MUST do this 100% of the time. However, this is what black-and-white-thinkers hear: “Eat ONLY when you’re hungry, and stop ALWAYS when you are satisfied/full.”

It instantly becomes a diet because of the strict rules about starting and stopping eating. There’s no room for the “gray areas” between the black and white. In that gray area, you have choices and can decide to step outside the boundaries of hunger and satisfaction.

This is closely related to perfectionism – the toxic best friend of dieters. Dieters strive for perfection – with food, appearance, body weight, clothing size and most other areas of their lives. Their role models in the air-brushed magazine images look perfect. Diet commercials say (indirectly but not so subtly) that your life will be perfect when you lose the weight.

Many of us grew up in households that placed a high value on achievement and perfectionism. Trying to be perfect is an unrealistic way of life and downright deadly when it manifests into a full-blown eating disorder, as it does in many young girls (and men and women of all ages in recent years).

Failure vs. Learning Opportunity

Another way intuitive eating is turned into a diet is in how one looks at setbacks or mistakes. No matter the situation, mistakes are often labeled as “failure.” Intuitive eating is a process in which you are relearning how to eat based on your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. It took years to unlearn these connections with our body that we were born with. So why do we expect to learn them overnight?

Think about it – humans learn best through so-called “mistakes.” When you see a mistake as a failure, all the negative self-talk is going to discourage you from trying again. If you take it as a learning opportunity, you can be compassionate with yourself and discover what you’ve learned that you can apply next time.

Often I will reframe trying out a new behavior as an “experiment.” Consider yourself a scientist and go into the experiment with curiosity. Be open to whatever will happen, knowing you’ll learn something from it and get closer to your goal with each experiment, no matter the outcome. This will save you time because you won’t be beating yourself up all the time and you may reach your intended goal or desire that much faster!

Keep in mind that any perceived “failure” related to intuitive eating is simply old diet mentality thinking. We learned to blame ourselves for the smallest diet infraction because the diet industry told us it was our fault. This is the biggest lie of all… they know the failure lies in their product. They count on it so you keep coming back!

Increased overeating or binging and even weight gain can happen in the process of making peace with food and your body. It doesn’t happen for everyone and this phase doesn’t last forever. This often happens during an early phase when you are giving yourself full permission to eat food you’ve restricted. It’s a natural response to the restriction imposed on your body.

I’ve seen too many people that stop at this point and declare intuitive eating doesn’t work. I get it, they are afraid. There’s a lot of trust needed in this process, especially trust that your body knows what it is doing. But remember, your body is smart and it knows what it needs. With time your body will settle into its natural weight and you’ll return to the intuitive eating you had at birth.

Break Free of the ‘Intuitive Eating Diet’

Let’s take a look at what you can do to prevent self-sabotage or letting diet mentality take over and keep you from making peace with food and your body.

First, redefine what success looks like for you. What do you want in your life that problematic eating or body image issues are keeping you from having? How is diet mentality, fear of weight gain and food obsession keeping you from feeling on a daily basis? How do you want to feel – about yourself, your life, your future?

Remember that intuitive eating is a practice – not a program or something you do and then stop. It gets better each day the more you commit to it and yourself. Learn about and use self-compassion as often as you would use compassion with a child or a good friend.

Keep the intuitive eating diet far away by seeing the world in shades of gray, rather than black and white. Food isn’t divided into good or bad, and you aren’t good or bad because you ate something. Yes, there are some foods that provide more nutrition than others. But the stress of trying to eat “clean” can make you sicker than any one thing you happen to eat.

Finally, remember that personal growth comes from learning. Learning often comes from making mistakes or having setbacks. Try having gratitude for them because setbacks almost always have a silver lining. You can learn and grow when you embrace challenges or so-called “failures.”

All this learning has another benefit. Often big challenges that we overcome allow us to take all that learning and reach out to help others. Every day more people are breaking free from dieting and diet mentality. Some have been inspired to help others do the same, remembering how impossible it seemed on the other side.

Having recovered, we have that absolute confidence and certainty that you can recover as well. Everything you want in life is on the other side of your comfort zone! I encourage you to reach out to someone that has faced your challenges and made it to the other side. They’ll make it easier and remind you that what you’re going through is normal and temporary!

I would love to talk with you if you’d like to explore working together to help you recover. Just go to www.TalkWithGillian.com and complete the form. I’ll get back to you right away!