Are you considering starting your intuitive eating journey? Are you wondering if intuitive eating is really worth all the hype?
I will start by saying that intuitive eating truly is a life changing journey as I have seen how numerous individuals' lives have been positively transformed by intuitive eating.
As a Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and dieter turned intuitive eater, I am here to show you what life may look like before intuitive eating, as a dieter, and after intuitive eating.
What is Intuitive Eating?
First of all, let’s just make sure you know what intuitive eating is!
Intuitive eating, a concept originally created by fellow Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch, can be defined in a number of ways.
In short, intuitive eating is an anti-diet, non-weight focused, evidence based, self-care approach to eating.
Being an intuitive eater means you eat in ways that honors your overall health and makes you feel good. You use a mindful eating approach in order to listen to your body to tell you when, what and how much to eat, while also using logic.
It involves eating foods that aren’t only physically satisfying but give your taste buds what they want. No foods are off limits and you are at a place of peace with food and your body.
Intuitive eating consists of 10 general principles which you can learn about in more detail here: “10 Intuitive Eating Principles + What is Intuitive Eating?”
Intuitive Eating Before and After
Embarking on a new health journey such as intuitive eating, can be scary. It’s especially scary if you have spent much of your life dieting. So I am happy to see that you have come to a credible source to do your research in order to determine if this is the right move for you.
Let’s take a look at how different aspects of your life may change when you go from dieting to intuitive eating.
Dieting: Impact on Physical Health
Though many individuals engage in diet behaviours in order to improve health and lose weight, dieting has actually proven to result in the opposite. The following is a partial list of the impacts that diets have shown to have on physical health:
Dry skin, fatigue, menstrual irregularities, hair loss and more
The yo-yo dieting that leads to weight cycling has also shown to be more harmful to your health than if you were to just maintain your body weight (regardless of the weight).
Weight cycling has shown to be an independent risk factor for inflammation, heart disease, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which can further lead to type 2 diabetes.
Further to this, weight cycling has also been directly connected to increased risk of mortality, fractures, gallstone attacks, loss of muscle and some forms of cancer.
You may have already personally experienced some of these negative physical impacts from dieting. Some of which may or may not be reversible. Your best bet at reversing or preventing these negative impacts may just be intuitive eating.
Intuitive Eating: Impact on Physical Health
Unlike dieting, intuitive eating has numerous benefits to your physical health, some of which include:
Decreased blood pressure
Better blood sugar control
Decreased binge eating
Lower BMI (body mass index)
Intuitive eating also results in individuals eating a greater variety of foods and nutrients! All of which are needed to support good health and longevity.
Dieting: Effects on Psychological Health
There are many disadvantages to dieting that go further than just the physical impacts.
Dieters are more likely to suffer from depression, disordered eating, low-self esteem and overall psychological distress.
Dieting is also a major risk factor in the development of eating disorders. This may include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
You may have personally recognized how diets have affected your mental well-being. There’s a good chance diets have led you to have feelings of failure, hopelessness and guilt and shame.
If you’re someone who experiences guilt after eating I highly recommend you check out this article on “5 Steps to Stop Food Guilt.”
Intuitive Eating: Effects on Psychological Health
Intuitive eating on the other hand, has shown to have profound positive effects on one’s psychological health, including but not limited to:
Decrease in stress
Improved mood, lower depressive symptoms
Greater self-esteem and body satisfaction
Better overall quality of life
Dieting: Relationship with food
As a dieter, your relationship with food is typically pretty poor, it may look like…
Restricting/avoiding certain foods or types of foods
Viewing foods as “bad” and “good” and feeling bad (i.e. guilty) when you eat “bad” foods
Feeling out of control and not being able to trust yourself around certain foods
Binge eating foods that were previously restricted or off-limits
Limiting social interactions in which food is present
Emotional eating (i.e. eating to soothe emotions such as boredom, sadness, stress, anxiety etc.)
Being out of touch with body cues (i.e. hunger & fullness)
Intuitive Eating: Relationship with food
As you become an intuitive eater and mend your relationship with food it typically looks like:
No foods are off limits
Having complete control around all your favorite foods and eating in amounts that feel best to your body
Drastic decrease in overeating episodes
Ability to understand and respond appropriately to body cues such as hunger and fullness
Having a variety of coping mechanisms other than just food
No more avoidance of social outings due to fear of messing up your diet
Complete food freedom
Dieting: Body Image
The reason a person starts a diet is because they are unhappy with their body and they want to change it. The majority of individuals will never achieve or maintain their desired body, and those that do still are left unhappy.
The reason for this is body image, not the actual body. Dieting gives false hope that a better body is waiting on the other side. The reality is as long as you continue to diet, you will never truly be able to heal your relationship with your body and improve your body image.
Regardless of the changes in your body itself, you will likely spend your whole life dissatisfied with your body.
Intuitive Eating: Body image
Part of the process of intuitive eating includes developing respect for your here and now body. Instead of constantly chasing a new and improved body, you learn how to accept the body you live in.
You’re able to appreciate your body for what it’s capable of doing for you, rather than how it looks in a bikini. You no longer feel the need to waste your life away trying to look a certain way and instead you focus your time and energy doing the things you truly enjoy.
Dieting: Consistency with Exercise
Usually when dieters exercise, the purpose is to burn calories or lose weight. Exercise feels like a form of self-punishment rather than a form of self-care.
If exercise isn’t enjoyed or doesn’t feel good, it’s unlikely that you will be able to stay consistent with it. This is one of the main reasons exercise plans fail. The other reason is often due to the lack of energy as a result of the diet you’re on.
It is extremely difficult to maintain a fitness routine if the exercise you are engaging in is not enjoyable or if you don’t have adequate energy to perform the exercise.
Intuitive Eating: Consistency with Exercise
When you eat intuitively, you’re also more likely to move intuitively, it’s actually part of the process of intuitive eating.
Intuitive movement is moving in ways that not only feel good but are also enjoyed. You don’t feel the need to stick to a strict exercise routine and rather you feel more at ease going with the flow and engaging in movement that is convenient, fun, and gives you the boost of energy you need.
Your purpose is to enjoy yourself and feel good, therefore movement does not feel forced and it’s something you gladly chose to do consistently.
How will intuitive eating affect my weight?
The main question/concern I see when it comes to intuitive eating always involves weight. “Can you lose weight with intuitive eating?” or “Does intuitive eating cause weight gain?”
I am going to give you an honest response, even though I know this is not what you want to hear. The short answer is both yes and we don’t know. Yes you can gain weight, yes you can lose weight, and you can also see no change.
Based on each unique individual we can definitely make a more accurate prediction on what will happen to your weight by considering a variety of factors. But these predictions aren’t always correct.
What I can tell you is that once you have been able to FULLY embrace intuitive eating, your weight will settle at it’s healthy weight, whatever that is for you. For some people this means gaining, others it’s losing, and for some it’s maintenance.
In the beginning phases of intuitive eating you may see some fluctuations in your weight, either up or down before your weight is ready to trend toward its healthy weight and stabilize.
Having your weight stabilize and being able to maintain a weight (other than normal daily fluctuations) is a lot better for your health (regardless what your weight is) than being on a cycle of weight gain, weight loss that you often see with dieting.
Though overall, my suggestion is don’t focus on the weight. Weight is just a number and cannot be used to determine your success with intuitive eating. Remember intuitive eating is a NON-weight focused approach to eating as weight does NOT determine health.
Does Intuitive Eating Work?
When implemented correctly, intuitive eating isn’t something you can fail. Intuitive eating is not linear like a diet. When you fall back on a diet it’s considered a failure, whereas with intuitive eating, set-backs are a normal and expected part of the process.
I will also note that to an extent, we are born intuitive eaters. Though by growing up in this diet culture filled world, many individuals lose this ability. So essentially, we just have to re-learn what we once had.
How long does it take for Intuitive eating to work?
Intuitive eating is a process, there are 5 stages of intuitive eating, and 10 intuitive eating principles.
The length of time it takes to fully embrace intuitive eating is unknown as it is different for everyone. For some it can be months, others it can be years.
What I will say is that there are many different milestones to celebrate that occur throughout the whole process. Therefore life becomes a lot more enjoyable and freeing as soon as you start your intuitive eating journey.
How to Start Intuitive Eating
Working through the process of intuitive eating has proven to be quite difficult when you have no support or guidance. Therefore, my first recommendation is to get help!
Work with a health professional that specializes in intuitive eating, like myself. You can learn more about me and my virtual nutrition coaching services by clicking the services tab on my website Dietitian Krista. If you’re looking specifically for someone in your area, check out the Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor Directory.
If you aren't ready to make a big commitment and just want to learn more about intuitive eating on your own, I highly recommend checking out my FREE mini-training on getting started with intuitive eating.
Intuitive Eating Before and After: Final Words
As a Registered Dietitian, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and dieter turned intuitive eater I can honestly say that intuitive eating is a life changing journey.
There is no doubt that intuitive eating results in better physical and psychological health, as well as an improved relationship with food, exercise and your body.
Intuitive eating is a process that takes time, though with the right implementation, support and guidance you are able to achieve milestone after milestone.