So you’ve read all the blog posts on Intuitive Eating / How to eat intuitively etc. and you’ve started trying it out. But you don’t feel satisfied, or at peace with food. In fact maybe you’re even more preoccupied with food than ever!?
So have you failed at Intuitive Eating?
The short answer is no. So you can breathe a little sigh of relief. Mainly because Intuitive Eating has been made in a way that you cannot fail at it.
If you’re starting to eat intuitively for the purpose of weight loss and so have that goal in mind you may indeed fail - but that’s because you’re approaching intuitive eating with that dieting mindset and so aren’t eating intuitively and committing to the process. In the long run you’ll still be better off than if you start another 8 week diet cycle, but you won’t reap all of the benefits of Intuitive Eating.
Are you thinking in the binary?
Good, Bad, Healthy, Unhealthy, Success, Failure - these are all very strict categories. And are examples of binary / linear thinking, Intuitive Eating is all about embracing the many shades of grey. And changing our very mindset. It sounds like an exaggeration but it is a shift - and so can take time to change the way you think. And can bleed into many other areas of your life. If the destination is a positive relationship with food the journey isn’t one path A to B, it’s navigating a lot of different factors, experiences etc.
Now think about how that could help at work, in your life etc. as you move from ‘I’m a success, I’m a failure’ to that method didn’t work. Or let me try this alternative. It can be quite a self-reflective exercise to catch our own thinking but one that pays off. I myself can be quite an anxious person and by spotting anxious thoughts as they start to arrive it can stop any spiralling. The same applies to the dieting mentality.
So maybe you haven’t failed but rather found a route that wasn’t for you.
Intuitive Eating is about learning - about yourself, your patterns and what you want
I can sit here and say the aim of intuitive eating for me is to have a better relationship with food and movement - but I can’t apply that to you. Or at the very least if I tried to it wouldn’t yield the best results - that only happens when you’re working for what you want. And it may be that you realise what you wanted when you started this journey isn’t what you want anymore, and that’s okay.
Because Intuitive Eating is about you learning about and listening to you. Starting that self-discovery process, and self-enquiry. And maybe you notice patterns in yourself. This is where you might have to call yourself out a little. We can all enable ourselves to remain as we are, and ignore the agency we have over our behaviour. Maybe you notice every time you start to move away from diet culture you watch “what I eat in a day” videos on Youtube. It will vary person to person, but if you’re standing in your own way it’s time to call yourself out - compassionately. Change is scary but only you can follow through with it.
Setbacks = growth
One of the main reasons you can’t ‘fail’ at Intuitive Eating is that it is designed so that setbacks offer the chance to learn and progress. Evelyn Tribole (one of the founders of IE) recounted how she worked with a guy for a long time and he was progressing well through the framework - and I mean who is better to learn from! And then one day he started a new diet, it inevitably failed and went back to Evelyn and said to her that he needed to get it out of his system as the last diet. And it proved to him that diets don’t work, that he wasn’t satisfied etc.
He said he felt more educated on what he needs, and it clearly solidified that IE was the way forward. So sometimes a perceived setback is the cue for growth, for learning and upon reflection much later may be what led to your growth!
Some reasons you may feel you’re failing at Intuitive Eating:
1. You’re comparing yourself to someone further along the journey. Whether it’s someone on social media, online or someone you know. But you want to be where they’re at, at peace with food and moving joyfully. Everyone’s timeline is different - as is their circumstance. And always a nice moment to remember what we share tends to be our highlight reels.
2. You’re not allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat - I have a previous episode on this so do check that out but pseudo permission is very common. You’re only allowing yourself to eat all foods with some conditions such as working it off, eating less later etc. This means you’re still mentally restricting and in that diet cycle.
3. You’re only taking into account a couple of the 10 principles - it’s a complete framework. And I often like to call it a spider's web because there’s such interplay between all the principles. Using just one or two makes IE into a hunger and fullness diet, or joyful movement practice while restricting. It works best as a whole, with each principle laying that foundation for the others.
4. You’re not giving it time - a bit like the journey comparison. Everyone’s body is on a slightly different timeline, and especially if you’ve been restricting and dieting for years do you think a week of IE will convince your body that it’s no longer starving itself? Give yourself some grace - I follow a Youtuber who went all in, which is slightly similar to IE and she commented it took her a year to fully tune in to her hunger cues and fullness after the rebound period post dieting. That may sound like a long time but in the course of your life, do you want to be on a diet forever? Preoccupied with food for years, continuing that diet cycle with your possible children or grandchildren?
5. You’ve not looked into Intuitive Eating as a framework. If I asked you what intuitive eating is, what would you say - it’s common for people to think it’s a hunger and fullness diet. Or that it’s eating whatever you want when you want even if it makes you not feel so great. It’s a current buzzword in the nutrition and health space (not that you’d know that from my Instagram reach ey) and so has been somewhat hijacked by some diet pages to sell ‘not a diet diets’. Make sure you look into the framework as described by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch - their book is the best starting point or find a nutritionist that fully understands the framework.
As Evelyn Tribole once said: “Intuitive eating isn’t a Nike commercial. You don’t just do it”
Is it working? Take some time to reflect on the following:
Are you starting to tune in a little more with your bodyA
Are you starting to feel less guilty about your food choices - or no guilt at all
Have you started to eat previously forbidden foods
Are you starting to find meals more satisfying
Are you starting to approach movement from a place of enjoyment rather than punishment
Are you experiencing less anxiety and stress around eating
Are you starting to notice diet culture, or even actively reject it
Are you starting to set boundaries with friends and family around your eating
If there’s a yes to the above - even if it’s just one - check back in as you continue on this journey. It might be that you're still stuck on weight. And so a lack of change in weight means you’ve deemed this process a failure despite some clear changes. If this is the case it’s a mindset issue - you want instant results, what has caused that? Diet culture. I know it all leads back to diet culture but it’s true. In school exams are a whole year of work, in our work lives often projects are long term building to a product / event etc. so what’s the only thing that has a 4 week turnaround? Diets.
You’ve got to ditch that dieting mindset. This is why I personally really work on this principle first before engaging with the other ten as it really does affect things.
Some tips to help you
Keep a record - as I said above sometimes it’s a case of seeing yourself everyday makes you oblivious to any changes. Record small wins, any changes you’ve noticed or just a glimpse into how you’re feeling on a particular day / week and look back. When there’s evidence our brain can’t convince us otherwise. And if things aren’t going to plan you’ve got a whole list of how you’ve felt / behaviour etc. to work through.
Make it social - get friends / family involved or tap into a network you know is out there. Overhauling your relationship to food can be a lot, and feel alone. Disordered eating thrives on feelings of being alone and ashamed - by discussing things openly you can start working through them and know you’re supported. And that people don’t value you any less because you are working on your relationship with food.
Find what’s holding you back - as discussed before with making a record / calling yourself out. If you feel like you’re not making progress, why? It’s easy to feel stuck but the old saying nothing changes if nothing changes is true. What is within your control, what can you change, what do you need to be able to enact change.
Ask a professional - if you’re really stuck then maybe it’s something you need professional help with. And know that most people do need support - nutritionists wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a need. You’re not alone, and not a failure for needing support.
Cut yourself some slack. Self explanatory but a point I will continue to press. It’s a lot to take on, beating yourself up for “failing” won’t help. It’s a quick route to crash dieting.
Ultimately Intuitive Eating isn’t easy - it just sounds like it.
I sometimes hate quote on quote selling intuitive eating - as you have to in order to get clients - because it sounds easy. It sounds simple to listen to your body, eat until fullness, honour your hunger etc. but it’s really hard.
And that’s why it is sometimes dismissed as a lie, or not working. Because people disregard the science - which by the way does still say it’s difficult and participants find it difficult - and focus on the eat as much pizza as you want hypothetical. Because that’s easy. Easy in theory, and easy to attack.
But it’s a complex framework. That requires work. And reflection. And more work. And perseverance. And will have some aha moments, some moments that make it all worth it. And one day hopefully you’ll look back and go ah remember that day I thought I failed at intuitive eating, that was the day I really started.
A note on some people that Intuitive Eating might not be appropriate for right now - but maybe later. This includes those experiencing food insecurity, eating disorders, those who experience medical conditions that means they cannot connect to internal cues. This may mean you sometimes have to incorporate just some of the intuitive eating principles and wait to fully use the other.