Will intuitive eating make me gain weight ?
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
One of the principles of intuitive eating is giving yourself unconditional permission to eat. So does this mean you'll end up eating pizza or ice cream forever and gaining weight ?
Well, it's definitely not that black and white but please believe me when I tell you that you won't be eating pizza forever !
Have you ever noticed that when you're on a diet, when there are certain foods you're restricting, that you crave these foods ? The more you restrict them, the more you want them ? Then once you've eaten these foods (possibly even binged on them), you feel guilty. Intuitive eating can actually break this all or nothing mentality cycle and give you the freedom to make peace with food.
Sounds great doesn't it, but how is this possible ?
Habituation theory is where repeated exposure to a stimulus leads to a reduction in response. So for food, the more you eat a certain (usually 'forbidden') food, the desire to eat it diminishes (Myers Ernst & Epstein, 2002). Imagine if I told you that you could only eat ice cream for every meal. You might, if you like ice cream, be excited by this and eat lots of it. But a few days in of only eating ice cream and you're going to be getting sick of it and your body will naturally start craving something different and more nutritious to meet its needs. If you're struggling to believe this, think of when you get some new clothes, or listen to a new song that you absolutely love. You'll probably wear the new outfit lots, or listen to the song over and over again, but after a while you get bored and want to wear and listen to something different.
Taking foods off their pedestal
Another way in which we don't end up eating pizza forever is by taking 'forbidden' foods off their pedestal. By not labelling foods as 'good', 'bad', or 'forbidden', they lose their emotional pull. All foods become neutral; on a level playing field. This helps us be able to eat different foods without feeling as though we might spiral into a binge, or feel guilty afterwards.
Eat according to what your body wants and needs
Research shows that those who allow themselves to eat unconditionally are less likely to overindulge in food, engage in binge eating, and experience guilt when eating" (Polivy & Herman, 1999). Plus they are more likely to eat when hungry and stop when full. This attunement to our bodies cues is one of the main premises of intuitive eating and means that, in time, we won't over eat.
It takes time.....
Learning the processes of intuitive eating and being able to give yourself unconditional permission to eat takes time. Progress is usually not linear and certainly as you begin the process, you may find yourself eating more than usual and it may feel very challenging. However, this is temporary. If you think of a pendulum swinging between diet (scarcity) land and ice cream land - eventually, the pendulum will stop in the middle.
So, what about my weight ?
Studies have shown that for most people, diets don't work in the long term and that we regain all, if not more of the weight we initially lose (Jeffery et al., 2000). So dieting is likely to result in weight gain. Intuitive eating is not a weight loss technique. It's about improving your overall health, both physically and mentally. You may gain weight, you may lose weight, you may not change. Whatever happens weight-wise, I'm pretty certain that you'll feel much better in yourself and with your relationship with food.
I am trained to help clients apply intuitive eating principles. So, if you're interested in learning more and want to know how I can help you - get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffery, R. W., Drewnowski, A., Epstein, L. H., Stunkard, A. J., Wilson, G. T., Wing, R. R., & Hill, D. R. (2000). Long-term maintenance of weight loss: current status. Health Psychology : Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 19(1S), 5–16. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10709944
Myers Ernst, M., & Epstein, L. H. (2002). Habituation of responding for food in humans. Appetite, 38(3), 224–234. https://doi.org/10.1006/appe.2001.0484
Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (1999). Distress and eating: why do dieters overeat? The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 26(2), 153–164. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10422604