In the intuitive eating community, we often come across the message that wanting to change our bodies is “bad,” or that we aren’t “doing it right” if we aren’t okay with out bodies changing. But the truth is, most of us aren’t quite at the place where we are 100% totally okay with gaining weight….and that’s okay! Honestly, it’s really hard to just suddenly jump into intuitive eating if we’re afraid of weight gain, and the entire community is telling us that we absolutely must be okay with the number on the scale going up. But most of us aren’t actually okay with that.
From my perspective, eating intuitively is a tool for honoring our bodies so that we are able to maintain a healthy weight. Bodies most certainly come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes; but the idea of a weight set point tells us that there’s a certain shape/size our bodies genetically want to be, and because of this they will generally stay in that range so long as we are taking care of them. Intuitive eating teaches us to eat in a way that allows our bodies to stay roughly the same size (in any given season of life) provided that we’re in a healthy, balanced place.
Sure, at the end of the day, if you are under your body’s weight set point and taking extreme diet and exercise measures to stay there, intuitive eating will probably set you up to gain weight…which you probably need to do anyway. But many people who ditch dieting and learn to eat intuitively actually lose weight, or even stay roughly the same. For me and my practice, the goal of intuitive eating is health, self-care, and the sense of mental freedom that comes from giving up on trying to micromanage food, fitness, and the number on the scale. Body weight isn’t the point, but it’s a very real consideration and a very sensitive and painful topic for many women stuck in the diet cycle.
One of the most important factors that I’ve seen in my life as well as in the lives of clients/patients I’ve worked with is satisfaction. Gaining weight often results from binge eating, and binge eating almost always has roots in restriction. Typically restricting calories also means restricting the types and variety of foods we allow ourselves to eat, with a greater emphasis placed on low calorie foods like vegetables. These foods typically are not prepared in flavorful and satisfying ways because doing so adds calories, which doesn’t mesh well with a restrictive mindset. But what almost always happens eventually is that we end up overeating these low calorie foods to the point that we’ve actually consumed more than if we had just eaten a piece of pizza or a bowl of cereal. Other times, the sense of deprivation leads us to binge eat pizza, cereal, or whatever else whereas simply allowing ourselves to enjoy a slice or two would have been far fewer calories than eating the entire pan.
The diet industry also feeds us the lie that foods like pizza and cereal don’t keep us full because they’re lower in fiber/protein/etc than lean chicken breast of raw baby carrots, for example. But I’ve found the opposite to be true — not only do low calorie foods not actually keep me full for that long, but eating a sweet treat or some chips for a snack doesn’t make me suddenly hungry again an hour later. When I first started realizing this, I was shocked, as I had deeply believed that part of the reason processed snacks were “bad” and led to weight gain were because they aren’t filling. Each of those were completely off the mark — snacks aren’t bad, they didn’t make me gain weight, and they kept my hunger from getting out of control just as well as (if not better than) the “healthy” foods I’d restricted myself to.
Today, when my relationship with food is much, much healthier, I notice a stark difference in the amount of food I feel compelled to eat when I’m in a pattern of choosing lighter foods versus when I’m in a pattern of eating things like pizza and burgers regularly. When I’m including highly flavorful and satisfying foods in my life, I don’t need to eat as much of them to feel satisfied. When I’m eating mostly “health” foods, even higher calorie ones, I tend to need to eat more of them to feel satisfied. As a specific example, there have been times that I feel a little uneasy about a mid-afternoon craving when I don’t usually eat a snack. Sometimes I choose a food that feels “healthier” or “safer” like Skinny Pop, and I end up eating half the bag. Other times, I just choose the cookies, and I’m satisfied after one or two. It’s a paradox that still shocks me, even today, even after the years of work I’ve done in healing my own relationship with food and in helping others do the same. I’m really grateful that I’m at a point where eating half a bag of popcorn doesn’t derail me, because I’m comfortable with eating a variety of foods in a variety of amounts. But I’m still amazed daily by how very, very wrong our diet-obsessed culture truly is.
Eating for satisfaction has helped me avoid overeating, avoid gaining weight, and avoid the sense of frustration and deprivation that comes from restricting myself.