Can intuitive eating work for everyone?
It totally can!!
Intuitive eating is not a magical solution for a select few, it doesn’t require willpower, financial investments, a certain body shape or size, or perfect health.
Let’s look at each of those in turn to understand how intuitive eating can work for every body:
A lack of willpower is often blamed for failing at dieting or weight loss. We generally overestimate how much willpower others have and underestimate our own. Regardless of this: intuitive eating doesn’t require willpower. What it needs is commitment to self-care, curiosity about your emotions, willingness to be brave, openness to a different way of caring for yourself, and readiness to start trusting your body again.
Now, I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one: if you want to explore intuitive eating with professional support, it will need some investment in exchange for having someone you can trust and who knows what they are talking about guide you along your journey. In particular, if you have a long-standing history of dieting and disordered eating, having a certified intuitive eating counsellor or HAES® informed practitioner work with you on unpacking some issues can be invaluable. Some have sliding fees for their services, so it’s worth checking this if you struggle financially (please get in touch with me if this is stopping you from seeking support!).
Having said that, if you are happy to go it alone, there are tons of free resources out there you can learn from (articles, podcasts, free mini courses, etc.) and lots of amazing people who you can follow on social media (check out my list or recommended accounts here). By being part of a wider community of intuitive eaters and Health at Every Size advocates, you will surround yourself with the messages that will help you along the way. You are never going to be sold any supplements, diet plans, meal replacements, etc. You don’t have to buy special food or equipment, have meals delivered that tick the diet boxes, or spend your hard earned cash on detox potions. Intuitive eating can be free, available to anyone regardless of their financial situation.
If you are in a situation where you experience food insecurity, where you may have to decide between paying money for rent or food, it can be more challenging to align your food intake with the intuitive eating principles. You can still work on honouring your hunger with what is available to you, work on self-compassion and stress relief, thinking about food in more neutral ways, not labelling foods ‘off-limits’ and eat more mindfully to explore how food tastes and makes you feel.
A certain body size or shape
Let me make this clear: You DON’T have to lose weight to start eating intuitively!
So many times I hear: “Once I have lost X pounds I will start intuitive eating.” Why is there reluctance to start now?
It can be due to the fear that intuitive eating will lead to weight gain, because when we eat intuitively, we have to let go of food rules and restrictions. That is scary, and diet culture will rear its ugly head by saying that once you allow all foods back into your life and eat whatever you like you will balloon into the size of the moon and then pop. Whilst no one can tell you whether you will gain, stay the same or lose weight with intuitive eating, I can assure you that you won’t turn into the size of the moon! After long periods of restricting and not eating enough, it is certainly possible to gain a little weight, but this is not by all means a given!
It can also come from a deeply held belief that we aren’t worthy of being treated with kindness, either by ourselves or by others. And because so much of intuitive eating is kindness and self-care, it can feel like we don’t deserve it until we have reached a certain weight-goal, until we ‘earned’ kindness. By starting the intuitive eating journey where you are at right now you will learn many self-compassion and self-care strategies that will give you an understanding of what is really important to you and what makes you happy.
Another thing to mention here is that a lot of intuitive eating counsellors and nutritionists working in the intuitive eating field (and this includes me) have straight sized bodies and thin privilege, which can make people who are interested in intuitive eating use them as a guideline to where they need to start or where they want to get to. Please don’t! I feel uncomfortable with the fact that we are such a non-diverse population (there are lots of folk out there who smash the stereotype though, so I highly recommend you check them out and follow them on social media – see my resources list for some brilliant accounts to follow!) but despite this undeniable fact, you can start intuitive eating at any weight and shape. You will learn to accept and respect your body and you will shift your focus on what feels good and tastes great for you instead of staying stuck on your ‘ideal’ weight.
I wrote a blog earlier in the year on health and whether we are morally obliged to be healthy (have look here), so I won’t go into too much detail here about what health is and how it is seen from a moral viewpoint.
I just want to say that you don’t have to be in ‘perfect health’ (whatever that may be) to eat intuitively. In fact, intuitive eating is positively associated with better health outcomes (for heart health, diabetes, mental health, and more!). Given that it may actually improve your overall health, there is no reason to wait until you are ‘healthier’ to start your intuitive eating journey.
That aside, I have several clients with pre-existing health conditions such as insulin resistance, coeliac disease, and IBS, and whilst for some conditions (such as coeliac disease) we have to take into account that some foods can be harmful, for most people ALL foods can be part of their diet and really improve their wellbeing. It’s about exploring what you ACTUALLY enjoy, what makes you feel satisfied and what makes you feel good, without taking into account the diet culture messages of what SHOULD make you feel well, joyful and satisfied.
If this has made you think that you want to learn more about how intuitive eating can work for you, please just get in touch or book a free zoom discovery call to have a chat!