Weight Loss and Intuitive Eating: Why They Don't Work Together
Weight loss and intuitive eating, do they belong in the same sentence? As intuitive eating becomes more and more popular in the health and wellness scene I have noticed that some are confusing intuitive eating as another diet. They place restrictions and rules where none should exist and some even seek it out to lose weight.As a Holistic Nutritionist, I used to feel that I should be promoting weight loss because weight = health, or so I thought. It turns out, there is so much more than that and weight loss truly is not the answer we've all been searching for. The weight loss industry takes up a massive chunk in the health and wellness space and even when the term weight loss isn't quite as prominent, it is often times the underlying message. The term "Get Healthy" is often times followed by a thin white woman holding a pair of jeans away from her toned stomach to show how she lost all that weight. And so somehow along the way getting healthy has become synonymous with weight loss. How did we get here?
Weight Loss And Intuitive Eating:
Lets first talk a little bit about intuitive eating. I have spoken about it previously, you can read that here. Or you can read more about the principles of intuitive eating over here. But the overall goal of intuitive eating is to learn how to listen to the cues your body is sending you in regards to hunger and fullness. Now, one can take that idea and run with it by thinking, "I must only ever eat when I'm hungry" and if they don't they have somehow failed, or IE has failed them. With this line of thinking, it can be easy to view it from the dieting paradigm we are so accustomed to seeing.
But, IE is not another diet to try. In fact the very first tenant of IE is learning to reject the diet mentality.So if we lump weight loss and intuitive eating together, we are kind of missing the whole point. We are turning IE into a diet and doing it a huge disservice if we do that. If intuitive eating is rejecting diet culture, it doesn't really make sense to also pursue weight loss. Weight loss is often times mistaken as something we need to do to "feel healthy" but is this really true?
The Pursuit of Weight Loss:
The endless pursuit of weight loss is all around us and it affects us in more ways than we think. It affects us emotionally, physically and mentally. And in fact, it may be doing much more harm than good.
How Does The Pursuit of Weight Loss Affect Us Emotionally:
That pursuit of weight loss, whether it is those "pesky last 10 pounds" or more than that affects us emotionally. When we pursue weight loss, we are subsequently attempting to follow some kind of plan, lower our caloric intake and increase our exercise routine. It's what we are always told is THE ANSWER: eat less and exercise more. The weight should just come off although we all know this isn't the case. It isn't actually this simple, especially for women who have a lot more going on in terms of our hormones, caloric needs and overall body composition. So when we do these things, eat less and exercise more and we do or don't lose weight, what happens to us from an emotional standpoint? That restriction in calories and food results in a diet mentality to be engaged. Which then results in cravings for more food, binges and the subsequent emotional shitstorm that follows. Because after this happens, we feel incredibly guilty, shameful and embarrassed. We failed... again! How could this happen, especially when we were so "good" all week long. These feelings affect our self worth and self esteem (or what is left of it anyways). That affects us on an emotional level more than we might think. Because after all those feelings of worthlessness sink in, we turn to food to cope with our emotions and emotional eating is often a side effect of dieting.
How Does The Pursuit of Weight Loss Affect us Physically:
The pursuit of weight loss also affects us physically. The cells inside your body don't actually know if you are restricting your calories for weight loss or because you are actually in starvation mode. The result is the same, and your metabolism will slow down as a result. So when you eventually stop restricting (and it will happen - diets don't work) you often times end up gaining all the weight back plus more. Your metabolism is also affected which is why it becomes harder and harder to lose weight when you jump on the next diet.If you are curious why dieting doesn't work or need actual scientific proof, you can check this out.
Despite attention from the public health establishment, a private weight loss industry estimated at $58.6 billion annually in the United States, unprecedented levels of body dissatisfaction and repeated attempts to lose weight, the majority of individuals are unable to maintain weight loss over the long term and do not achieve the putative benefits of improved morbidity and mortality. Concern has arisen that this weight focused paradigm is not only ineffective at producing thinner, healthier bodies, but also damaging, contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distraction from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrement, and weight stigmatization and discrimination. Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor
Consequently, when a Health At Every Size (HAES) approach was used, studies have shown "significant improvements in psychological and behavioral outcomes; improvements in self-esteem and eating behaviors were particularly noteworthy."There is also the idea that once you lose the weight, it is easy to maintain it through appropriate diet and exercise. But,Women's Health Initiative, the largest and longest randomized, controlled dietary intervention clinical trial has shown:
More than 20,000 women maintained a low-fat diet, reportedly reducing their calorie intake by an average of 360 calories per day and significantly increasing their activity. After almost eight years on this diet, there was almost no change in weight from starting point (a loss of 0.1 kg), and average waist circumference, which is a measure of abdominal fat, had increased (0.3 cm).
How Does The Pursuit of Weight Loss Affect us Mentally:
Dieting and the pursuit of weight loss also affects us mentally. The stress that we put on ourselves to lose weight, abide by the rules and maintain that weight loss is astronomical. Oh and that stress we put on ourselves affects our hormones and our mental health as well.Research also suggests that "dieting is associated with increased chronic psychological stress and cortisol production, two factors known to increase disease risk."
Positing the value of weight loss also supports widespread anxiety about weight. Evidence from the eating disorder literature indicates an emphasis on weight control can promote eating disordered behaviors. Prospective studies show that body dissatisfaction is associated with binge eating and other eating disordered behaviors, lower levels of physical activity and increased weight gain over time.
My Own Personal Thoughts:
Although I will provide an anecdotal story to go along with this, I hope that the impact of it remains. Growing up, I saw my mom struggle with wanting to lose weight. She would yo-yo up and down, pick at everything about her body and say things like "I'll do xyz when I lose the weight." Well guess what happened? She never got to do so many of the things she wanted because she passed away at 54. At 54, she never learned how to accept her body as is. To love her body, nourish it, treat it as a friend and I firmly believe that in the end it had enough. The struggle to lose weight placed such a huge emphasis on her psychologically that it also affected her mood as well. She was never truly happy it seemed.
I learned to do the same things from a young age. I went on my first diet at 14 or 15 and learned pretty quickly that food was not to be enjoyed, it caused me to feel badly about myself. Which in turn led to an endless cycle of restricting and bingeing.Mentally, this pursuit of weight loss ate away at me. I was never good enough, thin enough or small enough. I never liked the way I looked or my body. I never respected my body or treated it very nicely. The stress that this all caused definitely took a toll on me and caused years of suffering. I know that my story pales in comparison to so many others, but the point is to share my story, I can't share anyone else's.
Now, I enjoy the glass of wine, with the pasta and I don't feel guilty about enjoying the two together. Over the last few years I have dedicated much of my time to healing my relationship to food and rediscovering foods I had once deemed forbidden. I have also made room for lots of so-called "healthy" foods too. Most of the time I do crave these healthier, whole foods because they make me feel good, not because I am worried about how it will make me look. I share more about your intentions behind choosing foods on this blog post. Learning not to tie my morality to what is on my plate has been a big game changer.
How Lifestyle Plays a Part:
A change in health behaviours, regardless of if weight is lost can result in marked improvements to overall health.
Health promotion can and should be the goal, not weight loss.
The goal and intention behind why you want to eat healthier, live a more active lifestyle and take care of yourself is important to determine. Therefore weight loss and intuitive eating are not concepts that belong in the same thought process.I believe that the pursuit of weight loss has an immeasurable impact on people from an emotional, physical and mental standpoint.
If weight loss is a goal of yours, I would urge you to consider why this is so important to you. I would urge you to focus instead on your health and wellness from various angles and dimensions and put weight loss itself on the back-burner.
I truly believe that if you have issues with your body, food or both, that needs to be healed first and foremost. The emphasis therefore should always be on liberating our bodies from the endless mental torture that dieting plays in our lives and instead heal our relationship to food and body.
Weight Loss and Intuitive Eating: Weight Doesn't Tell The Whole Picture
If you are struggling with weight loss and intuitive eating concepts or can't seem to understand why I (and many other weight neutral nutritionists and dieticians) don't promote weight loss it is because at the end of the day, weight never tells the whole picture. It isn't even a solid indication of health, there are numerous issues with the BMI (Body Mass Index) as well which could be reserved for another blog post.
Society has somehow convinced us that we are in charge of our body size. That we can squeeze ourselves into a smaller size if we want it bad enough, if we work out harder and eat less. Our genetic blueprint is not something that can be manipulated despite how hard you try. Sure, you may lose some weight, but long term maintenance is near impossible.I personally find that learning to accept and love our bodies (as is) is the answer, but I know that this doesn't come easy. In fact, I think dieting is often the easier solution.
If you'd like to share your thoughts about weight loss and intuitive eating or have questions about intuitive eating or weight, please leave a comment below. I truly love hearing from you!If this article resonated with you, please share it via Pinterest or another form of social media.