“Can I lose weight with Intuitive Eating?” I receive this question a lot as an anti-diet nutritionist. And I completely understand why. We’ve been conditioned to believe that thin = healthy. Yet people are now realizing the importance of balanced wellness. And when they learn intuitive eating will restore their mental health, build self-trust and stop them from binge eating, they want to learn how. But the old dieting thoughts of weight loss still feel important. Keep reading to learn if it’s possible to lose weight with intuitive eating.
Can I Lose Weight with Intuitive Eating?
Short answer to if you can lose weight with intuitive eating? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Or maybe you’ll stay the same exact weight.
The long answer.
While every chronic dieter has similar war stories in common, every body is different. And even though there are 10 principles of intuitive eating, everyone’s recovery from years of dieting is personal and unique. Because there’s a lot of factors—mostly out of your control—that come into play when determining how your body will adjust to intuitive eating. These include your weight loss history, genetics, hormones, and natural activity levels.
Let’s jump into the deeper reasons why these factors impact if you will lose weight, gain weight or maintain weight when you become an intuitive eater.
Your weight loss history.
Before I work with any of my clients, I schedule a free 20-minute consult call with them. During this call I ask them to describe, in detail, their history with dieting and weight loss. Questions such as:
- How old were you when you started dieting?
- Can you list all the diets you have done?
- Do you have a go-to diet?
- Which food rules are you most consistent with?
- How much weight have you lost and gained in the past 2 years?
- What is your current approach to food and exercise?
The reason I ask these questions is because I’m trying to understand their dieting threshold. What food rules have they normalized and justified over the years. As well as how their weight loss goals have impacted their relationship with food. This information is also important because diets slow your metabolism and affects your set-point weight. Which is your natural, God-intended weight when you are living diet-free, consistently eating intuitively and moving your body in ways you enjoy. So if you’ve been yo-yo dieting for decades, your set-point weight may increase. In other words, dieting is a predictor of weight gain.
That’s not to say you will definitely gain weight once you become an intuitive eater. But it does give insight to how your past behaviors have taken a toll on your overall well-being. Including your mental health and physical health.
Genetics play a huge role on if you can lose weight with intuitive eating.
Diet culture crafted the narrative that anyone can lose weight by eating less and moving more. But it’s simply not true long-term. I think the majority of chronic dieters have lost a significant amount of weight at one time or another. (Which is why diet programs continue this false narrative.) But the majority have also gained the weight back! Because the level of effort, compromises, restriction and negative impact on mental health isn’t sustainable. Genetics (and physiology) always wins out in the end.
So what does this mean for when you become an intuitive eater? I think deep down we all know what our stature and bone structure is supposed to be. When we turn off the influence of diet culture, we understand that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. We also know how hard we had to fight against our genetics to shrink our body down to a lower weight. This can be an indicator of what may happen when you become an intuitive eater. HOWEVER, it’s not the only way to determine if you will lose weight with intuitive eating. If you will gain weight. Or if you will stay the same weight.
Hormones also determine if you lose weight or gain weight.
One of the biggest ironies of dieting—and a good example of how diets aren’t about improving health—is that intentional weight loss hurts your hormones. And hormones play a significant role on if you lose weight, gain weight, or maintain weight.
Fat loss “strategies” like under-eating, pairing low carb with HIIT workouts, carb cycling and intermittent fasting can wreck havoc on your hormones. I’ve heard from many past participants of FASTer Way to Fat Loss (a program that combines all of the above) that they were left with low hormones and thyroid issues. While that is just in personal conversations, there is scientific proof to support these claims on similar weight loss programs.
Cortisol (“the stress hormone”) is known to cause weight gain. Without going into too much detail, cortisol can be triggered by life stress and psychological stress. It is also known to be triggered by under-eating, a low-carb diet, and HIIT workouts. Additionally, regardless of the diet followed, consistent restriction (calories and/or food types) required by dieting takes a negative toll on your mental health. Because whenever you follow food rules, you create multiple opportunities to feel like you failed if you choose an off-plan food or ate beyond your allotted calories. Dieting automatically puts you in the restrict-binge-restrict cycle. Which causes frequent feelings of guilt, anxiety and stress around food. All contributors to increasing your cortisol levels and causing you to gain weight.
Your Natural Inclination Towards Movement Makes a Difference.
There’s no denying the health benefits of consistent movement. But if you force yourself to do specific workouts for weight loss, the negative impact it has on your mental health can null and void those benefits. The health goal should become understanding who you are and your innate preferences. And then having the willingness to discover movement you genuinely enjoy through the philosophy and practice of intuitive exercise. For some that may include strength training, HIIT, running, playing sports, etc. For others it may mean walking the dog, gardening, or ballroom dancing. There’s no right or wrong! It’s about honoring your body’s needs and meeting its desires for movement.
Once you incorporate intuitive exercise, intuitive eating and prioritize your mental health, you will find your set-point weight. Your body will find homeostasis and achieve balanced wellness. Essentially, you will be the healthiest you’ve ever been. Diet-free!
Weight Loss Isn’t a Priority with Intuitive Eating
While I completely understand how gaining weight with intuitive eating is a valid fear. It’s really only a fear because of diet culture and weight stigma. Appearance goals steal the focus away from creating sustainable health behaviors that serve your body best though. And if your priority truly is to lose weight, I recommend taking time to unwrap why you think weight loss is more important than improving your mental health and physical health. How will losing weight truly help your health?
The benefits outweigh the scale.
There are 120+ scientific studies that prove intuitive eaters maintain consistent weight, more healthful eating, less disordered eating, higher self-esteem, improved metabolism, and so many more health benefits. So while I can’t say if you will lose weight with intuitive eating. Nor can I predict weight gain or maintaining your current weight. If you’re truly committed to improving your overall well-being by living diet-free, then the amazing benefits of intuitive eating outweigh the scale.
If you would like to talk through your specific situation and your concerns about gaining weight with intuitive eating, please schedule a free 20-minute consult with me. It would be my pleasure to get to know you and understand your experience.
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