Whenever anyone quits dieting (defined as intentional attempts to control weight and size) and decides to practice intuitive eating, their body and mind go a through significant transition. While it is often a relief that they no longer have to follow strict rules around food and movement, removing them can be anxiety producing for a variety of reasons. Many will wonder, “What is going to happen to my body now?” or “Won’t I just keep gaining weight if I do not have any rules in place?”. The truth is that no one can answer these questions with certainty because each body may respond differently based on its dieting history, current health status, genetics, medications, socioeconomic status, etc. We do know with certainty that one of three outcomes may happen: Weight remains the same, weight loss, or weight gain.
While the focus of intuitive eating, which is a practice that teaches ex-dieters and previous food restricters to tune-in to their bodies innate cues related to hunger, fullness and food satisfaction, among other things, is not to focus on weight loss but instead improving ones relationship with food, sometimes weight gain does occur as part of the recovery process.
I will stress that if you are one of the people who gained weight while practicing intuitive eating, it does not mean that there is something wrong with you or with your intuitive eating practice.
Understanding that weight gain is sometimes the body’s response to periods (sometimes decades) of restriction is important. Continuing to practice intuitive eating is the best course of action even though the weight gain may be uncomfortable both emotionally and physically. After all, we cannot ignore the fact that weight stigma is real and can have profound negative effects on our overall health.
To help my clients, and others who ask me, manage the discomfort from weight gain, I offer them the following suggestions.
Cultivate self-compassion – While this is often the furthest thing from most people’s minds during life’s ups and downs, it is often what is needed most of all. The first step to being more self-compassionate is acknowledging the discomfort. So, take time to lean into the discomfort even though that may seem challenging some days. Acknowledge that anyone who breaks up with dieting and no longer allows the unattainable nonsense of diet culture to ruin their lives, undergoes a period of transition, so you are not alone. Be kind to your body as it gets used to this new way of living knowing that the transition is temporary but well worth it.
Trust – Realize that during this transition, you are learning to trust your body again and your body is learning to trust you. One of the many things that dieting and/or food restriction does is strip away that trust. When we practice intuitive eating, we are re-learning how to listen to our body instead of following external rules and self-imposed restrictions. On the flip side, our bodies are learning to trust that they will continue to be honored and cared for by consistently getting enough of the foods that nourish and satisfy them. Rebuilding this trust takes time and patience, but it will happen.
Know there is an end in sight – While it may seem like the weight gain will never end, believe and trust that it will. Understand that the body is sorting itself out by trying to find its ideal weight. It will draw a line and you will need to do your best to trust that your body can and will to do that. Caring for yourself by taking time to educate yourself about the mechanics of weight science can be very helpful and empowering. A great resource for this is the book Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor.
Rethink your old beliefs - Challenge the mechanical thinking and belief that weight is as simple as calories in vs. calories out. Unlike what we are told by commercial weight loss programs, TV, and social media ads, weight science is very complex, and many things may impact a person’s weight. The belief that fat and larger bodies are “bad” is the problem, not the weight itself. A paradigm shift is needed for healing not another diet.
Dump the scale – Do not step on the scale because that disrupts months of progress and may even lead you back to restrictive eating again. For those who have used a scale to control their food intake or assess their self-value based on their weight, stepping on the scale can be even more detrimental to them.
Reduce body checking – Do not get caught up in obsessive mirror gazing, clothes checking, feeling for bones, etc. as that is detrimental to progress also. When the urge to body check surfaces, think of an affirming statement to get yourself back on track like, “May I trust that my weight is working itself out and doing its best to take care of me.” or “May I be kind to my body as it transitions and heals.”
Practice patience – Remind yourself often that normalizing food and eating behaviors after years of dieting takes time and patience. There is no shortcut around this. Just keep noticing your shifting beliefs and observe them non-judgmentally.
Keep your dieting memory green – Remember why you broke up with dieting in the first place. Make a list of the consequences you suffered as a result of dieting and make it accessible so you can re-read it often. The Intuitive Eating Workbook has some great exercises related to this that I recommend doing.
Let go of the illusion – Let go of the illusion that you can control your weight long-term. Yes, while dieting you probably lost weight (most did this repeatedly), your long-term experience maintaining the weight was fleeting. Understanding that continued attempts to lose weight will do more harm than good because they will just put you back into the restrict/binge cycle.
Mourn what was – Acknowledge that you may feel grief about the changes your body is experiencing. Make room for this grief while doing your best not to judge yourself for it. Repeatedly make room for the grief because it will continue to resurface from time-to-time. This is not easy when diet culture continually reinforces that smaller bodies are better, healthier and more attractive. Be aware of who is gaining financially when you are feeling negatively about yourself and your body. Understand that while it is natural to feel pressured by the demands of diet culture, continuing to practice intuitive eating and learning more about how manipulative diet culture can be will eventually help you to feel more confident, satisfied and joyful in your body. This will finally allow you to live your life to the fullest without the constant preoccupation with food and body dissatisfaction.
If you're tired of battling with your weight, fed up with the cycle of yo-yo dieting, and yearning to be free from your obsessive thinking about food and your body, schedule your complimentary Embrace Anti-Diet Living Connection Session.
We’ll get clear on where you are now, what you want instead, and what might be getting in the way of your success.
I’ll also share some powerful recommendations and resources to get you started on creating a peaceful relationship with your body and food.