Food psychology & weight loss life coach Laura Lloyd, who is not an IE practitioner, describes her own experience of trying to apply the valuable principles of intuitive eating to her own habits.
A question came from a reader this week, Hanne. She asked simply “What do you think of Intuitive Eating?”.
So, it opened up a lot for me to answer in this video.
It has been around 7 years since I first read the book Intuitive Eating, (I had already read Health at Every Size while studying for my eating psychology coach certification), and in that time my client work has evolved to include weight loss.
Yes, I explicitly and overtly offer coaching around weight loss.
Feels like treading my own unique path saying that.
Some people will probably see me as some kind of food psychology back-street-abortionist equivalent.
I just see myself as connecting dots and building on existing pioneering areas of food psychology to solve a problem that won’t go away: the problem of being overweight and of habitually overeating.
Intuitive Eating is a framework. It’s not a methodology.
When people ask if ‘intuitive eating works’ they often mean ‘to lose weight’. But that simply isn’t the point of intuitive eating. The point is to get closer to your innate ability to be a ‘normal’ eater. To get out of your head, into your body, and heal your broken relationship with food.
The Intuitive Eating community would most certainly NOT wish to be aligned with my coaching, since IE is categorically ‘weight neutral’ and would see any explicit focus on weight loss as interfering with your ability to feel out your hunger and fullness from within.
In fact, there’s this exhortation within the very first principle of Intuitive Eating: ‘Reject the Diet Mentality.’
“Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you the false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently.
“Get angry at diet culture that promotes weight loss and the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained back all of the weight.
“If you allow even one small hope to linger that a new and better diet or food plan might be lurking around the corner, it will prevent you from being free to rediscover Intuitive Eating.”
I have frequently been on the receiving end of that anger from members of the IE community when I mention weight loss, although I don’t consider that I am representative of ‘diet culture’ or teaching ‘diet mentality’: quite the opposite, in fact.
I agree with the basic principle here: that while you explore returning to your body’s natural sense of hunger and fullness, putting your primary focus away from weight loss, will free up your brain for the trial-and-error nature of exploring your own relationship with food.
Otherwise, you’ll be freaking out every time you overeat a food, too worried that your mistakes will lead you to put on weight. You won’t stay in a growth mindset.
It’s not trying to lose weight that’s the problem. It’s that self-judgment that’s tied to overtly trying to lose weight that will stop you:-
A) Getting the real, raw feedback from your body about what effect that food had on you physically and mentally, and
B) Learning from the experience.
Unless, that is, your desire to lose weight comes from a really clean, self-loving, desire-based origin.
Based on curiosity, self-knowledge, experimentation, and wondering what else could be possible for you. Not fear. Not pressure.
I didn’t set out to coach weight loss.
I was a binge eater, and an emotional eater. An overeater – yes.
But since I had grown up in a ‘health food’ home, much of my binge eating was on ‘substitute food’: family-sized tins of chick peas to stave off the craving for a bag of jam doughnuts, for instance.
So, I had only really ever lost and gained 20lb in my life. I did that a couple of times. My overeating habits – not my binge eating habits, thankfully – crept back each time.
I had always accepted inwardly that as long as I was habitually overeating, and eating past ‘satisfied’ to ‘full’ (sometimes megafull) belly at suppertime, I’d be on the large side of medium. Technically normal, not really slim.
I loved my body, but I didn’t love my weight. I could accept it, and get away with it, but most of all I hated the relationship I had with myself when I ate out of integrity with myself.
It was my clients who asked me to please teach them to lose weight. After we had let go of restriction, after I had taught them to stop binge eating. After we had worked on body image and self-love.
After healing their relationship with themselves, clients still wanted to lose weight.
Some had gained weight through emotional eating that they were now ready and confident to lose.
Just ‘no longer overeating’ had given them first and foremost the skills to maintain their weight – to keep their eating really steady and course-correct without all the self-reproach they had formerly.
The problem was, the weight they ideally wanted to maintain was the previous one, without the extra bodyfat accumulated from stuffing down their emotions!
These weren’t clients who were carrying around supermodel aspirations for perfect bodies.
Some were diabetic.
Some had joint pain and their weight threatened early operations.
Some had 100lb or more to lose.
Some, like me, had gained smaller amounts of weight through binge eating, and now their binges were diminished, they wanted to lose that extra 20lb that kept coming back, without triggering their former restriction thinking.
I found that I respected their desires. They seemed perfectly legit.
And I wondered: Is it possible to lose weight without falling into what Intuitive Eating would call ‘Diet Mentality’?
It seemed to me obvious: that if you learned to manage your mind so you stayed out of restriction and striving, and were able to make saying ‘no’ to food a positive choice sometimes, you could absolutely lose weight.
And, bonus: You’d learn to manage your thoughts, period.
That’s why, in my 1:1 coaching, I always ask YOU to pick foods YOU like, and never give you a food plan.
You get to follow your desire and what works in your busy working life.
And that’s also why the supporting materials to our coaching, the 12-month Sensational Eater™ online self-coaching and self-study programme, take the first 4 months to really ‘un-diet’ your brain, and give you a ‘maintenance first’ approach to weight.
Healing our mental health as a generation of women; stopping the stress, pressure and madness of trying to optimise our bodies to fit distorted media ideals has got to be the priority.
And for this purpose, Intuitive Eating definitely works for many people. We have to dehypnotise ourselves before we can imagine a new way of approaching our eating. I appreciate that for many people to do this, discussing weight as though it’s always a problem just ramps up the fear and fat-phobia that have taught us to believe we can’t be taken seriously until we’ve successfully pursued the pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow that becoming slim has so far turned out to be. The message is: “Patriarchy, we don’t agree to play the game.”
But that’s only half the story. Because I also think there’s a bigger-picture discussion about global weight and health that we shouldn’t censor. Weight is an issue, so can we talk about it in non-fearmongering language?
The cause of weight gain, globally, isn’t necessarily overeating alone, as my colleague and Intuitve Eating coach Lisa Newman writes.
For sure, the ‘obesity epidemic’ is a skewed picture, with politics exaggerating it and using it for gain.
Statistics have been leveraged to a sad point where anyone going to a doctor for any ailment gets blithely told to ‘lose weight’ even when many thin people’s health metrics aren’t hopeful.
If that reflects your experience of recently seeing a doctor, looking for a HAES-registered doctor or dietictian could help you get more ‘woke’, more caring, and less blamey, healthcare.
But equally, there are many people who would like to lose weight to assist their health and move through life more freely. Not because a doctor told them to. Not because they feel they SHOULD.
They just want to. And it’s their body.