I need to lose weight, though.
“Intuitive eating sounds good, but I really need to lose weight first.”
This thought process is completely understandable. We live in a world where it’s just a “given” that we are supposed to strive for smaller bodies, and it’s not possible to be healthy (or happy) in a larger body. Of course we want a peaceful relationship with food, but we’re not allowed to do that until we can get our bodies under control.
But I think it’s worth examining, because having weight loss as a prerequisite for peace and freedom will definitely keep you stuck in an unhealthy pattern with food and struggling with your body image.
We tend to blame ourselves for the shape of our bodies, don’t we? It’s like a personal flaw if you aren’t able to control yourself enough to be small, thin, or have your height and weight measurements fit neatly into some antiquated chart.
But the reality is that there are actually many reasons that you have the body you do, and personal fault is likely not one of them. Here are some of the reasons you may look the way you do:
This is just your body type. I know this seems painfully obvious, but I can’t tell you how many clients come to me with desires to be a certain size or shape that is not in harmony with their natural tendencies. Once we start looking at their family of origin, or their ethnic heritage, it becomes obvious that their bodies are completely normal (and may just not conform to the extremely thin ideal that our culture is currently celebrating).
You’ve been restricting. When you don’t give yourself enough nourishment, your body shifts into starvation mode. People who have dieted frequently find that they are much hungrier, gain weight very easily, and feel preoccupied with food. This is a very natural response to restricting food and dieting. Again, not your fault because that’s what we’ve all been taught to do!
Food is your go-to for distraction and comfort. And that’s ok. We all have coping mechanisms that help us get through tough times, and maybe food is yours. It was definitely mine! Instead of judging yourself, be grateful that you have something that works for you.
You’re out of touch with your internal signals. Maybe because of restriction, or external pressure about how to eat, you’ve learned to ignore your hunger and fullness cues. I see a lot of women who genuinely don’t know what hunger feels like or how to stop eating when they get full, so they frequently eat to the point of discomfort. We’ve been conditioned by diet culture to ignore what we really want and need, so this is also completely understandable.
You’re transitioning into a new phase of life. As much as we don’t like it, it’s very normal for some people to get larger as they move into middle age. There’s evidence that having some extra fat on the body protects against some diseases, maintains bone health, provides padding in the event of falls, and may decrease overall mortality risk. For more information about this, you may want to explore some of Linda Bacon’s research (Health at Every Size).
Here’s the most important point to remember, in my opinion: whether or not you’re happy with the size of your body right now, changing your external circumstances without addressing the internal energy and mindset is destined to fail. In other words, getting skinny is not going to make you love yourself if you don’t already.
I know it’s hard to hear, because we’ve all spent so long thinking we will be happier if we just looked different. But the truth is that all positive change comes from an internal shift. I’ll never forget the deep despair I felt when I realized that losing weight actually didn’t solve any of my problems: I still had low self-esteem, I was still in an unhappy marriage, and was still deeply unfulfilled in my life.
The most important role that Intuitive Eating played in my journey was teaching me to tune back in with myself. I learned to pay attention to my patterns with food, I learned to respect my hunger, I learned how to trust that I can always have exactly what I want and need, and I learned how to have confidence in myself.
So, maybe after you get all that, your eating patterns will shift, and you’ll find more productive coping mechanisms and be more motivated to take care of yourself, and your body will change. But it’s also possible that you’ll just learn to love yourself no matter what, and slowly realize that the way you look actually doesn’t have anything to do with the kind of person you are, and you deserve love and happiness and success in whatever body you are rocking at any given time.
And that self-acceptance is the real gift.