On episode 14, I’m debunking 5 Intuitive Eating myths that I hear all the time. There’s a lot of confusion about what Intuitive Eating (IE) is, or even what food freedom is, so I’m here this week to answer some questions and clear up the misunderstandings once and for all.
In this episode, I talk about:
- Why dieting leads to isolation & how to work through it
- If Intuitive Eating can be used for weight loss
- Whether or not Intuitive Eating is anti-health
- If there’s a right and wrong way to do Intuitive Eating
- If you can do Intuitive Eating even if you still want to lose weight
- Whether having diet thoughts means you failed Intuitive Eating
- If unconditional permission is actually just binging for the rest of your life
Before we get into it, I wanted to let you know that this podcast is no longer brought to you by my Patreon. Thank you to everyone who reached out recently about wanting to join my Patreon, but I have decided to take it down. The Facebook group still exists for the lucky people who signed up before I closed it, but right now the group is closed and it won’t be reopening until my next big announcement. All of that being said stay tuned for a big announcement coming very soon!
Why Dieting Leads to Isolation & How It’s Hurting You
Recently, something jarring, sad, and scary happened with a friend of mine. The big takeaway from that, and something I’ve had to internalize over the years, is to not isolate yourself when things get tough.
Most of us who diet and have it become disordered tend to separate ourselves from the world. We don’t want to go out to dinner with friends, we don’t want to go to a party where we might be around food, we don’t want to go do this or that- we isolate and wait to live our lives until we’ve lost weight and we ‘have control’ over food.
The problem with isolation is, you’re already struggling. If dieting and manipulating your body is your source of purpose, happiness, and self-esteem, there’s already something going on that you just haven’t dealt with. There’s nothing wrong with that- but adding isolation on top of that only makes it worse. Even if you’re someone who needs to recharge alone, there’s a difference between having introverted tendencies and being a homebody who self-isolates. You need to figure out where that line is for you, and understand that hiding from the world when you don’t feel good is not helpful.
I promise you, you are not burdening anyone with your problems by saying you need help. Your friends, family, and the people who love you want to support you. You might feel:
- Afraid of being misunderstood
- Like no one gets you
- Fearful of being judged or rejected by the people who you need to support you
- Terrified of getting hurt
- Like you want to keep distance because you don’t feel like you can be a good friend right now
Or, you just might not even know how to communicate the fact that you need help.
Whatever it is, tell someone that you’re not feeling great right now and that you need a bit of support. Have someone hold you accountable to sit on the couch together. It doesn’t have to be going clubbing- you don’t even need to leave the house. But invite someone over, bring people into your space and invite them into your feelings. Let people show up for you and let them support you- they want to!
If you can see through the fog of it all, please reach out. Just tell someone that things are really hard right now, and ask them to come over and just sit on the couch with you or talk on the phone. Tell people how you need to be supported- they can’t read your mind.
I also want to say that it’s really normal to find comfort in wallowing. When you’re used to not feeling great, having things go wrong, or being around chaos, you may feel like it’s comfortable to struggle. The idea of being happy actually scares you way more, because if you’re happy, you have more to lose. That’s normal, but it doesn’t mean that’s the thing you want to aim for. Ultimately, we need to aim for begin vulnerable.
If you’re in this place where you’re wallowing in your stuff, it’s okay, but it’s also time to start reaching out.
Debunking 5 Intuitive Eating Myths
Intuitive Eating (IE) Myth #1: Intuitive Eating can be used to lose weight
This is a really big intuitive eating myth promoted by people on the Internet who have never read the book but have heard the term ‘Intuitive Eating’ and think that it can refer to intuitive dieting.
There’s a difference between IE being used for weight loss and having weight loss happen as a side effect of your IE journey. For some people, weight loss does happen during IE. But it’s not the intention. If it’s the intention, then it’s still a diet- you’re still eating in a way that prioritizes eating less than what your body needs. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter how intuitive your diet is, if weight loss is the priority, you will have to make a decision between what you want, and weight loss. Whether that’s a dessert or eating a certain way or a certain amount, you’re going to have to make a decision- because your body does not like to be restricted.
The only way to lose weight is to restrict. You can’t have both. You can’t listen to your body AND prioritize weight loss at the same time. It just doesn’t work. You’re going to end up on this really uncomfortable fence between the two- and sitting on this fence is way, way, WAY more uncomfortable than just picking one.
If you need to pick dieting and diet again, then do it. But if you’re going to do it, just do it. Don’t straddle the fence, because that can really hurt you in the long run and make the actual IE process a LOT more difficult when and if you finally decide to commit to it.
Does this mean you have to completely give up wanting to lose weight in order to start IE? Absolutely not. Living your life in a way that supports your body in a culture that repeatedly beats into you that you need to lose weight is very hard- you’re not just going to wake up tomorrow and be cured of your desire to lose weight. It’s a very long process.
You’re going to have points in time where you’ve been eating intuitively and you feel recovered and really good about your body, but then you wake up one day and maybe you slept bad, you’re moving, you lost your job or something big happened, and you’re going to want to diet. It’s not you, it’s your brain’s conditioning. And that’s why IE is a journey, not a destination or an outcome. You don’t have to wait until the day you never want to lose weight again to start IE- but you can’t use IE to lose weight.
If the intention of IE is weight loss, it’s still a diet.
IE Myth #2: Intuitive Eating is anti-health
People sometimes ask me if anti-diet means anti-health or anti-nutrition. The answer is no! IE does not mean ditching health. The reason this gets confusing is that dieting is represented so frequently in our culture as ‘wellness’ or ‘health,’ that people think anti-diet means just eating McDonald’s every day.
People also get confused about this because so many IE counselors talk about the process of giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, allowing yourself to have foods that were off-limits before, and going through the binge pendulum. Because of this, people think IE is just encouraging people to eat desserts.
IE is not anti-health, it’s:
- Anti-stress around food
- Anti-fearing foods
- Anti-being so afraid of foods that you don’t even go to social events anymore
- Anti-moral hierarchy of foods
- Knowing that you’re not a better person because you only eat ‘clean foods’
- Knowing you’re not a bad person for eating desserts and not having health as your #1 priority
Who says that we’re really helping our health that much more by restricting all the foods that give us joy? We don’t have the research to show that has any major impact. The only effect that has is causing stress and making you have no control over the very foods that you’re trying to restrict.
Even though you might have to go through a phase at the beginning of your IE process of putting ‘health or ‘good nutrition’ on the backburner, it’s still not anti-health. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. That’s the whole point of the process- listening to your body and what it needs and getting to a place where you can nourish your body and feel satisfied after you eat. It’s getting to a point where you can respond to your body’s hunger and fullness cues AND enjoy all of the foods that were previously anxiety-inducing for you. THAT is what real whole-person health looks like.
Any style of eating where you’re sacrificing your mental health in order to adhere to that style of eating is not healthy. If the way you eat causes you stress, it’s not healthy, and it’s not doing you any favors. IE may look and feel a little bizarre at first, but the goal is to get to a place where you feel relaxed and comfortable with food and your ability to nourish yourself so that you can do things with your life that matter instead of talking about ‘clean foods’ and ‘clean eating’ all the time.
IE Myth #3: there is a “right” and “wrong” way to do intuitive eating
This answer is a bit of yes and no.
Like I said in the first myth, the wrong way to do IE is to use it as a diet and for intentional weight loss. That’s the one thing that you can’t use it for.
This myth often comes from people who read the book and try to do IE alone (which there’s nothing wrong with), but the 10 steps when you’re coming fresh out of diet mentality can feel like a set of rules. For example, in the chapter about honoring your fullness, people take that really literally and think that eating past the point of fullness is ‘doing it wrong.’ That’s not what we’re talking about. In the book, they also talk about not using food to cope with emotions. I’m a big believer that there’s nothing wrong with emotional eating, that it’s okay to use food to cope with emotions, but you don’t want it to be your primary coping mechanism- there’s a lot more going on there. I definitely think this is why it’s helpful to work with someone, or at least do an online course so that you understand IE is based on principles, not prescriptive rules. They’re things you want to aim towards.
In order to get to IE from dieting, it takes a lot of:
- Trial and error
- Learning about your body
- Not understanding your hunger and fullness cues, or not even having hunger and fullness cues because dieting totally mutes them.
It’s a long process. It’s not a 30-day prescriptive set of rules. It’s a journey and a process that works towards an actual lifestyle that helps you learn how to tune into your body.
IE Myth #4: You can never want to lose weight again/having diet thoughts means you failed
Like I said in #1, you will want to lose weight again and you will have diet thoughts again, even when you think you’re recovered- that is so beyond normal.
We live in a culture that makes us all think we need to lose weight. We are surrounded by media that shows us basically one type of body, and through that we have learned to cope with emotions, changes, and lack of control by controlling our bodies. This is why in times where you feel like you’re losing control, you’re going through a major life change or you’ve had a blow to your self-esteem, you’re going to feel those diet and weight loss thoughts creep back in.
The goal is that the thoughts will become few and far between, and when they come up it’s a sign that something else is going on that you need to unpack. You will have learned enough about yourself that you will get to a place where you can navigate those effectively.
IE Myth #5: Unconditional permission means you’re going to binge forever
Know that you will not binge for the rest of your life. You can’t restrict for the rest of your life because it’s not sustainable, and you can’t binge for the rest of your life. It just won’t happen- your body doesn’t want to.
The only reason why you might actually binge for the rest of your life is if you:
- Don’t deal with your own emotional stuff and you use eating for emotional coping and never get help
- If you’re constantly restricting and always respond to binging with restriction
If you find yourself wondering if you’re going to binge for the rest of your life, this is where the fierce and blind trust in yourself has to come in. All the years you were dieting, you were telling your body, “I don’t trust you, and you don’t know what you’re doing.” Now, you’re trying to eat for your body, and you’re expecting your body to just magically do what you want it to do? Nuh uh. You’ve got to build that trust first. Your body is going to do what it needs to do, and you’ve got to trust that because that is the only way for you to move past it.
If you’re asking this question and you’ve been giving yourself unconditional permission, letting yourself binge and genuinely not restricting, and you find yourself asking “when is this going to stop?” That’s usually a sign that you’re on the cusp of a break through. You’ve just got to stick with it. If you back up now, you’re not going to move through it and you’re going to just go through this whole thing all over again. Stick with it and give yourself that chance to move through it.
Discomfort is a sign that you’re on the verge of a breakthrough.
Those are the 5 myths and their truths! I hope that clears some things up for you and gave you some more insight into the realities of IE and food freedom. Let me know on my Instagram what questions you have about this episode!
This post was transcribed and edited by Brittany Allison, Intuitive Eating Counselor. You can find her on Instagram @brittybfit.
Mentioned in this episode:
- Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield
- The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner
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