How to Be OK With Weight Gain When You Start Intuitive Eating
You’re sick of all the dieting bullsh*t and have embarked on a new, wonderful, healthy journey of intuitive eating. You’re working on listening to your hunger and fullness cues, eating the foods that make you feel energized and happy, exercising because you love how it makes your body feel, and giving diet culture the middle finger.
Ending a life of dieting and restriction can feel so freeing, but with it may come the difficult reality that you might gain weight. How can you learn to be OK with weight gain after years (or maybe even decades!) of trying so hard to shrink your body?
Remind Yourself That There's Nothing Wrong With Weight Gain
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with weight gain, contrary to what diet culture has led us to believe,” said Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN, a certified intuitive-eating counselor, the host of the Food Psych Podcast, and the author of Anti-Diet. If you gain weight with intuitive eating, it doesn’t mean you’re bad or unhealthy – those are diet-culture beliefs – and it’s actually a sign that your body is healing from restriction and disordered eating.
“Whatever weight your body ends up at when you’re consistently practicing intuitive eating, that’s the weight where it feels safe,” Christy said. And when your body feels safe, you’ll see a significant decrease or disappearance of disordered thoughts and behaviors, such as incessant thoughts of food, binge eating, and feeling out of control around carbs. You’ll also often experience a reduction in other symptoms, like digestive issues, hair loss, fatigue, and depression.
“Your body isn’t meant to be at a weight that it can only sustain through restriction,” Christy said. So embrace this weight gain and see it as a sign that you’re taking care of yourself and giving your body the nourishment it needs, both physically and emotionally.
Get Mad at Diet Culture
Educate yourself about the Health at Every Size (HAES), anti-diet, and intuitive-eating movements, recommended Kirsten Ackerman, MS, RD, CDN, who hosts the Intuitive Bites Podcast and identifies as a fat-positive dietitian. Once you learn that health doesn’t have to look a certain way and that weight isn’t a good indication of health and wellness, you’ll begin to feel better about your body, no matter what size it is.
Also, being honest with yourself about whether or not dieting has worked for you in the past – and if it has, reflecting on the toll it’s taken on your physical and mental health – will inspire you to embrace the anti-diet approach, explained Christy. Think about how dieting has negatively affected your relationships with the people you care about, with food, and with your body, and you’ll realize that you’re ready to live a life where weight isn’t your main focus.
Focus on What You're Gaining (Besides Weight)
When we start moving away from eating to manipulate our weight, we don’t know how our weight will be affected. This unknown can be scary and overwhelming since many of us have been taught to eat with the intention of controlling our weight, explained Brenna O’Malley, RD, creator of health blog The Wellful.
When in doubt, think about what other things you are gaining. Why is intuitive eating and food freedom important to you and have you felt any positive shifts so far? Do you have more energy to work out? Are you sleeping better? Do you feel happier and more connected to people? Are you inspired to devote time to your passions and goals?
Often clients find their mind is so much less consumed with anxious thoughts of food, eating, or their weight throughout the day, they may be able to say yes to spontaneous plans with friends, or have a special experience with their child that they would have said no to when dieting.
“Shifting the focus to highlight the wins and pieces of your life you’re gaining back with intuitive eating can help put the other pieces in perspective,” Brenna said.
Surround Yourself With Support and Positive Messages
Connect with others who are also on a journey to healing from diet culture, suggested Kirsten. You can find people on social media sharing their struggles and victories, and it’s nice to be able to reach out to someone else going through the same thing, even if you’ve never met them in person.
Start listening to body-positive, anti-diet, and intuitive-eating podcasts such as the Food Psych Podcast and Nutrition Matters, Kirsten suggested. The beginning of the journey to healing your relationship with food can feel overwhelming, and listening to a podcast can be gentle support in reframing your way of thinking.
Kirsten and Brenna agreed that you should diversify whom you follow on social media. If you’re following accounts that promote a certain diet, show a lot of before-and-after photos, or show only one body type, these messages can influence you and tell you that there is a certain look associated with health. “That is a lie diet culture has taught us,” Kirsten said.
“Diversifying the social media accounts you follow and seeing people with all different bodies being confident, successful, and happy can help you to challenge and bring awareness to your own assumptions and biases,” Brenna said.
Stop Weighing Yourself
Kirsten said to stay away from the scale. We can all relate to feeling happy when we see a certain number, and feeling upset if the number is higher than what we expect. If you don’t know what the number is, it can’t dictate how you feel about yourself. Focus on all your positive qualities that have nothing to do with how much you weigh or what you look like.
Have Compassion For Yourself
Have compassion for yourself in this process, and recognize that our culture has conditioned us to feel badly about weight gain, so it’s almost inevitable that you’ll have some negative feelings come up, explained Christy.
“Don’t expect the desire of weight loss or the fear of weight gain to disappear,” Kirsten added. Learn to approach those thoughts in a new way. Choose to continue to support and care for your here-and-now body in those moments: nourish it consistently, dress it in comfortable clothes that fit, and allow for adequate rest.
And think about what you’ll gain long-term if you can accept this weight gain and stay the course of intuitive eating. You’ll finally experience “peace and freedom with food; greater self-acceptance; more energy and mental space for all the things that you truly care about now that your head isn’t filled with thoughts of food and dieting 24/7; improved physical and mental health; and greater resilience to any weight stigma you may experience,” Christy said.
It’s not easy, especially for anyone who’s already in a larger body, but you deserve all these things and so much more. Christy has worked with hundreds of people all across the weight spectrum who’ve been able to find freedom with intuitive eating, so she urged anyone new to it to stick it out.