It can be. I spent my first two months of this journey treating intuitive eating like just another diet. I know I am not alone on this one. I have read many posts on several different forums from people who are obviously approaching intuitive eating in the same way one would approach a diet. It makes sense that people do this. For most of us the only way we have ever approached changing our eating habits is to diet. As a result, the diet mentality is fully ingrained in us. I decided to post about my experience with treating intuitive eating like a diet in the hopes that it may help others navigate through this common obstacle.
I was beyond excited when I first learned about intuitive eating. I rushed out and bought Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth, and I devoured it. I had never heard of this non-dieting approach before. I dived in headfirst and lost ten pounds in two months, which is about the same rate I lost weight when I was following Weight Watchers very closely. Then I hit a wall. I just couldn’t do it anymore, and I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. Wasn’t intuitive eating the solution to all of my food related problems? I have since realized where I went wrong. I was approaching intuitive eating in the same way that I have approached every diet I have ever been on.
I was using Geneen Roth's eating guidelines like a set of rules. I was religious about following them, much in the same way I had been religious about counting points when I was on Weight Watchers. I approached her hunger scale in the same way. Every time I ate, I would check in with the hunger scale every few bites. I had to make sure that I never ate past satisfaction! I had to make sure that I was eating intuitively correctly at all times because I really wanted it to work for me.
I was also very excited about intuitive eating. I still am but in a totally different way. My excitement at first was the same excitement I felt every time I started a new diet. I felt like finally I had found that magic pill. This time I was going to be able to lose the weight and keep it off forever. Incidentally, I was ignoring one very important piece of advice from Geneen Roth. I was still weighing myself almost every day. I couldn’t see the harm in it. I was losing weight! Wouldn’t weighing myself just motivate me to continue with intuitive eating?
I never messed up. I ate intuitively perfectly for almost two months. That's how I typically am when I start a new diet. On my last stint with Weight Watchers, I never went over my points for even one day for the first four months. I have been deeply entrenched in the all or nothing diet mentality for a long time. In my first two months of intuitive eating, I was completely oblivious to this fact. When I started to not be able to eat intuitively every time I ate, I started to feel guilty that I couldn’t stick to it. I started to feel like a failure. I found myself binging and overeating more and more often. Sound familiar? I was following intuitive eating, but I was still firmly entrenched in the diet cycle.
If you are worried that you might be using intuitive eating like a diet, there are a few questions you can ask yourself. Think back to how you felt when starting new diets in the past. How do they compare to how you feel about intuitive eating? Is your approach the same or is it different? What about that all or nothing diet mentality? When you overeat or eat when you aren’t hungry, what goes through your head? Do you feel guilty? Guilt is a telltale sign that you are wrapped up in diet thinking.
What do you do if you realize that you are treating intuitive eating like diet? First, I would like to say congratulations! You have just taken a major step in your intuitive eating journey just by realizing that. Everyone is different, so this is a very individual process. I can share what has helped me move out of the diet cycle.
I don't care about eating intuitively perfectly anymore. If I overeat or eat when I'm not hungry, I don't get mad at myself. When I start to think about a time I "messed up," I immediately think about the last time I ate intuitively. I focus on the positive, not the negative.
I have also realized that I eat as a way to avoid emotions, so I have been working on letting myself feel my emotions and getting comfortable with them. I never thought that I ate for emotional reasons because I thought I was eating out of boredom most of the time. I have since discovered that eating out of boredom is a form of emotional eating. I was turning to food because I wasn't comfortable just being with myself. Eating was a way for me to prevent the emotions from coming up at all.
I am active in online intuitive eating communities. This has been an essential part of my journey. I am fairly certain that I would have given up after those first two months if I hadn’t had the support and advice from other people who were further along on the intuitive eating path.
I know this doesn’t apply to all intuitive eaters. I have read blog posts from people who have been doing this for only a few weeks, obviously really understand intuitive eating and are clearly moving out of the diet cycle. Maybe you are one of those people. Or maybe you are like me. It doesn’t really matter either way. The only thing that matters is that you recognize where you are at and move through this process in whichever way is best for you.