The fear of weight gain as you become an intuitive eater is real and often heavy. Because you don’t really know what will happen to your body. It’s an unknown. And, in life (especially when it comes to body size in this culture), we’re (for the most part) afraid of the unknown. We just don’t like not knowing what will happen. And, when we embark upon the journey of making peace with food and embracing the natural intuitive eater inside of us, the unknown of, What will happen to my body?, is scary and for most individuals, overwhelming.
In fact, it’s often what keeps us stuck in an unhealthy relationship with food. A relationship that’s governed by:
- Food rules,
- The idea of “good” v “bad” foods,
- The idea “unhealthy” or “healthy” foods,
- The desire to engage in unhealthy exercise regimes, ignoring hunger cues and what you really want to eat, and often,
- Extremely harsh self-talk surrounding the appearance of your body, food choices, or your perceived “failures.”
While this – “this” being the topic of How to Handle the Fear of Weight Gain as You Become an Intuitive Eater – is a challenging, often heavy topic that I spend multiple sessions working through with clients, it’s also a very important topic to bring to light. Because the fear of a weight gain as you become an intuitive eater (or the fear of a changing body) is a fear that can prevent healing. It’s also a fear that if becomes a reality can send you back into the dieting mentality or into the desire to restrict or use unhealthy behaviors to try and control or shrink your body.
With that said, my intention behind this blog is simply to shine some light upon this topic. To provide you some practical tools and ways of thinking to help you stay in the game of making peace with food while moving through the fear that can arise of – OMG, what’s going to happen to my body?! Or, My body is changing! It’s never going to stop changing! I thought this intuitive eating thing was supposed to make me feel better!
With that said, I’ve recorded a video on the topic, which you can click play and listen to below. Or, if you prefer reading, you can scroll down a bit and continue reading on.
Healing isn’t linear
I want to start by reminding you that healing isn’t linear. Instead of a straight line indicating progress upwards, healing often looks like a loopy spiral, in a slow trajectory forwards, with many bumps going backwards and forwards, forwards and backwards. Meaning, it’s normal to feel like you’re taking 10 steps forward and 3 steps back. Or, 6 steps forward and 7 steps back.
The importance here is to allow yourself to pull meaning from these “back” moments and then to move on. To observe what occurred and why (get curious), and then to apply that little knowledge nugget to your journey, the best you can, as you move forward.
This leads me to the fact that it’s normal to also feel the pull to go back to diet culture, or to “just try this one wellness plan, just one more time,” as you move throughout your food and body image healing journey.
Why? Because there’s often hope in those diet-like-wellness plans. There’s also the excitement of what “could be.” It’s like breaking up with a really crappy partner who makes you feel like garbage, but then toying with the idea of getting back together again. Because “maybe, this time, they’re different.” “Maybe, this time, they’ve learned.”
So, you give it one more go. Because you’re hopeful, excited even. You believe this time it’ll be different. You say YES.
And, initially, things are great. But soon enough, the honeymoon phase wears off and shi** gets real. You realize, “Oh no. This isn’t what I thought I signed up for….” And….you’re back in the same place. But this time, a little more dejected.
So, please know the pull to go back to diet culture is real, it’s there, and it’s ever present. But, you don’t have to go back. Just like you don’t have to accept reuniting with the crappy partner for the third time. Because now you’re wiser and you know something has to change.
When you feel the pull to go back to diet culture, I encourage you to do two things:
1.) Ask yourself: In my experience, what has dieting shown me? How has it affected my relationship with food, my body, and my mental health?
2.) Remember your “WHY.” Why did you want to start working on healing your relationship with food in the first place? What originally brought you to this work? Ask yourself – Why was healing important to me? Keep asking yourself why until you have 5-10 reasons. And, write them down. Keep this little “WHY list” handy, as it’ll come to good use during challenging moments.
Things to experiment with to not let your fear of weight gain as you become an intuitive eater sabotage you…
Here are some things to experiment with, as you make peace with food, so your fear of weight gain as you become an intuitive eater doesn’t sabotage you.
When people in your life are making comments about your food choices and/or your body, it makes it really difficult to heal your relationship with food and not fall prey to going back to diet culture. These food and body comments are especially challenging, if you’re already having a hard time with handling your changing body.
With that said, learning to speak up for yourself is crucial, which is where boundary statements come in.
Boundary statements are kind but direct and look something like this:
- “Mom, I know you’re trying to help, but when you make comments about what I decide to eat, it makes me feel really bad in my body and insecure about my food choices. I’d appreciate it, if moving forward, you didn’t comment on my food choices, OK? And I understand that change can be hard, so just know that out of respect for myself, if comments about my food choices come up again, I’ll gently remind you to not make them.”
- “I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t speak about peoples’ bodies like you are. I find it hurtful and quite offensive.”
Spend time with individuals who unconditionally accept you and who are also working towards strengthening their body image
Spending time with individuals who unconditionally accept you for you and who are actively working towards cultivating a more positive body image is a helpful factor in strengthening your own body image. And having a strong body image is a key factor to not going back to diet culture or eating disorder behaviors. I know it takes effort and time in cultivating a new community or finding individuals who you can now relate to (and distancing yourself from those who aren’t helpful in your healing journey), but it’s so worth it, so you can actually heal.
Weight-inclusive yoga studios, meet-up groups, community centers, and mom groups for moms can be excellent places to find new hobbies, activities, and groups to join, where you can meet new individuals who may eventually become new friends.
Wear clothes that fit and make you feel good in your body
If your bra, underwear, or jeans are pinching you, then it’s going to be difficult (if not impossible) to not let how your clothes feel on your body affect your food choices. Or, how much you decide to allow yourself to eat. In other words, if you’re afraid of your body changing and your clothes feel too tight, then it’s going to be really hard to give yourself unconditional permission to eat and to honor your hunger, which are key factors in making peace with food. Also, it can make a world of difference in your confidence when you’re wearing something you actually feel proud of wearing.
Take care of yourself
Dieting or the pursuit of intentional weight loss, very commonly leaves us thinking in “good” or bad,” and “black” and “white” kind of terms. For example, we’re either exercising or we’re not. We’re either eating vegetables and balanced meals or we’re not. But the thing is, you don’t have to give up health behaviors that allow you to embody your body or that for you, in your individual experience, feel good in your body, just because you’re no longer “on a plan,” or “following a diet.”
For example, just because you’re no longer dieting, doesn’t mean that you can’t exercise anymore. Just because you’re no longer dieting doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy vegetables or a salad. And, just because you’re no longer dieting doesn’t mean that you have given up. My point is: you can still engage in health behaviors in the name of respecting your body and taking care of yourself and despite not wanting to diet anymore.
For example, you’re allowed to move your body, in any which way you want, doing something you actually enjoy. Not to “burn calories” or so “it’s OK” to eat something or because “you were bad.” But because you genuinely want to. Because it allows you to connect with your body and feel strong. And, it helps your mental health. And, just because you’re no longer dieting doesn’t mean you can no longer eat vegetables or salads. Sure, if you don’t want them, don’t eat them at the moment. But, if you do, that’s OK! You’re allowed and encouraged to eat what sounds satisfying to you, whatever it may be. You have unconditional permission to eat vegetables and eat ice cream (or bread, or chips, or pot pie, or whatever it may be).
Rewrite what your wins look like for you
In your healing journey, especially, if you’re gaining weight and having a difficult time accepting that weight gain as a part of your healing path, it’s important to rewrite your “wins.” Meaning things that you’re proud of in your recovery journey. This is important because in diet (and wellness) culture we’re accustomed to wins being based on how much we can shrink ourselves and alter our external appearance. So much so that when we’re no longer measuring “success” by going down a number on the scale or a dress size, we often feel confused, like a “failure,” and or like we’re experiencing a level of depression.
But this isn’t because of you. This isn’t because your body is wrong. It’s because of diet culture. In fact, did you know, according to research, that dieting and food restriction causes: increased binge eating, decreased metabolic rate, increased preoccupation with food, a decreased sense of willpower, increased feelings of deprivation, and an increased sense of failure? I know reading this isn’t the same as feeling it. But it’s not you, it’s diet culture.
With that shared, rewriting your wins as you make peace with food, may look like:
- Eating ice cream just because you want some,
- Resting instead of exercising because your body needs to,
- Enjoying a pasta-based meal for dinner,
- Going to a restaurant with friends and not worrying about what you’ll order, and
- Having space in your head for hobbies, fun, meaningful conversations, and thoughts that have nothing to do with food or body size
Begin focusing on qualities that you appreciate about yourself that have nothing to do with your physical appearance
What do you appreciate that has nothing to do with your physical appearance or body size?
Your courage? Your bravery? Your strong sense of self?
Being able to recognize that you’re more than a body and have more to share with this world, yourself, and others than your external appearance and body size is a big step in this healing work. I encourage you to make a list of these inner-qualities you appreciate and to add to it overtime and keep it visible.
A mantra that’s been helpful for my clients that Evelyn Tribole, a co-founder of Intuitive Eating, taught me is:
I’m having a challenging body image moment and I’m ________ and I’m _________ and I’m _________.
Above, you’d fill in the blank spaces with a non-appearance based quality you appreciate about yourself.
So, it’d look like:
I’m having a challenging body image moment and I’m resilient and I’m kind to others and I’m emotionally aware.
I love this tool because you’re not ignoring how you feel (e.g., that you’re having a challenging body image moment), instead, you’re recognizing how you feel, but also offsetting that by identifying what you appreciate about yourself that shows you’re more than a body.
Explore focusing on the functionality of your body
In my experience, we often forget that we have a body so we can live our lives. And, that our lives are not supposed to be centered around our bodies, or rather “controlling” the size of our body.
With focusing on what your body allows you to do (e.g., open the window, smile, cry, be human, walk, etc.), you can stay more grounded, and it may help you initially begin to reconnect back with your body.
This is especially important because if you’re not dieting, you may feel (as seen in social media) that you need to “love your body.” But, if you’ve been dieting for 5, 10, 15, 20, 30, or 40+ years, then “loving your body” is going to feel extremely challenging, if not impossible. So, please know, you don’t need to love your body to respect your body. “Body love” isn’t the next new place you need to get to. You’re allowed to feel neutral in your body. You’re allowed to just start with the fact that you have a body. And, that your body is currently allowing you to live your life.
Do things that have nothing to do with food or your body
If you want to stop thinking about food and your body so much, it’s so important to find things that you enjoy that have nothing to do with food or trying to change your body. Of course, if you’re actively working on making peace with food and your body, you’ll need to think about your body and what it needs, and you’ll need to make sure you eat and most likely, if getting support, pull back the layers making up your food and body image issues.
But, you can also find things that light you up inside, like painting, yoga, or joining a psychology class that allow you to begin to connect with yourself as a whole person, not just a person dedicated to eating “perfectly” and trying to shrink their body. In fact, when you have these hobbies in place, you’ll also (most likely) naturally begin to equate less of your worth to your body, as it changes and as you make peace with food.
Making peace with food and handling the reality or fear of weight gain as you become an intuitive eater, can feel hard. Really hard. So much so that it can prevent you from making peace with food in the first place. But, you can get support. You can find the tools you need in order to begin healing your relationship with food, and your body. And, please give yourself time, patience, and loads of compassion as you do this healing work. Because most likely, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever done before.
As I like to say, don’t let the fear of your body changing – which it’s going to do anyway – prevent you from making peace with food.
The fear of weight gain as you become an intuitive eater is real. And, you may, in fact, gain weight. You may not. I do not know. But, what I do know is that you weren’t meant to spend your time living on this planet trying to diet; shrink yourself; count calories, macros, or points; obsess over nutrition facts; or go hours without feeding your body.
You, my dear, deserve to take up space. You deserve health. Real health. And, that looks like learning to recognize and honor the cues that your body is giving you in a timely manner and removing obstacles that are preventing you from doing this, regardless of your body size.
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