Weight Gain in Intuitive Eating: 4 Strategies to Cope

Weight Gain in Intuitive Eating: 4 Strategies to Cope

Intuitive eating is all about ditching the diet mentality and putting weight loss on the back burner, but given the way that smaller bodies are valued and seen as “healthy” in our culture, it’s natural to feel discomfort, judged, or like you’re doing something “wrong” when you gain weight during the intuitive eating process. Here are some strategies to help you work through some of the discomfort. (I know “cope” can imply that weight gain is considered a negative thing, which it shouldn’t be. I will fully admit to using it for SEO reasons 😬)

1. You’re Not Alone

What inspired me to write this post is that weight gain is probably the #1 concern that comes up in most, if not all, the intuitive eating Facebook groups that I’m a part of. You’re definitely not alone if you’re gaining weight with intuitive eating, and in feeling distressed by it.

Diet culture has taught us that weight gain is a sign that we’re doing something wrong, or “not taking care of ourselves,” when it’s normal and natural for our weight to change and fluctuate throughout adulthood. It also doesn’t help that many intuitive eating “success stories” talk about weight stabilizing, and early intuitive eating research correlates it with lower weight.

Simply knowing that your experience is not unique is a self-compassion practice called “common humanity.” (TW: Not on the linked page specifically, but there is fatphobic language on some parts of the Self-Compassion website) In some cases, self-compassion is enough to soothe discomfort. In others, it takes reaching out and finding support in community, or 1-on-1. Here are a few of my favourite Facebook groups—if there are communities that you’re a part of that you would like to share (especially if they’re not on Facebook,) please share in the comments below!

Additionally, I offer individual support for clients in intuitive eating, and am also happy to refer out if you have needs that are outside of my scope.

2. Be Radical

Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance (Amazon Associates link) defines the concept as, “clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion.” In her book, The Body Is Not an Apology (Amazon Associates link) author Sonya Renee Taylor goes a step further, encouraging “radical self-love,” which she describes as, “a port far beyond the isle of self-acceptance” and “a safe harbor for self-esteem and self-confidence…[when they’re not] relying on willpower and ego to drive them.”

Of course, when you’re drowning in discomfort, distress, frustration, or even hate, self-acceptance, let alone self-love, can seem impossible. What would it be like to try layering on a bit of compassion, acceptance, or love, on top of those negative feelings? (Because there’s nothing saying that there isn’t room for both.)

There is room for both discomfort AND radical self-acceptance/self-love. Click To Tweet

3. This Too Shall Pass

I could talk about how the weight gain will slow or stop, but for many, it can take years for body weight to stabilize, just as it can take years to fully “get” intuitive eating. Additionally, weight gain is a normal part of aging, and may not have anything to do with your eating habits or lifestyle.

The good news is, the discomfort and distress that you feel doesn’t have to last for years. While weight gain may cause some physical discomfort, in most cases, a large part of the discomfort comes from the thoughts and emotions that we have towards weight, or internalized fatphobia. (Remember: emotions are also called “feelings” because we can feel them in our body.)

When you practice self-acceptance, compassion, or love, see if you notice whether anything changes in your body. Are there parts that start to soften? Conversely, notice the parts of your body that feel tense, or uncomfortable. How does it feel to send your attention and breath to them? Start by allowing yourself to notice, without changing anything. Now try allowing yourself to release the tension and softening the area. Do you notice any changes in your thoughts or emotions in any way? (Note that it is totally normal and OK to not be able to release the tension, and/or to not notice anything.)

I know this is totally cliché, but you are not your thoughts. What would it be like to separate yourself from the thoughts that tell you that you’re “bad,” “wrong,” or “not good enough” for gaining weight? For example, you might imagine a friend, family member, or loved one expressing those thoughts about themselves. What might your compassionate self say back to those thoughts?

4. What Have You Gained (Besides Weight)?

I know I just quoted her last week, but Australian dietitian and researcher Fiona Willer has a saying: “Weight loss is not a time machine.”

What she means by that is for some people, their desire to lose weight comes from reminiscing about the lifestyle that they had when they were that size; perhaps they were more active or had fewer health concerns, but the detail that often gets missed is that they were younger.

When we look at our past through rose-coloured lenses, often we miss what our current body and lifestyle have given us. One of my clients has a list of “benefits of not dieting” that she keeps on her phone, so she can easily review and add to it whenever she needs. What have you gained through your intuitive eating practice? (Even if it’s not “perfect.”) What are some other ways that you can honour and express gratitude for you and your body in the here and now?

Have you experienced weight gain on your own intuitive eating journey? How did it make you feel? What are some of the strategies that have helped you?

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  • Jenni on Oct 16, 2019 Reply

    I started intuitive eating 2 years ago, but had a relapse and went back on a diet for a short period of time. I started because diets stopped working. The more I dieted the more weight I gained. How I ever gained when I was so restricted was beyond my understanding. I was so exhausted from the stress of gaining weight that I had to give up on diets for my own mental health. But I live in Toronto Canada and there is little to no support for haes. I listen to podcasts and spend hundreds of dollars on new clothes because every 2-3 months I size up. I’ve gone up 5 sizes in two years. It’s super scary and now THAT is impacting my mental health. I 100% admit that I’m fat phobic. Not of others, but harshly of myself (I grew up with intense shame and cooking being so controlled as a child it was borderline abuse). I had a truce for awhile, but self compassion and acceptance is just not happening. All of my alarm bells are going off, with each lb I gain I fear judgment, isolation, physical discomfort…and of course my health. Because EVERYWHERE tells me i am now at risk for cancer, diabetes etc except that it’s NOT something I can control. I’m apparently “rushing to my death“ with no way to stop it and instead of compassion, I am chastised or judged for a “lack of control”. Isn’t that the point?! As a middle aged woman I fear, ironically, becoming invisible. I really wish there was more support in Canada. In person, not FB. I am that in between size and I never see myself represented. Inspiration is always women much larger or much smaller. So I have anxiety that if I say something I’ll be judged no matter what I do and won’t get the support I need. If I could find it. I am both “too big” and “too small”. It’s so isolating. I agree with the comment about language. I wish those so much farther along would at least put words like “diet” and “weight loss without diet” and all of the things into your SEO. Maybe into your alt tags so we can’t see the words, but for those of us who desperately need support, but are new to this, genuinely don’t have the words. Consider it a way to be inclusive.

  • EWatt on Sep 04, 2019 Reply

    [Ed note: Edited to remove potentially triggering content]

    Then you so much for this! I’ve been learning IE since January 1 and I haven’t yet been able to give up the scale yet. I started out “obese” and have gained [weight consistently] for the past 8 months. It doesn’t seem like a lot on an already larger body, but I’m blowing through my clothes at an impossible rate.

    My highest weight was around [*] pounds and, through restriction and intense exercise, I lost [*] pounds about 5 years ago. I think I wrecked my poor metabolism.

    I’m a very active person and I’m finding my muscle building can’t quite keep up with the rate of gain, so I get fatigued abnormally quickly.

    I wish someone could tell me when I’ll stop gaining. It would help, but I know it’s impossible.

    All of that said, do you have any favorite resources on what gentle nutrition really looks like in contrast to a diet culture concept of nutrition?

    • Vincci Tsui on Oct 16, 2019 Reply

      Thanks so much for your comment! I agree there’s not a lot of “gentle nutrition” resources out there because it is the last principle of intuitive eating, and for most people, being exposed to gentle nutrition concepts too early can easily be misinterpreted into food rules. I would recommend the book Nourish by Heidi Schauster as a place to start.

  • Kristen on Jul 10, 2019 Reply

    I’m struggling with this right now, I would say I currently have a healthy relationship to food and I would never plan on restricting again, but it’s still hard. I’ve been in recovery from an eating disorder and I was put on a meal plan for nearly two years both in treatment and in outpatient. Within the last 4 months I’ve graduated to intuitive eating and I’ve gained weight. I thought I had reached my happy, healthy set point and that it wouldn’t change once I went over to intuitive eating, because hey my diet is still fairly similar, I still eat 3 meals a day with small snacks in between. At point I’ve gained weight to before going to intuitive eating I loved my body and accepting this new weight, even though certain dieticians of the past have been weary because it’s on the upper end of the “healthy” BMI scale. Now it’s difficult because each time you gain weight you have to learn to love your body all over again, even if I felt I was whole heartedly loving and accepting of whatever size it takes before.

    • Vincci Tsui on Oct 16, 2019 Reply

      Sending so much compassion your way, Kristen. It’s so frustrating that our society leads us to believe that we’re supposed to stay the same size after puberty, which makes zero sense. We go through so much change in adulthood—new jobs, new homes, new relationships, that it makes sense that our body will change too. I think loving our present body is important, and also loving our bodies as ever-evolving entities.

  • Emily on Jul 08, 2019 Reply

    I’ve just started intuitive eating and I’ve already gone up 1-2 dress sizes. Just went in a shop changing room and it’s left me feeling really upset. Hoping I’ll get the hang of either acceptance or ie soon!

    • Vincci Tsui on Jul 08, 2019 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Emily, and I’m so sorry to hear about your painful experience. Know that weight gain is absolutely normal on this path and that you’re not any less healthy, beautiful or worthy because of it!

  • LH on Jun 21, 2019 Reply

    This is the hardest part for me! I just keep gaining…and gaining…and I weigh more now than I ever have…even though the amount of play food I eat has slowed and my view of food has become much more neutral and I have more of a desire to eat a wider variety of foods, even ones that were once used for dieting. I just wonder when it will stop?

    • Vincci Tsui on Jul 08, 2019 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Liz! I’m going to be making some assumptions here based on your comment, and I will say that I can tell you’ve made a lot of changes since starting intuitive eating, and it can feel disappointing to see the scale go up, especially since we’ve been conditioned by diet culture to believe that the scale will go down or at least stay the same when we are doing things “right”. The number on the scale is not a reflection of your ability to eat intuitively.

      That being said, I get the sense that there is still some lingering diet mentality based on the fact that you mentioned the “play food” that you eat, so I would say it’s so important to be patient! Unlearning the diet beliefs that we are bombarded with daily is a constant work in progress.

  • Vanessa on Apr 27, 2019 Reply

    Relatively new to IE- I had gone to an IE dietician a year and a half ago and quit after a few months.
    Then came back bc it just seems like the best course for me now that I’ve done some innerwork. I’ve only been working on this for 3 weeks but have definitely noticed myself getting bigger (or perhaps my mind’s eye is finally catching up and not in denial about what I actually look like)
    This article as well as the one I read prior from your site have been helpful today in calming my fears and assisted me in trusting the process, my dietician, myself, and my body. Thank you for addressing these concerns we have because many HAES dieticians are so wary of posting things that even say weight that it’s hard to find resources. Everything tries so hard to direct away from weight/ weight gain fear that it’s nearly impossible to find – and those of us just starting still need this bc we don’t know enough yet and still use the same wording as diet culture and have no clue what the right HAES code words/lingo is to find help in what we are looking for. Sometimes the lack of language us beginners understand actually makes it seem like IE is so esoteric that it’s not for real people struggling in the real world. Hope that makes sense 😂😂😂 Thank you for remembering that people like me don’t know the lingo yet and for putting things in ways I understand.

    • Vincci Tsui on Apr 27, 2019 Reply

      Thanks for your thoughtful feedback, Vanessa! I’m so grateful to hear that my work resonated with you.

  • When Will I Finally "Get" Intuitive Eating? 4 Ideas for When You're Feeling Stuck - Vincci Tsui, RD on Apr 04, 2019 Reply

    […] touched briefly on the importance of self-compassion in my previous post, but it bears repeating here. As you’ve probably gathered by now, intuitive eating can be a […]

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