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!
- Health At Every Size® (HAES)
- Support for Intuitive Eating & Body Acceptance (run by fellow Canadian weight-inclusive dietitian Lisa Rutledge)
- Body Kindness Insiders
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)?
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?