At first glance, intuitive eating seems like it should be easy—we hear how it’s about letting go of diet and food rules, “eating whatever we want”, and how we’re all “born intuitive eaters”. So it’s understandably frustrating when you’re weeks, months, or even years into the “journey” and still feel like you don’t “get it”.
Is Perfectionism Getting in the Way of Your Intuitive Eating?
Many people come to intuitive eating when they’ve hit “diet rock bottom”—they’ve been on what feels like every diet and “lifestyle change” under the sun, only to see their weight yo-yo upwards and their list of “allowed foods” getting shorter and shorter. They use every ounce of energy to “be good” (read: restrict) during the day, only to find themselves bingeing or “emotionally eating” in the evening. (Because diet culture tells us the only reason why anyone would eat after supper is because they’re eating emotionally.)
When it feels like dieting is all you know, it’s natural to approach intuitive eating like another diet—you read the principles as if they were rules, and you create an image in your head of the “perfect intuitive eater”: You’ll only eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. You’ll “eat what you want,” but that’s because your body will crave a “perfect balance” of “healthy” foods and “treat” foods. You’ll be happy in your body, and you’ll never feel the urge to diet again (because your body will settle at its “natural weight” which is certainly less than what it is now.)
That’s a pretty tall order! No wonder it can feel disappointing when you feel as though you’re not living up to this standard that you’ve set for yourself. What next? Here are some strategies that might help you get unstuck:
4 Strategies to Ease Your Intuitive Eating Struggles
1. What is Intuitive Eating Anyway?
Part of what makes intuitive eating so hard to grasp is that unlike a diet, the end result can look different for everyone. While the 10 principles frame intuitive eating, there is flexibility and nuance in how they are interpreted for each individual.
The “perfect intuitive eater” that I described above actually reflects a lot of common misconceptions that people have about what intuitive eating is. If you’ve been learning about intuitive eating through blogs, articles, podcasts, and social media, you’re probably not getting the full picture.
It’s not perfect, (though I’ve heard a 25th anniversary edition is coming down the pipeline!) but read the book. Do the workbook. (Amazon Associates links) If it’s available to you, work with a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor like myself (I also work virtually!) or someone locally.
Some other great resources to help you learn more about intuitive eating and help you create a definition that works for you. (All books are Amazon Associates links):
- Nourish by Heidi Schauster
- Just Eat It by Laura Thomas
- The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner
- Christy Harrison’s Intuitive Eating Fundamentals course
2. Curiosity, Not Judgement
We’ve been conditioned since our schoolyard days that it’s not enough to simply learn something; we should also master it and/or get something out of it. Whether it’s good grades, “perfect intuitive eater,” or some other end goal, it takes the curiosity out of learning and turns it into a project.
I share this analogy in The Mindful Eating Workbook and my Intro to Meditation & Mindful Eating mini-course: what would it be like to approach learning as though you were a child, alien, or scientist? (Or child alien scientist?) Instead of thinking, “I need to master X so that I can get Y,” you approached it with the attitude of, “What happens if I do X?” And instead of judging, blaming or admonishing yourself if X doesn’t work out, perhaps acknowledging the frustration or discomfort, before moving on to something else.What would it be like to approach learning as though you were a child, alien, or scientist? (Or child alien scientist? #curiositynotjudgement Click To Tweet
3. Patience and Self-Compassion
I 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 s-l-o-w process, especially compared to starting a new diet. With dieting, all you have to do is know and follow the rules to “get it,” whereas there are more nuances to intuitive eating. Additionally, you’re constantly fighting messages from friends, family, loved ones, health professionals, and society in general that tell you that you should be dieting and trying to lose weight.
Remember that you are trying to undo years (possibly a lifetime) of diets, food rules, and body hatred with this work, and the stream of diet talk sadly doesn’t stop in its tracks when you decide to pursue intuitive eating. This is hard work, and you are so brave and so strong for deciding to do this. You’ve got this.
4. Get Support
You are not alone, and fortunately there are a growing number of people who are pursuing intuitive eating, as well as a growing number of professionals who are providing support. You might start passively by following people on social media, but eventually, you’ll want to build a community of support around you, whether that is online (I linked to some Facebook groups in my previous post), in-person through friends, family and loved ones, and perhaps working with a professional too. (Shameless self-plug here again.)
Wherever you’re at when it comes to eating intuitively, I hope you can find the resources and support that you need to step away from diet culture, and live your life to its full potential.