Dieting, intuitive eating, and your weight

Does achieving your “goal weight” with diets feel downright impossible? You meticulously monitor your diet, exercise, and weigh yourself every day to stay on track– but nothing seems to work. You find yourself tired, hungry, sore, irritable, and constantly craving sweets. Most frustratingly of all, it seems your weight is always fluctuating. You lose a few pounds to get closer to that ‘ideal’ number on the scale, only to gain them back plus a few more.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Maybe you were told what your ‘ideal’ weight should be by your doctor who was using a BMI chart. Maybe you found a picture of a model and thought ‘That’s what I want to look like, so that’s what I should weigh.’ No matter where that number came from, if it feels like you’re fighting an uphill battle against your body to achieve your ‘ideal’ weight, it’s because you probably are.

The great news is you can achieve your healthiest weight without dieting ever again. In fact, it’s much better for your long term health to make peace with your body about your weight.

Intuitive eating and your healthiest weight

Not only does your body already know what it’s healthiest weight is (no scale required), but it can achieve and maintain it all on its own without your direct intervention. Amazing!

Your healthiest weight is the weight your body naturally maintains in the absence of restricting or dieting, bingeing, and excessive exercise. This weight is actually a range, typically between 10-20lbs. At this weight, your body can support your normal day-to-day functions like walking the dog, studying for exams, seeing clients at work, etc. At this weight, your body also takes care of the more complicated stuff, like regulating temperature, circulating the right hormones at the right times, maintaining a menstrual cycle, and building strong bones. 

We like to call this absence of restrictive dieting, bingeing, and excessive exercise intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is an approach to self care that ditches diet rules and focuses on listening to your internal cues about hunger, fullness, and satisfaction. With intuitive eating, concerns about weight are intentionally put on the back burner because attempts to control weight with diets typically get in the way of listening to and trusting your body. If you aren’t familiar with intuitive eating and what the process entails, check out our blog all about it here!

How does my body know what weight to maintain?

Your body knows what weight is healthiest because of information found in your DNA. We call that weight your set point weight, which you can read more about here. From an evolutionary standpoint, having an internal mechanism controlling your weight was extremely beneficial– it meant that in times when food was hard to find, your weight could remain stable to protect all of your important biological functions.

Your set point weight is not the same as BMI. Many of us know BMI (body mass index) as a chart that tells us if we are under-, normal-, or overweight. What many of us don’t know is that BMI wasn’t developed by a doctor and was never intended to be used to tell us what we “should” weigh to be healthy. 

Today we know that BMI is not a helpful measure of health, and that people of all shapes and sizes can be healthy, regardless of a number on a scale.

Intuitive eating and your weight

How does intuitive eating impact my weight?

The process of intuitive eating doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on weight, and for good reason. Intuitive eaters are encouraged to put their desire for weight loss on the back-burner because it can interfere with body attunement, or your ability to recognize and honor your internal cues for hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.

Some intuitive eaters may gain weight, others may lose weight, and still others may maintain the weight they started with. It’s important not to treat intuitive eating like a diet and assume it isn’t “working” if it hasn’t resulted in weight loss. For most people, intuitive eating results in weight stabilization within your healthy weight range– no more yo-yo weight fluctuations.

Will permission to eat all foods make me gain weight?

A key part of the intuitive eating process is no longer restricting certain foods or food groups and giving yourself permission to eat and enjoy all foods. Many people fear that with permission to eat foods like cookies, chips, pizza, and ice cream (just to name a few) they will start gaining weight and never stop. But this just isn’t the case!

The foods you tend to avoid are also typically the foods you crave most and feel the most out of control around. At first with permission to eat all foods you may feel like all you do is eat cookies and pizza, but over time your cravings will tend to lessen. Your body weight may fluctuate throughout this process, but will eventually stabilize.

Intuitive eating and your weight

Is it normal for my weight to fluctuate?

Yes, weight changes over our lifetimes are completely normal and expected! As children and through our teens we expect to gain weight as we grow and mature. Weight can and will continue to fluctuate as we navigate life. Stress, medication changes, pregnancy, menopause, activity level, access to healthy foods or healthcare all impact our weight as we age.

Chronic dieting can also affect weight. The yo-yo cycle of dieting, weight loss, weight regain, and dieting again will lead to weight gain in the long term– just another reason why dieting for weight loss is so unhelpful!

It’s also normal for our weight to fluctuate from day to day! Daily weight fluctuations are often related to water weight which is affected by the fluids you drink, the foods you eat, how you’ve moved your body, and where you are in your menstrual cycle. Your weight can also fluctuate depending on when you last had a bowel movement! As you can see, daily weight fluctuations are not a reflection of body composition changes.

I just don’t like my body at this weight and wish it would change

This is a valid sentiment. Even if you’ve committed to intuitive eating and want to trust your body to reach your healthiest weight, there may still be a part of you that isn’t comfortable with weight gain or wants to pursue weight loss. It’s completely understandable to feel conflicted about intuitive eating and weight. Most of us have been taught for a really long time to dislike our bodies in their most natural form. Our culture makes it very difficult to live in a larger body, even if in that body we are our healthiest, happiest self.

Loving your body as it is doesn’t happen overnight. It may not even happen over one month, or a year. It’s a journey that you commit to that doesn’t ever really end. People talk about marriage being a commitment to love your spouse that you make every day, over and over again, regardless of the trials and hardships. Body positivity feels a little like that– a commitment to love your body that you make every day, over and over again. You are, after all, in a life-long relationship.

On the days where love and positivity feel too hard, try neutrality and respect instead. It may not be realistic to think that you will wake up every day and love the way your body looks– but that doesn’t mean you can’t take good care of it. Your body does a lot of really awesome things that you might not be giving it enough credit for.

Intuitive eating and your weight

Kristin Jenkins, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Kristin specializes in eating disorders and intuitive eating, and is an advocate for weight-inclusive care for all her clients.