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Working with people who have spent a huge chunk of their life dieting, many of them come to me feeling like huge Failures, capital F intended. They’ve spent their life on-and-off diets, shaming themselves for “lack of willpower” in between each round. Of course, it’s the flawed system of dieting that’s the failure, not the person, but that’s not how they feel.
So it’s no surprise that when I bring up intuitive eating, this novel approach to eating, their first response is often fear of failure. I mean, if you can't manage eating with clear defined rules, how on earth are you supposed to manage it without all that structure?
The thing is, it's impossible to fail at intuitive eating. Unless you’re going into it with a diet mindset, failure simply isn't a possible outcome. And even if you are going into it with a diet mindset initially (hey, it's hard to break up with diet mentality!), you're still much more likely to become a more competent eater in the long run than if you were to start yet another diet plan.
Food, eating, and dieting is often viewed with this binary lens. There’s good foods and bad foods, healthy foods and unhealthy foods. You’re on a diet or you’re off a diet. You’ve succeeded or failed. Moving towards intuitive eating, your eyes will be opened to many shades of grey. Rather than relying on black and white rules, intuitive eating is based on 10 principles, guidelines really, that you can adapt and incorporate on your own timeline, in your own way. There’s no right or wrong. Some other things to know about intuitive eating:
It's not a test. No one is grading you. Intuitive eating is a tool for better understanding your body and it's needs, and eating in a way that responds to those needs. It's not a set of standards with pass/fail criteria.
The goal is learning. There is no outcome that defines a successful intuitive eater. If you tune into your body, or attempt to do something differently, you’ll learn, and even if the outcome isn't what you expected or desired, you'll still gain valuable knowledge. And that's a win!
Setbacks are opportunities for growth. Working with clients on intuitive eating, I welcome slips and struggles as learning opportunity! Think about something you do well - did you not fail dozens (hundreds, thousands!) of times before feeling competent in it? It’s a cliche, but failure is not opposite of success, it's part of it.
It’s helpful to notice when that success/failure mentality is coming up for you in intuitive eating, so that you can challenge it. Diet mentality can derail intuitive eating, and turn this life saving changing approach into a diet. When you notice black-and-white thinking, lean in and get curious, not judgmental, about where that might be coming from.
You know what to expect with diets. Intuitive eating is unknown, so it makes sense that it would feel scary. That’s why it’s so important to have a support system, whether it’s a friend, partner, family member, facebook group, or an intuitive eating coach who can guide you. My goal in working with clients on intuitive eating is to help break down the principles and individualize them to you and your needs, and normalize what you’re going through on this journey. If you’re interested in working together, here’s more about my practice philosophy and nutrition services.
What's scariest to you about intuitive eating?
This post was originally published in March 2016. It has been updated to give you the best content possible.
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