Addressing Intuitive Eating Weight Loss Controversy

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Here’s my opinion on the recently published and somewhat controversial US News article on “Why Weight Loss and Intuitive Eating Can Coexist”.

My main opinion regarding the US News article is simple: Yes, Yes, Yes!

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Here’s why the US News article is controversial

In the past and for many decades Western culture viewed ‘good health’ as a simple matter of BMI, dieting and weight loss.

However, most of us these days have heard on the news that dieting is very bad. 

We’ll talk more about why dieting is bad down below but the basic gist is that dieting doesn’t work. You spend tons of money, time, and energy trying to lose weight but you don’t lose weight in the long term!

Actually in the long-term, failing at dieting is not just neutral like most people assume. It turns out dieting is pretty harmful. Dieting leads to binge eating, yo yo dieting and even gaining additional weight!

The point is that no diet works. They all backfire or downright fail. Hence, traditional dieting and weight loss are bad.

First, “weight loss” became separate from ‘health’

Since dieting and weight loss are so pervasive in our culture but don’t work, then why not stop talking about weight loss?

Why not de-couple weight loss from health? 

Since purposefully trying to lose weight is so harmful for so many people, why not stop giving ‘weight loss’ so much emphasis when you are talking about ‘health’? 

Because health is so much more than weight loss! 

Health isn’t just losing weight and includes:

  • Sleep, feeling well rested and not fatigued
  • Emotional well-being, taking care of yourself 
  • Purpose, having a sense of direction
  • Joy, having respectful relationships
  • Stress relief, not always being in a stressed out state
  • Confidence, poise, being normal and relaxed around food and people

These are extremely important things that are well worth it! And they don’t include weight loss!!

You can be well-rested, emotionally present, joyful, have confidence and live a great life no matter what your weight!!

So it’s really good in many ways that weight loss becomes much less important. Because so many people can’t lose weight and then give up on their health.

By lessening the focus on weight loss and instead focusing on other more important aspects of health, a person can start to find their energy, purpose and vitality back. 

Weight loss needs to be de-emphasiized.  

However, this de-emphasis and de-coupling of weight loss from health has gone too far.

To say that anyone – even for example a registered dietitian who has studied food – who mentioned weight loss as a primary goal would actually be ignorant, or even harmful towards others – is going a stretch too far.

It feels like that if you talk about weight loss, then you are like the diet industry.

The diet industry is terrible, indeed. They have spread lies and fables for many decades. Sadly even many a registered dietitian falls into these traps:

  • This trend / fad / diet will make you lose weight
  • This pill / supplement / medication will make you lose weight
  • This trick / hack / tip will make you lose weight

Let’s be clear. The diet industry is for-profit. Like a weapon or drug dealer, they profit off the suffering of others. The allure of weight loss is their weapon, their drug.

However, the diet industry has poisoned the well to talk about what it actually means to pursue intuitive eating.

But do you see the slippery slope? Very soon weight loss in intuitive eating is never talked about at all!

Weight loss becomes pushed under the table, a taboo topic, merely a foolish desire.

We first went from weight loss being different than health, and now we can no longer talk about weight loss. But in reality the key is to simply de-emphasis weight loss. 

But what about people who have legitimate weight loss concerns?

This leaves people with legitimate weight loss concerns in a difficult spot.

For example, some people with fatty liver disease or others who are at high risk of a heart attack are told that losing weight is a life or death issue.

Others might not be so extreme, but they are still facing very real and serious health consequences of being overweight or obese:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure 

Many of these people may want to change their relationship with food and become an intuitive eater, but they still want to lose weight too. And how can we fault them for this?

Are we supposed to tell them that their body cannot lose weight – even though their doctor is telling them that they are facing a life or death emergency if they don’t lose weight?

Under these circumstances, if eating intuitive means that weight loss cannot happen, this person will unfortunately choose another diet. 

And choosing another diet, well, you know what that means. It means you go back to abusing food and your body. And we don’t want that!

But intuitive eating does include weight loss, just weight loss is de-emphasized. I believe this is a compromise for the person who needs to lose weight. In this way someone who needs to lose weight can still choose intuitive eating knowing they are choosing the most secure way towards greater health.

Now admittedly not everybody who wants to lose weight actually needs to lose weight. 

This is an important distinction. 

Many people just want to lose weight because they feel that they’ll be happier. Many people believe weight loss will make them:

  • Better parents or just better people overall
  • More attractive
  • More confident

But considering the disastrous track record of dieting and weight loss, is it really worth it? This is a conversation I have frequently with clients who want to become intuitive eaters. 

To see if they really want weight loss, especially when they consider the potentially dangerous side effects of later gaining back all the weight and slowing down their metabolism.

Oftentimes what people need in order to become an intuitive eater is realizing a different mindset. That ‘health’ that is separate from weight loss. 

They need to accept their body right now. Give up the bikini or hunk dreams. Get going on walks, sleeping more, practicing self-care, and thinking seriously about what will really make you happy in life.

Just realizing that they can have a amazing benefits like:

  • having more energy
  • making peace with food and no longer binge eating
  • having more confidence and self-esteem

A person can have all these things by embracing intuitive eating! And this has nothing to with weight loss.

So in many situations people can indeed start becoming intuitive eaters just by embracing the fact that health is separate from weight loss.

But! Still, there are people who need to lose weight. Their life depends on it.

So what about people who have legitimate concerns about weight loss? 

Does Intuitive Eating help you lose weight? 

Here’s my answer, and why I am in agreement with the US News health article.

Intuitive Eating and Weight Loss can coexist!

That’s the good news! The good news I want you to take away from reading this article!

When we look at Intuitive Eating outcomes, here are some of the beneficial outcomes we see:

  • Better self-care which improves sleep and reduces stress
  • Better eating with a variety of foods, which lends itself to a healthier diet overall
  • Dramatic reductions in yo yo dieting, binge eating, and out of control splurges
  • Better decision making, boundary setting, and being able to say ‘no’
  • More life purpose, more confidence, etc

As you can see many of these ‘beneficial outcomes’ are what you might find if you pursued weight loss! Right?! Like many of these benefits are advertised by the weight loss industry as outcomes that will happen if you follow their diet.

Of course, if you follow their program you end up developing a bad relationship with food, your body starts to hate you, and in the long run you gain back all the weight. So the advertised outcomes with diets don’t match reality – but with intuitive eating the outcomes actually are great!

You get all these outcomes without the weight gain. And of course that’s the main benefit with Intuitive Eating, you don’t gain back lost weight. You don’t end up binge eating like  you did when you failed a diet.

There are no negative downsides to Intuitive Eating. This is why you can truly shift your relationship with food by becoming an intuitive eater.

So the benefits of intuitive eating are amazing – and no downsides. So … let’s put 2 and 2 together.

What if you do get more sleep, less stress, more confidence and purpose and all the other benefits of intuitive eating?

Scientists have proven many times that stress and sleep are directly related to obesity.

With Intuitive Eating you begin to address many of these factors that are directly impacting weight gain and obesity. 

Tell me something. What causes weight loss when you eat normally?

You might answer a calorie deficit. Or eating less food. Or eating healthier food. And while food is important, food is not the only factor in weight loss. As Oprah might like to say, lifestyle plays an important role too.

So let’s make sure that we talk about food, yes, but let’s also focus more broadly.  What if:

  • You slept more?
  • You were way less stressed?
  • And you stopped binge eating?
  • Those negative thoughts in your head were replaced by soothing affirmations
  • Instead of self-hatred you practiced self-compassion
  • Relaxation and clarity of mind were your defaults instead of stress

Under these conditions, wouldn’t you lose weight? 

In fact, aren’t these things like positive thinking, confidence, less stress and more poise, better vitality, energy and motivation some of the things we associate with weight loss?

But it turns out these are the benefits of Intuitive Eating!!! And we haven’t even talked about weight loss!

But – if you get all these benefits of energy and relaxation and peace of mind … how can you not lose weight, if you are overweight.

Right? Like if you are overweight, and previously  yo yo dieting and binge eating, but then you treat yourself better with intuitive eating, wouldn’t you expect to lose some weight?

So what is intuitive eating weight loss?

There are several keys to understanding intuitive eating weight loss:

As I have alluded to in the italicized words above, the first point is more straightforward.

The first general rule of thumb I’d like to suggest is that ‘if you are overweight’ and you learn Intuitive Eating, you will lose weight.

This means however, that if you don’t really need to lose weight, then guess what – you probably won’t lose weight if you start Intuitive Eating.

But, again, if you are overweight, and you start treating yourself better and you don’t fall for dieting traps which lead to binge eating and weight gain in the long run …

If you replace stress with self-care, inner critic with emotional intelligence, a diet based on convenience with a diet based on internal attunement to your stomach, and on top of all this you are more confident and sleeping …

How are you not going to lose some weight?

So – you are going to lose some weight if you are overweight. That’s the key. That’s the first straight forward point I’d like to make about intuitive eating weight loss.

If you are overweight you will lose weight. 

But here’s the thing – you may not lose weight in the way you want! This is the other point I want to expand upon because it’s really important. 

Intuitive eating weight loss is not any of the things you hear about with normal mainstream diet weight loss.

For example, when people hear the term “weight loss” they often believe:

  • Weight loss will be easy
  • Weight loss will happen fairly quickly 
  • Their weight loss journey will be straightforward
  • Weight loss will be steady, no fluctuations, always upwards
  • Their weight loss will result in visible, dramatic changes to their body

But when you are Intuitive Eating, none of these things are true. 

Again, if you are overweight, and you treat yourself better and learn how to eat intuitively, you will lose weight – but…

Your weight loss might not be quick, easy, straightforward, or make any super big changes in your body.

What if you lost 15 lbs pounds … a year from now? That’s way slower than what most people are used to. But, it’s probably more realistic.

Keep in mind too that this weight loss from intuitive eating wouldn’t result in you being miserable. You’d be way happier overall than in comparison to your attempts at dieting when you couldn’t stick with the program and ended up binge eating.

With Intuitive Eating, the weight loss comes naturally. It comes in it’s own due time.

So let’s not pretend that the negative consequences of treating yourself poorly for failing a diet – years of yo yo dieting in other words – are going to be reversed just by learning intuitive eating.

All these factors paint a different perspective about losing weight when intuitively eating than you might initially think. Does this mean intuitive eating isn’t worth it? Hell no. Intuitive eating is the best thing there is!

But, your weight loss journey might not make you look different. It might not happen fast. Your journey might fluctuate. It might be unpredictable and scary.

But the alternative is worse. Trying a quick fix diet is just going to harm you and not lead to lasting changes.  Despite this, many people will still want the ‘promise’ of weight loss that diet companies espouse.

However, this article is not to make every one stop dieting and trying to lose weight. The point of this article is to simply educate. And in particular, talk about weight loss in the context of intuitive eating.

And speaking of which … let’s cover our last topic now:

What happens when you start Intuitive Eating?

What really happens when you start Intuitive Eating is that your body, mind, soul and emotions begin to get in alignment, balance and harmony.

I know this sounds silly, but bear with me. The reason dieting and purposeful attempts at weight loss don’t work is because they take ‘transformation shortcuts’.

Right? A transformation is what people are looking for on their weight loss journey. They want more confidence, less fat, more energy, more love and belonging …

They want to transform their body, mind and soul. 

However, with typical weight loss methods, you only work at the level of the body. You don’t talk about emotions, mindset, thoughts, triggers or happiness.

And the work that diets do at the level of the body is very restrictive and controlling. Instead of unconditional permission like what you experience in Intuitive Eating, in dieting you have to treat your body like a tool. You have to push it and measure it, and make it work.

In these diets, eating is conditional and weight loss becomes a huge chore. This is what a bad relationship with food looks like!

But if you integrate your emotions, your mindset, your expectations … and you treat the body as a friend … then miraculous things happen. Your body starts to cooperate. 

Just the shift when you start to give yourself unconditional permission to eat is amazing. Your relationship with food starts to shift in the opposite direction!

Of course, giving yourself unconditional permission to eat can be very scary. Learning how to work with this fear is ultimately what heals your relationship with food.

You start finding peace, harmony and stability. You start regaining your confidence and poise, and to feel good around food. And you feel confident knowing that your body can have the foods your body desires without fear of binge eating. 

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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