“But I just want to lose ___ pounds . . . and then I will start eating more intuitively.”

Happy Girl

There was a time when we all felt this comfortable in our skin, and food choices were not major stressors.

What is wrong with wanting to “just get the pounds off” first and then start eating “normally” or “more intuitively”? For one thing, the process of doing another unrealistic eating plan just takes you farther away from eating in tune with your body and soul.  It is just one more opportunity to strengthen the neural pathways that lock the diet-overeat cycle in place.  Notice how the restrictive eating and feelings of deprivation drive the overeating every time?

If that doesn’t convince you to stop the crazy diets, consider this logic:  The more restrictive the diet, the more extreme the overeating backlash.  This just makes sense, and I know you know this!  In fact, a more connected form of eating that acknowledges your needs day-to-day is actually the way to reach a more naturally sustainable healthier weight if weight loss is needed.

A recent article discusses how hard the dieting habit can be to break, as well as why eating more intuitively is what we should all desire for a less anxiety-ridden eating style overall.  The author makes 5 important points, in this case focusing on transitioning from counting macros to a more intuitive style, but these points are equally true for any restrictive eating plan:

Recognize that tracking macros is a choice. Realizing that you don’t have to micromanage your body by counting every morsel of food is a critical first step. It’s a choice to count or not to count, and counting likely isn’t keeping you as “safe” as you think. Tracking and micromanaging for many is what leads to the very chaos and dysfunction with food that they’re afraid of. Bodies don’t require exact math to function and — in fact — often function best mentally, physically and emotionally with more flexibility.

Expect change. We suffer when we expect impermanent things to stay constant. Our bodies are meant to change, and our minds are meant to learn, grow and change, too. Don’t be scared of the dynamic nature of your body and mind. It’s OK. It will very likely feel scary to even contemplate this change in your approach to food, but there’s peace on the other side and change is to be expected.

Practice trust. Tracking macros has taught you that your body isn’t to be trusted. Tracking has taught you that if you figure out just the right mathematical formula, you’re guaranteed certain results and success. Question the very premise of this argument. Start questioning if it’s really true that your body can’t be trusted. Does your body successfully tell you when it’s time to go to the bathroom? Does your body communicate its needs in ways beyond food? Does your body do things for you every day that are worthy of trust? My guess is yes, but if you’re not sure, start noticing when and why your body deserves trust. Just like any relationship, as you’re working on building trust with your body, experiment, reflect and take steps toward trust.

Learn to separate nutrition fact from fiction. Your body doesn’t need micromanaging. Your body doesn’t even have the same nutritional needs day to day. The very premise of the idea of tracking macros assumes that your body’s needs remain constant day after day. This simply isn’t true. Questioning this underlying assumption — and really beginning to believe your body doesn’t require so much math and mental gymnastics — brings freedom to explore intuitive eating.

Get really clear about what matters to you in life. Ultimately, the purpose of food is to help give you energy to live out your life. The purpose of life isn’t to obsess about food. Ask yourself whether or not you believe this statement: If it costs you your peace of mind, it’s too expensive.

–  Paige Smathers, RDN

I know this transition is difficult.  I see it every day in my practice, and often people are not willing to let go of their restrictive boundaries all at once.  It may be necessary to practice using what I call “training wheels” for a while.  By that I mean that it may help to apply some gentle boundaries that give some sense of security as a person learns to trust internal signals.  That might include journaling hunger levels and food intake without numbers, or it could even include tracking calories (or macros), but for only a day or two a week.

Testing balance a little without the “training wheels” is part of the process.  It will probably take a while, but with practice, a more compassionate style of eating that respects all-around health can be achieved.  Don’t give up!


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