weighImagine a new trend has taken over social media…
Influencers are promoting how this *special drink* has helped them lose X amount of pounds in 1 week and now they feel great!!
It isn’t hard to imagine this scenario since we are constantly bombarded with the idea of dieting, the need for dieting, and diet products all the time. You may have tried countless diets with the hope of losing weight and regaining health, but often ended up gaining more weight than you had lost and feeling worse than before. These diets may have been hard to maintain, and you saw yourself quitting and looking for another, ‘better’ diet to follow. “Maybe I should try this new trend and it’ll work for me,” you think.
Now imagine you stumble across Intuitive eating. With intuitive eating, gone are the restrictions, rules, and telling yourself ‘no’ around food. Instead, the focus is on body acceptance and your health values. The fact that there are no restrictions on what you eat understandably brings the question of weight into the conversation. The burning questions on your mind might be: What will happen to my weight if I were start Intuitive Eating? Will I gain weight eating whatever I want? Will I be able to lose weight with Intuitive Eating?
These are valid questions. Before answering these questions, it is important to talk about the correlation between weight and health.
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What is the correlation between weight and health?
You may not have known, but your health isn’t defined by the number you see on the scale or the body mass index (BMI) label you receive at the doctor’s office. According to Evelyn Tribole, M.S., R.D., and Elyse Resch, M.S., R.D., F.A.D.A, C.E.D.R.D, authors of the book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works (1), weight and BMI are not accurate ways to reflect health status. BMI was created as a statistical exercise at the population level in the 1830s and was never intended to be used as a measure of individual health. Now, it may be applied to you in the doctor’s office. (2)
Remember…correlation does not equal causation. If a correlation exists between certain diseases and higher weights, this doesn’t mean the weight caused it. Dieting has been linked to slowed metabolism, disordered eating, and overall weight gain. Weight cycling can also increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (1) What if our very pursuit of being at a lower weight is what’s contributing to this correlation?
The fact that we can be so obsessed with our weight stems from the widely accepted diet culture that we live in. The diet industry has taken advantage of the endless pursuit of weight loss and has profited nicely. The diet industry was valued at $192.2 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $295.3 billion in 2027. (3) It may feel like a constant battle with our body and weight every day because we are told we are not healthy until we weigh a certain number or fit into a smaller size. Not only is our view of health skewed but so is our idea of normalized eating. With intuitive eating, the goal is to find a way of eating that feels good in your body and build a relationship with food that feels mentally and physically healthy.
How do you measure health progress if you’re not trying to lose weight?
If health is a value of yours, you can pursue it at any size. With interventions such as Health At Every Size (HAES), health becomes the focus with eating for well-being and moving in ways that are enjoyable to you. Health can be defined in more holistic ways. Alissa Rumsey, M.S., R.D. lists ways to measure health progress including having more energy (Wow, I don’t need that second cup of coffee), gaining strength (Hey, I can lift my toddler without straining now!), being flexible, having better balance, having more confidence (Yes, I can wear that outfit and feel great!), and exercising for fun and not as punishment (4). More physical indicators of health can be a lower resting heart rate, improved blood pressure, improved blood lipid levels, and lower fasting blood glucose levels. (5) Skin appearance and quality of sleep can also indicate better health. These can all be a result of intuitive eating.
How does intuitive eating affect my weight then?
With intuitive eating, you are letting go of dieting and restrictions. Instead, you are letting your body tell you what you need. You may be scared or even terrified that this means rapid weight gain.
The pendulum theory may help explain what can happen to your eating behaviors and weight when you let go of restrictions. (6) The pendulum is pulled back by dieting and restrictions, and when the pendulum is released it often wildly swings to the other side. This is what people usually feel when they “cheat” or come off of a diet: overeating, bingeing, and lack of control. A pendulum acts under gravity, though, and it will settle in the center if no other acting force is applied (such as a new diet or restrictive action).
This is what can happen with intuitive eating. Weight fluctuations are completely normal, especially in the early stages of intuitive eating. You may eat foods that you had previously prohibited, and you might find yourself eating more than you normally would.
The key is to realize that it is an individualized journey and, as you continue learning about yourself and your body, your eating will stabilize. Your weight could go up, it could go down, or it could stay the same. More likely than not, you’ll see some fluctuations.
Since it is a very personalized journey, it is difficult to predict what will happen exactly, but working with an intuitive eating dietitian can help you. You will learn to focus on how your body feels and your personal health values rather than weight.
What is the science behind intuitive eating and health?
Intuitive eating is a non-diet approach to health. Studies show that intuitive eating helps long-term weight stabilization, reduces disordered eating, and improves dietary intake, such as including more fruit and vegetables and eating more balanced and satisfying meals. (7, 8) It has also been shown to improve body appreciation, body image, and gratitude for one’s body. Another study showed that a Health At Every Size (HAES) intervention improved mental and physical health in women with body weight and body image struggles. (5)
Is intuitive eating right for you?
Diet culture tells you that the only way to health and happiness is to be a certain size, one that is determined by the society we live in and can be harmful physically and mentally! This size is determined by society, diet culture, and almost every magazine and social media influencer we see.
The intuitive eating journey helps you see your body with gratitude; it’s the only body you have! It’s important to acknowledge this to heal our relationship with our body and food. Working with an intuitive eating dietitian is helpful for healing that damage and focusing on your health goals. Our goal is to dispel the myth that we can control weight. With intuitive eating we will, instead, focus on enjoying eating and treating our bodies with respect and kindness.
Written by Anna Miller, Dietetic Intern and MS Dietetic Student.
Edited by Amy Camenisch, MS, RDN, LD, CLT, Owner of Amy Lorraine Nutrition.
1. Tribole E, Resch E. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin; 2012.
2. Harrison, C. Anti-Diet: Reclaim Your Time, Money, Well-Being, and Happiness through Intuitive Eating. New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark; 2019.
3. Vig H, Deshmukh R. Weight loss and weight management diet market size, share & trends. Allied Market Research. https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/weight-loss-management-diet-market#:~:text=The%20weight%20loss%20and%20weight%20management%20diet%20market,to%20retain%20its%20dominance%20throughout%20the%20forecast%20period. Published May 2021. Accessed October 20, 2021.
4. Rumsey A. 23 ways to measure progress that aren’t weight loss: Intuitive eating. Alissa Rumsey. https://alissarumsey.com/ways-to-measure-progress/. Published September 28, 2021. Accessed October 8, 2021.
5. Keirns NG, Hawkins MAW. Intuitive eating, objective weight status and physical indicators of health. Obes Sci Pract. 2019;5(5):408-415. Published 2019 Jul 29. doi:10.1002/osp4.359
6. Hartley R. Wellness Wednesday: The dieting pendulum. https://wwwrachaelhartleynutritioncom/blog/2017/03/the-dieting-pendulum. March 2017.
7. Studies. Intuitive Eating. https://www.intuitiveeating.org/resources/studies/. Published June 3, 2019. Accessed September 28, 2021.
8. Van Dyke N, Drinkwater EJ. Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: literature review. Public Health Nutr. 2014 Aug;17(8):1757-66. doi: 10.1017/S1368980013002139. Epub 2013 Aug 21. PMID: 23962472.