Weight Gain and Intuitive Eating
Weight Gain and Intuitive Eating
How to Deal
What happens when you start shutting down diet mentality, practice intuitive eating, and you begin to gain weight? Can intuitive eating lead to weight gain? How do you deal with weight gain and intuitive eating?
This was a question I was asked by a young woman who recently lost weight for her wedding then decided to take a more intuitive approach to eating and not follow a diet. The result was weight gain. An initial reaction to this weight gain may be fear, disappointment, disgust, and an immediate reaction may be to jump into another diet.
Just one more try at weight loss, then you can be intuitive. Right?
Intuitive eating is not a diet. It is not a “wellness plan” or “lifestyle change”. These are currently popular phrases to lead people to think they’re not dieting but mostly they are diets in disguise. When someone says they hope to lose weight from intuitive eating, it tells me this person is still wrapped up in the diet mentality, which is completely normal. Most of us starting the diet-ditching path are still dancing with the dream of losing weight and fitting into their “skinny” size.
We explore intuitive because we are sick of chronic dieting and the latest trendy weight loss gimmicks pulling us in. We are skeptical that it’s going to land us right back where we were, feeling defeated, unhealthy, unsatisfied, obsessed with food, and miserable. So we take a deep breath and abandon something we’ve been doing for years or most of our lives… dieting.
When you diet and restrict, your body is fighting to maintain muscle mass, metabolic rate, and other body processes while in a state of caloric deficit. If you have been dieting and restricting to lose weight and maintain a weight that is unnaturally too low for your body, intuitive eating can bring your weight back up to a normal range.
When you slowly stop the deprivation and restriction, a number of things may take place that can contribute to weight gain:
You start eating foods you never allowed yourself to eat. In the beginning this can be scary and overwhelming. You may “overeat” these foods beyond the point of satisfaction and this is COMPLETELY NORMAL. Why? You haven’t allowed yourself to eat these foods in a long time. The “overeating” part will normalize itself in time as long as you don’t go back to restricting these foods.
You actually start ENJOYING food again. You’re free! You are choosing foods based on what you are craving and truly desire to eat. Not based on what a meal plan tells you, what a calorie-tracking or macro-tracking app tells you to eat, not based on some ridiculous rules dictating that you “can’t eat this, can’t eat that” for a number of non-substantiated reasons. So yes, you may be eating a little more than normal because you’re tasting and savoring foods that were off limits for so long.
Your metabolism took a big hit. Dieting causes a decrease in your metabolic rate. Your body slows metabolism as one of many ways to keep it alive when you diet. Your body doesn’t know that you’re deliberately trying to lose weight. It simply thinks there is a famine happening and it is trying to keep you alive. This is why many of us may gain even more weight than we initially lost from diet.
You’re trying to figure out how to eat without relying on food rules. It’s a process. For example, if you’ve been intermittent fasting you are following rules about what time to eat and NOT listening to your body. If you’re hungry at 8AM but waiting until 10AM to eat then you’re completely ignoring your body’s hunger signals at 8AM. Once you dig yourself out of this mentality it takes time to reacquaint yourself with your body’s internal hunger and satiety cues.
How do you know if you have lost weight to the point where your body is at a lower weight than what it is meant to be? Look at your family. Look at your own weight history. If you’ve lost a bunch of weight but are struggling mentally and physically to keep it down this is a big sign. Ask yourself:
What are you doing to be at this weight?
Is your current eating pattern something you can maintain forever?
If not, you have to recognize the fact that when you return to non-restricted eating, your body will return to where it needs to be to function properly (e.g., no missing periods, no dizzy spells, no fatigue, no depression, no anxiety around food decisions).
People don’t want to hear they may gain weight. But here’s the thing. If you are underweight or holding on to a weight that is not natural for you body because you’re restricting, once you stop restricting, weight gain may happen as a way for your body to recover, be healthy, and function properly. This can be a tough time accepting the weight gain. Would you rather be at this higher weight and happy or at the lower weight and struggling every day to keep yourself there? Think about the positive changes that are happening from not enduring yet another diet:
You are so much more happy now that you’re not obsessing over every morsel of food you put in your mouth.
You have a lot more time to do things you enjoy because the time suck of dieting is gone.
You are being more social.
You are more present with your family and friends rather than distancing yourself or not participating in things that involve food you’re afraid to eat.
You’re happier. Seriously. Chronic dieting and disordered eating can do a number on your mental health status and lead to depression, stress, anxiety, and irritability.
People find you more approachable and “fun” to be around. Not many people like hanging around someone whose #1 priority is to be thin and talks about their diet all day long.
You are more accepting of your body, its imperfections and all.
Getting to the point of ditching diet mentality and working through the principles of intuitive eating is not easy. It takes time to work on yourself. It takes patience and perseverance. Dealing with weight gain is not easy. But it is necessary for many who have been holding on to an unnaturally low weight. Whether the low weight is from an eating disorder or disordered eating and chronic dieting, we need to make peace with that older version of ourselves and move on. If not, we will fall right back into the disordered food relationship.
Have you dealt with weight gain after ditching diets? How have you found ways to get through it?
If you need help getting through the intuitive eating process, I can help! I’ve been there personally and I’m trained professionally as a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor.