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Intuitive eating can be the answer to your weight loss failure

Intuitive eating can be the answer to your weight loss failure

How long have you been dieting? 

For me, it feels like my entire adult life.  I think my first “real” diet where I followed a strict calorie count was in my early twenties.  And of course, in that first attempt the weight came off and it stayed off for a while.  But then, it eventually found its way back.

My experience with dieting and weight loss failure

By the time I was in my late twenties and early thirties I found myself trying new diets every few months.  Each time, it seemed like the weight came off more and more slowly.  However, one thing was always certain, the weight eventually came back when I no longer followed the same rules and restrictions on the diet.

As I reached my forties, it felt like it became even more difficult to lose weight.  For me this was the point when I really began to face weight loss failure.  Even as I tried to focus on lifestyle changes, the weight just would not stay off and what worked before didn’t work anymore.  I found that the weight might eventually come off, but not without severe restriction and constantly feeling hungry.

It led me to begin thinking about what is going on and why this struggle seems relentless.  Why is it that so many diets stop working or end in weight loss failure?

The media and the doctors tell me that it’s my fault the weight won’t come off.  That somehow I don’t have enough willpower or I’m lazy and that it’s my fault.  But is that really what is going on?

This feeling of total despair of not being successful at weight loss and feeling like something is wrong with me, led me to intuitive eating as well as my desire to learn more about why many people, like you and me struggle with weight loss.

What the science says about weight loss failure

It’s difficult to determine how many people actually gain weight back after dieting.  I read various estimates citing 75%, 80% and even 95%., but who knows what’s the real number??  Whatever it is, it does seem that for many of us, the process of losing weight permanently is just non-existent and we consistently face weight loss failure over and over again.

Woman on scale experiencing weight loss failure?Physical ways your body impedes weight loss

But it is more than just anecdotal, there is actual science behind the weight regain.

It starts with mechanisms in your body.  You see, your body is built to protect itself in times of starvation.  This goes back to our time as hunters and gatherers, when there would be long periods of time when food was scarce.  Unfortunately, our body is unable to distinguish between a diet and starvation. Simply put, a diet is forced or planned starvation.

When you start restricting calories, your body thinks it’s actually starving.  So, it’s not actually a lack of willpower that leads you to forgo your diet, it’s a biological need where your brain recognizes your body’s starvation.  In response, it fires off neurochemical transmitters that tell your body you need to eat.

And your mind responds to starvation as well

There are also psychological responses at work too when you deprive yourself of food!!   In an important study on starvation and deprivation by Dr. Ancel Keys, a small group of men were allowed to eat however they wanted for three months.  Following the three months, they were subjected to a six month period of semi-starvation.  During the period of starvation, the men were allowed to eat around half the calories they were consuming in the prior three months in order to lose 19-28% of their weight.

Here are some of the behavior they exhibited during and following the starvation period.

  • Food obsession including more food cravings, conversations about food and dreaming about food.
  • Some men engaged in high levels of exercise to get a higher food allowance.
  • The men experienced mood and personality changes including depression, easily irritated, lack of motivation and increased mood swings.
  • Following the starvation period, the men displayed difficulty in stopping eating sometimes eating 8-10,000 calories in a weekend.

Yet we take our inability to maintain a diet or our obsession with food to be an indication of our lack of willpower or that we are inherently damaged and at fault in some way.  Clearly that is not truly what is happening but these behaviors are our body’s response to thinking it is starving.

Doctor on computer with veggies and juice wrapped in measuring tape on corner of desk.Weight is not an indicator of health 

The medical community and media are WAY behind in accepting this concept.  What happens often is that those of us who are overweight are shamed by our medical providers and made to feel like something is wrong with us.  Leading many of us to avoid going to the doctor regularly because we don’t want to be made to feel that way.

On the other side of this issue, it’s also detrimental for those who aren’t overweight because doctors assume skinnier folks are healthier simply based on their weight.  In these instances people may not get thorough treatment.

And of course, the media is there EVERYDAY scaring us with all the “health” talk.  Or making us feel bad our bodies because we don’t look the way that everyone else does.

This concept has been relatively easy for me to accept.  I know that for the most part, I am healthy.  For the most part, I eat well-balanced and healthy meals, and I am fairly active.  I don’t have high blood pressure or issues with my cholesterol despite that I am overweight.

And I know that it is highly likely that I am healthier than someone who is continually restricting their diet and eliminating healthy foods because they are following a diet whose rules don’t allow those foods.  It doesn’t mean I am perfect, that I couldn’t eat nutritiously more consistently or that I couldn’t get my butt moving more often, but overall I am in good health.

Believe me, I know what it feels like to be shamed by my doctor about my weight to the point of tears.  It doesn’t feel good.  Honestly at that point,  I already felt like a failure for being unable to lose the weight and all the doctor did was make me fee worse.  And to make it even more difficult for me, this advice often came from a thin doctor who in my opinion, most certainly didn’t understand the vulnerable feelings I experience about my weight

Woman choosing between apple and cupcakeHow does intuitive eating help

When you finally accept that diets don’t or won’t work for you, you can begin on your journey with intuitive eating.  But I won’t lie, it’s a process getting to diet freedom and it most certainly isn’t a direct line.  I still experience setbacks but try to focus on what I am learning about myself rather than feeling like a failure.

As you begin eating according to your own hunger cues.  You learn to eat what you want, when your body is hungry.

Now this might sound super scary and you might be thinking that you will eat out of control.  But my experience has been quite the opposite.  Overtime as I pay attention to my hunger and eat when I sense the signals, I begin to trust myself more to know what I want and need.

You begin to develop compassion for yourself and the process. Finding compassion for myself is still a struggle.  And I won’t lie, I wish I was skinnier. That might never go away completely but I can already sense some shifts and I hope that in time, I can more fully accept myself as I am and the way I look.

No more rules and restrictions exist with Intuitive Eating.  Just think, no more ideas of I can’t eat that or I can’t eat this!!!  Not eating according to a list of rules makes eating decisions all the easier.  Plus, when I allow myself to eat what I want I think about food less and less throughout the day.

How do you get started with Intuitive Eating?

Implementing intuitive eating is a process, one that takes time, especially if you have been dieting for a long period of time.  One of the keys is finding support along the way, and I can help you with both the support and guidance on your path to finding diet freedom.

If you have any questions or comments about this post or intuitive eating, please leave me a comment here on the blog or use the Contact me form to send me a direct message.  I will personally respond to all messages and comments.

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Sources and Credits:

Tribole, E., M.S., R.D., & Resch, E., M.S, R.D., F.A.D.A., C.E.D.R.D. (2012). Intuitive eating. New York City, NY: St Martin’s Press.

Photo credit: Food photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com



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