The Dilemma of Intuitive Eating: How to Apply the Principles When You Can’t Let Go of Weight Loss
Intuitive is becoming a popular, mainstream approach to eating which rightfully contrasts the dangers of diet culture.
The principles of Intuitive Eating are great, too! From letting go of dieting mentality to joyful movement, what’s not to love?
However, applying the principles often backfires for people, especially when they try to let go of food rules, challenge the food police, or think positively about their body.
All too many times I hear people going on the worst binge of their life right after they try to “just listen to their body”.
People feel internally conflicted. They have a dilemma they cannot reconcile.
- They want to stop worrying about weight but can’t forget about weight loss.
- A “part” of a person genuinely wants to stop the body hatred, but deep down another “part” of this person hates their body.
Fortunately a person can learn new paradigms, tools and skills to manage their inner turmoil, and with these emotional obstacles out of the way Intuitive Eating is possible.
In this article we’ll talk about the problems of internal conflict in relation to eating intuitively.
We’ll also suggest the integration of Internal Family Systems to help relieve internal conflict and pave the way to successfully applying the intuitive eating principles.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is an approach to eating that was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
It’s based on the idea that we are born intuitive eaters, but our natural instincts get suppressed by diet culture.
The intuitive eating principles aim to help people make peace with food and their bodies.
The intuitive eating philosophy has gained a lot of traction in recent years, and for good reason!
Dieting is not only ineffective, it’s also really harmful.
Studies have shown that dieting actually increases your risk of weight gain, disordered eating, and low self-esteem.
What are the Principles of Intuitive Eating?
There are ten principles of intuitive eating, which are:
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Discover satisfaction factor
- Feel your fullness
- Cope with emotions with kindness
- Respect your body
- Movement – feel the difference
- Honor your health – gentle nutrition
The intuitive eating principles are great in theory, but they can be really difficult to put into practice.
This is because most of us have been living on a diet for so long that we’ve completely lost touch with our internal cues of hunger and fullness.
Additionally, many of us have a lot of negative emotions around food and our bodies. This is what I mean by internal conflicts, dilemmas and even outright inner emotional war!
These emotional obstacles can make it very difficult to intuitively eat because whatever you choose, you cannot stick with for very long.
- If you choose to listen to hunger, soon you’re filled with self-doubt and feel like you need food rules.
- If you choose to eat what you desire, another “part” of you feels guilty and then diets to compensate
How to manage internal conflicts? Intro to Internal Family Systems
If you want to intuitively eat, you need to find a way to manage your internal conflicts.
I believe the integration of Internal Family Systems (IFS) is the best way to do this.
Internal Family Systems is a therapeutic model that was created by Dr. Richard Schwartz. It’s based on the idea that we all have multiple “parts” or sub-personalities that make up our overall personality.
These parts are in constant conflict with each other, which can lead to a lot of inner turmoil.
However, when we learn how to work with our parts, they can actually become our allies instead of our enemies.
There are three basic principles of IFS:
- We are all made up of parts
- There is no “bad” part, only wounded parts
- All parts have a positive intention
IFS can be really helpful for intuitive eating because it helps you to understand and work with the conflicting parts of yourself.
It also helps you to see your body in a more positive light, which is essential for intuitive eating.
Example: How to combine Intuitive Eating with Internal Family Systems
Let’s take a very specific example to show you a bit more.
Let’s say you’re trying to intuitively eat, but you keep getting caught up in food rules.
This is because you have a ” perfectionist” part that is constantly critiquing your eating and telling you that you’re doing it wrong.
With IFS, you would work with this part to understand its positive intention (which is usually to protect you from making a mistake or being judged) and then help it to feel more secure.
Once the perfectionist part feels more secure, it will be much less likely to try to control your eating.
This is just one example of how IFS can be used in combination with intuitive eating, but there are many other ways.
What about overeating?
Overeating may seem confusing at first glance.
Intuitive Eating says in Principle #7 “Cope with Emotions with Kindness”.
Now in my experience this is a very helpful principle, but it only goes so far.
If you’ve never heard about being kind to yourself, this can be revolutionary. For many people it is revolutionary which is great!
However, from my perspective having worked in the eating disorder field for close to a decade, many people know about being kind to themselves – and they feel they suck at it!
They can practice self-kindness for a day or two, but then they make a simple eating mistake by eating a little bit too much and the gloves are off!
Soon they are punishing themselves with food or eating like there’s no tomorrow.
In IFS terms, this person only addressed one of their “parts”.
They were able to get their “inner critic” to calm down and be a bit nicer. However, because they were only working in Intuitive Eating frameworks, they missed out on the idea of multiple “parts”.
“Parts” means multiple sides of your personality.
So one “part” the inner critic became nicer, the person missed out on their overeating part. There may be other parts as well, like a part that punishes, rebels, or abuses food.
All these parts need to be seen, understood and reconciled.
If you just work with one part, you’ll still be out of balance. And that’s where IFS comes in handy, because you get tools to manage all sides of your personality.
Of course you can make progress working with the basic Intuitive Eating principles, but if you’ve tried this before many times and still can’t make headway then integrating IFS can be a great option.
I’m not trying to bash, harp, or criticize Intuitive Eating in any way.
I personally believe Intuitive Eating Principles are more like guidelines, or landmarks. They point the way. And they also provide some great tools, mindsets and skills to get there.
But, you need a vehicle. An inner vehicle which can help you with internal conflicts and manage all “parts” of your personality.
IFS is a great approach to integrate into your journey to eating intuitively.
Jared Levenson is the founder of Eating Enlightenment, a 4 year old coaching blog dedicated to exploring the relationship between mind, body and spirit through food.