Recently I was talking with a new client about intuitive eating, when they said “This sounds great, but what will happen to my weight?”
If this is one of your barriers to learning more about intuitive eating or healing your relationship with food, you are not alone. Having these fears about change in weight or weight gain, when letting go of strict rules around food and your diet, is totally normal. This is one of the most common conversations that I have with clients – whether they’re new to intuitive eating, or not. So today I’m digging into the fear around weight gain, sharing some tips to unpack more about where that fear comes from, and how to navigate this struggle while continuing your journey to finding more peace with food and your body.
“I’m still not sure I’d be okay with gaining weight. Can I still start working on intuitive eating even if I feel that way?”
Yes! This desire to lose weight is normal, given that we live in a very weight-centric and fatphobic culture. For most of us, it’s not realistic to wake up one day and love everything about your body or expect to ‘snap out of’ beliefs and feelings you have about weight. BUT that said, it is possible over time
When you ask what you can expect to happen to your weight when you stop dieting, the answer is: I don’t know. And you don’t know.
We can’t guarantee where your body will fall when no longer dieting or weight cycling. The unknown can be scary, so it’s okay for that to feel uncomfortable. The idea of not being in control of your weight can be frightening, especially because the messages diet culture has been selling you for years is that you *can* and should be controlling your weight…and if you’re not, then “you must not be trying hard enough or doing the right plan”. (Ahem, diet culture)
This puts all the pressure on you to make it seem like being a certain weight is your moral obligation as a human, and that failing to do so is a personal failure, rather than a failure of the diet itself.
Evelyn Tribole, Registered Dietitian and co-author of Intuitive Eating put it well when she said: “The weight loss industry is the only industry where a customer buys a product that doesn’t work and the manufacturer blames the customer.”
Aka: It’s not you, it’s the diet!
Where does the fear of weight gain or change in weight come from?
Let’s start unpacking. Think about your history with diets and dieting. Have you been able to ‘control’ your weight? The statistics show us otherwise. in general, dieting is more effective at continuing weight cycling – that is losing then regaining weight – instead of the advertised “sustained weight loss”.
If you have lost weight or felt in control through dieting, what was the cost of doing so? How was your social or family life affected? Did you feel restricted or out of control around certain foods? Did you find eating to be something that caused guilt, stress or anxiety?
While diets paint the picture of easy, long term change in weight, most people I work with have experienced the exact opposite. What diets really sell you isn’t the result, it’s the illusion of that control. This contributes to a complicated relationship with your weight, your body, and food in general.
The fear of weight gain first comes from the idea that each individual has the ability to control and manipulate their weight to a certain specific number or range. And further, that it’s a person’s responsibility to do so; and not doing or choosing not to is a personal failure. In reality: this is diet culture’s failure, not yours.
The other place that this fear comes from is some likely deeply rooted fatphobia (TW: this Guardian.com article contains numbers and mention of disordered eating behaviors).
You’ve been brought up in a society that values thinness and treats people differently for their body size, and you may have some personal experiences or trauma that supports those beliefs as well. This isn’t uncomplicated, but at the end of the day, all people and bodies are deserving of respect. This is what the Health at Every Size® movement is grounded in as well.
There are many layers to our relationship with food, body and our weight. Beginning to look into those relationships and starting to question where these beliefs stem from, and if they’re the ones you want to keep, can be a big step in navigating your relationship with your body.
You might even realize that even in exploring a non-diet approach, the messages you are receiving are coming from mostly thin, white, able-bodied, young women. Diversifying your feeds and seeing people with all different bodies being confident, successful and happy helps to challenge and bring awareness to these assumptions and biases. We are all learning and unlearning!
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Where did my fear of weight gain come from?
- Why do I value thinness?
- What is my opinion on those in larger bodies?
- Why do I think I am unlovable if my pant size increases?
- How are these opinions and beliefs impacting me? Are they in-line with my values?
- What evidence do I have for or against these beliefs?
“Ok, but how can I navigate all of these things while still healing my relationship with food and my body?”
You’re doing it! Reading this blog post, exploring these assumptions and where your values and beliefs have come from, and sitting with them is part of the process. If you’re at the start of your journey, it may be helpful to put the desire for weight loss on a back or side burner. By not having it front-and-center as your metric for progress or success, you can focus on other ways to measure progress.
To have fear and anxiety around weight is normal and is something that you, your therapist and/or dietitian can continue navigating. Dieting and weight loss focused language keeps us constantly planning for the future, what you ‘would do’ or be deserving of once you lose weight.
This can hold you back from enjoying, respecting and taking care of your body in the present. When weight loss is on the back burner, you can think about what you can appreciate your body for today. How can you make yourself feel more comfortable and confident today? What’s a goal or something fun you want to do short-term that doesn’t require changing your body?
It can also help to ask yourself, what is underneath that desire for weight loss? For most people, the goal of being in a smaller body is really the desire be loved, respected, valued, seen as worthy, as successful, etc. Diet culture may tell you that those things are conditional on size, but they are not.
While the fear of weight gain is normal, it doesn’t need to be your reality forever.