• Emma Green

Can intuitive eating cause weight gain?

Photo credit: Kim Burrows

Intuitive eating means deciding what and when to eat based on your body's own signals, rather than being based on rules or restrictions. This doesn't just mean eating based on hunger and fullness, it also means taking into consideration how you are feeling (physically and mentally) as well as being aware of your surroundings.

A lot of people worry that if they allow themselves to eat 'whatever they want' that they will overeat and gain weight. This isn't an inevitability but it is a possibility, particularly in the short term. However, that’s not a problem and here’s why:

1. Your body is balancing out from restriction: When you have restricted calories and/or specific food groups for an extended period of time, this results in you feeling deprived, mentally and physically. When you first start intuitive eating, your body will naturally want to make up for this restriction by encouraging you to eat more food so it is likely that you will experience a high amount of hunger and cravings. It’s important to remember that if you honour these feelings and feed your body what it wants, this will lessen over time.

2. You might be trying to maintain a weight that is too low for you: Another related reason that you might gain weight is if you have been trying to stay at a weight that is lower than where your body wants to be. Everyone has a ‘settling point’ which is a weight range where their body is happiest. If you try to stay below this, your body is likely to make you hungrier because it wants to get you back to within this range. It also tends to lower your resting energy expenditure (the amount of calories that you burn each day) in an attempt to resist your weight being too low.

3. Bodies fluctuate and that is normal: It is important to remember that your body is not meant to stay the same throughout your life. It can change with age, hormones, lifestyle, health status etc. It is perfectly natural to go through stages where your body is gaining weight and this doesn’t mean that you are doing anything wrong. Because of the messages that we get from society, we are conditioned to think that gaining weight is bad. Practising intuitive eating means resisting these pressures and instead allowing our bodies to be where they want at a given point in time.

Dealing with changes to your weight isn’t easy and I would suggest avoiding the scale, especially initially, because it can be a distraction from the purpose of intuitive eating. Although I think it’s great to get to a place where we can make peace with the scale and be okay with whatever the number says, this isn’t easy to do initially. I’d advise focusing on other aspects, such as the amount of anxiety and guilt around food, your energy levels and your ability to engage in the social activities that you enjoy to determine how well intuitive eating is working for you.

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