Real Life Intuitive Eating: Before & After Stories From Regular People

by | Apr 30, 2024

A lot can change in your life as you stop following arbitrary food rules, reject restriction as a way of life, and quit obsessing about every morsel of food you eat. You can find freedom, joy, pleasure, balance, and self-love. But intuitive eating also comes with some uncertainty and it ain’t always easy. If you want that freedom for yourself, but worry about what will happen to your body, food choices, and health, I see you. It’s normal to want to know the real before and after of intuitive eating, so I plan to explain just that…  but it won’t include ab and thigh shots. Sorry, not sorry.

What Intuitive Eating Is and Is Not – In a Nutshell

True intuitive eating is not a weight loss plan. It’s not a sneaky system of trying to eat as little as possible so you can stay your smallest, most palatable self. It’s not a diet repackaged into a modern wellness trend. It’s not a set of rules to follow or a one-size-fits-all diet. It’s not a one-size-fits-all anything. 

It’s also not something you can fail at. It’s a practice.  

Intuitive eating IS a framework to help you heal your relationship with food, and stop yo-yo dieting and weight cycling. It’s a way to find healthy, balanced eating and exercising routines grounded in self-care, not self-control. It’s healing, liberating, and loving. It’s a way to feel better about your body. 

You may find some social media accounts or dietitians and nutritionists who say you can “lose weight with intuitive eating”. And ya know, that’s true for some folks. Some people do lose weight. 

But not everyone. And the people who don’t are not doing anything wrong – their body and psyche just need something different at this season of life – and that’s okay. 

Intuitive Eating Isn’t Always Accessible

It’s really important to acknowledge that not everyone has the time, resources, or type of schedule that will easily support a proper intuitive eating practice. It takes time and commitment to keep coming back to the principles. You need quiet moments, time to think, and often money to experiment with food. There are real and perceived barriers to using this framework.

That said, I think that most people can benefit from incorporating some of these principles into your life, even if it’s just a little bit.

What Happens to Your Weight When You Do Intuitive Eating? 

The much-desired answer to this question is, I’m sorry to say, not the same for everyone. Intuitive eating affects you differently based on where you’re starting from and what your circumstances are. If your weight is suppressed because you just came off a restrictive diet and you’re hoping to “start intuitive eating” from your lowest weight ever, you will likely gain weight. 

This is because our bodies do not enjoy being weight-suppressed. If it was hard for you to attain that weight, even if it’s not technically “thin”, it could be lower than your set point at this season of life. Check out this article about set point weight theory from my colleague, Christine Byrne.

If it a certain weight requires you to obsess about food all day, over-exercise, and cut corners with nourishment, it could be too low.

On the other hand, if you’re coming into practicing intuitive eating after a phase of “chaotic” eating, binge eating, or constant grazing, it’s possible – but not certain – that you’ll lose weight doing intuitive eating. 

There are so many variables here and I’m not going to go into all the details in this post. But overall, intuitive eating is associated with lower weight. But there are variables in how someone adopts intuitive eating, and how it works for them.

one variable I see often is the amount of time folks need in the “recovery” phase. 

Dieting can be seriously traumatic, especially for those whose parents were involved in depriving them of food, or who had other formative food deprivation experiences as kids. If this is you, you may need a lot of time, many months, of letting go of food rules and healing before you feel ready to bring in gentle nutrition, have more capacity for mindful eating, or more movement. And again, this is okay. 

There’s really no way to anticipate how each person’s experience will go.  Your individual life experience, trauma around food and your body, current life stage, access to spaces to move and eat nutritious food, your free time, and other circumstances will form how this process goes for you. My best advice if you are afraid – find support. 

Another Word About Set-Point Weight

Set point theory says that our bodies have a weight range that they’re comfortable at – where homeostasis exists. Set point theory is still considered a theory because the mechanisms that control our weight are not fully understood.

We do know that our metabolism and other biological systems regulate our body weight and it’s much easier for your set point to go up over time than down.

Dieting is one of the many factors that can increase your weight over time, which is one of the bazillion reasons that ditching dieting could be the best thing you do for your long-term body weight – and health. (and as a review: these are different things).

My take: If you stick with intuitive eating for at least a year your body will land at a weight RANGE you can easily maintain. You will not have to white knuckle it. Your weight may change a little from season to season, and over the course of a month if you have a menstrual cycle, which is normal, but you will stop those giant swings as you heal from dieting. 

Once you get to that valley, where things feel balanced and normal, you’ll likely feel more comfortable in your body, and the before and after of intuitive eating will be clear as day. 

What Working on Body Image Instead of the Number on the Scale Will Do For You

Working on body image is an essential part of getting to that ‘after’ place, that valley that feels peaceful and attuned.

Once you tune into your deeper self, your deeper desires underneath weight loss, you may find space for a lot of stuff you weren’t expecting. 

You’ll find willingness to do the things in life that you want to do now, instead of waiting until you get to the “right weight” to do them. You’ll gain more compassion for yourself and for all bodies. You’ll stop over-identifying with the size and shape of your body, realizing it doesn’t mean one damn thing about your worth. 

You’ll work toward unconditional self-love and self-regard. You can accept your body as it is, knowing that it will continue to change as you age and that the societal standards of youth and beauty are bullshit.

Your belly will grow in menopause, your muscles will soften, your ass and boobs will sag. Your face will wrinkle and your hair will gray. Bodies change. 

I hold space for my clients to process this transition. In our society, weight stigma is rampant and this creates a lot of shame and dysfunction. Even losing weight can be emotionally complicated. 

A chart showing the before and after of intuitive eating. There is a list of physical, mental, and emotional benefits one gets from practicing intuitive eating.

9 Changes: The Before and After Of Intuitive Eating

So here is the real before and after of intuitive eating. I suggest reading through this whole list and asking yourself:

If I could have all of this, would it be worth letting go of my death grip on my weight?

you, maybe right now, maybe tomorrow

You Stop blaming yourself for every little “mistake”

Intuitive eating helps you use self-compassion and ultimately see that there aren’t really mistakes with food. There are learning experiences, bad days, meals where you might eat more than you usually do, and times when what you eat doesn’t make you feel great. 

But those won’t feel scary or like a slippery slope. They’ll just be one moment in time. You won’t blame yourself for them, but say – “Yeah, that happened. Ok, Note to self. Moving on.” 

If it happens often or feels bad enough, you trust you can work on it, find new coping skills, and get better at listening to yourself. 

You Really Do Make Peace With Food (and Yourself)

One of the principles of intuitive eating includes neutralizing food choices. No more “good” and “bad”, “clean” and “dirty” foods. And no more bad or good YOU. 

As you let go of food rules and eat more of what feels good, you’ll stop equating your food choices – be it cookies or salads – with your self-worth, willpower, or how much you care about yourself. 

You’ll feel less triggered. If there aren’t any rules, there aren’t any rules to rebel against or things to judge yourself against. As you witness yourself acting less “out of control” with food, (or eating more and feeling okay about it) you’ll find more peace. 

You gain trust in your body, even if it doesn’t always do what you want it to

Bodies are not machines. They smell weird, don’t always look how we want them to, and they get old. But they are always working to keep you alive. 

As you tune out food rules and use more curiosity and self-compassion, you have an easier time listening to your body. Interoceptive awareness is your ability to listen to what your body is telling you. You’ll get better at this, and as you witness that, your self-trust will improve.

If you don’t know what your body is telling you now, or you hear it but can’t listen to it, this could be a key intuitive eating principle for you. 

You stop binging

As you work through intuitive eating, you’re directly working on ending those restrictive patterns so you can stop binging and emotionally eating. Some folks are simply not eating enough during the day, which triggers binging at night

Binging is also a highly emotional experience and can be wrapped up in body shame and feelings of failure. No matter what’s triggering your binge eating, giving yourself compassion for this and learning to nourish yourself throughout the day is a central part of healing. 

Your digestion improves

Did you know that 93% of people with eating disorders also have IBS? General digestion and bloating improve as you recover from disordered eating, normalize your eating and stop restricting, binging, and existing in constant food anxiety. It will know what to expect, get breaks between meals, and have enough nutrients to do its job well. 

I can’t tell you how many people have come to me for low fodmap advice, or think they need some kind of elimination diet, but it turns out adequacy and consistently are what actually improve their symptoms. 

You plan meals and aren’t left thinking “Oh, F. What am I going to eat?”

This is a major win for intuitive eating. Since you’ll no longer be a perfectionist with food, avoid thinking about food, and feel reluctant to take care of yourself, grocery shopping and planning turns into WHAT IS GOING TO WORK FOR MY LIFE, MY WEEK, MY BODY. 

Not WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING? 

This makes all the difference. Meal planning (in a non-diety sense) is actually a super important part of learning to eat intuitively.

You eat better

If you’re unhappy with your eating habits, intuitive eating can help. Often this comes a bit later in the process, several months down the line, after you’ve made peace and have stopped binging and restricting. 

But for some, this happens sooner. You realize your body doesn’t feel great and you wanna add more veggies to your dinners and snacks. You realize you’re not eating enough fiber and you wanna poop better. You learn that for PCOS, you want to balance out your meals with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. You find ways to accomplish this without rigidity and perfectionism. 

Intuitive eating is associated with improved diet quality, variety, and consistency.

You exercise more, or less, or differently, depending on what you need

Often, clients working with me for a bit know when they’re ready to start exercising more. It happens a month in, maybe more. They’re like – I think I want to move my body. I say – Great. Let’s do it. 

Once you stop using exercise as punishment, you can find that natural desire to move so you can feel good, strong, and mobile. 

If you’re over exercising, we’re likely to be talking about this right away. You want to lean into how tired you are, and how your body feels. If you’re missing your period, we take a major pause on exercise and try to restore your body’s rhythms. 

Eventually, your blood sugar improves, and your blood pressure goes down

Weight stabilization and balanced eating are the best things you can do for your long-term metabolic health. Not a low-carb diet, fasting, or losing the most weight possible – balance and variety. 

Fasting all day and binging at night is horrible for your blood sugar and your blood pressure. As you normalize your eating patterns, and improve your diet (if that’s what you need), your health will improve. And on that note, remember that health isn’t just about your lab work. 

Your overall well-being includes your mental and emotional health, your joy, happiness, and pleasure. 

Intuitive Eating: Before and After Stories

I wanted to tell a few stories from amazing people that I’ve known over the years. Here are a few before and after intuitive eating stories. 

Roslyn’s Story

Before working on intuitive eating, Roslyn was constantly in her head about what to eat, her digestion was a wreck, she was restricting and binging several times a week. Her eating was super emotional. She’d tried a low FODMAP diet to help with IBS, but it only added to her stress and didn’t help digestion. She either felt “in control” or chaotic and horrible. Her weight had been fluctuating quite a lot with every diet she went on and off of since high school. 

She added structure around food and made sure to have a plan for eating during the day. She slowed down and found ways to bring mindfulness to her meals, which seriously helped her emotional eating. We processed feelings about her body – all the ways our society told her it needed to be a certain way to be “correct”. She started letting them go. 

After working on intuitive eating consistently for about 6 months, she was regularly checking in with her body’s needs and honoring them, instead of ignoring them or blaming them for being wrong or inconvenient.  The urgency around eating went away. She didn’t feel like she was failing anymore. No more reason to start over the next day. Food freedom is now her life. Her body didn’t miraculously change into the “ideal” body she had in her mind, but she’s okay with that now. 

Alex’s Story

Alex reached out to me because she was disconnected from her body. She refused to be in a bathing suit and was really distrustful of herself, constantly second-guessing every food and exercise decision she made. Her back hurt and she’d been told by docs that weight loss would help. But she’d been down that road before and it had ended in a super dysfunctional relationship with food. 

Talking about bodies – good, bad, better, worse, too big, just right, etc. etc. etc. had been woven into her family gatherings since she was a kid. 

After working together for about a year, and going through intuitive eating and the tangential work (as I like to call it), she stopped blaming her body for being wrong. She started adopting the phrase:

“This is my body”.

Alex

Things became neutral, her eating normalized, her body felt better, and she started giving way less f*cks about what other people thought.

Alex built boundaries with family about body talk, which totally transformed the way she felt about family gatherings and her own wedding! 

Sydney’s Story

Sydney decided to let go of the strive for thinness and accept her body after she got a PCOS diagnosis. For more than a decade leading up to that point, she’d been trying everything under the sun to shrink herself and in the process had developed a pretty bad relationship with food.

Sydney’s intuitive eating journey started with accepting herself as she is and letting go of the never-ending striving for a body she did not have. This was wildly healing for her. 

After she did that, she was able to find ways of eating that were helpful for her body and hormone health. She did a good amount of this work on her own, but since she has PCOS, she eventually decided she wanted help from a HAES-aligned dietitian who specializes in PCOS. 

Now, she’s reclaimed her love of cooking, she’s making balanced and nutritious meals for her household on the regular. Some parts have been difficult, but it all feels more doable. Once eating isn’t all tied up in morality, emotions, and self-worth, making healthy choices feels so much more manageable. 

Final Thoughts on What You Get “After” Intuitive Eating, Even Though it’s Not a Diet and So There Is No Real “After”

To sum up, it’s impossible to know for sure what will happen to your body as a result of intuitive eating. If your relationship with food is out of whack – binge eating, emotional eating, chaotically eating, or a reluctance to engage with food self-care, practicing intuitive eating consistently and with loads of flexibility and self-compassion could seriously change your life. So much can get better, including the way you think about what “success” means. 

So, yeah your weight might change if you decide to start practicing intuitive eating. But you’ll get so much more than that. 

I hope you’ve found this helpful in deciding whether adopting intuitive eating is something you want to do. I like to suggest folks start with reading the Intuitive Eating Book, by the creators of this method. I also suggest reading other books of food and body acceptance from fat activists, especially BIPOC people in this area. There are SO MANY amazing resources out there. Check out my eating disorder, body liberation, and intuitive eating resource page for a full list. 

And if you think that I might be a good person to help you, I’d be honored. I’m accepting new individual clients for nutrition counseling and coaching, but also have a badass Intuitive Eating support group program to help you heal your relationship with food and your body in community. It’s a beautifully radical way to think about food. Check them out and then reach out to chat about what might be the best fit for you.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what you think of this article! 

About Emily

Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and disordered eating. She helps all kinds of people find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified Intuitive Eating counselor with a master’s degree in nutrition science. Read more about her here.

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Hey there, I´m Emily

A non-diet and weight-inclusive dietitian, intuitive eating coach, and body image healer. Here on the blog, I focuses on exploring intuitive eating, gentle nutrition, the complex arena of body image and feminism, anti-oppression, and all the ways these things intersect. I want us all to be free to own our appetites, and our desires, and eat really, really well. 

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