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I know that our patients and clients are probably tired of hearing from us that ‘diets don't work.' Although it’s true for those that have struggled to maintain what they feel is a ‘healthy diet,’ hearing that diets don’t work can feel frustrating. That’s why one of the most powerful tools that you can use to support your patients and clients is intuitive eating.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a way of eating that is about trusting your body and your signals.  As I’ve described in my article on How to Start Intuitive Eating, since learning more about Health at Every Size (HAES), I’ve gained a much better understanding of the importance of eating intuitively rather than following arbitrary food rules.
Intuitive eating has enabled me as a health coach to support my clients to make the transition from following an overly restrictive diet to adopting a more intuitive approach to eating. In this way, I've been able to help my clients understand that intuitive eating isn’t simply about following principles as that would future perpetuate diet culture. Instead, intuitive eating provides an effective alternative to dieting that is focused on improving well-being rather than achieving weight loss.
After years of dieting, becoming an intuitive eater can be a difficult task for our patients and clients. As a former chronic dieter turned intuitive eater I can say firsthand that just because the process may be difficult doesn't mean it's impossible. That's why in this article I cover how you can help your patients and clients make the transition from chronic dieting to intuitive eating.
Why Do We Need to Go From Dieting to Intuitive Eating?
Even though weight loss through restrictive dieting is treated as the solution for obesity, we know from the research that for most people restrictive dieting doesn’t result in sustainable weight loss.  We - health professionals - need to do a better job at helping our patients and clients understand that diets are intended to be “quick fixes'' and not life-long changes. As a result, these diets fail to provide our patients and clients with the foundation that they need to maintain these lifestyle changes which means they will ultimately regain the weight back.
In comparison, intuitive eating is designed to help people rebuild trust in their bodies and their signals. Because diets focus on food rules, people begin to trust more in the rules than themselves. Even when their bodies are giving clear signs that this diet isn't working they tend to ignore them based on the belief that they are the problem, not the diet.
By helping your patients and clients rebuild trust in themselves, they can start making choices that are based on what their body needs irrespective of if those needs are aligned with the diet they have chosen to follow. At the end of the day, diets are templates, but a template is not always going to meet the needs of your patients and clients. Helping them understand that is key to them seeing the benefits of making the transition from dieting to intuitive eating.
What Are the Benefits of Becoming Intuitive Eaters?
One of the biggest benefits of becoming an intuitive eater is helping our patients and clients recognize that there is no need to follow a restrictive diet to improve their health. Even though public opinion holds that a person's weight is controllable through restrictive dieting evidence suggests that weight is the result of biological and environmental factors that have little to do with a person's eating choices.  Further, research has shown that restrictive dieting can lead to unintended consequences, such as weight gain, binge eating, and eating disorders.  In comparison, intuitive eating allows our patients and clients to honor their hunger by eating in a way that keeps them biologically fed and well-nourished.
Another benefit of intuitive eating is that it can help our patients and clients feel more comfortable in their own skin. Due to our weight-focused culture, your patients and clients have likely struggled with a preoccupation with their body, have dealt with a reduction in their self-esteem, or have experienced multiple forms of weight stigmatization.  Intuitive eating provides an opportunity for our patients and clients to become more accepting and less critical of their bodies. This isn’t to say that they will always become “body-positive,” but intuitive eating is a powerful tool that can help them recognize their body deserves respect irrespective of their size.
Lastly, intuitive eating can help your patients and clients regain a healthier relationship with movement. As research has shown, increasing exercise can lead to positive health outcomes even with the absence of weight loss.  In other words, it's not the weight loss that is contributing to improvements in health at much as it is the improvements in a person's habits. Ensuring that our patients and clients recognize that whether it's taking an afternoon walk after lunch or an evening Pilates class, their movement doesn't have to be intense to get results. They simply need to move their body consistently.
Now that I’ve outlined the benefits of intuitive eating, I’ll dive into three tips that will help your patients and clients go from dieting to intuitive eating.
3 Tips to Go From Dieting to Intuitive Eating
#1 Get Clear on Why It’s Time to Stop Dieting
Before I work with any client, I always ask them not only why they want to pursue a particular goal, but also why now. When you're working with a patient or client who wants to become an intuitive eater it's going to be critical that you help them get crystal clear on why they want to pursue this particular goal. Do they want to develop a healthier relationship with food? Are they tired of hopping from one diet to another? Or, are they battling an eating disorder and recognize that their life depends on making this change now?
I know all three of those reasons because they were the three reasons that caused me to make the shift from dieting to intuitive eating. Getting clear on why I was pursuing this goal, helped me identify the reason why I shouldn't give up. If you want to ensure that your patients and clients are truly committed to this process, helping them identify why will help them move forward when (not if) doubt creeps in.
#2 Clean Up Your Physical and Social Media Environment
Because we are in a culture that idolizes thinness, we need to ensure that our patients and clients have a physical and social media environment that supports their intuitive eating goals. For instance, this might mean canceling subscriptions to print magazines that are constantly encouraging them to try another new diet. It also might mean unfollowing some celebrity fitness trainers who are always talking about earning your calories.
I recognize that it might feel uncomfortable for your patients and clients to unfollow, unlike, or unsubscribe from people that they admire. Doing so has less to do with them and more to do with who your patients and clients are trying to become. Remind them that those people served them for a season and now it's time to find those who align with their goal to become intuitive eaters.
#3 Give Themselves Permission to Make (Slow) Progress
Making the shift from behaviors that are detrimental to health to behaviors that are health-promoting is a process that will take time. Therefore, it's important to encourage your patients and clients that no matter how slow, progress is progress. This is what sets intuitive eating apart from dieting which is often dependent on "willpower" which can result in people eating more than they intended.  Instead, intuitive eating is about emphasizing attention to internal cues of hunger and fullness which have been shown to decrease disordered eating behaviors, increase physical activity, and improve quality of life. 
There are many benefits that our patients and clients will experience in the process of becoming intuitive eaters. It's important that they recognize that none of these benefits are going to happen overnight. In the process of adopting the intuitive eating principles into their lives, they're going to be able to learn how to do everything from challenge their previous beliefs about food to honor their health with gentle nutrition. By giving themselves permission to make slow progress they're building a strong foundation that won't just be a quick fix, but a lifelong change.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If it is, please share with your colleagues to help spread the word on how we can work together in supporting our patients and clients as they make these important lifestyle changes!
- Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. St. Martin’s Essentials.
- Brown, L.B. (2009). Teaching the "health at every size" paradigm benefits future fitness and health professionals. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 41(2), 144-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jneb.2008.04.358
- Daníelsdóttira, S., O’Brien, K.S., & Ciaoc, A. (2010). Anti-fat prejudice reduction: A review of published studies. Obesity Facts, 3(1), 47-58. https://doi.org/10.1159/000277067
- Ulian, M.D., Aburad, L., da Silva Oliveira, M.S., Poppe, A.C.M., Sabatini, F., Perez, I., Gualano, B., Benatti, F.B., Pinto, A.J., Roble, O.J., Vessoni, A., de Morais Sato, P., Unsain, R.F., Baeza Scagliusi, F. (2018). Effects of health at every size interventions on health-related outcomes of people with overweight and obesity: A systematic review. Obesity Reviews, 19(12),1659-1666. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12749
- Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
- Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015). Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the “obesity problem.” Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(12), 678– 695. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.1222
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