This is going to surprise some people but I am an intuitive eater. In fact, I don’t count calories most of the time. That said, the current movement towards intuitive eating is missing a few things and let’s walk through that a bit.
I am going to be honest with you here, before starting a “diet” company I had no real idea how bad and how systemic eating disorders were.
In fact, I was on a panel a few years back and I was asked “what is my level of concern” related to eating disorder behavior. I said HIGH, I was shocked when another prominent company head said they “barely think about it”.
At the time we were both pretty small but I often wonder what his views are on it now. Either way, you can’t sell dieting products or programs without knowing that people have a complicated relationship with food.
If you look on Instagram under #intuitiveeating there is a good mix of posts but many are posting about the freedom of eating foods they used to neglect like high calorie foods like donuts or pizza.
This was very similar to a movement a few years back called IIFYM. IIFYM advocates would do similar and often post pics (mostly of pop tarts) but in the end they would be in a deficit. IIFYM still exists but it's not nearly as popular as it was for the same reason that intuitive eating will struggle soon.
The emphasis isn’t on both mental AND PHYSICAL health.
In fact, if you don’t know my story I consider myself a victim of the ALWAYS DIET narrative. If there is one thing I am loving about the current movement it’s this….
“Maybe it isn’t our fault”.
I think that’s a big step for a lot of people, dieting is known to affect your MENTAL HEALTH. After all, you are consuming less than your body requires, this OF COURSE also affects your brain.
Dieting is stress after all, the whole idea is to eat less, get the result you want (often to weigh less) and then hopefully get out and return things back to normal.
Look, I get it, if you have been burned by calorie restriction it’s hard to get that taste out of your mouth but calories SHOULD BE CONSIDERED as part of your journey.
Calories are not inherently bad. So let’s get to the story of how I intuitively eat MOST OF THE TIME.
The two sentence line of how Eat To Perform started was that for about 10 years I chronically dieted using a combination of calorie restriction and naughty and nice food lists. That process (and some yo yo dieting as a result) took me from 185 to 260.
Mentally I needed a break but I really couldn’t because I was in poor health and my doctors were concerned. So I set a barrier for calories….
That barrier was 5,000 calories. I would eat 5,000 calories a day but I would turn up my volume of activity. For the most part I didn’t need to change my food that much but I quickly started making adjustments. If I was going to be more active (and a lot more active) I was going to have to work on quality of food also.
In a very real way this is similar to what many want intuitive eating to be but if people are being honest with themselves the donuts only have the appeal that one time. So from a mental health standpoint that’s a good thing but in the end more donuts and pizza you consume doesn’t feel great, mentally or physically. Certainly there should always be room for foods you enjoy and I will get to that in a second but MOST OF THE TIME the way you eat should be balanced and provide a wide variety of nutrients.
As I moved to higher quality foods it was a lot harder to eat 5,000 calories but my calorie burn was absurd. So I needed those calories. Foods like Ribeyes or whole cartons of WHOLE FAGE greek yogurt were staples. Good foods but higher in calories, calories I needed for my level of activity.
As I closed in on 200 pounds (from 260, to be honest, once I hit 250 I didn’t even want to know what I weighed, it took me months to start being accountable to that) my whole life had really changed and not all of it was good.
Had I traded physically unhealthy habits for mentally unhealthy habits? I wouldn't know for some time but I can tell you that question didn’t come up much, I was just too entrenched. So I just kept going and at a certain point I went from trying to get to a healthy weight to becoming obsessed about body composition. At my lowest I got to 149 pounds (I am a man just in case you don’t know) so that was super small for me.
I finally had ABZ! And was vascular for the first time below my navel.
But that came at a cost, a cost I still deal with to this day when things get stressful. My left eye droops.
I was also burnt out. I was obviously in a deficit most of the time but because of my level of activity I lost weight, I will post some pics in the comments but you will see (the middle pic) a lot of that weight was muscle. Muscle I would eventually have to regain (the pic on the right and the pic with the brown tshirt).
I did lower calories twice to 2,000 calories in those two years (for about 4 weeks each), once about mid way and the other to get to 149. Within a day I was back to 155 which is where I stayed for approximately TWO YEARS eating intuitively (but still at a pretty high level of activity).
I no longer exercise in that way so I have had to adjust my calories. In the pic below with the brown t-shirt that was last summer at 185. It took me years to get that muscle back. The three pic was 13 years ago now. I have reduced calories maybe 3 times in those 13 years for roughly 9 months total (3 months each time).
I wasn’t meant to be 149 and I certainly didn’t want to pay the price to be that.
Here is the ironic part. The number that started me dieting (185) is the number I kind of stay around most of the time. The difference is that now with a lot of muscle I look and feel healthier. My life is enhanced by activity, it’s no longer a punishment. Most days you will find me on the pickleball courts somewhere, so my exercise isn’t extreme any longer.
I talk about this a lot in the podcasts but I only really CONSIDER a deficit every FIVE YEARS, so in the instances where I have lowered calories once I reverse them back up between 3,500 and 4,000 calories that is when I intuitively eat again and I look forward to that each time.
And I do that for FIVE YEARS.
Now that’s not everyone’s story and I will say I am a bit more comfortable with a little weight gain than most and you have to be doing it my way (right now I am 195).
But the point is this, dieting shouldn’t be a LIFE SENTENCE, the whole point is to get in, get out and get back to normal. The issue is that most people don’t do the GET OUT part because frankly it’s super hard. Also if you have a complicated relationship with food that makes things even worse.
In fact, I would argue that the only way you can comfortably INTUITIVELY EAT is knowing the data and that requires tracking your calories for a bit.
What was once a weapon used against you can now be used to help you get out. But for good?
Not really, if I am being honest. Even though I only do it every five years I am pretty anxious for 55 to roll around (I am almost 54 now) to do a little clean up.
But I can wait, I know how to control my weight and live a full life but let’s be real here, for most people dieting once every few years is a lot better than the way it used to be.
And that’s the real promise of intuitive eating over time, where it’s not just about eating flexibly but it’s also about feeding your body in amounts that help you thrive.
If you need a better approach we can help. Along with One on One coaching, ability to get a handwritten meal plan and weekly challenges to keep you motivated you get a well thought out PLAN that has been proven over the last 10 years to be more effective than cookie cutter models not personalized to you.
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Even the programs that reverse don’t do a good job because they cave to the fear of their clients or they let AI (artificial intelligence) do the work.