As the moderator of the intuitive eating community forum, I notice that newcomers have a lot of questions. This is normal. They are exploring a new way of looking at food and their bodies, so a certain amount of uncertainty is to be expected. They want to know if they will struggle with diet mentality forever, so one of the most common questions is “How long does intuitive eating take?” If you are reading this, I assume you have the same question. Wanting to know a time frame for such an undertaking is understandable, but, unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut answer.
There are many factors that go into how long it may take you to become an intuitive eater. First of all, I believe you have to be ready to hear the message of IE. I was ready for it when I bottomed out in June 2015. Three years before that, no way! I was all about what the scale said and fitting into the smallest sized pants possible. It wasn’t until my misery outweighed my desire to be thin that I was open to the concept of IE.
If you feel you are at a point to embrace intuitive eating, here are few key points to keep in mind.
- You may think that you need to learn IE. Remember that we are all born intuitive eaters, so approach it as unlearning dieting rather than learning IE.
- Implementing the principles will be a slow process. You’ve been dieting for a long time and reversing that damage doesn’t happen overnight. You have many years of dieting to undo, so give yourself the gift of time.
- Take into consideration how long you’ve been dieting and if there are any other challenges that are present in your life right now. If you’ve been dieting for 3 decades and are going through an ugly divorce, it’s likely you’ll need more time to feel comfortable with IE compared to someone who has been dieting for 5 years and has only minor life stressors.
- You might believe that you won’t ever fully recover from disordered eating, so you may as well go back to that way of thinking. This is very black-and-white.1 I don’t think that recovery means that you’ll never have a disordered thought cross your mind again. It just means that those thoughts won’t dominate your life. I think I will always be on my toes to a certain degree, but I now have more tools in my toolbox to silence those negative thoughts.
- Cognitive dissonance can throw a wrench into things. This is the uncomfortable feeling that results from having two conflicting thoughts or when a behavior conflicts with your beliefs. Diet mentality tells us one thing, but we know that intuitive eating is the path we want to take. When this happens we have an internal conflict. I want to diet! But I hate dieting! The good news is that this conflict lessens with time.
- Intuitive eating is not a linear process. Our culture oozes diet mentality and it’s easy to get sucked back in, so taking two steps forward and one step back2 is part of the journey. Just don’t give up and think in baby steps!
- You may be someone like me who wants to be in control and any changes in your life makes you uneasy. Going from dieting to IE is a drastic change. Change is a natural part of life though and resisting will only prolong the stressful experience. When I relaxed and learned to trust my body, everything became easier.3
- Everyone is at a different stage in their intuitive eating journey. I once worked with a high school student who amazed me with this quote: “Don’t compare your page one to someone else’s page twenty”. Please don’t feel pressured to be as far along as the next person. You can’t master the the piano in a week. IE is no different.
- This visual of the IE stages4 may help you see the big picture. Newcomers in the Readiness and Exploration stage are on the left side. Diet mentality takes up a lot of their energy and there are very few intuitive eating thoughts and actions (green). When they reach the Crystallization stage, diet mentality won’t be as present in their lives and there will be recognizable behavior changes (green becomes purple). When they reach the Awake and the Final Stage, their intuitive eating will become more natural (purple).
So, how long does intuitive eating take? A wise woman on the intuitive eating forum once said that she would give one month of genuine IE effort for every year of dieting. Although everyone is different, I think this is a good general guideline. For me, it took about a year to feel better mentally and physically and to reach my natural weight. But honestly, I don’t think anyone is ever “done” with their IE journey because recovery is not a set destination. Things come our way and we may need to adjust the role IE plays in our lives based on the new parameters.
Disordered eating is about control, but intuitive eating is about flexibility and that includes adapting IE to meet your needs as a unique individual. Maybe a food you used to love is no longer appreciated by your body anymore. Maybe you are diagnosed with a medical condition that requires you to look at foods differently.5 I believe that intuitive eating evolves as we go about our lives and as long as we listen to our bodies, we are eating intuitively.
When did you start intuitive eating? Where are you in your journey? Please share in the comment section below.
2Or even 2 or 3 steps back!
3I know, easier said than done, right!?
4 If you need a refresher on the stages of IE, check out chapter 4.
5I recently had to limit my bran flakes cereal consumption because it is a possible culprit in causing kidney-stone-producing crystals in my urine. I would prefer to not pass a kidney stone, so bye-bye bran flakes.
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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