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Intuitive Eating Hits a Roadblock

            I’m not losing weight from Intuitive Eating. In part, that could be because I’ve been feeling really sick to my stomach lately, which clouds my ability to judge when I’m hungry and when I’m full. And I know that part of my inability to lose weight comes from my health issues, because I don’t have the energy to exercise enough to burn extra calories each day, and because some of the medications I take impact my weight. But, according to the Intuitive Eating workbook, it could also be that my body believes it is at the right size already, and I hate that idea. I’d prefer to believe that I’m unconsciously cheating in some way, allowing myself to eat past fullness and just telling myself that I’m still hungry. That would be a relief, because then I could hold onto the hope that when I do everything right I’ll lose weight.

            I’m still working my way through the Intuitive Eating Workbook (by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch), and one of the biggest blocks I can’t move is that my brain still tells me that in order to be a worthy human being I have to lose weight, and preferably have a smaller frame, including smaller feet. Because I am too BIG.

“Do I have small feet, Mommy?”

            The workbook characterizes thoughts like these as part of the Food Police – a set of destructive voices (picked up from diet culture, societal beliefs, and family rules) that try to keep me dieting and believing that I’m not okay as I am. These are the voices that yell at me for eating a piece of chocolate cake, or for buying 2% milk instead of fat free, or for eating carbs or fat, or for eating anything at all.

“I’m the sheriff!”

            One method the workbook suggests for how to deal with these internal messages is to question whether the beliefs are reasonable, and supported by scientific evidence, or not. For example:

            Distorted thought – I have to be skinny to be loved, to get a job, or to be successful in any other way.

Has this proven to be true? There is some evidence that love and attraction is conditional on body size, but it doesn’t really seem to hold true for work or friendship, so this is at least partially untrue.

That method did not feel especially helpful. Another method they recommend for combatting these negative thoughts is to answer them with a more positive, ally voice, like what you’d say to a good friend:

            A destructive statement – I am a glutton and selfish and eat too much and try to get away with everything and never hold myself responsible.

            Ally response – None of that is accurate. You often think too much about others before thinking of your own needs, and many of your needs have gone unmet because you are afraid of taking up too much space, care, attention or money.

            That seemed a little but more effective, so I kept trying:

            Destructive statement – I’m accomplishing nothing and annoying everyone who believes in my potential. I’m not writing enough or losing weight or getting a real job and they will all give up on me.

            Ally response – It would be impossible for anyone to meet all of those goals at once, and making long to-do lists can overwhelm your ability to get anything done. In reality, you work very hard at everything you do, and you’ve made an enormous amount of progress. You are creating your own path and the people who know you well are proud of you.

“Yeah Mommy!”

All of that sounds good, but the destructive voices keep coming back and telling me that I’m making excuses and lying and being a Pollyanna, and they get more creative and more stubborn with every attempt. This is not what the workbook tells me to expect, and I resent that the authors don’t acknowledge that this is a predictable response for someone whose Food Police voices are so deeply ingrained.


I’m doing my best to keep doing the work anyway, even if I can’t shut down the Food Police or lose weight, but it’s frustrating that even though I stop eating when I’m full, I still feel empty and wish I could eat to fill the emotional void. I started doing a writing exercise from the workbook in the moments when I know I’m full but I still want to eat: I’m supposed to take five minutes to sit with my feelings first and then write down anything that comes to mind, but I don’t have the patience to sit first, so I just do the writing. Sometimes I list the foods I want to eat: like spaghetti and meatballs, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. Sometimes I just rant about how angry, guilty, frightened, frustrated, sad and hopeless I feel about the state of my body. Sometimes I actually try to figure out where all of the feelings are coming from, and what underlying need they are trying to tell me about, which is the stated purpose of the exercise.

Most of the time, just the act of writing seems to be enough to stop my momentum and prevent me from overeating, in that way, the exercise has been successful. But I’ve never finished the exercise and said to myself, aha, now I know what I really need to do in order to feel calm/comforted/satisfied/relieved/finished. There’s some relief in being able to acknowledge that something is missing, and I’ve learned that I can sit with the feelings of pain or loneliness or confusion or anger or sadness, or even hopelessness, and keep breathing. But not for very long. I still want to feel better and lose weight, and I still want the Food Police to go away, and figure out what it is that makes me want to eat more than my body needs.

            My Nutritionist thinks that the real battle behind all of this is that I struggle to respect my body as it is; that the destructive messages and the feelings of not-enough come from an underlying belief that I don’t deserve to be loved as I am. And she wants me to move my goal from weight loss to body acceptance, but I’m reluctant, because I don’t think that goal is reachable. Weight loss, at least, I’ve been able to achieve before; body acceptance sounds like a fantasy to me.

            But I worry that my Nutritionist is right, and that’s bringing up a lot of hopelessness, and I don’t want to feel hopeless. So I’m going to put the goals themselves out of my mind, or off to the side, and just keep going through the workbook and doing the work I can do; and I’ll see where it takes me.

“On a walk?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

87 responses »

  1. I was reading this week about Jennifer Anniston (please don’t judge). The article said that after dieting so strictly all these years, she no longer fears the bread basket. She now eats carbs in moderation and says she can feel her body saying, “Where have these been all my life? Thank you!” Moderation has never been one of my strong points, but…. Good luck, Rachel.

  2. Isn’t it funny how all the things we want to eat are the things that put the weight on? I try to make myself eat less of the carbs and more of the greens, but it’s hard to be consistent. The other thing that really bugs me is how we are subjected to those skinny model types in the magazines that suggest we should all look as undernourished and gorgeous as they are. It’s a kind of brainwashing. Have you ever noticed how it’s okay for a man to have a beer belly, but not okay for a woman to have thighs or extra rolls? Unfair! I say we should just do our best to eat healthy food and allow ourselves a treat once in a while. I think your dogs are right! Grrrr!

  3. Rachel, it sounds like you are repeatedly beating yourself up with your journal writing. This can’t be a positive thing. And you shouldn’t worry about what you are or aren’t eating when you’re feeling sick to your stomach. I don’t know you at all except through your writing, but you are intelligent, thoughtful, and very kind to everyone else. You need to be kind to yourself as well!

  4. Good luck figuring this all out. I guess the old adage of everything in moderation, including moderation has a modicum of truth. Denying ourselves a treat or the foods we like may be counter productive. I can not imagine a life without bread, especially now that I bake Levain bread. Stay well Rachel and good luck to you. You can meet the challenge. Allan

  5. Part of our problem is that through the years, we’ve been given conflicting advice on what’s good for us. Eggs are bad. No, eggs are good. Carbs are good. No, carbs are bad. Fat is bad. Fat is good. What’s wrong with 2% milk? Or whole milk, for that matter? You need fat in your diet in order to metabolize the calcium and other good things in milk. Common sense and moderation are what’s good for us.

  6. Oh Rachel. Yes, this is such a common dilemma that most, of not all women face in this Glamour Magazine Society. I still struggle keeping weight off, and it creeps up a lot easier than it goes away. The one things I know to be true are, I am AMAZING, I’m a good person, I’m talented, and I love myself. I’m the only one that truly matters. I’ll keep struggling to lose weight, but it will be for me, for my health, for my future. And, I do write and journal, and I started a Summer Solstice Poultice diary. I write down everything I eat, and it does deter me a little bit. And if I want some ice cream, I write it down, and I eat it anyway…in moderation. Good luck. I think you’re pretty amazing! ❤️

  7. The woman in your profile photo is very attractive. Maybe you could talk to her.

  8. The intuitive eating sounds so complicated. I’m sure I would never be able to manage it. The world we live in is so focused on the wrong things. I had a small, but almost miraculously good, feeling at then end of May when we had a barbecue to celebrate our little circle of loved ones being vaccinated. I was strong enough to carry my four-year-old niece a decent distance (about a quarter of a mile)! I’d been working out to get strong enough to do a bit of hiking this summer. I’ve been trying to “downsize” since December, but that feeling of fitness (and the hugs from my niece!) gave me more of a boost than fitting into a smaller size ever could. I wish I could bottle it and share it.

  9. Have you ever investigated the 5:2 diet? I’ve followed it off and on for several years with great results. Two days a week (not two days in a row) I limit myself to 500 calories. Other days I eat pretty much what I want. On a 500-day, I eat lots of salad (no fat dressing), a piece of fish, dill pickles, watermelon and the like. If you’re interested, I can give you a link to a good website that helps you keep track of calories on those days.

  10. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Weight loss is a personal journey. I wish you success with your approach. I wish it was easier for everyone who desire better control of their weight.

  11. Those destructive thoughts do exactly that. I don’t think many of us actually like our bodies the way they are and strive to convert them to something perhaps they shouldn’t be. I don’t like my body, never have, there’s too much of it in all the wrong places. If I laugh, so do my knees and the swishing noise I hear is skin against skin not flowing silk or graceful body movement.
    I’ve had the put downs too and they hurt deeply. Loads of cliches Rachel about beauty in the eye of the beholder, beauty goes more than skin deep, never judge a book by its cover, concentrate on your good points etc etc. Finally, after over 50 years of dieting and screwing up my body for most of those, I am comfortable with myself. I still don’t like my body much and wish I could lose those extra few pounds, but I am what I am, and most importantly, the weight is more or less stable.
    We are all different and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, something the text books and so called experts tend to forget.
    However, guidelines to healthy eating are always helpful as we can adapt them to suit our food preferences and life style. All I can say is eat well, but sensibly and enjoy the little ‘naughty treat’ once in a while. Easier said than done I know, but you’ll get there Rachel ❤ ❤ ❤

  12. Until I was about 40 I tried the cabbage diet, the Limmits biscuits diet, you name it, I did the diet. Then I read a book by the hypnotist Paul McKenna with a CD. I don’t remember the name but we have recently sorted out a loft in our new flat and are bringing all our stuff out of storage. Since listening to the CD, very skeptical, all foods became OK. I could eat fried Mars bars covered in more ice cream and wouldn’t put weight, mainly because I don’t like them, but no food was forbidden, so I slowly stopped worrying about what I could or could not eat. When I find the book, I will give you the name. If you wish. Still, so love your little doggies.

  13. Pingback: Round Is A Shape Too! | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  14. I reblogged your lovely post rather than ramble on endless in your comments.

  15. I’ve definitely put on too many pounds during Covid thanks to working from home all the time, the resultant less exercise and the general stress/comfort food response to the endless bad news everyday. I’m eating lots of carrots now but my eyesight isn’t improving and I’m not sure I’m losing any weight, so hey, that is one dieting tip you can ignore!

  16. I can relate to so much of this post. After having struggled with disordered eating since I was a teen, I finally started intuitive eating a couple of years ago (at least 36), and it truly has helped me become more comfortable around food, as well as in my body. I did lose weight, but not intentionally. I eat whatever I am hungry for. Trust your hunger cues! It just takes a while to learn to know and honor them, especially if you’ve been fighting against them for so long (I definitely was). Practicing yoga has also helped a lot! I wish you the best on your journey, and I bet you are making more healing progress than you even realize. One day at at time. Sending you many positive vibes! 🙂

  17. I have discovered Uncrustables (Smucker’s in frozen section) in my past 14 weeks of dieting and exercise. Grape is my favorite, but strawberry works, too. Happiness.

  18. I don’t want to add to your confusion, but I find that the writings of Janina Fisher and Richard Schwartz might prove helpful at some point in your journey. They manage to reframe just about all of the self talk as parts of us trying in their own trauma logic way to help us. Of course, as I have mentioned before, sometimes they are trying to keep our focus off the real pain and trauma. But at least I have managed to have much more compassion for how hard they are trying to help with ways often labeled “sabotage.”

  19. Got to admit this post made me a mite peckish. Think I’ll go have a sandwich. And some cake. Maybe a beer. Yeah, definitely a beer. Life’s short, enjoy it.

  20. Right there with Rachel, this post smacked me. Speaking of your novel, I will be reading the first chapter for podcast soon enough to premier at the end of November.

  21. Rachel… tell your brain to tell your cells that you will need to lose __ pounds. Your brain will relay the message for you and your cells will say OK. You don’t need to do much else but relax.

  22. You are beautiful the way you are.

  23. I think most people have at least some feelings of not liking their body shape, just not to an extreme. My problem is my fat belly. I try really hard to stay on the healthy diet my husband and I have chosen, but oh my, when my son brings sweets into the house, oh my.

  24. I love how personable you are in your writing. It’s refreshing, and I think many of us can relate to you in your different blogposts. Sorry that the weight loss is so hard. I think we can all relate to that at some point or another. I hope you’re able to find that body acceptance at some point and that it frees you to live more fully.

  25. One has to consider the social side of losing weight as well. How does the presence of other people affect your decisions about what and how to eat?

  26. I really feel for you when you write these posts about weight loss. I’m no skinny malinkey but I do try to eat healthily. It sounds to me that your issue is more with your internal dialogue than the physical processes of losing weight – (sorry for the amateur psychology bit.) Professor Steve Peters has an interesting book that I bought for my daughters a few years ago – it’s called The Chimp Paradox and essentially explains about the ‘chimp’ that we all have inside us that creates all those negative thoughts and suggestions. I found it very helpful as did my girls. More info here – Good luck with the intuitive eating – it sounds pretty good to be honest! 🙂

  27. When it comes to love and/or attraction–“… the eye of the beholder…”

  28. Human beings are complex. Our decisions have multiple influences — some obvious, some subtle, some entirely hidden from conscious view and control. Think of Gulliver tied down by thousands of Lilliputians. Change is possible, but it can be enormously difficult.

    And that is not even taking into account the complicated biochemical processes ongoing in the body. Scientists have, for instance, learned that telomeres at the ends of our chromosomes influence the extent to which individual genes are activated. The famine experienced by a grandmother can actually impact the eating habits of her grandchildren.

    Our value as human beings bears no relation to our weight. Try to let go of that as a measure of perfection, if you can. The less pressure you put on yourself, the less you will need food to offset a false sense of “failure”. ❤ ❤ ❤

  29. Your work will pay off a little at a time as long as you keep at it, Rachel. My little two cents about exercise is to not consider it a big mountain that your body can’t handle. Move around the house as much you can stand … when that feels comfortable walk up and down the block … around the block … Walking is my chosen path to accomplishing that portion of my health goals, so I am a proponent for how everybody can go at their own pace.

  30. Journaling is great therapy — I’ve had a journal since I was 10!

  31. The Bible does tell us that our bodies are God’s holy temples and we should take care of them, so exercise and losing weight are good from that standpoint – but not with an aim to please others. People will always find a way to be negative and critical if they don’t like us and God’s opinion is the one that matters. He loves us and created us perfectly while we were still in our mother’s womb. Take heart and don’t think you are too big or your feet are too big – I wear size 11 shoes and the biggest size they have here in the UK is size 9 !!!! So I have to get my shoes from the U.S. and when I was in the hospital for knee replacement, the nurses kept saying things like, “You’re so tall.” I’m not tall for the U.S. I’m just under 5’8″. So…just praise God. You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

    • Wait, so if I went to the U.K. I’d be considered tall? I was once kicked out of a tall women’s clothing store for only being 5’8″. I mean, I have to order my shoes online anyway, so….

      • Yes, you would be considered tall. If you have a large frame, I assume your pelvis is in proportion to your height and feet, then you do need to carry more bone and muscle and fat. The average woman is about 5ft 3ins here and is a size 16 (UK) and about 10.5 to 11 stones.

      • HaHaHa! Yes, you would be considered tall. My pastor’s wife is only 5’6″ (the same height as her husband) and she was the tallest girl in her class at school! I only know one woman in Scotland taller than me – she’s 6′, but she’s actually from England and moved to Scotland. If you like rain and cool to cold cloudy weather virtually year-around – this would be the place for you!

  32. They were wrong not to include that sometimes one won’t see results from their exercises and suggestions right away. You have decades worth of these behaviours and thoughts and responses, and it has been my experience that there is no quick fix that provides long-term results. I personally had to practise small changes for a seemingly interminable length of time before i saw results. And it was exhausting and frustrating.

    When i changed my mindset to EXPECT that things would be hard and take a long time, things got better. When i shifted my focus away from the end result and put more effort into looking at weight loss and fitness as just one part of an all over, all around lifestyle change, things got better still. At some point i just settled into, “This is my life, and i’m cool with it.”

    I don’t know what will work for you. What i see in your writings about these issues is a woman committed to figuring your stuff out and having more of what you want and less of what you don’t. I see myself in how you pick away at the knot of a problem until you’ve pulled the strands apart and untangle them. I have confidence that you will figure this all out as you pursue happiness and functionality.

    Hang in there, Rachel. 🙂

  33. “I’d prefer to believe that I’m unconsciously cheating in some way, allowing myself to eat past fullness and just telling myself that I’m still hungry.”

    Wow, I have been experiencing the same thing! It’s a struggle deciphering what my hunger is, what hunger even means, and trying to be an intuitive eater ~perfectly~ even though I know the journey is not going to be perfect.

    Really interested in your blog and I love the way you write!

  34. Rachel, thank you for liking my website: Love the dogs! So cute. I appreciate your honesty, and I liked your writing. My goal is to find ways to enjoy vegetables and add natural color to my meals. One way I appreciate my strengths is to see myself as a vegetable. I even wrote a short ebook called, Vegetable Personality Styles:Inspiring Healthy Eating and Healthy Relationships. Finding healthy ways to express yourself, like your writing, And enjoying color in your personality and your food are my best recipe for a more healthy self. Health and Joy, Nancy

  35. Big hugs. One step at a time. No rush.


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