So, you’re ready to break away from the yo-yo diet cycle, and you heard about Intuitive Eating. You’re curious to try it out, but you aren’t sure what to expect or if it’s right for you.
That’s completely understandable! Intuitive Eating goes against everything we hear from diet culture, so it makes sense to be skeptical!
This post will cover what you can expect when you start Intuitive Eating, including Intuitive Eating ‘before and afters’ and what will happen with your weight!
Table of Contents
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based, weight-neutral health approach created by two Registered Dietitians, Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, in the 1990s.
It’s a self-care framework that works to heal your relationship with food and body by cultivating trust and body awareness and breaking out of the diet cycle.
Intuitive Eating is not another diet. In fact, it’s not about weight loss at all. With dieting, the primary end goal is weight loss. With Intuitive Eating, the primary end goal is health gain.
Diets are dictated by rules, deprivation, and restrictions. In contrast, Intuitive Eating focuses on using your body’s internal wisdom by adding nutrition and movement in a way that feels best for you.
Diets are about eating and exercising to change your body into something “better.” Diets are dictated by urgency and shame. Let’s be honest, how often do you see advertisements promoting “fast and easy weight loss”?
Intuitive Eating, on the other hand, is about honoring, nourishing, and respecting your body. Intuitive Eating comes from a place of self-care and value versus self-loathing and shame.
Intuitive Eating Before and After… Not What You’re Expecting
So, I get that most people seeking out ‘before and afters’ of Intuitive Eating are most likely curious about weight. That’s completely understandable to be curious about your weight when starting Intuitive Eating in our appearance-obsessed culture.
However, Intuitive Eating is not about weight loss. It’s not that Intuitive Eating is anti-weight loss, but focusing on weight can impede learning Intuitive Eating (but more on this later).
Instead of weight loss ‘before and afters’, I’m going to focus on the outcomes of Intuitive Eating.
Why I Don’t Use Before and After Pictures, and Never Will
If Intuitive Eating isn’t anti-weight loss, what’s the harm in using weight-related before and after pictures or complimenting weight loss?
It seems harmless, right? Praising weight loss is so normalized in our society that most people don’t even think twice about it. Using before and after pictures are the industry standard. It seems weird if a nutrition or fitness business ISN’T using before and after pictures.
Why are before and after pictures so popular? To be blunt, they sell extremely well. Let’s face it, the world is driven by money, not ethics.
The truth is, unfortunately, before and after pictures do more harm than good.
- They insinuate the ‘after’ is better than the ‘before.’
Before and after pictures imply that the body in the before picture is unacceptable, undesirable, and something that needs to be changed. Whereas the body in the after picture is a better body worthy of praise.
That creates intense pressure to achieve and/or maintain that “after” body at all costs, including resorting to unhealthy or unsustainable measures.
- They generate a need for comparison.
These pictures don’t account for body diversity. Everyone has different body size and shape genetics, but these pictures usually only depict one body type. This generates body comparison to an unrealistic body ideal.
Body comparison can lead to body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and internalization of the thin or muscular body ideal, which increases the risks of eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.
- They don’t show the “after the after.”
Before and after pictures usually occur during a set time frame. They don’t show the actual “after.” They show the right now, but you don’t see what happens after one year, five years, or ten years.
When someone loses weight fast, it’s rarely ever sustainable, and rebound weight gain occurs even quicker.
Even with a “slow and practical weight loss plan,” studies show that long-term weight loss isn’t sustainable for many people.
So, when someone gains the weight back, they feel like they failed because they no longer look like “the after” that they received so much praise for, despite improved health markers or sustained healthy habits.
- Value is placed on appearance.
Before and after pictures are very appearance-based, solely focusing on physical changes like weight loss or muscle gain. The emphasis is on physical appearance above body functionality, appreciation, health, personal values, or experience.
Placing a high level of importance on appearance leads to self-objectification, meaning that you believe that your body is an object to be valued for how it looks. It becomes less about what your body can do or how it feels and more about how it looks.
Self-objectification is associated with increased body shame, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
- You can’t tell someone’s health by how they look.
Health doesn’t have a size, and it looks different for everyone. Someone’s health doesn’t automatically improve because they lost weight. In contrast, someone can improve their health without a weight change.
Portraying healthy as a specific look or size can make it feel unattainable to people who don’t fit that narrow standard, so they may feel dejected or won’t even want to try.
Weight loss doesn’t equal health. Healthy behaviors improve health.
- They suggest that health can be improved with just willpower and effort.
Willpower has very little to do with behavior change and even less with health. You can’t will your genetics, life circumstances, past trauma, financial status, cultural stigma, medical conditions, or access to societal privileges to change.
These factors influence your health more than your “willpower.”
- You don’t know how the person lost weight.
A picture doesn’t tell the whole story. You may see someone with a smaller body that appears happy, but you don’t see how they got there.
For example, the weight loss may be a result of:
- An extremely low-calorie diet
- Dangerous diet pills or surgery
- Disordered eating or an eating disorder
- Anxiety or depression
- Acute or chronic illness
- Food insecurity
None of this is conveyed in a before and after picture, and this external pressure to look a certain way can lead to following a weight loss goal blindly at all costs.
- A lot of pictures are staged.
It’s unfortunate, but some people and companies will go to extreme lengths to produce a good before and after picture, even if it deceives people. There are literally thousands of tutorials online about how to *fake* a good before and after picture.
You can manipulate pictures by using different lighting, changing posture or clothing, using different facial expressions, lying about time frames, and even using photoshop. Unfortunately, these fake before and after pictures are everywhere, and they set up unrealistic expectations for anyone that sees them.
Traditional Diet Industry Marketing
Traditional diet advertising, like the use of before and after pictures, focuses on rejecting your bigger body. It creates the perception that you’ll be happier and healthier when you’re smaller and then generates a sense of desperation and urgency to guilt you into buying their “quick fix” or “miracle” product or service.
It creates problems that don’t need to be or can’t be “fixed.” Ever wonder why no diet has ever stayed trendy for long? Because they don’t work! Your body was never the problem; your perception of your body was the problem.
Diet companies don’t care about your well-being or the harm they cause by creating insecurities. They care about making you feel bad and then presenting a “solution,” so you spend your money.
As a registered dietitian, I don’t care how you look, but I do care how you feel about how you look. I also care about your quality of life, physical health markers, and mental health. That means helping you value and respect your body no matter how it looks, not just chasing an unrealistic beauty standard. I know that doesn’t sell like before and after pictures, but I will never sacrifice your well-being to make more money.
Intuitive Eating Before and After Results
So, if weight change isn’t an outcome of Intuitive Eating, you may be wondering how progress is measured then.
The intent of Intuitive Eating is to improve how you feel, not change how you look. So, rather than weight, these before and afters are about all the non-scale changes that occur with Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating Before and After: Relationship with Food
|Frequent overeating or binge eating||Able to stop eating when comfortably full|
|Unable to keep favorite food in the house for fear of losing control||Can keep all foods in the house without fear or binges|
|Use food to cope with emotions like boredom or stress||Able to identify reasons for eating other than hunger and develop alternative coping plans|
|Feel out of control around food||Able to eat all foods without overeating or guilt|
|Constantly think about food and your next meal||More space to think about things that matter more|
|Constant hunger, never feel satisfied after eating||In tune with hunger and fullness|
|Eat based on rules and restrictions||Eat based on internal cues and satisfaction|
|Limited foods in the diet/lack of variety||A varied and balanced diet|
Intuitive Eating Before and After: Body Image
|Body dissatisfaction||Body respect|
|Self-worth tied to body image||Realize your value doesn’t come from how you look|
|Constantly chasing a “better” body||Treating your body with unconditional positive regard no matter how you feel about your appearance|
|Avoid events, clothing styles, or activities until your body looks a certain way||Realize you are worthy to enjoy life now|
|Identity is based on appearance||Identity is based on values, passions, goals, mission, skills, dreams, and purpose|
|Scrutinize and pick apart body||Appreciate your unique qualities and respect your body|
Intuitive Eating Before and After: Personal Relationships
|Avoid social events with food||Attend events with confidence|
|Opt out of impromptu dinners with friends or family||Flexibility with eating|
|Distracted by anxiety and stress while dining out||Able to be present in the moment|
|Avoid being intimate with your significant other due to body insecurity||Improved intimacy with your partner|
Intuitive Eating Before and After: Physical Health
|Weight cycling (yo-yo dieting)||Stable and healthy body weight|
|Digestive distress||Better digestion|
|Slower metabolism||Improved metabolism|
|Health markers stay the same or get worse||Improved health markers like lower blood pressure and reduction in LDL cholesterol|
Intuitive Eating Before and After: Psychological Health
|Depression and anxiety||Improved psychological wellbeing|
|Lack of coping skills||Toolbox of coping skills|
|Highly stressed||Less stress|
|Suppression of the body’s needs, thoughts, and feelings||Improved interoceptive awareness|
Intuitive Eating Before and After: Quality of Life
|Low energy||Better and more stable energy|
|Exercise out of a feeling of necessity or guilt||Joyful movement as a means of self-care|
|Poor workout performance||More energy, enjoyment, and satisfaction from a workout|
|Poor concentration||Mental clarity and focus|
What Happens When You Start Intuitive Eating?
Everyone’s experience with Intuitive Eating is different, so I’m not going to pretend like I know exactly what will happen for you. However, it can be helpful to know what to expect.
Unlike a diet, which typically has strict rules and a designated path where you’re either “on the diet” or “off the diet,” Intuitive Eating is a process with ups and downs. There is no “wrong” way to practice and no “bad” experiences with Intuitive Eating. Every experience is part of the process.
Intuitive Eating teaches you to approach all experiences with a sense of curiosity and self-compassion instead of judgment or guilt.
While everyone’s journey with Intuitive Eating is different, there are some common trends. Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND, the original Intuitive Eating professionals, detail five stages you may go through during the Intuitive Eating process.
Again, keep in mind that the process isn’t linear. You may skip stages, move back and forth between stages, or spend a long time in some stages, which is perfectly fine. Instead of focusing on the end goal, focus on the process and all the small achievements you’ve made along the way.
Stages of Intuitive Eating
Stage One: Readiness – Hitting Diet Bottom
You’ve reached a place where you absolutely cannot go on another diet. You’re tired of fluctuating between extreme hunger and overeating.
You’re sick of thinking about food, daydreaming about foods you “can’t eat,” and feeling guilty or out of control if you eat those forbidden foods.
You hate the way you look and feel in your body, thinking you’ll be happier if you could just “stick to the plan” and lose some weight. At the same time, you’re done with chasing that elusive goal weight, knowing that you weren’t actually happier at that lower weight.
You’re ready to get off the diet roller coaster.
Stage Two: Exploration – Conscious Learning and Pursuit of Pleasure
In this stage, you’ll go through a state of hyper-consciousness as you begin to get in tune with your internal cues and make peace with food.
This stage will likely feel uncomfortable and awkward as you get used to Intuitive Eating.
You may start to eat large portions, especially of previously forbidden foods. This eating pattern won’t last forever as you begin to learn true taste preferences and the amount of food that feels best for you.
You may even realize that you don’t even like the foods you were previously avoiding!
Stage Three: Crystallization
Your Intuitive Eating skills begin to crystalize and feel more natural in this stage. You no longer feel obsessive or hyperaware of your eating choices, but rather they begin to feel innate.
You are able to feel your hunger and fullness signals and honor them as you begin to trust your body. You may still eat past comfortable fullness from time to time as you become aware of how much food your body needs. You may also still frequently choose previously forbidden foods, but you realize you don’t need as much to feel satisfied.
You become more aware of the occasions you were using food to soothe or distract from emotions like boredom or stress and begin exploring other avenues to fulfill your needs apart from food.
You realize that you never lacked willpower. Rather, it was deprivation and restriction that drove you to feel out of control around food.
Stage Four: The Intuitive Eater Awakens
In this stage, your eating becomes more comfortable and natural. You trust your internal cues to tell you what, when, and how much to eat. Eating becomes a satisfying experience.
You find it easier to stop eating when you’re comfortably full, and you begin to crave nutrient-dense foods.
Forbidden foods lose their allure as you realize you can have them whenever you desire. You feel more in control around all foods. You can enjoy and find satisfaction in eating rather than guilt.
You learn to show respect and care for your body, even when you may not comfortable with your appearance. You learn to appreciate your inner qualities and values more than your outer appearance.
Stage Five: The Final Stage – Treasure the Pleasure
In the final stage, you have cultivated trust with your body. You regularly choose foods that make you feel good and energize your body.
You exercise as an act of self-care because you notice the physical and mental benefits, not as a punishment or because you feel like you have to.
You can recognize the outside influences of diet culture without letting them affect you.
You have become an Intuitive Eater!
What Happens to Your Weight When You Start Intuitive Eating?
This is the question I get asked most often about Intuitive Eating, and understandably so, living in a culture obsessed with appearance and weight loss. However, I can’t answer this because it’s different for everyone.
While studies indicate that Intuitive Eating is negatively associated with BMI (meaning that people that score higher as Intuitive Eaters had lower BMIs), it’s difficult to determine what will happen to your weight when you begin Intuitive Eating since everyone has a different starting point and situation.
Can you lose weight when you start Intuitive Eating? Yes, if you’re binge eating, emotional eating, or eating more than your body needs, reducing these behaviors can lead to weight loss.
However, if you’re restricting your intake, overexercising, or showing signs of relative energy deficiency, you may gain weight when you start Intuitive Eating. You may also maintain your current weight, depending on what your body needs.
All of these are acceptable outcomes!
Can you use Intuitive Eating for weight loss?
Intuitive Eating is NOT a tool for weight loss, and anyone saying that it is has just co-opted the language because it’s trendy right now. That doesn’t mean that Intuitive Eating is anti-weight loss or that if you desire weight loss, you’re a bad person.
Intuitive Eating can’t be used for weight loss because it interferes with becoming an Intuitive Eater. Dieting for weight loss focuses on physical appearance, which can lead to the adoption of inflexible diet rules. This interferes with developing interoceptive awareness because you focus on external factors like weight, calories, or portions.
Restriction, whether physical or mental, can make it really difficult to quit eating, even once you’re physically full. Further, physical restriction can lead to extreme hunger and rebound eating or binge eating.
Does that mean you can’t practice Intuitive Eating if you desire weight loss? Absolutely not! That’d be unrealistic in our society. It’s completely normal to desire weight loss. However, ask yourself why it is you want to lose weight.
Most people desire weight loss because they want to feel better about themselves and improve their body image and self-esteem. However, weight loss does not improve body image. Think back to when you weighed less, were you chasing a different body goal then? Inversely, you can improve body image without losing weight.
If you truly want to improve your relationship with food, body, and mind, I recommend putting the goal of weight loss on the back burner while you explore Intuitive Eating. Is it worth micromanaging your diet to lose a few pounds?
If you want to try Intuitive Eating but still desire weight loss, I suggest working with an Intuitive Eating dietitian to help you explore and understand this desire.
Intuitive Eating Before and After FAQs
While you can lose weight with Intuitive Eating, this isn’t the goal. The goal is overall health and well-being and improving relationship with food and the body. If the focus is still on shrinking the body, it’ll interfere with adopting the Principles of Intuitive Eating.
Yes, people have unintentionally lost weight with Intuitive Eating if that’s what their body needed. People have also gained weight or maintained weight. Your body will settle in at a healthy and comfortable weight.
There isn’t one set definition of “working,” Intuitive Eating is not black and white, and there’s no “wrong” way to practice Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating is a life-long journey with ups and downs. You’re constantly learning and adapting. Some days may be better than others, but it does get easier and more natural over time. Everyone’s experience is different.
Yes! Of course, “working” will look different for everyone at different stages of their journey and at various points in their life. Intuitive Eating works to fit your lifestyle, not the other way around.
Check out my blog post on if Intuitive Eating works for more information.
The more you practice, the more natural it will become! For some people, it can happen quite quickly. For others, it takes more time and support.
Yes, it can be normal to eat a lot when you start Intuitive Eating if you’ve been restricting yourself. Once the restriction is healed, your eating will fall into a more stable pattern.
Since there is no wrong way to practice Intuitive Eating, this will depend on your goals, preferences, starting point, stage of life, history, and more. Some outcomes of Intuitive Eating include:
-Less binge eating
-Less food preoccupation with food
-Less food guilt
-Less grazing or boredom eating
-Fewer food cravings
Everyone’s experience with Intuitive Eating is different, and the process is not always easy, but the outcomes are life-changing!
If you’re interested in exploring Intuitive Eating and starting the process of healing your relationship with food and body image, check out my free Beginner’s Guide to Intuitive Eating. Looking for a little more support and guidance? Check out my Intuitive Eating services.
Kristin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Dietetics with a concentration in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has experience conducting systematic reviews and writing and evaluating scientific literature in peer-reviewed journals. She has a goal of making evidence-based nutrition information accessible and easy to understand.