Ep 78: Trying to Convince Others to Try Intuitive Eating
A recent DM I got said, “My mother has been a yo-yo dieter for as long as I can remember. She’s constantly trying out new diets, cleanses in order to lose weight. I see her frustration. Her doctor has advised her to lose weight...I have had multiple conversations with her regarding how she can go about becoming healthier overall without going on a diet like before. Because I’ve been exposed to this whole new sphere of intuitive eating and being anti-diet, I’ve recognized her tendencies to overindulge on the weekends when she’s “off the wagon” and “starting over” on Monday. I have tried to explain, of course, but to my frustration she’s quite stubborn. Do you have any advice?”
Another one said, “I have spent this year trying to unlearn dieting and finding food freedom. I feel so much more free now, and I’m so thankful. The only problem is, I feel like I’m the only person I know who feels this way now. It seems that every friend, family member, acquaintance is stuck in diet culture and I feel like an alien and crazy person most of the time. Except when I’m listening to your podcast or looking at intuitive eaters on Instagram...then I feel like I’m agreeing and resonating with everything. But in real life, where I live, this new journey feels so good but also so lonely. Do you have tips for dealing with that? Maybe a podcast about that would be helpful.”
I want to just walk you through the typical scenario of what happens, mostly so you’ll know that this is totally normal and we all experience this when we are new to the process. So here’s a few general points of what happens.
You are obsessed with your weight, stressed out about food, self-conscious about your body, and focused on fixing what you think is the problem. You buy diet programs and meal plans and try to cut out sugar and have more self-control and “be good.” You “fall off the wagon” and freak out, buy another program or try another way of eating, and around and around it goes.
But then...you learn about intuitive eating. The heavens open and the clouds part and the angels sing. Your mind shifts, the way you feel about food and your body changes, and your life is never the same. You can’t believe you ever bought into dieting. Your eyes are opened, you see the light, and you are so glad
And then you start to look around you. You realize that literally EVERYONE you know is dieting. All the women in your life (maybe you have a fortunate few exceptions if you’re lucky) are where you were not so long ago...stuck in a battle with food and their bodies.
You start to realize that food and weight is all anyone talks about, all anyone thinks about or cares about. Your eyes have been opened, and you start to feel frustrated with everyone in your life who is still, as you see it, blind to the truth.
You start to recognize the way others around you are stuck in the same old cycle with food and their bodies, and you want to help them see the light.
This also affects your friendships and relationships because dieting and weight loss are kind of the universal pastime for most women. Talking about food and our bodies is one of our main ways of connecting. Because you’ve stopped obsessing about losing weight and you’ve calmed down about food, you start to feel a little bit isolated.
You feel like you’re the only one in your life who gets it, who thinks this way. And, like that message I read a minute ago, you spend time online finding people who remind you of what you now believe, who reinforce your new positive way of thinking. But when you get into conversations with people, you don’t really have anything to say anymore.
The other thing that happens is that you start to feel like you’re a little bit smarter than the people who are still dieting. You look at them and think, “That’s so last month for me - I can’t believe you’re still doing that.” Maybe you feel the need to get a little bit preachy and let your friends know the error of their ways. You’re a new convert to intuitive eating, and you want to get everyone on your side. You feel like you have to convince the people in your life to give up dieting like you’ve done.
I have to believe this comes from a good place, with good intentions. When we find something good, we want to let everyone know about it - especially people we care about. We want those we love to experience the peace and freedom we’ve found - especially when we see our loved ones struggling and suffering. It’s hard to navigate.
Everyone goes through this. It’s totally normal. And at that point of frustration is when people usually reach out to me (or another non-diet nutrition professional) saying, “HELP!” So I want to give you a few tips for when you are feeling like that.
First: It is not your job to convince anyone of the benefits of intuitive eating. It is not even MY job, and I’ve built my profession on these principles. Convincing people - or trying to convince them - feels yucky. Although it probably partially comes from good intentions, it’s also a misplaced attempt to control what other people think and do.
Although you want this person to be happy and experience the peace you’ve found, I think there’s also usually a piece of you that wants to be right, to have most people agree with you, and to have that little thrill of victory. This is not a criticism of you - it’s an observation of human nature and also knowing my own experience.
We want people to like us and agree with us. We want to be accepted. We want to be right. But that is NOT the most important thing, and it’s not the most helpful place to focus our attention.
Second: If the person you want to help is not interested, it’s best if you leave it alone. Just like you had to be ready to receive and learn the principles that are changing your life, so do they. You coming in and saying, “Mom, what you need to do is…” or “If you could just stop doing this…” it’s probably not going to land for them. They will perceive your suggestions as criticism...and that’s probably, on some level, what they are.
Instead of looking at the people in your life who are still dieting as ignorant or blind, try seeing them through the lens of compassion. You get it - you’ve been there. You were probably in that same spot very recently. Instead of seeing intuitive eating as this new wall between you, try to feel compassion for where they are and the frustration they are feeling.
Compassion doesn’t even need to mean you say anything to them - it could just be a feeling you carry in your heart that keeps you open and kind rather than closed off and defensive.
Third: Be prepared to answer questions if and when someone does ask. When we are new to something, it feels overwhelming to explain to someone. We have all these feelings about it, and we’re so excited, but we don’t quite know how to communicate that. That’s totally okay, and again, totally normal.
What I would recommend is not to worry too much about getting wrapped up in being able to cite research studies or prove why intuitive eating is so much better. I think it’s best to be able to speak from your own personal experience. For the people in your life, that will be much more powerful and impactful than you being able to rattle off the top 10 reasons why dieting is bad.
Speak from your own story. Tell them what changes you’ve made, how that has helped you, and how you feel about it. Think about (and be ready to tell someone if they want to know) the concrete benefits you’ve experienced. Maybe you feel less stressed about food. Maybe going on vacation is fun for you now because you’re not worried about breaking any food rules.
People may ask questions like, “How can you say that your weight doesn’t matter? Aren’t you worried about obesity/diseases?” Again, you don’t need to get upset or defensive, even if you can’t clearly articulate why this feels so right to you. Maybe you come up with (ahead of time) something you could say, like, “I have chosen to focus more on health-promoting behaviors than on my weight, and that feels really good to me.” Or, “I know that stressing out about my weight never got me anywhere except stressed out, so being able to focus on other things that matter more to me has been really helpful for me.” Something like that.
If someone in your life is really wondering, and not just trying to convince YOU of the error of YOUR ways (which they may disguise as a concern for your health that is actually fat-phobia or weight bias) - if they are genuinely interested, you can recommend resources to them that have been helpful for you.
Recommend podcasts, Instagram accounts, or other resources that have been helpful for you. Recommend them because you genuinely love this person and think they would enjoy it too...not because you want them to convert to your way of thinking.
Referring them to outside resources is less stressful for you than trying to explain it all yourself, and it will also allow them to pursue it if they want and leave it if they don’t. Again, you don’t have to carry that burden. If they really do want to know what you’re doing, there are lots of resources out there for them, just like there is for you.
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