I’m going to use the d word today – yes, diet. In many circles, diet is considered a dirty word, as all diets or weight loss programs are lumped into a category of “bad.” I have a different way of looking at weight loss programs, and how a structured, focused weight loss plan may help you if you’re carrying extra weight.
To dig into this, I want to touch on something that explains how inside-out and outside-in approaches to weight loss can work together.
How intuitive eating and structure work together
When you’re on a weight loss program – what I’m going to call outside-in approaches – usually your focus in on behavioral change. You’re changing how you eat, what you eat, or how much you eat with the goal of losing weight. You may be limiting portions of foods or eliminating certain foods. Whether you’re doing this by following a certain diet, like a Paleo, sugar free, or vegan diet, or through a traditional weight loss program like Weight Watchers, you’re following a certain, prescribed structure to obtain the results you want.
On the other hand, when you’re using an inside-out approach – like Heal Overeating: Untangled, my overeating program, intuitive eating, or Geneen Roth’s work – your focus is on healing the internal roots – what’s causing the overeating behaviors. In this case, weight loss is the result of healing the overeating. This work tends to be more internally focused on emotions, beliefs, and the relationship we have with ourselves, and less focused on the behavior itself.
What I’d like to share in this post is how both approaches can work together – and how using both may help you if you’ve been struggling while using only one set of the tools.
Honoring your needs for structure and flow
First, let me share how I see this in a bigger context. I see our need for nurturing, softness, gentleness, flow, autonomy and allowing (the inside-out approach) as our feminine side. On the other hand, our masculine is what expresses our need for structure, containment, boundaries and presence (the outside-in approach.)
In my life, I need both structure (an outside-in approach) and nurturing (an inside-out approach) to feel nourished emotionally, physically and spiritually – and I also need these things in order to have a balanced, healthy relationship with food. I’m guessing the same is true for you.
When there’s too much focus on structure, I feel rigid, tense, tight. There’s no breathing room, and eating feels like a tightrope I have to “do” perfectly. I’m chronically on my own case and I feel stifled; there’s no gentleness and no flow. There’s no room to make mistakes. Emotionally, I feel angry because life feels too constrained. I also feel shamed because I can’t meet my own standards.
However, when there’s too little structure, I don’t feel good either. I feel unmoored, ungrounded, and chaotic. My meals – and days – become haphazard and unhealthy. Just coping with an average day feels like a gargantuan task! Emotionally, I also feel angry but for a different reason – from the lack of boundaries. There’s no momentum to direct the flow of my life.
Can you relate?
Let yourself need what you need
What I would love to do is give you full permission to have both structure and flow in your relationship with food. Why permission? Because many people feel ashamed when one sided approaches don’t work for them – and because many of the people advocating one side or the other say, “Don’t use the tactics of the other side.” I felt this way when intuitive eating sent me back into the throes of sugar addiction – I felt like there was something wrong with me.
I would gently encourage you to integrate both, and to allow yourself to need what you need.
On a deeper level, this discussion taps into how we view our very humanity itself. Do we make what we need wrong if we need, say, very structured meals everyday – even if an expert says we shouldn’t need that? Or do we honor that need and go with it?
For example, I cope with ADD, and structure is rocket science for me. It’s one of the most difficult things for me about living in the modern world, and I regularly feel overwhelmed in trying to implement it. So making sure I schedule and honor my structure for regular meals, regular working times, sleep and exercise is a primary way I support my physiology – my unique make up of physical and psychological needs. More intuitive, loosey goosey approaches don’t work for me.
What’s interesting about this is that I’m highly – I mean off the charts – intuitive! So perhaps the reason I need grounding and structure is because I’ve already developed those intuition muscles. Where I’m weak – and in need of support – is in structure.
How it works together
I know all this. And yet here’s where I see so many of us struggling. If – in my mind – I’ve labeled intuitive approaches as the best, highest way of eating, then I will feel ashamed of my need for structure and I won’t give it to myself. I will call it wrong, or inferior, and try to avoid or minimize it.
So beloved, I’m here to give you full permission to need what you need, and to create the foundations in your life that help you meet those needs. (I think a lot of overeating is due to our compensating for chronic, unmet physical, emotional and psychological needs.)
If you’re wanting to lose weight, and you need structure to do so, let yourself have that structure – even if it means following a weight loss plan. And while you’re following that weight loss plan, use your feminine. Honor your needs for gentleness, compassion, autonomy and nurturing. In other words, a weight loss plan doesn’t have to be hurtful, critical or hate based (I hate my fat body!) to work.
I got a letter from a dear woman who is doing just this. I wanted to share it with you because it’s a powerful example of how pairing an inside/out approach with an outside/in approach (in her case, Untangled with Weight Watchers) – has helped her lose weight and heal her relationship with herself:
I’ve been wanting to write to you and tell you about the growth I’ve made recently. As I wrote to you in an email earlier this year, I had been struggling with binge eating and weight gain for the past year (well, nearly a lifetime of food struggles). It was very frustrating, but I read your post about being patient with myself as I was grieving and growing. I reluctantly decided to trust this.
A huge breakthrough happened a little over a year ago after listening to several Untangled sessions. I noticed a shift in myself from hating myself into changing my eating habits and exercising. I remember writing to ask you what to do when you finally move out of hating yourself into healthy changes and then feeling like it is a permission to eat uncontrollably. And you answered wonderfully in a blog post. (You can read it here.)
Around December of this past year, I decided I was so disgusted with myself for getting to my highest weight ever, I decided that if I had to be mean to myself to change, then that’s what I would do. I had to laugh out loud when I realized that I couldn’t do that anymore. I had internalized the self-kindness that you had taught me. And I no longer could go back to those old patterns of behavior and thought. That was a wonderful discovery!
In January, I decided to join Weight Watchers. I had 2 close friends who had very good success with it and with their support and the tools I had learned from Untangled and your blog posts, I felt ready. This structure really works for me. It is the loving structure that you talk about that helps me lovingly set limits on my food behavior. It has been working for me because I have flexibility and I am learning portion control.
When I want more food/a larger portion, I care for myself and let myself feel the grief of that. During that year of bingeing when I stopped hating myself, I was using these tools to care for my pain and my feelings, but I hadn’t done it with food yet. I feel that year was important growth even though the bingeing and weight gain were painful.
I’ve lost 6 pounds in the last month. The thing I have to keep reminding myself of with Weight Watchers is that I am healing my patterns of behavior. I make mistakes and go over my points. I remind myself that my main focus is on healing, not on weight loss. This is hard when they weigh me every week. I feel very gratified when I see the pound loss every week, of course, and I work to keep in mind my main focus of re-establishing a loving, healthy relationship with myself and food.
Thank you for all of your work. I wanted you to know how you are having an impact on me.
Wow. Now I’m going to be honest – yes, I’m promoting Untangled right now, so this letter is pertinent to my needs. But I’m not sharing this with you as a thinly veiled attempt to share a testimonial. I wanted to share this story because I love how in giving herself what she needs – structure and a kinder relationship with herself – she’s creating a life that honors her. Her story has me feeling inspired about how I can lovingly create more structure in my own life (as I look over at my unmade bed!)
In many ways, how we eat and how we care for ourselves is a way of parenting our selves – of taking good care of our physical, mental and emotional needs. So in honoring our needs for loving structure, loving discipline, and gentle boundaries and our needs for nurturing, gentleness, and permission, I believe we become more fully whole. We honor all of ourselves, and all of our needs, as we move through the dance of this ebb and flow.
Wanting more hands on help?
- If you’d like to learn more about Untangled, you can learn more here. Session 6 of Untangled, Commitment, explores how to use structure and your masculine to create healthy habits with food.
- You may also enjoy reading these articles on structure: Structure, beloved structure is your friend.
- This article explores why the daily question of “what to eat?” feels so stressful.