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 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 helps is to give ourselves both structure and flow in our relationship with food. Many people feel ashamed when one sided approaches don’t work for them. 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, one of my courses 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.
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.
Karly, I’m just blown away by this post. This tension between inside-out and outside-in approaches (specifically Weight Watchers) is PRECISELY what I’ve been wrestling with lately, and you’ve just turned on a giant light bulb for me. Background: I’ve been on Weight Watchers for over 8 years, lost 30 lb., drifted away and gained back 10, got serious and lost another 20, then drifted again and gained back another 10. I’ve now been struggling over whether to abandon that approach completely in favor of the Untangled approach, which resonates so deeply with me. On the one hand, I know that when I stick to the WW program it ALWAYS works for me. On the other hand, I don’t always find that even the support of WW meetings helps me deal with the intense, difficult emotions that can drive me to break away from food tracking and just binge. That one sentence of yours–“Let yourself need what you need”–suddenly has broken through my black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking and reminded me that, just like a child, I need structure as surely as I need deep compassion, and my particular self-care “package” needs to include both in order for me to feel safe in my own hands. So thank you, thank you, thank you, to both Karly and Nicole, for helping me “get” this!
Hi Karly, Nicole and Mary,
I also want to leave a comment here.
I had been having a similar inner ‘debate’ about one year ago.
On one hand, I had lost 25 LB with WW but at that point I was starting to slowly gain weight back. In parallel, I was realizing that “outside-in” by itself was just not enough for me. There were issues in my heart that needed to be addressed. Plus I was growing exhausted of counting points, obsessing on the “weekly allowance”, and dreading the moment to go on the scale again.
So about a year ago, I decided to quit. I panicked at first. Really, panicked.
But this year has been so deeply inspiring to me. I have studied with different people: started with Geneen Roth, then Jena La Flamme, Gay Hendricks and more recently with Jon Gabriel. I have also read with great interest your posts, Karly, you are a very inspiring sweet soul, thank you.
The bottom line is, taking it from the inside-out is a challenging, intense and beautifully rewarding path. It certainly takes longer time to see results. But it also changes the meaning if what “results” are. It’s not only to see you lost 0.6 LB at the WW meeting, but it’s noticing how you learn something new about yourself, how you love yourself a tiny bit more, step by step. In this past year I haven’t gained any weight, if anything I have lost a bit. But still, nothing big, and I still would love to lose 20-30 LB. But on the other hand, I have certainly enjoyed my life WAY more than when I was following WW to the “t”.
And this said, I totally agree with Karly in that: there no SINGLE way. I am so deeply thankful for WW because the two years with them taught me a lot of things about nutrition, portion control, the ‘value’ of foods. Even now, when I feel a little ‘out-of-control’, I take back the guide-book and point calculator and for some days I weigh and measure and try to get a sense of where I can reduce a bit. Usually, within a few days the need vanishes and I go back to trust myself and my intuition. Personally, I don’t need to go back to the meetings and to the complete mindset, it just doesn’t serve me. Too much emphasis of ‘weight’ and food behavior. I embrace the idea that weight-loss is a healing process that involves ALL parts of ourselves.
I prefer to see all of these as wonderful tools in my toolbox, that I can try to integrate to create my own, unique, sacred path… the Clara-Method 🙂
Many blessings and love on your journey, and thanks to all of you for sharing so openly, honestly and for showing up for yourselves.
And Mary, can I also share that I have a longstanding vision of writing curriculum for Weight Watchers that brings my inside-out approach into their structured program so that their program meets both needs – and provides emotional as well as physical healing.
If it's in my greater plan, may it be so!
That would be just wonderful–good luck!
Oh Karly, thanks for giving me a moment to laugh at myself, take myself less seriously for a moment or two. Yes, structure IS rocket science to me, also! I’m highly intuitive as well.
As I’m beginning your Untangled program I’m at the same time working with routine. I have to throw tantrums about accepting this structure, but once the rhythm of step 1, then step 2, becomes part of me, I am happier in my life. It requires courage to put forth the effort to accomplish this. At this time I’m practicing morning routine which includes breakfast,shower, etc., and evening routine which includes dinner and preparing for bed.
As I was reading your blog I thought my head was going to roll off my body when you talked about weight loss programs, not because I agree or disagree with this approach, but because the idea just sent me into anxiety about something else I’d have to do! Phew, that’s over!
For me, my truth is that when I’m aware of what my needs are, and I’m willing to follow my routine, eating generally takes care of itself. I’m not “looking for trouble.” I’m focused, calm, and on the ground. I feel safe, and strong, and know that I belong in this world, just like everyone else. Sounds simple? It’s not, but I am a determined woman. I love to learn, yes.
You, Karly, are a person I’ve chosen to walk with me, challenge me to let myself have what I want, and what I need. I see myself falling down…..and getting back up, over and over again as I move forward, and yes, backwards, in this journey of learning to take care of myself, all of me.
I thank you, Karly, along with everyone who is learning right along with me, so I don’t have to feel so alone.
I'm Pamela, replying to my response from yesterday!
I wrote about falling down. I wrote about stepping backwards. I asked myself this morning if these words support "I will not make war against my own heart." They do not. I'm realizing that thinking that I've made a mistake, or somehow failed in this learning process is in error if my intention is, indeed, to soften into my own heart. I need to remember that I'm learning, no matter which "direction" I may think I'm going. Learning to treat myself with kindness is exactly what's happening.
I look at your new logo. Then I gaze down into my own hands. They are soft. They are strong. I can do this! Each time I open to your website I see the heart. I see the hand. They always remind me that yes, my hands are soft-strong….and I'm learning to trust that my heart is too.
Oh this feels so beautiful to me – "to soften into my own heart." Yes, your hands and heart are soft-strong. I'm so glad the heart image helps you connect to your bottomless, beating heart.
In love and care, Karly