The intuitive eating movement encourages people to abandon diet culture entirely and shift back to themselves, a process that involves learning to listen to, trust and respect your body.
Emotional and behavioral weight loss coach Natassia Dsouza became an expert because she has been there. After struggling with emotional eating, binge eating and overeating, it was through learning how to eat intuitively that she lost 65kg – and kept it off, with one notable exception.
Offering a refreshing contrast to diet fads and restrictive food and exercise plans, she draws on her deep understanding of the emotional and psychological aspects of eating to help men and women recognize their emotional triggers, break free from food addiction and forge sustainable healthy habits. Alongside her one-on-one and group coaching sessions, she also hosts a podcast about intuitive eating, and she is certified in cognitive behavioural therapy for eating disorders.
The Dubai-based therapist talks to Livehealthy about how people can become trapped in binge and restrict cycles, why all the traditional diet rules should be thrown out of the window, and why there are no quick fixes to healing and developing positive relationships with food.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is about ditching diet culture and learning to trust your intuition. Over the years, we have stopped listening to our bodies when they tell us that we’re hungry, thirsty or full. This is especially true of people that suffer from overeating.
We’ve been falsely taught that cravings are bad. But I want to teach people how to accept and trust these feelings.
Can healthy eating be confusing?
It’s so complicated because everyone has an opinion. Some people say you should have apple cider vinegar before your meal, and others say never eat carbs after 7pm. People spend hours on social media reading about different techniques and looking at other people’s bodies. It’s doing huge damage psychologically.
People have started denying themselves what they want and need because they think that someone with over 200,000 followers knows better. They don’t listen when their body is hungry or thirsty as they think they shouldn’t be feeling like that. Then the moment they have a cupcake, the binge and restrict cycle begins.
It’s sad to see individuals who are struggling because of what they are seeing on social media.
Do diet plans ever work?
Diet plans don’t work for people who are struggling with emotional eating, or who have an eating disorder. Many dieticians don’t consider that by telling some individuals that they should have only 1,200 calories a day or never eat carbs, they’re actually doing more harm than good. But this is changing. More nutritionists and trainers are not eliminating things entirely. They are helping clients achieve their goals in a manner which is not abusive to their mental health.
What triggered your own weight struggles?
My emotional eating started when I was really young. I was a victim of sexual trauma and food became my best friend. I relied on it for comfort. I was always known as the big child, and I carried that name with pride. Food was my solace. I only noticed my obsession with it after I lost all the weight. At one point it was normal for me to grab three or four ice creams on my way home from work.
A doctor put me on a strict diet of no carbs and just protein and vegetables. I lost 65kg in two years, but then I went back to my old lifestyle and gained back 40 kilos.
I realized that I wanted to binge eat when I was lonely or stressed. I would then starve myself for days on end to make up for it. That’s when I said: ‘Something is not right here’.
I realized my friends didn’t look at food in the same way I did. So I decided to dive into it deeper and that’s when I started learning about things such as mindful eating and emotional eating. I trained in cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders and I accepted that I was struggling with binge eating.
I looked at things from a new standpoint, rather than just thinking that if you’re overweight, you have to eat right and work out. I rewired the way that I looked at food and created a healthy relationship with it.
Do people refuse to acknowledge their binge eating?
Absolutely. There is a huge disconnect. Some people are not aware that they’re actually in a binge and restrict cycle. They think they’re just overeating, and they don’t realize what binge eating is.
Other people are in denial. They know what a binge and restrict cycle is, but they don’t want to identify as doing that, because they think it’s demeaning or frowned upon.
Is it often a result of trauma?
Trauma is a key component. I have been through trauma, and over 70 percent of my clients have. For others it is due to environmental factors, like being raised in a household where you weren’t allowed to leave the dining table without finishing your plate. For some people it happens when they move away from home and go to college. I’ve seen a lot of people pick up binge eating coping mechanisms during this stage of life. There’s also a gene that can encourage binge eating, but that’s only in about five percent of cases.
How do you help people tune in to their cravings?
My programs last six months. I don’t believe in quick fixes. We really slow things down. In the first two weeks, I don’t even talk about weight or calories. I just want to know about their eating habits. Including what time they’re eating, why they’re eating and how they feel before or after eating.
We try to identify their physical, emotional, food and people triggers.
I ask them to let go of the food ‘rules’ that they have. We let them know that they’re safe and that they can get to their goals without following these rules.
Is it about accepting your body?
You can still love your body while still working on getting the one that you want. It actually makes the process easier. Because if you can’t love yourself now, what makes you think that you will when you get to your goal weight?
Body positivity is so important. It breaks my heart to see how women are lacking in it. If I ask some of my clients to name three body parts that they like about themselves, they struggle. They say things like my fingernails, or my eyelashes. I try to get them to really embrace their bodies, learn and grow.
Do you work mostly with women?
Around 70 percent of my clients are women. But the men that I work with are really good at saying: ‘This is how I was conditioned to think and it is no longer serving me. I’m willing to do the work to change’.
I don’t want people to think that I have some sort of miracle formula. It takes work, and there are going to be parts you don’t like.
That’s why I do an interview process before we start. I don’t want anyone coming in thinking that it will be a quick fix.
For more information about Natassia Dsouza, please visit: natassiadsouza.com.