Is it possible to do intuitive eating and strength training at the same time?
Reviewing the particulars of Intuitive Eating, the 4th Edition, "gentle nutrition," and how these things can (or can't) square with getting stronger.
First of all, thanks so much for your column and getting more women into strength training! You’ll see from my setup and question below that I’m brand new to this and your writing is so approachable and motivating; it’s been a really nice sanity-check for the tougher lifting days!
I’ve been on an intuitive eating/HAES journey for a couple years now, trying to recover from a long history of disordered eating and diet culture baggage. It’s been bumpy and I’ve had my backsliding moments, but it turns out that life is a lot more enjoyable?? when you eat food?? that tastes good??? when you’re hungry???? Who knew.
Okay so the crux of the issue:
I recently (a month ago, almost exactly) started lifting heavy at a powerlifting gym. I have a very chill and helpful boyfriend who has been a dream about helping me get into weights, which is a real testament to his patience because I am STRUGGLING. I’ve been having a hard time with the learning curve, and I think I really underestimated just how fucking tired and sore I would be all the time. I’m also all in my feelings because I’ve been bloated and seeing the scale tick up has me backsliding into that diet culture headspace.
The good news is that I’m making tangible progress and lifting heavier (for me, at least) already (although my bench is kinda stalled; any bonus advice there would be v appreciated as well if you don’t want to deal with the rest of this mess). Some days it does click and I GET IT but then others I wind up in frustrated tears.
To boil it down: do you have any advice for a newbie when it doesn’t feel easy or intuitive? I’m not giving up, but I want to look forward to the gym and not wind up crying through my deadlift set (lol). How long does that beginner struggle last?
Thanks again for any advice you can offer; again I really appreciate your writing and also your willingness to answer questions from strangers (you brave soul).
So the short answer is, there shouldn't be a "beginner struggle," as you are describing it; newbie gains where your strength goes up and up in your earliest sessions are usually the easiest gains you will ever see (benching advice here!). I see that your overall goal is to take care of yourself, and I'm honestly sad to see that strength training seems to have been interfering with that goal, rather than supporting it! But we're going to do a long unpack as to why it's been hard, and what can be done about it (possibly quite a bit very easily! But it depends a lot on you).1
I've written a bunch about the role of "recovery" in soreness generally. Recovery is anything you do outside of the gym that relates to the gym: eating, but also sleeping, managing stress, active recovery like walking or stretching. Recovery is always the first place to look when trying to address soreness. In general, you don't want to default to blaming any particular factor. But that said, I know this newsletter's audience tends to be women, and tends to be people who, like me, have struggled with dieting in the past. So in our collective case, I want to paint with a broad brush and say: if you're sore and miserable, you're probably not eating enough. And if you're SURE, mathematically sure, you are eating "enough," you are probably not eating enough of the things you need.
There, I said it. But this is nothing to be ashamed of or discouraged about! Many, many people, including me, have been in your same place. But to break it down for you in very simple, nearly rude terms: You can't get stronger if you can't find a way to eat. A central principle of intuitive eating is that you are supposed to eat so you feel good, right? Being sore and tired and miserable are sufficient cues that you are not eating enough, and secondarily, maybe not enough of the right things. So the intuitive eating bit of this, while helpful to your goal of rehabbing your relationship with food, is not (yet?) serving your strength building goal.
Fortunately, being that you are not some kind of Olympic athlete, there is no need for you to figure this out yesterday. You have, theoretically, your whole life to find this balance, with enough patience. But you raise a great question: Is it even possible to do intuitive eating at the same time you are trying to gain strength?