When you read books like mine and other authors trying to help you become a “normal” eater, do you wonder if everyone can become one or just some people? Ever think about whether you’re spinning your wheels with this intuitive eating stuff or how long you should try it before giving up? Based on posts I read on eating message boards and what clients and students say, my guess is that these are red hot questions for you.

I’d like to tell you that I have definitive answers, but I don’t. Here’s what I do know. Biology plays a huge part—some 50-70%—in determining your weight. Genetic loading inclines you toward fat or thin. A traumatic childhood or stressful life may predispose you to food regulation problems or eating disorders. Depression and anxiety impact metabolism on a biochemical level and also may exacerbate appetite problems. Your eating habits begin in the womb (depending on how much and what Mom ate) and cognitive and behavioral patterns get cemented early on in life.

Okay, that’s the bad news. The good news is that the brain is malleable and thousands of people change unwanted behavior all the time—give up smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, and other addictions. They learn to control their temper, to relax, to communicate better, and to become more responsible. We are learning and changing all the time, even when we don’t realize it.

How far you can go in becoming a “normal” eater depends on your biology, to be sure, and the process is much, much harder for some people than for others. That’s a given, so don’t compare. Instead, focus on what you need to do to recover. Most dysregulated eating clients come to me with a faulty ability to say “no” to food and either lose weight or keep it off. Whether they’ve been overweight for decades or recently put on pounds, they’re frustrated and upset. It takes many months to a few years for them to learn to eat more “normally.” Some have to learn to cut back on carbohydrates, commit to exercising, and/or get on an anti-depressant. All have to retrain their brains, connect to appetite signals, and/or stop using food emotionally.

Generally, they gain weight when they stop dieting and restricting, but they also get to a point when they become fed up with overeating and begin doing things differently. They start to focus on making better food choices, decrease emotional eating, stay conscious around food, and put extra effort into portion control and satisfaction. These changes make “normal” eating not only possible but more of a reality. The process works!