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Intuitive Eating Basics: Respect Your Body

Intuitive Eating Basics: Respect Your Body

“Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size. But mostly, respect your body so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical of your body size or shape. All bodies deserve dignity.” -Evelyn Tribole, Intuitive Eating 

Accepting genetic blueprints? Having realistic and kind expectations? YES- these are possible and attainable mindset goals when we shift toward the idea of BODY RESPECT.  

I had an experience this morning with my middle school daughters. Imagine them, 13 and 15, half asleep while I do my best to instill some religion into them before sending them off to the junior high school trenches. We were reading the creation story from the book of Genesis in the Bible- “and God saw that it was good” is a phrase used over and over again as God looked over His creations. I pointed this out to my half asleep teenaged girls- and asked them, “So if God calls the things that He makes ‘good’, what does this suggest about the way we should view God’s creations? Including… ourselves?” I honestly wasn’t expecting much beyond the typical half asleep nods I usually get- but suddenly, my 13 year old perked up, having made a personal connection to what we had been reading. 

“MOM!” she began, “like all my friends need to hear this. THEY ALL talk about how they think their bodies are so gross and they compare bodies all the time. Like can’t we all just look around and say, ‘IT WAS GOOD’!”  

I was kind of surprised at her passion. This really struck a nerve with her- all creations, all bodies- are good. All are worthy of care, respect, and dignity.  

How comfortable are you with acknowledging body diversity-  and calling it good

I believe that all bodies are good bodies. None of our bodies look the same- just like the earth, there is beautiful diversity. I can admire a sweeping mountain vista and not shame it for not being a serene tropical beach. They are both “good”.  

How to practice body respect 

This may be a radical thought to some- but shaming your body isn’t getting you very far. It’s not making you fit differently into your clothes, be more productive, or feel any happier. In fact, body shaming is probably doing the exact opposite: making you feel exhaustingly sluggish and miserable as you go about your everyday tasks.    

In therapy, I like to illustrate this principle by having clients imagine a sweet little baby girl, just learning to walk. Now, as that tiny child embarks on learning this novel skill of walking, imagine standing beside her. What words naturally come to mind when you think of speaking to her?  

“You dumb baby, you still can’t walk? Gosh, all the other babies are figuring this out so much faster than you. Some are even RUNNING, and you can’t figure out a few steps? What is wrong with you? Oh, there you go again. Falling over on yourself. Tripping over your own feet. You are never going to get this right. There is something seriously wrong with you.”  

Did that just make you feel a little sick to your stomach to read? Could you ever picture yourself saying that to a sweet little baby?  

If you were to speak to a baby like that, how far do you imagine she gets in life, how many new things is she willing to try (and sometimes fail at!)? When you stand next to her, constantly critical and harsh, does it set her up for success or failure? This illustration works so well because most of us could never imagine being that awful to a small, innocent child- yet we have no problem being that awful to ourselves. Part of learning to respect your body is taking the time to relearn ways of approaching and speaking to yourself. This isn’t about “letting yourself off the hook”- it’s about learning a new way to interact with yourself, a respectful one. Just like that baby, you will be far more set up for success in life when you shed the constant critical voice inside of you pointing out and emphasizing every misstep.   

Love VS Respect 

You don’t have to LOVE your body. But can you imagine getting to a place where you aren’t beating yourself up constantly? When you put the goal at “LOVE your body!” you are setting yourself up for failure with an unrealistic expectation. Can you set the dial to a more realistic setting of ‘RESPECT your body’?  

Let’s think about that word- respect- and why it may be the right foundation for a healthy relationship with your body. Dictionary.com tells us the definition of respect is: 

“esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability”

A sense of worth, a sense of excellence, a quality or ability- when applied to your body, do you see how this translates to a heck of a lot more than size or appearance? It encompasses being able to comfort a friend with a hug, wrap your arms around your grandmother in greeting and shared affection, appreciating your body for getting you through another long shift at work, and acknowledging her ability to renew and heal after a sickness. There is so much more to the idea of respecting your body than just loving the size or appearance of it!  

As you continue on in the work of healing your relationship with your body, I want you to envision what a respectful relationship with her would look like. Examine your expectations of yourself with fresh eyes.  And more than anything, give yourself permission to start seeing yourself as “good”.  Because you are- you are SO good.


Learn to Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Learn to Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

As we continue to break down and explore the principles of Intuitive Eating, we look next at principle seven: Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness.  

Food comforts. There is likely some food that you feel a certain nostalgia for at different times of the year- during the holiday season, I love the peppermint and cinnamon and fudgy dishes that come with comforting memories of time spent with loved ones and experiencing the magic this season brings. Beyond nostalgia, food also brings comfort when you are in distress. Much like a cozy blanket and warm slippers, food can give you a sense of indulgence and self care that can be particularly meaningful when you are having a hard time. 

Emotional eating” has become a shame-filled catch phrase in the diet industry which would have you believe that eating should- I suppose- be an activity completely outside the realm of your emotions. That doesn’t seem very feasible, does it? When done mindfully, eating is integrated into your awareness- an awareness that includes your emotions!

Mindful eating is the exact opposite of what we might view as “mind-numb” eating- a space where you eat mindlessly, maybe while trying to avoid or numb out your emotions. This can be a powerful way to look at your eating- while not moralistically assigning values to food you may or may not eat during a state of high emotion, can you stay mindful in your experiences of eating? 

Have you had a hard day and oreos seem like an amazing source of self-care? I get it. Oreos are the best. Take a moment to check in with yourself- what is the emotion I am currently experiencing? (See emotion wheel below, it can help really cue into what it might be that you are feeling.) Ask yourself- is this an emotion that I would like to experience with oreos? Is the answer no? Keep investigating with curiosity what is called for in that moment. Is the answer yes? Then I want you to slow down, sit back, and savor those oreos, squeezing out every ounce of comfort to be had. Notice how they taste, smell, and feel to consume. Notice how attending to your own needs- physical and emotional- feels. This is not a wild, emotion numbing event- this is mindful and honoring of ourselves. Take a moment to thank yourself with loving kindness for always being there- through the good and the bad- working with your body to identify and provide for yourself the best experiences through life possible.  

This is coping with your emotions with kindness. It’s not saying eating while experiencing an emotion is BAD like so many diet platforms would tell you. (Does it even make sense to imagine a world where we only eat when we are UNemotional? A world where we really never experience ice cream when coping with a break up, or eat cake when our friends get married, or go out to a fancy dinner to celebrate a promotion? As a foodie who loves experiencing and gifting the experience of food to others, this diet culture imposed view of food as separate from emotional experiences is foreign and uncomfortable to me! 

Food is used to sustain life, yes- but also to comfort and celebrate and mourn. Food isn’t for fixing our emotions, but it can be part of an emotional experience!

Intuitive Eating Basics: Feel Your Fullness

Intuitive Eating Basics: Feel Your Fullness

As we continue our exploration of the basic principles of Intuitive Eating, we are going to focus next on the concept of learning to “Feel Your Fullness”. 

In “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, they instruct:

Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and what your current hunger level is.” 

Take a second and evaluate – how comfortable are you with leaving food on your plate?  

Chances are, if you have a history of dieting, you are likely cleaning that plate without even thinking about it. There is an interesting correlation between diet mentality and the “clean plate club”. When you have been following a restrictive diet and it comes time to eat your “allowed” food, people typically consume everything permitted. Even if it’s a garbage-tasting weird-as-all-get-out diet substitute for a beloved treat – if it’s “allowed”, it gets eaten. A mentality of “eat while you can!” develops.  

This type of relationship with food is out of touch with your body’s natural inner hunger and fullness cues. When you engage in this type of extremely common and culturally promoted behavior, you are training yourself to deny your desire to eat and also to ignore your sense of satiety.   

Ignoring your fullness cue can also show up in another way-  by primarily focusing on external cues for information about how much you should eat. This may look like needing to eat the entire bag of chips or the entire burrito rather than letting your internal cues guide your eating. You may be numb to your body and your relationship with food has suffered because of it, and so you eat mindlessly until the package or serving is completed, and decide you are “done” – without ever checking in on what your body is trying to tell you. 

By learning how to fully feel and respect your fullness, you are allowing your body to guide your intake of food. 

How do you recognize your fullness or satiety cues? While this is something that can be very individual, you can learn to recognize the unique way your body is giving you information about how much to eat. It can be helpful to think back to your hunger cues. Do you primarily feel hunger as a stomach sensation? Do you notice feeling irritable, distractible, or thinking more about food when you are hungry? Often your fullness cues will mirror your hunger cues. You can feel a lack of the stomach sensation of hunger, or less irritable and distractible, or less interested in thinking about food when you are full.  

In order to really understand this individual cue, take some time to practice mindful eating. Rate your hunger cue at the beginning, middle, and end of a meal. How does it change as you eat? Slow down and focus on the experience of the taste, texture, temperature, and smell of your food.  

This approach to eating is like taking your body off of autopilot – either from dieting or feeling like you “have” to eat your serving size – and putting you fully in the driver’s seat. You take over the operation and navigation of your relationship with food and use your hunger and fullness as a guide to what happens. By empowering yourself in this way, you are getting one step closer to intuitive eating! 

Intuitive Eating Basics: Challenge the Food Police

Intuitive Eating Basics: Challenge the Food Police

When was the last time that you comfortably ate in front of others, not worrying about what they may be noticing about your eating habits? As you work to reject the diet mentality, the next principle of intuitive eating is to challenge the “food police”!  

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating, have this to say:

“The food police monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created. The police station is housed deep in your psyche, and its loudspeaker shouts negative barbs, hopeless phrases, and guilt-provoking indictments. Chasing the food police away is a critical step to returning to intuitive eating.” 

Were you surprised to hear the food police station described as being housed in your own psyche? Were you expecting the food police to be external forces or people? Like so much of our mental health, what is going on internally drives our ability to function well.  

We each have beliefs about the world that are formed even before our ability to speak. Some of the beliefs you pick up inevitably involve ideas, morals, and assumptions about food. As you work towards more of an intuitive eating approach, it is important to develop some awareness of what these thoughts are. Cultivating non judgmental mindfulness around your food thoughts will allow you to vanquish the food police!  

Think about the different ideas you may have picked up over a lifetime of interacting with food and the world around you. Perhaps you recognize a belief that carbs are bad and protein is good. You may also have thoughts about sugar, dessert, or “earning” your food. Do you have food rules for yourself, perhaps things like, “No food after 7pm”? Where did some of these thoughts come from?  

With non judgmental mindfulness, you don’t have to hand over the power of beratement from the food police to the intuitive eating police. You can observe your thoughts without assigning moralistic values to them (hence “non judgmental” mindfulness!) In doing so, you are able to get curious about the thoughts you have without having to hurry and “shush” them out of shame.  

Let’s take a specific example of someone who is fearful of carbohydrates. In that case, the person might examine: Where did my fear of carbs first come from? A parent’s disciplined adherence to a fad diet during my teenage years? Well, that absolutely makes sense!  Examine and challenge certain thoughts without beating yourself up for having them.  

Identifying cognitive distortions, a principle used often in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can also be helpful as you approach your thoughts mindfully. A cognitive distortion I see a lot in working with clients is black and white thinking. Do some of the thoughts you have about food illustrate that common distortion?  

In our example of the carb avoider, they might have a thought like, “All carbs are bad, so restricting all of them is good.” As they are able to identify thoughts that are extreme, they can begin the work of challenging or reframing the thought. They might ask themselves questions like, “Should I really never eat carbs? Are all of them bad? Are there times when it might be to my benefit to consume a balanced intake of all nutrients?” They can then examine what they have found to be true in their own life. Perhaps they have had times when they heavily restricted carbs and then felt low energy and struggled to not binge eat. They could examine that experience and then develop a reframed, balanced thought like, “My experience has shown me carbs are a normal part of my eating, and they help me feel balanced.” They can then use that reframed thought to remind themselves of the work they are doing every time the food police sound the red alert as they have a carbohydrate in hand!  

As you move towards intuitive eating, take some time to non-judgmentally observe your thoughts for the food police. As you do so, lovingly remind yourself that they do not have jurisdiction over your food thoughts and behaviors- you do not need to be policed and reprimanded! Intuitive eating will provide you with an opportunity to learn how to tune back into your natural body cues. No more red and blue flashing lights when carbs are around! 

Intuitive Eating 101: Make Peace with Food

Intuitive Eating 101: Make Peace with Food

“Call a truce, stop the food fight!  Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable craving and often, bingeing. When you finally “give in” to your forbidden foods, eating will be experienced with such intensity, it usually results in Last Supper overeating and overwhelming guilt.” –Intuitive Eating

Unconditional permission to eat- does that sound like a recipe for disaster to you?  

Interestingly, the research shows that what leads to binge eating behaviors is restriction. What combats binge eating? Food access! When you give yourself permission to eat without conditions, your body trusts that food is available and stops sending you famine level food cravings. Those food cravings? They come from your biology being wired to keep you alive- if your body decides it is experiencing famine due to your restrictive behaviors, your brain will hyper focus on food acquisition.  

In fact, when clients I work with understand the connection between ignoring their hunger, restriction, and binge eating- it’s a powerful “aha!” moment. That binge eating often leads to guilt, frustration, and further commitment to restrict- setting the cycle up once more. It’s like being on a crazy roundabout! When you have had enough and are ready to find the exit- it will become visible by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat.  

When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it may seem like the guard rails are off and you may go out of control. But remember- you were out of control on the crazy making roundabout of restriction, cravings, and binge eating. Trying a new approach and striving to make peace with food may feel scary, but that’s exactly what is needed in this situation- a new approach leading to peace!

To give yourself unconditional permission to eat, it’s going to be important to throw out the window the food rules you may be accustomed to holding yourself to. You can eat after any hour- and before any hour! You can eat what you really want. You can eat without keeping score and making plans to “work it off” or “earn” food.  

In Intuitive Eating, a 5 step process is outlined for how to make peace with food:

  1. “Pay attention to the foods that are appealing to you and make a list of them. 
  2. Put a check mark by the foods you actually do eat, then circle remaining foods that you’ve been restricting.  
  3. Give yourself permission to eat one forbidden food from your list, then go to the market and buy this food, or order it at a restaurant.
  4. Check in with yourself to see if the food tastes as good as you imagined.  If you find that you really like it, continue to give yourself permission to buy or order it. 
  5. Make sure that you keep enough of the food in your kitchen so that you know that it will be there if you want it.  Or if that seems too scary, go to a restaurant and order the particular food as often as you like.”

As you continue your journey to make peace with food, you will strengthen your personal insight and judgement related to food.  You will experience less out of control cravings and guilt ridden moments of binge eating.  You will come to know that food is meant to be enjoyed- not obsessed over!