I am excited to share this post with you today because it is a topic that I am very passionate about, and one that I get questions about often. I recently partnered up with Athleta on the Plaza in KC to speak about intuitive eating & body acceptance to a group of women who were curious to learn more about this way of thinking. It was a fairly small, intimate group, and one that I feel so grateful for. During my talk, I got pretty emotional, and actually cried for a few minutes, but I sensed zero judgment in that room. I felt compassion and love, and most of the people there were strangers, except for my sweet momma. Some of my followers who couldn’t make it to the event requested that I still share some of the information I discussed that day. So here we go.
Before I get started, I want to be clear that this post is not meant to make anyone feel badly about themselves if they have dieted or are currently dieting. This post is here to show you that if you are feeling stuck or trapped in diet culture, there is another way.
A lot of us don’t like to admit it, but food and body image are emotional things to talk about. Especially when you’ve had a long and complicated journey to finding peace with food, if you’re still on your journey, or if you haven’t yet started. Either way, you are welcome here.
Multiple women approached me either before or after my presentation at Athleta to let me know that I have impacted them in some way. One of them told me that I encouraged her to get rid of clothing that no longer fit her, because this was something I recently did, and I addressed it on IG stories. Instead of obsessing about getting back to a certain body size to fit in those particular pre-baby clothes, she went out and purchased new ones that fit her well and made her feel confident and beautiful, regardless of the size on the tag. To some of you, this may seem small, but that made my whole day. Helping other women re-learn to love themselves as they are is honestly what keeps me going here as well as on Instagram.
Those of you who have followed me for a long time know that I used to count calories pretty religiously, but thankfully, I quit doing that a few years ago. I still thank my fellow dietitian and now friend, Deanna of @dietitiandeanna, for being so open about her journey, because that’s what encouraged me to start healing my relationship with food years ago. I thank her for sharing that you do not have to count calories or follow a specific diet to achieve a body that is not only healthy, but one you can feel proud of, and know that you are great taking care of every day. She spoke the words that I needed to hear, right when I needed to hear them. I hope that is what this post does for some of you today.
In case you aren’t aware, I have really started to dive into the intuitive eating world over the past few months. It was something I just kept coming across on Instagram (thanks to the many dietitians I follow) and I became intrigued. I loved all of the positive messages that were associated with intuitive eating, and I felt that it was truly something that I was beginning to practice myself. As a dietitian, and just as a person in general, I have never been one to follow or promote any of the fad diets out there, so this was a concept I could truly embrace.
Side note: some of you may be thinking to yourselves “well, that’s because you have never struggled with your weight”. You’re right. I will be the first to admit that I have never been overweight and I have never had significant fluctuations in my weight. However, I have struggled with disordered eating and poor body image and feeling like the body I’m in isn’t good enough, thin enough, strong enough, tall enough, proportional enough — or just enough, period. I know that what I’ve experienced is much different than what those who live in a larger body experience on a regular basis (including weight stigma, not fitting in certain clothes/chairs, etc.), but I can tell you that poor body image takes a huge toll on your physical, mental and emotional health, too.
To be clear, intuitive eating is not another diet, and the goal is NOT weight loss. The goal with IE is to make peace with food. Intuitive eating means breaking up with diets for good, and rejecting diet culture and unrealistic ideals. It means re-learning to tune into your body and letting it guide you in your eating decisions, such as when, what and how much to eat, and truly respecting — and trusting — your body along the way. It doesn’t mean you’ll eat perfectly healthy 100% of the time. It means that you will allow yourself to enjoy a variety of foods, free of guilt or shame, and free of silly “rules” and unnecessary restrictions (that usually lead to binging). When you normalize your eating (meaning you are no longer overly restricting and/or binging on foods), your body will eventually settle at the weight where it feels comfortable and safe, also known as your set point weight.
Today I am in a place where I truly do love and respect my body, far more than I ever have, even though it may not look like my old version of “perfect”. I can also say that over the past few years, I have gradually become an intuitive eater, although I didn’t realize there was really a name for it until more recently.
I eat a wide variety of foods. Most of them are healthy, because they help me feel my best, fuel my workouts, and I truly love and enjoy healthy foods, but I also eat plenty of foods that are less nutritious, but good for me in other ways. Having a better balance in my diet has given me the mental clarity that I had been missing for a long time.
No more calculating calories using My Fitness Pal or in my head before eating. No more anxiety when I am in situations with foods that aren’t perfectly healthy or that contain more calories than are “allowed” for my day. No foods are ever completely off limits. No more silly rules set by myself or forced upon me by diet culture. I can fully enjoy every situation I’m in without stressing about the food that’s available, or thinking about how much I’ll have to work out the next day to make up for eating it.
Does that mean I reach for a donut every time I see one, because there are no rules? Absolutely not. Again, I know which foods help me feel my best, and I honor and respect my body by choosing those more often. However, when I see a food that looks and sounds really good to me in that moment, I allow myself to have it and I move on with my life. I also want to acknowledge that I am privileged because in most cases, I can probably have that food the next day if I really want it, so I don’t necessarily have to capitalize on every opportunity I have to eat it.
That is often what happens with people who go on restrictive diets. In the Intuitive Eating book, they refer to this as the Last Supper phenomenon. The individual knows they are about to start another diet where “x, y and z” will be off limits, so they have to take advantage now. Instead of enjoying just one donut, they might have five, since they know they can’t do that again for a long time, if ever. However, when you give yourself unconditional permission to eat and enjoy all foods at any time, a lot of them become less exciting and less “tempting.” You will find that it becomes much easier to pass up that donut some days, either because you’re not in the mood, or because you’re truly not hungry.
But some days, you eat the damn donut, or cookie, or whatever food you love most. And you enjoy every last bite. That is just a sweet taste of what Food Freedom looks like to me.
So what about exercise? I still do it often because it makes me feel good and strong and empowered. It also makes me feel energized and it’s something I can do with my husband, Ethan, which I really enjoy. I have always really felt this way towards exercise, but I no longer categorize it as a “good” or “bad” workout based on how many calories I burned. If I moved my body, it felt good, and I had fun doing it, that’s truly all that matters.
On the flip side, I’m finally able to give myself a break. The month of September has been a little crazy. I was sick with a horrible cold/cough for about two weeks, then we went on vacation for five days, and then my work schedule was weird and I either had to work out at 5 AM (instead of my usual 6 AM), work out in the evenings (which is not really my jam), or settle for going on long walks and being okay with that. While I was sick, I just rested. Did I miss working out? Yes. Did I know that my body needed rest more than it needed exercise during that time? Yes. So I honored that. For our trip we went to Colorado so we were very active there. Although it wasn’t crazy high-intensity like my normal workouts, I was okay with that too.
Being at peace with food and your body often means embracing the gray. It doesn’t always have to be that black and white, all or nothing, “on” or “off” my diet mentality. You can be somewhere in between, and be okay with it. In the past, that was not the case for me.
I have a few other articles I’ve written about my journey to finding peace with food and my body, and embracing a more intuitive eating approach. I am going to link to them below in case they might be helpful. When I go back and read those, it is clear to me just how much I have learned and grown in the past few years. I don’t want to go back and edit them, because it shows that I have evolved, and I’m happy about that.
What “Power of She” Means to Me — empowering article about body image and loving yourself
A few months ago I was on a podcast talking about nutrition, and listening back I was angry at myself for some of the things I said. I didn’t necessarily say anything wrong, but I was mad about the way I said them. I could’ve shown a lot more compassion, and even in the short time between then and now, I have learned so much and my mindset has shifted quite a bit. I think it’s so important to continue growing and learning about the things that light a fire in our souls, and rather than beating myself up for saying things differently that I would’ve liked, I’m proud of myself for exploring new ways of thinking, and embracing the gray.
If you are struggling with body image or on a roller-coaster of yo-yo dieting, and interested in learning more about intuitive eating, I would encourage you to first clean up your Instagram feed (or whatever platform you look at on a regular basis). The more that you see messages that promote specific diets, glorify certain body sizes and/or make you feel inferior, the more you will want to stay in diet culture and work on losing weight or achieving the “perfect” diet or “perfect” body (neither of which exist). Remove the negativity and fill your feed with positive, more encouraging and inclusive messages. This has helped me SO much in my journey. Unfollowing accounts that post transformation photos or calorie counts or anything that might be triggering for you is very important if you are trying to recover from disordered eating or poor body image.
Below I’m going to share some resources and awesome IE dietitian accounts that can help you do just that! If I missed anyone that you think absolutely should be on this list, please let me know!
BOOKS (links provided)
- Intuitive Eating Book / Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA
- Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield, RD
- Body Respect by Linda Bacon, PhD and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD
- RD Real Talk – Heather Caplan, RD (especially the IE series)
- Nutrition Redefined – overeating, chronic dieting, body image
- Body Kindness – Rebecca Scritchfield, RD
- Food Psych – Christy Harrison, RDN, Intuitive Eating Counselor
- @wellnessforthewin (shameless plug)
- @thebirdspapaya – not a dietitian, but lots of body positivity
- @beautifullybrokenjourney – not a dietitian, but recently started her journey with IE after years of dieting and struggling with binge eating disorder
I really hope this post was helpful for a lot of you. If it helped even one person, it was worth my time. 🙂 Please feel free to reach out to me anytime if you have questions or just want to chat about anything!
Thanks so much for reading,
#WellnessForTheWin #IntuitiveEating #FoodFreedom