I am excited to share this post with you because it is a topic that I’m very passionate about, and one that I get questions about often. In fall 2018, I had the opportunity to partner with Athleta on the Plaza in Kansas City. They had me come speak about my journey to food freedom, intuitive eating & body kindness 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 even cried for a few minutes, but I sensed zero judgment in the room. I felt compassion and love, and most of the people there were strangers, aside from my sweet momma. Some of my followers who couldn’t make it to the event requested that I share some of the information I discussed that day here.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO DIET FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
Before I get started, I want to be clear that this post is not meant to make anyone feel bad if they have dieted or are currently dieting. This post is here to show you that if you are feeling stuck or trapped by diet culture, there is another way.
THE JOURNEY TO FOOD FREEDOM IS A COMPLICATED ONE
A lot of us don’t like to admit it, but food and body image are emotional things to talk about. This is especially true when you’ve had a long and complicated journey to making peace with food and your body. Maybe those of you reading this are still on your journey, or maybe you haven’t yet started. Regardless of where you stand today, 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 I encouraged her to get rid of clothing that no longer fit her. This was something I recently did and addressed on my Instagram stories.
Instead of obsessing about getting back to a certain body size to fit in those pre-baby clothes, she went out and purchased new clothes. Clothes 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 what keeps me going with Wellness For The Win.
WHY I STOPPED COUNTING CALORIES
I used to count calories pretty religiously, but I quit cold turkey a few years ago. I still thank my fellow dietitian and now friend, Deanna of @dietitiandeanna, for being so open about her journey. That is what encouraged me to start healing my relationship with food in the first place.
Deanna spoke about the fact that you do not have to count calories or follow a specific diet to achieve a body that is healthy and worthy of respect. She reinforced that you don’t have to weigh a certain amount or even look a certain way to be proud of your body. She said 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.
how i learned about intuitive eating
I have really started to dive into the intuitive eating world over the past few months. It was something I kept coming across on Instagram (thanks to the many RDs 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 something that I was beginning to practice myself. I just didn’t know there was a name for it at the time.
As a dietitian and person in general, I have never been one to follow or promote any of the fad diets out there. Because of that, I felt that this “non-diet” approach was one that I could really embrace. Back when I was calorie counting I didn’t see it as dieting, but now I know that it was a form of restriction and micromanaging my food intake. AKA – kind of a diet in disguise.
being “thin” doesn’t make you immune to diet culture messages
Some of you may be thinking: “Well, of course you’ve never dieted. You have never struggled with your weight”. And 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, 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 larger bodies experience on a daily basis (i.e. weight stigma, not fitting in clothes, chairs, etc.). What I can tell you is that poor body image can take a huge toll on your physical, mental and emotional health, too. Eating disorders do not discriminate; they can impact people of all ages, shapes and sizes.
will intuitive eating help me lose weight?
To be clear, intuitive eating is not another diet, and the goal is NOT weight loss. The goal with intuitive eating is to make peace with food and your body. Intuitive eating means breaking up with diets for good, and rejecting diet culture and unrealistic ideals.
Weight loss may or may not be a result for those who begin implementing intuitive eating principles. It completely depends where you are in your journey. Anyone who promises that you will lose weight with intuitive eating is lying to you. No one can predict what your body might do.
I strongly encourage you to take a break from the scale if and when you try to start eating intuitively, as it can easily make you want to return to dieting. To be honest, I tell people to stop using their scales altogether. If you think about it, the scale is never helpful. For example, if your weight is down one day, you may get excited and decide to continue eating less (i.e. far below your body’s needs) or you may decide to “treat yourself” and binge. If your weight is up, you may decide to punish yourself by restricting, or binge because you feel like you have failed. It’s a lose-lose, if you ask me. None of these outcomes involve asking yourself how you actually FEEL.
wait – what is diet culture?
According to Christy Harrison (intuitive eating dietitian and host of the IE-related podcast, Food Psych), “diet culture is a system of beliefs that: Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.””
Diet culture is what keeps us striving for thin, “normal” weight and/or “ripped” bodies, no matter what the cost, because that is what is accepted in our society. It is what makes people continue to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the diet industry year after year after year.
to learn to eat intuitively, you must unlearn diet culture messages
Intuitive eating means unlearning everything diet culture has taught you, and re-learning to tune into your body. It means letting your body guide your eating decisions, such as when, what and how much to eat. You will slowly learn to respect, and most importantly, trust your body along the way.
Most people who have been dieting for years have lost all sense of their internal hunger and fullness cues. This is mostly because they have relied on external factors, such as number of calories or macros allotted, time of day they are “allowed” to eat, etc., to tell them when, what and how much to eat.
Being an intuitive eater doesn’t mean you’ll eat perfectly healthy 100% of the time. That’s not the point. It means that you will allow yourself to enjoy a wide variety of foods, free of guilt or shame, and free of 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.
INTUITIVE EATING TEACHES YOU HOW TO SHOW COMPASSION TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Today I am in a place where I truly do love and respect my body, far more than I ever have. This is despite the fact that my body doesn’t look like my previous version of “perfect”. I also want to point out the fact that it took me several years to become an intuitive eater, and I still struggle sometimes, too. The journey to food freedom is not a quick or easy one, and it is definitely not linear.
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 them. However, 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.
goodbye food anxiety, hello food freedom
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? Nope. Again, I know which foods help me feel my best, and I honor and respect my body by choosing those more often. Gentle nutrition is actually a part of intuitive eating, too; it just can’t come into the picture until you’ve learned to stop categorizing foods as “good” and “bad”. Food is food. Some foods happen to have different benefits than others.
With that being said, if I see a food that looks and sounds really good to me in that moment (like a cookie), I allow myself to have it and 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. I don’t necessarily have to capitalize on every opportunity I have to eat certain foods.
unconditional permission to eat
This 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 crazy. I was sick with a horrible cold 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.
embrace the gray
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 food freedom, finding peace with food and my body, and embracing this 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.
other intuitive eating articles
- Why I Stopped Counting Calories
- Why I Still Don’t Count Calories
- What “Power of She” Means to Me — 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. Could I have shown a lot more compassion? Yes. Even in the short time between then and now, I have learned so much and my mindset has shifted quite a bit. Click here to listen to other podcasts I’ve been featured on.
It’s so important to continue growing & learning about the things that light a fire in our souls. 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 finally embracing the gray.
how do i get started with intuitive eating?
Are you currently struggling with body image or on a roller-coaster of yo-yo dieting? Do you want to learn more about intuitive eating?
First, I would encourage you to clean up your Instagram feed (or whatever platform you look at on a regular basis). The more you see messages that promote specific diets, glorify certain body sizes and/or make you feel inferior, the more you will want to continue dieting, or trying to achieve 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 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.
intuitive eating + body positive resources
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.
INTUITIVE EATING BOOKS (links provided)
- Intuitive Eating Book / Intuitive Eating Workbook by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA
- Healthy Eating For Life by Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD (intuitive eating workbook)
- Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield, RD
- Body Respect by Linda Bacon, PhD and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD
INTUITIVE EATING PODCASTS:
- RD Real Talk – Heather Caplan, RD (I recommend starting with the IE series)
- Nutrition Redefined – overeating, chronic dieting, body image
- Body Kindness – Rebecca Scritchfield, RD
- Food Psych – Christy Harrison, RDN, Intuitive Eating Counselor
- You Can Eat With Us – Cara Harbstreet, RD and owner of @libre.connections
- Trust Your Body Project – Whitney Catalano, RDN
- Don’t Salt My Game – Laura Thomas, PhD, RD
INTUITIVE EATING INSTAGRAM ACCOUNTS:
- @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
AND PROBABLY SO MANY MORE!
Thank you for letting me share my journey to food freedom and intuitive eating with you. I really hope this post was helpful. 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