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10 Benefits of Intuitive Eating

What are the ten benefits of Intuitive Eating?

Learn the benefits of Intuitive Eating and how they can help you establish a healthy relationship with food and your body.

1. No more dieting

The first principle of Intuitive Eating is Reject the Diet Mentality. Why is this so important?

Diets have taught you not to listen to your body. The good news is that you can re-learn by practicing the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating.

Diets don’t teach you how to have a healthy relationship with food which is an essential to reaching “gentle nutrition” which is the end goal of Intuitive Eating. Diets may give you short term weight loss but it’s almost always followed by regaining the weight and often more. Diets aren’t meant to be sustainable. Remember, diets are designed for short term “success” with repeat business as billion dollar industry!

2. No more trying to ‘control’ hunger

The second principle of Intuitive Eating is foundational. It focuses on a critical skill that you may have lost due to diet culture – honoring your own individual hunger.

You may have learned to ignore your hunger through diets, skipping meals, intermittent fasting etc. But your body is asking for the exact opposite – to listen for your body’s cues telling you that you need energy and respond when hunger feels gentle. Why? Because once you feel ravenous (hangry!), all bets are off for eating to comfortable fullness.

♡ KEY POINT: Honoring your hunger when it’s gentle is foundational to honoring comfortable fullness.

3. No more ‘forbidden’ foods

One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can reduce sugar cravings.
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can reduce sugar cravings.

What if having donuts (insert your forbidden food) in your house was no big deal?

Perhaps there’s a family member in your house that may grab a donut, cookie, brownie and moves on. No guilt for eating it. No desire to eat the whole bag. This is the way a non dieter’s mind works according to research.

Through an evidence process called habituation, you too can have a healthy relationship with all foods including your ‘forbidden’ foods.

More benefits of Intuitive Eating

4. No more food rules, cheat days

Diets and eating plans are full of food rules. Once you break one by eating a “bad” food, you feel like you failed. This is madness.

Consider that every year new “plans” (diets) come out that often contradict the rules of previous diets – don’t eat fat, eat mostly fat (yes I remember the eat fat free food rules which have been replaced by eat fat according to the Keto diet). Sigh.

You don’t need a set of rules to eat healthy. Instead you will learn how to listen to your body and eat healthy foods for the most part as healthy eating isn’t perfect eating.

5. No more dissatisfied, pleasureless eating

In Intuitive Eating, finding satisfaction in your eating experiences is important. Let me share an infographic to illustrate what happens when we “diet” and have “forbidden” foods.

Dieting mindset versus Intuitive Eater mindset
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can reduce overeating by bringing satisfaction to your plate.

Humans are designed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So you will continue to seek pleasure and satisfaction until you get it (notice how much food was eaten by the dieter versus the Intuitive Eater (non dieter).

6. No more controlled portion sizes

In order to honor fullness, you first learn how to honor your hunger needs.

Next, ditch controlled portion sizes because they’re not one size fits all – meaning that your body’s unique energy needs change every day.

Instead you learn how feel your body’s cues of comfortable fullness.

Hunger and fullness scale
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can teach you how to listen to your hunger and fullness.

7. No more beating yourself up for ‘emotional’ eating

Emotional eating is demonized in diet culture which is deeply imbedded in Western culture as “bad” and something to fix. The truth is that we are all emotional eaters to some degree as we’ve learned since infancy to equate food with love, comfort and pleasure. So it makes perfect sense that we go to food as a quick fix to feel or not feel. The solution is to have a toolbox of coping mechanisms to go to beyond food.

And there’s one other cause of emotional eating: dieting, restricting your food. Nothing will make you feel more emotional than not getting your energy needs met and not being allowed to eat a food you love because it’s forbidden on your plan.

8. No more body bashing

Learning to respect body is critical to your self-care. Diet culture is based in body shame. It teaches you that there’s only one body size that’s healthy and that your body should never change as you move through the stages of life. All of this is BS.

Unlearning toxic body image messages
One of the benefits of Intuitive Eating is that it can help you have a healthy relationship with your unique body.

Through Intuitive Eating you learn how to honor your unique diverse body with self love, not self-control. Having a healthy body image isn’t about what your body looks like. Instead, it’s about your mindset toward your body and separating your self-worth from your appearance.

9. No more exercise to “burn and earn” food

In Intuitive Eating principle 9, you learn to decouple moving your body from diet culture – as merely a means to changing your body, focusing on the scale as “success.”

Could you move your body because there are a ton of benefits of exercise that don’t have you focused on your weight such as getting stronger, feeling more empowered, energized, confident and overall improving the quality of your life?

And one my favorite benefits of Intuitive Eating is:

10. No more ‘perfect eating’ to be healthy

The final principle of Intuitive Eating is Honor Your Health – Gentle Nutrition. It’s the last guideline because you first have to learn how to listen to your body’s signals to guide you in principles 1 – 9. Now you will be able to listen for how your food choices make you feel versus external food rules.

And most of all, you learn that what you eat is just a piece of your whole health so you don’t need to eat “perfectly” because there’s a complex set of factors that affects your well-being including the social determinants of health. Healthy eating is what you eat consistently over time – for the most part eating!

* Have a question about Intuitive Eating? I’d love to hear from you, Tanya

P.S. Want to learn more? Check out The Anti-Diet is called Intuitive Eating.

Don’t let diet madness ruin the new year

“When I was little, someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up and I said, ‘Small.’

By the time I was 16, I had already experienced being clinically overweight, underweight, and obese. As a child, fat was the first word people used to describe me, which didn’t offend me until I found out it was supposed to” says Blythe Baird in her spoken word poem video When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny which has received over 4 million views.

She describes a teenaged life filled with eating “skinny-pop,” complimenting each other’s thigh gaps, trying diets she and her friends found on the internet, “Googling the calories in the glue of a US stamp” and “hunching naked over a bathroom scale, trying; crying into an empty bowl of Cocoa Puffs because I only feel pretty when I’m hungry.”

When Baird lost weight, her dad was so proud that he carried her before and after photo in his wallet, relieved that he could stop worrying about her getting diabetes and finally see her taking care of herself.

“If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story” says Baird.

“So when I evaporated, of course everyone congratulated me on getting healthy. Girls at school who never spoke to me before stopped me in the hallway to ask how I did it. I say, “I am sick.” They say, “No, you’re an inspiration.

How could I not fall in love with my illness? With becoming the kind of silhouette people are supposed to fall in love with? Why would I ever want to stop being hungry when anorexia was the most interesting thing about me?”

I share Baird’s story with you with urgency, before the new year, to stress the harms of continually reinforcing the societal norms that we’ve been socialized to accept such as dieting before any major life event, “swimsuit season,” beginning every January or actually just dieting in general.

Think of someone you know whose time, energy, money, physical and emotional health and self-worth – whose life is being stolen by the constant pursuit of maintaining or attaining an “ideal” body shape or size, that is, according to diet culture.

Maybe this person is your best friend, your mother, or you.

Nobody diets for fun

Like Baird, we try to control our bodies to belong, to be accepted as “healthy.” We believe we must “look good to feel good” about ourselves, the diet industry marketing messages promise.

Diet culture equates thinness, muscularity, and particular body shapes with health and moral virtue, according to author of Anti-Diet, Christy Harrison. You can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like this ‘ideal” she says.

And even if you have a small body, you may live with fear of weight gain.

I want you to know that you have a choice. Your only option for love and a content life isn’t to be a slave to the scale and other people’s opinions.

Ditch diet culture

You can choose to opt-out of harmful dieting and diet culture.

Dieting is disordered eating and is one of the strongest predictors for the development of an eating disorder, which can occur across the weight spectrum according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration.

And you don’t have to be actively “on a diet” to be swept up by the culture of dieting.

Disordered eating habits also include preoccupation with food and your weight, feeling stressed about food and whether you’re eating the “right” or “wrong” foods and rigid food rules. It’s fasting, cleansing, detoxing, skipping meals to save calories, avoiding a type of food or food group, drinking laxative teas.

We can take “healthy” eating too far. There’s a term for this, orthorexia, also disordered eating, which is an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy foods.

The risks associated with disordered eating and dieting include developing a clinical eating disorder, osteoporosis or osteopenia, fatigue and poor sleep quality, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, muscle cramps, feelings of shame, guilt, low self-esteem, depressive or anxious symptoms and behaviors, and nutritional and metabolic problems according to National Eating Disorder Collaboration.

And because diet culture is deeply embedded in Western culture masquerading as health, wellness and fitness, disordered eating habits have become an alarmingly “normal” way to “take care of ourselves.”

Nearly 75% of women reported engaging in disordered eating behaviors in a 2008 survey of over 4,000 women done by UNC and SELF magazine.

“Ideal” weight as myth

But you have another option. You can separate “taking care of yourself” and your “health” from some “ideal” number on the scale.

Think about how we determine a “healthy” weight. It’s measured by BMI (body mass index) – just your height to weight ratio. That’s it. It doesn’t consider your eating or movement habits, muscle mass. It doesn’t factor in a long list of behaviors that impact your health such as smoking. It doesn’t consider your genetics, nor the complexities of health. BMI is a poor determinant of health.

Furthermore, ingrained beliefs that fat poses significant mortality risk are not fact.

Research reported in Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift shows that except at statistical extremes, BMI only weakly predicts longevity. People who are “overweight” or “obese” live at least as long as normal weight people, and often longer.

You can’t determine somebody’s health status just by looking at their body size. A small body may be healthy or not and the same is true for a larger body.

Honor Body Differences

With this knowledge, you can choose to honor that your body, other bodies may want to be different than what you and our culture think they should be.

Baird lamented that her “small’ body was the “most interesting about her,” but now as part of her healing “how lucky it is now to be boring,” says Baird.

“My story may not be as exciting as it used to but at least there is nothing left to count. The calculator in my head finally stopped. Now, I am proud I have stopped seeking revenge on this body.”

As the new year approaches and yet another wave of dieting madness tries to steal your self-worth, I want you to know that you have another option: you can ditch the false belief that there’s only one size that’s “healthy,” worthy of love and belonging and make peace with food and your body.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya

Ready to transform your relationship to food and your body? Get started!

P.S. (You can watch Blythe Baird deliver her powerful poem, here).

(This article was originally published in the December 8, 2021 issue of Jackson Hole News and Guide.)

Embrace body in all its forms for self care

Body dissatisfaction and eating challenges are on the rise, affecting every sector of our population, from our youth to our elderly, but with an alarming increase among teens, young adults and children of increasingly younger ages.

We’ve reached a point in history where nearly every person is in some way affected by society’s heightened focus on beauty images, health and weight.

– Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, co-founders of The Body Positive.

Almost half of American children between first and third grade want to be thinner, half of 9- and 10-year-old girls are dieting, and 58.6% of girls and 29.2% of boys are actively dieting. More than half of teenage girls and nearly a third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives according to the Redefining Wellness Project.

What’s creating this heartbreaking reality?

The younger generation has learned to hate their bodies and “diet” from our culture — from us.

 

Redefining Wellness reports that “75% of American women surveyed endorse unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies,” and “Americans spend over $60 billion on dieting and diet products each year” even though “95% of diets fail and most of us will regain the lost weight in 1-5 years.”

Kids model adult behavior — how we react to ourselves in a family photo, how we approach “good nutrition” going on and off “diets” to maintain or shrink our bodies, how we talk negatively about our bodies as they change, age — making them fear they won’t be loved unless they possess an “ideal” body. Sadly, this is normal, everyday adult conversation.

We can do better. We have the power to create the necessary cultural shift to save the next generation from negative body image as a root cause of many unhealthy behaviors with food and exercise.

 

You can learn to live peacefully and healthfully in your body by becoming competent in the five core skills of the Be Body Positive Model.

The model teaches us to:

♡ Reclaim health ♡ Practice intuitive self-care ♡ Cultivate self-love ♡ Declare our own authentic beauty ♡ Build community

ONE: Begin with the foundation of this work: Reclaiming your health.

Reduce suffering and heal from body dissatisfaction by challenging the ingrained societal and familial messages that say wellness is dependent on your weight.

Learn to identify and reject the billion-dollar diet industry that drives and profits off of body shame. If you’re not thin (enough) or if you gain weight for any reason, diet culture promotes “wellness” plans to achieve “health,” aka thinness, albeit temporary. Eventually you regain the weight, often more as a protective mechanism against future self-imposed famines. And then you start again, because it “worked” before, right? Truth bomb: All dieting is yo-yo dieting.

Maybe you’ve been able to maintain your body size, but at what cost? Has your forever diet led to obsessive behaviors with food and/or exercise?

To reclaim health, ditch diets and the limited view of health that equates your weight to your wellness.

♡ Want more inspiration and love to listen to podcasts?

Check out my latest interview: The Anti-Diet and Body Respect Movement – Episode 43 of the Love Your Enthusiasm podcast.

TWO: The next step to becoming body positive competent is to strengthen your intuitive self-care skills.

Improve your health by listening for and responding to your unique body’s needs with eating, exercise and all aspects of your life.

The outside advice from “experts” telling you what’s best for your body may not be right for you. What? No gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free food plan to follow? With no food rules you may feel lost at first because you’ve become disassociated from your body, like it’s an object, just a machine to be fed and moved.

Instead, intuitive self-care teaches you to get back inside your body. With practice you’ll gain confidence to be the expert of your own body and health.

THREE: The third body competency skill is building a self-love practice.

Self-love is about cultivating kindness, respect and compassion for yourself and your perfectly imperfect human body. It’s a deep knowing that you are valuable and worthy regardless of your body’s size or appearance. And research shows that it leads to improved self-care — the intuitive kind, that is.

Furthermore, self-love is protective against your inner mean voice that hijacks your brain when you don’t like what you see in the mirror. Instead of pushing away your negative body talk, a self-love practice teaches you to turn toward the discomfort and meet it head on with compassion, giving you permission to be human and reject ideals.

 

FOUR: Next, you have permission to be entirely yourself and declare your authentic beauty.

Instead of feeling ashamed, fighting and fixing your “flawed” parts, respect body diversity and honor that your body is expected to change through each developmental stage of life.

“Finding beauty in aging, growing, and in being different means beauty is no longer something static we try to attain, but rather a part of our lived, changing experience,” body positive leader, Sarah Lewin says.

This wisdom, like self-love, also leads to true self-care, because you let go of striving to meet society’s definition of beauty.

We radiate beauty in many ways that have nothing to do with our appearance. For example, my beauty is my laugh, my passion for the body positive movement, the giddiness I feel when surfing a wave and my singing silly commercial jingles out of tune.

“Seeing our beauty is not an exercise in vanity — it’s a necessary component of good physical and emotional health,” Sobczak says.

FIVE: And finally, one of the easiest ways to reclaim your health, practice intuitive self-care and self-love and see your own beauty is in a supportive body positive community.

Together let’s promote awareness and education to reject our culture’s perfectionist body ideals that have led to the alarming increase in body dissatisfaction and unhealthy behaviors with food and exercise.

Join me in creating a Be Body Positive community — for the health of our kids, for every body.

Here’s one Thanksgiving ‘tradition’ you can drop

Every body deserves a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

But as a nutrition student back in 2012, I would have found that statement reckless, disregarding the “epidemic” of weight/health challenges facing our country.

That year my parents traveled from Maryland to Denver to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with me and my family. While I swung kettlebells and climbed revolving stairs at 24 Hour Fitness, Mom and Dad went for a stroll around the neighborhood. While I ate a “lighter” lunch to “earn” and “burn” the calories I would consume, they ate their regular meals.

To me healthy meant thin, low body fat. Though far leaner in my mid-40s than I’d been in my 20s, I still didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. All I saw were my perceived flaws: the cellulite, my furrowed forehead and a roundness to my female belly that I believed wasn’t flat enough.

I cooked my family a “clean” holiday meal, removing ingredients that my nutrition books touted as “bad” — the marshmallows in my husband’s favorite sweet potato casserole, the gluten in my dad’s famous sausage stuffing.

But I wasn’t done subjecting my parents to my righteous rules of nutrition perfection: For a class project they agreed to track their food so I could scrutinize their supposed nutritional flagrancies and offer upgrades promising “better” health. Bless their hearts.

Looking back now, I see that neither my parents’ nutrition nor health needed fixing. The real flaw? My misguided belief in diet culture, disguised as wellness, and its simplistic, one-dimensional definition of health: that a thin body is ideal. When we expose the origin of this false depiction of health and redefine it, every body can enjoy holiday favorites, no “earning” or “burning” of food required.

Weight does not equal health

“You’ve been lied to about the relationship between weight and health so that you’ll perpetually try to change your weight,” say Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, authors of “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”

The lie is driven by what the Nagoski sisters call the Bikini Industrial Complex, the “$100 billion cluster of businesses that profit by setting an unachievable ‘aspirational ideal,’ convincing us that we can and should — indeed, we must — conform with the ideal, and then selling us ineffective but plausible strategies for achieving that ideal.”

This false and simplistic definition of “wellness” can lead to lifelong weight worry and make it difficult to feel good in our bodies. It’s a chronic stressor.

Food psychologist Paul Rozin concurs. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, registered dietitians and authors of “Intuitive Eating,” say that in his 1999 research study “Rozin was way ahead of his time and concluded that the negative impact of worry and stress over healthy eating may have a more profound effect on health than the actual food consumed.”

Furthermore, Rozin’s research showed that while Americans have the most food worry and least food pleasure, the French were found to have the exact opposite, plus a longer life expectancy. Consider some mainstays of the French diet: bread, brie, creme brûlée — foods containing the “forbidden” ingredients my nutrition books said were “unhealthy.”

Yes, certainly nutrition has a role in your health and in preventing chronic disease, but your health is impacted by far more factors than what you eat and how you move. According to research in author Christy Harrison’s book “Anti-Diet,” “eating and physical activity combined account for only about 10 percent of population health outcomes. Other health-related behaviors account for only another 20 percent.” If you do the math, we have some individual or societal control over only 30% of our health.

The complexity of ‘health’

Other important factors are financial and social status, healthy childhood development, social environments, personal coping skills, traumatic experiences, weight stigma, access to health services, gender, race, physical environment, education and literacy, food and job security, and genetics.

And positive, satisfying relationships of any kind. The Nagoski sisters found that relationship quality was a “better predictor of health than smoking, and smoking is among the strongest predictors of ill health.”

This holiday season, instead of fretting over the marshmallows in your husband’s childhood favorite sweet potato casserole or your father’s famous sausage stuffing, consider taking a gentle nutrition approach to healthy eating.

Remove weight hate from your holiday plate.

(Originally published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, November 25, 2020).

Body acceptance is a radical act of self-love

Radical Acceptance is a new column focusing on promoting healthy body image and redefining health.

Amy Pence-Brown, a 39-year-old mother of three, is a body image activist internationally known for her radical stand for self-love at the Capitol City Public Market in 2015.

Pence-Brown stood blindfolded in a black bikini, with the following message written on a chalkboard placed at her feet, holding markers in her outstretched arms inviting the crowd to support her radical declaration of self-love.

“I am standing for anyone who has struggled with a self-esteem issue like me, because all bodies are valuable,” her sign read. “To support self-acceptance, draw a heart on my body.”

By the end of the display she was covered in marker, having been drawn on by young and old, men and women. Visit Amy Pence-Brown to watch the video.

Three years later over 200 million people have viewed this stand for radical body liberation making it one of the most viral videos of all time.

“This is powerful. This is humanity,” she said. “This is a revolution. I’m honored and blown wide open with hope.”

Amy’s “Stand For Self Love” changed me.

Her radical declaration of self-love cracked open something deep inside me. I felt our shared humanness. I, too, wanted to advocate for radical acceptance — of all bodies.

Professionally, I began to see a need for this work. As a former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, I held the false belief that if we exercised and ate well — the two magical pieces to health — we could achieve a fit and healthy body.

I was wrong.

I learned this after having hundreds of intimate conversations, often filled with tears and stress with Jacksonsites and clients around the country.

I started seeing bodies and health differently, with my eyes wide open. I started seeing myself differently.

I had made a career out of being healthy to look healthy. I took a critical look at my own body image. When I did, the worries, fears and shame that I felt about my body over the years flooded through. Now, as a 49-year old woman, I’ve added on another layer to my body image: aging.

I want to be clear about where I am at now professionally. As a mind-body nutritionist, I often have clients come to me seeking weight-loss help. Often they, like many of us, want to eat better to feel better, but the real hope is that eating the “right” foods will help us maintain or change our bodies.

But that’s not my focus. I help clients make peace and heal their relationships with food and their bodies. I help clients gain the crucial tools to achieve true health and well-being, not just the latest diet trend or body ideal.

It’s been three years since Pence-Brown’s video went viral, and I still think about it. I reached out to Amy for her wisdom on being a body image activist and radical Idahoan. When I mentioned this column, she was both excited yet surprised, in the best kind of way.

“I’ve had a lot of pushback against body positivity for years in the region, due to a long-supported fat-phobic culture with a severe dedication to healthism,” she told me.

Though her work has received positive national and international attention, regionally that has not been the case. She hopes to “pave the way to this slow opening of minds, hearts and eyes to the possibility that there might be a new way, a better way, to live and enjoy our bodies than we’ve been taught previously.”

Fat (and thin) Girls (and guys) Hiking

Body positivity activism recently made its way to our community.

This past week I attended one of two “Fat Girls Hiking, Trails Not Scales,” body positivity hikes in Jackson. Founder Summer Michaud-Skog set the ground rules: Hikers were to refrain from diet talk, body shaming or weight loss talk.

The focus was on enjoying the outdoors in whatever body you’re in. Our Jackson group was represented by different body shapes, sizes, genders and ages.

“We love getting outside as a family and exploring, teaching our kids to move their bodies, respect the earth and enjoy the outdoors,” said Stephanie Marie Martinez, who brought her entire family. “Also teaching them that body type doesn’t dictate what you can do in your life. Be it small children or fat adults.”

Elevating the conversation

I plan to provide new ideas and perspectives on how we see bodies and dive deeper into body image in Jackson and how we might redefine health and what healthy looks like.

I also want to be honest and up front; I am still learning to navigate body image myself. My intention isn’t to “fix” body image, self-confidence or self-esteem because we are not “broken.” My intention is to be of service to this community and News&Guide readers, to infuse our hearts and spirit with compassion, for ourselves and every body; to help us see our humanness and practice radical acceptance … of all bodies, no matter what your body size, shape, gender or age.

Our hearts are craving more — to be more than bodies.

“All bodies are good bodies, imperfect as we all are,” Pence-Brown said in an interview with People magazine. “Life is too short to go on hating yourself, so start loving yourself where you are right now.”

I stand with her and with you. Like yourself. Be a rebel.

Check yourself: Fat isn’t a four-letter word

Though we believe fat is bad, it’s not our fault.

“Fat” has been promoted as a dirty word in American culture since World War II, when the diet and fitness industries promoted mass obsession with weight and body shape.

“In the United States, fat is seen as repulsive, ugly, unclean, obscene and above all as something to lose,” wrote Jana Evans Braziel in her book “Bodies Out of Bounds.”

Our culture has indoctrinated us to fear fat if we want to be good, happy and healthy. As a result, those assumptions are accepted as truths.

All weight gain is bad; all weight loss is good.

All thin people are happy; all fat people are unhappy.

All thin people are healthy; all fat people are unhealthy.

As a former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutritionist, I, too, believed those misguided statements as truth. It’s the constant narrative that we hear, see and feel every day.

I am asking you to challenge those assumptions. Critically analyze those statements instead of eating up everything we’ve been fed over the generations about bodies and fat. Let’s elevate the way we speak about body fat in our own bodies and other bodies. It matters.

Question fat phobia

First, let’s recognize that we are all affected by weight stigma, regardless of our shape, size, age, gender and more. We may live in fear of getting fat, or we may struggle daily trying to (or believing we need to) rid ourselves of it. It may affect us personally or affect someone we love.

We’re paying dearly for this fear of fat in our country and our community. Consider the following stories from Jackson Hole.

A 55 year-old woman avoids going to her favorite yoga class because she’s embarrassed by her reflection in the mirror. Yoga feeds her spirit, but she can’t bear the pain of seeing her own image.

A divorced man in his 40s spends hours working out at the gym, agonizing over his changing body and trying to reclaim the body he had in his 30s. He feels the pressure to have a ripped, masculine “Jackson” body.

A teenage girl feels ashamed at the doctor’s office after being weighed and told to lose weight. It was assumed that she didn’t workout and eat healthy, when, in fact, she did.

A mom feels embarrassed by her post-baby body. She won’t take her kids to the rec center because she’d have to wear a swimsuit.

A woman in her 30s struggles with an eating disorder and is complimented for her thin body. The compliments reinforce her belief that thin is ideal and healthy and that fat is “bad.”

You get the picture. We dread trying on clothes. We isolate ourselves by declining invitations to places where we can’t control the food. We buy the Skinny Buddha tea, hopeful. We casually bash our jiggly arms in daily conversations with our friends. We bake cookies for our kids, but we won’t have any, or at best, “just one.”

These are our stories, our experiences living in a body in Jackson and in our country. It’s time for us to make an investment in changing how we speak about our own and other bodies so we can tell new stories, because it’s costing us.

Fearing fat comes at a cost

Fat phobia is keeping us from living our lives fully.

Our culture’s fear and hatred of fat holds us hostage, trapping us with hyperfocused food rules and obsessive exercise routines to maintain our bodies. It restricts us, keeps us stuck in a waiting zone to get on with our lives, if or when we change our bodies.

As you read these stories I imagine you felt the loss of precious physical, mental and emotional energy, your own or someone you love’s, deep in your heart.

We will remain stuck in this fat-fear cycle year after year unless we make a radical shift and change how we as a society speak about fat and our bodies.

Let’s begin by banning fat talk. I think we can agree that making negative comments about our own bodies and others’ bodies benefits no one. It keeps us stuck believing there’s a “right way” to have a body. It keeps us from the reality that body diversity is part of the human experience. It keeps us believing the statements that culture has fed us about body size as truths.

When you criticize your own body or judge another body ask yourself, “Who’s benefiting from my insecurities?” The quick answer: the $70 billion diet industry.

On the flip side we must also recognize that comments we believed are positive, such as complimenting someone for weight loss, aren’t always a compliment. They can, in fact, be harmful.

Before you make any comment, check yourself. Pause. Reflect. See your own humanness and see the humans living inside these bodies, not just the bodies.

The assumptions that society has led us to believe are not blanket truths. Question them because the belief that fat is a four-letter word, “repulsive, ugly, unclean, obscene and above all as something to lose,” is keeping us from living fully in this one beautiful life.

“What if you wake up some day, and you’re 65 or 75, and you never got your memoir written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy,” Anne Lamott wrote. “It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

Let’s not end up here. Live fully today.

Like yourself. Be a rebel.

(This article was published in the November 28, 2018 Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Mom’s body attitude can shape daughter’s

“Mom, I’m fat.”

No mom ever wants to hear that comment from her daughter.

Yet never before have our girls been more obsessed with their weight and appearance. They are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer or losing their parents, according to the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination.

Chronic dieting, low self-esteem and eating disorders are affecting them at alarming rates.

• Girls as young as 6 worry about their weight.

• 89 percent of girls have dieted by age 17.

• 15 percent of young women have disordered eating.

• 42 percent of girls in grades one to three want to lose weight.

• 45 percent of boys and girls in grades three through six want to be thinner.

• 51 percent of 9- and 10-year-old girls say they feel better about themselves when they are dieting.

• 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.

Those statistics come from the Body Image Therapy Center. Though the numbers may convince us that raising body-confident girls is impossible in a culture focused on thin as the healthy ideal body type, we can make a difference.

Parents, teachers, mentors and health care professionals have the power to create that shift. Our girls need us to take a radical stand to accept all bodies and the girls who live in these bodies.

The most important thing we can do to promote positive body image is work on our own body image.

“Over 97 percent of women have at least one body-hating thought every single day, and 91 percent of women are dissatisfied with some aspect of their body,” said Alexia Conason, a clinical psychologist and the founder of the Anti-Diet Plan.

Those statistics have risen to epidemic proportions due to our disordered culture, which focuses on our flaws and pairs our self-worth with our pant size or the number on the scale, Conason said.

But there’s good news.

Girls who have a mom who is not self-critical of her own weight are 40 percent more likely to be body positive or body neutral, despite the cultural messages that teens see and hear every day, according to a Yahoo survey.

When we work on our own body image we support our girls.

If your daughter says she’s fat, how you respond matters.

Typically, we say “Oh, you’re not fat.” Yet that only reinforces that fat is “bad” and undesirable. Instead, let’s be authentic and honest in our communication with our girls. Be curious. Ask her questions such as: What caused her concern about her body size and why does she feel this way? Then listen deeply.

Practice empathy, the ability to understand and share her feelings. Can you relate to how your daughter feels about her body?

Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your own struggles with body image and why it’s important to have a healthy relationship with your body. Let her know she’s not alone.

Use the inevitable questions and challenges regarding body image and eating choices to strengthen your relationship with your daughter. Let her know “we’re in this together.”

So instead of telling your daughter that she’s not fat or her thighs aren’t too big, teach her to see bodies and health from a broader and more realistic perspective.

Teach her to take a critical look at the media she is consuming. Social media in particular plays a large role in the daily lives of our young people. Check in with your daughter and discuss how social media images often portray unrealistic bodies ideals. Have her unfollow any feed that doesn’t make her feel good in her body now. Then, together, check out body-positive social media feeds, such as @bodyimagemovement, to replace them, and visit TinyURL.com/bodypositivesocialmedia for more ideas.

Teach your daughter to separate self-worth from appearance. Create a list with her of all her strengths and accomplishments — qualities that have nothing to do with her appearance.

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are,” said Brene Brown, author of “The Gifts of Imperfection.”

Break the habit of body criticism. Our girls are listening. Comments like “Ugh! I feel so fat today.” Questions like “Do these jeans make my butt look big?” Statements about food like “Oh, I can’t eat that, I’ve been so bad this week.”

Our kids model our behavior.

“A new study by Webb et al (2018) posited that hearing ‘fat talk’ from one’s family may reinforce notions of a thin ideal and self-objectification which in turn may make women less attuned to the internal workings of their own body, eat less mindfully, and rely more on environmental or other external cues to guide their eating,” Alexis Conason wrote in Psychology Today.

Show your daughter how health looks different on every body. Have her question the cultural assumptions that smaller bodies are healthier than larger ones, that all weight loss is good and all weight gain is bad. Health comes in different sizes and shapes. Together look for examples of her favorite female athletes with different body types.

Let’s be the body image role models our girls need. And don’t worry about making a “mistake” when you find yourself challenged by how to address a body image concern. Just circle back and try again. It matters.

“Adolescents are inundated with messages about the importance of attractiveness and body size from sunup to sundown,” said Nicole Rue, a Jackson clinical psychologist specializing in disordered eating, compulsive exercise and poor body image.

“Parents occupy privileged positions to communicate to their children that human value is multifaceted by acknowledging, encouraging and genuinely appreciating non-appearance-based achievements and proclivities.”

I would love to hear ideas from our community. Where do you see challenges with teen body image?

Let’s create solutions. Let’s act radically in our community to prevent our daughters from fearing fat more than war, cancer or death.

Now when your daughter says “I’m fat” you can let her know that it’s not what she sees in the mirror that needs fixing, it’s the culture.

(This article was published in the January 23, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

We can stop apologizing for our bodies now

Repeat after me: “The body is not an apology.”

This mantra, coined by world-renowned activist, poet and author Sonya Renee Taylor, challenges us to shift away from shame for living in a perfectly imperfect human body.

Instead of viewing our bodies as problems that need to be fixed, we can heal from generations of body shame created by cultural messaging based on assumptions about health and perfectionist body ideals.

We can dismantle body shame by understanding its origins and the myths that cultivate it, by learning to separate wellness from weight and celebrating body diversity as part of the human experience.

‘Crappy inheritance’

First, we need to remember that we weren’t born feeling ashamed of our bodies. We learned it.

A study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found 50% of girls internalized the thin ideal by the age of 5. In my practice clients can easily pinpoint when they began to feel shame for the bodies, and, yes, it’s predominantly during childhood.

Body shame is a “fantastically crappy inheritance,” Taylor said. We continue to pass it down generation after generation, but we aren’t obligated to keep it.

We’ve been programmed to believe a culturally created idea that we should attain this “perfect” body type, at any cost, if we want to be viewed as healthy and attractive. It puts us at war with ourselves, according to “Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave Out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand About Weight,” by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor.

“Our culture perpetuates the anti-fat myths that keep people depressed and at war with their own bodies: a war where little battles might be won in the short term with a diet, but then lost overall because those who turn to dieting can rarely maintain long term the look that is accepted as norm — one that is not necessarily the best weight for them and they feel worse about themselves for their failure,” the book states.

When we understand that health comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, we can dismantle the myth that thin equals healthy. Health improvements, such as changing diet and exercise habits, are beneficial independent of weight loss.

In addition, weight and BMI — body mass index — are poor predictors of disease and longevity.

Millions of people became “overweight” overnight when in 1997 a panel of nine medical experts chosen by the National Institutes of Health voted to lower the BMI cutoff from 27 to 25 in order to stay in line with the World Health Organization Criteria. They argued that a “round” number like 25 would be easy to remember, according to Harriet Brown, author of “Body of Truth: How Science, History and Culture Drive Our Obsession With Weight and What We Can Do About It.”

Furthermore, the bulk of epidemiological evidence suggests that five pounds “underweight” is more dangerous than 75 pounds “overweight,” according to the Health at Every Size Fact Sheet.

We need to remember the reason we see so much weight-loss messaging: It’s big business. BusinessWire reports it an industry worth a stunning $72 billion in 2019.

Changing your future, today

I challenge our community to see weight and health differently, whether for our own mental, physical health and emotional health, or for our children or patients.

Instead of basing your health “success” on the number on the scale, create exercise goals based on improved strength, balance, agility and cardiovascular gains. Skip the restrictive 30-day eating plan and practice improving your nutrition without strict “no’s,” as there’s a place for all foods on your plate. And, of course, wellness is not just physical health. How are you caring for your mental and emotional health?

Finally, we need to see and accept body diversity and body changes as part of the human experience. Imagine a world without body judgment, a world in which we no longer had to apologize for our bodies. How would you live differently?

Here’s what Jacksonites had to say:

• “I would enjoy my glass of wine and chocolate guilt-free and not stress over trying to get back my six-pack abs.”

• “I would have breastfed in public instead of hiding myself in my house for days on end, going crazy with boredom.”

• “I would wear a bikini and try a sport I’ve always wanted to try: surfing.”

• “I wouldn’t hate my body and think of normalcies such as stretch marks and cellulite as hideous and disgusting.”

• “That little number on the inside of my clothes wouldn’t be a trigger for disordered eating.”

• “Doctors wouldn’t be worried about my body not returning to ‘normal’ after pregnancy.”

• “My growing sixth grader wouldn’t look in the mirror and say she’s fat and needs to lose weight.”

• “When I get dressed, I would no longer feel like I had to strategically hide body parts.”

• “There would be attractive outdoor clothes that fit me, whatever my size.”

• “My daughter would look at my ‘mom belly’ with its loose skin and stretch marks with wonder and respect for its ability to create a baby.”

• “I would stop obsessing over the 5 to 10 pounds that I am constantly gaining and losing and realize that it’s where my body naturally wants to be, just part of living my life, enjoying a scoop of ice cream with my kids, going for brunch with my girlfriends.”

• “I would finally feel relaxed, at peace, accepted and attractive, just as I am. I would feel liberated.”

There is no wrong way to have a body. Repeat after me: “The body is not an apology.”

Wellness has become another word for diet

“No one is going to stand up at your funeral and say, ‘She had a small waist and a great thigh gap.’”

—Ailey Jolie, registered clinical counselor

As a woman, former exercise professional and “eat this, not that” nutrition coach, that could have been how I was remembered. My identity was health and wellness. And my professional success, for the most part, used to be measured in pounds and inches lost.

After years of working in the fitness and nutrition fields, I saw the harm the “wellness industry” was perpetuating and my part in it. I felt dishonest teaching that you could have the “healthy” body you desired if you just ate well and exercised more. We are not here on planet earth to spend a heartbreaking amount of time, resources and energy trying to mold our bodies.

That wasn’t the legacy that I wanted to leave behind for future generations.

Trending toward moralistic

“At its core, ‘wellness’ is about weight loss,” author Jessica Knoll wrote in “Smash the Wellness Industry,” an opinion piece printed in the June 8 New York Times. “It demonizes calorically dense and delicious foods, preserving a vicious fallacy: Thin is healthy and healthy is thin.”

Even smart, successful women have fallen prey to weight loss disguised as wellness, Knoll noted. She described a recent lunch with her friends during which they struggled to order off the menu: One was eliminating dairy to lose weight, another was trying to be “good.” And they were all picking apart their perceived flaws: excess body fat, cellulite, post-baby weight. She wondered what the men at the next table were talking about.

I doubt it was weight loss.

Health has become fear-based and moralistic — good, bad, clean, dirty. We believe we must worry about every morsel as if we’re just one bite away from disease. And for many, exercise is a “should,” though at times rest may be the best form of self-care.

How do you determine if a behavior is truly healthful? Simply put, if self-care is creating stress, it’s not self-care. Chronic stress is worse for our health than anything we eat or any workout we skip.

Different word, same diet

Your body at its healthiest and fittest may not look the way you hoped or were led to believe it would. As Beauty Redefined, a nonprofit promoting body image resilience, wrote in a recent Instagram post: “We must learn to separate cultural outward body ideals like thinness from our health and fitness pursuits.”

Although the language we hear every day has shifted away from weight loss to healthy behaviors, the underlying goal of the diet industry disguised as wellness remains: Pounds lost equals success.

Take Weight Watchers, for example, which in September 2018 rebranded to WW with an attempt to redefine the acronym as “Wellness Wins,” a move to “reimagine” the program. But examine the company’s messaging on its Instagram:

“What sweet treats do you save your SmartPoints for?”

“Raise your hand if your scale is always wrong on Mondays”? Laughing emoji.

“Seeking: SmartPoints refund for food that didn’t taste as good as it looked.”

“Me: How you feel is as important as how much you weigh. Also me: Removes dangly earrings before stepping on the scale.” Laughing emoji.

What struck me most was how frequently the laughing emoji is used, a move that seemingly makes light of our perceived food and body failures and preoccupation with the scale and food.

How we feel about our bodies is no joke. I have a well-used tissue box in my office to prove it.

We don’t need more of the same, no matter what it is named. We need honest messaging that frees us from a war with ourselves, that frees us from believing that we even need to start our week out by stepping on a scale.

Your values, your life

Getting clear on your personal values is the start of creating space for a meaningful and impactful life. I love to use value cards, which present 80-plus values sorted into three piles: very important, important and not important.

Once you’ve determined your top five values, go live them. Let these values guide your daily decisions. Let them take up space in your mind that you once dedicated to dieting and weight loss.

To further put things into perspective, I’d like you to answer three profound questions asked by author Martha Beck:

“How much did Florence Nightingale weigh when she founded modern nursing? How much did Rosa Parks weigh when she took a seat on that bus? How much did Malala Yousafzai weigh when she started writing about the lives of girls in Pakistan living under Taliban rule?

“You don’t know? That’s the right answer. Because it doesn’t matter.”

Right on, Martha.

That is the legacy I want to leave behind.

If you, too, find yourself stuck in the toxic messages of the “wellness” industry and it’s distracting you from living fully into your personal values, take heed of this powerful message from News & Guide Deputy Editor Melissa Cassutt:

“I read obituaries for a living, and weight has been mentioned in exactly zero. I never even see beautiful or handsome used. What families and friends often remember is how a person made them feel.”

Don’t allow the diet industry disguised as wellness define your health. Know your values, focus on them, and take care of your whole self. You will be remembered for how you made others feel, not for the size of your waist or thighs.

And that is truly the most beautiful thing about you.

(This article was published in the August 21, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).

Say ‘No Weigh” to the Scale

“You can live the rest of your life without knowing how much you weigh.”

Does that sound radical and maybe even unfathomable?

The statement comes from registered dietitian Christina Frangione, who suggests we all can say “no weigh” to measuring your health with diet culture’s ruler: the scale.

While we may believe health is manipulating our bodies to an “ideal” weight and maintain that weight throughout our lifetimes, that belief is false. In fact, it’s making many of us less healthy.

Created by the $72 billion dollar diet industry, healthy-as-thin has infiltrated the nutrition and fitness industries, duping far too many of us into a lifetime filled with food preoccupation, exercise obsession and body dissatisfaction.

Does that sound healthy?

‘Ideal’ weight is a fallacy

As a culture we are obsessed with the number on the scale and the belief that we have an “ideal” weight.

You know, that number — the number you weighed when you were 22, pre-baby, on the ski racing team, when you were restricting gluten, dairy, sugar on your 21-day detox, after your fitness contest. Or maybe that number is simply one you’ve been told you should attain but have never weighed.

We get that one number stuck in our heads and believe we can’t like our bodies or be happy and healthy until the scale sings it. Whatever pops up on the scale sparks joy or utter despair, all in a matter of seconds.

Again, that’s not healthy.

As a body image and redefining wellness ambassador, I must remind you that weight doesn’t necessarily indicate your best health because bodies are born different sizes and shapes.

Some bodies are naturally small, and others are naturally big. Small bodies may be healthy or unhealthy. Big bodies may be healthy or unhealthy. Every body is different.

It’s understandable that we focus on scale weight, as that’s all we’ve ever been taught: Lose weight, get healthier.

But that’s not the case for every body. For some, attaining and maintaining a thin body comes with relative ease. If you’re thin or have lost weight and kept it off by honoring your body’s needs, that’s wonderful. But it doesn’t mean every body can do it.

As a former “eat this, not that” nutrition coach and fitness professional, I had that false belief because, frankly, I live in a body that’s naturally thin.

But for many, focusing on attaining an “ideal” weight is a full-time job and a struggle. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to force your body into a size it was never meant to be. In many cases, it can’t be done.

You are not failure when that happens. It’s diet culture that’s failing you.

If you need to maintain a strict eating and exercise regime to maintain your “ideal” weight, that’s not a healthy weight for you. We normalize restrictive eating and obsessive exercise and call it healthy. It’s not.

Perhaps you do attain your goal weight. At what cost, and is it sustainable? For most, that “success” is fleeting, leading us into a life of yo-yo dieting and a desperate hunt for the next eating and exercise plan promising to fix our bodies.

Even more distressing, when you focus solely on an “ideal” weight and see little to no change, you may give up on healthy behaviors despite dramatic improvements in health markers, like improved cholesterol, blood sugar and cardiovascular health.

And, finally, diet culture doesn’t tell you that your body is meant to change naturally throughout life’s stages. As a 52-year old post-menopausal woman, my body weight and shape has shifted. Scale numbers will fluctuate daily and throughout your lifetime.

But I have to lose weight

I can hear you pushing back: “But what if I am trying to lose weight for my health, not my appearance?”

You’re told to lose weight as the sole solution to having health challenges such as diabetes, thyroid conditions, knee pain.

People in thin bodies have those health problems too. But only people in heavier bodies are told to lose weight to solve them.

As a mind-body-nutrition coach I have respect for every body, regardless of weight. Together we focus on the healthy behaviors that your unique whole body needs, and we allow your weight to be where you feel nourished, not punished or controlled.

Don’t worry: Not focusing on weight loss doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your body or your health. It means that you are prioritizing whole health and feeling good over a number on the scale. It means that you are enhancing your overall health by freeing up precious time and energy — mental, emotional and physical.

So if you’re not focusing on scale weight, then what?

Listen and nourish

“When weight loss is the goal,” intuitive eating counselor Krista Murias said, “depriving and restricting the body become more important than listening to and nourishing it.”

Listen to your body. Diet culture has convinced us to tune out.

Stop forcing yourself to eat kale if you hate it. Stop forcing yourself to trot in the Turkey Day 5K to “earn” your holiday dinner. As clinical psychologist Dr. Coleen Reichman said: “Sometimes it’s healthier to skip the workout. Your soul probably needs more attention than your glutes today.”

Focus on healthy behaviors, not the number on scale. When you do, you can let the weight stigma against yourself go and finally find real freedom and intuition with food and fitness to live your best life.

Be a rebel. Dump your scale.

Listen. Your body is talking

In addition to truly healthful behaviors like intuitive eating and pursuing movement that makes you feel good, listen for your other needs like:

• more sleep

• counseling

• meditation

• a job change

• saying no unless it’s a, “hell yes!”

• more frequent vacations

• learning to communicate more effectively

• connecting with your partner

(This article was published in the November 13, 2019 edition of the Jackson Hole News and Guide).