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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.)

Ditch the weight-based resolutions

What if you didn’t start a new “diet” every January?

No restriction. No elimination. No guilt. No shame. No “shoulds.” No “failure.”

And what if you actually became healthier? No scale necessary.

Sounds great, right? Got it, you say. I’ve got one in mind that says it’s “not a diet.” Such “non-diets” fill our inboxes or social media feeds, promising to rid us of the “Quarantine15,” pandemic weight gain that I wrote about back in April (“As you shelter in place, forget about your weight”).

So first, a quick PSA: Don’t be fooled. Diets have rebranded by co-opting terms from eating psychology, Intuitive Eating and the anti-diet movement, claiming they’re not “fad diets.” Ultimately, if you have to restrict or eliminate specific foods — to limit when you’re allowed to eat or how many calories you can consume — yup, it’s a diet. Ultimately, if you’re promised weight loss, it’s a diet.

You might be thinking, “But what’s wrong with wanting to lose weight?” Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you or me (as I’ve been there too) — or anybody. Instead, what needs questioning are deeply ingrained cultural beliefs such as: It’s weight loss itself that makes you healthier; it’s fat itself that makes you unhealthy; health is entirely your personal responsibility and mainly is about what you eat and how you move, ignoring environment and systemic issues.

“Our stories and bodies are too complex and too varied to fit into the oversimplified narratives peddled by dominant culture,” says the website BeNourished.org. “You may not love the body you occupy, but will you respect it? Try to listen to it? Get curious about it?”

The desire to “diet” may just be a protective coping mechanism for living in a weight-obsessed, size-stigmatizing culture. We all want and deserve to belong, to feel good about ourselves. It’s a basic human need. When it comes to our approach to whole health, I believe we can do better.

Try healthy behaviors

Shifting to weight-neutral self-care can feel scary or impossible, or can bring up resistance. It’s natural. I felt this way, too. Separating weight from wellness took me years. This approach might not be for you, right now, or ever. And that’s OK, too. Body autonomy is yours, and yours only, to choose.

So with kindness and compassion I offer four health behaviors to try with the intention of planting a seed to awaken curiosity to learn more about how you can honor your body and yourself without restriction, elimination, guilt, shame or “shoulds.”

Ditch the scale

First, take one baby step and maybe put the scale away. You know how “that number” can either make or break your day, which is hard on mental health, which is often neglected in our pursuit of physical “health.”

Consider if you’ve ever given up on healthy behaviors because you didn’t reach your “ideal” number or couldn’t maintain it. When you practice healthy behaviors your body may prefer to weigh more, less or stay the same. Your body is meant to change as you age and move through stages of life. There is no “ideal” weight you should be forever (as I’ve learned as 51-year-old, postmenopausal woman).

Furthermore, having “a number” interferes with your ability to listen for your body’s physical cues: hunger, fullness, satisfaction, how certain foods make you feel, how movement makes you feel.

So skip the scale and the mental mind game. Keep going. Practice self-care, not self-control. If you want more inspiration to ditch “that number,” read my Nov. 13, 2019, column, titled, “Say ‘no weigh’ to the scale.”

Feel good in your body now

Feeling uncomfortable or unattractive in your clothes sucks. Consider buying a few outfits that make you feel good now. If you’re on a budget, check out online thrift stores and consider consignment or trading with friends. I used to believe that holding onto clothes for if and when was “motivating.” It’s not. It just created guilt, shame and stress.

You deserve to feel good about yourself at any body size. Clothes are supposed to fit you, not the other way around.

Shift your “why”

Detach healthy eating and exercise “success” from a scale number. Focus on the long list of health benefits instead, such as improved health markers, energy, mood and the function of your physical, mental, emotional body. If your primary motivation to eat better or exercise is dependent on and focused solely on counting or burning calories, you may give up if your body doesn’t change (or change enough), thinking, “It’s not working so why bother.”

Keep going, and enjoy how eating and exercise make you feel.

Be more than a body

Finally, embrace body diversity and rebel against messages suggesting your self-worth or value as a human being is tied to your appearance.

‘Aim higher, friends’

In a recent Instagram post, dietitian Anna Sweeney discussed a tough conversation with a client who desired above all else to be thin, young and pretty. It unexpectedly made Sweeney cry “to think about this human’s existence being boiled down to her earth suit. Or any of yours, for that matter. You are not on this planet for the sake of being visually appealing. Period.

“Aim higher, friends,” she says. “We are given one body. That’s it. And truly, taking care of yours has nothing to do with what it looks like.”

A local client concurs: “I’ve spent basically my entire life dieting, then gaining back the weight and more. I felt guilty every time I ate ice cream, even just a spoonful. I’m making peace with food and my body now. Shifting to self-care behaviors without the scale determining my health has given me the courage to like my body for how it is, not what some diet will promise me. I nourish it properly for my active lifestyle. My new personal tag line is, ‘The elimination of the stress of eating is so much better than the elimination and restriction of food.’”

Consider practicing self-care from a weight-neutral place. No restrictions. No elimination. No guilt. No shame. No “shoulds.” No “failure.” No scale.

And get healthier.

Enough with the War on our Bodies

We’re suffering from another health crisis.

“Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat,” says Lindo Bacon, author, researcher, and professor, Ph.D., MA, MA.

So what’s driving this war on our bodies?

It’s diet culture’s weight-centric portrayal of wellness — thin equals healthy and it’s solution… dieting.

The Body Hate/Diet Cycle

It begins when you compare your body to health and fitness culture’s perfectionist and unrealistic body ideals. You “feel” unhealthy, dislike your body, and/or feel “fat.”

Then, when you most likely don’t measure up (because only 5% of women naturally possess the body type diet culture models as healthy), you fall prey to diet culture’s solution to fix it: the latest fad eating plan to “fix” your body.

You choose a diet that restricts what, when, or how much to eat.

At first you “feel better” – lose weight. It’s “working!”

Until it’s not.

Eventually, you feel deprived and struggle.

Then, the “diet backlash” kicks in and you crave – the “bad” and “forbidden” foods or you just feel hungry.

You “fall off the wagon” and “cheat.”

You feel guilt, shame, frustration for not having enough willpower judging yourself as the failure, not the restrictive approach.

The months pass and you regain some, all, or even more weight than when you began.

Then, back in body hate, you repeat – hoping the newest plan will work and you’ll be one of the 5% of dieters (the unicorns) that can change your body size permanently — sustain it.

Thus, you remain stuck in the body hate/diet cycle, year after year, passing it down, generation after generation — leading to a lifetime of feeling like you and your body are not enough, unhealthy.

It’s a helluva business plan. By 2025, the worldwide weight management market profits are expected to reach $442.3 billion according to Grandviewresearch.com.

The good news is there’s an antidote to this body hate/diet madness.

We stop believing thin is always healthy and fat is always bad and explore new health paradigms.

Re-examine weight science

In Body of Truth: How Science, History and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight – and What We Can Do About It by Harriet Brown, we are encouraged to think critically about the scientific research on weight science as “some of the contradictory findings on weight reflect our incomplete understanding of highly complex mechanisms and systems.”

The “complexity doesn’t come across very well in headlines or sound bites,” thus the “nuances of the research on weight and health often get lost in the rhetoric,” says Brown.

In her book, Brown breaks downs the “Four Big Fat Lies About Weight and Health” – Americans are getting fatter and fatter; Obesity can take a decade or more off your life; Being fat causes heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and other serious illnesses; and Dieting makes us thinner and healthier.

Dr. Bacon concurs, “the misconceptions around weight science are astounding.” In Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD detail how our current weight-centric model of health is ineffective at producing healthier bodies. And it may have unintended consequences “contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distractions from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrements, and weight stigmatization and discrimination.” If you think your body is the problem and that diets are the solution, I ask you to think critically and remember that it’s diet culture that is driving and profiting off of these assumptions, and to explore alternative approaches to wellness.

A New Wellness Approach to Consider

“What If Doctors Stopped Prescribing Weight Loss” by Virginia Sole-Smith, also breaks down how focusing on body size isn’t making people healthier.

Because “research has shown that it is the behaviors people practice—not the size of their bodies—that have the biggest impact on mortality,” some clinicians are trying a weight-neutral approach called Health at Every Size (HAES).

Health at Every Size, trademarked and founded by the Association of Size Diversity and Health, is an anti-diet approach to healthcare. It’s known as the “new peace movement” because it strives to end the war on bodies and defines health in a more inclusive way.

It eliminates weight stigma, respects diversity and focuses on compassionate self-care such as “finding the joy in one’s body and being physically active and eating in a flexible and attuned manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite, while respecting the social conditions that frame eating options,” says Bacon and Aphramor in Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Leave out, Get Wrong and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight.

Sole-Smith describes the impact of having a doctor who removes weight from health care as “literally life-changing.”

You can heal from this health crisis.

You don’t have to be at war with your body — stuck in the body hate/restriction cycle to take care of your health.

You deserve peace and food and body freedom.

Be critical of weight science.

Be open to new health paradigms.

Be a rebel.

Escape from the body hate diet cycle

Do you or someone you love struggle with healthy eating and/or suffer from body dissatisfaction?

If you said yes, it’s absolutely not your fault. It’s diet culture’s.

Let’s break down two major drivers of these challenges:

  1. You compare your body to health and fitness culture’s perfectionist and unrealistic body ideals.
  2. You’re stuck in “diet culture” (which created these body ideals) that profits off selling you the latest greatest eating plan, shakes, programs to maintain or “fix” your body, under the guise of wellness.


This can lead you to a lifetime of feeling like you and your body are not enough – regardless of your size or shape.

And it all seems perfectly normal, and is considered the way to take care of your “health.”

It’s a helluva business plan – keeping you coming back for another “hit of success” (= pounds lost) despite research showing you it’s temporary (unsustainable) for 95% of us. In fact, by 2023, the worldwide weight loss industry profits are expected to reach $278 billion.

Again, I repeat, it’s not your fault. It’s the culture we live, eat, move and breathe in and we’ve been passing these messages down for generations, thus keeping us stuck in:

The Vicious Body Hate/“Diet” Restrictive Eating Cycle:


START:
 You “feel” unhealthy, dislike your body, feel “fat”, and/or you’re told to lose weight for a variety of reasons.

RESTRICT: You choose one of the restrictive eating plans du jour. During this time, you may experience “feeling better” and/or losing weight but at some point either during, at the end of the 21 or 30 days, or months later when you’re trying to “sustain” it, you experience…

DEPRIVATION: the “diet/restriction” fatigue, backlash. This is when cravings kick in for certain types of foods (such as carbohydrates), “forbidden” foods (your favorite dessert) or you just feel hungry and simply want more food. Which leads to…

GUILT: You feel like you’ve “cheated,” “given in,” “fallen off the wagon” “don’t have the willpower” – you judge yourself as the failure, not the approach. You may regain weight, or for many of you who’ve been stuck in this cycle for years and years, even more weight than when you began. (Studies show that up two-thirds of us will regain more weight than lost).

💣TRUTH BOMB: Did you know that “diets” and restrictive eating can actually be the cause of perceived eating challenges such over-eating, intense cravings, bingeing and emotional eating? (Ironic, huh – as we often go to these plans to “fix” these “problems.”)

REPEAT: At some point (next year, next month) you begin again with another round of your “favorite” eating plan or you try a new one that promises you that you will be part of the 5% of people (the 🦄 unicorns) that can change your body size permanently – sustain it. Remember, we’re not all supposed to be the same size and that health and body weight are a complex subject (see my article ⬇️ to learn more).


The good news is that there’s a way out of this madness.

But I’ll be honest with you, it’s not a quick fix. But worth it – if you finally want to have a healthy relationship with food and feel good in your body.

What you can do instead:

  1. Re-educate yourself and learn more about how health can come in different sizes and shapes and how your health is impacted by many factors. ​That’s why I take a “deep health” coaching approach – when all dimensions of your wellbeing are in sync (physical, mental, emotional, relational, environmental and existential).To learn more, come on over to my blog and read: Size or shape doesn’t define your health
  2. Practice “true” self-care from this new space.

What if you could allow your body to be the size and shape it where its healthiest – when you’re nourishing it by listening to your hunger and fullness cues, being aware of which foods make you feel your best, moving in ways that bring you joy and living your best life? Don’t allow “diet culture” to be the life thief that it is – taking away your precious time, energy, health and happiness. Want to learn more about how you can learn to eat intuitively and take care of your health? Check out: Intuitive Eating: Do you need to relearn how to eat?

What to learn more about how “deep health” coaching can help you feel and be your best self? [](https://www.tanyamark.com/get-started)[Schedule a 20 minute consult](https://form.jotform.com/93306600537150) to chat with me.

I’d love to support you, Tanya

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).

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).

Try this New Year’s resolution: Ditch the Diet

This is the season when holiday festivities — and “diet talk” — are in full swing.

“I feel so fat.”

“Just skip lunch so you can indulge tonight.”

“I’ll burn 500 calories at the gym to earn my food.”

“I’m bringing the gluten-free, dairy-free, refined-sugar-free cheesecake” … despite having no medical reason to and, if we’re honest, you really prefer the real thing.

And the most common diet talk: “Oh, screw it, I’m going to eat whatever I want. I’ve already lost control over my holiday eating. I’ll just ‘be good’ on Whole 30, Paleo, Keto (whatever) beginning next week.”

The language we use transitions from indulging in December to restricting in January.

Even though we’ve heard that diets don’t work, we continue to pursue them year after year.

Why? Because diets do “work,” just not long term.

We continue to be enticed by diet culture promises because most of us do lose weight, experience health improvements and feel better on a diet, albeit, more often than not, temporarily.

“It is well established that dieters are able to lose weight in the short run, but tend to regain it back over time,” said Traci Mann, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of “Secrets from the Eating Lab.”

Thus, for many of us, dieting could be part of the “health epidemic problem” instead of the solution.

This “obsession with thinness is driving us crazy,” said Glenn Mackintosh, principle psychologist at Weight Management Psychology. “And the only tangible result most of us see from endlessly battling our bodies is the number on the scales rising over time. Even the few who achieve the ‘ideal’ aren’t immune to the madness and live in fear of weight gain.”

And don’t be fooled into thinking your next food plan or “watching what you eat” in the name of health isn’t just a diet in disguise. To diet, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is to “restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.”

As we start a new decade, give yourself a long-lasting gift: a way out of diet culture and its defining, controlling characteristics of willpower and restriction. Reliance on these strategies is why diets don’t really work.

Willpower is not the problem

Do you rely on willpower to be “good” and avoid the refined sugar dessert but end up sneaking back into the kitchen for a slice?

Do you opt for a “healthified” version of dessert but find yourself full but still dissatisfied?

Or do you white-knuckle it to avoid carbohydrates all day and then crave them and feel out of control to the point where you overeat them at night?

Resisting your favorite foods lasts only so long. Why?

First, it’s not because you are a willpower weakling.

We don’t have an endless supply of willpower, defined as restraint or self-control. It’s limited. We start with a full tank of willpower in the morning and then use it up throughout the day making decisions and choices. Notice when we usually give in: later in the afternoon and evening, or on the weekends after a week of being “good.”

And what are you using willpower for? To restrict “forbidden” foods.

Nothing amplifies a craving like restriction.

It’s human nature to want something even more when we’re told we can’t have it, said Barbara J. Rolls, Guthrie chair of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, in a2018 article in Shape magazine.

It feels like self-punishment. Restriction just says “No, you can’t have it, or just one.”

Perhaps you label yourself “addicted” to sugar but wonder why the plate of holiday cookies on the kitchen counter just isn’t a big deal for your husband?

He eats some. And moves on. It seems unfair.

“Non-dieters’ brains seem to remain relatively unfazed by sugar,” Christy Harrison, registered dietitian nutritionist, wrote in her New York Times article, “Go Ahead. Eat Your Holiday Feelings.”

Little evidence is found to support sugar addiction in humans, researchers Westwater, Fletcher and Ziauddeen’s found in their study “Sugar Addiction: The State of the Science.”It appears that the bingeing, the addictive-like behavior, occurred due to intermittent access to sugar.

Restriction breeds obsession.

Still not convinced that restriction isn’t the way to wellness?

Let’s look at the Minnesota Starvation Experiment of 1945, a study of the physical and psychological effects of prolonged semi starvation on healthy men and how to rehabilitate them.

Conducted by the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota, the study illuminated the problem with restrictive eating.

Researchers selected 36 men who were deemed in good physical and mental health for a nearly yearlong study that was broken into four parts. The first three months the men were fed a normal diet of 3,200 calories, and the next six months they were fed a semi starvation diet of 1,570 calories; During the next three months, the rehabilitation phase, the men were fed between 2,000 and 3,200 calories, and in the last eight weeks they were given unrestricted access to food.

What did the researchers learn by measuring the physiological and psychological changes?

Mainly, the men became obsessed with food.

They fantasized about food and read cookbooks and looked up recipes. Their lives became food-centered. They reported feeling depressed, fatigued, irritable and apathetic on a 1,500-calorie diet. A few men sneaked food and were removed from the study … because they failed.

Sound familiar?

It’s how we feel and act after a few weeks on a diet, yet we still engage in restrictive eating 75 years later.

Upon Googling 1,500 calorie diets, I found a list of current nutritionist-designed programs touting the benefit of such a program, though we know that semi-starvation — the class which this was labeled in the study — doesn’t work.

Food deprivation, no matter how diet culture labels it, is distressing. Period.

So when your friends, family members and social media influencers engage in diet talk, trying to convince you to jump on the latest “healthy eating plan,” my No. 1 tip is: Don’t.

If no diet, then what?

In the second part of this two-part topic, Tanya Mark offers ideas for readers interested in becoming a diet dropout — but are unsure what to do next.

(This article was first published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, December 31, 2019 addition).

Imagine Your Life Without a Diet

(This is the second of two articles on dropping diet mentality. Read part one, “A healthy eating tip for the New Year: Ditch the diet,” here.)

Imagine if you woke up New Year’s Day and weren’t consumed with thoughts of having to fix your body.

Imagine not refusing the brownie because it’s not on your list of approved foods on your “diet” to get thinner.

That doesn’t need to be a dream if you stop believing that food and total body vigilance are the answer.

In the first part of this article, I suggested that if you’re thinking about dieting — that is, using willpower and restriction to control your eating — don’t.

So if not dieting, what can you do to take care of your whole health instead? Try something radically different. Transform how you eat. Transform how you view your body. Move on with your life, the ultimate reward of pushing diet culture off your plate.

Begin by relearning how to eat.

The problem with any diet is that “most people trying to control the size, shape or weight of their bodies have learned to put the rules of the new plan before their body’s actual needs,” according to BeNourished.org, a website focused on healthy eating and body image.

Intuitive eating is the antidote because it’s based on the opposite premise. Instead of restriction, you are guided to tune into internal cues and your body’s needs. That includes learning to honor your individual hunger, fullness, satisfaction and which foods make you feel best.

Essentially, intuitive eating is just … eating.

But because “diet mentality is so deeply ingrained in societal beliefs, that intuitive eating, our natural way of eating, is considered revolutionary,” says the Loving Me Project, which encourages women to live a purpose-driven life.

When we no longer live by external food rules and societal beliefs that our bodies are too much or are not enough, we can get on with our lives.

What are you really “hungering” for? If it wasn’t about controlling your food to transform your body, what would you focus on each new year — and the rest of your life?

“Letting go of the idea of a smaller body, means creating space for a bigger life,” The Loving Me Project says. (You can follow the project on Instagram at @the.lovingmeproject).

Think big, not small, in the new year – without a limited view of “what’s healthy” — where diet culture wants to keep you focused, continuing to spend your time, money and energy, year after year. Instead use your head space to answer these questions:

• What would a life beyond dieting and body worry look like for you?

• What do you really want out of life?

• What really matters most?

• What would make this upcoming year extraordinary?

Envision your future as if it’s already happened. Describe the diet culture-free life you would create for yourself, and email me your answers at tanya@tanyamark.com.

“Diet culture steals your joy, your spark, and your life, which is why I call it, ‘the life thief,’” said Christy Harrison, author of “Anti-Diet.”

Don’t spend your life thinking you’re broken, a project to be fixed. Don’t be the 90-year-old woman refusing the fresh-baked brownie from her granddaughter because she’s “watching her waistline.”

Do something radical in the new year: Don’t diet. Listen to your body and live fully.

Tips for the New Year:

Listen to your body

Ready to learn how to listen to your body’s internal cues?

Transform your body image, not your body. It’s what you think about your body that’s the real challenge.

“I am too fat,” “I’m too skinny,” “I have too many stretch marks,” “I don’t have enough muscle.”

What if we swapped the endless pursuit of fixing or hiding our bodies, believing that our bodies are not enough or too much, to pursue a healthy body image instead?

What if instead of trying to change our physical appearance, we adjusted our mindset, our thoughts?

Focusing on changing your body image verses changing your body, can produce life-changing benefits. This switch can boost your self-esteem, banish persistent body anxiety, promote comfort in personal relationship, improve your relationship with food, reduce unhealthy dieting habits, improve your relationship with exercise, reduce the risk of developing an eating disorder, decrease social isolation due to body worries.

And most of all, changing your body image can improve your overall quality of life. Controlling your body shouldn’t be your life’s work.

Remember: “You are not alive to just pay bills and lose weight,” says Caroline Donner, author of “The F*ck It Diet.”

Read to re-learn how to eat?
Intuitive Eating: Do you need to re-learn how to eat?

Ready to transform how you view your body?
5 Steps to a Healthy Body Image

Weight Shame Hurts Every Body

This is a shout-out to all the women and girls working on liking their bodies. This s— is hard.

Why? Because today’s perfectionist, fat-phobic (weight stigmatizing) body culture feeds our dissatisfaction.

It fuels poor body image by spreading the conventional “wisdom” that healthy equals thin and fat is bad.

“Diet culture leads most women to see themselves as ‘too big’ and makes it difficult for people in larger bodies to feel they don’t need to shrink themselves,” says Christy Harrison author of “Anti-Diet.”

It’s become normal for women and girls to obsessively count carbohydrate grams and to anxiously pursue 10,000 steps on their Fitbits, all to manipulate what we believe are our bad bodies.

And we’re doing this to become … healthier?

We believe we must avoid weight gain or lose weight — at any and all costs — if we want to be happy, loved and have a body that’s accepted by diet culture.

“I truly believe that for the vast majority of the population, managing or losing weight is not about health but about a fear of not being accepted by others,” says body acceptance coach Kristina Bruce.

“A much bigger health concern we have on hand here is the staggering number of people who feel shame about their bodies. The only time I don’t like how my body looks is when I fear what other people will think of it. This tells me once again — my body is not the problem.”

Agreed. Your body isn’t the problem.

The problem is we view our bodies through the lens of a $72 billion diet culture that stigmatizes weight.

Harrison explains that weight stigma “frames larger bodies as a problem and tells people that they need to shrink themselves in order to be okay, which is the very definition of weight stigma.”

Virgie Tovar, an activist, author and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image, explains how weight bias affects us all through what she describes as three levels of weight stigma: intrapersonal, interpersonal and institutional.

Intrapersonal is how much you internalize the negative stereotypes about weight.

“The fact that we pretty much all have some level of intrapersonal weight stigma in our society is one of the hallmarks of living in diet culture,” Tovar says.

Second, interpersonal weight stigma is how you are treated based solely on weight or size — such as body shaming or bullying.

Lastly, institutional fat phobia describes how larger bodies are marginalized in society. For example, if you go to buy a ski jacket and the only color in your size is black or you have to buy a men’s jacket.

Weight stigma makes it difficult to like your body unless you are “lucky” enough to be one of the 5% of women who naturally possess the “ideal” body type. And even many of those women live in fear of weight gain.

Furthermore, evidence-based research shows that not only is weight stigma harmful to our body image, but feeling bad about our bodies is affecting our health, regardless of body size.

“I Think Therefore I Am: Perceived Ideal Weight as a Determinant of Health,” a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that the larger the difference between people’s current weight and their perceived “ideal” weight, the more mental and physical health problems they’d had in the past month, regardless of their body mass index. The study included 170,000 people of a variety of races, education levels and ages.

One major reason weight stigma is so harmful is that it’s so darn stressful for everybody, but especially for those living in larger bodies.

“Stress hormones … can have damaging effects on both physical and mental if they are secreted over a longer period of time called allostatic load,” writes David Levitin in his article “The Neuroscience Behind Why We Feel Stressed — and What to Do About It.”

That leads to a dysregulation in critical body systems — including the immune, digestive, cognitive, reproductive systems — and creates cardiac and mental health problems.

A 2018 study found that “perceived weight discrimination doubles the 10-year risk of high allostatic load. Eliminating weight stigma may reduce physiological dysregulation, improving obesity-related morbidity and mortality.”

Research by Harrison — the “Anti-Diet” author — comes to the same conclusion: “Weight stigma has been linked to an increased risk of mental-health conditions such as disordered eating, emotional distress, negative body image, low self-esteem and depression.”

If you’ve felt “so much better” after weight loss — especially after living in a larger body — could it be the result of no longer experiencing weight stigma and not necessarily the weight loss itself? It’s a question Bruce has asked.

So, ladies, here’s my shout-out to help you like your body: Don’t buy into diet culture’s weight stigmatizing. I’ll stand with you.

I’d also like to leave you with words of wisdom from poet Hollie Holden:

Today I asked my body what she needed,

Which is a big deal

Considering my journey of

Not Really Asking That Much.

I thought she might need more water.

Or protein.

Or greens.

Or yoga.

Or supplements.

Or movement.

But as I stood in the shower

Reflecting on her stretch marks,

Her roundness where I would like flatness,

Her softness where I would like firmness,

All those conditioned wishes

That form a bundle of

Never-Quite-Right-Ness,

She whispered very gently:

Could you just love me like this?

(This article was published in the Jackson Hole News and Guide, February 5, 2020 edition).