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Ditch post-pandemic body talk

As pandemic restrictions ease, an alarming reality emerges. Instead of feeling only relief, many of us feel self-conscious about how our bodies have changed.

We fear having our bodies fully seen, versus our neck-up, dressed-in-sweatpants view on Zoom. We have mixed feelings about returning to fitness spaces, excited to move and socialize but worried about being judged as having “let ourselves go.” We feel anxious about shedding winter layers for springtime shorts and swimsuits. We feel shamed by diet culture messages preying upon our body insecurities.

Overall, we feel defeated by our perfectly imperfect bodies despite surviving a global crisis that turned our routines and our entire lives upside down.

Let’s validate these feelings. It’s been a hard year, and the pandemic isn’t over. Furthermore, let’s acknowledge that it’s always been tough living in our perfectionist body culture, especially if your body no longer fits or never has fit its ideals.

And let’s call out what’s driving these feelings: diet culture, which has warped so many of us into believing that it’s normal and healthy to be obsessed with “fixing” our bodies and to be hypervigilant with food and exercise to attain “health.” Diet culture will continue to flourish unless we take a stand against its toxic “health” messages and transform our collective body shame into a healing opportunity.

How? Let’s resist the urge to apologize for our own bodies or comment on other bodies, remove weight-centric health messages in our community and ditch diet culture’s short-term “fixes” and instead, learn to trust our bodies.

Apologizing for our bodies may be our way of coping, trying to find comfort in an uncomfortable body culture that falsely markets “wellness” as only a thin, “ideal” body size, ignoring body diversity and the complexities of health.

To shift to a body positive culture we can choose not to talk about our bodies at all. Consider communicating with a friend, parent, anybody we’re uncomfortable being seen by. We could say, “Hey, I’m excited to hang out! I wanted to let you know that I’m working on my relationship with food and my body and being valued for more than my body’s appearance. As part of healing from diet culture’s perfectionist body messages, I’d prefer not to talk about either. I’d just love to spend time with you and catch up.”

Boundary setting can protect us from being bombarded by “diet” talk and may plant seeds of curiosity about the non-diet, body positive approach to health.

Let’s also resist the urge to comment on other bodies. We don’t value or love our friends and family members because of how their bodies appear.

Let’s honor each other and how the stress of having our world turned upside down may have affected us. Food and eating challenges are “normal human responses to a global pandemic that do not need to be pathologized or treated as abnormal,” say experts at TraumaAndCo.com.

Consider that weight gain may be restorative for people who have been unnaturally suppressing their weight to comply with diet culture’s definition of health: thinness.

But what about compliments? Let’s say you compliment a co-worker for looking “good,” aka being thin. Weight loss may be due to grief from loss of a loved one, an illness, a divorce, an eating or exercise disorder, from pandemic anxiety or intense stress of any kind. How might this person feel if the weight comes back?

Let’s not feed into and reinforce the myth that all weight gain is bad, that larger bodies are always unhealthy and that smaller bodies are always healthier. Let’s stop assuming somebody’s health status purely by body appearance, period.

♡ For more healthy body image inspiration, listen to my podcast interview on Breaking Body Biases Podcast – Episode 9 – Body Resilience.

Ditch body-centric “health” messaging. Making jokes about pandemic weight gain or weight anytime is not funny, nor is weight-centric “health” messaging motivating.

Weight stigma is discrimination or negative stereotyping of people based on their weight. It’s associated with greater body dissatisfaction, increased risk for depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, disordered eating, disparities in health care, and high allostatic load, the measure of cumulative stress of all body systems. That load puts people at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mortality, researchers say. These researchers also found that stigma caused the opposite of motivation to diet and exercise, actually leading to lower rates of physical activity and greater eater response. It harms people across the body mass index spectrum but with a far greater impact on higher-weight people.

Let’s upgrade our health messaging in our community and take an inclusive, respectful approach to health and support people of all sizes in practicing compassionate self-care and return to body trust.

We were born with the innate ability of knowing how to care for ourselves — listening to and responding to the physical messages coming from within our bodies, known as interoceptive awareness.

Our bodies tell us what they need. Diets teach us not to listen. That foundational problem has led us to tune out and be guided by the “shoulds” and rules of “healthy eating” versus our individual body’s needs.

Consider what a mess diet culture has made of “good nutrition.” Popular diets limit our calories to an amount that’s considered semi-starvation or restrict vegetables by banning bananas and forbidding a russet potato.

Remember that “diet and weight loss have grown to be a $71 billion industry, yet according to studies 95% of diets fail,” according to CNBC.com.

Furthermore, food is more than nutrients. “Food is not good or bad; it is nourishment, whether for the body or soul or both,” says Dr. Sadie Monaghan, a Jackson psychologist. “Go easy on yourself and others, and don’t push weight stigma or food rules during a crisis, or ever.”

What makes you feel nourished, not just with food, but in all aspects of your life? Let’s see each other and our health beyond our body’s appearance. Go easy on yourself and others’ bodies if they changed during the pandemic, or anytime.

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

When we were born, we instinctively knew how to eat. But as we move through life, we are impacted by the messages from the world around us. We’re taught over and over again about what to eat. And the “what” we should eat shifts year after year.

These lessons come from family members (more often than not with good intentions), the latest clean eating book, social media and more. And that finger wagging at us telling us we shouldn’t eat this or that, comes from our own thoughts and self-judgement about food and our bodies that we’ve learned from living in diet culture.

Intuitive Eating

Most of us need to relearn how to eat. Learning how to eat again through a self-care framework called Intuitive Eating (IE) developed by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. IE teaches us to let good of food rules, to develop body trust and finally have the healthy relationship with food and our bodies that we desire.

Tapping into intuitive eating practices can help us with perceived eating challenges such as:

  • over-eating, believing we need portion control
  • mindless eating, “emotional” eating, eating when not physically hungry
  • craving, sneaking or “bingeing” on “bad” or “forbidden” foods

These perceived eating challenges are often symptoms of disconnected eating and diet culture restrictions. So many of us struggle with them. I did. And that’s what led me to study and support clients through the process of Intuitive Eating.

So, what is Intuitive Eating?

First things first, Intuitive Eating isn’t another goal to accomplish. There is no success or failure. It’s a lifelong journey of reconnecting with yourself and nourishing yourself. For many of us, it’s a relearning.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating include:

Rejecting the Diet Mentality

If we don’t “diet” then what should we do? There is no “quick fix” for our underlying challenges with food. Every year there is the latest greatest eating plan. Yes, you might have “success” with one or more, but how long does it last? And at what cost – as “diets” are called the “life thief” by Christy Harrison, author, Anti-Diet.

Our challenges with food are often symptoms asking us to look deeper. And the messages will get louder and louder (over the years) until we finally listen and do the deeper work.

I can hear you now…“but I HAVE to control my eating so I must be on an eating plan or diet.” While the focus of Intuitive Eating isn’t on weight loss, it’s absolutely about honoring your whole health – physically, mentally and emotionally.

The focus of IE is on our relationship with food and body and the rewards are great.

So, what’s driving our unwanted behaviors with food? This is the bigger question. This is the question we should be asking and addressing. After the diet or eating plan is over, we are still left with our unique selves and our unique relationship with food. Some of us have been on and off eating plans for most of our lives that we don’t know how to eat without a set of rules to follow. So let’s learn to eat again. It’s a practice.

Honor Your Hunger

Your body knows when it needs food, and it will tell you so. In fact, if you’re depriving your body of certain macronutrients and/or overall calories, it will eventually drive you to “overeat” which is really just primal hunger. This drive may even feel like a “binge” when in fact it may be purely a physical need for, well, more food that you’re feeding your body.

Everyone is unique, but for some, it may be helpful to have a regular eating rhythm or feed yourself when feeling gentle hunger so that you don’t get to the breaking point of “OMG I’m so hungry I’m going to eat everything in sight.” In order to do so, we must connect with gentle hunger, by listening for our unique internal physical body cues, interoceptive awareness, which is foundational to the practice of Intuitive Eating.

Peace ☮️ Out

Make peace with food. It’s not out to get you. You may have fear of food making you “fat” or certain foods will “kill” you. But they key to developing a healthy relationship with food is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat.

WHATTTT!!!! I know this concept sounds scary but if you constantly tell yourself you can’t or shouldn’t eat certain foods, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that can lead to uncontrollable cravings and “binge” eating, which then can lead to guilt.

Intuitive eating has a strategy called habituation that is designed to help you make peace with your list of “forbidden” or “bad” foods. This practice has created powerful shifts in the eating mindset for many of my clients (and no, you won’t want to eat oreos all day, every day).

Challenge your inner Food Police

Are you “good” (follow the rules) or “bad” (breaking the rules)? Do you identify with being “bad” for eating too many cookies, or “good” for eating a salad when you really hunger for a sandwich? The Food Police have rules that have been drilled into our brains for years. Intuitive Eating works to break down the power they hold over you.

This doesn’t mean that you throw caution to the wind and let your inner rebel eat whatever you want. Instead it’s about not having to live by outside rules and having to control yourself all the time. Let’s soften. There’s a middle ground that’s more easeful.

Listen for Fullness Clues

Your body will tell you when it’s satiated. You just need to listen. Bringing awareness to the plate is essential to feel satiety. Mindless, distracted, fast eating, which is so common these days, mutes the signal for satiety. See food and the eating experience as nourishment for not just your body, but your mind and soul (not just as fuel).

Embrace Satisfaction

In our desire to fit culture’s ideals, we may stray from one important nutritional element – pleasure. Enjoyment needs to be a part of the eating process in order to feel satisfied.

The next time you eat, notice, are you satisfied with what you’re eating? I remember distinctly when I was a teenager trying to “be good” by eating fat free food after fat free food and overall eating a lot because I never received any satisfaction from my list of “good” foods. Why? Because my desire for smaller thighs spoke louder than receiving satisfaction from my food. At first. Eventually, I dove into the Alfredo pasta.

Now I eat foods that satisfy me without deprivation and it’s just no big deal (and no longer the “forbidden, guilt-ridden” pasta.

Honor Your Feelings With Kindness

We’re all emotional eaters. It’s useful to find ways to comfort yourself in difficult times that don’t involve food. For example, find an outlet to cure boredom that doesn’t involve eating. Food won’t change any of those feelings even though it might distract or soothe in the short term.

Identifying the underlying emotion is a fantastic step if feeding your emotions has become your habit. Remember eating for emotions reasons is normal. It’s not “bad”. If it becomes your “go-to,” we can help you explore new ways to feel and cope beyond food.

Respect and Accept Your Body

Learn to respect your human body. Accept your unique genetic blueprint. Consider if you were constantly trying to make your size 8 foot fit into a size 6 shoe.

Being overcritical of yourself makes it extremely challenging to reject the diet mentality. As a Body Image Movement Global Ambassador, I help clients practice body neutrality, which means that you don’t have to “love” every aspect of your body rather you practice having more compassion towards yourself as a human being.

All bodies deserve respect. Period.

I help you put your health in perspective and soften the habit of constantly comparing yourself to ideal body images that less than 5% of us naturally possess. It’s time for a reality check!

Move Your Body

Give up the rigorous weight-loss focused workout programs and, instead, move your body in ways that bring you joy and make you feel good. I love exercise, yet, I’ve shifted to movement that feels good not just physically but movement that also feeds my mind and spirit.

And remember, more isn’t necessarily better. Tune in and become more aware of the signals that your body is sending. Are you still tired and feel like you have to drag yourself to your next workout? Or do you look forward to your next yoga class because it allows you to slow down, breathe and press the pause button?

Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

Remember that you don't have to eat "perfectly" in order to be healthy. It's what you eat consistently, over long periods of time that matter. The key term is "for the most part." Honoring your health by eating healthy foods most of the time can come naturally when you reclaim intuitive eating. It's an important concept of intuitive eating.

Keep In Mind

Your diet is not only what you eat. It’s what you watch, what you listen to, what you read, the people you hang around…be mindful of the things you put into your body emotionally, physically and spiritually.

  • Tiny Buddha

While these are the 10 principles to consider to help you reconnect to self nourishment, make sure this list doesn’t become a check-list, a “to-do” list where you accomplish it or not, succeed or fail. Because then again, intuitive eating can become another kind of “diet” or eating plan, full of “rules.”

Intuitive Eating…

  • It’s about reconnecting with yourself and nourishment.
  • It’s about tuning in to your unique body’s needs, instead of tuning out.
  • It’s about slowing down with food and with life, trying to fit it all in.
  • It’s about saying “yes” to yourself, making self-nourishment a priority…so that you can take care of others and feel and BE your best self.
  • And again, it’s not another list of rules or an item to add to your “to-do” list!

Doesn’t that sound lovely? I invite you to relearn how to eat again.

Have a question, comment or would love support and guidance through the Intuitive Eating journey? Reach out!

  • Tanya

Are you a Normal Eater?

There is so much stress and confusion around what to eat these days that many of us have no idea what normal eating is anymore.

You may even be suffering from disordered eating or an eating disorder and not even know it as it’s becoming increasingly more common in younger girls and middle-aged+ women because of perfectionistic food and body ideals from diet culture.

Why? Because…

Disordered eating and the pursuit of thinness is so normalized in our culture that it’s often dismissed and even encouraged within health and wellness fields.

  • Sarah Herstich, LCSW, Signs Your Client May Be Suffering From An Eating Disorder

(Learn more about treating eating disorders here, by Jared Levenson)

Health and fitness magazines are filled with articles about what to eat in order to attain a perfect size. Popular social media posts claim you should eat this, not that, and talk of clean eating in a way that insinuates everything else is dirty. All of this fuels our insecurities about what we eat.

We may have grown up in households where we heard things like, “I’m so bad! I just ate ___“. Or maybe we heard the word fat being thrown around as a negative term. Maybe everything in the fridge was labeled Fat Free or Low Calorie. And maybe our mothers loved baking cookies for us, yet the talk around the house about “good” and “bad” foods left you feeling so guilty about eating those lovingly prepared cookies.

Of all the things we learned growing up, the lesson so many of us didn’t learn was the fact that the food we eat doesn’t make us good or bad → it has no inherent moral value.

Yes, there’s a nutritional difference between apple pie and an apple, but morally, there’s no difference. But in our current culture, diet culture, we feel guilty for simply enjoying a slice of pie because it contains processed sugar, gluten, dairy etc.

After finishing nutrition school in 2012, I avoided all these “bad” foods because I feared the health consequences from eating them. I restricted my eating so much that I would avoid certain social situations (because I couldn’t control the food and worried about my willpower to resist tempting foods) and was obsessed with avoiding anything “bad.”

When I “faltered,” I felt like I wasn’t walking the talk and that I was totally inauthentic as a nutrition professional. I was obsessed with eating only things that are considered “healthy” to be “healthy.”

Obsessing about ‘wellness’ can actually make you quite unwell. – Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C

Eating Psychology, Intuitive Eating

Thankfully I discovered Dynamic Eating Psychology and studied to become a coach when I learned that my restrictive, seemingly perfect “healthful” eating was actually not so healthy – it would have been considered “disordered.”

I returned to normal healthful eating, “gentle nutrition,” when I became professionally certified in Intuitive Eating.

I let go of the supposed “healthy” restrictive food behaviors and learned to tune back into my own body’s cues and needs.

What I love about Intuitive Eating is that it’s not just focused on food. It’s a self-care eating framework that focuses on our WHOLE health – physical, mental and emotional because our health is more complex than what you eat and how you exercise (and what your body looks like – as fit doesn’t have a look despite what diet culture tells us).

So what is Disordered Eating?

Disordered eating is different than an eating disorder. It lies between normal eating and an eating disorder and according to survey results conducted by Self Magazine and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, 75% of women regularly engage in disordered eating and exercise patterns.

Oh wow. I was shocked when I discovered this fact.

According to National Eating Disorders Collaboration, examples of disordered eating include:

  • Fasting or chronic restrained eating
  • Skipping meals
  • Binge eating
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Restrictive dieting
  • Unbalanced eating (e.g. restricting a major food group such as carbohydrates)
  • Laxative, diuretic, enema misuse
  • Steroid and creatine use – supplements designed to enhance athletic performance and alter physical appearance
  • Using diet pills

And “dieting” is one of the most common forms of disordered eating.

“Dieting is the number one cause of the onset of an eating disorder and seeking help early is the best preventative measure.” – NEDC

What is Normal Eating?

According to the Ellyn Satter Institute, Normal eating:

  • is going to the table hungry, and eating until you are satisfied.
  • is being able to choose food you enjoy and to eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop eating because you think you should.
  • is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food.
  • is giving yourself permission to eat because you are happy, sad, or bored or just because it feels good.
  • is mostly three meals a day – or four or five – or it can be choosing to much along the way.
  • is leaving cookies on the plate because you will let yourself have cookies again tomorrow, or eating more now because they taste so great!
  • is overeating at times and feeling stuffed and uncomfortable…and under eating at times, and wishing you had more.
  • is trusting your body to make up for (what you feel are) “mistakes” in eating.
  • takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area in your life.
  • © 2018 Ellyn Statter Institute

In short, normal eating is flexible... it varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your food and your feelings and so much more. It’s time to return for our physical, mental and emotional whole health.

In order to help you return to normal eating, I teach you how to eat again using a self-care framework called Intuitive Eating. Want to learn more about it, click here.

To your happiness and health,

  • Tanya