mental health

The Missing Ingredient in Healing Your Relationship with Food

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When you hear the words “self-compassion”, what immediately comes to mind? If you’re anything like I was when I was first embarked on my intuitive eating journey, and like an overwhelming majority of my clients are when they first start coaching with me, you squirm. Before we go any further, I’d like to share how self-compassion is defined by renowned self-compassion researcher Dr. Kristin Neff:

“Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”

To most, the concept of being self-compassionate is foreign. I’ve found this to be especially true regarding those who struggle with eating challenges. I often remember thinking, “Why would such self-destructive behaviors deserve kindness when I’m doing such harm to my body and emotional health?” At the time, I believed that extending kindness to myself would perpetuate these behaviors. Since I didn’t want the behaviors to continue, I assumed that beating myself up was the way to stop them from continuing. I often hear the similar thoughts from my clients.

In fact, the opposite is true. Dr. Kristin Neff’s research shows that being hard on oneself usually backfires. It prevents people from facing the difficult truths about their behaviors or beliefs because they are so afraid of hating themselves if they do. This often allows weaknesses or patterns to remain unacknowledged. Because of this, change is unlikely to occur and even if it does, it will likely take longer and be more difficult to implement and sustain. On the contrary, based on Neff’s research, cultivating a self-compassion practice can provide a powerful motivating force for growth and change while providing a safe place to land without the fear of self-hatred.

Over time, we can begin to heal our relationships with food by curiously, non-judgmentally and compassionately identifying our triggers, patterns and beliefs. Unlike what diet culture preaches, a healthy relationship with food cannot be achieved by eating “clean”, starting a new “lifestyle” plan, or by cleansing/detoxing. True healing takes time, patience and the desire to try different instead of trying harder at the same old thing.

While some are aware of their distressing eating patterns and behaviors, because they are observing them with disgust and shame, it makes it harder to discover the peaceful and healthy relationship with food they deserve to have. Also, that harsh judgment often leads to poor mental health which may eventually diminish a person’s physical health. It’s also important to mention that if diet culture didn’t assume that people in smaller bodies and lower weights are healthy (typically based on BMI scales) and praise one body type/shape over another making so many feel inadequate and unattractive, most wouldn’t diet to try to meet these unrealistic expectations in the first place!

How could your diet recovery change if you began to cultivate a more compassionate eating practice? I’m sure you’re thinking, “In theory that makes sense, but I’ve no idea where to begin!”. To help you get started, I’ve included six tips that I often share with my clients that may help you to develop and grow your own compassionate eating practice:

1.       Sit down to eat without distractions: I understand that the demands of everyday life often drive us to eat on the run. That doesn’t do much for our digestion or for our intuitive eating practice. Whenever possible, make a concerted effort to stop, sit and eat without checking email, your social media feed or talking on the phone. When you do this, it gives you some precious time to reconnect with your body. When we are connected to our bodies, we are more likely to make more deliberate eating choices and find more satisfaction in our food. In addition, the simple act of slowing down and minimizing distractions gives your body the message that it’s deserving of that kindness and peace if only for a short while. 

2.       Minimize guilt around food choices or overeating: When you eat a food that you deem as “unhealthy”/“bad” or when you eat past fullness, kindly say to yourself, “For the most part I eat nourishing foods.” and “For the most part, I eat to fullness.” Diet culture enforces strict rules around the types of foods we should (see tip #3) eat and around how much we should be eating not taking into account our individuality. Healing a relationship with food requires that you start to move away from those strict external rules and become a normal eater.

3.       Stop “shoulding” yourself:  One of the foundations of self-compassion is continually asking yourself what you need in that moment. So, instead of “shoulding” yourself to eat _____ because it’s “healthy”, ask your body what it needs to feel nourished, satisfied and energized, trusting that you can rely on it to guide you. This will help to instill body trust and that’s how you cultivate a healthy relationship with food and body.

4.       Eat now to avoid bingeing later: Along the same lines as tip #3, once you’ve decided what you want to eat, allow yourself to eat it until you’re satisfied or else you may binge on the fear/”trigger” food or on some other food later. Physical and/or emotional food restriction typically leads to binge eating and feeling “out of control” around food.  

5.       Eat with knowledge: When you eat a food that typically doesn’t agree with you, observe it without judging your actions. Ask yourself questions like, “Would I choose to feel this way again?” or “What other food could I have eaten instead and still felt satisfied? or “Would eating fewer bites of _____ food help me to feel better next time?” The primary goal here is to identify if it’s a specific food that is causing the discomfort or the amount of food eaten.

6.       Acknowledge your progress: It’s encouraging to acknowledge when we do something that makes a positive impact in our lives. Take the time to acknowledge yourself for all you’re doing to improve your compassionate eating practice and in turn your relationship with eating. Occasionally, take time after meals to notice if you’re feeling more relaxed and less self-critical about your eating. It’s likely that the more you begin to acknowledge these seemingly small, self-compassionate acts, the more skilled you will become in your compassionate eating practice.

These are just a few ideas so you can get started. Of course, you are the expert on you so if you can think of some other ideas on how to cultivate your compassionate eating practice, go for it! I’m confident that with time, patience and more self-reflection, your relationship with food will begin to transform for the better.

If you're tired of battling with your weight, fed up with the cycle of yo-yo dieting, and yearning to be free from your obsessive thinking about food and your body, schedule your complimentary Embrace Anti-Diet Living Connection Session.

We’ll get clear on where you are now, what you want instead, and what might be getting in the way of your success.

I’ll also share some powerful recommendations and resources to get you started on creating a peaceful relationship with your body and food.

Don't Kid Yourself...We're All Victims of Weight Stigma

Did you know that it's Weight Stigma Awareness Week!

Could weight stigma be the reason why you're frequently binge eating, feeling depressed, hating your body and struggling with low self-esteem? According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), people who are victims of weight stigmatization are more prone to these things.

My primary intention in this love note is to define weight stigma and help you to see how it may be affecting your life, especially as it relates to your relationship with food and body. It's very important to realize that even though some may believe they haven't directly experienced weight stigmatization, because weight stigmatization manifests itself in internal and external fat phobia and/or weight bias (defined as fear of becoming fat or of fat people) it does affect us all.

If we want to continue to grow and be more inclusive of others, it's important for all of us to continue to examine our beliefs and bias toward all marginalized groups. Make no mistake that weight stigma hurts us all and I'm going to briefly highlight a few reasons why.

What is weight stigma?
According to NEDA,

"Weight stigma, also known as weight bias or weight discrimination, is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s size. Weight stigma also manifests in fat phobia, the dislike or fear of being or becoming fat."

What are some weight stigma facts?

  • It affects people of all shapes and sizes

  • Disordered eaters and people with diagnosed eating disorders are affected by it

  • It occurs more frequently than gender or age discrimination

  • "Concern trolling" (people concerned about your weight for "health" reasons) is another form of it

  • Those exposed to it engage in more frequent binge eating

  • Those exposed are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with binge eating disorder (BED), depression, and body dissatisfaction

How do medical providers perpetuate weight stigma?

  • Provide patients in larger bodies with less health information and are often dismissive because they believe cause of ailment is solely due to a person's weight and/or size

  • Spend less time with patients who are in larger bodies or dismiss concerns of patients in thinner bodies

  • View larger bodied patients are undisciplined, annoying and non-compliant

  • Eating disorder programs base treatment on a person's weight and won't treat if weight is too low

  • Insurance companies often use weight as a deciding factor for eating disorder treatment and/or discharge based on a patients weight not on their recovery stage

What can we do about it?

  • Educate yourself about what weight stigma is and how it may be showing up in your life

  • Recognize how you may have weight bias toward yourself and others

  • Continue to observe your eating and body dissatisfaction triggers to discern if they are influenced by weight stigma

  • Continue to seek out anti-diet communities in social media, listen to anti-diet podcasts, and strengthen your intuitive eating practice by working through the Intuitive Eating Workbook or schedule an Embrace Anti-Diet Living Connection Session with me

  • Continue cultivating your self-compassion practice

Other weight stigma resources to check out
Weight Stigma FAQ - NEDA
Weight Stigma - NEDA
Talking to Your Child About Weight Bias - NEDA
The Health Impact of Weight Stigma - Today's Dietitian, Carrie Dennett
Fat Is Not the Problem—Fat Stigma Is - Scientific American, Linda Bacon & Amee Severson

Virgie Tovar challenges fatphobia, how it hurts mental health - Virgie Tovar

View more posts about this topic by searching for the #WSAW2019 and #ComeAsYouAre hashtags. Follow my Instagram weight stigma posts.

If you're tired of battling with your weight, fed up with the cycle of yo-yo dieting, and yearning to be free from your obsessive thinking about food and your body, schedule your complimentary Embrace Anti-Diet Living Connection Session.

We’ll get clear on where you are now, what you want instead, and what might be getting in the way of your success.

I’ll also share some powerful recommendations and resources to get you started on creating a peaceful relationship with your body and food.

How “Feeling Your Feelings” May Help Improve Your Relationship with Food

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At the root of many eating difficulties is the inability to experience or feel our feelings. While I agree with this, I will say that most don't know how that translates or integrates into their every day lives. In addition, even if they know that feeling their feelings is “good” for them, they don’t really know or understand how doing so may help in their recovery from these eating difficulties.

I came across this image How to Feel Your Feelings by bestselling author, artist & speaker Amber Rae @hyeamberrae a few weeks ago and posted it in my No-Diet Sisterhood group and a lot of members really loved it!

In this illustration, once you’ve determined that you’re “feeling off”, take time between the following questions to move through your feelings. Notice how feeling your feelings involves going inward instead of searching for something outside of ourselves to “fix” the problem just like intuitive eating does.

  1. What am I feeling?

  2. Where do I feel it in my body?

  3. If it could talk, what would it say?

  4. What might this be teaching me?

  5. What do I need right now?

  6. What tiny step can I take to meet my need?

I know first hand how painful it can be to feel unpleasant feelings. I also know there are significant benefits to doing this but I didn’t always know or understand what they were. I have included three primary reasons why below and hopefully they will encourage you to try something different the next time you try to escape into unhelpful, self-destructive behaviors like restricting food, abusing alcohol, drugs, chronically "emotionally" eating, busyness, compulsive exercising, or a variety of other self-harming behaviors.

Here are three reasons why it is important to allow yourself to process and experience your true feelings.

  1. Numbing feelings may dull happy emotions
    When we habitually numb our challenging emotions, we also risk the ability to experience other feel good emotions. As humans, we're designed to feel a wide range of emotions, not just the pleasant ones. When we allow ourselves to experience uncomfortable emotions like sadness or anger, it intensifies emotions like happiness and joy even more.

  2. Fighting the emotions blinds you
    Acceptance is tough pill to swallow when you're dealing with painful emotions but without it, we are blind to seeing the possibilities the emotion has to offer us. The less we accept, the less energy and mental space we'll have to discern why the feelings surfaced in the first place! If we begin to change our mindset around unpleasant emotions and start to see them as messengers which signal something important that we need to pay attention to, the better off we'll be.

  3. Processing emotions leads to a healthier relationship with food
    Allowing ourselves to feel emotions is part of life and when we allow it, we are deepening our connection with ourselves and with our bodies. By doing this, we inadvertently strengthen our intuitive eating practice too! The more we get acquainted with what our bodies need, the more often we will likely honor them by meeting their needs. In the end, this will lead to a fuller more satisfying life and a healthier and more peaceful relationship with food and body.

The next time you're confronted with uncomfortable emotions, take a look at the How to Feel Your Feelings image I've included with this love note. In fact, download it to your phone so you can reference it whenever you need to. Doing this will help to process the emotions and help you to see what important lessons are likely hiding beneath them.

I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to respond to this love note and share how this image landed with you. Do you think this could be helpful for you?

If you're tired of battling with your weight, fed up with the cycle of yo-yo dieting, and yearning to be free from your obsessive thinking about food and your body, schedule your complimentary Embrace Anti-Diet Living Connection Session.

We’ll get clear on where you are now, what you want instead, and what might be getting in the way of your success.

I’ll also share some powerful recommendations and resources to get you started on creating a peaceful relationship with your body and food.