Posts in Diet Culture
5 Ways to Improve Your Body Image Without Losing Weight

Many people I speak to regarding intuitive eating are magnetized by its 10 principle framework around making peace with food and body. For those possessing histories fraught with dieting, weight cycling, and self-loathing, the prospect of intuitive eating feels Heaven-sent. 


Prospective clients will share how they’re open to challenging the diet mentality and examining their own complicated history with body size and shape manipulation. Perhaps they’re intrigued by (and even excited at) adopting an all-foods-fit philosophy. Maybe they want, as Jen Knoll so beautifully captured, to extricate themselves from wellness culture and the temple of clean eating. 

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But shelving the weight loss goals and accepting your body the way it naturally is? That’s something else entirely. 


While many folks come to intuitive eating carrying hopes of weight loss or weight maintenance — so expected given the pressures our culture places particularly (though not exclusively) on women — this perceived conflict prevents some from doing the deeper work inherent to the intuitive eating process. 


I say perceived because just about everyone I speak to not only wants to make peace with food, but they want to feel better in their bodies


And you know what? 


Weight loss doesn't offer this, because weight loss cannot correct poor body image. 


I know this because I’ve worked with women (and some non-binary folks) in all kinds of bodies. I’ve worked with women in smaller bodies who hate the way they look, and women in higher weight bodies who love their curves. There are plus-size models rocking crop tops and body con dresses, and thin women who feel self-conscious wearing anything other than an over-sized sweater and loose-fitting yoga pants. 


So if you feel you need to lose weight before starting intuitive eating, are concerned about potential weight gain during the intuitive eating process, or can’t imagine liking — never mind loving — your body the way it is, I’d say you’re actually in the right place. 


Here’s 5 tips to help you to improve your body image today — in your today body:


  1. Spend more time with people who have a positive body image. While fat talk — you know, where (predominantly) women trash talk their bodies to glean social acceptance and a positive social standing — can lead to body dissatisfaction, a study revealed that those with a positive body image purposefully chose not to associate with peers who engaged in negative self-talk and intentionally surrounded themselves with people who spoke positively about their bodies. Also, here’s a hot tip: studies have also shown that engaging in fat talk doesn’t make you more likeable. What do we hope to gain from being so mean to ourselves? The short of it: do your best to hang with people who are not dieting.

  2. Detox your social accounts. While studies have shown Instagram can and does make us feel worse about ourselves, you can actually use Instagram in two meaningful ways — to support point #1, as well as to more broadly conceptualize beauty. I recommend unfollowing accounts that leave you feeling worse off than before especially if the account owner engages in self-objectification, and sourcing accounts that uplift you. I personally recommend: @aerie, @thirdwheelED, @kristinabruce_coach, @ifd_bodies, @chr1styharrison, @trustyourbodyproject, @ragenchastain, @fyeahmfabello, @mskelseymiller, @summerinnanen, @fierce.fatty, @_kellyu, @nourishandeat, @4thtribodies, @bodyimagemovement, @bodyposipower, @sonyareneetaylor, @thelindywest, @thefatsextherapist, @diannebondyyoga, @yrfatfriend, @kenziebrenna, @bodyposipanda, @nadiaaboulhosn, @tessholliday, @beauty_redefined, @virgietovar, and more. Short of it: expose yourself to all kinds of bodies of different races and ethnicities, sizes, ages, abilities, etc. This kind of exposure is a critical step to making peace with our own bodies.

  3. Offer yourself small acts of kindness. Massages and pedicures are nice and all, but also considerably more advanced, expensive, and time consuming forms of self-care. As far as small acts go, think of applying a favourite body lotion, listening to your favourite song, wearing lipstick (if that’s your thing — it’s totally mine), buying yourself flowers, or ordering your favourite coffee beverage. While we often think about body image in binary ways (love my body vs. hate my body), small acts of kindness can slowly shift us away from self-loathing and toward body appreciation, trust, and respect. When engaged regularly and consistently, we can begin building a different kind of relationship with our bodies — one founded in self-care vs. self-control.

  4. Choose joyful movement. While exercise can be challenging for so many people (do I need to go on?), joyful movement — that is, pleasurable exercise — is helpful for stress relief and may be a way of taking care of our bodies. What kinds of activities, if any, do you enjoy? Perhaps it’s throwing a frisbee, going for a walk with a friend, joining a yin yoga class, riding your bike on a hot summer’s day, rollerblading with your BFF, or jumping on a trampoline. If you are currently in treatment for an eating disorder or disordered eating, please speak to your treatment team prior to engaging in exercise.

  5. Eat regularly, adequately, and consistently. Nourishment is a really vital part of our body image — it’s actually not possible to cultivate a positive body image when we’re malnourished or dieting. By feeding your body and taking a flexible approach to eating, you’re actually strengthening your body image. Bite by bite, you’re helping yourself to like your body a bit more. It may feel counter-intuitive, especially if you feel very connected to the diet-centric paradigm, but listening to and taking care of your body is vital to seeing yourself more positively (or less negatively.)

Which of these tips is your favourite?

Will Intuitive Eating Stop My Sugar Cravings?

I’ll be honest: most of the clients who come to me want to lose weight (or at least are looking to maintain or “manage” their weight without a restrictive meal plan or eating style.) Weight loss goals must be shelved when pursuing intuitive eating, for even the perception of restriction can compromise your ability to tune in to your internal wisdom and embrace an intuitive approach. This is really intuitive eating pre-work, a mindset shift that must occur for intuitive eating to truly be effective (you know, to experience food freedom.)

But let’s say you’ve done the pre-work to shelve the weight loss goals. Ready, set, go. 

Not so fast.

Even if you’ve shelved the hope of weight loss, it can come up again in the desire to limit “forbidden foods” like cookies, cake, and ice cream by becoming an intuitive eater — which is just another layer of restriction. 

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If restricting sugar doesn’t work, maybe giving myself unconditional permission will, right? 

While intuitive eating is a wonderful tool for reducing the charge associated with some of your favourite (off-limits) foods, it doesn’t mean you’ll eat fewer of them or enjoy them any less. 

If you’re embarking on or are currently working your way through intuitive eating in the hopes that one day, when you are cured of your dieting ways, you will be completely satisfied eating carrots and hummus, never dare dreaming of those to-die-for chocolate chip cookies at the coffee house down the street, I have three words for you: hold up, homeslice.

What do you hope you will gain by limiting your sugar intake? 

For some people, this desire to stop “eating so much sugar” arrives in the guise of health. We've been conditioned to believe the every bite of chocolate, every nibble of donut, and every spoonful of ice cream is slowly leading to disease and killing us. 

While all nutritional information or recommendations necessitate context to be of any real value, even the World Health Organization — who lean more conservative when it comes to sugar consumption — deem deriving up to 10% of your daily energy needs from added sugar to be safe. Translation: you can enjoy dessert every day, allowing your cravings and food interests to guide the way.

The notion that every food choice is healing or harming oversimplifies a terrifically complicated interaction. 

Keep in mind the root word of disease literally stems from desaise (Old French), meaning discomfort, distress. This unease isn’t limited to the physical realm, but applies equally to the psychological. If you spend more time stressing over the chocolate cake than eating it, talking about how you’re going to compensate for the chocolate bar you ate too quickly to enjoy, or overthinking the potato chips you ate at last night’s party, it’s time to consider your mental state in the maintenance of good health.

For other people, the desire to limit sugary foods while intuitive eating is more covert. Diet culture can be super sneaky, and you may find the desire for weight loss pops up wearing different clothes (such as in concerns over sugar consumption.) 

I say this with a lot of compassion.

It’s tough work to give up the trappings of diet culture and embrace the wild world of intuitive eating when diets have provided so much safety and comfort for so long. But it’s also important to unpack what diet culture has (or hasn’t) provided you with, and how you can get your needs met in a deeper way. 

Ultimately, though, intuitive eating may or may not lead to a diminished desire for sugar. What’s possible is that by developing a healthier relationship with sugar you will feel less out of control around the office cookie jar, actually enjoy the chocolate you do eat, and have that coffee shop pastry on Saturday morning without post-experience guilt and shame. 

While you may sometimes want more “nutritious” foods over fun foods, this can’t be the goal of intuitive eating. In the same way that work must be balanced with play (or time off) to prevent burnout and promote self-care, it’s completely natural to want to balance intake of nutritious foods with a steady supply of pleasurable foods. Prioritizing extrinsic values — like needing or expecting your eating to look a certain way to feel okay — will interfere with your ability to connect with your internal wisdom and ultimately come to a place of self-acceptance regarding yourself and your body.




5 Ways You're still Dieting (even though you’re not "On A Diet")

Since upwards of 90% of eating disorders (Binge Eating Disorder included) begin with a diet, chances are good you’ve dieted in the past or are on one right now — even if you don’t realize it.

Even if you’re “not on a diet” — Weight Watchers, Paleo, Keto, sugar-free, Atkins, and their ilk — dieting isn’t just something you “do.” It’s also (and I would argue predominantly) the way you think. 

Binge eating is a reactive response to deprivation, which can take all kinds of forms. Because of our fat phobic, weight-centric culture, disordered attempts to “get healthy”, such as giving up entire macronutrient groups or vilifying specific ingredients, are often completely normalized.

I’ve had many clients claim they’re “not really restricting” only to see through our work together how restrictive they really were. I don’t share this with the intent to shame anyone — how could you know? — but merely to reflect the layered and nuanced impact diet culture and the thin ideal has had on our relationship to food, our bodies, and our selves.

All of this to say: it’s very possible you’re dieting without being “on a diet.” To find out, read below for 5 ways you may still be dieting without realizing it (and what to do instead.)


Some examples of “diet thoughts”:

Choosing eggs with avocado and bacon for breakfast is not a diet…unless you believe reducing your carbohydrates will help you to shed fat. 

Opting for the vegetarian entree is not a diet…unless you believe it will help you to weigh less. 

Using almond milk instead of cream in your coffee is not a diet…unless you’re actively trying to “eat clean.” (read: not dirty.)

Yes. That means the habits and behaviours you’re employ to keep yourself “under control” or “in line” may effectively lead you in the opposite direction. They are keeping you in the restrict-binge cycle.

Some of these subtle forms of dieting— of physiological or psychological deprivation — include the following:

#1. CHOOSING THE “HEALTHIER” OPTION.

Let’s separate “health” from “diet”, shall we? Some foods are more nutritious than others — this is true.

But a) you don’t have to eat exclusively “healthy” foods to be healthy, and b) ordering the so-called “healthiest” option on auto-pilot isn’t necessarily the healthiest option for you at the time.

Some ways you might be employing this mindset:

You always order the lowest calorie option.

You skip the bread basket and avoid starch with dinner. 

You order the “healthiest” meal vs. the one you actually want.

You order a side salad instead of the fries. 

You avoid gluten, dairy, meat, soy, etc. without a religious, ethical, or medical purpose (i.e. Celiac’s Disease, lactose intolerance, peanut allergy, kosher.) 

You adhere to a plant-based diet because you believe it will help you to lose or maintain your weight.

You skip breakfast or dinner (intermittent fasting) to lean down (even if you’re hungry). 

You stop eating after 7pm, even if you’re hungry, to suppress your weight. 

#2. AVOIDING DESSERTS, OR ONLY CONSUMING “NATURAL SWEETENERS” OR SUGAR SUBSTITUTES.

You actively avoid desserts or you adhere to a sugar-free diet. I wrote a whole post about why avoiding or eliminating sugar isn’t necessary (or recommended).

While your body could live without white sugar, intermittent access has been shown to ramp up the “charge” we associate with sweets, and may lead us to binge eat or overeat them when we do come into contact with them.

These feelings may make us feel as though we’re “addicted” to sugar, when in fact studies show these “addicted” feelings have more to do with our relationship to sugar than sugar itself (how many people do you know claim they’re addicted to yogurt or bananas, both sugar-containing foods?)

Some people aren’t much for sweets, and that’s totally cool — but the difference is they’re not actively avoiding them.

#3. ENGAGING IN COMPENSATORY BEHAVIOURS.

“Compensatory behaviour” is exactly what it sounds like: behaviours, like exercising more or eating less, to “compensate” for consuming extra calories or food (perceived or actual.)

Now, some behaviours are considered clinical and are symptoms of an active eating disorder (i.e. purging, laxative abuse, over-exercise).

Some are sub-clinical but equally problematic from a psychological standpoint, such as: skipping meals all day to “save up” for a big dinner, “earning” your pizza and wine night by working out earlier in the day, or joining a hot yoga class the morning after a party to “make up” for the night before.

“Normal eaters” — those who are not restricting physiological or psychologically — do not “earn” or “make up” for energy consumed. 

#5. USING DIET LANGUAGE. 

Using phrases like “being bad” when eating chocolate cake or enjoying a crispy French fry — or alternately, “being good” when eating a salad — are symptoms of a diet mentality.

Discussing the calories, carbohydrate count, or fat grams in a food while “enjoying” it is also a sign you’re dieting. Food really is just food! It may seem incredulous, but food is morally neutral (not “good” or “bad.”)

We’re socially conditioned not to trust our bodies, so of course it feels as though you must exercise control or keep yourself “in check”. But your body actually does a wonderful job of maintaining homeostasis — and this extends to monitoring your energy needs.

In the comment section below, please let me know: What’s your biggest takeaway from this post?