Posts in Disordered Eating
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.




An Open Letter to the Wellness Industry: I Give My Clients Oreos and Ice Cream -- and Here's Why.

In the event we’re not acquainted, I’m a (holistic) nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counsellor who specializes in disordered eating and eating disorder recovery. I count my lucky stars every day that I get to do this meaningful and deeply fulfilling work. 

Intuitive eating, health at every size, body positive, balanced. I'm a nutritionist who gives her clients ice cream and oreos.

 

I've definitely been seduced by the compelling rhetoric of diet culture in all of its degrees and forms, but for many reasons -- many, many reasons -- I planted myself in the anti-diet and weight-neutral camp. In part I do this for me, but mostly I do it for my clients and for all of the individuals struggling with food and body who deserve so much better. Of course, not everyone agrees with or echoes this positioning — understandable, given the coupling of health with aesthetics and the “change your body, change your life” (and by extension, “change your food, change your body”) rhetoric widely promoted by our world. 

But perhaps more problematically, I’ve observed the quick co-opting of intuitive eating and body positivity by those in the wellness space. It’s often being used — inaccurately — to promote programs, podcasts, and other initiatives. I’ve also seen it criticized or adapted by individuals who have displayed limited knowledge of the model, its history, or its intended use. 

It wouldn’t bother me all that much, and I wouldn’t feel so compelled to write this, if if weren’t for the fact that I am so protective of my clients and those in the eating disorder community. In a world with limited viable options for their treatment and recovery, in a world where they cannot share their stories for risk of being shamed or misunderstood, in a world that is so unfriendly and unsupportive of their recovery, I don’t view being anything but loud as an option. If they have the courage to show up and get uncomfortable every single day of the week, then I can find the courage to get uncomfortable, too. 

Today, because I recognize few people are fortunate to do the work that I do, I’m here to defend and speak on behalf of it, as well as on the importance of an all foods fit approach to nutrition — a perspective I’ve arrived at through research, supplemental education, and experience working with hundreds of clients in various capacities. 

I got into nutrition because I believed in the power of food. I studied food writing during my undergraduate and graduate degrees, wrote my dissertation around food, and kept a food blog for a couple of years. Some of the best memories of my life involve food. But I also can’t emphasize enough how much I struggled with food — that for close to fifteen years, I fought with my body, with my plate, and at various times, with exercise. Always, I fought with who I thought I needed to be, my own feelings of inadequacy and incompetence, and perpetual fears that I would never be enough (whatever enough meant.) 

And while I got into nutrition to help heal others, the person I healed most was myself. 

It was done by slowly unravelling the rules and shifting patterns of behaviour that kept me locked up in a prison of my own making. It was done by finding exercise I liked, and being honest with myself about why I was doing it. It was done by challenging myself with all of the foods I thought were “forbidden” or “off-limits.” It was done by deciding not to speak negatively to myself and committing to it. It was about doing so many things that were by no means sexy, no means profitable, and no means glamorous. It was messy and uncomfortable. But it was honest. And it gave me the permission to belong to myself.  

When you think about your recommendations, I want you to think outside of your philosophy or even the evidence, and I want you to consider the person who will receive them. I want you to consider what it might be like for someone to grow up during the low-fat craze, to have become a teenager when the low-carb movement was getting started, to have entered into adulthood during the rise of detoxes and cleanses, to believe that sugar is a drug, to believe they must eat clean or starve. What is it like to grow up fearing food? To feel as though nothing is truly safe? How is someone to have a good relationship with food — and by extension, themselves — when they hear these messages? 

I am a writer and I do believe words hurt. I believe shame hurts. I believe belittling people for their food choices hurts. I believe judging people whose stories we know nothing about, hurts. I believe fat-shaming hurts. I believe that if the dose makes the poison, it applies equally to medicine as it does to our conversations around food and nutrition. I believe that if we worry about getting cancer from cigarette smoke, we should probably worry about the relationship between the calorie counts posted so blatantly on chain restaurant menus and eating disorders. If that doesn’t seem on par to you, please ask yourself how you’ve come to care so much about physical health while thinking so little of mental health. 

We use Oreos and ice cream in eating disorder recovery. It’s imperative that those struggling learn to make peace with all foods, and it’s my professional opinion that this ought to extend to all people. Anyone, at any time, can develop an eating disorder; they are not limited to young, female-identified people. Eating disorders are alive and well in the LGBTQ community. They find hosts in pregnant, post-partum, and post-menopausal women. They will settle in senior citizens. The guy on the football team could have an eating disorder. Poor people who can't afford to take a day off get eating disorders. Black people get eating disorders. People in large bodies get eating disorders. Eating disorders do not discriminate. 

Part of making peace with food requires shifting food patterns. Categorizing, prescribing, and demonizing foods is unhelpful. Teaching clients which foods to eat and which to minimize will keep their eating disorders (or disordered eating) content. There is this general sense, I think, that if people ate whole foods and were nourished, they would not suffer from mental illness, particularly eating disorders. This is false. My clients know more about nutrition than most nutritionists.

They are not here because they don’t “eat clean.” They are here because they do. 

Clean eating. Whenever I hear it I can’t help but think of the angel in the house, the Victorian feminine ideal. It’s not even metaphorical, but literal: check out Halo Top ice cream. It’s so patriarchal in origin I can’t even bear to hear it. And yet here we are, talking about eating pure foods and cleansing. Which makes so much sense seeing how restriction is idealized in all of its forms, from weight loss to food choices to being quiet to staying small. Do we want to remain a conglomerate of Tinker Bells and Peter Pans and Wendys in Neverland, using anti-aging creams and elixirs and cosmetic surgery and diets to stay small and young in the world, or do we grow up and take up space in our grown up lives, as messy and mixed and uncomfortable as they can often be? 

Yes, those with eating disorders eat avocados and kale salads and still, they come to us, suffering. 

So yes, I use processed foods and play foods in practice (and eat them, too) because they help to shift someone’s patterns of behaviour. This is not just a nice idea, but validated by quality research. And it is effective. 

I know this can be hard to hear as a holistic nutritionist or anyone who advocates for dietary change. I feel deeply conflicted about my designation. On one hand, I entered into this sphere because I believe in mind, body, and spirit wellness. I still believe in this. But given my experience in eating disorders and disordered eating, I do not see this reflected in our world. I see cleanses and detoxes with ‘weight loss’ plastered all over them, as though it were ethical or even possible to promise this. I see diets bolstered by bad science. I see the glamorization of disordered behaviour (see: over-exercising as “hardcore”, calorie counting, intense restriction.) You may not see the results of these actions when shit hits the fan, but I do. 

And it's often kept so impossibly quiet. 

I’ve felt this way for over a year. A year ago I gave a workshop and I realized, mid-day, that I could no longer continue with the way I’d been practicing. I could no longer say the things coming out of my mouth. It felt inauthentic. I was tired of worrying about what I needed to give up rather than add in. Over the years I’ve been told to give up or limit red meat, eggs, caffeine, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, bread, white pasta, nuts, nut butters, crackers, certain berries (mycotoxins!), all oil but coconut oil (what?), sugar, cookies, gluten, milk, yogurt, cheese…all dairy, processed foods, GMO popcorn (except GMO popcorn doesn’t pop, so technically there isn’t such a thing as GMO popcorn), potato chips…

Is the goal to live on air? 

I almost closed my business three or so months ago, at the start of summer. I was tired. I was tired of defending my stance. I felt like no one heard me. I felt — and continually to feel — enormously misunderstood. I was tired of feeling alone on my anti-diet island. I considered starting a new business. I considered jobs I never would have taken even six months ago. 

But then I thought about how lonely my clients must feel. How all anti-dieters must feel. And how isolated and alienated and disconnected. And there in my own disconnect and exhaustion and alienation I found what I was looking for: reason. To keep going. To keep doing. To not give up when it was hard. To not give up when it was really hard. To pull it out. 

And here we are: the future. It is still messy and challenging, but I guess you just get more comfortable playing in the dirt. 

I work with clients somewhere between five and seven days a week. I work out of a centre on weekdays and Saturdays, and see my private clients in the evening and at whatever other times I can manage. 

Somewhere in there, I succeed in sending the odd newsletter, write blog posts, and update my social media accounts. 

I answer emails.

I show up at events.

I give talks. 

I write. I want to write more. I will. 

All of this feels different and uncomfortable now. It means going into a room and hoping to plant seeds. But as hard as it feels -- and if you do this work, you realize what a mountain we have to climb -- it's not nearly as hard as struggling and recovering from an eating disorder. And if my clients can do that, then I can do the hard work of making their lives just a little bit easier in whatever capacity I can. And for those who feel there is no future without weight loss, no future without restriction, trust me when I say this isn't true. It's possible. 

It's hard, but it's always possible. And trust me when I say the payoff, while perhaps not as good financially, is so much better. 

If you're a professional interested in joining the anti-diet movement and looking to incorporate HAES principles into your practice, I recommend the following resources. While many of us work with disordered eating and eating disorders, this isn't a requirement. 

The Food Psych podcast with Christy Harrison

Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole (2nd edition)

The Intuitive Eating Workbook by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole

Body Respect by Linda Bacon

The Body Myth by Margo Maine 

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf 

Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body by Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott 

The Association for Size Diversity and Health