Posts in Fatphobia
10 Reasons You Still Hate Your Body (And What To Do About It)

I’m not anti-weight loss, but like most intuitive eating coaches, I’m anti-pursuit of weight loss. 

But what happens when you know this on an intellectual level and you’ve succeeded in ditching the diet, but you still haven’t made peace with your body? 

In my experience as an intuitive eating coach, the body image piece is the last to click. It isn’t a linear or quick process; it often takes a lot of self-compassion, patience, and perseverance. But the time is going to pass regardless of whether you like your body or not. I figure you can spend the rest of your life trying to change it while loathing it, or you can do the necessary work to make peace with it and move on to other things that will ultimately prove more fulfilling. 

Here’s 5 reasons you still haven’t made peace with your body and how to troubleshoot each piece of the puzzle. 

Intuitive eating, emotional eating, body positive, health at every size, all foods fit, non-diet, anti-diet. 5 reasons you still hate your body and what to do about it.

 

1 | You’re comparing your body to a younger (and possibly still developing) version of itself. 

While it makes sense that 37-year-old bodies won’t necessarily look like their 17-year-old versions, it’s sometimes difficult to accept and move forward with our aging bodies due to a number of factors. Female representations are arguably narrow; we’re taught we must always be hot. Who gets airplay? Hot twentysomethings, MILFs, cougars. If you get pregnant, you’re only permitted a small baby bump (and you best not carry weight anywhere else) and once you deliver, you need to lose the extra weight right away. 

The first step is really to set boundaries, and to regard your body as a vessel (what it has and can do) rather than an art piece (what it looks like.) Cellulite, stretch marks, wobbly bits, saggy boobs - these are part and parcel of the aging experience. Sometimes we get lucky, but by no means should Christie Brinkley set the standard for everyone else. 

Gently (and with a lot of compassion) shift your focus away from how much you hate your body to what it can do. If you’re not sure what it can do, I recommend starting there. How many push-ups can you do? Which forms of movement do you enjoy? Maybe you love taking walks around the neighbourhood after dinner with a cup of tea in hand. Maybe you love the way it feels to belly dance. Maybe you like swinging in the park. 

Secondly, immerse yourself in positive images. Unfollow social media accounts that don’t resonate with you or lead you to think negatively about yourself. 

2 | You’re playing a dead-end game of comparisonitis. 

We’ve inundated with transformation stories at every corner. From magazines to social media platforms, we’re reminded that if we don’t have something, it’s only because we don’t want it enough or haven’t worked hard enough to achieve it. But in my experience — and while many will certainly disagree — I think discipline is overrated. 

Whenever you pursue a goal, you need some degree of discipline. You need to commit and stay the course.

But ultimately the goal itself can (and should?) sufficiently drive you without much coaxing on your part. Whenever I’ve felt too much pushback from something, it’s usually a sign it’s not for me. I like to compare challenges to leather shoes. You want the shoe to fit somewhat snug initially because leather stretches out and you don’t want to be left with an oversized shoe. But you don’t want the shoe to fit too tight, either.

Weight loss is difficult for most people because it asks us to override our hunger signals to meet an arbitrary number on the scale, a measurement, or a percentage. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes no sense. It counters our very programming. 

But weightlifting to get stronger? This one’s easier. We can wrap our heads around it. 

Running to strengthen our hearts and lungs? Yes. 

Eating to fuel performance? Yes. 

So when it comes down to stories about so-and-so and her amazing weight loss, think critically about it. Maybe that person lost weight, but will she keep it off? Chances are good that she won’t (they say 90-95% of diets fail.) But getting stronger and eating a balanced diet make a lot of sense regardless of age or experience and they work with our biology — not against it. 

3 | Your friends are still dieting in various degrees.

It can be enormously difficult to live as an intuitive eater. It seems like everyone is on a diet, looking to spot reduce, or working to change their size or shape in some way. 

How can you possibly feel good about your body if everyone around you feels the need to change theirs?

Regardless of whether it’s a friend, family member, or colleague, I recommend having strong boundaries. Let them know what you’re trying to do (i.e. make peace with your body, accept your body, stop being at war with food…or your own words!). I find people are generally pretty receptive if you just let them in on your plans. 

Another option is to find some body positive groups to join or additional friends who are not as wrapped up in diet culture. 

4 | You’re consuming toxic media. 

Comparisonitis and toxic media consumption are totally linked, but the difference is this: comparing yourself to others is active and conscious (“I need to change”), while media consumption is (in my experience) tends to get internalized and grows from the inside out. Suddenly you want things you never thought you’d crave, like chiseled abs, a thigh gap, and a booty. You’re consumed with the idea that you’re not enough, not worthy, and not deserving, even if none of these things are true. 

One of the first things I get my clients to do is to ditch the negative media and surround themselves with more positive influences. Narrow beauty ideals may be the only ones we’re exposed to, but they’re not the only ones that exist. The body positive world is filled with gorgeous, diverse representations of femininity and appeal to a broad range of people. 

5 | You’re carrying unrealistic expectations for what your body should look like. 

I get it. We’re taught from a very young age to criticize our bodies and to treat them like projects. We’re taught we’re not good enough if we don’t meet the (arbitrary) ideal, and that regardless of our desires, we should always be working toward meeting it — that it’s “unwomanly" not to. 

But we’re not all meant to be Kate Mosses or Beyonces or Ashley Grahams, to be gaunt or voluptuous or “curvy in all the right places” or to have “legs for days.” That’s okay. Your body isn’t wrong. Over the course of our lives, our bodies are going to change. They’ll be bigger or smaller, firmer or softer, stronger or weaker. It is okay — and perfectly normal — to have cellulite, wobbly bits, and stretch marks. Pigmentation and moles. We’re not meant to be perfect. We’re only meant to be human.

“Feeling Fat”: How to Move On From Using Diets as Coping Mechanisms
Body positive, intuitive eating, health at every size, anti-diet. Where "feeling fat" comes from and how to stop crutching on diets.

 

 

I felt utterly, completely lost when I finally ditched diet culture. 

Sure, I’d mostly untangled myself from the mess, but still — diets were an easy coping mechanism. Like a deck of cards, you could fan them out and pick one to play. Low energy? There’s a diet for that. Sluggish digestion? There’s a diet for that. Hormonal imbalance? Yup, one for that too. 

Whatever your problem, whether a bad breakup (too much ice cream? There’s a diet for that) or trauma, there’s a diet in the wings, just waiting for you to mutter, “I’ll start this on Monday.”  

According to The Bodywise Woman by Judy Mahle Lutter, 50% of American women are on a diet at any given time, up to 90% of teenagers diet regularly, and up to 50% of younger kids have tried a diet at some time. 

Diets — which science tell us time and time again do not work (as in, they don’t do what they say they’re going to do.) 

They stress us out, slow the rate of weight loss with each successive attempt, teach the body to retain more fat when you begin eating normally again, decrease metabolism (1). 

They increase binges and cravings, increase risk of premature death and heart disease, cause satiety to atrophy, and cause body shape to change. (1)

Diets also erode our confidence, self-trust, and have been linked to eating disorders (30% of pathological dieters go on to develop a partial or full-blown ED). (1)

But still, even knowing this, we can’t escape them. In fact, “fatness” has become an epithet for nearly anything undesirable, from financial troubles to a break-up. “Fat, skinny, or in between, all compulsive eaters feel fat. When they say that they feel fat, they are really saying that they feel bad. Use the word fat to mean bad is more significant as a sign of our culture’s fat phobia than it is a description of body size. Fat in our society is an epithet” (2)

Wherever we look, we’re told fat is the worst thing a woman can be (well, next to promiscuous, but even that is debatable these days.) We’re encouraged to shed fat, burn fat, spot reduce. I can’t go to the gym without a trainer affirming how many calories I’m burning, scroll through Instagram without being told which foods to eat (and when to eat them and in what quantity), or grocery shop without being told, time and time again, that I should always be monitoring.

We never speak positively about body fat, even though it’s saving our asses. Those in northern climates, for example, were originally heavier than those in southern climates because their lives depended on it (2).

Body fat keeps us warm (it regulates temperature), supports healthy reproduction (especially in women), helps to regulate nutrients, and is essential to maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails. 

So in short: without body fat, our species would cease to exist.

You’ll have to excuse the drama. 

What does this have to do with feeling lonely after leaving diets in the dust?

It means you’ve been robbed of your coping mechanisms. You can’t shelve your miserable feelings in the corner and pretend they don’t exist. You can’t continue to distract yourself from the real issues at hand by chasing after an impossible aesthetic.

For me, it meant I could no longer play small in my business. It meant I could no longer transmit the same messages I’ve been spewing about health and wellness. I could not continue to avoid accepting my body as it was and is and will be. I could no longer put off getting rid of the clothes that no longer fit because I was finally honouring my hunger and fullness cues and had quit restriction in all forms. 

For you it may mean…

Dealing with an unsatisfying relationship. 

Figuring out your next career move so you don’t dread going into work. 

Coping with negative emotions in a way that doesn’t involve a disordered relationship with food. 

Finally booking the trip of a lifetime to Bali even though you feel you can’t afford it. 

Enrolling in yoga teacher training, instead of listing the reasons it doesn’t make sense. 

Pursuing adoption on your own, because you never met anyone who felt ‘right’ and you always wanted children.  

Delaying our hopes, wishes, and desires doesn’t always mean we’re crutching on diets, but dieting can prevent a part of us from growing up and fully embracing our inner selves. 

But to mature into intuitive eating, we need to create our own self-care box. We need to figure out what makes us feel good, what lights us up, what brings us joy. You know, the opposite of a diet. 

This could include a mix of things, like:

  • Watching Netflix while enjoying a delicious glass of kombucha

  • Heading to a yoga class on a Sunday morning

  • Getting together for coffee with an old friend

  • Spending a rainy day reading and drinking tea instead of killing yourself at the gym

  • Enjoying a night of pizza and board games with your family

  • Hosting a frisbee game in the park

  • Going for a run (not my thing, but possibly yours?)

  • Starting an art project

  • Taking a photography class

  • Cooking a new recipe

  • Catching the latest Woody Allen flick

  • Watching a live music show

  • Colouring (there’s such a thing as adult colouring books and they are awesome)

  • Taking a relaxing bath at home with candles and romantic music

  • Hosting an impromptu dance party (yesssss)

It doesn’t matter if none of these resonate with you. I encourage you to brainstorm some ideas on what you could add to your personal toolbox to help you to cope with those times when you would otherwise restrict, deprive, or engage in bingeing or binge-like behaviours.

What would you include in your self-care toolbox?

References

1. Intuitive Eating, 3rd Edition. Resch, Elyse and Tribole, Evelyn. St. Martin's Press, 2012. 

2. Overcoming Overeating: Conquer Your Obsession with Food. Hirschmann, Jane R and Munter, Carol H. Vermillion, 2000. 

How I Became an Intuitive Eater

While having wine with a friend — a common event around these parts — we got to talking about intuitive eating. That’s the problem with obsessions: they haunt you during the off-hours. 

“What I would like to do is drink eight bourbon sours, eat a bag of chips, and follow it up with a poutine, but I know it’s not probably not the best, so I tend to make healthier choices. You know, like salad.” I understand this. I hear it. I get it. 

Intuitive eating is part this, and part some other thing entirely. 

We question intuitive eating. On some level, we feel we need guidelines and rules to live a healthy lifestyle. Someone to stand there with a stern look about her and a stick in hand and maybe a stained apron around her waist, advising us to eat our vegetables. Tell me what to do. As I flipped through the South Beach and Atkins books as a teenager, I could feel the anxiety rising up. The good foods, the bad foods, as concrete as the marble slab I take my photographs on. Intuitive eating would have been a fantasy, as elusive as as a fairy godmother or a twinkling firefly or you know, weight loss. 

intuitive eater

 

Should I count calories or fat grams? I distinctly remember heading out for ice cream with my family and a couple of my parent's friends at the Waterfront. I chose what I thought was peach frozen yogurt — deemed an acceptable choice — but what turned out to be a scoop of creamy, satanic ice cream. I sat there fidgeting in my seat, questioning my order. Was it frozen yogurt? I was certain it wasn’t. My mother assured me it was.

As she talked, I blurted, “I think this is ice cream. Can I throw it out?” Moments later, it left its own milky residue against the black garbage bag. I wish I could say I regretted it, but I was too overcome with relief to notice much of anything. I was scared of so much at fifteen, but I wish I hadn't counted food among those fears.

When I introduce people to the concept of intuitive eating, immediately they fear they will #eatallthethings. That, after years of being told to quit sugar or to never allow anything white to pass their lips or to fill up on frozen grapes, they will suddenly and irrationally and uncontrollably dive headfirst into an eternal binge.

For one thing, something called habituation settles in, where you get bored with what you’re eating. I mean, what would you think if I told you to eat chocolate ice cream for every meal? Initially you might feel pretty A-okay with it. But eventually you’re tire of it, long for grilled chicken salads or roasted potatoes or a bowl of split pea soup, and then you’d — gasp — say things like, “chocolate ice cream again?” 

I became an intuitive eater by eating all of the things I’d previously denied myself, including foods that were too high in carbohydrates, deep-fried, or were simply things nutritionists shouldn’t eat. I ate Ethiopian stews over white rice (!!!). I kept ice cream and potato chips in the house (!!!), foods I’d previously binge on, to see if I could eat them and still feel sane using my newfound learnings. I ate sour gummy candy and stopped feeling guilty over my penchant for my glass of wine a night, particularly if it came with exceptional company and great conversation. 

I started asking myself what I wanted to eat for meals and stopped pre-planning them. Sure, I made some things ahead of time, but instead of portioning things out, I ate whatever combination most appealed to me. I gave myself full, unconditional permission to call crackers and hummus lunch, to eat a processed protein bar on workshop-heavy days, and to drink however much coffee I deemed appropriate.

I think they call this trust. 

Because of this, sometimes I choose dandelion tea instead of wine. I naturally gravitate towards kale salads, because I notice how much better I feel eating them. I drink more water, not because I'm told to, but because I feel more productive when optimally hydrated. I've started meditating. Sometimes eating means three square meals, and sometimes five large snacks; sometimes breakfast is eggs, bacon, and a bunch of greens, or avocado toast, or a couple scoops of plain yogurt between newspaper articles, or coffee until I realize I haven't eaten. Sometimes it's twice or three times as many calories as I used to allow myself, and sometimes meagre portions that leave me wondering where my love of food has gone. 

I exercise however I like. Sometimes I prefer to go for long walks to clear my head, and sometimes I run for twenty minutes — not because I like running, becauseI don’t — but because it feels rewarding to push my lungs. I've realized I love pilates. And that starting now and into the new year, I want to learn how to lift heavy, which may seem light right now, given that most teenaged kids dwarf me. 

What about your life would change if you gave yourself unconditional permission to enjoy all of it?

How to Become an Intuitive Eater

  1. Make a list of all the foods you feel you can’t keep in your house or find yourself overeating whenever they’re within arm’s reach. These foods can be things like cheesecake or clementines — it really doesn’t matter.

  2. Why do these foods make you feel a little cray?

  3. I’m going to ask you again. Why do these foods make you feel crazy? What about them scares you?

  4. How do you feel when you eat these foods? If you feel differently when eating different things, address each one separately.

  5. What do you think would happen if you allowed yourself to eat these foods? This is an unconditional, very liberated allowance, by the way.

  6. How do you feel about eating these foods in the company of other people?

  7. If you’re worried others would judge you or make you feel ashamed for choosing these foods, why do you feel this way?

  8. Go back as far as you can. When did you start classifying foods as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”?

  9. What prompted this practice?

  10. Homework: when grocery shopping, I want you to look around the store. Observe everything on offer. Resist the urge to judge. Instead, go by how you feel. What appeals to you? Notice the colours of the fruits and vegetables. What looks fresh? What do you feel like eating? When walking by the bakery department, what looks delicious? How would you enjoy it? Would you serve it with a cup of tea or coffee? Enjoy it with a friend over a glass of red wine?

  11. Next, I want you to select something “forbidden” — except this time, it’s on emotionally neutral ground. I want you to imagine a world where salt and vinegar potato chips, cheeseburgers, and pizza aren’t “bad foods.” Of course, we know vegetables are more nutritious, but this doesn’t mean alternatives to them don’t belong in a healthy diet. I want you to sit down at the table. Serve yourself a helping of this food. How much of it do you want to eat? Pay attention to the way it feels in your mouth, its flavours and textures, and any aromas. Avoid distractions or anything that would take away from the experience. Just taste. When you have had enough, put it away, knowing you can have it again at any time.

  12. Write down your feelings about the experience.

 

PSA: If you're struggling with any of the above, consider booking a call with me. I also offer a special Habits & Behaviours Audit to pinpoint exactly what's going on with your relationship with food and body. If you find giving up the calorie trackers challenging or are always "so good" during the day only to find yourself eating everything in sight come evening, this service is tailor made for you

I attended an event this week featuring Molly Wizenberg, voice behind the legendary Orangette. On the dedication page, she wrote, enjoy it all. I love those three words, and I hope you carry them with you.