By Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC & Dana Sturtevant, MS, RD
Understanding (and healing) your relationship with food is less about doing it right and more about learning ways to take care of yourself that are enjoyable and sustainable. When we are trying to “fix” our bodies or are pursuing weight loss, we often end up making most of our decisions from our head, completely cut off from our bodies. Our dieting culture is mistrustful of bodies and is pretty obsessed with “doing the right thing” all of the time, which comes at a great cost.
Have you heard of the dieting cycle? It is this: Make a plan to eat healthy, follow the plan for six hours to six days, and then when you “blow it”, you move on over to the screw it plan, eating whatever and however much you want, sitting with the guilt and shame of it all, and then making another plan, often even harder to adhere to. Does this sound familiar?
The end result: a harmful, repetitive cycle of dieting and disordered eating that erodes our trust in our ability to nourish ourselves, makes us believe that we are deeply flawed, that we have no willpower, and increases the likelihood that we will continue to look to outside sources to teach us how to fix it. This cycle is shaming and leads many to believe that they are the problem, instead of the diets themselves (that fail for 95% of the people who try them).
The dieting culture does not offer an end to this cycle. We have to choose it for ourselves based on what we know to be true in our own experiences. Dieting and food control just don’t work.
The truth is there is not one food, not one eating episode, and not one meal that has the power to heal or kill you, or make you gain or lose weight. It is what you do consistently over time that matters, and the majority of diets/programs people follow are not sustainable long term. Most dieters experience what the authors of Intuitive Eating call a “diet backlash” – increased rigidity regarding good and bad foods, restriction leading to increased binge eating, reduction in trust of self with food, feelings about not deserving food, social withdrawal, and shortened durations of dieting episodes.
Attempting to change from a place of shame or self-loathing doesn’t create a relationship with food and your body that is healthy, satisfying, or sustainable. All it does is trigger another spin around the dieting cycle.
We want you to know that it doesn’t have to be this way. And the peace and freedom you are looking for isn’t in another diet program, another cleanse or juice fast, a 30-day challenge, or at Overeater’s Anonymous. You will find freedom and make lasting peace with food and your body when you reject the diet mentality and shift your focus away from the scale so you can move towards more compassionate forms of self-care.
We encourage you to build trust with yourself and food again. Find others who want to do this with you, and helping professionals that believe in healing as opposed to prescribing. Here are our recommendations to help you heal body shame, make peace with food, and create the change you seek from a deeper place:
Practice weight-neutral self-care: Many of the behaviors we adopt in the name of weight loss are not sustainable over time because they do not honor all of us – our emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational health. Research shows that lasting behavioral change and movement toward a natural weight range is much more likely to occur through ‘self-care’, rather than the self loathing, body dissatisfaction and fear that motivates people to diet. Shift your focus toward the development of sustainable, weight-neutral self-care practices that are flexible to meet the demands of your changing life.
Eat intuitively: Can you imagine choosing to eat for and from your body instead of trying to follow the constantly changing rules of the dieting mind? Eating the “right” way can leave you feeling deficient in satisfaction and pleasure. Eating from your head, without consulting your body, leads to great disconnection from the intelligence of your hungers and appetites. Eating in attunement with your body returns you to your innate wisdom, making you feel at peace with your food choices again. We invite awareness, not perfection, and see each eating experience as an opportunity to learn and practice.
Move your body joyfully: EVERY body benefits from regular physical activity, regardless of size. In fact, research consistently shows that fitness, not fatness, is what matters most when it comes to health. Disconnect your motivation to move your body from your size, shape and weight, let go of your ideas of what counts, and focus on how an activity makes you feel. Root movement in loving-kindness and gentle expectations, and let it be a path to respecting and connecting to your body again. If you don’t like doing the activity, then it’s not for you. Apply the pleasure principle, get moving, and find more energy and joy in your life as a result.
Nurture self-compassion: Your relationship with food and your body has been a way of coping. Coping is rooted in wisdom. When you are able to understand that personal struggle is part of the experience of being human, you are more able to speak your truth, move away from shame, and act in the interest of your own well-being. When you have compassion and empathy for others, you feel warmth, caring and act kindly towards them. The same can happen when you increase compassion for yourself. It is in this space of acceptance that the capacity for change increases. and your relationship to your body and yourself begins to feel different.
Redefine success: No longer will you have to measure your worth and your progress by the number on the scale or the size of your jeans. Discover more meaningful markers of your health and wellness–reduced body hatred, increased trust with food, more satisfaction and joy in your life and feeling more confident in your own skin. Imagine that!
“Cultivating #BodyTrust http://ctt.ec/87cq6+ @BeNourished”
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Hilary Kinavey, MS, LPC is a therapist and co-founder of Be Nourished. She encourages conscious and authentic living, with the courage to love yourself anyway.
Dana Sturtevant is a registered dietitian, certified yoga teacher, and self-proclaimed foodie. She especially enjoys blogging about mindfulness, yoga, Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size®, and the Slow Food Movement.