The Role Eating Plays in Loving Your Body

I get a lot of questions involving the way the food and eating plays into loving your body as part of the #mybodyisenough project. Instead of trying to answer them based on my own personal experience with intuitive eating, I wanted to have an expert share some thoughts with you today! I hope this can be helpful for you if you're beginning your journey to love and accept your body or are years into the process. Rachael's blog is a great resource as well, so make sure you connect with her! 

-Rachel Tenny

Hello! It's a different Rachael popping in today! I'm Rachael Hartley, a nutrition therapist and private practice dietitian in Columbia, SC. After admiring Rachel's work, I was lucky enough to meet her in real life, where we quickly bonded over our shared philosophies, addiction to instagram and our weirdo dogs. Since she does such fabulous work promoting body positivity and self acceptance, we thought it would be great to share some of the other side of the equation - how to eat and nourish your body when you're not trying to change it. 

How to eat? For a question that seems so simple, the answer has become quite needlessly complex. 

When I first became a dietitian, my idea of how to eat was pretty rigid. I had strong beliefs about about when, what and how one should nourish their body. There was a clear right and wrong. 

When I entered practice and started working with other people, I saw that diet rules not only didn’t work, but often backfired. I also started to see the negative effects of diet mentality on my own life. I struggled with so much guilt and shame over what was on my plate. One day it hit me that after six years of training in nutrition, I had no clue how to eat. 

Thankfully I discovered the world of intuitive eating, body positivity and non-diet centered wellness. I completely changed how I practiced, and I how fed and took care of myself. I discovered that the question of how to eat really does have a simple answer – however you damn well please! 

When you remove the restriction and deprivation and rules about what you can and can’t eat, and instead focus on internal cues, eating satisfying food that makes you feel good, your body will guide you to the food choices that are best for your physical and mental health. And, your body will settle at the size it’s supposed to be, rather than wilding fluctuating up and down. 

Of course, transitioning from eating according to external rules (aka diets) and getting back in touch with internal cues and needs (aka your body) is easier said than done. After years of suppressing hunger, depriving then binging, you might not even know what you need, or even like! Here’s three ways to get back in touch with your body and relearn how to eat. 

1. Pay attention to, and honor, hunger and fullness cues. Forget the food scale. Stop counting points and calories and carbohydrates. Ditch the serving sizes. There’s only one way to know exactly when and how much to eat – your hunger and fullness cues. 

Dieting numbs hunger and fullness. It trains you to suppress hunger until you can no longer stand it, which naturally triggers you to eat to a point of uncomfortable fullness. Hunger and fullness become extreme sensations rather than subtle signs. 

Instead, aim to eat in the middle. Start to eat when you first notice signs of hunger, and stop before you feel discomfort - much easier to do when you aren’t ravenous!) 

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, have been severely restricting or have digestive issues, you may not feel hunger and fullness cues. In this case, jumping straight into intuitive eating might not be possible. This makes it all the more important to work with a dietitian trained in intuitive eating as well as eating disorders or digestive disorders, who can help work around your barriers . 

2. Give yourself full permission around food. Most people think that restrictions and rules around food puts you in control, but it does exactly the opposite. In my practice, I can tie almost all of my clients unwanted eating behaviors back to deprivation. It fuels overconsumption. Plus, how can you make decisions about what your body needs if you’re not giving yourself all available options? 

Put all foods back on the table. Yes, all. Nothing can harm you in moderation, and by restricting you’re probably eating more of those “off-limits” foods than you would if you had permission to eat them whenever you desire. At first, you’ll probably eat a lot more of those “off limits” foods, which may feel scary and out of control. But eventually, they’ll start to lose their appeal, and as build trust that those foods will always be available, you’ll just crave it when you really want it, versus every single waking minute. 

3. Eat food that makes you feel good, physically and mentally. In diet culture, food is chosen based on what (temporarily) makes you thinner. That’s how we’ve gotten products like fiber bars (aka fart bars), heartburn inducing concoctions of lemon juice and cayenne, and low fat chips that come with the warning “may cause anal leakage.” 

Eating sweets and processed food all the time won’t leave you feeling very good. And despite what the wellness gurus on instagram say, neither will living off green smoothies and kale salad. There is such thing as too much fiber. And don’t overlook how food can make you feel good emotionally. After Thanksgiving, you might feel bloated and uncomfortable, but you also might feel joyful and connected from being around family. Getting ice cream with friend might give you a bit of a sugar crash later on, but you may feel nourished from the social connection. You’re the only one that can make decisions about what will make you feel best in any given moment. 

As you move away from dieting and restriction and try to rebuild your relationship with food, don’t forget to give yourself a hefty dose of grace and self compassion! Learning how to eat sounds easy, but it’s a really hard process with lots of ups and downs along the way. Unlike dieting, which is easy at first, then gets harder with time, intuitive eating is really hard at first, but eventually, it becomes as effortless as breathing.

For more from Rachael Hartley, check out her website,  Avocado A Day Nutrition  (moving soon to RachaelHartleyNutrition.com!), or stay in touch with instagram or facebook

To read more about the #mybodyisenough project, read this post and follow along with the hashtag on social media.