Est 7 min read
I have a confession for you. Disclaimer: I'm doing this because I find that people have a preconceived notion about intuitive eating and what healing their relationship with food and their body would look like. Many times people think that it means that you'll be thin.
My confession today is: I still gain weight. During COVID, I gained some weight. This was likely my body’s way of dealing with the stress of a chronic crisis. It is adaptive and normal under duress.
I also had some gut health issues previously, and I hadn't been eating gluten for many years (I do not have celiac, I just had an intolerance to some foods). After healing my mental and emotional relationship around food and some of my physical gut issues by attending to some of my underlying health issues (constipation tendencies, nutrient deficiencies, parasitic infection, for example), I was able to feel safe to liberalize my diet. I successfully added back in gluten and really can eat anything now! That journey has been wonderful, and it's been so freeing. I feel great about being able to eat at a food cart and not even worry about what the ingredients are, just focusing on what feels good to me and what I enjoy.
While I still eat intuitively, I had been restricting myself because avoiding foods like gluten cuts out a ton of food options. When I added it back in, there was a bit of a pendulum swing of eating all the things that had been off-limits. Between letting go of restriction, the pandemic's stress, and some significant personal life stressors, I have gained weight.
Does that mean that I'm not a good intuitive eating coach? No. Does that mean that I don't have a healthy relationship with food or a healthy relationship with my body? No, it only means that my body is doing what it needs to do to support me as best it can to get through life. Today, I trust that.
In the past, I would have that conditional thinking of ‘that means that I'm eating in a way that's not good for me’ or ‘that means that I'm not exercising enough’ or ‘there's something wrong with me.’ I would have felt that I’m not good enough because I gained weight, that my value is diminished.
I had to do a lot of work around my value not being tied to my size, weight, appearance, or even my achievements, and I’ve been confronted with it in this work. I am sure some people see that I'm not very thin (although I am still privileged. For example, I can go to any store pretty much and find clothes that would work for me) and judge me.
I'm classified as obese by the BMI standards. I know that there are people who would see me and think that means that I'm not a good enough coach, that means that I haven't achieved some ideal. And it's true. I haven't reached the thin ideal. The thin ideal is wholly based on anti-fat bias, which has racist roots and is a system of oppression in our culture. The idea that you can look at me or anyone else in their body and believe that you understand what that means about their relationship with food or their relationship with their body is entirely biased. That internalized bias is a judgment based on an external measure of success versus really looking at what your relationship with food is like? How do you engage with food? Do you engage with food in a way that's like a supportive relationship? Is your relationship with food something that's nurturing to you? Do you care for yourself using food? Are you able to be judgment-free about behaviors that maybe don't feel amazing? For example, using food to soothe or eating when you're not full or not hungry. When you've eaten when you are already full, can you look at the patterns and behavior with curiosity and compassion and see them as adaptive coping strategies?
There are so many other measures of success. That's one of the reasons that I'm perfectly okay with how my body is today, even though I've gained weight. Typically, through my intuitive eating journey, my weight has stayed pretty stable, which is a huge relief, versus when I used to diet and then would weight cycle and go up and down (based on the research, we know weight cycling is harder on your body than just staying a stable weight, even if it's a higher BMI). By the way, BMI is bogus; I've written about this, you can check out that blog.
The point of all of this is, my measures of success have changed to having the kind of relationship with food where I feel peace, ease, joy. I feel supported by my choices around food…whether that's eating lots of veggies, choosing to engage in using food to soothe occasionally, or simply making sure that I feed myself consistently. It's much more about how the relationship feels and how much mental and emotional energy it takes.
Thinking about food and body relationships is my job, so it still takes up some space in my brain, but not from the perspective of needing to control or manage my body or change myself to be okay, just from the perspective of curiosity and wanting to continue learning so that I can best support my clients.
If you think that gaining weight means something is off about how you are engaging with food, I encourage you to look at the nuances there. Weight is not a good measure of whether there is an issue.
Are you concerned that you are using food to soothe and not meeting your underlying needs? That is most often what people are worried about when they come to me. Instead of focusing on weight or controlling or managing food, you want to address what's causing you to feel like you need that nervous system regulation and soothing. Are there other ways to support you in that versus judging about the pattern of behavior? The weight isn't the issue; it's the pattern of using food in a way that doesn't feel good.
Are you concerned about your appearance? This idea that your value and worth are tied to how you look is likely internalized anti-fat bias. The work there is learning in your bones that you are valuable and worthy of love and respect, no matter what. I've written about this, too, so check out that blog.
I also want to acknowledge that how we eat can play a role in weight, but it's not as big of a role as you might think. The idea that if you are a larger size, you're not eating right is entirely false. Your weight and your size are primarily genetic and environmental. Again, based on size, there's no way you can tell about someone's relationship with food.
In addition, even if someone chooses to eat food in a way that is eating beyond fullness or using food to soothe consistently, who are we to judge? The idea that you are morally superior if you eat perfectly is diet culture messaging, anti-fat bias. It is also something that we take for granted in a place of privilege—having access to things like vegetables, having the bandwidth to prepare them, having a life that supports that, or paying someone else to do that work is a profound privilege.
It's okay for people to decide to eat in whatever way works for them; if someone wants to eat potato chips every day for the rest of their life and that's all they want to eat, and that's what feels good to them, or even if that feels bad to them, for whatever reason, they're making that choice. We need to support people's autonomy and not tie their value in their worth to what they eat.
That's my confession today; I gain weight. I'm a human, and my body does what it needs to do. That doesn't say anything about my value and my worth. It doesn't say anything about my relationship with food or my body. It simply is a product of my physiology, doing what it needs to do.
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The first step to healing your relationship with food is reconnecting with the signals your body gives you. One of the ways to do that is by checking in with your hunger before you eat. Here's my spin on the traditional hunger scale..