the ninth part of my deep dive into intuitive eating covering what it is, how to begin to put it into practice and my take on it as a registered dietitian.
Today’s post is all about respecting your body, the eighth principle of Tribole and Resch’s Intuitive Eating program.
If you missed previous posts in this series, you can catch up now:
- Intuitive Eating: What Is It? – a basic overview of what the Intuitive Eating program is
- Intuitive Eating: Reject the Diet Mentality (Principle #1) – a discussion of the first principle within the Intuitive Eating program and the very important first step that needs to be taken in order to start your journey.
- Intuitive Eating: Honoring Your Hunger (Principle #2) – a conversation about the importances of listening to your body and the very real biological responses that occur when we don’t
- Intuitive Eating: Making Peace with Food (Principle #3) – discussing how to embrace this very critical step of the IE process and why it can be scary to do so
- Intuitive Eating: Challenging the Food Police (Principle #4)– covering everything from what the Food Police are to how to work on overcoming their detrimental messages.
- Intuitive Eating: Feel Your Fullness (Principle #5) – discussing ways in which we ignore our internal signals (like fullness) and ways to get back in touch with them.
- Intuitive Eating: Discover the Satisfaction Factor (Principle #6) – understanding how to tap into your true cravings and how to honor them without guilt.
- Intuitive Eating: Coping With Your Emotions Without Using Food (Principle #7) – learning to recognize when you’re using food to cope & some suggestions on how to move away from doing so.
And you can always find all the posts I publish in this series right here should you wish to revisit one at any point.
I’ve been particularly excited to get to this principle. While each principle brings to light important concepts worth discussing, today’s principle is one that I think is often overlooked.
The chapter starts off by saying: “Accept your genetic blueprint. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect realistically to squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile (and uncomfortable) to have a similar expectation about body size.”
It is SO true. The idea that we all have to conform to the same shape and size is ludicrous. However, it’s not uncommon to have this idea that we all need to be slender and sculpted to perfection because that type of messaging is everywhere.
So often in the diet and fitness industry, you’re told that if you just eat the right way and do the right workouts, you’ll be able to lean out & sculpt your body. The focus is often not on improving health, but looking a certain way.
I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: health comes in all shapes and sizes. You may be an incredibly healthy human being but because you’re not able to fit into a size 2, you think otherwise. And the most ironic part about that is, health is often lost in pursuit of a certain appearance. So right here, right now, I’m telling you, one of the MOST important things you can do for yourself on your intuitive eating journey, is to RESPECT YOUR BODY.
You don’t have to like every part of your body to respect it. In fact, you don’t have to immediately accept where your body is now to respect it. Respecting your body means treating it with dignity, and meeting its basic needs.Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
The longer you wage a war against your given size and shape, revere and hope to attain a shape that is completely unrealistic, the longer you will struggle to find peace with food and yourself.
And if you find yourself feeling uncomfortable with the notion of giving up on chasing some ideal appearance, let me ask you this: what good has come out of chasing it? Maybe you’ll tell me you’re happier and healthier for doing so. But likely many of you are thinking that in doing so, you’ve become more miserable, more isolated and more diet-obsessed. As Tribole and Resch say in their book, “It takes a conscious effort to move away from this societal norm. Just because seeking a slender body is the societal norm does not make it right.”
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that giving up the chase for your ‘ideal’ body is no easy task. Like I said, each day (on Instagram, in the media, on magazine covers, etc.) we’re bombarded with messages that promote a certain body type (mainly long and lean) and degrade all others (Tribole and Resch point out a People Magazine “Diet Winners & Losers” front cover as an example). Not to mention that you may feel like if you stop the chase for the ‘perfect’ body, you’re just giving up and accepting that you can’t improve.
But there’s a big difference between giving up on your health and giving up on some far-fetched ideal. Working to achieve your natural healthy weight (a weight that can be achieved through normal eating and moderate exercise) means you put your health (and happiness!) first. Working to achieve someone else’s weight often means you put your health (& happiness) at risk.
When you are caught in the I-hate-my-body mind-set, it’s all too easy to keep delaying good things for yourself, waiting until you have a body that is more deserving. But that day never comes (especially when your standards are unreachable). So you put off treating yourself better.Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
When I lost my ability to eat intuitively, I never wanted to do anything unless I felt I was looking my best. I missed out on so many fun gatherings with my friends, vacations, parties and celebrations because of that and there’s nothing I can do about it. They’re just gone & lost. I wouldn’t buy clothes or get massages or do anything nice for myself unless I felt I ‘deserved” it (which meant eating only the ‘right’ things and working out religiously…pretty silly definition for “deserve” right?). And the funny thing was, once I reacquainted myself with intuitive eating, I found that my appearance was just about the last thing I (or anyone else!) cared about. I had fun because I was doing things I enjoyed. Not because I was a certain size.
You don’t need to lose weight or be a certain size in order to take part in things you enjoy or to take care of yourself. There are basic things that every body deserves regardless of shape or size:
- To be fed when hungry
- To be treated with respect & dignity
- To be dressed comfortably
- To move when desired and in a manner that is enjoyed
While logically it might be easy to understand the concept of respecting your body, putting it into practice is a whole other story.
Tribole and Resch lay out several tips in their book for doing so (there are also a number of great case studies they share that are worth reading in my opinion!). Here are a few of my favorites tips:
- Get Comfortable – You deserve to be comfortable. While it’s tempting to want to only buy clothes in a preferred size, that doesn’t practically serve you. The more uncomfortable you feel in your clothes, the more likely you are to chastise your body for it’s shape and size thus creating the sticky web of dieting/breaking the diet/dieting/breaking the diet, etc. That sticky web is not only going to delay your Intuitive Eating process but new research actually shows that the process of losing and gaining the same 15 pounds over and over is more detrimental to health than just maintaining a steady (even if not your ‘ideal’) weight. While it’s tempting to hang on to clothes that don’t fit as “goal” clothes or immediately get rid of your “fat” clothes when you’ve lost weight, it’s important to consider what being comfortable can do for your mental state.
- Change Your Body Assessment Tools – Stepping on the scale every morning can seem like a somewhat harmless activity. However, for many the number that shines back can impact the entire rest of their day. If you’re dissatisfied with the number you see, it can make it difficult to respect your body. My advice (and Tribole and Resch‘s advice) is to ditch the scale. Weight swings and fluctuates every day for a number of reasons, it’s not something to hang your hat on and it’s certainly not something worth berating yourself over. Try instead to check in with yourself – ask yourself how you feel internally. Our bodies are very good at telling us what’s going on if we just take the time to listen.
- Quit the Body Check Game – When you spend a lot of time sizing yourself up, it’s natural that when you walk into a room you do the same to others. Doing so only leads to comparing yourself to others and if you don’t measure up (which in and of itself is SO silly because we’re all different and shouldn’t look exactly the same!) then it can lead to a spiral of self berating thoughts which, as we know by now, can start the diet cycle. Someone’s outward appearance alone does not indicate their health. You cannot presume to know the full story of how someone else acquired their shape just by looking at them (large, small or in between!). Do yourself (and others) a favor and quit body checking all together.
- Don’t Compromise for a “Big Event” – It can be all too easy to fall back into quick fix dieting when you’re preparing for a big event and want to look your best. It’s a slippery slope however and often trying to look a certain way for the big event takes away from the event itself. Tribole and Resch state in their book: “How much time and energy have you spent getting your body ready for the big event? What if the energy was directed at recognizing your inner qualities, such as wit, intelligence, or listening ability?” Like I said earlier, when I finally got back on the path of intuitive eating, I realized that these events weren’t about how I or others looked. They were about spending time with those I enjoyed most!
- Stop Body Bashing – Similar to body checks, constant negative thoughts about parts of your body will only serve to create more self-consciousness and body worry. Tribole and Resch recommend keeping track for a few hours and seeing how many negative body thoughts come up in that time period. It might happen more often than you even realize. To combat these thoughts, each time you have a negative thought, replace it with a positive thought or affirmation. For example, if you think: “My thighs are too big” replace it with “I love my calves” or “My thighs are strong and I’m grateful they help my legs to carry me around each day.”
- Accept & Respect Body Diversity – Not only is it important to accept body diversity (including yours!) but it’s important to respect it as well. Health comes in all shapes and sizes and you cannot presume to know someone’s situation just by looking at them. Just because someone is bigger does not necessarily mean they don’t exercise and eat junk all day. Similarly, just because someone is thinner doesn’t necessarily mean they’re starving themselves or working out like crazy. Tribole and Resch suggest that if you have a hard time being kind to your own body, try starting with others. Challenge presumptive or negative thoughts you might have when they pop up and that will begin to rub off on how you talk to yourself.
- Be Realistic – The quote from the book says it well “If maintaining or obtaining your weight requires living on rice cakes and water while exercising for hours, that’s a glaring clue that your goal is not realistic. If your parents are extremely heavy, chances are you will never be model-thin. Remember, genetics is a strong determinant of body size.”
Your natural healthy weight (again, a weight that you can achieve through eating normal and exercising moderately) may not match the ideal you have in your mind. You may need to take time to mourn the loss of the ‘ideal’ body picture you had for yourself in your mind. Part of respecting your body (and making peace with it and food) is trusting that it knows what’s best. This is a key component of the IE process. Tribole and Resch state in their book that “Those who are able to get to a place of respect for their bodies have more patience for the Intuitive Eating process. This patience allows them to explore further, and move forward quicker.” While you may feel sad for a bit to give up an unrealistic idea of what your body should look like, the happiness that comes with finding life-long peace with your food and your body will soon replace that sadness.