Focusing on Food BEHAVIORS & Why Decreasing Intense Exercise is Helpful When Healing Our Relationships with Food

 Yoga and walking were the only activities I did for a few months while I honed and solidified my eating behaviors.

Yoga and walking were the only activities I did for a few months while I honed and solidified my eating behaviors.

I distinctly remember my first foray into intuitive eating. I was living at home in Albuquerque, NM with my parents after graduating college while I studied for my CPA exam, and my body and mind were utterly exhausted from years of binge drinking and obsessing over my body and food.

After years of following rules, counting carbs, starving then binging, and soaking up every latest-and-greatest celebrity diet, I decided to turn inward. I declared that my body would be my guide while I leveraged a few loose (very loose) guidelines.

My main prerogative was normalizing my relationship with food, so I focused on my behaviors:

  • Eating when hungry; stopping before I was full
  • Bringing awareness to when I was eating out of boredom or another emotion
  • Paying attention to my habits of mindless eating and snacking
  • Asking myself if my choice now was worth the consequences later (it certainly was at times)
  • Only engaging in calming and stress-free physical activity, which included yoga and walking

That last item is key, because had I engaged in my usual exercise routine of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and long runs, it would have been much more difficult to practice and solidify the aforementioned behaviors.

Intense physical activity can be a hell of a lot of fun, but it forces us to pay more attention to our food, lest we risk feeling like crap, throwing our bodies out of balance, and experiencing subpar or decreasing performance.

If we’re demanding a lot out of our bodies, it makes sense that we have to fuel them appropriately via adequate calories, protein, carbs and fat. This means paying more attention to our food, not less.

For someone overcoming obsessive and neurotic food behaviors, this isn’t ideal.

Where to Start

Overdoing exercise often works in tandem with restrictive food behaviors, so releasing both at the same time can be unsettling.

However, trust me when I say that this puts you on the fast track to understanding your body, normalizing your relationship with food, and then being able to return to your usual fitness habits (if you so choose) with a much more enjoyable counterpart: the fuel.

So, where do you start?

By slowly scaling back your intense activity and replacing it with more stress-free movement:

  • Slow walking (no power walking)
  • Yoga (no sculpt or intense power yoga)
  • Strength training (that doesn’t go to failure and leaves plenty of rest between sets)
  • Leisurely hikes
  • Any mildly strenuous outdoor activity, like skiing, snowboarding, or rock climbing. Bonus points for the calming effects of nature!

If you’re currently exercising five days per week intensely, replace three of those days with one of the activities mentioned above. Please note that this doesn’t mean walking for hours either—the goal is less, not more!

Notice I’m not asking you to completely remove your favorite activity—simply to scale back temporarily.

Utilize this time to reconnect with your body and SLOW DOWN. It’s really difficult to connect and listen when we’re moving a mile a minute. Which I understand is many of our baselines, but try to keep your eye on the long-term goal here:

To be able to return to your intense activity with a newfound understanding of your body, how to fuel it, and your food behaviors—all while approaching it with a sense of calm, trust, and ease.

Weight loss is often an ancillary result of this approach too, which is shocking to most clients (as it was for me in the beginning too).

We’re taught that more is better, both in volume and intensity, but that simply isn’t true. Our bodies aren’t mechanical machines—they’re independent ecosystems that are always trying to find a place of peace and balance.

It’s amazing what can happen when we finally meet them there and decide to be on the same team.

Sounds pretty nice, right?

Before you jump into tracking macros or trying another restrictive diet that promises to provide all of your answers, ask yourself if your behaviors around food are sound.

These are the building blocks for any changes you’ll make going forward—take the time now to build your foundation.

As my dad used to tell me as a child after I attempted every short-cut in the book during my first go-round:

“Do it right the first time, and you’ll save yourself so much time in the end.”

-       Bill

 

Maintenance Caloric Intake - What It Is & Why It's Magical

The concept of eating at maintenance caloric intake is a tremendously underutilized tool, particularly for women.

In fact, when I ask women what it looks and feels like to eat at a maintenance intake, most look at me like I have two heads.

What the hell does maintenance even mean?

 We work harder by cutting more and more calories, but this backfires at some point.

We work harder by cutting more and more calories, but this backfires at some point.

This is the caloric intake at which our bodies are neither gaining nor losing weight. In the land of dieting, we often forget about this magical state. We’re brainwashed and/or misled into thinking that if we’re not restricting and actively dieting, then the only other option is to gain weight.

NOT true.

Eating at maintenance provides a slew of amazing benefits, and this is especially true for women who have been dieting for extended periods of time and aren’t seeing the results they want in the gym.

1.     More energy and brain power

Under-eating, or eating below maintenance caloric intake, can cause symptoms that begin to become our new normal if we do it for long enough. A notable one is experiencing low energy in the form of brain fog or general physical fatigue, and the positive effects are often immediately felt after increasing food intake to maintenance levels.

2.     Gains in strength, muscle mass & performance

As someone who already struggles to put on strength and muscle mass (and let’s be real—most women have a far more difficult time putting on muscle than males), this is especially important. Have you been working your ass off in the gym, only to have nothing to show for your results?

I’ve been there, and it took a LOT of convincing myself to finally increase my food intake in an effort to see some gains. (Full disclosure: this didn’t happen until about 2 years ago, and progress is still super slow). However, it just isn’t possible for many of us to eat at a deficit and gain muscle mass unless we’re fairly new to training.

This is why it’s common to see transformations of women who are new to healthy eating and resistance or strength training. They lose fat and gain muscle at the same time—however, this occurs less frequently the longer we’ve been training consistently.

Aside from gaining strength and muscle mass, improved performance in conditioning workouts (such as Crossfit, Orange Theory, HIIT, endurance) can be felt almost immediately.

3.     Restoration of metabolic and hormonal function

Our bodies evolved to protect us from starvation, so hormones increase or decrease (depending on their function) while when we’re in a calorie deficit, and our metabolisms slow.

This is essentially done by decreasing our NEAT—non-exercise activity thermogenesis—i.e. we move less throughout the day. 

This means we need to decrease our intake, or increase our deficit, to continue to see fat loss. Eventually, we find ourselves in a hole, where our caloric intake is quite low, we’re not losing fat, we’re not gaining muscle, and we feel like total dog shit.

We may also experience low libido, missing or irregular periods, low thyroid function, poor digestion, and awful sleep.

At this point, the only way to go is up, and you may just gain back your hormonal and metabolic vitality. HUGE win!

4.     Establishing body fat set point

Our bodies tend to find “set points”, or body fat percentages where they’re comfortable and don’t easily fluctuate from.  Some experience this by not being able to hold a higher weight, while others experience the opposite.

The longer we remain at any given weight while consuming an appropriate number of calories (i.e. this won’t work if we’re always under-eating), our bodies adapt and re-establish the set point. This means we have more flexibility with our take when our bodies feel safe by way of adequate intake, as opposed to constantly feeling stressed.

Note: this appears to be largely anecdotal at this time, but many experience this phenomenon.

5.     MORE FOOD

I think this speaks for itself if you love food like I do, as this girl has a big ol’ appetite.

If you’ve been undereating consistently for a long period of time, as many women have been (and I did), then it can be scary to eat more out of fear of gaining weight. But it can also be magical, as your cravings will likely decrease, and you’ll settle in to a more consistent and fulfilling relationship with food.

This might include keeping your “standard” choices the same, or keeping your meals consistent, but adding in dessert more often, enjoying more cocktails, etc. OR you may want to beef up each of your meals OR any combination of these two approaches!

Overcoming Fear of Fat Gain

One of the biggest complaints I hear from women regarding this concept is the fear of gaining fat. There is absolutely nothing wrong with gaining fat, and someone women actually need to for health reasons, but we don’t have to increase our calories to the point of fat gain if we don’t want to.

How does one accomplish this feat?

By slowly adding food back. This is much easier if you have somewhat of a routine already in place when it comes to food, as you can simply add 100-200 calories every week to your daily total.

Please note that this is different for everyone, so this is very much a starting point. You will have to pay attention to the feedback from your body! A few lbs. are completely normal due to increased water and food mass—i.e. it doesn’t mean fat gain. Start with 100 calories per day, and if you’re relatively weight stable, begin to add more and repeat until you observe fat gain via the scale, clothing, mirror, etc.

Time to Build Your Balanced Baseline

After increasing calories to maintenance, we want to ensure we’re developing sound habits. After under-eating for extended periods of time, many women have skewed perspectives of how much food they actually need to eat, so re-establishing an appropriate intake is essential.

I discuss strategies to find your balanced baseline here, and it’s important to take the time to discover what this looks like for you.

Why?

Because you’ll be enjoying life while spending less time and precious mental energy thinking about your food, and you’ll also feel a million times better. What’s not to love, right?

Once you have remained at this caloric intake for several months, your hormones should be normalized—if not optimized—your energy is high, your mood and sleep are great, digestion is rocking, and gym performance is on par with your goals (or at the very least you feel great during and afterwards).

You are then in a much better position to make changes to your body if you so choose.

Want to add muscle? Great—start with 100-200 calories per day and see how your body responds.

Want to lose fat? Great—start by decreasing your intake by 200-300 calories per day and increasing your activity via walking a couple times per week and see how your body responds.

By discovering and hanging out at maintenance for at least 3-6 months, your body will be primed to make changes down the road.  This is starkly different from continuing to decrease your current caloric intake when you’ve been trucking along at a notable deficit for months or years on end, only to binge, rebound, and develop a tumultuous relationship with food.

Is this approach sexy? Not to the mainstream, as we don’t see physical fat loss results in 12 weeks.

More often than not, we’re staying the same (if not gaining a couple) BEFORE we can see fat loss results down the road.

But an elevated mood, physical performance, optimized hormones, better cognitive function, and a stable and nourishing relationship with food sound sexy as hell to me.

As much as your current thought patterns will attempt to convince you otherwise, I encourage you to play the long game. Your future self with thank you!

The Importance of Seasons - It's OK for Our Bodies to Have Them Too!

I’m in a season right now in my life, and my body reflects that. We all go through these seasons, yet we often feel the urge to resist them—as though everything in life is supposed to be tightly controlled and maintained.

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I do this too, yet with every season’s passing, I’m reminded of just how little control I have in this life. The only thing within my grasp is how I choose to respond, so I lessen my grip on the external, little by little.

It’s easy to fuse certain parts of our lives into our identities—people, places, things, the state of our bodies. Which is a huge reason why we’re often so resistant to the change.

During the good times, we want everything to remain static for as long as possible. During the bad times, we want the change to come more quickly than is natural. We tend to forget that it was always meant to be this way.

I’m beginning to view the seasons in my life—with people, my body, my career, my priorities—with a new-found appreciation, as I learn something new in every single one. Although, admittedly, it can be so damn difficult to view things through this lens while we’re in the midst of it.

Don’t like your job? Work towards what really lights you up while you learn as much as you can in your current position. This may be an opportunity to learn the art of patience, trust, and persistence while you embrace what you currently have.

Dealing with health struggles? Focus on what your body may be telling you if it’s within your control, and use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself. If it’s beyond your realm of control, use it as an opportunity to practice surrender and to strengthen your mind.

Your body has changed? It’s OK, mine too! We can view this as an opportunity to challenge what we believe to be true about our own self-worth, how we respond to the opinions of others, and how to speak kindly to ourselves. We can challenge ourselves to fully accept what it is right now without wishing it away.

Relationship changes? We can marvel at the positive memories, and we can challenge ourselves to appreciate the growth we’re currently experiencing through increased patience, forgiveness, or stronger boundaries, perhaps.

Seasons of our Bodies

As this relates to the states of our bodies, they can ebb and flow with the actual seasons of the planet. Not due to some metaphysical forces, but because our lives and priorities often shift in tandem.

The summer is often rife with social gatherings, vacations, drinks on rooftops, and barbecues, and spending time being active outdoors is often more appealing than being inside a gym. We may gain a few lbs. or lose a bit of strength or muscle—it’s all OK!

Winter is associated with holiday gatherings and heavier food choices, and it may involve some extra gym time depending on our location. We may feel the desire to focus on building strength and lessening stress on our bodies through meaningful connection with others, downtime indoors, and amply fueling our bodies. Some fat and/or muscle gain may be associated with this time of the year—it’s all OK!

Spring and Fall are transitional seasons that are often great opportunities to dive more deeply into a routine and work towards our goals—we may slim down as a result or we may not. It’s all OK!

Each one of these seasons brings something magical with it, and if we’re holding on so tightly to one iteration of our bodies, we risk missing out the beauty of these various times of the year.

Or unique live events (like becoming a new parent, weddings, or extended travel).

We risk neglecting the present for the sake of control.

Someone once said to me,

“Appreciate the good times, because they’ll come to an end. Don’t worry about the bad times, because they’ll come to an end too.”

My initial reaction to this statement was fear, as I want to hold onto the good times for dear life, but this was proceeded by a sense of calm.

Accepting that nothing in this life is guaranteed and static can be a tremendous source of fear and discomfort, or it can be an amazing source of adventure and ease. The choice is ours, really.

If you find yourself in a season you would typically categorize as unpleasant with your body, your food, your health, or your mindset, ask yourself if you can reframe it.

Can you choose to accept it fully for what it is in the present moment? And trust that a new season will come?

When we begin to look at things through this lens, we may begin to understand that it’s not that serious (shout out to Neghar Fonooni).

Our assumption is often that the various aspects of our lives and bodies were never meant to change in the first place, and this mindset is what makes it ALL SO SERIOUS.

The unwillingness to flow and the aversion to change is what makes it ALL SO SERIOUS.

For those type-A perfectionists out there, I feel you, and I am one of you. And this is one of the most healing things we can do for ourselves.

Create the structure, practice the discipline, and do the work, but take a step back and marvel at the notion that you don’t have to bare the weight of that which can’t be controlled.

Can We Stop Complimenting Each Other on Our Bodies?

Most of us grew up witnessing women comment on other women’s bodies, and we see it all too often today as adults.

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These usually were comments of adoration or jealousy after someone lost a few pounds or “toned up”, in addition to snarky remarks about those who gained weight or who didn’t fit their ideal of what a woman should look like.

These comments slowly solidify themselves in our subconscious, although few of us are aware of this as it’s taking place. We begin to understand that thinner is better, and gaining weight warrants mean-spirited discussions behind another woman’s back.

We (hopefully) understand that speaking negatively about another women’s body is inappropriate, mean-spirited, and is simply a reflection of the perpetrator’s own insecurities and hang-ups.

However, we rarely consider the consequences of compliments.

They seem innocent enough, right? In fact, many would argue that it’s better to pay a compliment to another rather than keep it to oneself. Why wouldn’t we make an effort to make someone feel better about themselves?

Because this is where many obsessions and eating disorders begin.

Many of the women I work with, in addition to those in my personal circle, lament on the compliments that kicked their hustle for the ideal body into high gear.

They began their health and/or weight loss journey as a result of their own preferences for themselves, and once the weight loss was in motion or achieved, the compliments rolled in.

“Oh my gosh, you look so good! What have you been doing?”

“You look so skinny—you look amazing.”

“You are body goals. I want a body like yours.”

These comments are often said before asking how anything else in the woman’s life is progressing, too. Talk about a hierarchy of values, no?

Panic then ensues. Did everyone think I looked bad before? Does everyone like me better now? Are they only interested in me because of the weight I lost?

I have to maintain this or I’m going to lose their interest/attention/love/acceptance!

If weight is gained, the compliments cease, and they may even be told not to worry—that they’ll lose the weight again soon.  And the notion that their worth is tied to their body is solidified.

They begin to believe that people only see, value, and love them for their appearance.

We Don’t Know the Whole Story

Furthermore, changes in weight can be the result of a multitude of scenarios, both positive and negative, including divorce, death, illness, stress, or an increase in happiness.

We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.

The woman who lost weight may be suffering tremendously inside due to circumstances that have nothing to do with her physical form, or she may be deep in the throes of an eating disorder.

Does complimenting her on her body send the right message in any of these situations? I don’t believe so.

We could argue that this is the responsibility of the recipient, and there is certainly some onus on each of us to filter both compliments and insults alike.

However, can we wrap our heads around the idea that our compliments to other women regarding their bodies may be doing more harm than good?

It’s a foggy line, to be sure, and I have been on both sides of the fence.

Today, I don’t comment on another woman’s body unless I have a deep and established relationship with her and am privy to the motivations and circumstances behind the changes.

The last thing I would ever want to do is further cement another’s belief that all I value her for is her body, or that the circumstances that led to these changes are less deserving of my attention than the result itself.

The vast majority of us have been conditioned to pay these compliments, and while they’re often well meaning, they may be doing more harm than good.

There are SO MANY more important things about each of us, and so many of us are just waiting for the space and nurturing environment to show them. Instead of commenting on a woman’s weight loss, ask her about her life.

See her as a human being first—a body second.

How is her family? Her relationships? Her career? Her travels and recent fun adventures? What has she learned or read recently? What is she struggling with?

Focusing on the qualities that truly matter in each of us prior to the superficial will do us all a world of good.

5 Tools for Developing Your Own Eating Framework - For You, By You

 Tacos are one of my love languages, so I can put them down if I'm not paying attention and implementing the tools below! But, they have to be worth it - I'll rarely eat a regular old taco.

Tacos are one of my love languages, so I can put them down if I'm not paying attention and implementing the tools below! But, they have to be worth it - I'll rarely eat a regular old taco.

As I'm sure you know, everyone has a different definition of intuitive eating.  Some believe it’s a general framework for each individual based on previous experience with tracking food or eating in a structured way (i.e. taking what we learn and applying it in a less rigid way), while others are against any form of structure whatsoever and believe our bodies and inclination towards pleasure (social and otherwise) should be our guide.

As per usual, I fall somewhere in the middle and believe that some structure can be really beneficial in the right context.  You may benefit from structure if you:

  • Have a history of restrictive eating: some women may actually be prone to undereating based on their history with dieting, especially if they gravitate towards a diet comprised of mostly whole foods that involve high levels of satiety. Tracking food intake can ensure you’re actually eating enough.
  • Participate in intense or goal-oriented physical activity: Not being mindful of food choices when participating in intense activity, such as crossfit, can be really detrimental to our bodies (hello, fucked up hormones), and this can be done innocently. Leveraging evidence-based approaches to nutrition to support our bodies through athletic endeavors is something to be mindful of. Additionally, this structure can allow us to actually improve upon our sport!
  • Are busy AF, as most of us are. This is a huge reason why I use structure when it comes to my own eating habits a lot of the time. I don’t have the luxury of cooking a fresh meal based on my cravings of the moment, so I utilize an eating framework specific to my needs and preferences that is quite flexible. This also enables us to spend a lot less time thinking about food in general.
  • Have aesthetic goals: I’m not opposed to aesthetic goals, provided they’re coming from a place of calm, acceptance, and detachment from our value as human beings, and following some structure to ensure we’re pursuing our goals in a healthy and sustainable way is important.

With this context in mind, you may feel that eating with some structure is right for you—keeping in mind that this is outside of the general recommendation of honoring hunger and satiety signals most of the time.

We all know how difficult it can be to navigate the world of food after years of yo-yo dieting and sensationalistic rules about what’s “good” and “bad”.

You’re now able to choose for yourself, which can seem overwhelming, intimidating, and frustrating at times.

You may not know what questions to be asking yourself when developing your own personalized structure, so these tools are to be used as a guide when getting to know yourself and your body, in addition to the foundational principles of intuitive eating.

Five Tools to Build Your Personalized Eating Framework

1. Point of Diminishing Returns

We all know the feeling of taking the first few bites of something delicious, only to have the satisfaction diminish as the meal goes on. If you’re used to eating everything on your plate, regardless of the portion size, ask yourself how much you’re truly enjoying the food every few bites.

Is it still appetizing to you, or are you zoned out and mindlessly finishing everything in front of you?  The more we eat, the less enjoyable food often becomes, so ask yourself if continuing to eat is worth it to you based on your pleasure in the moment, your body’s signals, and your goals.

It’s completely acceptable (and possible) to have a few bites of something and move on with some practice.

This occurs more quickly with bland, whole foods (unseasoned, limited cooking fats, lack of sweetness) and the inverse is true with highly palatable foods with high amounts of salt, sugar, and fat—neither of which are better or worse than the other. The key is to be mindful of the fact that foods in the latter category are going to require a greater degree of mindfulness.

Furthermore, those foods are usually calorically dense, so even a few bites can make a difference.

2. Enjoyment Gap

This was really enlightening to me after being on the low-carb diet train for so many years. I never stopped to ask myself if the copious amounts of fat were necessary for me to feel satisfied, let alone if my body responded well to them.

The premise of this tool is assessing whether we’re just as satisfied with a less calorically dense option as the high calorie option.

For example, I feel just as satisfied with chicken thigh or ground bison as I do with a ribeye or shredded pork (lower fat vs. high fat options), but I don’t find cauliflower rice to be a suitable substitute for white rice in most cases. It’s not worth the decreased number of calories, as I won’t be satisfied with my choice.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to make these decisions, and I encourage you to challenge what you think you know to be true about your preferences. You may be surprised by how heavily influenced you are from your former diet days!

3. Discretionary Calories

By having a simple, yet flexible structure on which we base many of our meals, such as including a serving of protein, carb, and vegetable in each meal to meet our fiber and micronutrient needs, we can then play around with the other food choices to fill in the rest of our caloric needs.

This may sound similar to “If it fits your macros”, where you can eat whatever you want as long as the total number of each macronutrient (fat, protein, carb) is within a target range each day, but there isn’t any counting involved here.  

Additionally, I’m not advocating that you fill your day with foods that are devoid of nutritional value. This is where that whole concept of balance comes into play.

It’s simply a matter of ensuring you’re structuring most of your meals in a way that support your physiological needs, while also including foods that aren’t nutritious yet you really enjoy, such as ice cream, lattes, dessert, dark chocolate (holler).

For me, discretionary calories usually include chocolate, red wine or tequila, tortilla chips, and snack bars.

I know the big bases are covered with my staple meals due to the high protein and fiber content, and I enjoy the rest while staying mindful of the appropriate amount for me. This requires some trial and error as you get to know your true preferences and cravings.

4. Is it Worth It?

Ask yourself how much enjoyment you’re really going to get from the food and drink in front of you when you know it doesn’t support your body physically or any goals you may have.

The extra glass of wine may be worth it due to the amazing taste or the quality time you’re spending with family or friends despite a potential hangover, and other times, you may be at a miserable social gathering and don’t believe the hangover the next day will be remotely worth it.

Can you find a middle ground, where you’re enjoying yourself and are participating without going overboard?

You may want to pass on the cake in front of you, as it’s a stale, run-of-the-mill cake that you can get any day of the week, and you wouldn’t even be thinking about it unless it was right in front of you.

Alternatively, your grandma may have baked her famous cake for a birthday, and you’re going to relish in the special nature of it.

Not all experiences with food are created equally, and we owe it to ourselves to determine which ones are worth it to us.

5. Allow Ebb and Flow

This may seem contrary to everything I’ve written thus far, as these are tools for creating structure (albeit loosely), but I also firmly believe in the “intuitive” aspect of this way of eating.

Allow preferences to change, and always honor feedback from your own body. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Furthermore, our lifestyles and preferences are always changing, so it can be to our detriment to hold firmly to this loose structure. After all, we’re trying to get away from rigidity, so don’t use this as an excuse to slip back into old patterns.

In fact, I would say that if the thought of using any form of remotely structured eating gives you a sense of anxiety or mistrust in your body, then don’t use it. You can always give this a go at another time if you feel inclines.

Allow your body and mind the time away from any thoughts about food and simply eat in a way that you enjoy.

These tools are essentially methods of checking in with ourselves to determine what our preferences are in the short and long-term. It takes time to navigate the appropriate answers for ourselves, and they may change frequently as our lifestyle and preferences do.

Years ago, the extra alcoholic beverage was always worth it, but it rarely is today.

I seldom partake in dessert at the office, as there isn’t anything special in taste or meaning the majority of the time. They’re not worth the caloric allotment, and I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on anything either.

The freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that I make with my cousins during Thanksgiving? Worth it 9 times out of 10.

The choices are always yours, and there isn’t a wrong way to do this, as your eating framework is created for you, by you.

Take it one decision, one meal, snack, drink at a time, and commit yourself to learning about yourself and your body. 

It requires a larger investment upfront when comparing to rigid diet rules and meal templates, as you have to make your own decisions and learn slowly over time, but you'll thank yourself in a year.

And don't forget to have some fun with it!

 

I'm Tall, White, Thin, Able-Bodied, and Privileged - Why Was I Still Obsessed with Food?

When sharing my story about my history with disordered eating and my obsession with food, exercise, and my body, I’ve received comments about the validity of my experience and whether it’s relatable to others.

 I've been 15 lbs. lighter and heavier than my weight in this pic, and my obsession with food was the same regardless of the state of my body.

I've been 15 lbs. lighter and heavier than my weight in this pic, and my obsession with food was the same regardless of the state of my body.

I am white, tall, thin, able-bodied, and young, so what could I have possibly been obsessing over?  Shouldn’t I just shut my mouth and be grateful for what I did/do have? These questions initially elicited a knee-jerk reaction of frustration and disappointment, but after giving them some thought, I have been able to see these questions through a different lens.

It’s important to recognize my position of privilege due to the aforementioned qualities and how others do not receive the same benefits, and there are ways in which these privileges manifest that I’m still not aware of. 

However, this does negate nor take away from my experience, and it doesn’t for anyone else either. Our relationships to food aren’t just about our bodies, and our experiences are valid simply by virtue of them occurring.

Where It All Began

When looking through the lens of my own experience, my obsession with my body began in response to circumstances many other women can relate to: I learned that my appearance is my most valuable currency, and in order to be lovable, I must look perfect as defined by society’s standards.

Furthermore, in a household of four children within four years and as a middle child who was relatively “easy” and calm, I yearned for attention and accolades. I believed that obtaining perfection (in every way—not just with my body) was the only way to achieve this.

I was 5’8” by the age of 13, so I was deeply insecure about my height. It made me different, and similarly to any teenager, this instantly made me resentful of the trait.

Additionally, as I progressed further into puberty, I looked to my dad and brothers to gauge appropriate portion sizes during mealtimes, and I steadily gained weight.

I didn’t feel any connection to my body at that point in time, so I overate processed foods regularly.  Was I unconscious with my choices? Absolutely. Did I demonize specific foods? Not yet.

Fast forward a few months,  and I was tall and now heavier than was natural for my frame, and I began to feel myself drifting farther and farther away from the ideal. The last thing I would have categorized myself as was “feminine” according to society’s standards.

Was I technically overweight? No, but I was heavier than felt comfortable to me, and I was certainly too heavy according to others in my immediate circle. And they made it known.

After listening to this unsolicited feedback and observing interactions around me, I slowly started putting the pieces together:

  • A leaner body means more attention.
  • More attention means an increased likelihood of receiving love, acceptance, and being seen.
  • Less food and more exercise leads to a leaner body.
  • Food is the barrier to feeling love, acceptance, and the ability to be seen.
  • Food is the enemy.

This isn’t true of course, but this concept ruled my life for a decade. I viewed food as the gateway to my self-worth and value in the eyes of others, so it’s no great surprise that it became my obsession.

It was a love/hate relationship, and it was one that I so badly wanted to make peace with.

Obsession at Any Stage

My issues with food and my body started and continued due to feelings of unworthiness, and they didn’t let up for ten years regardless of the state of my body.

It didn't matter if I was 15 lbs. heavier than today at my heaviest or 15 lbs. lighter at my lightest—my obsession remained constant as I ebbed and flowed within those 30 lbs.

When I was leaner, I was obsessed with maintaining my body fat percentage for fear of losing my value as a person.  I was fully convinced that my friends and family truly loved me more when I looked that way, and my love of myself followed suit.

When I gained weight, which often occurred when I loosened the reigns and allowed myself to live my life in college, I felt a deep sense of shame about my appearance and the fact that I had “let myself go”. Even during these joyful and fun-filled times, I oscillated between periods of pure joy, panic, and fear of the looming outcome—more fat on my body.

There wasn’t a time when I wasn’t obsessing, and this was irrespective of the state of my body.

The Chase Never Ends

My obsession with food went far beyond my body, and the underlying reasons shifted based on the stage of life I was in, but the pressure to fix “just one more thing” was endless.

While I inhabited the qualities noted above, I was and still am far from the absurd standards of beauty women are held to.

I have cellulite, I’m not “curvy in all the right places”—whatever the fuck that means, I’m flat-chested, I’m taller than many men at 5’10.5”, I’m really pale with freckles, and the list goes on and on.

With the endless list of qualities we’re told to embody simultaneously, as if we come with ala carte options, there is always one more thing for us to obsess over. One more thing to hustle for. One more way to feel as though we’re inadequate.

We see women who are walking around with insanely low levels of body fat and continue to obsess over their meals and exercise routines, because the issue isn’t our bodies themselves—it’s our subscription to the stories we’ve been told about where our value is derived from and other underlying emotional distress we’re often masking (such as my staunch subscription to perfectionism).

Others may include the need for control, binging to numb our emotions and subsequently starving to undo the “damage”, seeking love and attention, lack of self-worth and self-esteem, deflecting from other areas of our lives that are calling for our attention (like hating our job or an unhappy relationship), lack of authenticity in our lives, etc.

Our Bodies Don’t Determine Our Relationships with Food

I have worked with overweight and thin women, all of whom are constantly obsessing over every morsel of food. While their motivations can be different, their relationships with food are very similar.

To assume we know someone else’s story based on their appearance is short-sited, and it furthers the notion that we are defined by the way we look.

Lean women may be labeled as lucky and perfect, despite deep pain they may be masking, and overweight women are often labeled as lazy, despite the care they may show for their bodies.

This contributes to the problem on a larger scale, and it can also be deeply harmful to the individual.

It doesn’t serve us look to our appearance or those of others to determine what someone’s relationship with food “should” look like or assume we know what is true.

When we “should” each other, we miss the opportunity to connect with other women on the deep level we’re all seeking, and we collectively take a step back.

We all have a right to our story, our experiences, and our emotions, simply by virtue of them being our own, and we can take ownership of them while simultaneously recognizing our privilege and seeking to learning about the experiences of women in marginalized bodies.

This is a new-to-me conversation, so I welcome all feedback in an effort to learn more!

Intuitive Eating - Where Do I Start?

Intuitive eating seems to be gaining a lot of traction in the health and fitness realm, which is great! However, there is also a sufficient amount of confusion regarding the concept, as everyone defines it differently.

 I love myself a mid-day marg, especially in the summer! 

I love myself a mid-day marg, especially in the summer! 

Some also discount it completely, as it’s not black and white, but the hard-core, rigid dieting rules are the reason so many of us find ourselves in the bottom of the dieting rabbit hole to begin with.  These camps lead you to believe that intuitive eating will lead to binging 24/7 and that it's impossible to develop a relationship with our bodies based on awareness and trust.

The overarching premise behind intuitive eating is that we eat in accordance with our bodies’ signals, in addition to the added layers of preference, lifestyle, activities, and goals.

Solely eating according to our bodies signals can create additional spirals of guilt and shame, as there are times when we simply want to eat and drink for pleasure. The dessert after dinner? Definitely not hungry, but we choose to enjoy some. 

The extra glass of wine? Our bodies aren’t necessarily asking for it - our brains and emotions are. And these reasons are just as valid in the right context.

So if we’re supposed listen to our bodies, but we’re also free to listen to our emotions and thoughts, then how do we go about this, exactly? I completely understand the confusion.

How to get started

1.     First, we need to understand that this process takes time, as there isn’t one blueprint that everyone can follow. This means we can’t just look to Instagram or our friends to see how we should be eating—the onus is on us to learn what’s best for our bodies. Trial and error while practicing awareness is an absolute requirement as we unlearn the rules we’ve been given. Viewing this as a quick fix is a sure way to see the practice as a failure.

2.     Begin assessing your body’s feedback to understand what it likes and dislikes, and evaluate how it aligns with your actual taste preferences. For example, my taste buds love cheese and ice cream, but the rest of my body is not a fan in the least. Can I choose to eat dairy? Absolutely, and there are times I do, but I don’t make a habit of it. That would akin to hearing my body speak and essentially telling it to f*ck off. Not exactly the way to lay a foundation of trust, eh?

We can assess whether our bodies are jiving with said foods by taking inventory of changes in our skin, digestion, hormones, athletic performance, brain fog, and emotions.

3.     Become acquainted with your hunger and satiety signals (full post on how to do so here). I can’t emphasize how important this aspect is to the process. This isn’t to say that you’re unable choose to consciously override these signals. The key here is being aware enough to choose. However, you do need to become very familiar with what these signals feel like for you.

If you’re coming from any kind of dieting background, ignoring hunger signals is usually the element that needs the most attention. The more you give yourself permission to eat, the more hunger you’ll feel. Trust is essential here.

I’m a former member of the “clean your plate club” while simultaneously waiting until I felt like I was going to faint before eating, so I fully understand how uncomfortable and difficult this can be in the beginning. Over time you’ll be able to better understand what levels of hunger and satiety feel best for you, and you can adjust your food choices accordingly.

Why is this important? In order to accurately assess our hunger and satiety stages, we must practice awareness, and awareness lays the foundation of this entire practice. Additionally, becoming familiar with these cues is the gateway to understanding feedback from our bodies after ignoring them for so long, and it's an excellent trust builder.

4.     Awareness of why you make the choices you do. This is closely tied to point number three, as when we really pay attention to the times we eat when we’re not hungry, eat beyond satisfaction, intentionally under-eat, or ignore our hunger signals, we’re forced to face the potential discomfort of why we’re doing it.

Boredom, distraction, numbing, fear of eating full meals (we subsequently snack all the time), and feelings of unworthiness are common reasons, in addition to pleasure, connection with others, fuel for activities, and experiencing different cultures. As you can see, motivations can run the gamut, and confronting them isn't always easy. This step absolutely cannot be skipped, and while it can be uncomfortable, we’re better off for it.

5.     Assess how foods affect your athletic endeavors. I love to partake in strength training and crossfit, both of which require carbohydrates as the preferred fuel source. Through quite a bit of trial and error (another reason a coach is helpful—so you don’t have to endure that part for as long as I did!), I realized that my body needs upwards of 150g of carbs per day to feel happy and content (estimate, as I don’t track).  This is my minimum on most days, as I feel better eating more than this when I’m crossfitting frequently.

I learned this lesson the hard way after listening to the latest diet craze in lieu of listening to my body. Please don’t do that! Pay attention to how your body feels during and after workouts, including sleep, and make adjustments to your food choices and intake accordingly. Changes may include more food before a workout, eating more or less of a macronutrient before working out (more carbs for me, always), and/or eating more food in general.

Our bodies don’t know that we’re about to participate in a difficult workout, so don’t expect it to magically appear with hunger signals and cravings right before (as I did). This is where deviation from our hunger signals is absolutely warranted and encouraged. Although, I want to be clear that you can choose to override your hunger and satiety signals at any point, with the preference being that it's conscious.

6.     Become familiar with what is worth it to you. This is what I consider to be the final step, as we can’t make a proper evaluation of what foods and drink are worth it to us if we haven’t completed the steps above. We must first incur sufficient trial and error to understand if under or overeating, not sleeping, screwing up our hormones or digestion, numbing or distracting, and performing better or worse in our physical pursuits is worth it to us when we’re evaluating the choices in front of us.

Some examples: I usually find two glasses of wine to be worth it, but a third isn’t on most days. Is it worth it to eat when I’m not hungry before a workout so that I’m able to perform better? Absolutely. Is a slice of pizza or bowl of ice cream worth the digestive distress I’ll experience later? Sometimes—depends on the company I’m with and how special the food is. I’m not going to put myself through that level of discomfort for some basic, run of the mill foods, you know?

As you can see, the concept of intuitive eating requires time and effort, most notably in the beginning, and it most certainly necessitates a high level of awareness. This leads to many people’s eyes glazing over, as they don’t want to make that investment.

Being told what, how, and when to eat removes much of the burden, and I fully understand the appeal. Not only does it allow us to turn our brains off, but we also believe this method will lead to clearly defined results.

But play that out in the long run—where does that path lead you over the next 5-10 years? Chances are, you see yourself desperately clinging to another plan, still lacking any semblance of trust in your choices and your body.

Through the practice of intuitive eating, we’re able to finally join the same team as our bodies, we’re empowered to trust in the signals we receive and our subsequent choices, and we’re able to make room for the shit that really matters in life.

Are you ready?

Email me for more information on one-on-one coaching to get started!