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!

"I Have More Important Shit to Think About" - My Response to my Recent Weight Gain

These are the words I whispered to myself last week in the midst of my frustration with my pants fitting too tightly. Too tightly being defined as quite uncomfortable to wear, despite the supposed stretch in the denim.

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During the last 3-4 months, I have gained 7-10 lbs., and I don’t know if it’s water weight due to the inflammation from the Hashimoto’s or actual fat gain. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, as the end result feels the same—I’m uncomfortable in a few pairs of the jeans I fit into quite easily a few months ago.

As I stood in front of the mirror, confused and frustrated as to why I happened to gain this weight despite remaining active and eating as I usually do, my inner voice chimed in and said “I have more important shit to think about.”

I then proceeded to do a mindset calibration to re-center myself, put on a different pair of pants that fit more comfortably, and moved on with my day.

It’s easy for us to proclaim self-love and confidence when we feel comfortable in the bodies we’ve become accustomed to, and even more so when we fit society’s ideal of thin, white, straight, and cis-gender (as I do). The latter point is a topic I will cover in an upcoming blog post, but the former is a testament to my current experience and those of the women I work with.

It’s easy to neglect our maintenance work of not defining ourselves based on our appearance when we look a way in which we feel comfortable. Or when we fit into the same clothing sizes we’ve become accustomed to for years.

The true test is when our bodies morph into something outside of this realm of comfort—into something that feels foreign.

The reality is that our bodies are absolutely going to change throughout our lives, and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it. Additionally, there are times when our bodies are going to change based on factors within our control. These typically include a deviation from our usual habits in response to an adjustment in priorities (travel, holidays, weddings, work, family, etc.).

The changes within our control can be easier to accept, as we understand we’re willingly participating. The changes outside of our control, such as health issues, pregnancy, and aging can be more difficult to accept due to the lack of control.

When we find yourself in a situation where our bodies have changed, or we’re overwhelmed with the need to control our food and exercise due to fear of our bodies changing as our priorities do, we must first accept and acknowledge the situation.

Don’t run from it, and don’t go down the path of distraction with destructive habits. Sit with it, say it aloud to yourself, and ask yourself the following:

1.     What are the things in life that provide me with the most meaning right now? These may include family, close friends, being active, new experiences traveling or with eating/drinking, pursuing a meaningful career or hobby, time in nature, self-development, a spiritual practice, our own health or that of a loved one. Your appearance may be on the list, and that’s completely fine. However, you need to be honest with yourself about where this lies within your ranking of priorities.

For me, my health, family, friends, career, and time in nature are the most important things to me at the moment, and these define the “more important shit” I refer to above.

2.     Am I willing to sacrifice any of my other priorities in pursuit of changing my body? I’m not simply referring to time here, as mental and physical energy are major resources that are diluted by constantly thinking about our bodies and food. 

Last week, I asked myself, “Am I really going to spend my precious energy thinking about these changes to my body when I have creative and professional ambitions and a summer to enjoy with my loved ones?” The answer is no. Especially, when I’m focusing on treating my body with respect via nourishment, rest, and movement already.

3.     What do I contribute to this world that is of the greatest value? Creating valuable content to help others, general creativity, being there for family and friends, providing entertainment, uplifting others, being a teacher, acting as a confidante—these are all worthwhile attributes that begin a laundry list of items people can ascribe to. The way our bodies look is at the bottom of the barrel—they don’t actually contribute anything to the world, and the constant pursuit of changing our bodies detracts from our time and energy being spent on these more important items.

4.     How can I make my body and mind feel supported right now? This might be eating less inflammatory and processed foods, drinking less alcohol, eating more food, more rest and self-care, more alone time, more time connecting with others, time outdoors, meditation, yoga, weightlifting, journaling, reading, wearing clothes that fit. It can be one or all of these things, in addition to a plethora of others.

The point is, focus on what you can do to better serve your body and mind, not go to war with them. Remember, we’re on the same team.

5.     What am I grateful for that my body does for me right now? This is especially relevant when dealing with health issues or experiencing changes that are outside of our realm of control, as it’s easy to believe our bodies are betraying us. Admittedly, I subscribed to the victim mindset upon hearing of my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, and it was tempting to throw my hands in the air and play the blame game.

I eventually acknowledged the unhelpful and soul-sucking nature of this mindset, and I began to focus on what my body can do and how it shows up for me every day. Our bodies are just trying to survive and, dare I say thrive.  Sometimes we need to give them some breathing room to do their thing.

Turning our frustration into gratitude

These body changes can be alarming initially, but they’re incredibly valuable. They force us to look inward and assess our alignment with our truth and where we’re placing our value.

The universe has a funny way of giving us lessons that still need to be learned, and it’s evident that I needed an internal “tune up”, if you will. For this lesson, I am grateful, as I needed the roots of my worthiness to be planted further within myself—not in anything external.

I’ve been doing this internal work for years, yet this caught me off guard and forced me to acknowledge that I have been functioning on auto-pilot for some time.

This isn’t anything to be ashamed of, as it’s common for us to settle into a new “normal” and label that as our relative zone of comfort. However, as we know, we don’t grow in our comfort zones.

Our bodies and lives are not static, and they’re never going to be. The more we can learn to accept and move with these changes, the better off we’ll be. And the more time and energy we’ll have to focus on the more important shit.

Should You Track Your Food?

It’s difficult to engage in any sort of nutrition or fitness modalities these days without a negative association, and tracking food is no exception. We’re quick to label the behavior as obsessive, and while that can certainly be the case, is it always?

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Similar to my thoughts on the scale, our intentions behind our actions and how we view or relate to the data are extremely important.

For example, one woman may be counting macros (macronutrients—carbs, fats, proteins) in Myfitnesspal to ensure she’s adequately fueled for her workouts while losing fat at a reasonable pace. She is firm in the notion that her worth isn’t derived from her body, she decided to make changes to her body based on her own volition, and she views the results of tracking as an objective measurement (i.e. she doesn’t get emotional if she goes over the numbers). She also understands that this is a temporary method and is using it as an opportunity to learn more about her body.

Alternatively, another woman is tracking her macros in Myfitnesspal to mold her body in an effort to gain approval from others, and she is hoping a new body will be the answer to her unhappiness and lack of self-worth. She views herself as a failure when she goes over her numbers, and she develops a lack of trust in her body. She isn’t tuned into what her body is telling her and solely relies on the data from Myfitnesspal—thus, she begins to believe she will lose control if she ever stops tracking.

Both of these women are tracking their food, yet the intention behind the action and their relationships to the data are completely different.

In my experience, few women fall into the category of the first example, as it takes a sufficient amount of introspection and unraveling of narratives to get there. Only after completing the work of firmly understanding our worth is inherent, knowing where the motivation to make aesthetic changes comes from, and understanding that tracking should usually be used as a temporary means of learning about our body are we ready.

And sometimes, we believe we meet all the criteria above, only to begin tracking and spiral into old thought patterns and behaviors. This can mean there is more internal work to be done, but it can also indicate that tracking isn’t in alignment with our personalities and/or priorities.

Assessing the criteria below is helpful to determine if you’re ready for tracking.

You may be well-suited for tracking if:

  • You have done the introspective work and firmly understand that changes to your body don’t impact your value or worth as a human being. (non-negotiable)
  • You thrive off of numbers, data, and facts (I do not fall into this category).
  • You have consistent eating habits already, eat mostly whole foods, and you want to dial things in a little further to see changes in performance or aesthetics.
  • You have an athletic event or meet coming up and you need to “make weight”.
  • Your energy has been subpar, and you want to identify opportunities for improvement.
  • You understand that tracking isn’t to be used in lieu of tuning into your body, although this may lead to overriding hunger or satiety signals. You understand that maintaining a mindful relationship with our bodies is still very important when tracking.
  • You look at the data objectively (i.e. if you go over your numbers, you don’t view yourself as a bad person or attach any sort of good/bad connotation)

You may not be ready for tracking if:

  • You believe the results of tracking are the key to your happiness and self-worth.
  • You haven’t done any introspective work to unravel your relationship to your body or the intentions behind making changes.
  • Your eating habits are inconsistent and your diet largely consists of processed foods.
  • Data and numbers stress you out, which is common with those who have a previously obsessive or disordered relationship with food.
  • You attach emotions to the data rather than looking at them objectively. I.e. “I’m good because I went under or was on target.” Or “I’m bad because I went over my numbers.”
  • You’re seeking a method of control in your life because everything seems inconsistent elsewhere. You believe tracking will provide the control and sense of calm you’re seeking.
  • You plan to track forever, as you don’t have a mindful connection to your body and don’t trust that you can make decisions on your own.
  • You don’t know your body’s hunger and satiety cues or your emotional triggers for eating.

Tracking food isn’t inherently bad, but it can cause former thought patterns and habits to resurface if we used to dwell in the land of disordered eating. Alternatively, it can also be an extremely valuable tool when used mindfully and from a self-assured foundation.

Deciding whether tracking food is right for you requires an honest look at where you are currently, both physically and mentally, and the true intentions behind wanting to implement this method.

If you find yourself in the midst of tracking and realize that it wasn’t the right decision for you based on what is noted above, then I recommend making small adjustments to relinquish the habit. If you decide to give it up in one fell swoop, then that’s great, but that approach can lead to a lot of anxiety for many.

An alternative approach is to remove one rigid component of tracking at a time. If you weigh and measure your food, then eyeball your portions for one meal while still recording your food intake. Next week, eyeball another meal, and continue until you’re no longer weighing or measuring any food.

At this point, you can then begin to loosen the reigns on tracking your food intake, which is commonly done in an app like Myfitnesspal. Again, start with one meal at a time, and you’ll slowly begin to trust yourself and your body.

If you’re not sure what the best approach is for you, then start by honestly assessing your intentions—they provide an accurate depiction of the current state of your foundation.  This process often requires support and a heavy focus on mindset, so using a coach for guidance and support can be very helpful.

Lacking a Strong Sense of Self? It F*cks with Our Relationship with Food

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A strong sense of self can be a bitch to create in today’s society, particularly for women. We’re taught from a young age that our most valuable currency is our appearance—that playing the part of what it means to be a woman will ensure our worth and safety in this world.

With so much emphasis placed on our shells, we often neglect the effort of discovering who we are beneath the surface and acting accordingly.

Quite honestly, the notion that I needed to do such a thing was foreign to me until my early to mid 20s. There’s a multi-dimensional, complex human enveloped by this body of mine?  Who knew?

I focused so much of my energy on molding my physical body to societal standards that I failed to realize I had unconsciously done the same with my personality. A once confident and carefree child became a young woman afraid to establish boundaries and fearful of speaking her mind.

Lest I be labeled a bitch.

You see, growing up as a female in today’s world, we’re taught that our personalities must become small and that we exist to appease others.

No one wants to be “that girl”—the one with a bold and boisterous personality who takes no shit, who shines light on her intelligence, who asks for help, who freely shares her thoughts and opinions, who says “no” when she needs to take care of herself or when she simply doesn’t want to.

As a result of showcasing these remarkable traits, we risk being labeled as “too much”, too outspoken, cocky, needy, selfish, or having too much masculine energy.

We’re often expected to be docile, quiet, sweet, and to exist for the benefit of others. People pleasing, anyone?

***For the record, there is nothing wrong with these qualities—I regularly inhabit these, but this is an authentic expression to me. Similarly, inhabiting the less stereotypical female qualities may be inauthentic to some, and that's a-ok!

The more we quell our true selves, our authentic personalities, our needs, and our desires, the more we internalize the notion that our value and worth is based on our appearance.  Essentially, we’re led to believe that the world doesn’t care about who we are—only what we are.

As a result of this conditioning, all of our energy is put into molding our bodies, our minds, and our expressions of ourselves into that which will provide us safety, value, and love.

In reality, we’re left with anything but. Rather, we’re often met with depression, anxiety, confusion, low self-esteem, competition with other women, and a severely deflated version of ourselves.

Making the Shift

If we shift the focus of our value and worth to who we are beneath the surface, we begin to understand that we are SO much more than our bodies.

We learn about our own personal values, our interests and dreams, our strengths and weaknesses, our unique quirks and qualities, our conditioning, how to enforce boundaries with others, how to express ourselves openly and freely, the people we do and don’t want in our lives, etc.

There may just be a salty, funny, loud, opinionated, quirky, or commandeering woman waiting to reveal herself.

By uncovering these qualities as they ring true to you and slowly expressing them (baby steps usually work best here), we begin to place less importance on our appearance.

The more we hone in on who we are, who we want to be, and take ownership of this development, we eventually begin shift our own sense of worthiness from our appearance to our internal landscape.

Thus, food carries less emotional weight, and we begin to view it as our ally in nourishment, enjoyment, and connection.

We place less emphasis on food, as it’s no longer viewed as the gateway to our self-worth.

Is It OK to Have Aesthetic Goals?

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The short answer is yes, but as per usual, there is a heavy dose of nuance when it comes to determining whether one is ready to pursue aesthetic goals. I fully acknowledge and believe that every woman has the right to choose what she wants to do with her own body, but I do think we need to be really honest with ourselves when embarking on this endeavor.

If you’re like the majority if Western women, chances are you’ve been trying to manipulate and mold your body for years, or it was a significant pursuit at some point in your life.

Many of the women in my life and those I work with can’t remember a time when they weren’t actively trying to change their bodies via diet and exercise, and I was in the same boat up until a few years ago.

At that time, I decided that my mental and emotional well-being trumped my physical appearance, and I accepted that I had to fully give up aesthetic goals. I wasn’t sure if this would be a permanent or temporary separation, but I did know that a sufficient amount of space was required to heal.

This space meant:

  • Eating according to body signals, not rules set by someone else.
  • Eating for enjoyment while remaining present in the moment.
  • Sitting with my urges to revert back to controlling my food intake and getting curious about them.
  • Accepting the notion that I may gain a few pounds and asking myself how this would really affect my life. Spoiler: I did, and it didn’t.
  • Surrounding myself with a supportive social circle and spending time alone in an effort to sift through the layers of my disordered eating, body obsession, and inner turmoil.
  • Consciously choosing to not weigh myself or spend too much time in the mirror.
  • Exercising out of enjoyment or in pursuit of performance-based goals, not out of a desire to change the appearance of my body.
  • Spending my now-free-time learning about and doing things that interested me. In all honesty, the list was really short in the beginning, and this tends to happen when our lives are completely wrapped up in our diets and fitness.

It can be extremely difficult to normalize our thoughts and behaviors around food and to view our bodies through a different lens when we’re in pursuit of the same goal we’ve had for years: manipulating our bodies. 

Our brains are going to have a difficult time separating the pursuit for aesthetic changes from our previous habits.

As such, I typically recommend the complete removal of aesthetic goals from the equation for a period of time (which varies for each person). This makes most clients extremely uncomfortable in the beginning, as changes often do.

But if you stop and think about it, the way you’ve been doing it for the last several months, years, or decades likely hasn’t been working for you. So why not try a different approach?

While this concept may provide a great deal of angst initially, the emotional and mental freedom experienced shortly after diving into this approach is often life-changing. Time, energy, and precious resources are now able to be utilized elsewhere, and it can seem like a second lease on life.

This initial high typically wears off after the first few days or weeks, as the diet rules we’ve previously relied on so heavily are gone, and we haven’t learned to trust ourselves or our bodies. The fear of weight gain and the need for control creep back in.

I can’t reiterate this enough: the process of unlearning diet rules, connecting with our bodies, and establishing a trusting and stress-free relationship with food and our bodies takes time. This often means several months, if not years. Still worth it? Absolutely.

I bring up the emotional rollercoaster and the time commitment required for the healing process to illustrate why aesthetic goals are usually not appropriate during those stages. Ups and downs are plentiful, and superficial goals only muddy the waters.

We often think that we can accomplish both at the same time, but the length of time it takes to achieve food freedom is much shorter if we release the aesthetics from the equation.

The ebbs and flows will eventually even out after a sufficient amount of introspection, dedication, patience, self-compassion, and time.

Am I Ready?

Once healed from the tumultuous relationship with food and body, many find the pursuit of aesthetic goals completely unappealing, while others decide to dip their toe back in to the pond of aesthetic goals. At this time, I recommend asking oneself the following questions and being really honest with the answers.

What is the reason I want to change my body?

If pursuing the goal to garner the attention, validation, or approval of others, I’d caution against it.

What do I expect to gain from the physical change?

If you’re expecting to gain newfound happiness from a smaller or leaner body, I’d caution against it.

How will I respond if my body doesn’t change in the way I would like?

If you’re anticipating a reaction of self-loathing and disappointment if your body doesn’t change in the way you expect, I’d caution against it.

Is this desire rooted in how others perceive me? Or others’ definitions of beauty or attractiveness (i.e. if other humans weren’t around me, would I still want to pursue this goal)?

If your goal is rooted in the definitions of beauty/attractiveness of others rather than your own, then I’d caution against it. **This is difficult to unpack, as most of our perceptions of beauty are deeply rooted in society’s ideals. Asking yourself if you would still want X appearance (such as more muscle or a bigger bum) if trends moved away from this ideal is a good place to start.

Do I spend any time or energy feeling guilty about my food choices?

If you’re still attaching negative emotions to food choices, then I’d caution against it.

Do I eat to cope with emotions?

If you’re eating to cope with emotions often, especially unconsciously, then I’d caution against it.

Do I honor my hunger and satiety signals most of the time?

If you’re frequently overriding hunger and satiety cues, I’d caution against it.

Do I feel energetic, both physically and mentally, as a result of the foods I eat? (i.e. am I adequately fueling myself)?

If you’re feeling like shit due to insufficient quality or quantity of food, then there may be a health concern at play, you may still be undereating in calories, or your diet primarily consists of processed foods. In any of these scenarios, I’d caution against it.

Am I able to step on the scale or use another objective measurement with emotional detachment to the numbers?

If you’re feeling emotional responses to the number on the scale or still very fearful of the number, I’d caution against it.

What are the sacrifices this goal will require? Am I willing to accept these trade-offs?

If you’re not willing to accept the sacrifices required to make these changes, that’s completely fair and understandable. The freedom feels so goodJ I’d caution against it.

If my mind starts to revert back to old patterns, do I have an exit strategy?

If you don’t have an exit strategy, safety net, or support system if you start to revert back to old patterns, I’d caution against it. **We can’t predict the future, and old thought patterns can resurface when embarking on goals based on appearance. Acknowledging this possibility is important, as is having a plan in place to manage this potential outcome.

Am I planning to pursue this goal thoughtfully? Am I planning to leverage a coach to guide me through the process?

If you don’t know how to make changes in a slow, balanced, and controlled manner and/or don’t want to hire someone to help? I’d caution against it.

Do I judge the bodies of other women? Or feel badly about myself if another woman is leaner, thinner, more muscular, etc. than me?

If the answer is yes, there is still more to unpack in regards to how you define your worth, in addition to that of other women. I’d caution against it.

Do I exercise in an effort to “undo” my food or drink choices from the previous day(s)? Am I exercising to control the appearance of my body?

If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then I’d caution against it.

The preferred answers to some of these questions are obvious, while others are more nuanced. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to many of them either, but it’s clear when intentions are rooted in negative emotions or external validation. That’s what we want to avoid.

You can see that there are several facets of a solid relationship with food and our body, and the list above could certainly be extended. But these questions serve as a solid starting point for honest introspection about your desire to change your body.

In the end, if you feel comfortable with your responses to these questions and decide to embark on aesthetic changes, then that’s great! Each woman is entitled to making that decision for herself.

My hope is that you allow yourself the time and space to truly heal before jumping into this endeavor. You may begin and quickly discover that it’s actually not what you’re seeking, or you may find that you’re able to keep your aesthetics in perspective.

Please remember that they still don’t define you. They’re just superficial play.

I Don't Care About What You're Doing - I Care About Why You're Doing It

It’s common for us to look at ideas, issues, concepts, others, and ourselves through a black and white lens. This makes it easier for us; it makes us feel more secure and in control, as if everything has strictly defined order. However, in my own personal experience and those of my clients and loved ones, the majority of happenings in life fall into the grey category.

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Standing steadfastly in one dogmatic camp is extremely common in the health and fitness industry, and with these extreme views often comes a lot of attention. However, I believe that by removing the nuance of each situation, idea, or circumstance, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice.

Looking at people, events, or concepts through a black and white lens means we’re only looking at the surface, and it dismisses the depth of the issue.

When it comes to aesthetic goals, it’s common for people to fall into one of two categories: those in pursuit of a challenge, a practice in discipline, and who understand the physical outcome is transient and superficial, and those who pursue them out of an attachment of their appearance to their self-worth, value, or in an effort to impress others.

The same goal and actions on the surface, yet two very different sets of intentions.

When it comes to tracking food, weighing ourselves, or utilizing any other metric to monitor and track objective progress, it’s common for people to fall into similar camps. I.e. those who are seeking control or don’t trust themselves or their bodies and those who can look at the results objectively and without any attachment to their worth.

One methodology, yet two different sets of intentions.

When meal-prepping, the two camps are often those who want to exercise control over their food due to a lack of trust or disconnection to their bodies (i.e. the wheels will fall off the bus without the strict system) and those who want to have healthy food available quickly, to save time, and to feel better physically.

One process, yet two different sets of intentions.

Exercise, especially the more intense variety like Crossfit or long-distance races, can be completed out of a desire to be challenged physically and mentally and for the enjoyment, whereas another may pursue this activity in an attempt to punish oneself for food choices or in hopes of achieving external validation and accolades.

One activity, yet two different sets of intentions.

Someone can appear as the perfect image of health on the surface but be wrought with a lack of self-worth, disconnection to their body, or due to the pursuit of perfection or external validation.

Alternatively, someone may be enjoying a diet that includes a decent amount of processed foods, and they’re in the process of overcoming an overly restrictive relationship with food. If someone were to judge their eating behaviors on the surface, they would likely label this person as unhealthy, lazy, or disconnected, when they’re really in a process of healing.

The version of me ten years ago engaged in some of the habits I engage in today, including meal prep, cooking many of my meals at home, and working out regularly, yet my intentions back then were rooted in an obsession with changing my appearance, the pursuit of perfection and external validation, and a means of exercising control.

Today, these habits are driven by a desire to treat my body, mind, and spirit with self-respect and nourishment, in addition to enjoyment and the love of a challenge (Hello, crossfit).

When it comes to making personal choices for your health and fitness, I often don’t care what you’re doing—I care why you’re doing it.  Focus on the intentions behind your actions, and if they’re rooted in a foundation of negativity or hustle for value and worth, you’ve found your work.

The work is always beneath the surface.