My intern, Ally, is taking over my blog to bring you a 10-part Mini training teaching you about the ten principles of Intuitive Eating. Each week, a new blogpost will go live summarizing the key elements of the principle while also giving you actionable steps to bring the principle into your life. Ally’s written several posts in this series already, including:

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out those posts to get up to speed!

This week, Ally is teaching you all about Principle 8: Respect Your Body. To make sure you don’t miss any posts from this series, click here to subscribe to my weekly newsletter.  

Take it away, Ally!

Have you ever found yourself saving a pair of jeans for when you “just lose a few pounds” or telling yourself that you’ll feel happier once you reach your “goal weight?” Diet culture teaches us to equate happiness with shrinking our bodies. As a result, being dissatisfied with our bodies has become the norm, as toxic pressures push us to pick apart our supposed “flaws.” The reality is that due to genetics, all people have vastly different body shapes and sizes,  therefore it’s unrealistic to expect to morph into one beauty standard. All bodies deserve dignity and respect. This skewed expectation that it is possible to simply change your body size through sheer “willpower” only ends up holding you back from rejecting the diet mentality, feeling comfortable in your body, and staying present for life’s most memorable moments.

Principle 8 of Intuitive Eating, Respect Your Body, dives into how you can learn to respect your body, practice compassionate self-talk, and honor your needs without the goal of manipulating the size or shape of your body. 

“The problem isn’t your body, it’s our fatphobic culture, which is everywhere” (Intuitive Eating page 197)

Our entire culture is rooted in fatphobia- notice a post on social media about how an influencer lost weight, advertisements for the newest “lean” protein bar, lessons in an elementary school classroom about what’s “healthy” versus what’s not, a fad “sculpting” workout that the fitness industry is obsessed with, being told by a doctor that losing weight will “fix” all of your health issues, or a family member commenting on how you great someone looks after losing a few pounds.

Escaping the cycle of dwelling on your perceived imperfections, criticizing yourself for not fitting into rigid beauty standards, and falling into guilt-induced dieting may seem impossible. According to diet culture, your body and individual “willpower” is to blame. Fat is the designated “enemy” and the idea of body acceptance is so radical that it’s considered “giving up.” Yet, no amount of repeated diets will lead you to finding peace with yourself and with food. If you’re still at war with your body, you won’t be able to reach this place of appreciation. Intuitive Eating is all about respecting and honoring your body- how could you respect a body that you’re constantly trying to change? You can’t. 

Learning to respect and appreciate your body may be one of the most challenging aspects of your Intuitive Eating journey because we live in a culture that ties worth to body size and shape. At first, the idea of challenging this expectation may seem foreign. For years, you’ve been taught that your body is to be distrusted and criticized. When thinking about how you can respect your body, consider what your body deserves: to be fed, to be treated with kindness, to rest, to be dressed comfortably, and to move in a way that feels good, amongst other examples. Perhaps, this may look like:

  • Purchasing clothes that fit comfortably. When your clothes are constantly pinching and squeezing you, this can cause you to fixate on your body more because you’re physically uncomfortable. If you’re able to, invest in a few pieces of clothing that fit you well and match your personal style. Clothing exchanges, second hand thrift stores, and clothing rental services can be great, affordable options. The act of shopping can feel draining, so perhaps consider bringing along a supportive friend or ordering clothes online so you can try them on in the comfort of your own home. It can also be helpful to choose to go shopping on a low stress day where you have the energy to invest in this experience. You deserve to feel comfortable and confident in what you wear. 
  • Removing body-assessment tools. Often, hanging onto your scale or an old pair of tight jeans serve as unhelpful reminders of your old dieting mindset. Rather than focusing on what your life would look like at a particular body size, redirect your focus to creating a life that honors your here-and-now body. Perhaps, put away clothes that don’t fit you, so you’re not constantly comparing yourself to your old body.
  • Refrain from body-checking. How often have you found yourself checking your reflection in every window you pass or comparing your body to those around you at a party? This mindset will only lead to critical, negative self-talk and a spiral of envy and insecurity. When you catch yourself thinking like this, gently guide yourself back to thinking of what non-physical qualities you possess- you’re more than a body! Perhaps, consider how creative you are, how you make other people laugh, or how you share your intelligence and passion with others.
  • Staying present during important events. Imagine if you redirected all of the energy wasted on getting your body “ready” for a big event (i.e. a wedding, vacation, reunion) to fully engaging with your loved ones and your experience. When you look back on memories of special moments, you’ll want to remember the feelings tied to that day rather than how much you were worried about your body. 
  • Actively treating yourself with kindness. You may not even realize how often you are bashing your body throughout the day.  Rather than focusing on what you don’t like about your body, direct your energy towards speaking words of appreciation towards yourself and pampering yourself with what’s available to you. Perhaps, remind yourself of why you’re grateful for your body or treat yourself to a hot shower and some stretching.

The bottom line here: you don’t have to wait until you reach a smaller body size to be deserving of loving, respecting, and caring for yourself. You’re always worthy of making peace with your body and with food.

“A research team from UCLA found that 54 million Americans were labeled “obese or overweight” but were in fact healthy according to metabolic indicators (Tomiyama et al. 2016)” (Intuitive Eating page 209)

If nutrition research has concluded anything about weight, it’s that an “ideal weight” doesn’t exist. This is because people’s diverse bodies are meant to range in size and shape. Blatant and subtle bias against larger bodies has been accepted as the cultural norm, but that doesn’t make it right. Just as you can’t assume that someone with a larger body is unhealthy, you also can’t assume that someone with a smaller body is healthy because weight is NOT an indicator of health…

In recent years, a new movement known as Health at Every Size (HAES) has risen in popularity. The HAES approach promotes sustainable health behaviors for all people, regardless of an individual’s weight or body size. Given the influence of recent weight-focused public health campaigns focused on the “obesity epidemic,” weight stigma has spiked. Weight stigma is a form of prejudice and discrimination that runs rampant across all aspects of society. This may take the form of being denied healthcare or required to lose weight before having access to a medical procedure, not getting hired because of your body size, not having access to clothes that fit your body in mainstream stores, or receiving negative comments from others about your weight.

The implications of weight stigma itself can cause chronic stress resulting in a series of health problems stemming from elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the bloodstream. These health problems include: increased blood pressure, slowed metabolism, inhibited immune response, depression,  anxiety, low self-esteem, and poor blood sugar regulation.

The above health issues are often attributed to a person’s weight without any regard to the effects of weight stigma on a person’s health. Most studies looking at the effect of weight on health are not controlling for weight stigma, so we can’t claim that the weight itself causes specific health outcomes. The most current body of research is pointing to the weight stigma as one of the culprits for poor health outcomes amongst folks in larger bodies, not the fat cells themselves.

I may have previously mentioned that I run my own social media page, Radiant Plates, which is dedicated to sharing my journey with Intuitive Eating, navigating health and wellness culture, and sharing my everyday experiences as a dietetics student at the University of Vermont. Over time, the focus of my content has shifted and evolved as I’ve learned more about where my own internal biases come from.

Several months ago when I was just beginning my journey with Intuitive Eating, I posted a “relaxed” picture of me wearing an activewear set, which showcased natural rolls in my stomach. Of course, I posted this picture with positive intentions, as I hoped that it would serve as a reminder for others to love and honor their bodies even if they don’t match up with diet culture’s beauty standards. I received all kinds of comments about how “beautiful and brave” this picture was, yet I now ask the question- what’s so brave about showing our natural bodies? Not to mention, there’s the element of my own thin privilege. As a young, thin, able-bodied white woman, am I really in a position where I can effectively serve as an example of body acceptance? This reflection is not meant to invalidate my own insecurities, as all people are allowed to struggle with body acceptance. Yet, as my perspective has shifted, I’ve come to realize the importance of creating space for marginalized individuals who deal with everyday weight stigma and oppression. While it’s perfectly valid for me to share my own experiences with learning to accept my body, I’ve come to learn that it’s also important that I don’t take away from the voices of those who have lived-experience of weight stigma and discrimination.

Although you may have been dreaming of achieving unrealistic beauty standards for years now, continuing to engage in diet culture will only lead you to further harming your mental and physical health. By imposing the stress of diet culture’s agenda on yourself, you’re holding yourself back from enjoying your life and finding inner peace in the here and now. While this acceptance is a much easier process for people in culturally accepted bodies, cultivating a supportive community of people in your life can help you along this journey in a world that oppresses people with larger bodies.

I know this is all easier said than done- it’s not as simple as taking a bubble bath or going for a walk to clear your mind. It can be helpful to seek help from an expert… A great place to start is this podcast episode where Leah dives deep on all things body image with body image coach and expert, Molly Seifert.

Did you hear the news? We launched a podcast here at Leah Kern Nutrition! Shoulders Down Podcast is a podcast designed to teach you how to harness your intuition to govern not just how you eat but also how you live. New episodes get released every Tuesday!  Click here to listen to our latest episode on weight inclusive nutrition education with anti-diet dietitian and director of Dietetics at the University of Vermont, Dr. Lizzy Pope. 

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