Say the word “diet” out loud. How does your body feel when you say that word. You may have to say it a few times. Do you cringe? Does your stomach get nauseous? Do you feel your muscles start to tighten?
My body definitely contracts all over when I see that word, and I work with nutrition! For YEARS, I struggled with food while dancing professionally. Besides ballet, food was what I thought about the most. Interestingly enough, I didn’t really eat much. I had a mentality that to stay slim I couldn’t eat like “other people”, but food was always on my mind. I set strict rules for myself like not eating after a certain time of the night, not having anything but coffee before a company ballet class so I could “work off” what I ate the night before. Yep, that was me. I had HUGE doses of willpower. Turns out, this willpower that everyone speaks of when they are going on a “diet” actually backfired in my face.
Not only was I completely punishing my body physically, but I was punishing my mind as well. These huge doses of willpower led to me restricting way more than I had planned. Then it would lead eating loads of sugar because I felt deprived and then, don’t you know it, the shame ship came sailing in. Shame led to more over eating to cover up those feelings that I didn’t want to feel. Deeper down under that top layer of shame was an underlying level of not feeling good enough and not feeling seen. There was definitely shame about how I treated my body, my instrument, my temple so badly for a minute of validation from others. This is what I thought I wanted and what I needed. Turns out, that the only validation I needed was my own. I needed permission to stop punishing myself.
When I finally realized that I have a choice in how I nourish my body and I didn’t need validation from some diet plan to tell me how to eat, holy cow, it was like a weight was lifted off of me. Throughout my schooling to become a dietitian, I knew that I was going to be asked to create diet plans for people, tell them exactly what to eat according to the USDA, blah blah. I had a really hard time with that because deep down I already knew that all you had to do was listen to what your body was asking for and pay attention to how you feel IN your body. I also realized during this process in school and in my practice now, that we as a society are SO checked out of our bodies. We are fighting against our bodies to make them LOOK a certain way. I often see women suffering and eating nothing but carrots and hummus to fit into their bikini. That makes me sad. It’s really simple y’all. Getting back in touch with how you want to FEEL in your body is the ticket. It’s the key to not counting calories, not counting points, not having to worry about portion sizes, etc. Shame comes in when we have expectations of how things SHOULD be, how things are generalized all over the place about nutrition. Shame is something that you can call a thing of the past.
The shame cycle is something that I see all the time. It’s one of my intentions when working with clients to have them realize that they really don’t have to live with this cycle. It’s stressing the body out and, in turn, causing illness. This is why I don’t get along with diet plans, diet challenges and labeling how you eat (example paleo, gluten free, etc.). All these labels do is set us up for the shame ship to sail in with roaring winds. When life happens and we “cheat” on the challenge or have that piece of non- gluten free food we feel shame and beat ourselves up with negative self talk. It’s SO hard to love who you are, when someone is mean to you every day and that someone is yourself!
We often turn to negative self-talk because we don’t want to feel what is actually there. We don’t want to deal with the discomfort of our feelings. We have been taught to shove them down, that it’s not okay to feel and it’s not okay to sit with discomfort. However, that discomfort can be your friend and it can help you see things about yourself, your habits and your relationships that you might ignore. I view discomfort as a wise old teacher.
It’s like this…I had an eating disorder for a number of years. While I was struggling with this eating disorder, I didn’t really feel discomfort. It was at the point when I was ready to heal my relationship with food and my relationship to my body that discomfort came rushing in. It was really difficult for me to even admit that I had an eating disorder. It was hard for me to accept that I had been punishing myself, but when I finally did, I started to heal. I forgave myself for all of those years of not giving my body the nourishment that it needed. I’m grateful it didn’t give out on me dancing 8-10 hours a day. Really, I’m not sure how I did it. It was then that I had to open up to the feeling of being uncomfortable in a situation in order to move past it. I had to realize that making peace with what was there instead of shoving it away for later only did more harm later down the line. I knew that, deep down, this is what had to happen.
Your body communicates in through symptoms that we view as bad. I like to call them messages so you can pay attention to the message and get curious as to what your body is asking for instead of freaking out over something not being right. It’s letting you know that something needs attention. That’s all.
The body lets you know in exactly the same way what it needs food wise. In order for this to happen, we have to let go of those strict rules. One of the things I practice daily before I feed myself is asking, “what do you want, what do you need to eat right now?” The first thing that pops into my head, I make and eat. It’s been so liberating! This doesn’t mean that I don’t plan meals. I do prep snacks, make shopping lists, etc., so when I want it, it’s already there and I don’t have to worry about it. That’s where I feel a lot of people revert back to strict plans because they don’t trust themselves. Trusting yourself and remaining present in your eating habits will liberate you from all “dieting”.
Emotions play a larger role in our eating patterns than you may be aware. Often times the craving for something sweet means that you are not having enough fun in your life, enough pleasure or enough YOU time. Over eating often means you are filling a void for something that you don’t want to feel or that you don’t want to address. It’s often fear of rejection. It’s important to remain present, love yourself and forgive yourself for all of those times you failed, which by the way there is no such thing! I was watching an interview with Oprah a few weeks back and she put failure like this (which I LOVE): there is no failure, every “failure” is just a gentle nudge to direct us back to ourselves, to what we really want, to our path of truth. Look at “failure” as just a love nudge, directing you to get back on track.
One more thing that I have observed in my years of working in the field of nutrition and wellness is we, human being as a whole, complicate nutrition obsess about nutrients, antioxidants, super foods, blah blah, making it seem like you need to be a biochemist just to eat…
My recommendation is to relax a little bit and listen to what your body is asking for. SIMPLICITY is the BEST thing you can do for your body. Take the anxiety out of worrying if you are getting everything that you need in your diet and trust that just listening to how you feel day in and day out is enough to keep you eating the right foods for YOU.
When we learn to stay present, listen to our bodies and be OKAY with discomfort, the healing happens! That is when there is a shift from feeling anxious about food to letting your guard down, trusting yourself and fueling your body with what it needs and wants.
So take a deep breath and trust your gut. (pun intended).