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How to Support Yourself or a Loved One on an Intuitive Eating, Body Image Healing Journey

by | Jul 8, 2022 | Health and Weight, Intuitive Eating | 0 comments

Whether you’re on a path to healing your relationship with food and your body or your loved one is, this is THE perfect post for you to learn everything you need to know about the intuitive eating and body image healing journey. 

There are a LOT of misconceptions about what this process entails and I think it’s important to give more education and context, straight from a registered dietitian and my clients who have become intuitive eaters. 

Clients, followers, friends, and fellow providers have been SO kind and generous to give us the inside scoop into exactly what they’d like people to know about this journey.

There are two main goals for this post…

  1. You will find many examples at the bottom of this post on how to talk to your loved ones about your new healing journey. 
  1. If you’re a loved one of someone on this journey, these examples may speak to some of your loved ones concerns or what they’d like you to know. 

If your loved one is on this journey, I suggest allowing them the time and space to talk to you about their journey as they feel comfortable. Try and listen with an open mind and be as supportive as possible since it’s likely not easy for them to open up about it. 

First though, let’s talk some logistics and give some background info on this method of healing your relationship with food, your body, and finding greater health and wellness. 

What is intuitive eating and how can it work for you?

intuitive eating

Intuitive eating actually addresses our relationship with food.

The process of intuitive eating empowers YOU with the tools to decide how, when, why, and what to eat and how to best care for your body. 

Intuitive eating is a mind, body, spirit holistic approach to your relationship with food and overall wellness. 

Rather than relying on external cues (diets, meal plans, app trackers, other people’s opinions) to dictate how, when and what you eat, intuitive eating allows you to connect to your own hunger, fullness, satisfaction and values to best feed yourself. 

Don’t believe me? Here’s what clients say about this process when we work together.

Intuitive eating is backed by hundreds of studies that show:

– higher self-esteem

– improved body appreciation/acceptance

– higher HDL (beneficial cholesterol)

– lower blood pressure

– lower triglycerides

– greater variety of foods eaten

– more pleasure from eating

– lower rates of disordered eating, binge eating, loss of control eating, and less emotional eating

You can read more about the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating here

What is body image and how do we develop more positive body image?

Body image is how you view your body and the thoughts and feelings you have about your body (both positive and negative).

The thing about body image is that it isn’t dependent on actual body size – contrary to popular belief. Often times weight loss does NOT lead to more positive body image because we’re focusing on an external thing (weight loss) to give us internal reward (happiness.)

Since body image is in the brain and dependent on thoughts and perceptions, we have the power to change it. In order to develop more positive body image, our goal is to change minds about bodies, rather than the bodies themselves. 

We do this through improving self-esteem, self-care, body respect, and working towards accepting that bodies naturally come in all shapes and sizes, as well as zooming out to see that you are WAY more than a body. 

Learn more about what influences body image and how to feel better about your body. 

But what about health and intuitive eating?

We’ve heard it since we were little kids. Be afraid of being fat. Attempt to be thin/fit at all costs. Our cultural obsession with the thin ideal has caused us to go to severe, unhealthy and unsustainable attempts to get smaller or stay small. 

Doctors warn at every visit about weight gain and give the “latest and greatest” advice on how to shrink. But is it true? And does it actually improve our health? Let’s talk about it.

#1 The research doesn’t support the fear of fat

Despite the widely held belief that a higher body weight causes poor health, data does not support this. Other factors such as exercise, nutrition, insulin resistance and weight stigma often partially or fully explain links between weight and health, and we see healthy markers being achieved at ALL body sizes, not just smaller bodies. 

Some studies even show a PREVENTATIVE effect of higher body weights, meaning those at higher body weights were at lower risk for certain conditions or death. 

Research aside, the main takeaway for this question is that weight simply does not equal health, although that’s the message we’ve received over and over for DECADES.

When we assume someone is healthy because they are small, and they’re unhealthy at a bigger size, we miss the entire point and the reality about their health. 

You can be small and unhealthy, or large and healthy. Making assumptions that weight gain is always bad, or that weight loss is always good is harmful. 

With this approach, we focus on prioritizing health behaviors like:

  • developing a healthy, balanced, joyful relationship with food
  • exercise they enjoy and feel motivated to do
  • Personalized self-care strategies
  • emotional regulation
  • Healthier boundaries and relationships

Sometimes people gain weight as a result of healing their relationship with food. We want to ask – what else did they gain? More positive coping skills, a healthier relationship with themselves, and more. This is important to recognize and not assume weight gain is a bad thing. 

If you feel defensive about this or want more information, check out this post all about why focusing on weight loss could be bad for your health. And at the end of the day, you/your loved one is doing this because it feels like the right path for them. 

Respect yourself/them and give yourself lots of compassion and grace for adopting a path that’s a bit different than the “mainstream” message. 

One last important thought: no matter WHAT your beliefs around health and weight, you/your loved one deserve RESPECT and not to be treated like shit, bullied, or receive whack ass medical care because of your/their weight. I hope we can all agree on that. 

What Intuitive Eaters want you to know about Intuitive Eating…

intuitive eaters talking

If you’re on this journey or about to be, here are some great suggestions for talking to your family and friends about what you’re doing. 

If you’re a friend or family member of someone embarking on this journey, here’s what they want you to know.

I first just have to say, that I am absolutely honored and floored by the fact I get to surround myself with these amazingly beautiful people – inside and out – on a daily basis and call it my job. 

My clients are literally some of the most courageous, brave, determined people I know to be on this journey going literally opposite of what society is telling them to do (fad diets, whatnot.) Plus, they’re just genuinely the coolest people I know and I feel so lucky to know them!

Without further ado, here’s what they said about the intuitive eating and body image healing journey:

“I’d probably want to say something like, ‘I love you, and I know you love me. I know that your comment comes from a place of love and likely concern, but I am pursuing my health in the way that feels right for me and am asking you not to comment unless I seek you out.’” – Claire

“I have three things I’d want to say:

  1. Just because a parent has never made negative comment about their child’s body, their negative self talk will eventually rub off on the child. 
  2. My body and my food journey can be separate from yours and I can still be healthy
  3. Respecting boundaries and sticking to those boundaries are essential.” – Grace

Comments on bodies are not welcome

“Our bodies may change – or not – as we learn to listen to them and heal our relationship with food. We know you love and care about us, but please don’t comment on it, even positively. We’re trying to find comfort in this new frame of mind, but it can be hard to look at our bodies in a loving, neutral way when other people are commenting on them. 

Alternately, it may look as if we are becoming more negative or judgemental. If we point out negative body talk or diet culture around you or to you, please don’t take it personally. It’s not that we’re judging *you* for participating in or liking things that participate in them (they’re the water we swim in — it’s natural), it’s just that we’re pointing these messages/attitudes out in our own thoughts all the time so we can gain awareness of them because they’re so built-in to our lives. 

We don’t hate Ted Lasso because everyone is straight-sized — we just needed to point it out to notice it. We’re trying to facilitate a gestalt shift from passive acceptance to knowledge. It’s a step in the process.” – Zane

(This is an actual letter that a previous client sent out to her loved ones when starting her food and body image healing journey. She was gracious enough to share it with us here and I think it’s very powerful.)

“I fired my PCP because she wanted to tell me that I was not healthy ONLY because I exist in a bigger body, which I find amusing since I see non-Black people who are overweight all over the place and that does not seem to be a point of so much contention and do not get me started on how this differs in women vs men… but anyway, I digress. Here’s the news flash for me, I am actually heart healthy and my body size is not synonymous with that. 

So, I will no longer be talking about the weight I want or don’t want to lose but about my overall health. That is actually my greatest concern – especially given my family history of potential heart issues.

Annnddd – what does this mean? I am not and will not be dieting. I’m not doing any crazy fads. I will not be running (I tried it; I hate it) and anyone who wants to tell me otherwise can kick rocks. I’ll be seeing my new NP (I love her and she cares about my health and the fact that the medical system has failed women and Black women in particular – WINS all around) more often for true health checks. 

I’ll be existing in my body, taking up the space I am afforded, eating things in moderation, riding my bike and lifting weights (9-week streak and counting!) and generally living a happy life.

Why am I even writing this email? Sadly, for as long as I have had conscious thoughts and existed in a fat body someone has told me I would be a better, healthier, and/or a more desirable person if I existed in a smaller body. I have now come to realize that is not true and that I personally and sincerely do not want to exist in a skinny body (no shade, no tea to my skinny people out there and the people that want to be skinny – y’all are gorgeous and crushing the game too)!.Just so we are not confused, I want a more toned body – yes! A strong body – absolutely! A body that knows when to rest, when to rise, and when/how to move that feels comfortable and challenging to my body -100%!” – Aubee

“I would want them to know that I deeply believe I am enough. Just as I am.” – Lauren

Comments on your own body may be triggering to someone on an intuitive eating and body image healing journey

“The way you judge yourself is a concern of how you’ll judge us (the healing person.) Help me to have fun! Love me for me and help me love me for me. Also, please refrain from body or clothes talk (even about yourself.)” – Reilly

“What I want people to know about intuitive eating is simply to not comment on other peoples choices with food! We are clearly changing our habits from dieting to intuitive eating for a reason and your comments don’t help. Do what you want with your body and let us do what we want with ours. You don’t care about our ‘health’ because all your comments do is push us back into disordered eating. Also, don’t label foods as ‘good or bad’” – Sadie

Here’s a note from a fellow Boston based intuitive eating and wellness coach, Emma Heilbronner:

“As people embark on their IE journey, I want them to know that working through the challenges and fears they have requires active work. For example, there will be times when the diet voice is inside your head and you want to listen and do what it says. 

In that moment, it’s important to actively talk back to that voice and/or take some time to journal out the thoughts to help reconnect with why you are on this journey in the first place. 

Over time it will certainly become much easier and more natural to not let those voices get to you, but in the beginning it’s important to actively talk back to them. 

Related, I’d also say that all of the work is SO worth it once you find food freedom and peace with all foods!!”

So there you have it! Straight from the mouths of intuitive eaters.

I hope this post was helpful. Please share it with anyone you think needs to hear this.

For more support, hop on my email list where we talk self-care, food, body image, and all things health and wellness but not in a life sucking diet-y way.

Blog Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

Hi, I’m Lexy!

I’m a Registered Dietitian, yoga teacher, & body image coach.

I help women make peace with food and built trust with their bodies so they can live the lives they desire and deserve.

Hop on my email list for your weekly dose of food freedom, body liberation and self-care!

Lexy Penney Nutritionist Boston Intuitive Eating

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