Many of us have or have had an adversarial relationship with food and our bodies. And it’s not surprising considering we live in a society that creates an “us” versus “them” mentality.
Food is viewed as the enemy because it can be “tempting” and “bad” and “calorie-laden,” thereby potentially sabotaging our appearance goals.
Our body is viewed as the enemy because it stands in the way of weight loss. We diet, we exercise and still the scale refuses to budge.
However, these views aren’t only false; they’re damaging and punitive. They can lead to disordered eating, a negative body image and even a shaky sense of self.
Nutritionist Michelle Allison helps her clients (and the readers of her fantastic blog The Fat Nutritionist) get to what she calls “a friendly place” with food and their bodies.
Like I said yesterday, in part one of our interview, Allison truly has a nourishing, flexible and fun approach to food and body image. She teaches individuals to respect and honor our bodies and ourselves.
In part two, Allison shares her own negative experiences with dieting along with what it means to have a friendly relationship with food and your body and a few tips on how to get there.
Q: On your site, you say that you’ve had a “spectacularly bad dieting experience.” Can you talk a bit about that and what finally made you ditch dieting?
A: Sure. I lost about 30 pounds when I was 21. I got a lot of praise for it, but it required a very rigid and fairly disordered set of behaviors to achieve, and I would have had to maintain those behaviors for life if I wanted even a chance of maintaining that loss.
It was unsustainable for me to journal every single thing I ate, count calories and rigidly stick to my calorie goal for the day, as well as to exercise two or three hours a day, six days a week.
The reason I knew it was unsustainable was because, during the diet, I had some true binge eating experiences for the first time in my life (because I was hungry!), I was often injured from running so much, and I came down with a respiratory virus that developed into pneumonia, which I couldn’t seem to shake, and which distressed me because it interfered with my exercising.
On top of all that, my body image was getting worse instead of better as I lost weight. I caught myself revising my “goal weight” down further and further, finally into weights I hadn’t seen since I was 11 or 12 years old. I realized something was really, really wrong with this picture.
Around this time, as I was becoming really dissatisfied with what intentional weight loss had done for me, I read a book about health at every size, and it just clicked. I decided, “This is what I want to do instead.”
Q: You help clients get to a friendly place with food and their bodies. What does this friendly place look like?
A: The friendly place has a technical term, which is eating competence. Getting to this place means that you feel relaxed and not guilty or ashamed about food, that you can enjoy eating fully and openly, that you have the skills to try new foods and eat a variety of different things, that you know when you’re hungry and when you’re full and aren’t scared that you won’t get enough, or that you’ll eat too much, and that you pay attention to the experience of eating.
It also means that you put in some effort to get food on the table and into your stomach, and that you can give some thought to nutrition so that you can feel good without it taking over your life.
When you feel like you’re good at eating, no matter what your weight is, you sometimes start to view your body differently. You might even start to think that maybe it knows what it’s doing, and that your weight could possibly be right for you, even if society tells you otherwise – that your healthiest weight is the weight you happen to be when you feel healthy.
Q: Can you offer a few tips on how to get to this friendly place?
A: The basics that I teach my clients are to give themselves explicit permission to eat foods they enjoy in amounts that feel satisfying, whenever they sit down to eat. And to develop a routine of eating regular meals at regular times – for people who have trouble detecting signals of hunger and fullness, constantly grazing through the day can make it harder.
So actually having discrete eating periods, with some non-eating times in between, can help with that. However, the goal is to never get over-hungry.
In addition to meals, people will probably need some planned snacks, as well, to get comfortably through the morning or afternoon.
I also practice mindful eating with my clients, which can be really intimidating to someone just starting out, or trying to do this stuff on their own.
So I would recommend NOT trying to sit down at a table, all by yourself, and just have a full meal without distractions – you might end up there someday, but not at first.
I would start by simply inserting ONE single moment of awareness into your eating, by taking a pause at the start of your meal. This behavior is codified into some cultures by saying grace or praying before eating and giving thanks.
Even if you just take a few seconds, take a nice deep breath and look at your food before eating, you have started with mindfulness.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the last part!
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Last reviewed: 27 Jun 2012