Category Archives: Eating With Intention

What Color Is Your Body Image Today?

tanja-heffner-557523-unsplashSince I attended the Body Image Workshop with Marci Evans and Fiona Sutherland a few weeks ago I have been churning ideas, thoughts, and processes in my head non-stop. I’ve been wondering, ‘How do these thoughts all fit together and how can I apply them in my practice?’.

Both my dietetics and nurse practitioner training used the Stages of Change model. In dietetics school, I learned that it’s more about getting patients into a stage of action. In nursing/nurse practitioner school, we were taught to see patients in, and likely staying in, the precontemplation and contemplation stages. Can you see how being trained as both a dietitian and nurse practitioner would then be confusing in relating to patients?

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How does all of this relate to my practice now as well as body image? In addition to being trained as an action-minded clinician, I was also trained heavily in weight loss practices as a dietitian. This bothered me for a long time. Most of the clients I saw early on in my career had disordered eating and terrible body image even if they were meeting with me for weight loss. Sometimes our work together felt like it came to a standstill because I didn’t know how to help them get unstuck in hating their bodies.

With this inkling in my head plus learning more from other clinicians on helping clients improve body image without getting stuck on their weight, my practice has shifted – greatly. I don’t see clients for weight loss anymore. We do talk about, when and if appropriate, weight, the scale, weight history, past ‘diets’ and certainly the latest diet trends for many reasons. Clients and patients come to see me because the work we do is around learning to eat and enjoy food and accepting and learning how to improve body image. Some of these clients are also athletes – hard stuff a lot of the time.

The cool thing is body image does not always have to be the same every second of every day. We’re human, right? One day you might think, ‘I feel great about my body’ while the next you may think, ‘It’s hard to have a body today’.

Please don’t stop reading if I’ve totally confused you or you’re 1000% in love with yourself all the time ;).

As defined by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), body image encompasses these pieces:

Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
  • How you sense and control your body as you move. How you physically experience or feel in your body.

Many of us internalize messages starting at a young age that can lead to either positive or negative body image. Having a healthy body image is an important part of mental well-being and eating disorder prevention.

As a mom and a step-mom to four kids, I want them ALL to have the best body image and relationship with food possible – in addition to all of my clients and patients.

The idea of expanding on colors and body image came to me when I was in the Body Image Workshop and we were reviewing the beginning subject matter. The hosts, Marci and Fiona, described ways we could share our thoughts in terms of colors. They equated a safe space to green, a brave space to yellow, and an unsafe space to red. As we moved through the workshop I continued to wonder if using more colors in my office with patients and clients could help them determine how they felt about their bodies in the present as well as learning how these colors shift and change.

Colors are subjective in ways, in terms of the feelings we equate to them. For example, today I feel yellow about my body, because I’m headed to the beach for a few days with dear friends. Yellow is a kind and soothing color to me. Yesterday I felt red about my body because it was so hot and humid and I was in shorts for the first time all season. I also had way too much to get done and I could not move fast enough. When I was younger I often felt dark hues or black in relation to my body image because I thought I was fat – or worse – I would get fat from eating many foods – and according to the thoughts in my head this was very bad.

Many pieces go into how we see our bodies – how we view them every day. Rainbow colors change and shift. So does body image. Relating to ourselves as human, with shifts and changes, and acknowledging that the body you had when you were 20 or 30 served you to get to 40, can be helpful as one gets even older. Even the stages of change image above is in colors of the rainbow indicative of shifts back and forth.

What’s your body image color today? Is it different from yesterday? Has it shifted in the past few hours from purple to pink? Green to yellow? Or are you connected to the rainbow and your body image color shifts most days? Let me know if this resonates at all. I’d love to hear from you.

I Don’t Know What to Eat!

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This week I had a potential new client ask me ‘As a mid-40 year old woman, I just don’t know what to eat?!?’ My response to her was ‘You do. You know more than you are giving yourself credit for and this is the work we will do together.’ I went on to say to her that I don’t give diet plans (she asked!). They don’t work. I could hand her a meal plan with a set number of calories to follow for two or three weeks. She would end up maybe coming back to see me once, hating her body even more, and feeling even more hopeless in her relationship to food and her body.

Last year, I wrote a very personal piece for Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Aside from the challenges of distorted social media, friends, or family obsessing over their looks or food ALL THE TIME, a person must also overcome their own limiting core beliefs in terms of size, weight, and nutrition.

Our core beliefs are driven into us starting in utero. So when I work with someone in their mid-50s (or even 20s and younger) we try to reframe and undo years, and years of FEAR (False Experiences Appearing Real) around food or body and completely hijacked thoughts, feelings, and actions. This takes work.

I have dug deep to determine what normal eating is for me, both personally and as a clinician. I’ve always used Ellyn Satter’s definition, but after many years (24!) in the field, this is my own….

  • Normal eating is relearning your own way and changing your thoughts, feelings, and actions around food and your body.
  • Normal eating is leaving the body hate behind.
  • Normal eating is not letting the scale mandate your feelings for the day.
  • Normal eating knows bodies change and all bodies are beautiful.
  • Normal eating is baking and eating cookies at 10 PM with a friend, or pasta or a leftover cheeseburger and fries for breakfast.
  • Normal eating is trying a food trend but knowing there are no ‘perfect’ foods.
  • Normal eating is relating food to your body in a nourishing way as fuel, strength, wisdom, and some extra icing just for fun.
  • Normal eating is maybe trying vegetarianism for a few years but then perhaps deciding animal protein really works well for you, your body, and your movement goals.
  • Normal eating is not what or how much others eat, it’s what YOUR body needs in that moment, that meal, that day.
  • Normal eating is knowing our appetites change meal to meal, day to day, and honoring this process.
  • Normal eating is keeping these words out of thoughts and conversations about food and your body: good, bad, sorry, should, can’t, and healthy (or unhealthy, and certainly ‘clean’!).
  • Normal eating is respect, inclusion, peace, knowledge, and confidence around food and your body (not the size you were at age….??!)

My answer to the comment, ‘I don’t know what to eat!’ besides, ‘Yes, you do!’ is my own definition above. My esteemed colleague, Karen Chinca, included the definition above in her most recent blog post titled, A Journey Into Mindful Eating. You can read it here.

For more events on Eating Disorders Awareness week look to these websites:

Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association

National Eating Disorders Association

Binge Eating Disorder Association

The International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals