<![CDATA[Danielle Lithwick, MA, RP | Psychotherapy & Counselling for Eating Disorders and Body Image Concerns | Ottawa, ON - Blog]]>Mon, 03 Aug 2020 04:23:19 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[Decoding “I Feel Fat”: What It Means And How To Deal With It]]>Sun, 01 Sep 2019 08:30:00 GMThttp://daniellelithwick.ca/blog/decoding-i-feel-fat-what-it-means-and-how-to-deal-with-it
Learn what the real meaning of this body-shaming thought is and how you can work through it to feel better in your skin.
**Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes. See full disclaimer here.​​
“I feel fat.”

​The three little words that probably almost every woman has either heard from another woman, or uttered herself at some point in her life. And for many girls and women who struggle more intensely with food and body image concerns, they may utter this phrase several times a day, whether out loud or quietly inside, to themselves. [Sidenote: I want to acknowledge that people of all genders can struggle with negative body image issues and could benefit from this article, however in general, the female identity tends to be influenced the most by the thin ideal and body objectification, which is why I’m using the female perspective for this article]. 

But what does this mean?
What does a woman really mean when she says “I feel fat”? 

The answer is complicated, but the good news is there are practical steps you can take to deal with it, both of which I’ll cover in this blog.
Let’s start with the more complicated “why”: 
Why does a woman say or think “I feel fat”? 

Before answering this, we have to understand first why “feeling fat” is considered such a bad thing. The answer: we live in a fatphobic society. People are shamed for being in a larger body and made to believe that something is wrong with them for not being able to shrink down to a thin (unrealistic) standard that we’ve all come to believe is “healthy” and morally superior, all of which is completely untrue. There is lots of research to support the fact that  diets don’t work  in the long run, and that BMI is not a good indicator of health. Yet, there is still a “war on obesity”, which essentially translates as  “larger bodies should be eradicated”. That being in a larger body is “bad” and that they need to be “fixed”.

No wonder people are afraid of being fat!

It is a natural human need to want to belong in society, to “fit in” to cultural norms, and to be respected and valued. So as long as the thin body is valued more than the fat body, fatphobia will continue. 

With that being said, it’s important to validate that when a person in a larger body says “I feel fat” not to minimize their experience of living in a larger body and the real, highly likely, encounters of discrimination and body shaming they’ve endured. Whereas when a person in a thinner body says “I feel fat”, their experience and feelings are still valid, but it may be related more to a fear of being fat, versus a lived experience of weight stigma.

But bottom line: fatphobia and weight stigma affects people of ALL body sizes and the phrase “I feel fat” perpetuates fat phobia and weight stigma, because it implies that being fat is “bad”.  
OK, so one reason a woman may say “I feel fat” is because she is socialized to believe that fat is “bad” due to living in a fatphobic culture. The second reason a woman may say “I feel fat” is because she is also socialized to suppress any sort of negative feelings and instead take it out on her body or food because she’s been taught that her appearance is much more valued than her feelings (or personality and intellect, for that matter). She is taught that feelings such as anger, sadness, worry, guilt or shame, are “ugly” or need to be controlled in order to fit in and get along with others. She is taught that her needs don’t matter as much as the needs of others (i.e. men) and that the main way to get what she wants or be heard is through her body, not her voice. So her body and food become a really nice distraction from actually feeling her feelings or asserting her needs. Any feelings of discomfort, whether mental or physical, is translated as “bad” and the only way to “fix it” is to fixate and try to control her body and food, because diet culture has made her believe that being thin will fix all of her problems (see my resource list at the end of this article for inspiring books that go into way more detail on these ideas). 
So “I feel fat” often really means “I’m feeling uncomfortable/angry/lonely/different/sad/unloved/disrespected/overwhelmed/stressed…[insert any distressing feeling here], and I don’t know how to express it or what to do with this feeling, so I’m just going to take it out on my body because that’s what people care about the most”.

Are women conscious of this? Usually not. The thought “I feel fat” can be so common place and so frequently uttered, that it’s not even questioned by her or others. People around her may reassure her “don’t worry you’re not fat”, or “it’s OK, just start that diet tomorrow and you’ll feel great.” But these responses only perpetuate fatphobia and weight stigma, and don’t actually get to the root of how to deal with the real feelings underlying the phrase “I feel fat.”

Now, I’m not blaming women for saying this phrase or falling for the myths that diet culture perpetuates. No one is immune and this is a social problem, not one person’s or one individual’s problem. However, as an individual, you can start changing how you respond to “I feel fat” in a much more effective and way less harmful way.

Here are the practical steps you can take to deal with “I feel fat”: 
  1. Understand that this phrase is entrenched in fatphobia and is a harmful message, not only to say to yourself, but also for people of all body sizes around you to hear. [Sidenote: There is no need to beat yourself up for saying this phrase, that only adds to your distress and the self-imposed harm. Try to stay kind and gentle with yourself as you become more aware of the harms of this phrase]. 
  2. Understand that there are most likely underlying feelings and needs not being addressed and expressed and that is what is bringing up a sense of discomfort in your body, not your actual appearance in that moment. Do you ever notice how you may “feel fat” one moment and not the other, but your body has not actually changed in shape or size? This is an example of how you may be translating your feelings onto your body. 
  3. With step 1) and 2) in mind, start asking yourself “What’s going on in this moment for me?” or “What am I feeling right now?” when you think or say “I feel fat”. What changed between 2 hours ago to now? Or between yesterday and today? What triggered the thought “I feel fat”? Stay curious and non-judgmental to your responses. This is a chance to get to know yourself better, to listen to your body and mind. Instead of avoiding what you’re feeling, gently invite yourself to get curious and discover something new. 
  4. Take some time to identify what it is you’re feeling. Hint: Feelings are usually only one-word. For example: angry, anxious, sad, mad, frustrated, overwhelmed, deflated, depressed ...etc. If you need help identifying what you’re feeling, you can use a chart like this. Try to get as specific as you can.
  5. It’s important to identify what you’re feeling, because only then can you actually do something about it. You can’t control your feelings, but you can control how you respond to them. So once you identify what you’re feeling, you can then ask “What do I need in order to take care of this feeling?” It may be you just need to sit with the feeling. Maybe you need to talk to someone about it. Maybe you need to apologize to someone about something you feel bad about. Maybe you need to assert yourself to someone who did something unjust to you. Maybe you need a distraction and watch Netflix for a bit. Maybe you need a hug. Or maybe you just need a nap. (Please see this post on how to cope with emotions more effectively). But the main takeaway in this step is that you’re first acknowledging you have needs and that you are allowed to take care of them. You’re feelings and needs are important.  
  6. Along with taking the time to identify your feelings and address your needs, also start to practice respecting your here-and-now body, even if you don’t like how it looks (see this post on how to start doing this). 
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 one thousand times or as much as you need. The more you can gently notice this harsh inner critic for what it is, and ask yourself “what am I feeling?” and “what do I need?” you are actually practicing self-care and self-compassion - the real anti-dote to body-shame and the diet mentality. 

The truth is that “feeling fat” may not go away that easily and it can take time to shift internalized fatphobia, start feeling your feelings and asserting your needs. This is hard freakin’ work. But it’s also a lot of work to continue to feel crappy about yourself and use your body as a battlefield.

So I hope that this post at least opened you up to the idea that you can’t “fix” your sense of “feeling fat” by imposing more food rules and body-shaming. Instead you can use the opportunity of “I feel fat” to remind yourself that nothing is wrong with your body (or other people’s for that matter), and to gently check in with yourself and explore what else might be going on that needs tending to. 

There are tons of books on how women have internalized fatphobia and translated their feelings onto their body, here are just two of my favourite ones (you can find a whole list of related resources here): 
  • Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling by A. Johnston here
  • The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers Behind Women's Obsession with Food and Weight by M. M. Lelwica here

Are you struggling with eating and body image concerns?
​Learn more about my psychotherapy & counselling services, and how I can help you here.
If someone else you know could benefit from this article, please share it!​
<![CDATA[What Is Health At Every Size® And How Can It Help You With Body Acceptance?]]>Sun, 04 Aug 2019 17:15:01 GMThttp://daniellelithwick.ca/blog/what-is-health-at-every-sizer-and-how-can-it-help-you-with-body-acceptance
Learn more about the weight-inclusive approach to health and how it can help you take care of and accept your body at any size. ​
**Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes. See full disclaimer here.​​
Health At Every Size® (a.k.a. HAES®) is a trademarked set of principles developed by the non-profit Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH), whom “envision a world that celebrates bodies of all shapes and sizes, in which body weight is no longer a source of discrimination and where oppressed communities have equal access to the resources and practices that support health and well being” (source). ASDAH has been around since 2003, however the development of these principles stem from the work of fat activists from as far back as the 1970s. The principles were revised in 2013 and are the following (taken directly from the ASDAH website here): 
  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control (a.k.a Intuitive Eating).
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

These principles are supported by research that shows: 
  • BMI (Body Mass Index) and weight are mostly poor indicators of health and that you can be in a larger body and healthy (and you can be in a thinner body and unhealthy). 
  • That dieting doesn’t work for the majority of people in the long run and may actually increase risks of health complications and eating disorders.
  • That weight discrimination in health care and in society may actually increase stress and and decrease physical health and well-being. See all the detailed research and the facts here and here.

There are many critics out there that claim that Health At Every Size® is too extreme and promotes “obesity” (fyi, the word “obesity” is a stigmatizing term because it automatically categorizes people in larger bodies as “unhealthy” or as having a “disease”.  So I don’t actually use the word “obesity” unless I’m quoting research or another source). But Health At Every Size® is not promoting “obesity” nor is it saying that everyone in a larger body is healthy. What it is saying is that every body, whether larger or smaller, has a right to equal healthcare information, access and treatment and should not be discriminated against due to their weight. It acknowledges that the world is made up of diverse bodies of all shapes and sizes, and that this should be embraced and celebrated, instead of shamed and potentially harmed by unfounded notions that "thin = health". It acknowledges that health is not only determined by proper nutrition and joyful movement, but also by spiritual/mental/emotional well-being, and by the socio-economic and political factors that affect access to health care and living a health-promoting lifestyle.

Basically the Health At Every Size® principles are a social justice framework, rooted in science and compassion,  that supports people of all bodies to be able to pursue health in a way that minimizes harm and enhances well-being. How can you really argue with this? How can we be OK with treating people in larger bodies differently that those in thinner bodies? How is it OK in our society to fat-shame people and judge someone’s worth or morality on their size? How is it OK to be “treating obesity” with diets that don’t actually work and may cause even more harm?

It is not OK.

Health At Every Size® is a weight-inclusive approach to health and well-being, and an alternative to the stigmatizing and discriminatory weight-centric beliefs and health practices that are unfortunately regularly practiced in our fat-phobic society.

So how is 
Health At Every Size® related to body acceptance?
In light of full transparency, I have not always embraced Health At Every Size®. In fact in the midst of my eating disorder struggles, I  fully believed that "thin = health" and that "thin = happiness". I was a part of fat-phobia in society and totally internalized fat-phobic beliefs. I mean, most eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours are rooted in a fear of being fat (though of course there are so many other factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of eating disorder behaviours). And would this fear of being fat even exist if we actually celebrated size diversity and treated larger people the same way we treat thinner people? 

Another part of the reason why it was hard for me to grasp Health At Every Size®, despite experiencing an eating disorder, is that I live in a straight-sized body, and always have. This means that I have not experienced discrimination or stigma associated with my body size. In other words I have thin-privilege (along with white, able-bodied, and cisgender privileges to name a few). Sure, I was considered “big-boned” or “curvy” as a teen and I used to believe this was a bad thing, but that was just distorted, internalized fat-phobic messages I got about "thinner/smaller = better". But I do not have lived experience of navigating the world in a larger body. So when I talk about body acceptance to a client in a larger body, who may have been shamed by their doctor or family, and told over and over again that they need to lose weight to be healthy and happy, I cannot say that I fully understand what that is like (well, I cannot say I fully understand anyone’s experience because we all have different experiences...but you know what I’m saying I hope). And I’m not ever going to pretend that I know what that is like. Nor that it’s easy to just love and accept your body in a fat-phobic world.

It’s not at all.

And I believe now, that the Health At Every Size® principles and practices can help anyone wanting to start their body acceptance journey, no matter their size. 

When I have a client in a larger body in my office tearing up when recalling their multiple struggles with weight-loss and weight-regain, and for being told that they are the "failure" and they should be ashamed for not being able to “control themselves” or to “motivate” themselves to change their behaviours “for their health” over and over again, I know that our weight-centric beliefs and systems are not working and only causing more harm. Moreover when I see clients of all body sizes entrenched in disordered eating and exercise habits, and plagued by negative body image everyday, I know for sure that our diet and thin-obsessed society is just really wrong.

So now being a Health At Every Size® advocate just makes sense to me. Focusing on how people can have a healthier relationship with food, their bodies, and themselves, such as s
elf-care, self-compassion, honouring your hunger, eating foods that are satisfying, moving your body for enjoyment and health, are all behaviours that you can practice and change. Weight-loss is not a behaviour, and therefore not really in our control to change. It is sometimes a result of certain behaviours or circumstances, but as stated above, focusing on weight-loss will often result in unhealthy behaviours and conditions, such increased stress, disordered eating and internalized shame and stigma.

So for anyone that is struggling with the desire to lose weight in order to be "healthy and happy", I want to hold space for you and let you know that it’s totally understandable to have this desire in our fat-phobic, weight-centric society. AND know that there is another way to pursue health and well-being if you want** - and that is Health At Every Size®. I invite you to learn more about this paradigm and see how it can help you along your body acceptance journey. 

**I will add that health is not a moral imperative, and just as one's body size should not determine their worth as a human, neither should their health status, or choice and/or ability to engage in health-promoting behaviours. 
Here are more resources to further your understanding of HAES®: Articles:  Books:  Research Papers:  Tons more resources including books, blogs and podcasts here.

Are you struggling with eating and body image concerns?
​Learn more about my psychotherapy & counselling services, and how I can help you here.
If someone else you know could benefit from this article, please share it!​
<![CDATA[You Don’t Have To Have An Eating Disorder To Struggle With Food and Body Image - And You Deserve Help Too]]>Mon, 01 Jul 2019 08:30:00 GMThttp://daniellelithwick.ca/blog/you-dont-have-to-have-an-eating-disorder-to-struggle-with-food-and-body-image-and-you-deserve-help-too
The struggle with food and body image is real. But it doesn’t mean you have to accept it as normal or OK.
**Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes. See full disclaimer here.​​
When there’s a conversation about food, dieting or body image, often I’ll hear something like, “Well I don’t have an eating disorder - I’m not totally starving myself or that extreme! I just watch what I eat and exercise to be healthy, like everyone else.” Though that statement may be true in some cases, more often than not, if probed a little further, there’s usually some underlying inner struggle with food and body image, that is simply justified as “normal”. I don’t blame anyone for thinking these things, though. Because unfortunately we live in a society that has normalized disordered eating behaviours and body bashing. So being able to even detect if your eating behaviours are a problem is getting harder and harder to do.

What we typically think of as an “eating disorder”, that is, Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN) and Binge Eating Disorder (BED), have relatively low lifetime prevalence rates of 0.9%, 1.5% and 3.5% in women respectively, and even lower rates in men . Though they are very serious illnesses with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and proper treatment and care should be a priority for those affected - for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to focus on those who are struggling with food and body image that don’t fit into any eating disorder diagnosis.

Take these staggering statistics: In 2008, ScienceDaily reported on a detailed online survey done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, that was completed by 4,023 American women, ages 25-45, and the main finding was that seventy-five percent of respondents reported disordered eating behaviours or symptoms consistent with eating disorders, such as induced vomiting or taking laxatives or diet pills (31%), regularly skipping meals (37%), cutting out entire food groups (26%), eating 1,000 calories or less a day (16%), and smoking (13%), all for the purpose of trying to lose weight. Moreover, thirty-nine percent of women said that what they eat or weigh interfere with their happiness and twenty-seven percent would be “extremely upset” if they gained just five pounds.
And disordered eating behaviours don’t just belong to women. According to a 2014 cross-sectional study, binge eating, purging, and extreme dieting practices are increasingly being reported by men as well. Probably the most disturbing statistics I found on body image was from The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, released in 2016, involving interviews with 10,500 females across thirteen countries: Eighty-five percent of women surveyed reported avoiding important life activities when they don’t feel good about how they look, and eighty-seven percent of women will restrict food or put their health at risk to boost their body-esteem. Interestingly, sixty percent of women reported that they felt they needed to meet certain beauty standards portrayed by the media, while seventy-seven percent agreed it was important to be their own person and not necessarily conform.

What do all these statistics mean? The struggle is real. You don’t have to have a diagnosed eating disorder to be struggling with eating and body image. In fact, the majority of women and increasingly men, ARE struggling. You really don’t have to search too deep to recognize this. Behaviours such as body-talk (i.e. criticizing your body or someone else’s body) or diet-talk (i.e. talking about calories or macros, dieting, or supplement trends) are now common topics of discussion either with family, friends, or colleagues. Making food choices are often based in dichotomous thinking, i.e. either “good” or “bad”, or “healthy” or “unhealthy”, or “fattening” or “not fattening”. And the number on the scale or the size of one’s pants can highly influence how one feels about their worth as a person, and/or how one is treated by others. There is so much fat-phobia in our society, no wonder it feels “normal” to be afraid of being fat or getting fat. And to be able to justify disordered eating habits as “normal” or even “healthy”.

Am I saying that everyone who has ever dieted has disordered eating and is struggling? No. But I would argue that dieting is a form of disordered eating, and the more you engage in it, the more likely your habits and feelings will become more disordered and harmful, and the more likely you will continue to struggle. And the more you believe that your worth and value as a person is determined by your body size or shape, the more you will struggle.  

How can you determine if your relationship with food and your body is disordered or possibly harmful to your health? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is the amount of food you eat and what you eat based on an intention to lose weight or a fear of gaining weight?
Do you believe that being fat or in larger body is unhealthy or bad and that anyone (including yourself) should be able to be in a thinner body if they just try hard enough?

Do you hold back on pursuing things that are important to you (i.e. relationships, jobs, hobbies, travelling, going to the beach, physical activity) because you either feel uncomfortable or shameful in your body?

Do you believe that if you lose weight you’ll be happier and healthier?

Do you try really hard to maintain your current weight, in fear of gaining weight and/or being unhealthy?

Do you jump from one diet trend to the next, hoping you will find the “right” one that will finally get you “results” and make you feel great?

Do you feel guilty or ashamed when you eat certain foods or eat too much of certain foods?

Do you believe that the main purpose of exercise is to burn calories, lose weight, or look a certain way?

Do you frequently criticize your appearance and/or think a lot about wanting one or several body parts to be different?

Do you often wish you could have your “old” body back and feel frustrated that your current eating and exercising habits are not giving you the results you believe you could have?
If you answered yes to any of these, it is possible that you are suffering from unhealthy or disordered eating practices, and negative body image. This is not a diagnostic tool or assessment. These are just some common behaviours that I’ve observed (and been through myself during my own recovery) of those that struggle with food and body image. And these are often behaviours I hear about from those that claim that they don’t have something as “extreme” as an eating disorder, but that these are just “normal” ways to be with food and your body in today's world.

I would agree, but just because something is common and accepted in society, doesn’t mean that it’s “normal” or that is has to be. And I’m not trying to say that something is wrong or pathological with you if you are engaging in any of these thoughts or behaviours about food and your body. Trying to live happily and survive in a thin and health-obsessed society has led to a normalization of diet and body obsession. And because most diets fail in the long run, but the thin ideal still prevails, the struggle with food and body image persists. So this is not your fault. Nothing is wrong with you. These struggles are simply a product of a disordered eating society and systems.

The message I want you to take from this post, is that if you can relate to struggling with food and your body image, even if it doesn’t seem that “extreme”, is that nothing is wrong with you. But you don’t have to struggle. You don’t have to accept that these behaviours are “normal”. And know that it’s possible to change your relationship with food and your body for the better. Even though the obsession with thinness and dieting doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, it IS possible for you to find peace with food and your body. It’s not necessarily an easy journey, but there is help and you deserve to get help.

Bottom line: If your relationship with food and/or your body is getting in the way of you living a meaningful and happy life, know that you don’t have to settle for that. You deserve better.

Where do you start? It always depends and I cannot give specific treatment advice in a blog post, since treatment is always individualized from person to person. I can suggest though, starting to educate yourself on the Intuitive Eating and the Health At Every Size® principles.
I also have a huge list of eating disorder/diet recovery, and body positive resources, including books, podcasts, blogs and social media accounts to follow here. You can also seek help and guidance from practitioners who specialize in eating and body image concerns, such as dietitians, psychologists or psychotherapists.

The world of food, dieting, and body image is very confusing and overwhelming. There is no shame in getting help and support to help you through. I do what I do because I believe that no one should have to put their lives on hold or suffer due to food and body image concerns.

Are you struggling with eating and body image concerns?
​Learn more about my psychotherapy & counselling services, and how I can help you here.

If someone else you know could benefit from this article, please share it!​
<![CDATA[How To Detox From Diet Culture This Summer]]>Sun, 07 Apr 2019 18:02:33 GMThttp://daniellelithwick.ca/blog/how-to-detox-from-diet-culture-this-summer
Learn how you can feel better in your body without having to go on a detox or cleanse.
**Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes. See full disclaimer here.
Summer, often a time of year that is supposed to be joyful and rejuvenating, has unfortunately, along with other joyful season’s like Christmas and New Year’s, been co-opted by diet culture. In fact, for many dieters who may have “failed” (though fyi, you don’t "fail" diets, they fail you) their New Year’s resolutions, Summer often becomes that second chance to try again, and seek out another diet or lifestyle change that will "work". 

Weight-loss and fitness companies know that the beginning of Summer is another time of year where people are feeling vulnerable and are looking for quick-fix changes to their body. I mean how many times do we need to hear, “get your bikini body ready for summer!”? Ugh, never. We don’t ever need to hear that. But we do, or something like that, all the time.

And I get it. I get that after a long winter of probably moving less and vegging out on the couch more, that you might be feeling meh. That you’re wanting to do something different to shake off the winter fog. And that the allure of a 14-day or a 30-day "detox" or “cleanse” sounds like the best way to do this. But the truth is, a detox or a cleanse, even the “natural” ones, that involves restricting or manipulating your food intake with the goal of weight-loss is just another diet. And there is mounting evidence to show that diets don’t actually work in the long run, and may actually be harmful to your mental and physical health. If you want to read more about why our body doesn’t actually need to “detox” read this and why detoxes are just another form of dieting, read this.

Yes, if you restrict your food intake and start exercising intensely for 30 days you might lose weight. But what about after the 30 days? And what about the mental and physical consequences of rigid and extreme changes to your diet and/or exercise plan? How many times have you or someone who know that has tried a “detox” diet been counting down the days when they can eat a cookie again, or have a bowl of pasta? Most people don’t feel good doing a “detox” and can’t wait to come off of them. Because they know they are not sustainable. But yet, it is so easy to believe to that “this time it will work”, and you’ll never want to eat “bad” foods again.

I’m not judging you if you feel this way. I’ve been that person. I thought I had to swear off sugar forever so that I’ll never crave it again. I thought that if I just take these “natural” pills or drink green juices for three days, my digestion issues will be resolved. I thought that if I can just completely restrict all the “bad” foods for at least 30 days, then eating would become so much easier and my relationship with food would improve. Now I see how disordered that thinking is, but it wasn’t obvious to me at the time. I truly thought that by starting a new diet or “cleanse” that I was doing something healthy for me and my body. That I would feel better, not worse. That it would somehow solve all my problems.

But believing that the next Summer detox or “beach body” fitness plan will solve all your problems is just another sneaky guise of diet culture and won’t actually help you truly make peace with food and you body.

So instead of repeating that same old pattern of being “on” and “off” a detox or diet wagon, I invite you to think about alternative ways to find joy and feel better in your body this Summer, that have nothing to do with going on a diet or cleanse. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Move more in ways that are nourishing, not punishing. 
Having worked as a personal trainer and yoga teacher, I understand that moving your body feels good. But when exercise just becomes about burning calories or losing fat, it really takes the joy out of it and is usually not sustainable. Moving more can be great for your health, but it’s going to be even better for your health when it’s done in a way that is joyful and energizing. This means that you listen to your body and adjust your exercise as needed, eat enough to fuel your activities and take regular days off too. So if you’re used to picking exercise routines based on how many calories it will burn, try to focus on picking physical activities that you enjoy, that make you feel better in your skin, and that give you more energy and stamina for your day. Getting outdoors can be a great way to take advantage of the Summer weather and get some more joyful movement into your life.

Instead of restricting foods, think of adding more foods that satisfy you and nourish you. 
The non-diet, Intuitive Eating approach to eating would say, don’t restrict any foods. Because physical and/or mental restriction of any foods will only backfire and keep you trapped in the diet cycle of restriction and binge/overeating. So instead of suffering through another diet or detox that we know will not be sustainable, start asking yourself, what foods do you actually like? What kind of foods do you enjoy in the Summer time, as the weather gets warmer? What would give you more energy and satisfy your taste buds? There’s no right or wrong answer to this. What satisfies you may not satisfy someone else. If you’ve been restricting foods on/off now for a long time, it might seem totally foreign to ask yourself what do you actually like to eat? But this is an important question to start asking and investigating if you truly want listen to your body and never feel like you have to detox again. The more you can eat foods that are satisfying, and eat enough, the more likely you will sustain healthy and nourishing habits over the long haul.
Practice respecting your body even if you don’t like it right now. 
It can be hard to practice joyful movement and eating more satisfying foods if you still feel like you have to change your body. So instead of believing that you have to shrink your body to feel better, try practicing body respect (see a detailed article on it here). In general, this means making sure your body is comfortable, taking care of it’s basic needs, and treating it with kindness. Punishing yourself with intense exercise or food restriction is NOT respecting your body. Because your body doesn’t like to be starved or chronically stressed. There are lots of ways to practice body respect and what’s important is to start in a place that feels most comfortable for you. Considering it’s “beach body” season, a good place to start could be to stop following any social media accounts or blogs that promote dieting, detoxes, weight-loss or trying to achieve a “perfect” body that is completely unrealistic and unattainable for the majority of the population. Another place to start would be to buy clothes that fit your “here-and-now” body. Don’t buy summer shorts that are too tight now, thinking that you’ll be able to fit into them in a couple months. That’s just asking for disappointment and disordered eating/exercise behaviours that are just totally unnecessary and keep you further away from actually feeling good in your body.
Focus on other goals and activities that bring you meaning and joy that have nothing to do with changing your diet or body. 
Eating and exercise are just a small component of health. Being “healthy” also includes our psychological, social, spiritual, and relational health. Like I said before, changing our food or exercise habits for the sole purpose of health or weight-loss will not solve all of your problems. Nor give more meaning to your life or bring you true happiness. So another way to look at feeling better in your body, is to ask yourself, what are some goals, activities or pursuits that would actually bring you happiness and more fulfillment in your life? It could be finally taking that drawing class you’ve been wanting to do. Or spending more time with your friends and family. Or applying for that job you’ve been working towards. In other words, the confidence and fulfillment you’ll get from pursuing other avenues of health and joy (that are not just food or exercise) can filter into your confidence within your body and yourself, and help you see that you don’t need another detox to make you happy.

In sum, a fresh start to Summer does not have to involve restricting your food or punishing workouts. In fact, doing that will most likely only keep you stuck in the diet mentality and feeling worse about yourself. Instead, give yourself the gift of detoxing from diet culture this Summer and never have to go on another cleanse again.

Are you struggling with eating and body image concerns?
​Learn more about my psychotherapy & counselling services, and how I can help you here.
If someone else you know could benefit from this article, please share it!​
<![CDATA[Intuitive Eating Myth-Busting Part 2]]>Sun, 07 Apr 2019 04:00:00 GMThttp://daniellelithwick.ca/blog/intuitive-eating-myth-busting-part-2
Emotional eating is bad, and debunking more common myths about Intuitive Eating.
**Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes. See full disclaimer here.
If you missed Part 1 of this Intuitive Eating Myth-Busting series, please check it out here.

In this post I’m going to bust a few more common myths about Intuitive Eating, including: 1) Emotional eating is bad; 2) You can’t plan your meals in advance; and 3) There is a right way to practice Intuitive Eating. Let’s look at each one.

Myth #1: Emotional eating is bad.
In general, the messages about emotional eating in our culture is that it’s “bad”. But because a part of Intuitive Eating is about tuning into your hunger signals, it can be easy to misinterpret this principle to mean that you should only eat when hungry and not for any other reason. Moreover, there is a principle called “Cope with your emotions without using food”. So on the surface it can seem like Intuitive Eaters believe that emotional eating is “bad”. But digging deeper into the model of Intuitive Eating, it’s important to remember that there is no “good” or “bad” behaviours in Intuitive Eating. Some behaviours may not feel as good for your body or mind, but it doesn’t mean they are bad. 

When it comes to emotional eating, Intuitive Eating acknowledges that eating can be an emotional experience- and that is normal. Eating because it gives us some comfort or getting some joy out of dining out at your favourite restaurant is all perfectly normal, human behaviours. What Intuitive Eating brings more attention to is whether or not the way you’re eating is actually taking care of yourself and nourishing your needs, or is it maybe adding more stress to your life? The reasons for emotional eating can vary from being harmless to completely self-destructive. But often, regardless of the intensity of it, there is often a reason it’s happening - usually because people have not learned alternative ways to deal with their emotions that’s not food related.

So Intuitive Eating does not criticize or judge someone for emotional eating. It will just ask you to start questioning whether or not your behaviours are serving you and helping you move forward in your life, or are they holding you back and need to be taken care of in a different way. By acknowledging that emotional eating is a pretty common behaviour, Intuitive Eating can help take out the self-blame and shame around it, AND it can also give people skills to deal with their emotions in more effective ways, especially if emotional eating seems to be causing more problems and stress in your life. Read more details about emotional eating here.

Myth #2: You can’t plan your meals in advance.
Intuitive Eating is largely about being able to tune into what your body and mind wants to eat. And in a ideal world, maybe this would mean that we can just go to the grocery store everyday and pick out exactly what we want that day, just based on what we feel like eating. But in reality, most people don’t have that luxury, nor is it necessary to still be an Intuitive Eater. It’s practical to make a big batch of soup on Sunday for the week or make enough dinners for two meals or more. You may still eat leftovers some days because they need to be eaten, and not because it’s exactly what you felt like eating in that moment. You may have a family to feed and lunches to make and only so much time in the day to plan and make your meals. That is totally fine, of course!

Intuitive Eating is not against meal planning and prepping. Even if meal planning and prepping may take a little bit away from eating totally intuitively in that moment- you can still practice intuitive eating within your planning. For example- when you’re planning your weekly menu, choose foods and recipes that you actually like and enjoy and that satisfy you. And along with the foods you need for the week, also stock your home with other foods and snacks you like, so that if or when you do feel like something different or just want these foods, they will be there if you want. So you can still enjoy your food and be practical at the same time.

Myth #3: There is a right way to practice Intuitive Eating.
If there’s at least one thing I hope you’ve taken away from this two-part series of myth-busting, is that there really is not one “right” way to do Intuitive Eating- because it’s not a diet or a meal plan with rules to follow. In the Intuitive Eating books - the authors make it very clear that even though there are 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, they do not have to be practiced in any specific order and how an individual practices them will vary based on their needs and concerns at the time.

There is no pass or fail in Intuitive Eating. Anything that is deemed a “failure” is actually viewed as a learning experience and a chance to be curious and discover something new about yourself. If there is an “end game” in Intuitive Eating it would be to able to make peace with food and your body. But what they means and how to actually get there is going to look different for different people. And even if you “get there”, the journey of self-discovery doesn’t stop. Because humans like categories and we like check-lists, it’s easy to just check-off each Principle of Intuitive Eating when you think you’ve “mastered” it and believe you’re done. But Intuitive Eating is not a check-list or a project to finish and be done with. It’s a way of being with yourself, your health and I’d go as far as to say- life. This path is not about right and wrong, it’s about walking a path of curiosity, learning, compassion and inner discovery.

I hope this two-part series has helped clear up some common misunderstandings with Intuitive Eating and has encouraged to approach it in a more nuanced way.

Are you struggling with eating and body image concerns?
​Learn more about my psychotherapy & counselling services, and how I can help you here.

If someone else you know could benefit from this article, please share it!