What Does “I Feel Fat” Really Mean?

I know, this is a very provocative question, right? 

I cannot tell you how often I hear my clients say, “I feel so fat!” (and fat isn’t a bad thing) or “I just hate my _______ (fill in the body part)”. I get it. There was a time when I would often say things like this too. It’s much less often now, but when I realized that all of that hating was just a distraction from looking at the underlying emotions that were really causing the lack of body acceptance, things began to change for me.

To help my clients with this, I’ll weave intriguing questions like this one into our discussions to uncover what could be going on beneath the surface. When we dig a little deeper we’ll discover, for example, that they’re feeling discomfort about establishing boundaries with a family member or friend; they’re lacking confidence in a particular area; or they’re feeling unworthy or “not enough” in some capacity of their lives. Or, if they’re still entrenched in diet mentality, they could also be feeling guilty about a food(s) they recently ate and it’s masquerading as body dissatisfaction. (HINT: This is why it’s so important not to ignore body image issues.) Asking these questions helps my clients experience a shift in perspective or belief. When this happens, the proverbial light bulb goes off in their minds which creates space for new thoughts and behaviors to begin developing. This is where the seeds for real growth are witnessed. 

Fostering this awareness can be a game changer in relation to improving relationships with food and body acceptance. If we continue to believe that having X type of body and/or seeing X number on the scale will make us happier and/or feel fulfilled, we will continue to be dissatisfied and frustrated with our current weight, body and life. On the contrary, when we are willing to translate what these harmful messages are really trying to tell us, the possibilities for healing grow exponentially.

I’ve attached a free resource for you to use the next time you find yourself saying “I feel ______ (insert negative word here).” This image was created by Me and My ED . I encourage you to check out their website for other great resources. Click here to download your help sheet.  

How is this concept landing for you? Do you believe that your constant or occasional body dissatisfaction could be an indication that there is something deeper to explore? 

The Importance of Faith in a Diet-Free Journey

One of the most important things that has helped me in my Intuitive Eating and body acceptance journey has been faith. Not necessarily faith in terms of God/Source/Universe or a Higher Power, although it doesn’t hurt to have that too if that’s your thing, but to believe and have faith that things could be different.

I’ve always been honest and said that when I first read the Intuitive Eating book, I was skeptical that I could experience the kind of freedom and peace that they described. After all, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (the authors who I later trained with) didn’t know the depths of my disordered eating.

They didn’t know that I had suffered for years with an undiagnosed eating disorder.

They didn’t know how ashamed I felt about my binge and emotional eating.

They didn’t know how embarrassed I felt about expanding and shrinking my body.

In my mind, I was the most disordered eater on the planet! Most days I believed that I was beyond help and that my life with food and body would never change. However, after reading a good portion of the book and nearly convincing myself that it was all BS, I could hear a little voice inside of me said Yeah, but what if it could work for me?”

That little voice was telling me to have faith! Faith that…

  • My life with food and my body could be different.
  • My obsessive thoughts around food could one day subside.
  • That I could find comfort in my body regardless of what I weighed.
  • That I might be able to experience a magical transformational like others I had read about.
  • That I could eat one or two cookies (if that’s all I desired) without feeling compelled to eat the whole darn dozen!
  • That I could feel less guilt and remorse around my food choices.
  • That my relationship with movement could be more balanced and less focused on just burning calories and/or punishment for what I had eaten.
  • That all of this might be possible if I tried Intuitive Eating.

So, I tried it.

At first, I was excited to be free from dieting. However, shortly after the excitement came the fear and feelings of overwhelm. It sounded kind of easy when I read about it, but putting it into practice was a different story! That’s when I hired my first coach. I believed freedom could be mine, but I knew I needed help, so I got it.

It’s true that, at first, I was a little overwhelmed by all ‘mechanics’ of Intuitive Eating. She helped me with that, but what I really needed support navigating around was all the emotional stuff that surfaced when I stopped using food as my only coping mechanism. And, she also helped me to see one of my biggest blind spots which was my lack of consistent self-care. No, I’m not just talking about the occasional manicure and pedicure! I’m talking about big girl panty stuff like:

  • Learning to establish boundaries with friends, family and co-workers.
  • Starting to embrace that body acceptance wasn’t giving up but was a step toward true contentment.
  • Understanding that to heal, I had to approach my disordered eating with curiosity instead of judgment.
  • Understanding that self-love included all of me…even the emotions and behaviors that we’re so pleasant.
  • Acknowledging that my chronic ‘comparisonitis’ was linked to my profound feelings of unworthiness. Gulp!
  • Recognizing my own prejudices about people in larger bodies.
  • Forgiving myself and others.

Like I said, big girl panty stuff! 

Discovering food and body freedom is a journey that never ends. Based on my personal experience, and the experiences my amazing clients have had, faith needs to be an essential part of the journey. To succeed, you’ll need to have:

Faith in yourself.
Faith in the process.
Faith in your body.

So, if you’re in a precarious place right now in your journey, perhaps sprinkling in some faith may help to change your perspective. Holding a vision for what you want in your life is one of the most powerful ways to create it. Without faith, it’s too easy to give up and return to disordered eating behaviors (diet mentality, food policing), abusing movement, engaging in chronic negative self-talk, etc. 

Remember, dieting is much easier than Intuitive Eating. Those who are courageous, open to change, and prepared to live a new life will likely come out on the ‘other’ side transformed. It doesn’t happen overnight, but being consistent, having reliable support measures in place, and remembering to have faith in yourself and the process most often yields freedom! I’m living proof!

I’d love to hear from you. How has faith been a part of your no-diet journey? Feel free to share with us in The No-Diet Sisterhood

Got digestive issues?

Do you struggle with bloating, indigestion, constipation or any other unpleasant side effect after eating certain foods? Well, I do and I’m coming clean about it! 

Even after all these years practicing Intuitive Eating, it’s hard to come to terms with foods that no longer serve me. There’s almost like a mourning period. I’ve recently admitted to myself that red meat and onions don’t agree with me (alone or separate). I’m okay with poultry and fish, but red meat, doesn’t digest well in my body. When I’m honest about this, I believe that I’ve known this for some time, but because I was a vegetarian for nearly four years, and for the last year denied myself animal protein because I was hoping my cravings for them would subside (which they never did), I felt that denying myself red meat was depriving myself again. That didn’t feel good to me at all!

Coming to terms with foods that don’t agree with our bodies isn’t easy. 
I know many people who have food sensitivities (which is not the same as food allergies) or just experience discomfort but still cannot give them up because it kicks them into “deprivation mode”.

I want to be clear that food deprivation is never the answer. When we’re depriving ourselves of foods because of their calorie, fat or carb content (aka afraid of weight gain) we will fall victim to that diet/binge cycle and that never has a good outcome!  However, minimizing or eliminating foods that no longer make our bodies feel good (regardless of their macro content) seems to make sense when we do this in a self-compassionate manner. In fact, when we view it through the self-compassion lens instead of the deprivation lens, it doesn’t seem as scary, right? Since I began thinking about it in these terms, I now feel this is a form of SELF-CARE and not food deprivation.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Just because I know that eating red meat and onions doesn’t agree with my tummy, that doesn’t always mean that I’m never going to eat them again. I’m not striving for perfection, but I am striving to feel good as often as possible without going to extremes. So, yes, I will limit these foods because I prefer to feel good and not have the uncomfortable burping, bloating and gas all day long. But, if I do choose to eat them, I will not beat myself up about it either. Remember, one of the best things about practicing Intuitive Eating is that it allows us to be flexible and kind to ourselves around food. Also, just because we have unconditional permission to eat all foods, that doesn’t mean that all foods will feel good in our bodies. Learning to distinguish which foods feel good in our bodies and which foods don’t is part of the “tuning in” process.

I also want to add that sometimes taking a good probiotic or digestive enzyme helps with digestive issues. I’ve also found that sometimes food combinations need to also be considered. So, in your quest to getting to know your body better, consider these things before completely eliminating foods from your diet.

If you’re struggling with certain foods because they don’t make your body feel good, I hope you’ll consider what I’ve written here so you can find a solution that works best for your body.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re new to Intuitive Eating, it’s not uncommon to have some digestive and/or other physical challenges because you’re likely eating foods that you haven’t eaten in some time. If that is your case, be patient and continue be mindful if a particular food(s) seems to be consistently causing you difficulty. Or, if you have been diagnosed with an eating disorder, always discuss these types of issues with your practitioners before minimizing or eliminating foods as it may impact your recovery.

Got Self-Compassion?

One of the reasons why I love Yogi teas are because of the wise little sayings printed on the tea bag tags. This mornings tag really struck me as self-compassion is a huge talking point for me and for others in the No-Diet Sisterhood. There is so much current research on the benefits of practicing self-compassion in our lives. To be 100% transparent, I used to believe that the harder I was on myself, the more motivated I would be to change things about myself or my life that I didn’t like or feel good about. The reality is it’s the exact opposite! So, all the years I spent beating myself up in hopes that I would change my eating habits, specifically my chronic emotional eating, really hindered me from progressing.

The funny thing about being so hard on myself is that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. It had become so natural for me to beat myself up that to recognize or know that there was another way to behave was foreign to me. In fact, I didn’t become aware of this soul crushing, self-esteem sucking habit until around 2012 when people at nutrition school started pointing it out to me during our mock consultations. To be honest, I was embarrassed that I hadn’t noticed this in myself. By that point in my life I considered myself to be so “enlightened”. But you know what I often say, we cannot see the color of our own eyes! This is why it’s so important that we have truthful, loving allies in our lives that can help us mirror back our behaviors in a compassionate manner. And, this is why I believe so passionately about the benefits of coaching.

I’m thankful that I know this now. There is no use in wallowing in regret, should haves, etc. because it’s in the past. What I can do is work toward being more self-compassionate with myself now. To me, self-compassion is a muscle that we need consistently strengthen. The more we work it, the stronger it gets. So, after decades of being unkind to myself, I work daily to make my self-compassion muscle stronger.

Based on personal experience and my experience working with clients, I’ve learned that practicing self-compassion doesn’t come easy. I’m sure most of you have committed to movement or strength training and know how sore your muscles are after the first few workouts, right? If you were anything like me, your body was really sore and uncomfortable the next few days or weeks if you continued with the regime. Well, it’s the same with self-compassion. When I first started to integrate self-compassion into my life after discovering Intuitive Eating, I did experience discomfort because it was so new to me. However, just like habitual movement has helped make me get stronger and increased my stamina, my body has adjusted. While I believe I still have a ways to go (and need to keep strengthening my self-compassion muscles) before I consider myself a naturally self-compassionate person, I’m seeing glimpses of how self-compassion has begun to take root in my life and I’m amazed at how much more joyful and free I feel as a result.

Where do you fall on the self-compassion scale? Are you still beating yourself up for overeating, under-eating, binging, chronically emotionally overeating, or not moving your body consistently enough? If you’re struggling with this, know that you’re not alone! Honestly, many are in the same boat as you. While I believe I’ve left the boat, I haven’t gotten so far from it that I cannot see it from where I am.

If you know you’re struggling and believe you could use some more self-compassion in your life but just don’t see where you may be falling short, let’s talk. If you’re anything like me, having someone I trusted to show me the ways where I was tripping myself up was a huge part of my recovery from disordered eating. You’d be surprised how one or two sessions with me could change the direction of your Intuitive Eating journey.

Are Small Plates the New Scale?

What size plate are you using for your meals? 

I recently heard someone say that they prefer to use small plates when they eat their meals. When I asked why, she said it’s because it helps her manage overeating. If you’re a member of the “Clean Plate Club” this is also used to help manage that. I thought to myself “Wow! She must have some powerful plates because my plates don’t have those kinds of special powers!”

I’m just being funny because I think that what she meant was when she uses a small plate, she tends to serve herself less food. And, while I understand why someone might think this is perfectly acceptable, my diet mentality warning antenna popped up and here’s why.

  • Using small plates could be an indication that you’re trying to control how much you eat.
  • It could be a way to control the types of foods you choose to eat based on size, length, etc.
  • It could also be an indication that you don’t trust yourself around food and need a small a plate to guide you.

On the plus side, I see that using a small plate could give you that pause you may need to check your fullness levels. While I’m 100% in favor of that, be sure that you allow your fullness level guide your next decision and not your clean plate. So, if you clean your small plate and discover that you’re still hungry and want more food, give yourself permission to eat more food! Remember, food restriction has the same negative effects as dieting and usually leads to a binge eating or overeating later.

Why does this matter? It matters because people are sometimes using small plates to tell their bodies to stop eating but they may still be hungry. But, because their plate is clean, they don’t check-in or all allow themselves to eat more because the plate is their fullness meter and not their body. While we are free to use whatever size plate we want, if we ever want to learn to trust and allow our bodies to guide us (which is the focal point of Intuitive Eating), we need to tune-in to our bodies and stop using external things to tell us what our bodies need.

I know what you may be saying to yourself…

“Yeah, but when I use a big plate I overeat and feel awful!”
My response: I get it, but if you keep allowing and tuning in, this will dissipate over time. Patience in the process is the answer here.

“I don’t want to overeat because I’m afraid I’ll get fat.”
My response: If you continue to believe that thinner is better or being thinner is healthier, you’ll unlikely ever find food freedom.

“I have a hard time honoring my fullness and need the small plate or _______ to guide me.”
My response: Take your time and tune-in during and after your plate is empty to assess where your fullness meter is. Let this be your guide, not your plate.

Trust me, I’ve said things like this to myself and have heard the same or similar comments from my clients, so I get it, girlfriend! I’m not judging, I’m trying to help you see this in a new light.

However, the reality is that any time we’re trying to control our food intake with a plate, a timer, a bogus rule, we’re not eating intuitively. Period. If you want to truly be free from food obsession and/or restriction, weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) (even though you’re not stepping on the scale) you’ll need to learn to tap into your bodies inherent inner wisdom. With that, you can relearn to trust your body so it can tell you what it needs, how much it needs, and when it needs it. Basically, you’ll be relearning what dieting/restricting stole from you for all those years!!

Getting in touch with your hunger and honoring your fullness is one of the most fundamental concepts of Intuitive Eating. Believe me, because I’ve done it myself, trying to control your food in any way will never allow you to fully embrace Intuitive Eating. However, allowing all foods (unless there is a sensitivity or allergy to them) and tuning in to your natural bodies cues will.

So, use whatever size plate you want bearing in mind what I said. When you learn how to tune-in to your body instead of using your plate to tell you when you’re full, you’re flexing that trust muscle which makes food freedom possible.

What external distractions are you using to control what and how much you’re eating?

Discovering Happiness Despite Weight Gain

This article was originally published here but has been updated to remove references to weight and size as they are often triggering. Be sure to read the article update at the end.

My story is definitely not the typical before and after weight loss tale, and that’s okay. It’s the story of how finding peace with my food and my body gave me the freedom that being a size X never did or never will.

If you are considering going on another diet because you’re unhappy with your weight, this article is for you.

Two years ago, I had a rude awakening. After finding and maintaining my small size X body and remaining at that weight for over two years, I began to gain weight very quickly. I had struggled with food and body image for 30+ years, but when I became a vegetarian three years earlier, I thought I had found “the” answer to controlling my weight.

I was no stranger to yo-yo dieting. In fact, I had dieted for a good part of my life. You know the routine. Losing weight and then gaining it all back again (usually plus more). It’s a confidence-crushing cycle that many of us have become accustomed to doing.

What made this weight gain different from all the others was that I was now a Certified Holistic Health Coach and the way I looked was important for my job…or so I thought. I remember thinking to myself “How will my clients see me as healthy if I’m not thin?” and “How will my clients take advice from me about eating if I cannot stop eating myself?” These thoughts consumed me and often made me feel ashamed and confused.

What no one knew is that the reason I had gained the weight was because I suffered with a serious bout of depression. I diligently took herbal remedies and tried doing more of the things that provided some relief like yoga and meditation, but they were not helping enough to make a difference in my day-to-day life. After suffering for nearly a year, I decided to go on anti-depressant medication. For those of you who aren’t aware of this, anti-depressant medications (specifically SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drugs) are notorious for weight gain. As hard as I tried to control this with a nutritious diet and exercise, I was not able to escape these side effects. So, while I crawled out of my depressive state, my appetite became ravenous and my waistline grew and grew until I was no longer able to fit into any of my clothes. It was a very emotional time in my life.

I chose not to weigh myself because I knew the number would likely upset me, but I had a really good idea of how much based on the size of the clothing I was not fitting in to. Aside from the emotional side to this, there was a physical piece too. To have your body change so dramatically is not easy, especially in just a few short months. I felt sluggish, tired and uncomfortable often. I remember feeling like I was carrying big heavy sand bags on my back. The heavier I got, the heavier the sand bags felt. It was emotionally and spiritually debilitating at times. The most frightening part was that I didn’t see an end in sight because I was like a bottomless pit and could not stop eating.

On an emotional level, my confidence was shot, my self-esteem had plummeted, and I was more embarrassed and uncomfortable than I had ever been about my body.

Once I began to come out of the depressive fog I was in, I was determined to heal my body. I knew that I couldn’t tolerate going on a diet to lose the weight, but I didn’t know what else to do. By sheer luck, I stumbled on the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch. Reading this book was like a breath of fresh air! Once I began living this “no-diet” approach to life, I began to feel more hopeful for the first time in months. Within a few months of practicing Intuitive Eating, my life began to transform in ways I never thought imaginable.

I want to be clear that my life didn’t transform because I lost weight. My life transformed because my perception of how I viewed a “healthy” body changed.

This is how I redefined health for myself:
I didn’t have to be thin to be healthy.
I didn’t have to be thin to be fit.
I could develop a healthy relationship with food regardless of how many years I’d struggled.
I can love my body unconditionally.
Feeling sluggish and uncomfortable was only short term.
I can listen to my body and honor its needs on a physical and emotional level.
I am an amazingly strong woman and my experience only intensified that.
I can inspire others regardless of my weight.

Dieting will never improve your relationship with food and body the way practicing self-love and self-compassion will. Practicing Intuitive Eating and taking control of my depression were instrumental in giving me back my life after feeling so out of control with food for so many years. This former size X, now size X go-getter, is happier and has a healthier relationship with food than she ever thought possible. I eat nutritious foods; I’m healthy by medical standards; I don’t deprive or restrict myself from eating foods that I enjoy; I acknowledge daily that I’m more than my weight; and love to move my body in ways that I enjoy without being militant about it. I have found true food and body freedom and I’m so grateful!

UPDATE: April 20, 2017 – I’m happy to report that my depression is now being managed well without medication, I’ve been a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor for over two years, and am living a satisfying and happy life.