If you’re reading this, you probably have some vague idea of diets and diet culture by now. You may very well have been on a diet at some point, perhaps long ago or even last week.Continue reading
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Practical tips to improve your relationship with your body and food
Body compassion plays a significant role within the intuitive eating framework, and working on embodiment can also be an essential step in your quest to improve your relationship with food.
So what is body compassion, and how can we develop a practice to improve our self-esteem and cultivate positive embodiment? Read on to learn more!
What is body compassion, and why might we need a body compassion practice?
There are several ways in which we can explain or understand what we mean by body compassion. Put simply, it can be defined as how an individual relates and experiences being in their body.
For years, people of all shapes and sizes have been shamed by diet culture, promoting the ‘thin ideal,’ which places smaller bodies above larger ones.
We live in a society where bodies, like foods, are labelled as ‘good and bad’ or ‘healthy and unhealthy,’ leading to weight stigma and food restriction. Where we are never perfect and constantly need to be improving our bodies, appearance and health.
Being brave enough to unpack our internalised beliefs can be the critical step to finding freedom and being more body compassionate.
However, it’s important to remember that body compassion is prolonged, difficult work. There is a lot of ‘unlearning’ involved, and it is impossible to reverse beliefs overnight.
However, there may be amazing benefits to working on our body compassion. A recent literature review found that having a stronger body compassion practice was protective against poor body image and eating pathology. Body compassion has therefore been linked to decreasing eating disorder outcomes and disrupting the risk factors that may trigger them. (1)
Other research has shown that major life events are less likely to trigger binge eating episodes when body compassion is present (2) and reduce feelings of shame and guilt. (3)
A body compassion study on young women was also shown to reduce social appearance anxiety, upward appearance comparison, body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and increase body appreciation and compassion even when tested one month post-intervention. (4)
How can we create develop our body compassion practice?
Body compassion practice is deliberate – it will help to set aside some time each day or week to commit to this form of healing. It can be great to familiarise yourself with these tools and techniques so they feel more natural when you might need them most. Below is some inspiration for what your body compassion practice may look like.
ONE: Making rituals
Making rituals and committing to them can be a fantastic stepping stone in your journey to body empowerment. Some examples you could include in a ritual might consist of:
- Journalling your thoughts, emotions and feelings
- Listening to a body positivity/neutrality podcast or meditation
- Reading a chapter or section of a body liberation book
- Creating and saying a positive mantra
- Yoga, stretching and other movements you enjoy
- Committing to a regular mindfulness practice
- Offering yourself a massage
- Scrolling through the feeds of positive body activists
- Checking in with your values and reminding yourself of them
- Seeking and looking at images of diverse bodies and not just what we see on media
You could write these as a list or in a diagram format to remind you of simple techniques and even add your own ideas too. Hanging this up on a wall or somewhere you will see it daily may act as a gentle reminder to embrace body compassion throughout your day.
TWO: Write a letter to your body
Another step you could try is writing a letter to your body. There are plenty of ways in which you could address this, and examples may include:
- Writing a letter of love to your body, appreciating and noticing its intricacies and nuances, thanking it for all of the amazing purposes it serves in this very moment, and not when or if you look a certain way. Your body allows you to breathe, run, dance eat, sleep, and even read this article!
- Writing a letter of apology to your body for what may have been a lifetime of negativity, low self-esteem, criticism and punishment, engaging in disorderly behaviours and not appreciating it for being a particular shape.
Both of these letters may feel quite difficult to do but can be liberating and help you to reground with your values and what truly matters.
THREE: Explore your intentions.
Ask yourself some questions to further understand your feelings around embodiment and to identify and even alter thought patterns. You could delve into some of the following questions:
- What does embodiment look like and mean to you?
- What are the barriers between you and encompassing your body?
- Are you able to recall a time, perhaps in early childhood, when you felt at peace within your body and carefree of how you would be perceived? How does that differ from how you feel now?
- In what ways do you feel proud of your body and what it can do?
- How has fatphobia shaped your view of your body and yourself?
- When did you first feel as though your body was a problem? What may have influenced this?
- Do you have a particular role model who you feel best represents positive embodiment for you? What about them can you appreciate, and how can you apply this to your own body?
- Have you been able to feel gratitude or appreciation for your body that you didn’t feel previously?
Exploring these questions (and others that may come to mind) can be an excellent way of breaking down internalised beliefs, shifting the blame from ourselves to external sources that feed these beliefs.
Remember, practices can be dynamic and change over time as you learn and progress further and develop more skills and tools to better empower yourself. Stay tuned with future articles and learn how to beat diet culture and boost your body image.
This is extremely brave work, and you are doing amazing in beginning the journey of understanding body compassion.
Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x
1. Braun TD, Park CL, Gorin A. Self-compassion, body image, and disordered eating: A review of the literature. Body Image. 2016 Jun;17:117-31. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.03.003. Epub 2016 Mar 31. PMID: 27038782.
2. Barata-Santos M, Marta-Simões J, Ferreira C. Body compassion safeguards against the impact of major life events on binge eating. Appetite. 2019 Mar 1;134:34-39. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.12.016. Epub 2018 Dec 14. PMID: 30557589.
3. Oliveira S, Trindade IA, Ferreira C. The buffer effect of body compassion on the association between shame and body and eating difficulties. Appetite. 2018 Jun 1;125:118-123. Doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.01.031. Epub 2018 Feb 7. PMID: 29427690.
4. Seekis V, Bradley GL, Duffy AL. Does a Facebook-enhanced Mindful Self-Compassion intervention improve body image? An evaluation study. Body Image. 2020 Sep;34:259-269. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.07.006. Epub 2020 Jul 24. PMID: 32717627.
How to move away from the shackles of diet culture by challenging your food rules
If you’ve ever felt guilty or anxious around food and eating, you’re probably be influenced by your food rules.
Food rules are beliefs about foods that are collected over time and form the basis of our food choices when we are not eating intuitively. They dictate things like the types of food you’re allowed to have, how much you should eat, and the timing of your meals and snacks. You may not even realise how many food rules you have until you start your journey towards intuitive eating and begin to question the reasoning behind your eating habits!
This article will give you three simple steps to help you get to the bottom of your food rules and overcome them, in order to learn to eat based on your internal body cues.
ONE: Renourish your brain
In order to do the difficult work of changing your thinking patterns and belief systems, you must first ensure that your brain is functioning to the best of its ability. We know that the brain needs a tonne of energy to do its job properly; this means that getting adequate nutrition is one of the most important steps you can take if you want to change your cognitions.
One of the most well-known studies showing the effects of inadequate nutrition on the brain is the Minnesota Starvation Study. Amongst other ground-breaking discoveries, the study found that the restriction of calories causes impaired concentration, reduced alertness, poor comprehension and problem solving, and reduced motivation. Learn more about the effects of starvation on the brain and body here.
Ensuring you are eating regularly and adequately to give your brain the fuel it needs will make the next two steps that much easier.
TWO: Unpack the rule
It can be helpful to understand the origin of your food rules and what exactly they mean to you. This can allow you to develop a deeper understanding of you thought processes, making it easier to challenge them.
Some questions you can ask yourself to begin this process are:
- Where did this rule come from?
- When did I first begin following this rule? What triggered this?
- What do I believe this rule will achieve? Is this belief logical?
- What are my specific fears around breaking this rule?
- How is my life affected by this rule?
THREE: Conduct an experiment
The most effective strategy for breaking down food rules is experimentation. Put your scientific hat on and approach your beliefs with curiosity and a methodical mindset.
The first step of this is to select a rule to challenge. Begin with the more flexible and less fear-inducing rules – there’s no need to throw yourself in the deep end!
Next, form a hypothesis about what you think (or what you fear) might happen. This might be structured like “If I do X, then Y will occur”.
Here comes the scary part – testing your hypothesis out. You might like to ask a friend or family member to support you through this if you’re expecting it to be particularly difficult. Keep in mind that you may need to test your hypothesis several times in order to come to a conclusion.
The last step is to evaluate the results. What actually happened? How did this compare to what you expected to happen? If it was different, can you come up with an alternative belief that might be more accurate?
Continue to repeat this process with all your food rules, gradually progressing to the more challenging ones. With patience and practice, you’ll be eating according to your body cues in no time!
If you believe you would benefit from individual support with your journey towards intuitive eating, our expert dietitians are here to help! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how we can work with you to achieve your goals.
Karli Battaglia, APD
EHL Team x
The topic of gut health continues to spark interest with each day as research increasingly unveils more about the relationship between our gut and brain.Continue reading
What you need to know as you embark on your recovery journey
If you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, we want to start by saying that we truly believe recovery is possible for every person! However, we also know that the early stages of recovery can be particularly scary as you face a tonne of new sensations and experiences. In this article, we’ll walk you through just some of what is going on inside your body during the refeeding phase so that you know what to expect during this period.
What will happen to my metabolism during recovery?
In a period of malnutrition like what is typically seen in those with eating disorders, the body slows the metabolism to preserve what little energy it is getting. However, as nutritional rehabilitation begins, the body becomes hypermetabolic.
This means that your body kicks into high gear and begins to utilise the fuel it was previously lacking, initially going towards repairing the vital organs and processes needed for survival.
Metabolism can remain heightened for several months. Until nutritional rehabilitation is complete, a person in eating disorder recovery will need more nutrition than someone of the same weight, height and age who has never had an eating disorder.1
Attempting to maintain one’s weight during recovery through the partial restriction of food can cause the proper functioning of systems like digestion and reproduction to be sacrificed for more life-sustaining processes. This is why it’s SO important to get adequate nutrition, no matter what that looks like for you.
What will happen to my weight during recovery?
Changes in weight are extremely common at the beginning of the refeeding process, but not for the reasons you might think!
The first cause is the body stabilising, moving from a catabolic state to an anabolic state – in other words, the body shifts from a state of decomposition to a state of repair. This can actually cause some initial weight loss in the first week of refeeding, but this will neutralise.
The second cause is the body becoming appropriately hydrated. People with eating disorders can become extremely dehydrated from behaviours such as laxative or diuretic use, purging, excess caffeine consumption or refusal to drink water. They may also be over-hydrated if they are consuming excessive amounts of fluid. As hydration levels balance out, shifts in weight should be expected.
Over time, weight will gradually increase as lean mass and fat mass are formed. Lean mass is usually created first, to rebuild the skeletal muscles (ie. those used for movement) and to repair damaged organ tissue.2 Fat mass typically comes later in recovery, and is often first seen around the abdomen to protect your vital organs.
It’s important to remember that reaching weight restoration is not the end of your journey, and that it is the thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that truly determine recovery.
What will happen to my digestion during recovery?
During a prolonged period of starvation, such as that seen in eating disorders, energy that would normally go towards maintaining the structure and function of gut is sacrificed for more imperative survival processes. This causes issues with digestion such as gastroparesis (slowed gastric emptying), reduced gastric capacity, tissue wastage within the gastrointestinal tract and slowed colonic motility.3 This is all just to say that the gut stops working how it should.
Thankfully, this is reversible with good nutrition! However, it takes time during the refeeding phase to repair the gut and restore its function. This means that in the beginning of recovery, it’s unfortunately common to experience discomfort or pain, nausea, constipation, bloating or distention, and premature fullness.
As you give your gut (and the other systems in your body!) the nutrition it needs to repair, you can expect it to return to its fully-functioning self.
Remember that eating disorder recovery is a long game, and it can take up to 12 months to fully restore from a state of malnutrition. It’s incredibly important to have a great support team around you to guide you through it – and that’s where we come in!
Reach out to us at email@example.com to find out how we can help you on your journey towards recovery.
Karli Battaglia, APD
EHL Team x
- Marzola E, Nasser J, Hashim S, Shih P, Kaye W. Nutritional rehabilitation in anorexia nervosa: review of the literature and implications for treatment. BMC Psychiatry. 2013;13(1).
- Golden N, Meyer W. Nutritional rehabilitation of anorexia nervosa. Goals and dangers. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health. 2004;16(2).
- Georg S. Gut Function in Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2003;38(6):573-587.
If your child has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, you’re probably feeling a whole lot of emotions. In this article, we want to help you understand what you need to know to give your child the support they need to recover.Continue reading
Four reasons why your body weight is overrated
Weight has been considered to be a key indicator of health for as long as we have known. It continues to be a fundamental factor that is looked at in research surrounding health and lifestyle. But how accurate is it actually at determining our health at an individual and population level?
You may have read our previous blog post where we picked apart the reliability of BMI. In this article, we will dig deeper into the literature surrounding weight science and what the implications really are when it comes to our health.
What is weight science?
Weight science refers to the research on body weight, which includes and is not limited to:
- The regulation of body weight (weight loss or gain)
- Internal and external factors influencing weight change or maintenance
- Intentional or non-intentional weight loss or gain
- The relationship between weight and health
A lot of weight science research takes into account health outcomes concerning weight or BMI. This might be because the assumption that BMI is a useful indicator of health is still held by many scientists and health researchers. The general consensus is that:
- Achieving a BMI in the normal range of 18.5-25 will improve health.
- Dieting and exercise should be encouraged in those lying outside this range to ensure they work towards achieving a ‘healthier’ BMI and are no longer considered ‘obese’ or ‘overweight.’
Read on to explore four reasons why we believe weight can sometimes be overestimated as an indicator of health.
ONE: Weight is more often than not, an inaccurate predictor of health.
When we dig deeper into the research, we realise that and social determinants of health play a much greater view than we think. Social determinants of health (SDoH) are the conditions in which we are born, live, work and age.
SDoH can be thought of as the ’causes of the causes’ as they often shape how we may receive or learn about health and the conditions that may promote good health or disease risk and are the biggest single cause of health inequality. (1)
We also know that being in a larger body may actually be protective, particularly in old age and may have more favourable outcomes.
A 2011 review showed that those with particular health conditions such as cardiovascular disease survive longer and have a lower mortality rate than those considered a ‘normal’ weight. (2)
Research also found that any effects related to obesity were counteracted when fitness was incorporated, suggesting that low fitness and activity levels may be more damaging to health than being at a higher BMI or weight. (2)
TWO: Weight loss is not associated with improved health.
A 2013 review by Tomiyama et al. (3) looked at the changes in cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic/diastolic blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose and weight loss.
The findings showed minimal improvements in these biochemical markers after weight loss interventions. However, there was no correlation between the actual amount of weight change and the improvement of these factors.
The review also showed that some confounding variables in the interventions, such as diet and exercise change, might have had an impact. These and engaging actively with your healthcare system are perhaps more beneficial than weight loss. (3)
Other studies have shown that weight cycling (repeated periods of losing and regaining weight) can actually be detrimental to health, increasing mortality risk. (4)
Park et al. showed that weight cycling increased risks of developing type 2 diabetes and can be considered an independent risk factor for the condition. (5) In addition, Welti et al. found that some cancer incidences increased (including a 38% increased risk of endometrial cancer) with weight cycling. (6)
Byun et al. similarly discovered that weight cycling led to poorer heart health, particularly in premenopausal women and women with no history of pregnancy – so we can see a trend here with the negative consequences weight cycling may have on our bodies. (7)
THREE: Dieting can lead to poorer mental and physical health.
For those of us who have tried dieting, we know that it quickly loses the fun and excitement that it may have initially started with. Research shows that diets are a cause of stress, creating hypervigilance around food and weight.
This increased thinking and anxiety around food can make us more restrictive when it comes to our diet and may potentially develop into disordered eating or even an eating disorder.
In a study by Bombak et al., it was shown that dieting is also associated with a loss of bone and lean mass and poorer immunity and skeletal integrity. (8)
This is significant, as we believe our bones reach their peak mass around the ages of 25-30, and any bone mass loss after this age can be irreversible. This increases our chances of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis and being more prone to fractures and serious injury. (8)
FOUR: Weight loss is not often achieved and maintained in the long term.
Countless studies have shown that weight loss is uncommon initially, but lasting weight loss is even more rare to accomplish. In fact, some research even shows that more weight is sometimes gained than what was lost in the first place. (9)
A further review by Ayyad and Anderson found that the median success rate of a diet program is around 15%. We believe that this is due to the physiological and psychological effects of dieting, as mentioned in the previous point. (10)
Improvements to health can be obtained without a focus on weight, and non-diet approaches have sparked interest in recent years to improve body image, self-esteem, depressive and disordered eating behaviours. (11)
Non-diet interventions also have displayed improvements in diet quality and diversity of foods, including a higher fruit and vegetable intake and less restriction and stress around food. (12, 13) They have also shown to improve physical activity participation, blood lipid and glucose levels, and total cholesterol and blood pressure. (12, 14)
By reading this, remind yourself that you are already embarking upon an incredible healing journey and have come so far to begin to break away from what may be a period of disordered eating.
We hope this article helped to outline some of the research surrounding why weight loss may not always be as great as diet culture often makes it seem. Until next time, keep your head up and rise above restriction!
Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x
1. Irwin A, Valentine N, Brown C, Loewenson R, Solar O, Brown H, Koller T, Vega J. The commission on social determinants of health: tackling the social roots of health inequities. PLoS Med. 2006 May;3(6):e106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030106. PMID: 16681414; PMCID: PMC1459479.
2. McAuley PA, Blair SN. Obesity paradoxes. J Sports Sci. 2011 May;29(8):773-82. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.553965. PMID: 21416445.
3. Tomiyama AJ, Ahlstrom B, Mann T. Long-term effects of dieting: Is weight loss related to health? Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2013; 7(12): 861-877.
4. Tae Jung Oh, Jae Hoon Moon, Sung Hee Choi, Soo Lim, Kyong Soo Park, Nam H Cho, Hak Chul Jang, Body-Weight Fluctuation and Incident Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Disease, and Mortality: A 16-Year Prospective Cohort Study, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 104, Issue 3, March 2019, Pages 639–646, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2018-01239
5. Park KY, Hwang HS, Cho KH, Han K, Nam GE, Kim YH, Kwon Y, Park YG. Body Weight Fluctuation as a Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes: Results from a Nationwide Cohort Study. J Clin Med. 2019 Jun 30;8(7):950. doi: 10.3390/jcm8070950. PMID: 31261984; PMCID: PMC6678837.
6. Welti LM, Beavers DP, Caan BJ, Sangi-Haghpeykar H, Vitolins MZ, Beavers KM. Weight Fluctuation and Cancer Risk in Postmenopausal Women: The Women’s Health Initiative. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2017 May;26(5):779-786. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-16-0611. Epub 2017 Jan 9. PMID: 28069684; PMCID: PMC5413381.
7. Byun SS, Bello NA, Liao M, Makarem N, Aggarwal B. Associations of weight cycling with cardiovascular health using American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 in a diverse sample of women. Prev Med Rep. 2019 Nov 2;16:100991. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100991. Erratum in: Prev Med Rep. 2020 Oct 29;20:101236. PMID: 31750075; PMCID: PMC6849443.
8. Bombak A, Monaghan LF, Rich E. Dietary approaches to weight-loss, Health At Every Size® and beyond: rethinking the war on obesity. Social Theory and Health. 2019 Mar 1;17(1):89-108. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41285-018-0070-9
9. Bravata DM, Sanders L, Huang J, et al. Efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate diets: a systematic review. 2003. In: Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK69697/
10. Ayyad C, Andersen T. Long-term efficacy of dietary treatment of obesity: a systematic review of studies published between 1931 and 1999. Obes Rev. 2000 Oct;1(2):113-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1467-789x.2000.00019.x. PMID: 12119984.
11. Clifford D, Ozier A, Bundros J, Moore J, Kreiser A, Morris MN. Impact of non-diet approaches on attitudes, behaviors, and health outcomes: a systematic review. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2015 Mar-Apr;47(2):143-55.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2014.12.002. PMID: 25754299.
12. Carroll S, Borkoles E, Polman R. Short-term effects of a non-dieting lifestyle intervention program on weight management, fitness, metabolic risk, and psychological well-being in obese premenopausal females with the metabolic syndrome. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Feb;32(1):125-42. doi: 10.1139/h06-093. PMID: 17332789.
13. Greene GW, White AA, Hoerr SL, Lohse B, Schembre SM, Riebe D, Patterson J, Kattelmann KK, Shoff S, Horacek T, Blissmer B, Phillips BW. Impact of an online healthful eating and physical activity program for college students. Am J Health Promot. 2012 Nov-Dec;27(2):e47-58. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.110606-QUAN-239. PMID: 23113786.
14. Ciliska D. Evaluation of two non-dieting interventions for obese women. West J Nurs Res. 1998 Feb;20(1):119-35. doi: 10.1177/019394599802000108. PMID: 9473971.
It’s normal for motivation to ebb and flow during eating disorder recovery. As clinicians, we expect it and factor it in to our treatment plan. And it makes sense – recovery is an exhausting process!Continue reading
Since you are reading this, you may probably be aware of why diets don’t work. but how do we approach and respond to diet talk at home, in the office or out with friends?Continue reading