Since last week was about rejecting something, I am thrilled to move into this second step of learning to trust ourselves by honoring something. I am well aware that much of what I am writing about here on my blog, and over on social media seems very counterculture and dissonant to societal standards. I know that it may not be easy for everyone to hear or even accept right off the bat. And like any real change, while there must be a disruption and ruffling of the feathers of the old ways, there must also be something to do in its place.
This week we are talking about honoring our hunger and while I will certainly break it down specifically in terms of Intuitive Eating, I will also break it down in other ways we can honor our more metaphorical hunger for a more trusting relationship with ourselves.
Hunger has become somewhat of an enemy in many ways. Even though it is a natural, biological signal from our bodies to refuel it with the nutrients and things it needs to do its job, hunger has become hyper associated with its connection to how it makes us look if we indulge it too much. In some cases, hunger has become a burdensome whine that we are constantly looking to either negate, ignore, numb, or eradicate it so in its place a more slender and toned body will appear. This false idea gets glorified in certain diets such as intermittent fasting or hyper scheduled eating where we think we can actually trick our own biology into burning fat by having our hunger eat away at it.
This is where I have to take a moment and ask a very important question, how often when one chooses to diet or follow a new food fad do we actually take the time to check the facts of what really happens to our bodies biologically when put into periods of starvation? How deeply do we really research the information we are getting and how these ideas work on a cellular level? I can tell you from my personal experience, that I rarely did more in depth looking and simply trusted the “expert” of the moment from which the diet was derived. And if the expert had letters after their name, I barely did any questioning at all since letters are supposed to mean they know everything, right? This is a very big misunderstanding we have in commercialized health and wellness. We celebrate the ideas of an individual or popularity of a craze, rather than really looking to real, scientific research, study and knowledge. In truth, if diets had to face the same scrutiny that prescription meditation faced, they would fail miserably. I necessarily digress because I think it’s an important question to be asking ourselves.
Moving on, here is what happens when you put your body into starvation of any kind (because in truth, the body doesn’t know the difference between a diet and a global famine)...
When your body is starving and biological hunger is not being honored, your body slows down its metabolism in order to preserve energy since it can’t possibly know when its next meal is coming. And because hunger is a cue that your body needs fuel, specifically for your brain, red blood cells and nervous system, it begins to fuel itself using your muscle mass. It’s as if your body was a house that needed fuel for the fire in the furnace and when it doesn’t get it, it begins burning away the actual structure of the house. Yes, it may work to make things look more aesthetically pleasing for a time being, because from the outside we can’t really tell what it is that is actually being consumed by the cells in our body. Our kidneys, our liver, our brains and every cell in our body is so dependent on food energy that when it doesn’t get it, it will naturally compensate with powerful biological and psychological mechanisms. But if you think about the mere stress this puts our bodies under, to have to, in a way, hunt and gather from its own stores, that is going to take a toll in the long run. It is a miracle actually that our bodies know how to do this and it is what has kept humans alive in times of famine and food insecurities. But to voluntarily do this to our bodies is so incredibly unnecessary when the very best way we biologically function is through food and the beautifully built in mechanism we already have in place, called hunger, is bordering on inhumane. Not to mention that after a period of starvation and food becomes available to it again, it will click into primal hunger. You know the kind when it feels as if your brain is completely disconnected from your body and you can’t stop consuming food? The body will naturally take in as much food as it possibly can to try and counter that period of starvation, because now that it knows it can’t rely on its own hunger cues to get what it needs, it will compensate in the even a future starvation is coming again...and when we are in the diet cycle, it most likely is.
This is also why often when diets end or when you let yourself go too long without food, you tend to binge. And again, the body does not know the difference between a diet induced starvation period and an actual moment when food is scarce, so it simply does what it does as a natural coping mechanism. It is both biological and psychological. In fact, a 2000 study showed that a disproportionate number of concentration camp survivors suffer from binge eating disorders. Essentially, food scarcity is a form of trauma that triggers other trauma responses in the body and so when we don’t honor our hunger and keep our biology waiting on fuel, we may also unnecessarily be creating some psychological trauma because as much as we may try, we cannot outthink or even outsmart our biology.
I also want to share with you a fascinating study that was done on the effects of dieting and overexercising on The Biggest Loser contestants and how that period of time of fast and intense weight loss actually impacted their metabolism long term. Again, your body will find ways to adapt to how we treat it for sure, but there are other, unseen factors that are often at play and rarely considered.
Eating food and honoring our hunger is the ultimate mind body connection. When we really learn to listen to and honor our biological hunger, we in turn begin to honor all of the other ways in which we hunger in life. Passion and desire are hungers that oftentimes when we don’t think we are worthy, whether because of our physical body or not, we tend to stifle and dismiss. Desire is a natural human need and yet another cue that there is something we are craving. I hesitate to use that word because craving has, like hunger, become synonymous with negative connotation, but is not an inherently bad thing. As humans, we crave attention, love, and purpose in the world. When we can’t meet the basic need of our own hunger, it's likely that we are also struggling to meet some of these other more soul fulfilling needs that we have as well. When we connect our worthiness to our bodies and then ignore our body’s natural cues, one could say that there is a pretty major cognitive dissonance. It is very similar to having a dream of one day fulfilling something in your life or your work and yet every thought you have around it says it isn’t possible. This isn’t an uncommon thing unfortunately, and perhaps you find yourself relating to that. I know that I definitely do and have at many points in my life. It is as common as the diet culture mindset that is present in today’s world. And so this practice of honoring one of our most basic needs and naturally occurring biological cues that is our hunger, may also perhaps be a gateway in to really helping our minds and bodies know that we are worthy of getting our needs met, of being listened to and of experiencing pleasure, joy, energy and satisfaction in both our bodies and our minds.
On a final and even much deeper note, I want to share this with you: One of the final and most natural stages of a dying person is to lose their appetite. Dehydration and starvation are how the body most naturally wants to die in instances of old age and illness. Your hunger is actually an incredibly vital sign that you are in fact alive and that your body still wants to do what it was put here to do. That your cells want to continue to go on providing you with energy so that all of the systems of your body can function well, so that you, the human being who is living in your body, can go out into the world and live their life with purpose. To diminish this, ignore this or treat it as a burden, is to suppress our very own life force. Being hungry, both physically and in all the metaphorical ways it shows up in this life, is sacred. We must honor it if we truly wish to honor our life while we are still here to do so. Your hunger is your body's signal to you that it’s ready for a new day, a new moment and to move forward into what is possible for you. Let’s befriend it, acknowledge it and most importantly, honor it.
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The subtitle to this first chapter should really read: Rejecting diet mentality and any other cultural normalizing that has you measure yourself by a standard that isn’t personal to you. But alas, that is a little too long.
Let me really begin here by saying welcome to the first of a series that will appear each week called Learning How to Trust Ourselves. Over the next 10 weeks I will share a weekly blog post that centers around the principles of Intuitive Eating, but will most assuredly speak to so much more. The entire point of this series is to encourage, motivate and inspire you to really consider that the number one most important thing you can actually work on when it comes to loving yourself and all that encompasses you more, is learning to trust yourself more.
The reality is that all of us want to love ourselves more, but very few of us actually know how to trust ourselves. And trust is imperative for two major reasons: one, when we trust ourselves, like really trust ourselves we are no longer trying to control ourselves. Control is one of the most common reasons for things like disordered eating, movement and obsession. Because life itself is so wildly unpredictable, our human brains really love it when it can latch onto something that can take the sting out of the unknown and give us the illusion that we are in control. And the reality is that you cannot be trying to control something and simultaneously trust it, so when we really go to work on learning how to trust, we ultimately have to also face the fact that we must give up control at the same time.
The second reason that trust is imperative is because while we may have the ultimate goal to love ourselves more and therefore love our lives more, wholehearted love cannot exist without at least a large percentage of trust being present. I do not want to walk us down the road of absolutism and say that it must be 100% trust all the time, because the reality is that even the healthiest relationships can waiver in trust. I do not wish to create unrealistic expectations here, nor do I want to promote perfectionism. However, I do want to plant the seed that what we can work towards is a more trusting relationship with ourselves which will therefore lead us down the path of a more wholehearted self love.
And so we address the first “how” of all of this which is to Reject Diet Mentality. What is Diet Mentality? It is the constant narrative that gets thrown at us and perhaps we have taken on that our bodies need to be improved in aesthetic. It is the mentality and narrative that in order to be healthy, you have to be a certain size, shape, BMI and weight. It is the magical thinking that keeps us picking up specific diet after diet and keeps us in the belief that "this time it's gonna work".
As I said in the very first paragraph, diet mentality is essentially only one area of focus here. Feel free to substitute any other mentality that is more personal to you from here on out, but also, honing in on diet mentality is so helpful because it really reflects so much of our culture narrative that keeps us in the belief that we need to be more and better than we are. It is a breeding ground for anti-trust within ourselves.
Here are some of the ways that you may have been affected by diet mentality:
So the first thing we need to do in reject diet mentality is recognizing that we have it and it is affecting our daily lives. We have to recognize that we are dieting. And this is where I share the unfortunate truth that there is no such thing as a healthy diet. Here me on this, please. I am not saying that there is no such thing as healthy eating, or healthy and nutrient dense food. Of course there is. But when it comes to restrictions and rules around food, unless there is a good medical reason for not eating it, there is no such thing as a healthy diet. I don’t care if you are talking about Keto, DASH, Weight Watchers and even Whole30 (this one was even admittedly hard for me). I don’t care if it is made popular by a celebrity or directed by a wellness influencer on instagram. A diet is a diet is a diet is a diet and the entire point of it all is to make yourself submissive to rules and regulations that keep you listening and adhering to strict rules as created by someone else, rather than your own internal desires and personal physiological cues.
I know this is going to be controversial for many many people. I know that it may be hard to hear. Please know that I am not trying to be divisive at all and I am certainly not telling you to reject the foods that you love to eat themselves. Quite the opposite actually. What I am talking about is the actual mentality that these diets generate within ourselves and the disconnection they create with our bodies, our bellies and our minds and hearts. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t like eating meat and you love to cook vegan meals that you should stop doing that. The entire point is to actually do what you love and recognize that nourishment in terms of food comes in many different ways, including the pleasure we get from eating. If you love veganism but every once in a while find yourself craving real ice cream, or cheese, why would you not eat it? Really think about it. Perhaps you think that if you do partake, you will all of a sudden fall off the invisible wagon you created for yourself. If that is the case then I would say with the utmost love, that is a disordered eating and diet culture mindset and the veganism is perhaps masking it. And we want to dismantle that because when we are living in a rabbit hole of constantly dwelling on our food and our bodies, or creating stress around what we eat and don't eat, we end up spending a ton of our energy and life force that could be used for so many other, more interesting things. As Glennon Doyle said in one of her recent podcasts, there is an opportunity cost that comes with this kind of thinking because you are spending your one precious life obsessing over food and body when it could be used for so many more wildly creative and fantastic things. And it’s not that your body isn’t wildly fantastic, but YOU are so much more than a body.
So this first step is imperative. It is vital. And it is hard. It is hard because it is insidious in our culture and it is almost everywhere we look. And it’s ok for it to take time and to be imperfect at it for as long as you need to be. The good news is that you do not have to get it down perfectly in order to move forward, you simply have to begin to do the work of recognizing when diet mentality is living within you and gently and lovingly tell yourself you aren’t doing that anymore. You get to be kind to yourself while you take it apart. And if you have to do it 100 times in a day, it’s ok. I believe in you and I know that when you really begin this first step, you are on your way to really learning to trust yourself.
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I’m not exactly sure why this is, but the human brain loves quantifiable, measurable, comparison. Anything that we can slap labels on and use to identify so that it’s a little less murky for our brains, we do it.
Yesterday I took an amazing webinar with Dr Lisa Orbe Austin all about imposter syndrome. It was specifically for coaches and how we help our clients move past it, hosted by the Institute of Coaching at Harvard Med at which I am a fellow. One of the moments that thrilled me the most was when she talked about using self-care and mindfulness practices such as meditation and breathing. But even more importantly she spoke about auditing those practices so that we aren’t putting the same kinds of labels and measurements on them the same way that we do when we struggle with imposter syndrome.
If we are allowing things like perfectionism and rigidity to be the foundation of our practices, then I have to wonder if they in fact stop ceasing to be self-care at all?
If when you go to your yoga mat you measure the success of the practice by how well you were able to push through a challenging moment, or if you were able to finally get that handstand, without paying any attention at all to what you were feeling emotionally or energetically during the practice, I would challenge you and ask how is this helping your overall being exist in the world? I would even take it a step further and say that if the priority of the emotional connection isn’t at the forefront, perhaps it isn’t serving a real purpose in your life other than to give you one more thing to fixate your anxiety and perfectionism on. And I don’t say that solely for the sake of keeping the actual intention of yoga in tact, I say it because the entire point of our self-care and emotional coping practices are to help us release all of the stuff that keeps us unwell and shows up in the daily minutiae of living life.
Right now I am studying Intuitive Eating as the next level of working towards Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching. What hit me so hard yesterday is that even the daily, simple and necessary self-care that is nourishing our bodies, has become fraught with this kind of comparative, rigid and obsessive analysis. Food has become yet another way for us to pick and obsess over rules that keep us swirling down the rabbit hole of trying to prove our worthiness, rather than the form of fuel and nourishment that it actually is. We have commodified diets and structures around food based on biases for what a body should look like and arbitrary measurements such as clothing size, weight, BMI and calories that have nothing to do with a person’s emotional or whole state of being. We have more or less “othered” mental health and completely disassociated from our own intuitive listening and trust. For example, rather than listening to ourselves when we are hungry, or stopping when we are full, we often instead favor adhering to diets and regimigns as dictated from a source outside of ourselves. It is quite tragic when you really consider it, that something as personal and at the same time basic as eating has become so commodified that we actually are rarely doing it from a place of real connection with ourselves.
One of the things I am committed to doing as a coach, whether my client is struggling with body image issues or is in recovery from disordered behaviours, is to help them reconnect with themselves again so that the choices they are making every single day are not actually coming from an outside pressure or costing them trust with their bodies. Instead, when we put weight aside and instead focus on what our actual relationship is with our body, our food and our practices, we can then begin to live much more authentically based on our internal gauge, rather than external measurements. This is also exactly what I try to create for anyone when they come to an eMOTION class, except rather than food being the subject, it’s movement.
What really struck me yesterday as Dr. Orbe Austin spoke on imposter syndrome was the thought that of course so many of us are struggling with it because so many of us are walking around completely disconnected from ourselves. Here we are, these beautiful and complex beings walking around in bodies that were made exactly for us, and yet the overriding tendency in our society and culture is to “make it fit” more generalized measurements and labels.
Just for fun, I looked up what some of the synonyms and antonyms of imposter are. The synonym search came up with words like: charlatan, fake, fraud, hoaxer, phony and pretender. When I look at today’s climate of influencer, diet, fitness and wellness culture, I can’t help but completely feel that all of these words fit in some way or another. What was fascinating however was that when trying to find the antonyms for Imposter, it was a more difficult search. Mirriam-Webster came up with ace, adept, authority, crackerjack, expert, maestro, master, professional, virtuoso, whiz and wizard, but only referred to these words as near antonyms. It makes me wonder if we really actually know how to cope or exist in the world without Imposter syndrome because while not having words for something doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist, it is still rather telling.
Over the next several weeks, I plan on sharing a series called Learning to Trust Yourself that will focus specifically around the principles of Intuitive Eating. However, as I said before, food and eating is just one medium in which Imposter Syndrome exists and many of these same steps can be applied to so many areas of life. I hope that you will continue to stay tuned and subscribe to the blog so you can receive updates.
And if you are ready to explore what the opposite of being an Imposter is in your own life may feel like for you, I am a coaching call away!
is a Mama, Wife, Yoga and Meditation Teacher, Coach, Writer and Activist. You can read more about her here.