dieting

Why Weight Loss and Body Acceptance are NOT Mutually Exclusive

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The holidays are upon us. Christmas tunes are playing as I sip from my red Starbucks cup (in other words, it's official now). And while the charm of this season is in the air, it's also a difficult time of year for many: the stress of hosting, complicated family dynamics and financial pressures can make it hard to relax and soak in the holiday spirit.

It's a natural human tendency to look back and focus on the things we didn't fulfill, the resolutions we didn't keep, and the mistakes we made, rather than reflecting on the positive steps we took, the accomplishments we achieved, and the lessons we learned.

I ask you, how many of your past years' resolutions sounded something like this?

I WILL fit into my skinny jeans

I WILL NOT eat carbs

I WILL get back to my wedding day weight

My New Years resolutions were weight-related year after year. I began each year ashamed that, as much as I wanted to lose weight, as motivated as I was (and I was motivated) I would find myself in the same place, just one year older.

So, a few years ago I decided that was enough of that. I realized that shaming myself into success did not work for me. Looking at the upcoming year in a frame of punishment was setting me up for failure before I even started. Because here's the thing. My internal dialogue was not about self care or how I could better feed my body and soul. It wasn't about leaning into things that made me feel good and proud and strong. It was about loathing the way I looked now and berating myself into change. Not shocking that it didn't work.

That's not to say that we shouldn't have weight loss goals. It's the approach we take to get there that makes all the difference. So many of the women I talk to believe that weight loss and body acceptance are mutually exclusive. They are not. Believing that you are worthy NOW and treating yourself with kindness is a MUCH more effective means of losing weight than trying to punish yourself into new habits.

I found sustained weight loss when I shifted my approach from punishing rules and self-hate to mindful eating and self-kindess. And I've seen other women have tremendous success doing the same. To help you step into this holiday season and new year with light, I would like to offer you a FREE, private 30-minute breakthrough session that will help you re-frame your weight loss goals and plans. Booking that breakthrough session will also make you eligible for special holiday pricing on 3 and 6 month coaching packages through the end of January.

If you have trouble believing this works, I don't blame you. But I do ask you to do one thing. Think back to times where you have felt that self-loathing. It was pretty fierce, wasn't it? It may have made you want to hide under the covers, but did it change your body?

So, this new year, don't resolve for a "new" or a "better you". Resolve to love yourself NOW and learn how to introduce methods of self-care that encourage sustainable healthy habits.

Cheers to you. Exactly as you are right now.

Why You Hate Dieting But Can't Let It Go

In working with clients I have seen a lot of women who have a major aversion to the idea of “giving up” dieting. When I share my own food journey with them, they immediately connect to it. “Yes! That is exactly what I do! You GET it!” But when I make it clear that my program is not a diet and, in fact, my philosophy around food is averse to traditional dieting, I can see the dread in their eyes.

They agree that traditional dieting has not served them well; it has not helped them attain (or sustain) their goals; and it’s usually affiliated with some level of resentment.

Ugh. I can’t {insert enjoyable experience here}. I'm on a diet.

I understand that dread. After all, while that diet has not helped them find a sense of ease around food or a love for their bodies, it has provided them with a sense of security that they don’t want to let go of.

The notion of eating without rules is so foreign to some of us that it can be downright scary.

What would that even look like? How will I know what to eat? Won’t I just eat brownies and pizza all day if there are no rules to follow?

No. You won’t. But let's come back to that later.

Remember that line in the film Knotting Hill where Julia Roberts' character jokes how she’s “been on a diet every day since I was nineteen, which basically means I've been hungry for a decade”? It’s funny until you realize that it’s actually very realistic for a lot of women.

I was consistently dieting in some form from the age of 15 to 29. It covered the basics: Weight Watchers, South Beach, eating only non-fat foods; Nutri System (the one where you microwave preservative-laden “food” 3 times a day). I lost weight and gained it back multiple times - nothing uncommon. Whatever the form of the diet, I inevitably wavered between feeling good when I ate the minimal amount recommended and becoming deeply depressed when one "misstep" sent me straight into a binge, feeling wildly out of control.

Weight loss has an extremely high recidivism rate. In other words, studies suggest that of those who are successful in losing weight on a diet, more than 90% of them gain that weight back. My point is not to diminish the success that some have (if you find something that works for you, that's awesome!) or to imply that weight loss is impossible. But I do think it’s critical that people understand that the failure of a diet to produce the long term results you want is not a reflection on you. Dieting is not a long term solution for most people. You are NOT a failure. You do NOT lack willpower. You are NOT lazy or pathetic. What you ARE, in fact, is very normal.

To me, that indicates that we need to explore different means by which to achieve our goals. After dieting for over 15 years (which was more than half of my life at that point), I had to face the reality that what I was doing was not working. And if it hadn't worked for 15 years, it probably never would.

That was a life-changing realization for me so I think it bears repeating. If it didn’t work for the last 15 years, it wasn’t going to work in the next year or 5 or 10. The magic diet was not right around the corner.

So why is it we hold onto the belief that “this time” dieting will work? As I mentioned, there is feeling of security attached to following a set of rules. We are told that by following those rules, we can get a desired outcome. When it doesn't work? Well, it’s because we didn’t follow it perfectly enough. There is no where to place the blame other than on yourself which leads you down a horribly familiar path of self-loathing and guilt, and often face first in the pint of ice cream.

This is why I work with clients on a long term, non-dieting approach to nutrition. In my mind, dieting means that you assign specific rules to foods and food groups based on an intellectual idea rather than based on how those foods make your body feel. Typically this involves a good deal of restriction, whether that means restricting certain groups of foods, limiting food intake to a set number of calories/points/colors, or assigning judgments to foods - good foods and bad foods; good eating days and bad ones.

I’ve done all of it. And truth be told, I’m still a work in progress. I often still feel terrible guilt and shame when I eat foods I once categorized as “bad.” The difference is that I now tune into my body and remind myself that foods have no value outside of how they make me feel, how they nourish me, energize or deplete me.

I am no “better” a person for eating kale and no less of one for eating pizza. But those rules were ingrained in me for much of my life and there is no off switch. Those thoughts will continue to creep in but I will continue to do my best to remind myself that what I eat does not warrant judgment, just the recognition of how it impacts my body.

I believe there is a difference between avoiding dairy on a regular basis because you find you have a sensitivity to it that causes discomfort, bloating, fogginess, etc. versus deciding to be dairy free because you read that "dairy is bad". But putting those beliefs into practice takes effort and work. It takes the same work that you put into your daily yoga practice or your 21 day diet – in fact, it probably takes more because it means working every day at reversing long-held beliefs that are no longer serving you.

If you take one thing away from this article, I hope you will be honest with yourself. If your approach to food and your body has not worked for you to date, why are you still holding onto it? I'd love for you to share in the comments below.

Or set up a FREE 1:1 coaching call with me to discuss a long-term, non-diet approach to your life.

How My Badass Client Lost Her Food Rules And Gained A New Lease On Life

Last week I wrapped up a six month coaching program with one of my most amazing clients. I wanted to share, with her permission, a bit of her story with you all because it is seriously powerful. I am so inspired by this young woman. She recognized that she was on a path she no longer wanted to be on and she made the commitment to herself to create change.

Martha and I started working together last Fall. She had spent the last year (or so) on a very restrictive diet, obsessing about food - tracking her calories, constantly thinking about what she ate or what she was going to allow herself to eat. Food choices determined much of her social life and her overall mood on a given day.

#beenthere.

Going to restaurants was a less than enjoyable experience because there would likely only be a couple of “acceptable” choices to order from on the menu. She liked the way that “eating clean” made her body feel but she didn’t like feeling as though her life was controlled by food and exercise.

As we worked on setting her goals together, Martha knew she wanted to find a balance between good nutrition and being able to enjoy her life without constantly thinking about food. BUT she wasn’t ready to let go of weight loss goals either. So, we set out with both sets of goals on the table and determined how we could best align those goals.

First we assessed what she was eating. Bottom line, it wasn’t enough. She was deficient in protein and good fat sources, leaving her always hungry and, naturally, often thinking about food. Many people don't realize that undereating can sabotage your weight loss goals because the body goes into starvation mode, slowing down the metabolism. Your body is built to adapt; if she is underfed she holds on to every source of energy she can and signals your brain that she is HUNGRY AND NEEDS FOOD. Always being hungry isn't helpful for weight loss, right?

Martha was open to educating herself and experimenting with new foods. But the real work began with opening herself up to letting go of the food rules that she had set for herself. We focused on how eating based on a set of rules and judgments about specific foods disconnects us completely from our bodies.

Think about this for a second. If foods start to fall into categories of “good or bad”, “safe or unsafe”, feeding ourselves becomes an operation entirely of the mind, not the body. If we determine that carbohydrates are “bad”, for example, we don’t pay attention to how actual foods make us FEEL.

How do you FEEL when you eat brown rice?
How do you FEEL after eating high quality dairy?
Does meat appeal and satiate you in a good way?

These are the type of questions we want to ask ourselves when we make food choices. What does my body need? Something warm and comforting? Or something crunchy and refreshing? How do specific foods make me FEEL during and after eating and is that how I want to feel?

For those of us who spend years following traditional diets (PSA: a diet is just a set of food rules), we have to actually practice how to tune into our bodies, rather than relying on intellectual ideas like “it's Tuesday which means I can't eat bread”.

This is the journey that Martha set out on.

Like many women who struggle with these issues, Martha has a good head on her shoulders. She knew intellectually that those 8 or 10 pounds didn’t determine her worthiness as a woman or a person. But she was consumed by the rules - what she should look like, what she should eat, when she should be entitled to a night of wine with friends. Today she told me that she now realizes she needed help breaking free from this mental block of arbitrary rules and recalibrating those belief systems.

Her insights got me thinking about how we live in this culture where we equate intensity to success. Intensity of work, intensity of exercise, intensity of academia. We subscribe to the belief that doing more and going harder is somehow better. I’m not suggesting it’s bad to strive for excellence and I’m not judging those who push themselves to the limits - hell, if you know me you’re like “Hey, pot? I'm kettle. You’re black”.

It just strikes me that we tend to glorify intensity as strength and dismiss gentleness as weakness. Being gentle toward yourself isn’t weak. It takes a great deal more strength to be kind to yourself than it does to berate yourself. When healing from an injury or an illness, do you heal faster by punishing that part of your body or by tending to and caring for that part of your body? The same goes for how you nourish your body. Self kindness goes a long way in making consistent choices that serve your body and mind well.

At only 22 years old, Martha realized that living her life according to “shoulds” wasn’t the kind of life she actually wanted. Damn, this girl inspires me. Six months may seem like a long time when you commit to something new - or to anything for that matter. But to make a significant life change that impacts every aspect of your day to day world in six months? That’s freakin’ mind blowing. And that is what this girl did.

In the span of that six months, Martha told me that she “got back to being herself." She started dating a special guy, she reconnected with friends in a meaningful way and, most importantly, she found ease and comfort with herself. She is now spending a lot more time thinking about her career, planning trips with her boyfriend and exploring the city with friends, and a lot less time calculating how many calories she burned on the treadmill.

She went from weighing herself daily to not stepping on a scale for 4 months because she decided that starting each day with that measurement didn’t set her up for success. She’s not sure what she weighs - whether it's more or less than when we started. But she does know that she is right where she wants to be. She experiments with food and pays attention to what her body asks for. She is training for her first 10K and listening to her body on days when it asks for rest.

Does she have days where she feels insecure about her body? Of course she does. She’s human. We all have those days. This kind of work doesn’t mean you won’t have those days. It means that those days come and go without necessitating a 3 day juice cleanse or canceling dinner plans with friends.

I’m so proud of this girl. I’m so proud of her ability to see the big picture when it’s so easy to get caught up in what is right in front of you. I’m so proud of the commitment she made to happiness and health. And I’m so proud that, even at just 22, she is able to grasp what so many of us don’t: that skinnier does necessarily mean happier.

Girl, you are a badass. XOXO

If you find yourself bound by a set of rules when it comes to food and how you feel about your body, email me or book a FREE 1:1 session here. I'd love to connect with you.

My Mother's Daughter

My mother is the strongest and most badass person I know. Its empowering to be raised by a woman who demonstrates strength in all aspects of life. It's not her phD or her professional success which make her, in my eyes, the strongest woman I know. Its not that she and my father started their young lives together with nothing and raised three children while working full time and providing us with everything we could hope for. It's not even that she beat cancer and cared for my father as he beat cancer. As an adult, I can now appreciate how much sadness and adversity my mother has faced in her 66 years: the loss of both of her parents, one when she was in her 20's; the loss of a sister; the fear she had to face for a child in the throws of an eating disorder. Most trying, though, has been her fight to help her oldest child - my sister - who suffers from debilitating mental illness. Its a fight that is ever present in her life, day in and day out.

And yet, she gets up every day and lives life with grace and fortitude, recognizing all that she has to be so grateful for. She does everything in her power to support a child that cannot help herself but doesn't let it keep her from living her own life. She still finds joy in the small things - the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach, an afternoon with a lifelong friend; and she relishes in the big things -  supporting me as I embark on a new career path.

The strongest woman I know. And, yet, I have these vivid memories of being a girl and hearing her wish longingly for "legs like that woman's". I remember my dad telling me how my wise, successful, stunning mother (see above) used to comment that she wished they had machines that could stretch your body out. It's something most (sadly I don't think thats an exaggeration) women probably think about more often than we'd like to admit, regardless of how successful or fortunate we are.

I tell you this story not because I think my mother did anything wrong or "caused" my body image issues. My mother was and is incredibly supportive of me in all ways. I share this because as I get older and plan my future with my fiance, the thought of how I teach my daughter to embrace her body is always on my mind. How can I guide her to love herself and be grateful for the incredible things her body is capable of, regardless of what size she wears, when it has been so hard for me to do the same for myself? How do I ingrain in her that she's beautiful as she is while making her realize that she is so much more than what she looks like? So much more than her measurements.

I suppose it's something I can't answer, at least not yet. One thing I do know is that it begins with me. Children pick up on how we treat ourselves and they mimic us. So it's up to me to walk my walk and not just talk my talk. It's up to me to embrace my body for all she is capable of, whether I ran 5 miles or ate pizza on the couch that day.

I also know that we will talk about it often and honestly. I can't control the so-called "ideal" images of women that will surround her everywhere she goes. But I can remind her that who we are - not the size of our skinny jeans - is what makes us beautiful. And it's when we love ourselves and our bodies that our beauty shines through most brightly. 

Ladies, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, whether or not you're a mom. How do you approach body image with your daughters, sisters, and loved ones? Please share, as it's something all of us can learn and benefit from!