Tag Archives: hunger cues

This is Why You Feel Like You Can’t Trust Your Body to Tell You When, What, and How Much To Eat

How much of this burger should you eat? Depending on who you listen to, it might be none, half or all of it. The best person to listen to for these kind of answers is yourself.

Have you ever thought to think about what prompts you to start or stop eating?

Is it thoughts about it being lunch “time”? Or maybe that it’s been 3 hours since you last ate? Do you stop eating because you are satisfied or is it because you think you shouldn’t eat any more?

When was the last time you ate a meal and stopped eating when your body told you to?

It’s very common for those who eat emotionally to feel challenged by knowing how much or when to eat. In fact, most of our society is a bit screwed up by this (so please know that this isn’t something unique to you – it’s not your fault)!  Let’s examine some of the social cues and eating rules that we’ve come to use day in, day out that override and confuse the physical cues that we already have in our body.

First, know that no matter what your current relationship or feelings around food, you were born with a body and mind that worked together that helped you determine when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat.

If you’ve ever spent time around babies or small children and watched them eat, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t care what time of day or night it is, and they don’t measure out controlled portions of food. They don’t concern themselves with whether they’re eating too many carbs or fat. They eat when they feel hunger and they stop when they’ve had enough. They don’t overeat and they don’t worry about overeating. They respond to physical cues and sensations that are in their bodies that tell them it’s time to start or stop eating. They also have the amazing ability to communicate this need to the adults that care for them so that they can get what their little bodies need.

You have this ability inside of you still. I promise you do.

And the reason you may feel like you don’t is because of the way we handle mealtimes in our culture.

What went wrong isn’t that you “can’t control yourself around food”, it’s that you live in a society that dictates that you have to eat 3 square meals a day at 8am, 12pm and 5pm (or close to it). You have been trained to eat at roughly those times of day whether you are hungry or not because group meal times are a convenient and somewhat necessary practice of a productive society. Because of these regulated meal times we lose the ability to feel WHEN it is time to eat in our bodies. If you went to daycare or kindergarten, your first induction to group meal times likely happened there and it was probably a bit of an adjustment period (“snack time” in these little ones classrooms give young ones time to get used to more rigorously scheduled eating times than they probably had at home).

What went wrong is that we live in a society that has convinced us all that food is “dangerous”. It’s either dangerous because of how it’s produced (GMO, pesticides, factory-farming, antibiotic resistance, overly processed etc), dangerous because of it’s nutritional content (it’s too high in fat, too high in carbs, not enough protein, too high in calories etc) or it’s dangerous because it tastes good and we won’t be able to stop eating it.  All of this “danger” means we can’t be trusted to make good choices about food on our own.  So with the “help” of our government (remember the food pyramid recommendations? Lobbyists have helped to shape those recommendations more than science), well meaning doctors and dietitians, and profit hungry companies who saw an opportunity to get rich, we have come to rely on food labels, food scales, measuring cups, calories, point systems and more to tell our bodies how much to eat. We learned that we can’t trust our bodies to tell us HOW MUCH to eat and over time we had to ignore those hunger and fullness signals in place of portioned out and rigidly controlled food until we no longer knew what those sensations feel like.

What went wrong is that we live in a culture that encourages confusion, nutritional science studies can’t agree on what is actually healthy. Complicating things even more is if you look into who paid for many food studies, you’ll find some interesting conflicts of interest, such as in this summer’s coconut oil is bad study. Every food or macronutrient at one time gets hailed as miracle cure or made out to be a villain. Remember how huge kale was for awhile?? Then people heard about oxalates and kidney stones and the excitement went away. We listen to all the conflicting advice, we jump on bandwagons for awhile, find out the science was “wrong” get stuck and confused and don’t know where to turn until the next food panacea shows up. And the cycle continues.

I talk to a lot of women who say they don’t know what to eat anymore. They don’t know who to listen to for real and accurate information. They are making themselves sick over worrying about what to eat. This is no way to live.

We can’t change the way our culture handles food quickly. It’s something that is going to be running in the background silently (or not so silently) for a very long time, until more of us than not decide to do things differently.

If you want to reclaim your own natural hunger and fullness cues and you want to feel more sure of your decisions around food, then I recommend you start tuning out what everyone else says you should do (this includes me!) and start listening to yourself!

Here are a few ways you can begin to reawaken and connect with those cues you already have in your body:

  • When it’s an option, eat meal times without distractions. Don’t watch TV, read or look at your phone while eating. Try to take in your food not just with your mouth but with all your senses. Doing this helps our brain interpret signals from the stomach and recognize when it’s had enough. You’ll also eat slower and will get more enjoyment out of your food.
  • Play around with the times of day and how much you eat. Explore having smaller or larger meals and then not eating again until you notice pangs of hunger in your body. Note where you feel it and what it feels like. Note how much food you have to consume to make the hunger quiet down again. How much do you have to eat to feel satisfied? And where does fullness and too full come into the picture? What feels best? Play this game often until you are an expert in your own hunger and fullness signals.
  • Do the same thing with what types of food you eat. Notice how different textures taste and feel. Of the foods you like, what is it that you like about them? And what is it that you don’t like about foods you don’t like? Is it texture? Flavor? Bitterness? Or how it feels once it reaches your belly? Notice if some foods make you feel more energetic than others. Perhaps some make you feel comfort and others anxiety. Explore it all and be relaxed about it. Be Curious and take notes!
  • Walk away from calorie counter and diet apps. Scary at first, I know. But practice not using them. They’re not helping you tune into your body.
  • Do all of this without judgement about yourself. You’re not bad if you ate “too much”. You’re not good if you experience hunger frequently. You’re just a human who is trying to make their way in this world and food is not about morality. View these experiences as an internship where you are learning about your particular body’s needs for the first time.
  • Don’t worry about whether a food is “healthy” or “unhealthy”. All foods can be part of a nutritious diet (and healthy people eat all sorts of things). Use your best instincts (you smarter than you know) and aim for eating a wide variety of foods and include foods that you love. Tell other people to mind their own business if they put their own food beliefs on you.

You’re the best guide you’ll ever have. Listen and trust yourself and your judgement. It’s in the listening to everyone and everything else that got us into this confusion with food. You’ll find freedom in the expertise of being you.

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How Health Coaches Are Contributing to A Diet Culture Full of Fear and Confusion

If you go to the market and have these thoughts: “Oh, those tomatoes look so good. Thank goodness, they’re organic! Oh, wait, tomatoes are nightshades. I probably shouldn’t eat them. Oh and they’re so acidic, should I be eating more alkaline foods? And I better not eat them raw, aren’t tomatoes better for you when you eat them cooked? But cooking destroys so many nutrients, I should probably invest in a dehydrator. Screw it, I’ll just not get them.” then diet culture and the coaches you follow may be failing you.


Two weeks ago I talked about how dieting shouldn’t be our normal state and some of the normalized things that go on in our culture that contribute to entire generations of women being obsessed with getting and staying “small”. This is a huge subject and one that I’ve only scratched the surface of. In this post, I want to talk about another aspect of it and something that may seem a little strange considering my job title.

I think some health coaches are unintentionally contributing to diet culture and might be doing more harm than good.

Before I get stoned by my peers, I want to say that not all coaches are doing this and of those that are doing it, I know it’s mostly with good intentions and in all honesty, I fell into this category when I first started out too.

 

A little bit of backstory.

Several years ago, I gave up traditional dieting in favor of a healthy “lifestyle” because after a decade plus of dieting I just couldn’t do it anymore. Dieting had turned me into someone who had frequent binges and a lot of shame around my body and food. Embracing a whole foods healthy lifestyle meant I lost weight and had an easier time keeping it off without feeling crazy or deprived. I felt much better eating “cleanly” and I really came to believe that a whole foods based diet and eating as little processed food as possible was the way to health. My health coaching practice and social media reflected this.  I still eat this way for the most part but I have become much more flexible as to what I view as “healthy” and it has more to do with where my head is at than what specifics I’m eating.

If you’ve been following me from the start of my coaching career, you may have noticed that I’ve posted very little about actual food specifics the last few years. Gone are the whole food based detox programs, I rarely post photos of food I eat and it’s only on the odd occasion that I share a recipe, whole foods or otherwise. I don’t share much information about pesticides in our foods, how to sprout your own lentils and which health conditions need to avoid cruciferous vegetables. I now push intuition, body and self trust / knowledge, joyful movement and other things that sound really wishy-washy but really matter to someone who wants more peace with food.

 

Hypocrite or Evolving?

As my own relationship with food has evolved over time, I realized that some of what I was teaching and recommending in my early days of coaching conflicted with where I really want to take people – and where I wanted to be myself. I want and I want others to feel confident in themselves as their only guide to making food choices. I want people to feel less fearful about food and more relaxed around it (and just so you know this does not necessarily mean disregarding nutrition or health). I feel a little hypocritical when I look back at some of my early work but Marie Forleo says that if you don’t look back at your early work and cringe a little, it means you’re not growing (so at least I’m growing)! Growth is good.

 

Diet culture wants you to feel scared and confused so you keep buying.

One of the things diet culture thrives upon is keeping people confused, keeping them scared of making choices and teaching us that we can’t trust our bodies. If we’re scared and confused, fearful about our health and our bodies, we will run out to buy whatever it is they’re selling – shakes, exercise programs, food plans, supplements etc. If we’re not scared and confused, if we trust ourselves as smart creatures who have always known how to feed themselves, there won’t be much we have to buy.

A lot of well meaning coaches are constantly sharing information that the general public may not be aware of that the coach believes we need to know in order to feel motivated to make better decisions about health (how bad sugar is for us, how glyphosate increases gut permeability, how animal products cause cancer, how our phones are causing brain tumors and increasing ADD etc). The problem is that when we share so much of this kind of scary health information we are making people afraid of food and adding to the confusion that is already out there. After a while, this kind of information sharing creates a feeling that we can’t trust anything and we end up in a food choice paralysis.

 

More confusion and fear around food is not helping people make better choices.

Feeling afraid of food helps you develop eating disorders (fyi – aiming to eat perfectly clean and healthy all of the time and feeling ashamed and stressed when you can’t or don’t is called “orthorexia“). Feeling confused around food makes us dependent on diets and diet gurus to tell us what to eat when really we should be dialing down into listening to our bodies hunger and satiety signals, paying attention to the way individual foods make us feel, learning about what foods our ancestors ate (it’s in our DNA) and being flexible to change.

In the world of emotional eaters and chronic dieters (where my viewpoint is), fear and confusion is the last thing health coaches should promote. Two of the main lessons we learned in coaching school was that the client has their own answers inside of them and that we have to respect something called “bioindividuality” – the idea that people know what’s best for their bodies and the way of eating that works for one person may not be right for another. I see a ton of coaches instilling fear in people because they believe one specific way of eating is correct. I know it has to be hard to coach people towards their own needs when you are a die-hard vegan or strict paleo, but being that rigid about what people should be eating is moving away from coaching territory and into something different (and depending on your state you may need additional certifications to do that). It’s really not our jobs to tell people what to eat in such strict terms.

I’m not knocking all coaches – I’m still a health coach and I have a lot of health coach friends who I respect and I know they are sincerely doing work that is going to change the world. Health coaching has been incredibly helpful for tackling my eating struggles and I have a lot of tools that have helped me make peace with food (and helped me teach my clients the same). As a whole I believe the profession’s goals are to help people live healthier so that they can do more amazing things in their lives. This is a good thing but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some big problems! The intent in the health coaching community is good but sometimes the way we go about encouraging change is diametrically opposed to actually being healthy.

 

Health Coaches with Strict and Extreme Views

There is a faction of coaches who practice extreme vigilance about food and the ideas some these folks teach contribute to deeper entrenchment into diet culture. In addition to sharing lots of scary and over complicated info, they promote products and programs that perpetuate us not trusting our bodies to tell us what to eat (powdered shakes, special containers and super specific and rigid meal plans etc) and others that have such high and restrictive standards of what constitutes healthy eating / healthy lifestyle (for example, raw food only, vegan only, paleo only, organic, local, non-irradiated, soaked and sprouted etc) that by the pure challenges of following everything they recommend, we are set up to fail and become more confused and scared of food.

Let me illustrate how insanely difficult and impossible the way we seem to expect people to eat is (according to the things coaches share on social media). I personally have every opportunity to make this unrealistic healthy food movement come to life in my American home.

I have the knowledge to prepare food the “healthiest” way possible.

I have the time and ability.

I work from home, love to cook and I’m a good cook.

I also have the financial means to buy organic, free range, local, grass-fed etc foods.

We prioritize food in my house over many other things.

And I don’t have children who pull at my pant legs and beg to have heavily processed chicken nuggets and hot dogs for dinner (just a cat who is a finicky eater).

This is not a brag, this is to show you how my life and I am well suited to make this inaccessible and perfect food stuff work. I legit have all the means necessary to make foods the way people are preaching we need to if we want to be healthy and yet even I find I get fucking tired of it, overwhelmed, apathetic and annoyed and sometimes I wish there were take out places nearby. I’ve sometimes thrown all my food edicts out the window and eaten a frozen pizza (yes, even dairy and full of gluten and processed) because I can’t deal with checking all the damn boxes for another day and I want it easy. This is coming from someone who dearly loves food and nutrition.

If I can’t do “it” every day of my life and I’m the perfect candidate, then how can we expect people in other more complicated situations to get in line?

This is not really working guys!

Having a zillion rules about food, how it’s sourced, how to prep it properly and more causes stress, panic and eating disorders. It does not actually make someone healthy. How can you not fall into some type of eating disorder when you no longer know what is SAFE to eat? And if we have to depend on another person more educated than us on food to give us guidelines (that change constantly), then we will never be free and never be healthy.

An overly puritanical “healthy lifestyle” can lead you down an unhealthy path of being overly restrictive with food just as much as the average diet can and all in the name of health, energy and clear skin.

If you’ve had any food struggles in your life, learning to trust yourself and re-engage with the wisdom and intuition we had as babies and toddlers is a better path to health.

Worrying about food all the time is not healthy.

Worrying if you’re making the right choices is not healthy.

Still feeling like crap even when you’re doing all the “right” things is not the picture of health.

It is much better to trust your body, feel safe with your own knowledge and listen to your body to tell you what it needs. This leads to better mental health – and when we’re well on an emotional and mental level, we make physical choices we can feel good about too.

I’m not saying that health coaches need to throw out everything they’ve learned about nutrition, health and how food is produced in this country, but we really need to start asking ourselves if what we’re sharing and recommending is helping people to feel empowered? Is it helping them to feel secure, relaxed and confident? Is it truly making people feel well on an emotional level?

Let’s ease up and help people get back in touch with those answers we know they have inside of themselves.


How did you like that rant? Do you want to learn more about feeling confident in your relationship with food? Do you want to learn to trust yourself and discount the confusing messages in our media? If so, click the image below and grab my copy of “You Have What it Takes“, a guide full of questions to help you improve your relationship to food.

Dieting Shouldn’t be Our Normal State

Diet culture teaches us to tell ourselves that this plate is too much food before we even take a bite.

Everyone is on a diet, always, or thinking about their next diet, or thinking about going back to the diet that they lost 30 lbs on ten years ago. The amount of brain energy we use to think about better ways we can restrict food is absolutely insane.

Dieting shouldn’t be our “normal” state in life yet for most adult women, it’s something they are frequently thinking about.  It’s rare to meet a woman who has never been on a diet or who doesn’t desire to be smaller. It’s disarming to be in a room with a woman who seems to eat freely, without concern for calories, carbs or how other people will perceive her for eating whatever she desires. Try going to the average exercise class full of women and I will bet you $100 that the instructor will say something about working harder so you can wear a bikini in a few months (the assumption being your current body isn’t fit to wear a bikini). Try watching TV for an hour and not see a commercial that promotes either a device that will help melt off fat, a procedure that will make you slimmer or an exercise program or medication that will help you finally lose weight.

Women grow up knowing what dieting is, long before their bodies are done growing. We understand the need to manage and manipulate our bodies in order to receive approval. At a young age we don’t understand why dieting is so important but we learn that it’s just part of being a woman and we really want to be adult women.

We hear our Moms and their friends, or other women in our family talk about how they need to stop eating carbs, or how they just can’t control themselves around sweets or bread. They pinch their stomachs and say “Look at this! Can you believe how fat I’ve gotten?” and laugh. They order diet cokes and salads with fat free dressing when the family goes out to eat. They comment on other people’s bodies too. They say things like “She’s too big to wear that” or “She’s totally let herself go.” We also hear “Have you lost weight? You look so beautiful!” or “Wow, that’s a very slimming dress on her.”

We take it all in. Just as we learn everything else. Big = bad. Fat = bad. Pretty = good. Thin = good.

We grow up watching the women around us push food around their plates instead of putting it in their mouths. We watch the women we love hold onto clothing hanging in their closets that are 3 sizes too small but they keep because of a dream body that still lives in their seams. We learn that dieting is just what women do and because we are desperate to be a grown woman long before our bodies and minds are ready, we too start to regulate our food intake.

We tell our own girlfriends that we’re no longer eating cookies or that we’re watching the carbs. We tell them how we’re going to start exercising so we can lose a few pounds. We aren’t even sure what a pound is or how many of them is enough, but we know that we should have less of them.

We say all of this so proudly and we wait for their eyes to light up with envy, with awe, with approval and love. We know how grown up “dieting” makes us appear and that idea makes an electric tingle go through our bodies starting from the glittery headbands on our heads down to the suede ballet flats on our feet. We feel more bonded to our friends and other women in our lives when they share their diet plans or secrets. We bond over vilifying fat and celebrate our accomplishments when we can squeeze into a dress that was too small a few weeks ago. Food becomes an enemy to never relax around and being willing and able to go hungry for long periods of time becomes a badge of honor.

Little girls learning that they have to be small, pretty and perfect to be loved is not ok.

It’s not ok because they grow up to be women who accidentally teach the same ideas to the next generation.

It’s not ok because all of these women limit their potential because they’re so bogged down by the issues attached to weight, size and controlling their bodies.

It’s all so crazy and sad. And we have to start changing it.

We should be outraged that this has become the normal. That it’s completely accepted that we should all be vying to be as small as possible and that anything else is wrong.

I just want to say for a second that there’s no one to blame here. I’m not blaming mom’s for their daughter’s learning this stuff and you’re not a bad person if you say, think and do the things I’m talking about here. You learned this stuff somewhere too. My own mother constantly told me that I was capable of anything and also that I’d look beautiful even in a burlap sack. But her own words about her own body was a different story and I absorbed all of it as just something women did.

This is a bigger cultural issue (diet culture) we have that goes so deep and is supported by every single one of us taking part in it. I still find myself occasionally thinking or saying things (especially as a joke about myself) that support diet culture even though it goes against everything I believe and teach today. Some things are so ingrained, it’s hard to realized how far, except when they seem to appear out of nowhere. I’m still working on my own deep beliefs about my body and food. It’s a process and one that will take years to undo the damage our diet culture does to all of us.

Diet culture teaches us that we can’t trust our own bodies to tell us how much to eat. It teaches us that we are wrong and sneaky. It teaches us that we need calorie counts, points or portion sizes spelled out for us in order to know how much to eat. Diet culture teaches us to silence the signals that are already available to us in our own bodies, until they’re so faint we can’t hear them anymore.

I can’t stress enough that we don’t need diets or meal plans to tell us how much and what to eat. Unless you have a medical condition that requires careful policing of certain nutrients or food categories (diabetes, celiac, kidney disease etc), you probably don’t need some other authority to tell you what and how much to eat. And if you feel so far removed from trusting your own hunger cues, I can help you get back in touch with them. The best authority to check in with to determine how much food your body needs is you. Your body. Your knowledge of yourself. If you feel good and you’re healthy, if you have ample energy to do all the things you want to do, then odds are you are eating the right amount of food that you need. You don’t need to follow a diet.

This might mean that your body is meant to be a little or a lot larger than you want it to be. This also doesn’t mean you have to be unhealthy. You can eat well, exercise, get good sleep, manage stress and do all sorts of other things in the name of health. You don’t have to necessarily manipulate your size or weight to be healthy. Being slender does not equate health and being heavier does not equal being unhealthy.

Constant dieting is like being at war with yourself and you can’t make peace with food if you are at war.

You may not be ready to give up dieting or know how to stop taking part in diet culture the first time you are introduced to it (whether through a blog post like mine or somewhere else) but what you can do is try to become more aware of your thoughts and beliefs and ask yourself where that came from. Here are a few questions to ask yourself or use for journaling to bring up your beliefs about your body and food:

  • What do you believe about your body? Is it too big, too small, just right? Why? Why is it one of those things? How do you know?
  • Think back to your childhood and teen years. What types of things did the people around you say about their bodies, your body or other’s bodies? How do you think their viewpoints affected you?
  • What do you believe if the right way to eat? What foods do you eat regularly and which do you never eat? Why? Why do you think you choose the ones you do or don’t?
  • What thoughts and feelings do you have about other women’s bodies? Are there certain attributes you are aspiring to? Are there attributes or features that you are trying to change? Why?
  • When do you feel your physical best? Why do you think that is?
  • Do you have judgemental thoughts about food? Do you believe some foods are good or bad? Or that you are good or bad for eating them? Why do you think this is?
  • What do you admire and appreciate about your body as it is right now?
  • When was the last time you ate a meal and received pleasure from eating it (without judgements)? Can you try to receive pleasure from food more often?

I have so much to say on this but I don’t want to bog you down with yet another 2500 word blog post (haha) so keep an eye out for my next blog post which will be on how health coaches are contributing to diet culture and how I’m trying to do things differently!


Have you gotten my newest free guide You Have What it Takes? If you’re an emotional eater, overeater or longtime dieter who wonders if she has what it takes to change her relationship with food, then this for you. And it’s free. Click on the image below, then enter your name and email and it’s yours!