Health At Every Size

Healing Your Relationship with Food and Exercise

February 23, 2024

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I'm Michelle — health coach for women who want to escape diet culture and find the health they deserve.

Meet Michelle

There is so much complexity involved with our relationship with food. And when we get so caught up in the diets, the rules, the calorie counting, the step tracking, the activity tracking…it’s so easy to lose the connection that we have with ourselves. 

It’s always encouraging to talk to other women who are interested in ditching diet culture and healing relationships with food. And my recent conversation with Joanne Edinberg, a Certified Eating Psychology Coach and the founder of Body Wisdom Nutrition, opened up a unique perspective on issues surrounding food, our bodies, and our weight. So today, I want to share those insights in the hope of encouraging you to reconnect to yourself again and to not only heal your relationship with food,  but to also heal your relationship with yourself as well.

Unraveling the Grip of Diet Culture

Growing up, I was never really aware of how much of my thoughts and energy revolved around weight loss, food, and my body. It wasn’t until I did the training with the Institute for the Psychology of Eating that I really began to see the extent of its hold on me.

And this is true for most people–we are so immersed in diet culture that we simply don’t even realize how much of an impact it’s having. This has become clear to me once again over recent months, particularly when it comes to my relationship with exercise.

I have had quite a tenuous relationship with exercise my whole life. As a kid, I’d do anything to skip gym class, often preferring the comfort of books. Even when I played soccer, I felt like I didn’t measure up and people would laugh at the way I ran. In my 20s, exercise became a form of punishment for eating “too much.” I’d push myself through workouts to make up for indulgences, perpetuating a cycle of guilt and shame.

Now, years later, those beliefs still linger. Despite wanting to enjoy activities like walking, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m somehow paying penance. Even in the midst of nature’s beauty in Canmore, I’ve been resistant to go out hiking in the mountains, and it all comes down to the fact I’m finding it hard to disconnect from the idea that exercise is punishment.

But I am learning to approach it differently. Instead of forcing myself to “just do it,” I’m exploring the deeper reasons behind my resistance. Through journaling and self-reflection, I’m uncovering the beliefs that hold me back and embracing a more compassionate view of myself.

If I want exercise to be something joyful for me that I do simply because it feels good and I enjoy it, I have to believe that I deserve to feel good and enjoy something. And there’s still part of me who doesn’t actually believe that’s true. 

Reclaiming control over my relationship with food and exercise is far from easy, especially with the pervasive influence of diet culture. But each step forward brings me closer to a place of understanding and self-acceptance.

Seeing Past the Superficiality of Dieting

We’re often told that staying healthy is as easy as following a set of rules—eat this food, exercise this way. But there’s more to it than that. Diet culture makes it seem so simple, but in reality, our relationship with food and exercise runs much deeper.

Instead of seeing food as just fuel, it’s become a tangled mess of social norms, self-esteem issues, and identity struggles. It’s hard to believe that something as basic as eating has become so complicated.

Especially for women, food isn’t just about staying slim. It’s tied to how we see ourselves and how others see us. Diet culture tells us that if we just control what we eat and how much we move, we’ll be happy. But it’s not that simple.

True health is about more than counting calories. It’s about understanding our bodies, our emotions, and our needs. It’s about finding balance in a world that’s obsessed with superficial ideals.

Breaking free from diet culture means digging deeper, questioning what we’ve been taught, and finding our own path to wellness. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it to live a life that’s truly fulfilling.

Discovering Ourselves Through Food

The beautiful thing about food is that it is something that we need to live. So it’s a perfect way to really learn about ourselves. Unlike habits we can easily drop, like alcohol or drugs, eating is a daily ritual that reflects our habits, tastes, and how we nourish ourselves. 

The way we eat is the way we live. If we’re trying to control our food, or our exercise, or our body, what does that mean about the rest of our lives? Do we feel out of control? What can we learn about that? What does it mean to just let go? What does it mean to trust ourselves? 

Letting go of strict rules around food isn’t just about eating—it’s about embracing a feminine frame of mind and a more intuitive approach to life. It’s about trusting ourselves and surrendering to the flow of life, rather than rigidly following someone else’s plan.

Breaking Free from Limiting Beliefs

It’s astonishing to realize that many of us haven’t actually taken the time to consider what we truly want out of life. In my work with women, I always begin by asking about their goals. And surprisingly, many struggle to articulate their own desires, often redirecting the conversation to what they want for others, like their children.

This tendency to prioritize others over ourselves stems from a belief that we’re not worthy of pursuing our own dreams. It can be uncomfortable to confront this belief, so we often avoid exploring our own aspirations altogether.

But discovering what we want is a journey of trial and error, much like trying on clothes or tasting new foods. It’s about staying curious and open to possibilities, without the pressure of committing to one path forever.

Part of the challenge lies in reconnecting with our bodies. In a society that emphasizes appearances and societal roles, we often disconnect from our physical selves. Yet, re-establishing this connection is essential for personal growth and fulfillment.

Despite the discomfort that comes with facing our imperfections and societal expectations, reconnecting with ourselves is crucial. It’s the first step towards reclaiming our agency and living a life aligned with our true desires.

Emotional Eating: Finding Pleasure Beyond Food

When we’re on the journey to heal our relationship with food, it’s crucial to understand that food isn’t just about sustenance—it’s deeply woven into our social and cultural fabric. We’ve all seen it in movies: the heartbroken girl turning to a tub of ice cream for comfort. It’s a scene that resonates with many because, let’s face it, we all turn to food for solace sometimes.

A lot of women have the expectation that they should only crave healthy foods, but the truth is, perfect eating isn’t attainable. It’s okay to savor a beer at a baseball game or enjoy a treat simply because it tastes good.

Finding balance between feeling out of control around food and choosing to enjoy it for pleasure is key. Just as we nourish ourselves with food, we also need to find joy in other aspects of life. I always encourage my clients to create a list of things that bring them happiness—a walk in nature, a chat with a friend, or their favorite music—and turn to these when they need comfort.

Emotional eating often stems from discomfort with our feelings. Instead of numbing them with food, I urge my clients to tune into their emotions and bodily sensations. Do you feel tightness in your chest? Is there tension in your back or neck? By becoming more aware of your triggers, you can start to break free from these patterns and find peace in your relationship with food and yourself. 

And every time you allow yourself to enjoy something pleasurable or allow yourself to feel any other emotions in your body, you collect these experiences which makes it easier to do as time goes on. You begin to understand that it’s safe to sit in your body and experience these feelings. 

It’s so important to realize that constantly pushing ourselves and being hard on ourselves isn’t the answer. Our society often tells us that if we work harder and do more, we’ll get what we want. But it’s not that simple. This hustle mentality actually makes things worse when it comes to our relationship with food and ourselves.

The real solution is to let go of all that pressure and just be present. I know how tough this can be, especially when it goes against the norm. And that’s why having support from others who get it is so important. We can’t do it alone.

So as we continue this journey, let’s remember that true healing starts from within. It’s about listening to our bodies, being kind to ourselves, and finding peace in each moment. Together, we can encourage and uplift each other as we strive for a healthier and happier life.

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