Can you feel better without losing weight?
“I get intuitive eating and I want to do it, but I just don’t know if it’s for me because I need to lose weight because my body hurts.”
Yesterday was my 6th anniversary with my amazing husband. We were making the bed together before heading out for our day trip, and he said, “Do you remember that morning 6 years ago when we were about to get married?”
I immediately flashed back to sitting on my mother’s front porch, eating a whole wheat bagel with veggie spread, and trying to drown out the voices screaming in my head: You shouldn’t be eating this...The wheat is going to make you feel bloated...You should have just had eggs and fruit...This is too many carbs early in the day…
When I think back on that morning, the thing I remember most is the stress. I wasn’t stressed over getting married, or anything having to do with the actual event. I was stressed about my body, and eating perfectly, and looking as thin as I possibly could in my dress.
So, yesterday, I answered my husband: “Sadly, the thing I remember most is freaking out about eating a bagel for breakfast. I wasn’t even thinking about the actual wedding.”
So many of the events of my life...probably most of them, actually...were characterized by how I felt about food and my body in that moment. When I look back at old pictures, I can feel the anxiety, the fear, and the self-loathing. I could be smiling from ear to ear, but I can remember how I spent the whole morning stressing about how many points were in the omelet I ate, or obsessing over that little tummy roll above my waistband.
Here’s what I’ve come to learn (and I know this is absolutely true, so just trust me even if it sounds crazy to you right now): the stress and fear you feel about food / eating / your body makes you feel worse physically.
This was a tough concept for me to wrap my head around -- I mean, we’ve been taught that we can control our health and the way we feel with science-y stuff like counting calories or macros or avoiding certain proteins. It’s all really tangible, concrete stuff, right?
But the [really important] part that we’ve been ignoring is the way we feel about ourselves and our food. And it really is just as important as the actual chemical make-up of what we’re eating. Our emotions impact our hormones and the way we digest food and the level of inflammation in our bodies. We all accept the fact that stress causes heart disease, so it’s not that big of a leap to assume that it also affects other things like digestion and joint health. (I know Linda Bacon has done work around this subject, so check out her stuff if you want more scientific evidence.)
So, to answer the original question: Yes, you can feel better without losing weight. And this is coming from someone who has had major digestive issues her entire life, has always had a moderate to severe amount of physical pain, and who has always felt terrible about herself.
One of the greatest gifts of intuitive eating and the accompanying self-acceptance has been the comfort I feel in my body. I don’t have any rules about food, I can eat anything I want, and my body feels good most of the time. When it doesn’t, I can just neutrally observe the way I feel, and maybe decide to do something differently, without all the drama.
Pleasure and peace and happiness are just as important as what you eat (ok, I’m just going to say it: maybe even more important). Your body digests things better and has less inflammation when you’re calm and happy.
(I guess I have to add that I have no medical training, so obviously listen to your doctor and all that. This is all based on anecdotal evidence from my life and the experiences of my clients. But it’s still true ;-)
Done With Dieting
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