Therapy, coupled with Intuitive Eating, is the one-two-punch that will heal your relationship with food. Keep reading to learn how chronic dieting, disordered eating and negative body image are mental health issues. As well as how therapy and working with an intuitive eating coach supports your overall wellness.
One of the greatest lies sold by diet culture is that if you “eat less, move more” you will lose weight. And weight loss automatically means you’ll be healthier. That’s simply not true though. No science supports this line of thinking. Yet it’s constantly said across social media and even in doctors’ offices. When you continuously hear that you need to “lose weight by eating less and moving more” though. You end up believing it. And you start wrongly aligning health with appearance and weight.
Overcoming the “eat less, move more” belief is hard because it can make us also believe the opposite. That if we quit dieting, we will gain weight, and then automatically be unhealthy. But that’s equally untrue.
The reason “eat less, move more” is untrue, is because it wrongly suggests that (1) your body size is completely within your control; (2) you’re eating too much; (3) you’re not moving enough; (4) weight or size determines health; (5) and mental health, emotional health, spiritual health, social health, environmental and actual physical health (organ functionality) do not matter as much as appearance.
When we ignore the importance of our overall wellness and focus only on appearance, we harm our health more. And I think this common line of thinking is the main reason why people don’t understand the role mental health plays in our overall health. Why they don’t consider therapy as a more viable source for healing than joining another diet weight loss program.
Physical Appearance & Physical Health are 2 Very Different Things
Remember that old book series, “Chicken Soup for the Soul“? The pages were filled with heartwarming short stories to restore faith in humanity. The title played on the fact that many people find comfort and healing in chicken soup when they’re sick. Perhaps because their mom used to lovingly serve it to them. The broth healing an upset digestive system. While the warm liquid felt soothing and calm both physically and mentally. A perfect recipe—rich in both nutrition and nostalgia.
Food isn’t just about calories and nutrients. There’s a mental health element to it. It’s why we serve cake at birthday parties. Bake our grandmother’s favorite cookie recipe when we want to feel closer to them. Or crave chicken soup when we’re not feeling well. We find comfort and joy in these traditions.
Dieting strips away all the important and nuanced parts of food though. And reduces it down to what it can do for your physical appearance. But your physical appearance and physical health are two very different things!
Physical Appearance Cannot Reveal Health
Your physical appearance is diet culture’s calling card. Before/after photos, weight loss advertising, inches loss brags, fitting into a smaller dress size and using words like ‘shred.’ But those visuals reveal NOTHING about a person’s health. A person may have intentionally starved themselves to lose weight and are dealing with a full-blown eating disorder. Or may be suffering through a major illness that destroyed their appetite. Maybe they’re undergoing treatment, like chemotherapy, that resulted in dramatic weight loss. It’s also possible they committed to an unsustainable, short-term fat loss program despite how it negatively impacts their mental health and physical health. In other words, just because a person has lost weight, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re now healthy. Just as, a person who is naturally thin isn’t automatically healthy either. Because there’s so many other important factors when it comes to your health.
Physical Health is Only Part of Your Wellness
Your physical health is how well your organs are functioning to keep you alive. Blood panel stats like your hormone levels, vitamin levels, cholesterol, platelet counts, blood cells, etc. It includes your stamina, strength, balance, flexibility and mobility. How well your 5 senses are functioning (taste, smell, sight, touch & hearing.) Your physical health is impacted by hydration, sleep patterns, digestion, sex drive, elimination frequency, and yes, the nutrition and frequency of the foods you choose to eat. But even with all of these important health factors listed, it still doesn’t capture the full scale of what health and wellness includes.
Your Mental Health is EVERYTHING.
I’ve shared this before in another blog post, but your mental health is EVERYTHING. It’s your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. A person who is chronically dieting or suffering from disordered eating is struggling in their mental health. Just as, a person who is seeking comfort in excessive amounts of food and unmotivated to move is also struggling in their mental health. This has nothing to do with their weight though! This has to do with how their body is both mentally and physically feeling. And how it’s preventing them from engaging in healthy behaviors that intuitively serve their body’s needs.
Therapy helps you uncover & cope with hurt
Dieting is proven to be a cause of stress. And stress deteriorates your mental health and ultimately causes issues with your physical health. Therefore, “eat less, move more” will never be a solution to health issues because it doesn’t account for more serious attributes like the state of your mental health.
Therapy supports and encourages growth in your mental health. It’s a safe place to uncover past hurts and learn better coping tools so you’re able to heal those past hurts. As well as be equipped for future hurts. Struggling with weight, appearance and body image issues take a toll on your mental health. And therapy can help reveal why you’ve been turning to dieting to begin with. As well as the impact weight cycling, weight stigma, all-or-nothing, good-versus-bad thinking has had on other aspects of your life.
Studies Show Dieting & Weight Cycling Cause Mental Health Issues
According to a September 2020 study by Quinn, Puhl & Reinka, weight cycling is a significant predictor of depressive symptoms. And internalized weight stigma (judgement for size) also increases symptoms of depression. Additionally:
“The more frequently people lose and then regain the weight, the more they internalize negative beliefs about the self, the more frequent their depressive symptoms. It is important to note that this relationship is likely part of a larger cycle not captured here: both dieting and [weight] stigma are stressful, theoretically increasing the likelihood of using food to cope, and therefore impacting weight regain.”
How Therapy & Intuitive Eating Helped Me
When I look back on my years of dieting, it’s tempting to criticize myself. Like ‘wtf was I thinking?!‘ But that line of thinking is not fair to me. Or really, anyone who has ever been caught up in diet culture (*cough* all of us *cough*) Because we’re all just victims of diet culture and a society with a constantly moving target of beauty standards.
Hitting the rock bottom of dieting woke me up to the big emotions and repressed feelings that had clung on to me since childhood. At first, I only sought help from an anti-diet intuitive eating nutritionist. But when I struggled with some of the concepts , I realized there were other issues going on in me that needed therapy. So I found a licensed therapist. She helped me trace back a lot of my insecurities and unhealthy coping tools to my past experience in a ballet company as a tween and young teen.
When I finally quit dieting through therapy and Intuitive Eating, I realized I had wasted so much time and energy chasing after a smaller body in the (false) name of health. I had lost myself over the years. I had harmed my mental health through disordered eating. I had missed so many opportunities to just freely live my life with joy.
Therapy helped me learn that disordered eating was an UNhealthy coping tool I had used throughout my life so that I could feel more in control.
So we worked together to create healthy coping tools that would honor and serve my body. Coupled with the framework of Intuitive Eating and body image work, I’ve rebuilt self-trust and confidence in a way I’ve never experienced before!
How You Can Use Therapy & Intuitive Eating to Heal
What if you made it YOUR health goal to heal from dieting, feel your best and prioritize your health?
What if you tried therapy this time, instead of joining that next round of <mega diet>?
I imagine you would experience healing, better coping tools, self-trust & confidence too! Experiences that cannot be achieved through dieting. ❤️
I am not a therapist. But I am a Nutritionist who can help with the intuitive eating side of it. If you would like more information, please schedule a free 20-minute consult with me by clicking here.
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