Intuitive eating and body positivity
For our first podcast episode, we sat down with Gillian McCollum and Danni Gordon who both help women reconcile their relationship to food and their bodies. From intuitive eating to body positivity, we talked about body image in a weight obsessed society.
Who are Gillian and Danni?
Gillian is an intuitive eating coach and body positive yoga teacher who battled 15 years with chronic yo-yo dieting and binge eating. She spent most of her 20s and 30s believing that to be healthy she had to be thin. Gillian recovered from her disordered eating after discovering intuitive eating and the Health At Every Size movement. She is now a certified health coach and yoga teacher who supports other women to find peace with food and their bodies.
Danni is a body positive advocate who used to resent her body for almost 23 years. In 2016 at 33, she radically changed her attitude towards her body by attending some self-development courses. This was the catalyst for starting her own project to improve everyone’s body confidence. The Chachi Power Project is now a flourishing business that helps people unpack the harmful cultural messages we project on our bodies through workshops, talks, events and retreats.
What did we talk about?
Diets don’t work and we have known this since the 1950s.
Feeling like we have to control what we eat and change our bodies to achieve health is a relatively new thing. Diets only appeared in the last 120 years with research dating back to the 1950s already questioning their effectiveness. In 1992, a National Institute of Health panel of weight-science experts finally concluded that diets don’t work. Their research showed that the majority of people who go on diets will regain most or all the weight they lost within 5 years. In fact, they found that diets can cause long term weight gain for up to ⅔ of the people who embark on them, with adverse physiological and psychological consequences.
But what about weight loss for health?
The common myth ‘everyone knows that being overweight is unhealthy’ stems from scientific evidence that shows a correlation between higher weight and disease risk. But the important distinction between correlation and causation is often overlooked in this evidence. Causation being the behavior that actually causes the disease. But fat isn’t a behavior and doesn’t necessarily cause a disease though there can be a connection. It’s also worth recognising that doctors, scientists and researchers are raised in the same diet culture we all live in. Therefore, a lot of bias already comes into studies before they even start. If weight science was to include weight stigma and cycling in studies, we’d have a better chance at reducing chronic disease.
Body image is a much stronger predictor of health
In fact, research has shown that how we feel about our body will more likely influence our health because of the long-term negative effects on our mental health and wellbeing. We live in a fatphobic culture that is making the vast majority of people feel unsatisfied with the way they look. Such preoccupation around food and body can develop into serious eating and anxiety disorders. Anxieties that will end up controlling our relationships to ourselves, others and the world.
Insidiously, diets are often promoted as solutions that will put us back in control. They will sell us the idea that if we control our weight, we will control our health and how others perceive us. But what really happens is that we are outsourcing our health to an entire industry that will proceed to tell us what to eat, when to eat and how to eat. We will grow to mistrust our own bodies and abilities, learning to trust diets instead.
Health At Every Size and Intuitive Eating
Health At Every Size is a weight-inclusive approach to health that first appeared in the 1960s based upon the work of the Fat Acceptance Movement. It’s a holistic approach to health that rejects the idea that a smaller body is an indication of good health.
Intuitive Eating sits within the Health At Every Size framework and is a non-diet approach to health. It followed research from Evelyn Trivole and Elise Reych, two American dieticians who after a long time of prescribing meal plans to clients, realised that diets weren’t sustainable nor effective. It’s also part of the wider Body Positivity Movement which fights for the acceptance and respect of all bodies. Intuitive Eating works hand-in-hand with improving our own body image. The practice will then also require us to challenge the negative feelings we have about our body.
Tips to start Intuitive Eating
This can be a hard one to hear but there is no shortcut when it comes to intuitive eating. Step one: no more diets. When you make this decision, it’s important to be patient and kind to yourself. It will almost certainly be hard at first to be intuitive towards your body’s needs. Most likely, diets will have made you silence your own internal voice for so long. So the first step is to develop a new relationship to your intuition.
Know that it will probably feel very scary to stop dieting. You might be attached to its sense of control and so intuitive eating might come across as an apparent loss of control. But it’s diet culture that made you think that you were out of control to begin with. So put the trust back in yourself. Believe in your own abilities and connect back to your body.
Tips to build a positive body image
Unlearning negative patterns of thoughts is a long windy road. The first step you can take towards feeling good about your body is simply to stop saying negative things about it. Negative thoughts won’t leave all at once but by not speaking them out loud, you stop putting energy into them. Eventually the focus in your brain will shift. And stop criticising other people’s bodies. It is toxic to everyone involved. Diet culture plays a big part in how you feel about your body, but you are responsible for what you project onto others.
Whilst you are responsible for nourishing your body, you are also in charge of what you feed your brain with. You get to decide what you take on board and what you reject. Free yourself from the toxic messaging of diet culture which makes girls as young as 13 years old go on diets and portrays fat people as obesity apologists for just existing in media. Recognise that the percentage of bodies you see online and in media is not representative of the real diversity of human bodies. Bring real life to your social media, follow body positive advocates and fill your feed with diverse bodies.
Listen to our entire conversation on our podcast
Keep in touch with Gillian and Danni
Break up with diet culture
Feel good about your body
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