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#19: How to stop dieting and gain food freedom with guest expert Colleen Christensen, RD

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Are you curious to hear about how to stop dieting… and actually feel good about it? You might be kind of skeptical about this whole thing, but it’s incredibly interesting to hear about how it’s possible to live a life without dieting, and experience true food freedom.

One of my favorite people is joining us today, Colleen Christensen, RD, to talk about her expertise – food freedom.  

A woman sitting on a couch colleen chistensen rd eating bowl of fruit

Today’s guest expert

Colleen Christensen is a Registered Dietitian who believes in the power of food freedom. Through her social media channels, blog, videos and incredibly popular membership community, The SociEATy, she helps women to stop dieting and start fueling their bodies intuitively- without food rules! 

As a dietitian Colleen knows the importance of nutrition but also that an unhealthy obsession can be detrimental to our health. Finding the “balance” we’re all striving for isn’t a mystical unicorn it’s 180% within everyone’s reach and Colleen guides & inspires others to find this style of food freedom that feels GOOD… mentally and physically!

What is intuitive eating?

Colleen: A lot of people listening to us may have heard the term, I mean, it’s been plastered over social media for the past a couple of years now. Which is fabulous, but along with that comes a lot of miscommunication and misinterpretation of what it is. 

So intuitive eating, first of all, it’s not a new concept, the book was first written, I believe it was in 1995. So something that’s been around for a while is just really gaining popularity, but really what it is, is it’s a non-diet approach to nutrition and food. It really allows you to connect to your body and start to learn to listen to your body. That phrase, that’s again, plastered, all over our social media, “listen to your body,” but the thing is, is that intuitive eating is not just listening to our body. It’s not just listening to our cravings. 

I want you guys to picture a venn diagram with two circles right now, and one circle is your internal cravings, your desires, your hunger and fullness cues — that’s the body side of things. And then the other circle is this external knowledge, so our health information and nutrition knowledge that we have. Intuitive eating is really the middle of the venn diagram, so where those circles overlap, that’s really what it is. It’s honoring both our cravings and desires, what we want, what our body is telling us, but also kind of that brain side of things, the knowledge that we hold there. Because when we say listen to our bodies, it also includes our brain.

So that’s intuitive eating in a nutshell. 

Where does intuitive eating start?

We’re all born as intuitive eaters. I mean, think about it, when babies are hungry, they cry, or they fuss, and when they are full, they turn their cheek away, they’re done eating. They have those cues. And the way that we lose our ability to eat intuitively as we go through life, our brain starts to get all this crazy diet culture information. So that’s where things get so warped. And that venn diagram really starts to get out of whack. That internal side of things just gets further and further and further away, and we’re relying so much on the knowledge, but it’s very, very skewed by diet culture knowledge.

It’s honestly about getting back to… I like to use the phrase “owning your food choices.” Like I’m making this decision myself based on my own unique cravings, desires, and what I need to incorporate for my health and wellness.

How does this apply to kids?

Kacie: Well, so much important information there, and I think what I really like is that you go beyond the listening to your body piece, because I think a lot of times that’s just the message that we hear. It’s hard on social media to really get into the deeper side of things. And even I talk about letting your toddlers listen to their body, but that doesn’t mean… Like you said, that doesn’t mean just thinking like, well, if they are feeling like they want chocolate 24/7, then they can have chocolate 24/7. There’s more that goes into it than just that. 

So what I see come up, a lot of times his parents will ask me like, “Well, my kid want snacks, I should give it to them because they’re listening to their body?” But what you’re saying is that’s not necessarily the whole part of it of just thinking, “what are the cravings? And then stopping there. Because the cravings, that’s just one piece that we’re including into this whole framework.

Why do our brains have “bad” information about feeding ourselves?

Kacie: Another piece that you touched on that I want to talk about a little bit more is that idea that we’ve been getting these harmful messages for such a long time about food and our body and how that becomes kind of what we think, so it’s like that brain piece is not really…correct. So what happens there? 

Colleen: Throughout our childhood, many of us and throughout our adulthood, we’ve been told these diets or these pieces of nutrition information and a lot of it is wrong or harmful, or we don’t see the full picture, or it doesn’t apply to us. The list goes on and on. But really what happens is, we then start to just focus on those sorts of things and we start to essentially rewire our brains to think about food a certain way. We’re taught to think that X, Y, Z food is bad, sugar is bad, carbs are bad. 

All of those things, and that does so much more than just label that food, it changes how you eat that food too. So for instance, the labeling foods good or bad, it’s actually going to increase your brain’s motivation and reward response for that food and gonna make you want to eat it in larger quantities when you do eat it. Probably with a lot of guilt and you eat in secret, or eat it very fast, and you’re not gonna be able to use your hunger and fullness cues that way.

Why you need to rewire your brain

Colleen: So it’s very, very deeply ingrained how our relationship with food has changed from diet culture in the media. In my membership, we have an entire stage on rewiring your brain because it really is that.

I use this analogy a lot of, I want you to pretend that you’re walking on a path in the woods, you’ve walked this path a million times before it is very clear. The old path, you haven’t walked it in so long, it’s filled with sticks and brush and leaves. It’s going to take you conscious effort to start going down that path, pushing away the leaves, starting to explore this path. And that’s essentially how we go about rewiring our brain. Wwe start to consciously have these different thoughts, and then at the same time that we are consciously making those thoughts, the brush and leaves and all those obstacles are falling off the path. 

But then, as we keep working at it, our brain just starts taking that path automatically. And now, the other path, the dieting path, isn’t as clear. So I don’t automatically have those thoughts. That’s how we go about combatting that after our brains have kind of been conditioned to think about food a certain way.

What brings moms to your membership and to seek the answer to how to stop dieting?

Colleen: So a lot of times, there’s so many different reasons, but a lot of times it could be that they are not feeling good, they’re not feeding their body in a way that feels good to them. It could be that they are not able to enjoy life with their family because they are saying, “Oh no, I can’t have the hot dog bun, I can’t have the ice cream cone.” There’s a lot of different reasons. 

Some specific examples could be, “I take my kids out for ice cream and I can’t allow myself to eat it.” Or it could be, “Oh my gosh, it’s 2 PM already. I haven’t had anything substantial to eat.”  And the other, most common kind of scenario is, “Okay, I put the kids down for bed and I just go at the Ben and Jerry’s. I just use food for comfort.” 

Battling the demands of your kids and trying to meet your own needs

Kacie: For me, I notice that I always put the kids’ needs before my own. And even though I’m somebody who wants to nourish my body, wants to have energy, wants to eat healthy, it can be really hard as a mom to do that. And it’s like by the time I put in the effort to… I was just noticing this yesterday. We came home from a little weekend trip and it was great, but I’m getting everything unpacked, trying to get the kids lunch, and by the time I’ve made their food, I’m like… I just don’t even know what to do with myself right now. I don’t even want to eat because I’m tired. 

Colleen: So really, there’s two things to combat there, so there is the biological side of things, and there’s also the emotional side of things.So it’s very, very important to make sure that you’re doing this in a step-wise way. 

First, we want to make sure that your biological needs are being met. That means that you’re giving your body consistent, adequate energy during the day. Either you are really working to heal dieting, not restricting food, and also making sure that you are, again, making time for it. Making sure that you get that energy, because that’s really important to make sure that your biological needs are taken care of. 

I always like to do that as a step before the emotional, because that’s not gonna make you feel good if you’re not fueling your body., And that’s also gonna likely lead you to overeating.

Another analogy for you, if you have to swim from one end of a long pool to the other end and totally underwater, when you come up for air, you’re gonna take a BIG breath. Same thing happens with food, if we go too long without eating. We’re gonna take a huge inhale of food and that probably doesn’t make you feel good, probably is gonna put you in a food coma. Then again, you’re probably not gonna be able to handle those kids very well if you feel that way. So it’s really important to first make sure that we have that biological need met, and then we have to also think about the emotional side of things.

Using food to cope with emotions

Colleen: In order to take care of others, you have to take care of yourself. So that kind of ties in there, but then also what else are we using food for? This is very common, especially like I said, once you put the kids down to bed. Are you feeling like, I just need a release, I just need a break. 

So then we turn to food. And food should be enjoyable. Emotional eating is actually a spectrum, there’s a very normal end, and then we get to more like the sedation, distraction side of it. We want to make sure that we don’t let ourselves get to the point where we just feel like, “I just need this release.” 

So it’s incorporating some sorts of self-care and giving yourself some space. I have one member in my program that talks a lot about eating at night and how she was able to overcome that. And really what I suggest is to really create yourself a tool box for when you’re feeling exhausted.

Other ways to cope besides food

Colleen: It’s really important to ask yourself what you’re actually needing in the moment. So if it’s a release, what could you do? For some people that might be going for a walk, for some people that might be an adult coloring book, get creative juices flowing. Or a warm cup of tea, that is my favorite thing for when I need that comfort. 

What about the pressure on moms to get back to pre-baby weight?

Colleen: Yes, that is absolutely huge. I think, in order to make peace with food, you have to make peace with what you put that food into. (Your body!) I like the idea of body neutrality versus body positivity, because that’s just not realistic to loveee your body 24/7.

Most of the time, we’re not gonna wake up and be like, look in the mirror and think, “wowwww, I see you!”

It’s just not realistic, but we can always shift to a sense of respect and appreciation. And the thing with intuitive eating is that when you do that, you’re able to fuel your body in a way that feels good. You are doing it and you’re trusting your body, and by doing that, your body is gonna fall where it feels best. So it is going to naturally regulate its energy needs. 

That may or may not be to a size/shape of what society shows us is ideal, right. But it’s going to be what makes you feel best both mentally and physically. It allows you to function best, it’s gonna allow you to care for your kids best because your body is fed and nourished. It has the energy to do that, and it’s just really important. I think, I think that’s one of the biggest things is to shift from feeling like there’s so much friction between hating your body and loving your body. Try to focus on somewhere in between, that’s what I really focus on is this kind of sense of body neutrality.

Bodies change – it’s part of living

Kacie: I think as women, we have really been told that we’re supposed to look a certain way and that’s so hard to work against. And we haven’t gotten the message that bodies can change and that it’s okay. 

And what you’re saying, you don’t have to love the way your body looks, you don’t have to have that perfect body to be happy with your body or content with your body.

Colleen: Absolutely, and I think we really need to normalize that bodies do change throughout life, and they should. I have not had kids, and I’ve noticed my body weight is just kinda shifting a little bit as I age, I’m carrying it in different places. Sometimes I envision my body when I have kids and after that, and I don’t know what that’s gonna look like, right? I don’t know what that’s gonna be because it’s so normal for our bodies to change, to shift. But it’s like, Hey, this is a sign of life, this means I’ve lived, this means I’ve experienced something.

Whether it’s just days in life, whether it’s childbirth… and I think that can really help with shifting to that respect and appreciation.

Kacie: Absolutely, sometimes when I get in a bad mindset, I’ll ask myself, “Would I rather have my cute belly button that I had before I had kids? Or would I rather have my kids?” And then I’m like, Oh, that was silly. 

Handling bad body image days

Colleen: One thing that I will also do and that I recommend, is asking yourself on those bad body image days, is, “How am I feeling in my body? Do I feel like I’m listening to my hunger and fullness cues? Do I feel like I am fueling my body appropriately?” 

And especially on those bad body image days, for me, if I’m like, “Yeah, you know, I am listening to my body, I am feeding my body in a way that feels good.” That’s how I know I am doing what my body needs.

And if not, if maybe you’re like, “Oh, I just feel so bloated today, maybe, Oh, I’ve been just every evening after the kids go down, I’ve just been eating my emotions…” Okay, maybe then we focus on emotional eating, we wanna make sure that we are getting that feedback from our bodies and asking ourselves those questions is a really great place to start.

What does intuitive eating look like for moms once it becomes part of their life?

Colleen: So I’m literally in my head reading posts from my community members that explain this exact thing. So I think one of the biggest ones that I hear is, “I took my kids out for ice cream and I got myself a nice cone… No guilt, no anxiety. And I stopped when I was satisfied. I noticed I was getting full. So I stopped.” Whether you bring it home, put it in the freezer, whatever, you listened to your body, you’re able to enjoy that experience and do it in a way that’s comfortable, both mentally and physically. 

It could look like you have more energy to play with your kids in the afternoon, you don’t snap at them as much. 

It could look like when you put your kids down, you actually relax and you’re not stressing over how you feel and going to bed uncomfortably full. 

So many different things, and I always recommend thinking about your own WHY. And for me, I painted this picture for myself of me, my husband and our future kids sitting at the breakfast table, pancakes, maple syrup, all the things, and I’m enjoying it, and I’m walking away satisfied.

And I’m modeling that for my kids so that as they go through life, they don’t have to go through this work of re-learning intuitive eating. They just stay an intuitive eater. I think one huge benefit is doing the work for yourself so yes, you can feel better, but also so that your kids don’t have to do this for themselves ’cause it’s not easy. I’m not gonna lie. But it’s so worth it.

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