Activity: Improving your health with self care, not dieting
Dieting is about control. Health is about self care.
Dieting tries to control your body, triggering hormonal and metabolic changes responsible for obsessive food thoughts, bingeing and low mood. It leads to a fight between your body and food rules. By switching to self care you can work with your body, engaging in behaviours that benefit your health and create a peaceful relationship with your body.
This self care or self control activity allows you to explore your current health focused behaviours, learn if you are stuck in a cycle of control with your body and move towards a self care focused mindset.
Step 1. List your weight loss focused behaviours
Consider a time you have had a weight loss goal. Think about the types of behaviours you engage in when trying to lose weight. Write a list of the behaviours you use to achieve a weight loss goal with the heading "weight loss".
Step 2. List your self care behaviours
Now start a new column with the heading "self care". List some behaviours that feel caring for your body, both mentally and physically.
A reminder here, weight loss is not a behaviour. Think about behaviours that feel caring for your body instead.
Step 3. Compare your lists
Compare the behaviours on each of your lists. What behaviours are consistent on both? What behaviours differ on each list?
Evaluating your health behaviours
When I explore these lists with my clients, we notice each list looks quite different. On the weight loss list the behaviours often look controlling and rigid not considering their overall wellbeing or quality of life.
Controlling behaviours may include:
- Skipping meals or snacks to cut calories even if you feel you make up for it at night or on weekends
- Restricting foods you enjoy or not allowing food pleasure
- Focusing on weight control regardless of how this impacts your life or your true values
- Beating yourself up for your weight or body discomfort
- Obsessively weighing yourself and using this number to guide your food or movement for the day
Do you have anything similar on your list? Or do your weight loss oriented behaviours resemble self control?
Self control behaviours lead to a disconnect from listening to your body's internal sensations. These sensations are how your body communicates what it is feeling such as hungry, full, energetic tired, stressed, calm and all your other emotion. When we enter a controlling relationship, we learn to ignore, distrust and fight against our body's internal sensations.
When I explore self care behaviours with my clients, we find they are focused on providing both physical and emotional care to their body in it's here-and-now.
Self care behaviours often look like:
- Having regular and satisfying food across the day
- Adding in foods that make your body feel good
- Speaking nicely to yourself even on a bad body image day
- Curiously exploring body discomfort rather than beating yourself up
- Reconnecting with your body's internal sensations to guide you
From a self care perspective, we can focus on the wider benefits of food such as the pleasure, comfort, social and cultural connection. We can prioritise all behaviours - physical and emotional that influence our health and quality of life.
How to adopt a self care mindset
Check in with your intentions behind your health focused behaviours. Are they focused on controlling your body or are they focused on caring for your here-and-now body? If this behaviour would not change your weight or shape, would it still feel health-focused?
If you notice your intention behind a behaviour is coming from control, what would feel more supportive for your here-and-now body? Are you able to let go of this controlling behaviour? Is there a more caring behaviour you can do instead?
To learn more about reconnecting with your body, read what is interoceptive awareness and how it stops food stress.
Written by Emma Townsin, Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor
Emma is the founder of Food Life Freedom and the host of the Food & Life Freedom Podcast. For personalised support to stop stressing over health and heal your relationship with food and your body, learn how you can fast track your way food and life freedom.
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