In a world where people are bombarded with celebrity diets and images of photoshopped bodies, disordered eating has become the new normal while our body’s natural hunger cues are being ignored.
Oxford Women’s Health Dietitian Sara Widdowson is encouraging people to recognise what hunger they are actually feeding, when it comes to our complicated relationship with body image and Sara says humans are born intuitive eaters, meaning they listen to their body’s hunger and fullness cues.
For example, a baby may cry when they are hungry and stop when they are full.
Although body shapes are incredibly diverse, when people begin to develop a sense of self-image around ages five-seven, the body’s natural hunger cues can become blurred as weight-related stigma pressures people to think their body needs to be a certain size. With complex emotions comes a tendency to eat for comfort or over-eat when full.
“Paying attention to what we eat and why we are eating it is important to ensure our bodies are getting the nutrients they need to be healthy,” Sara says.
“It’s important for people to acknowledge that food and the experience of eating is complicated. We live in a world that celebrates dieting but dieting fights those cues your body is giving you about hunger, so you develop distrust.”
She says it is important to celebrate non-weight-related outcomes such as sticking to a regular fitness plan rather than being concerned by the number showing on the scales.
Having a healthy relationship with food and ensuring your body is getting the nutrients that it needs is paramount.
“People can be healthy at all sizes, so we need to focus on health-related goals rather than weight-related goals. We know that diets don’t work because when the body experiences a major calorie deficit it protects itself as if there’s a famine and does everything it can to preserve itself.”
A good way to reconnect with your body’s intuitive cues is to practice being mindful of the experience of eating, such as recognising how you feel before, during and after a meal.
Doing this can also help to identify emotional triggers, when you consider what you are eating and why you are eating it, Sara says.
“People will eat food as a socially acceptable way to self-soothe. If you come home from work and you’re stressed and reach for the wine or chocolate, it’s the stress doing that.
Try to find something else that makes you feel just as relaxed.”