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Body Image, Diet Culture, Intuitive Eating & Pregnancy

body image diet culture intuitive eating postpartum body pregnancy pregnancy care Sep 15, 2021
She Found Health
Body Image, Diet Culture, Intuitive Eating & Pregnancy

Pregnancy is undeniably a time of accelerated body change. For women who may have a history of avoiding their body or engaging in other types of negative body image perpetuating behaviours, body avoidance becomes impossible to pursue. And while this can be a huge struggle, it can also be a wonderful opportunity to begin the healing work around your own relationship with food and your body image.

What is negative body image?

There are a few main types of behaviour that can reveal a problematic relationship with body image:

  1. Body checking: a common behaviour that consists of hopping on the scale, pinching your body, or obsessively looking at yourself in the mirror multiple times a day
  2. Body comparison: a frequent comparing of yourself to others, whether in real live or through social media, or to your own former body, especially common in pregnancy
  3. Body avoidance: on the other end of the spectrum of body checking is body avoidance, which includes intentionally avoiding mirrors, hiding in baggy clothing, etc
  4. Negative self-talk: internalizing diet culture in a way that is clouding or overriding your own values and preferences, to an obsessive degree or infiltrating your moment to moment decision making

In pregnancy and postpartum, there is a certain process of surrender that is necessary to be able to accept that your body is not going to bounce back as our culture often expects it to, and that can be a painful process for women. But there are certain behaviours that we can and should try to avoid to help in the process. We are conditioning ourselves mentally every single day, and the kind of self-talk you engage with and images you consume can have a very real impact on your mental state - neuroplasticity has shown that our brains can and are rewired by our thoughts.

Steps & Strategies Toward a Healthier Self-Image

The following is a brief outline of steps & strategies that can help create a healthier relationship with your own body and self-image. Dr. Sarah and Shannon discuss each step with more detail and depth in today’s podcast!

  1. Awareness: catch yourself in moments of awareness, pinching your body, hiding it, avoiding mirrors, etc and just notice it is happening. Also try to notice instances of negative self-talk and how that may be encouraging an inferiority/superiority complex
  2. Detachment: after recognizing you are having a negative thought, instead of just allowing yourself to keep thinking it, say “I am having the thought that ____” - therefore creating a little bit of distance. This detachment can help begin to challenge the thought further - how old is this thought? How is it serving me?
  3. Unfollow: Notice if certain social media accounts perpetuate negative self-talk and comparison in you, and consider unfollowing them
  4. Body checking: Get rid of your scale. Whether it reinforces a “gain” or “loss”, it is often an intermittent reinforcement of a negative image or a constant swinging pendulum potentially leading to psychological damage
  5. Re-Education: about what it means to be healthy. The weight on a scale is not an actual measure of health
  6. Values: ask yourself, is this a pattern of behavior that is aligned with my values and how I want to live my life? Or is it aligned with diet culture values that you have internalized so deeply you’ve lost sight of your own?
  7. Journaling: it can be helpful when feeling particularly negative to note it down. For example, you may write “I feel fat” - but remember that fat is not a feeling!  Take a moment to try to look at the emotion underneath, and then maybe begin to challenge those thoughts.

For a lot of us, the first time we had a negative body image thought often goes back to early childhood - we are frequently fighting back decades of negative self-talk - and that is no easy task. Try to remember to be patient and kind to yourself while going through the process.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating essentially means that as humans we have an innate ability to feed ourselves. Some studies have shown that when you lay a newborn baby on her mother’s chest, they are able to wriggle their way up to the breast and start feeding by themselves! 

In newer terms, Intuitive Eating is a self-care eating framework comprised of 10 principles, developed in 1995 by dieticians looking to tune people back into practicing this innate ability that may have been lost from years of following a diet culture. Shannon outlines its many concepts on today’s podcast, including satisfaction, coping mechanisms, body respect, redefining your experience with exercise, gentle as opposed to “forced” nutrition, and deprivation backlash to list a few. 

Body love can be an elusive concept - a seemingly unnatural and almost violent transition from negativity to positivity. Moving toward body neutrality - being aware that most negative thoughts may still continue to float in the background of your mind, but they do not have to dictate your actions - can be a helpful goal, especially as you strive to grow your baby within the most peaceful environment you can create for them.

For more great resources on Body Image, Diet Culture and Intuitive Eating, check out:

  • Evelyn Tribole, author of Intuitive Eating Every Day-365 Practices & Inspirations

IG: evelyntribole

  • Kristi Harrison, author of Anti-Diet 

IG: chr1styharrison

Find Shannon Smith, today’s guest and Registered Nurse working in mental health for over 14 years, specializing in eating disorders at:

IG: talk.with.shan

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