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{Intuitive Eating with a Chronic Condition} Principle #8: Respect Your Body

This is the seventh in a series of posts on adapting intuitive eating for a chronic condition. I would like to acknowledge that I personally don’t have a chronic condition, and am open to learning from the lived experiences of those who do. Please leave your feedback by commenting below, or by sending me a private message.
Other posts in this series include:

Principle #1: Reject the Diet Mentality
Principles #2 & #5: Honour Your Hunger and Feel Your Fullness
Principle #3: Make Peace with Food
Principle #4: Challenge the Food Police
Principle #6: Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Principle #7: Honour Your Feelings Without Food
Principles #9 & #10: Exercise – Feel the Difference & Honour Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

With companies like Weight Wat—excuse me, WW—getting into the wellness business, it’s no wonder that so many of us seem to have our wires crossed in terms of what’s health promoting, and what’s actually dieting.

Still, I’m hopeful that not only is it possible to focus on health (if that’s what you want) without focusing on weight, I’m also hopeful that we will realize that we all have this knowledge within us. One of my most poignant memories of seeing intuitive eating in action was when I asked, “What does it look like to respect your body?” as part of an Intro to Intuitive Eating workshop. Though they’d never heard of intuitive eating before, the group effortlessly shared a variety of ideas, from gentle movement and sleep to unfollowing “fitspo” social media accounts and reframing negative self-talk. 

Respecting Your Body with a Chronic Condition

In conversations about intuitive eating, this principle is often presented in the context of body size only. Though respecting our bodies goes beyond that, even the idea of accepting and respecting larger body sizes is foreign to most, including many who are in positions of power and/or influence.

In response to the recent viral article by Michael Hobbes titled Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong (TW/CW: Describes specific dieting behaviours, healthist language), Vox health correspondent Julia Belluz tweeted, “[W]e aren’t doing a good job of addressing obesity now, but I’m not sure accepting it is the next best step.”

Instead of breaking down how harmful that statement is, I’ll humbly point you toward this brilliant response from Michelle Allison (aka The Fat Nutritionist). In particular:

“Acceptance, as in ‘the acknowledgement that fat people do and will exist, and are not merely irresponsible thin people,’ allows us to move beyond a one-note fixation with controlling weight and onto ‘Why are there health disparities here, and what ELSE can we do to address them?'”

-Michelle Allison

With that in mind, I believe that respecting your body also includes respecting your chronic condition. Much of the current narrative around chronic conditions is similar to weight, in that it’s about “control” and trying to live as “normal” of a life as possible. What would it be like to accept and respect the fact that you have a chronic condition, instead of seeing it as something to be controlled and managed? What would it be like to reframe your chronic condition as having an additional set of needs (that you may or may not be able to satisfy), instead of trying to push through or hide them? This is not to trivialize the discomfort or pain that you might be experiencing, but simply trying these reframes to see if they fit. 

If you’re struggling to answer those last questions, one of the things you might be coming up against is the stigma that comes with having a chronic condition, and the desire to avoid that stigma by being “normal”. Similarly, the desire to lose weight often comes from a desire to avoid or lessen weight stigma. 

The Language of Body Respect

At first glance, it may seem that “body respect” is just another meaningless phrase to lump in with the current body positivity/self-love trend. Though many people use the terms interchangeably, body positivity describes a social justice movement fighting for equality for all bodies, with roots that trace back to fat activism.

It’s heartbreaking to see body positivity being co-opted by those in white, thin, cis-gendered, able bodies, marginalizing those for whom the concept was created by and for in the first place. As a result, many activists have adopted the term “body liberation” to describe the movement.

The idea of “body love” or “self-love” has been similarly commodified, making it seem unreachable to those who don’t meet societal beauty norms. Additionally, love is considered a strong emotion by some, and can seem like a huge leap if you’ve spent most of your life dieting and/or hating your body. Those are just some of the reasons why I like to help people learn to accept, trust, and respect their bodies instead of diving right into body love.

In a similar vein, there has also been pushback against “people-first language” (i.e. person with diabetes vs. diabetic person) which has oft been championed by healthcare professionals and researchers as a way to “separate the person from the disease” and allow people not to be defined by their condition. On the other hand, “identity-first language” recognizes that having a chronic condition changes the way that you see and are seen in the world. Some have also pointed out that people-first language is used mostly in instances where the descriptor is undesirable. For example, it’s much more common for people to say that I’m a Chinese person, as opposed to “a person with Chinese background”.

Of course, if body positivity, body love and/or people-first language are terms that resonate better with you, great! Just as intuitive eating is about finding a way of eating that serves you best, it’s helpful to recognize the language that you identify the most with, while acknowledging that it may not be the same for others.

How would you describe your “relationship” with your chronic condition? What would it look like to accept and respect it? What would it look like to respect your body as a whole? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments below.

2 Comments

  • tru on Oct 05, 2018 Reply

    I have several chronic diseases and I’m not sure what to say. I have medications that give me cravings for sweets, other medications that make digestion a binary between (euphemistically) way too slow and way too fast. I take medication that holds hunger in abeyance, only to abruptly wear off and send me into a famished binge. Medications that make nothing sound good.

    I don’t know how to eat intuitively when my intuition is orbiting somewhere around Jupiter.

    I don’t think body-love is a particularly useful concept for me. I don’t need any more binaries – I’m agender, not that anyone cares to respect that either.

    I really prefer a Buddhist attitude, just acknowledging what is. It’s not a defeatist acceptance. It’s a dynamic understanding of where I am.

    From here, there is no failure for not loving my body to the requirements of body positivity nor for not regimenting my food to meet thin-supremacist standards.

    Finding the middle way has given me space to consider other things I can do to care for my body that has nothing to do with food.

    Two of the many manifestations of my conditions are exercise intolerance and extreme fatigue. Things that many people, perhaps including the Vox contributor you mentioned above, would just classify as laziness. I did have to lose about 30 pounds before my physician would treat my symptoms as something other than obesity.

    But I can, now, consider movement that improves my life instead of leaving me wracked with pain and bedridden from exhaustion.

    I went on my first diet at seven and have done one diet after another until my mid-40’s (I’m 49). Surely if all this diet stuff worked, I would be slender and healthy by now, wouldn’t I?

    I know this is rambly. I’m tired and perhaps have abused your invitation to share. I’m not particularly good at reading this kind of situation.

    I hope, at least, I’ve given you a slice of insight from a disabled fat person’s life that helps you in your understanding.

    • Vincci Tsui on Oct 06, 2018 Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. You’re right, body love is not necessary to live well.

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