You Can’t Hate Yourself into Lasting Positive Change with Dr. Emilia Thompson
I’m honored to share today’s guest with you, Dr. Emilia Thompson.
Dr. Emilia Thompson is a Registered Nutritionist, coach, mentor, and meditation teacher. She has a Bachelor’s of Scheince in Sports Biomedicine, Master’s of Science in Sport and Exercise Nutrition, PhD in Exercise Physiology
Emilia runs a team of coaches that support people to improve their relationship with food and their bodies and co-owns EIQ Nutrition, an online compassionate approach to evidence-based nutrition for personal trainers.
In today’s IMPACTFUL AF conversation, Emilia and I discuss a wide range of topics, yet, somehow she manges to provide an unparalleled level of depth on each. These topics include emotional regulation and dysregulation (and the role it plays in our ability to keep the weight off for good), food rules and body image challenges (thanks, diet industry), mindfulness, and why you cannot hate yourself into positive change.
This is a must-listen episode.
Connect with and Learn from Dr. Emilia Thompson:
- Connect with Emilia on Instagram – emiliathompsonphd
- Learn from EIQ Nutrition on Instagram – eiq_nutrition
- Work with Emilia – click here
Thank you for being here.
If you found today’s episode valuable, please share it with a friend or family member who would benefit from hearing today’s message.
Follow me on Instagram – @paulsaltercoaching
Episode Key Highlights, Quotes, and Questions:
- Discover how your relationship with food and disordered eating behaviors starts and ends with your emotional awareness and regulation.
- Learn why trying to hate yourself into lasting positive change is a recipe for short-term results and long-term regression.
- Understand how procrastination is yet another common self-sabotaging behavior that we all battle and how to recognize it so you can begin to implement positive changes.
- Discover the definition of “self-compassion” and how to mindfully begin practicing more of it on a daily basis!
Questions I asked Emilia include:
- You yourself dealt with disordered eating patterns as a way to cope with emotional dysregulation – tell us more about that: what is emotional dysregulation?
- How do we begin to learn how to get in touch with and better manage our emotions?
- How do we begin to learn how to get in touch with and better manage our emotions?
- What role has mindfulness played in helping you change your relationship with food and your relationship with your body?
- What does this look like in terms of daily practices?
- What does this look like in terms of daily practices?
- You’re a firm believer that “hating yourself into change doesn’t work.” What does this look like, why doesn’t it work, and what’s a better alternative approach for making long-lasting changes?
- (why is leaner better article) You wrote a great article about the desire many women have, which is to become leaner. Tell us more about the socially conditioned diet and what you’ve observed women want more than that.
- I’d like to get your perspective on the power – and downfall of self-awareness and potentially having too much of it.
- Talk to us about the interconnection between our relationships with ourselves, body, and food – how and why are they connected and how do we begin healing each?
- For someone listening who is struggling with the temptation of eating their favorite foods too often, what suggestions would you provide as a means to begin reducing this frequency and dependency on food as a coping mechanism?
- Based on your extensive experience working with so many people, what do you feel is the single biggest missing piece preventing people from achieving sustainable weight loss?
How I Can Help You:
I help women over 30 lose weight and rebuild limitless confidence so that they never have to diet again.
To date, I’ve personally coached more than 1,500 women and helped them to collectively lose 10,000+ pounds of body fat and keep it off for good, while simultaneously empowering them with the education, strategies, and accountability needed to feel and look their best.
Click here to learn more about how I can help you.
Follow me on Instagram – @paulsaltercoaching
Hey, Emilia. Thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Thank you so much for having me. I am very well. Thank you. How are you?
I am doing phenomenal. And like I just shared with you before hitting that lovely record button, I am selfishly really excited for our conversation. So many of my interests that lie way beyond nutrition are areas that you have such great expertise and experience in. So I will tell you now if you see me making notes during, it’s because I’m learning and also making sure I ask great questions to help you shine brightly. So the way I’d really love to just begin our conversation here is you have quite an extensive background from athletics to your relationship with food, and I would love for you to take some time to share more about that background to set our stage for today.
Sure thing. So my background is kind of twofold. I have a very academic background, first of all. So I have studied for about 11 years in academia. I did an undergraduate in sports biomedicine, a master’s in sport and exercise nutrition, a PhD in exercise physiology, and I taught sport nutrition at university for a couple of years. So on paper, that’s kind of what I did.
On a personal side of things, I have struggled with my own relationship with food since I was about 15. I found myself as a teenager using food as a way to manage my emotions, not that I knew at all that’s what I was doing at 15. To be fair, probably didn’t know that I was doing it, or acknowledged that I was doing it for another 15 years later. But I had disordered eating habits. I had binge eating tendencies, nothing severe, but enough to be disordered.
And those habits carried on for me really until my early 30s. In the meantime, I tried to control my body. I was very much a victim of diet culture and 90s heroin-chic type of aesthetic. And I spent most of my 20s trying to stay as small as possible, and as a result of basically restrict, over restricting, finding myself often in a binge eating cycle of some degree on and off for my entire 20s. And then, lo and behold, I found body building whilst I was doing my master’s and PhD, around that time.
So I was studying at Loughborough University, which is one of the top universities for sport and sport exercise nutrition research in the UK and was very knowledgeable, and yet my own nutrition, I very much struggled to put into practice. I struggled to practice what I preached really and fell into body building as kind of a glorified way to manage my relationship with food and control my relationship with food.
I could get trophies for restricting my food intake, so let’s do that. And I competed for four and a half years. I did pretty well. I came second in Britain. I loved it. But it very much obviously took over my life. And as I was going through that process myself, I realized a lot of the pitfalls that came with extreme dieting and fitness at that time was not very transparent and it wasn’t honest at all, and I realized that nobody was sharing help for people, especially bodybuilders, which is what I was interested in at the time.
Nobody was talking about binge eating or food preoccupation or the side effects of dieting. And I thought, “Is this just me? Am I broken?” And so, I started delving into the research. And as a result of that, I did a lot of writing of blogs and things like that. And now I work in a space of supporting people with their relationships with food, their relationships with their body, predominantly people who are coming out of some sort of dysfunctional eating habits that they may well have had since they were a teenager, if not younger.
I appreciate you sharing that. And I have a lot of relatability, because kind of my first step into the health and fitness industry was also bodybuilding. I can still remember to this day sitting in class in college and I was supposed to be paying attention, but I was on bodybuilding.com learning all about the ins and outs of the latest workout and diet plans. And I remember as I did my first competition prep, I thought I was way ahead of the game, starting to think about life after dieting.
I came across some of Dr. Lane Norton’s work on reverse dieting. I was like, “Oh, I can do this. I know when I’m going to raise my macros.” And just like you mentioned, I knew what to do, but holy shit did it smacked me in the face as soon as the diet was over. So I’m curious, for you at that point, how are you noticing this just really consuming thought nature with food impacting your social life and your personal life in other areas?
So I lived in Manchester at the time, which is a really fantastic city in the UK with thousands of food establishments and dinner places and drinks spaces. And I could tell you the whole time I lived there, I could probably count on two hands the number of times I went out for dinner. I had a partner at the time, we lived together. We just didn’t go out because food centered around competing, prepping, or it was quote-unquote “junk food,” which is a phrase I don’t like to use. But in the context of this, it was like, “Oh, it’s a cheat day,” or something horrific like that. So it would be just pizza and takeaways that I would eat. It was not going out for a nice meal.
And so, if I was extreme dieting, I wouldn’t have any really flexibility at all up until the later years where I started to do flexible dieting and I could go out for brunch and things like that. And that was okay. But for me, it was more [inaudible 00:05:29]. I very much still had food rules in my head, even though I wasn’t dieting. So I still couldn’t just randomly, if someone said, “Do you want to go out for dinner tonight?” I couldn’t just do that. It would have to be planned into my week, probably on a certain time, certain day, probably on lag day because if [inaudible 00:05:48].
It was all these things. It’s just the complete opposite of how food is supposed to add to your life. It controls your life. And things like, I remember sitting at my desk once, and at this point, I was a lecturer. I was writing in a full undergraduate course in sport nutrition. I was very good at my job.
And I remember sitting in my office thinking, “Oh, if I have Oreos after supper, then I’ll have to have 50 grams of less oats and that’s fine. So let me just plug that into MyFitnessPal. But then, if I have one later…” And I was going through this in my head when I thought, “I should be writing a lecture right now, and what I’m doing is trying to see how many grams of oats I can have instead of an Oreo or vice versa.”
And I wasn’t dieting [inaudible 00:06:29] something and I thought, and all of these little experiences added up to me thinking, “This has taken away a lot from my life that I haven’t even considered.” And so, that’s kind of how it manifested for me. And you’re kind of smiling, so I feel like you might relate to some of that.
Oh my goodness. You just spoke and described my life from ages 19 to 23, 22. I was the exact same way. It’s always this compensation and advanced calculus. “If I have more of this, I need less of this.” And like you, I wish I had tracked at the time how many hours a day I spent in MyFitnessPal back then, but all of the energy, not to mention the time and emotion that was wasted on a stupid app being over-consumed with my food. What I would do with that time today.
Absolutely that. And you know what? If someone had just said to me the time food labels can be 20% off legally, even that bit of information alone would’ve made me go, “Okay. So I don’t need to worry about 10 grams of oats, because really it doesn’t matter.” But at the time that knowledge, I mean I didn’t have that knowledge and it certainly wasn’t communicated very readily.
Yeah. Not at all. So for someone listening, because many of our listeners, they struggle with these food rules, whether they have subconsciously created them theirselves or they’re just what diet industry has conditioned them to believe for X amount of time. What’s the first step they can begin to take to unlearning or breaking these food rules and ultimately writing their own?
That’s a good question. I think awareness is the most important thing, first of all. Sometimes we have food rules that we don’t even realize that we have. So things like, “I don’t have food rules, I eat pizza.” Okay. But would you eat pizza on a Wednesday night? Well, no, because I like to be good in the week and I have a weekend food rule. That you haven’t even realized that you’ve got. Or if someone at work bring in cake to the office. Like, “Yeah. I would like it.”
But it’s easy for me to ignore it, even though that’s favorite. Carrot cake is my favorite cake, but I’m just going to go and work because I just don’t need to have it. But then at the weekend you’ll have five bites of cake, because you’re on your own and you feel like it’s a celebration and you can do that. Again, food rules.
So I think the awareness of things is really, really important. Things like recognizing if you’re using phrases like good foods, bad foods should have that, shouldn’t have that, that type of thing. And once you get the awareness, I think it’s really just about self-question of why?
So let’s go with the pizza example of, no, but I should really have pizza on a Wednesday. Well, why shouldn’t you have it on a Wednesday? Because I try and be quote-unquote “good” during the week. But why? I just prefer it. But why? Consistently asking yourself that one question. It’s like there is no logic to you only eating pizza at the weekend.
It might be that you love it on a Friday night like I do, to shut the curtains, turn off my phone and get a pizza on a Friday night. For me, that’s heaven. And I don’t want to have multiple pizzas in the week, so I will usually hold off. However, if someone says do you want to get a pizza on a Tuesday night. I’m going to say yes. It’s not a rule, it’s just a preference.
And so, there are reasons why that might be the case, but often we do think we have food drills and they exacerbate the way that we eat. So for example, if you didn’t have this food drill about pizza thing, and you allowed yourself to have it on a Wednesday, what you might find is that you could eat half a pizza on a Wednesday and half a pizza on a Friday, and that would be it. But because you restrict yourself and don’t have it, then on a Friday you eat the whole pizza in one go, and then you were like, “Why did I over eat that?”
So I think it’s really just questioning this. And I do this actually with my mom sometimes when she says, “Oh, I shouldn’t. I kind of limit myself and I shouldn’t have more than one pastry.” And I’ll say, “Well, who says shouldn’t?”
And I think we’ve really developed this shouldn’t narrative in our head, and it’s purely from the lessons that we’ve learned from the media and the values that we’ve interjected growing up. And the learned behaviors from our parents and from the people around us have become this inner… I don’t like to use a phrase, inner critic, but it is that kind of inner food critic. And it’s like quite, really questioning where has that come from? And objectively is that true?
And often we think, “Well, it might not be true, but it’s helping us.” Realistically, food drills are not helping you, even though you think it might be helping you control your food intake in the week and it’s just at the weekend struggle. You struggle at the weekend because of your control during the week. And I think sometimes we lie to ourselves and we say, “Oh, but it’s helpful.” But actually if you unpack it, it’s really not.
Yeah. So well said. Just always being our biggest, I don’t know what the formal word is, biggest question asker. But yeah, always asking why repeatedly, why? Why? Because you’re going to gain so much more knowledge if you take that objective route to just examining with compassionate curiosity to learn more about what’s underneath the hood? Where does this belief come from? What’s the origin of the story we’re telling ourselves about pizza, ice cream or my favorite cookies, whatever it may be?
But I’m curious, you mentioned something. I don’t remember where I read it either, on one of your articles you wrote or social media about sometimes too much self-awareness, can it become counterproductive at a certain point?
Yes. So this is sort of a trend that I see with some people of this constant need to find out more and more and more about ourselves. And we get to the point where we’re just trying to find more stuff out, but we’re not actually taking any action. So it’s really good to say, “Okay. I recognize that I started binge eating as a way to suppress my emotions and to maintain a positive game face.”
I recognize that. That’s a learned behavior. That’s a healthy… Well, it was a dysfunctional coping mechanism for me. But what’s not then helpful for me then to do is to go back into those stories and say, “Well, when exactly did that happen? What else could be going on there? I understand what that is now I need to change it.”
And I think this is not just in relationship with food stuff, and this is very much Millennial, Gen Z programming at the moment of learn more about yourself, become more self-aware. Follow these Instagram accounts that are therapy accounts and unpack every relationship that you’ve ever got. And it can become very self-indulgent.
And I think sometimes that quest can also then just become another dysfunctional coping mechanism to stop us from dealing with the reality of our situation at the moment. It’s just another dysfunctional habit. But to a certain extent, of course, awareness is important, but like you said, there’s a definite line I think that sometimes we cross.
Yeah. So well said. It’s almost like it becomes a form of procrastination. I can say for myself, I had that, let’s call it an aha wake up moment, if you will, a few years ago. And I finally learned about, “Oh my gosh, this is the reason I’m starting to think or behave a certain way.” And it was intoxicating in a way. I was learning all this stuff. I’m using air quotes, “Doing that deep work on myself to learn more.”
But as I got further in this journey, I was just like, “Holy shit.” Like, “If I don’t take any action, nothing changes unless I change.” And for those of you listening you know literally tattooed on my wrist is, “You can’t change unless you change.” You have to have the action behind the awareness. So that was just so well said. I appreciate you sharing that.
Yeah. I think procrastination is such a good word here, because I’ve actually had this conversation with clients where I’m like, “Okay. That’s great. The self-awareness is great, but what are we going to do about it?” And it is that procrastination? You’re so right.
Yeah. Like people listening, you can consume all of the podcasts and read all of the books, but if you’re not taking what you’ve learned and started to apply it, you’re going to be in the same position 12 months from now. So you’ve got to take the next step, which is action, which is the harder part more often than not. And often that action or that inaction is related to something under the emotional hood to speak.
So something that I’ve really enjoyed from your content, Emilia, is really talking and unbreak, or unpacking the topic of emotional disregulation and how that ultimately is influencing our behaviors and our beliefs around food. So tell us… Let’s start here. What is emotional dysregulation?
So yeah, emotional regulation, if we flip it on its head, is the ability to, the awareness, the identification, and the naming and responding to our emotions. So it’s about kind of saying, I recognize I feel X, I can sit with X, and I can respond to X in an appropriate way. That’s what it is in a nutshell. Emotional dysregulation is basically we’re part of that journey, we struggle with part of that journey.
So common examples are we can’t actually articulate what we feel. We don’t recognize what we feel, we’re not aware of what we feel. So a common example of this is if we are grieving and we overwork. We’re not even acknowledging that we’re grieving, because we’re overworking and we’re not even naming it, let alone meeting that need.
So that’s kind of one example, or we might be aware of it, but then what we might do is not actually meet that need, and let’s go with grief again. We don’t cry. We don’t express that emotion. We don’t seek support. What we do instead is we suppress it potentially with food or we distract ourselves from it or we numb ourselves from it.
And again, that’s kind of dysregulation. And if you look at any of the theories behind emotional eating, they all have kind of slightly different theories behind them and conversations behind them, but they all, underline them all is something really common. And that is emotional dysregulation. Often we think emotionally eating is to do with our food, and most of the time it’s actually to do with the fact that we’re unable or we’re currently unable to regulate our emotions properly.
Yeah. That was incredibly well said. That helped me tremendously. I’m going to be able to better articulate that. So thank you for sharing that. So I’m curious, a lot of the work in coaching I do is behind every goal, whether it’s a scale based goal, a financial, a relationship goal, we’re seeking a feeling or a collection of feelings. And when we can get really clear on those feelings, we can better align the most effective action steps to get there.
So for someone who is starting to trend in the direction of awareness. Like, okay, I am coping with food with just to help me absolve myself from feeling sadness, grief, et cetera. What is step two after awareness to begin really working through better regulating their emotions?
I think the first most important thing is probably the thing that we’re most, do we find most difficult is naming and identifying our emotions properly. So really getting to grips with our emotional granularity. So what I mean by that is, we are very good at saying, “I’m anxious. I’m stressed. I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m great. I’m fine.” And that, especially in Britain, to be honest, but in that is kind of our emotional repertoire.
We don’t say, “I’m feeling envious. I am feeling resentful or hopeful.” We struggle with that. And we use these kind of umbrella terms. And one of the problems with that is that if we are not identifying to a granular level what we feel, there’s actually some really cool evidence that highlights it. If you can just name your emotion properly, you actually get some regulation of your nervous system just by naming it, so acknowledging it.
And yet we are using these umbrella terms, which is kind of cutting us off from being able to do that, even in a nutshell. So there’s a really great book by Susan David called Emotional Agility, which is a fantastic book that I recommend everyone read. And she talks a lot about emotional granularity.
And so, I think that’s the first step. And not identifying with this, it can be quite scary. There’s a concept called the feelings wheel, which again, everyone can get this on Google, and it basically takes all of these umbrella terms and it breaks them down into much more granular terms.
And my clients will use this when they’re journaling, they’ll use it in, when we do check-ins together. I ask them to use that, to identify what they’ve been feeling for the week. And it just helps them get more articulate and granular with their feelings. So everyone can download that and start using that in your journals or maybe if you’ve got kids, you can use it with your kids and at the dinner table and say, “What was your main feeling for the day?”
And on top of that, because it can be quite scary to get into the granular emotions that we feel, because we’re so used to avoiding them all. Being really mindful of not identifying with these feelings. So again, we often say, “I am stressed. I am happy.” But rather than identifying with it and that becoming our whole self, the difference between saying I’m anxious and I am feeling anxious is quite vast.
Yes. Because when you say I’m feeling anxious, you can hold it away from you. You can see it almost, you can visualize it, you can meet that need, you can hold it with… It’s a compassionate way of looking at it, right? It’s like, “Okay, what does this anxiety need?”
But if you say, “I’m feeling anxious.” It’s just all through your body, you can’t escape from it. It can be very overwhelming. So those two steps when you’re trying to become more emotionally aware, especially if you’re doing things like emotionally are the fundamental steps, because once you’ve got to that point, you can then start saying, “Okay, well, I’m feeling anxious. What would make this need in me? If I can identify that it’s anxiety, what’s helpful here? Is it breathing? Is it going for a walk? Is it going in my mom?” Whatever, coping strategies.
And that’s the other thing is making sure you have actual coping strategies. Whenever I ask someone who’s emotionally eating, what are your current emotional coping strategies? They say, “Well, I don’t know.” [inaudible 00:20:01]. Like, okay, well, this is the key. We need to develop a toolbox of strategies for yourself.
And what are some of those common go-to strategy either that you recommend and personally practice and that you hear or have found most successful with those you work with?
So it’s different kind of in the moment in day-to-day strategies. In the moment strategies might be things like, there might be specific therapeutic techniques, and these are things that people can look up. So things like surfing that urge or something like DBT technique and stuff. But realistically, it might look like in the moment taking five grounding breaths.
I like breathing where you do a four second inhale and a six second exhale. Because when you’re exhale for longer than you inhale, it helps regulate your nervous system. And actually, it helps relieve you of what we call sympathetic dominance, where we are in that fight or flight state. And if you have a longer exhale, it helps to regulate that and kind of your parasympathetic nervous system can kind of kick back in and helps regulate you so it calms you down.
So something as simple as breathing is fantastic, or having a mindful moment where you name something you smell, see, taste, touch, and feel. Is that right? Is that all the five sentences? I might have missed one here. [inaudible 00:21:20] I always miss one, but mindful moment, because what that does, it just should ground you in the moment. It’s all just about grounding yourself or if you’re somewhere that’s not the UK in freezing cold, you might go and stand outside with your bare feet and notice the feeling of grass under your toes or just get some daylight.
But then other things that might be, for some people, it might be watching an episode of Friends. It might be, again, phoning your mom or there’s so many things that could be. These are kind of really basic in the moment things that you can do. But then day-to-day regulation is so, so important too, kind of how you manage yourself day-to-day so that you’re not chronically in this heightened state of fight or flight or you’re not chronically in this kind of hyper state of apathy and low mood.
It’s about kind of what are your strategies day-to-day that help you stay there? And that might be things like yoga or meditation, or again, getting outside in nature. Everyone thinks that it should be like this airy-fairy, wishy-washy has to look like candles and crystals and it really doesn’t. Like I skateboard, I do handstands. These types of things for me are immersive.
And that’s right for me. I mean I do yoga meditation too, so it’s just about finding for yourself, carving out a little bit of time for something that is very immersive for you and that allows you just to kind of come, and everyone knows what that feels, feels like right just to come back home to yourself just for five minutes where you’re not responding to other people and you’re just kind of coming back to yourself.
And it might even be a hot drink, sitting outside in silence with a hot drink. Our senses are so powerful in this case. Right now with this podcast, I’ve got a really soft blanket on, you can’t see under the camera, because it soothes my skin, and so that helps regulate me when I’m doing podcasts and things. So it’s just thinking about what are certain [inaudible 00:23:09] for each person that can soothe you really.
Yeah. I love that. And imagine too, there’s just an element of intentionality behind it. Like you said, it’s going to look different for everyone. For me, I love an ice bath. An ice bath really just helps me ground, get back to center. I mean most people don’t like it, but it’s my poison. It does the trick for me. But also, like you mentioned, I love going outside in my backyard.
I’m fortunate enough, it’s Florida, it’s always warm here, so I can do that in barefoot and playing with my dog. I also think my dog is my undercover therapist because he makes me walk in many times during the day. So I get that outdoor sunlight exposure. I’m walking, I’m moving to kind of soothe, reset and go about my next task later on.
Yeah. Absolutely. That’s so underrated, I think. I mean it’s also connection and connection is so powerful in these types of moments. And there’s senses involved there and it’s immersion. So yeah, it makes sense.
Yeah. And that’s a good segue. One topic I’d love to get to pick your brain about is this kind of interconnection between our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with our body, and ultimately our relationship with food. How are those all intertwined and what is kind of the one that we should really put our attention on most if we want to positively impact all three of them?
Oh, that’s a great question. They’re intertwined in every possible way. There’s not kind of one key thing that links them all together. Right? The way that I work, the way that I talk research encompasses this mind, body, spirit kind of triangle. You might have seen this before, but the interconnectedness of all of this.
And the way that I describe it with our coaching is that often we use, often our relationship with food is the forefront. We can see it. We know that we’re binge eating. We know that we’re restricting. We know that we’re preoccupied by food. That’s a tangible thing almost. So often when you start to do this work and you start to unpack your relationship with food, it’s like you pull on this little thread and when you pull on it, it’s like all of this stuff just falls in the sky of like, “Oh, that’s what was going on.”
And it opens up this whole new world. And it’s the same with your relationship with your body often relationship with food stuff often comes from this need to try and control your body. And this need to try and control your body usually comes from something else. And it might be something, this is not surface level, but it’s quite generic because it happens so often at the moment where it might be we’re trying to control our body because of patriarchy, because of diet culture, et cetera.
And this kind of internalized then ideal that we have that thinness equals success. And if we inherently feel like we’re not good enough, well, maybe if we get thinner, we’ll be more successful because that’s what society tells us is right. And that alone is a lifetime of unpicking because if you’ve been bombarded with that since you were 12 years old, and now you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s, that’s lots of years that you’ve been [inaudible 00:26:07], right?
So you then have to unpack it. Comes back to that why question. Why is leaner more successful to you? But why? And I’m kind of going through that. So that’s really important. And then, there’s relationships with yourself and people around you that are important to you. And it’s just, there’s such a big interconnected web and I think what it comes down to is really like what can we manage and what can we be aware of?
And really all we can do is be aware of our own patterns and ourselves. We can’t control anyone else. So it then becomes about, okay, well, again, how can I be aware of my own shit and my own patterns and how does that manifest i.e. in my relationship with food and how I treat my body and how I treat other people? I think food is just, for me, it’s the gateway to all of the rest of… I mean I’m a nutritionist, right? So of course, that’s the stuff that I see most, everyone’s got different dysfunctional habits and will be in different places.
Yeah. No. That was well said. So then I’m curious, many, many of our listeners here have been fully indoctrinated into diet culture from like we mentioned, a very young age, unfortunately, and have for many reasons kind of started to associate their worth with a number on the scale, a number on the back of the tag of their favorite clothing. So how do we start to rewrite that story, to disassociate our worth with the number on the scale and to really remember and embrace and celebrate that we are lovable and worthy no matter our age, our size, our weight, et cetera?
It’s tough. I think on the surface level sometimes the best thing to do is to actually stop weighing yourself and stop looking at these clothes sizes and stuff. And something we do with our clients often is we say if you’re going to go buy clothes, bring in three different sizes and don’t look at the label and try them all on and which everyone fits buy it. And then, never look at the label again. Cut it off.
You don’t need to know, especially with female clothing sizes, they’re so relevant anyway, especially in the UK, they fluctuate so much. You can be an extra larger one shop and a small on another. So it’s irrelevant. So on a surface level, those types of things of like why are you weighing yourself? Why? Is that helpful to you? Even if you’re on fat loss journey, can you not just use, do your feeling enough your clothes to determine the direction that you’re going in? And why do you need scales?
And I think we don’t question it enough. Again, we’ve just been growing up to believe that, of course, I’ve got scales in the bathroom, why wouldn’t I have scales in the bathroom? But why? And it’s not that doesn’t solve the kind of deeper rooted stories that we have in our head, but it’s at least on a surface level, a behavior that probably isn’t serving you no matter what your goal is. So that’s one thing. Then, I think the-
Can I interject real quick?
I have a question. That was such a great point. I’m thinking about the scale and we just we’re conditioned to use it as a tool of reinforcement. I can’t help but wonder, is there a lack of self-trust? Because if we break this down, I’m going to oversimplify here intentionally. If we know what we’re supposed to be eating, we should be eating well and moving often. If we know we’re in a calorie deficit, if we’re using the diet example.
If we follow through on the promises we keep to ourselves, everything like biologically, physiologically speaking should lead us in the direction of fat loss. Why do we need something outside of ourselves to reinforce, “Hey, you’re doing a good job?”
Because we don’t… You’re right. Because it’s two things. One, we don’t trust ourself. And two, we want that validation, because it gives us a high. The problem with the latter is that your scale weight is not always going to go down. At some point, either the end of your diet or just natural fluctuations, your scale weight is going to go up. And if you get your validation from that scale weight, what happens when it goes the other way is you feel like a failure, and spirals in the behavior that often come with the gain in scale weight often then become a bit self-destructive and potential kind of self-sabotage. I’m using air quotes here too.
And can become really unhelpful. But the other thing is too, the self-trust thing. How many people struggle to stop tracking calories once they’ve been tracking calories because they don’t trust themselves even just to eat like for the requirements because, again, diet cultures told us we can’t trust ourselves. Diet culture says if we ate how we wanted and we’d all gain weight and that’s why we’ve got an obesity problem.
That is the most common narrative that gets fed all the time. And without education, without emotional regulation, without all of that stuff that might happen, but we have to learn to develop that trust in ourselves. So yeah. It’s twofold I think with the scales, probably more that we haven’t even thought about. There’s a lot of reasons why.
But the other thing I think with the self-worth stuff is that a good self-worth is known that you’re worthy without achieving, without anything, any additional stuff. But I think to jump to that from finding your worth in your body is a huge leap. I really think that’s a huge leap. And so, I think a nice transition is finding your worth in other things and sometimes people find it in achievement, in work, and that’s where you see people overwork.
And often you see, especially in fitness, people who have come from chronic dieting, then become personal trainers, and then they go into that side of things. So then they work really hard to grow their business, and then that becomes their new thing. And to some degree, that’s a helpful transition if you’re continuing to transition out of that. But I like to think of worth in terms of like how do you find joy? How do you help other people? What’s your purpose?
And if we really strip it back again, we shouldn’t have to have any of these things to be worthy, but it’s not feasible in the initial stages to just go, “Oh, I’m worth it as I am.” And leave it at that. But I think I really like to take the emphasis off myself and support my clients to take the emphasis off themselves and think, “How have I given back today?” Not how [inaudible 00:31:57] have people pleased?
That’s not what we want. But how have I contributed to the world today? Did you eat vegan today? Great. You’ve contributed to the world. Did you give to charity? Great. Did you help someone cross the street? Great. Did you send a really nice message to one of your friends to say that you love them today? Great. You’ve contributed to the world.
And I like to try and take the emphasis off the self and try to find worth in those kind of things that you do. And then, put it onto more like, “Oh, how can I connect more and help more and contribute more?” At least, in the initial stages before you finally get to the point where you feel worthy. And I question even if I’m there yet. I don’t know how long it takes to get to that point. I think you maybe have to do a lot more work to get to that point.
That was a great answer. Thank you for sharing that.
Really good. So kind of building off of that, but coming from the opposite direction here. One thing that I’ve observed in my years of coaching is for some people, at least, in the short term, the act of negative reinforcement or negativity to supercharge that motivation, which you and I both know is a temporary feeling. It’s not always there.
It’s something they use to serve as a catalyst to get some consistency or success under your belt. But it’s something that you’ve written and spoke about before that really resonates with me is you can’t keep continue to hate yourself and to change. That doesn’t work. So can you speak on that a little more for those listening who might relate to that and why it doesn’t really equal long-term sustainable success?
For sure. It’s so common. We think if we’re hard on ourselves and we beat ourselves up and we shame ourselves, then we’re going to want to change enough. It’s such a common narrative. It’s why we criticize ourselves all the time. And it also falls into this idea that if we’re nice to ourselves, then we’ll be lazy. If we’re nice to ourselves, then we won’t achieve anything. Because if we’re nice to ourselves, we’ll just lie on the sofa day and eat pizza all day.
And we have this idea that that’s what being nice to ourselves means. And that’s because we don’t understand what compassion means and what self-compassion means. And self-compassion does mean being kind to yourself, but it also means taking action. There’s like two sides. There’s like a yin and a yang side of like speak to yourself kindly side and there’s the proactive fierce, what will my future self thank me for side. That’s what self-compassion is.
And then, if you look at self-compassion, it’s associated with things like higher achievement in work. It’s associated actually with a lower BMI. We see at least anecdotally with clients, those who are more compassionate when they slip up on their diet, they accept that, “Oh, I’ve slipped up. Okay, what will I learn from this?” And they move on rather than self-criticism of, “I’ve slipped up. I’m a failure. I may as well just go completely kind of OTT on this food and start again on Monday.” Big difference in how they approach it.
So the most important piece when it comes to not hating yourself and to change is the fact that actually we’ve got tons of evidence that says how important self-compassion is. And actually, if we use self-compassion properly, it’s a driver for change. It’s a driver for progress.
It’s just that we don’t understand it properly. And on top of that, there’s this really cool theory called the paradoxical theory of change, Gestalt’s theory. And it’s this idea of, and I think Carl Rogers talks about this as well. This idea of only when we’re content with where we are, are we then able and open to change.
And it sounds really counterintuitive, but really when we accept ourselves as we are, we accept ourself for our flaws, we accept ourself for our strengths, and this is just who we are, we’re then at a place of acceptance and we can say, “Right. This is how I progress forward. This is what I can, the actions that I can take.” But if we’re constantly in this self-critical cycle of I hate where I am, I’m only going to be happy when, and we fall into that kind of arrivals fallacy of I’ll be happy when I’m five kilos light or whatever the case may be. We’re constantly chasing something that doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t, like we get to that point and we’re still not any happier. We’re still thinking, “Oh, well, maybe I just need to lose a little bit more weight or a little bit more weight.” And you’re just on this constant cycle. And then, on top of that, it’s also like, what I like to think about is this is your one life. The only time you have is today. You’re never ever going to be this age again. You’re never going to live this day again. And if you spend the next…
So we’re in January right now, if you spend the next three months on your January diet hating every minute, you’re just thrown away three months of your life for absolutely no benefit whatsoever. It’s not driven you to change, because you don’t have the self-compassion piece, and you’ve just wasted three months of your life. And I think we forget that this is the one life that we have, why we chose to spend it hating on ourselves and overthinking everything.
And really, you can diet if you want to diet, but don’t let it take over your life. And don’t let it take over your internal narrative all the time. Life is too short.
That’s great coincidental timing. I’ve started to begin infusing, even though it’s a bit morbid, just the fact of how strong mortality is, and I could die tomorrow. That is a really strong motivating factor. So written above on my whiteboard is, “Live a full fuck yes life today, because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow.”
So it’s like I love your example. If you’re going to suffer and absolutely hate yourself just for a diet or a number on the scale, step back and ask yourself, why? Is that how you really want to spend your time? Which brings me to a question, how can we begin on a consistent basis, practicing self-compassion or even developing it? Is it a skill that we can develop?
For sure. And self-compassion has three kind of core components. Mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness, right? So mindfulness is just about awareness. So we can start being aware of our thoughts, we can journal, we can practice some meditation, we can practice mindful eating. Any of these things will help develop our mindfulness. We can have one of those mindful moments that I spoke about.
Common humanity is just this idea of, okay, we’re all flawed, we all make mistakes, and that’s totally okay. We’re human. And so, when you do over eat on your diet, say as an example. Saying to yourself, “It’s okay. Everyone does this. This is totally normal. I’m not broken. I’m just a human being that really likes pizza like such is life.” That common humanity concept, super, super important.
And then, the third concept of self-kindness is often the one that we struggle with the most of really just being kind to ourselves, particularly when we do things that we’re not pleased with ourselves for. So particularly when we slip up on our diet, or particularly when we don’t get a job that we went for, or my common one is like things with family. If I don’t do enough for my family, then I get feel guilty. And then, I’m like, “Oh, you’re so selfish.” And then, I’m like, “No. No. That was the best that you could do.”
So really just challenging your internal narrative. And again, I think journaling is so powerful here, because if you journal your internal narrative just as it is in your head when you over eat on your diet, [inaudible 00:39:09] onto paper and look at the way that you’re speaking to yourself, and then just think, “Would you speak to your best friend like that? Would you speak to your child like that? So why do you think that you should speak to yourself like that when you wouldn’t speak to anybody else that you love like that?”
And I think sometimes it’s hard, because we say, “Well, I don’t love myself like I love my child. I don’t love myself like I love my best friend, and so I can speak to myself like that.” But sometimes we have to do the compassionate things before we really feel that. So sometimes we have to actually start saying these things to ourselves and practicing these things to ourselves, even if we don’t necessarily believe it.
And for some people, especially if they’ve got very disordered habits, even that can feel too much. And actually what I’ll do with my clients who are maybe really, really struggling is just education around it. So Chris [inaudible 00:39:59] has some great books around self-compassion, just doing some reading, doing some understanding, reading some blogs, whatever that may be. Even just educating yourself can be a nice first step into then actually starting to practice it for yourself.
I love that. Yeah. So well said. Which brings me to, unfortunately, my last question, because I can pick your brain all day, but that wouldn’t be respectful for your time. But with all of the clients you’ve worked with and all the knowledge and experience you’ve accumulated, what do you find is the most common… I’m going to call it missing piece for sustainable success, so we can use the paradigm of sustainable weight loss here. What’s missing in those that you work with most commonly?
Interesting. Very interesting question. I think it’s a lot of the time, it’s belief. I think that a lot of people that I speak to have really strong limiting beliefs. I just love food. I’m addicted to food. I am just a binge eater. I’ve struggled with this my whole life. I am a victim of diet culture. I can’t gain weight. I can’t lose weight. All these things that we, I self-sabotage a classic one.
All of these things translate to, I don’t believe I can have a helpful relationship with food. And it’s very difficult to achieve your goals if, A, you don’t believe that you deserve them. And B, that you don’t believe that you can actually get there. And it’s understandable that you don’t believe that you can get there, because you’ve spent 30, 40, 50, 60 years struggling because of crap diets and stifled emotions because we’ve not been taught emotional literacy and things like this.
It’s totally understandable. But a lot of the conversations I have, especially on Instagram, is like, okay, I say almost every day to someone, “You’re not broken. This isn’t just how you are. This is changeable.” And I think it’s the belief that things can be changed. And I recently worked with a client who was in her 60s and she said, when we first, actually said, “I don’t believe this is going to be any different, but I’m willing to give it a try.”
And we’ve been together for maybe five or six months now, and she’s like, “Okay. I actually now understand why this is different and now I think I can do this.” And it’s taken that long just to get to that point of belief, because you have to sometimes do the stuff and to then believe that you can do it. But it’s this terrifying thing to do it if you don’t believe that you can do it, because you think you’re going to fail again. So it’s just like this vicious cycle I think.
I actually had the same exact answer, beliefs, limiting beliefs. So it was so cool to hear you say that too. And to speak to the client example you shared, it’s also I think important for everyone listening like you didn’t accumulate these beliefs and these habits overnight. So if you have 10, 20, 30 years of experience with these same lending beliefs, you can’t expect to change them overnight. So if your client, it took five, six months, I don’t know. I don’t want to put her in a category, but that’s a pretty normal progression with consistent work.
It does take time, which makes it more important than ever to find a sustainable approach, the right coaching, accountability, a community support to go on this journey, because it’s not going to be all sunshine and rainbows tomorrow. There will be plenty of darkness, hardship, chaos, but it’s always worth it because you are always worth it.
Absolutely. And I think the thing is too, just you’ve popped into my head when you mentioned that client is, she worked unbelievably hard. She’s worked so hard to get to this point. And this is the thing too is I think sometimes we expect to wake up one day and go, “Oh, I really want to go to the gym. I really want to eat salad for lunch. I really, really want to go meditate for 25 minutes. I love all that.”
That doesn’t really happen, even once you’ve kind of re-programmed yourself a little bit and you have these things have become habit. It’s never easy. And I think managing your expectations of saying… I think expectations do us a disservice because we think that it should be easier than it is, and it’s not, at least initially. A lot of this stuff does require work and whether it be fat loss, improving your relationship with food, whatever it is, you have to have the belief, but you also have to have the kind of work ethic to say, “Yeah. I am willing to do this work.”
And to have the expectation to say, “I can achieve it.” But it will always require some effort. And I’m willing to say, “I’ll always put this effort in because it’s worth it, because of the impact it has on my quality of life because of the impact it has on other people around me and all of these things.”
So well said. Where can listeners go to learn more about you, to work with you, just to consume your fantastic content?
Best place is Instagram. My Instagram is Emilia Thompson PhD. On my website where I’ve got quite a lot of free resources on there as well as education and articles is emilia.fitness.
Wonderful. And I’ll link everything in the show notes. But Emilia, thank you so much for joining me today. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Thanks so much for having me.
Absolutely. And for everyone listening, thank you for being here. If you found this episode valuable, which I have a very strong feeling you did, share this with a loved one, share this with someone you know who would also find it valuable and benefit from it. And of course, if you haven’t done so already, taking 30 seconds to leave a genuine and honest rating and review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you are listening to today is helpful. It really goes a long way in supporting myself and the show.
Thank you so much for being here. Have a wonderful rest of your day. And as always, screw the scale.
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