Struggling with body image? This is a must listen
Whether you’re struggling with your body image or you’re completely unfamiliar with the term, Dr Emilia Thompson is here to unpack everything you need to know.
We chat about whether a positive body image is attainable for everyone, some very practical tools to help you improve your body image, and how body image and dieting are interrelated.
We also chat about a lot of other helpful things, but you’re just going to have to listen to find those out.
Jono: Welcome back to the Bite Me Nutrition podcast. I'm very excited to have with me today Emilia Thompson, who if you don't know, what's wrong with you? Sort it out, but will, by the end of today, you will know her and a lot more about the amazing work she does. I've been a fan for a very, very long time, and so actually kind of threw a bit of a Hail Mary message your way to be like, "Oh, who knows?" Worst case scenario, I get left unread. But here we are. So I've got lots of questions to ask you, but before we dive into that, can you let everyone know who you are, what you do, and why you do it?
Emilia: Sure thing. Thank you so much for having me. And also equally rate your content a lot and as you know, equally rate your bright pink aesthetics, so I am very happy to be here and I'm missing it today. Yeah, so I am a registered nutritionist. I run a company called ET PhD Coaching, and I work with a team of coaches and we work predominantly to support people, improve their relationships with food, their relationships with their body and their health. Often we work with people with disordered eating habits. Well always really, we work with people with disordered eating habits, anywhere on the spectrum really from slightly dysfunctional habits all the way through to people with eating disorders. I personally don't work with people with eating disorders, but I have a dietician and a psychotherapist in our team that do support people with eating disorders. And I also run an education business with Emma Storey-Gordon, EIQ Nutrition, and that is an online course that supports personal trainers to become more evidence-based and compassionate in their nutrition approach. So moving away from just meal plans and macros and moving towards a much more holistic but rooted in science strategy to support their clients. And I mentor a lot of coaches to become coaches in a similar sort of fashion that I do. My focus really is trying to support people to find normality and peace with food and support coaches to help their clients get to that similar sort of point of just where food is no longer the forefront of every action that they take, whether that's binge eating, emotional eating, chronically dieting, all about finding peace with food really.
Jono: Yeah. And all that shines through in predominantly what I've consumed as your Instagram content. And I think why I'm such a fan is you're talking about so much stuff that it's one of those... it's like we should probably all be talking about this stuff, but not enough people are. We get really drilled down on the nutrition science, which is obviously relevant, but then there's so many other aspects of... and influences on the way that people eat. And again, I think that you touch on a lot of that. You don't just touch on a lot of that stuff. You dive into a lot of that stuff and unpack a lot of that stuff, which I think is awesome. And definitely one of the main things I want to talk to you about today was the whole... we'll just have a quick, easy chat about body image. It's a really simple, straightforward area to talk about. I know. But I think anyone working in nutrition will have clients who struggle with it, whether they know it or not. It seems to go hand in hand with food difficulties, I suppose. So I guess just to set the scene, what is body image? How would you define it?
Emilia: Yeah, body image first of all is it's easy to say what it's not, it's not body confidence. It's not loving the way that your body looks and it's not this sort of fixed thing that once we have a good body image, we always have a good body image and it looks a certain way. What it is is much more, I suppose, multifaceted, faceted, and holistic. So it encompasses kind of four key things. So how we think about our body, so what we call us that as this evaluative, how we evaluate our body and how we think about our body, the beliefs that we have about our body, the emotions that we attach our body and how we feel about our body and then the behavioral, the things that we do in relation to our body. If you look at... think feeling beliefs and how we act around our body, that's what we call body image. And so it's much more... it's almost like a perception as opposed to this kind of end point fixed thing. I think we get it wrong a lot, especially in the fitness space. We think a good body image is getting up in the morning and looking in the mirror and thinking, "Oh my God, I look amazing. I love my arse, I love my belly, I look great." That's a positive body image and that's actually one super unattainable to most of us.
Two, suggests that is something that we can kind of attain. We can get to that point where every day we look in the mirror and think, "I love the way that my body looks." It suggests it's this kind of end fixed point and it's not. When we think about it like that, it can become really, really frustrating because we never get there. We just become these kind of hamsters in a wheel, always trying to get to this point of loving the way that our body looks when naturally it's much more about how we treat our bodies, how we think about our bodies, how we feel about our bodies, and how we nurture our bodies. But that one is a lot harder to contextualize, think about and act on, and we'll talk about that I'm sure in the podcast. So it's not really spoken about much. People just say, "Oh, good body image or a bad body image," and then kind of leave it there.
Jono: Yeah. Do you think that's part of the reason why it is such a minefield? Because we can't have some black and white kind of criteria of, "Yes, you have succeeded at your body... you've finished body image."
Emilia: Yeah, well done. You use your certificate, you have a good one. Yeah, yeah. It's similar-
Jono: Yeah. Forever.
Emilia: Yeah. Yeah. Thing is, it's similar to disordered eating as well. If you look at the research, we have clear validated questionnaires that look at does someone experience disordered or dysfunctional eating habits and/or eating disorder? Same goes for body image. There are different facets to this. But for example, does someone have good high scores on body appreciation? And I'll talk about what some of these things are. Or do they score highly on body functionality appreciation, which is being able to appreciate their body for what it does rather than what it looks like. There's so many different facets of this.
And although they're validated questionnaires in the research, it's very unlikely that you're going to get somebody who listens to this podcast, whether it's a coach or a non-coach that's going to sit there and go, "I'm going to whip out this validated questionnaire and check in on where my body image is and where my dysfunctionality is." And that actually might be something that we do on our team to just check where someone is and see their progress because it's so difficult to quantify day to day, but there's just no way of saying, "Yes, you definitely have a positive body image and you've..." Like you said, "You've kind of completed that level of the work."
Jono: Yeah, that gray area. But I mean, in a way it's kind of nice I think to know that it is a spectrum and you don't have to have that feeling of waking up in the morning being like, "Damn, I look amazing." Because exactly like you said, I think that setting that as an attainable goal isn't realistic or fair and could probably just result in, as we probably see in tons of other areas of nutrition, setting unrealistic goals doesn't typically end very well. So in terms of that spectrum, and so I think you mentioned as well that it's very common for people to move back and forth along that spectrum, like you said, what you don't attain it and then you're finished and it's fixed. What are some things that I guess can influence where someone sits on that spectrum?
Emilia: Oh gosh, so many things. I think what's helpful probably is to say that what a positive body image actually would look like day-to-day-ish. And then I suppose within that, how someone can slide up and down because you can have a quote what people and influencers now call a quote, "bad body image day," but still have a positive body image because of what it actually means. So a positive body image specifically is it relates to how someone can conceptualize their body and treat their body with love, respect, and appreciation. So you might, for example, not love the way that your body looks, but you treat your body with love, respect, and appreciation. And I suppose on this point, I should probably say throughout this podcast, I might refer to your body as a he or a she or they. And that's partly because when I'm working with clients often that's something that we'll do because it helps to conceptualize your body as something to take care of when you think she really wanted rest or I treated her to nine hours of sleep and whatever it may be.
So if that slips out of my mouth, it's because I'm used to speaking to clients about this stuff. I mean-
Jono: No, I love it. I love it. Yeah.
Emilia: So that's what we would class as in a nutshell, what a positive body image is. But like I said, it's multifaceted and we can look at three kind of measures of body image in terms of what we think is a positive body image. And these three things are, if somebody exhibits body appreciation, so valuing their body just for keeping them alive and just having that respect for your body. The second is functionality appreciation. So not only having appreciation for your body, but being able to really be aware of and express gratitude for all of the functions of your body. So a practice that, for example I'll use with my clients is body functionality appreciation and awareness.
So every single day, at least for short periods of time, potentially prolonged periods of time, they will keep a journal or even just sit and chat about with their kids at the dinner table, what one thing has your body allowed for you to do today? And it might be, "My body's allowing me to hug my child." And then not only acknowledging that, but then appreciating that and saying thank you to your body. And I don't mean saying, "Oh, thanks so much buddy," but just really sitting for 10 seconds and breathing it in and saying, "Wow, that's incredible that my body did that." And then the third kind of facet of a positive body image is body image flexibility. And this one is really, really key. And body image flexibility is the idea that you can recognize, quote, unquote "negative thoughts" and feelings about your body. So an example of this would be you've got PMS, well, you probably don't have PMS, but someone might have PMS-
Jono: Not at the moment.
Emilia: You never know. And they look in the mirror in the morning, the day before the period, they're bloated, they feel uncomfortable, they're emotionally challenged that day. Maybe they step on the scales and they've gained some water weight and they feel really, really bad about themself. Body image flexibility is this idea of, "Okay, well, I'm aware that I feel negatively towards the way that my body looks today. I'm aware that there are potential factors that contribute to this like hormones like time of month, et cetera. But what I'm going to do is put on my stretchiest leggings, my big baggy T-shirt, and I'm going to focus on today and having a good day and it's not going to impact my day."
That is what we would class as body image flexibility, and it's that key third facet of a positive body image. So if you think to yourself, do you know what? I can do that. I have this really strong body image flexibility, I recognize that my body, I don't love the way my body looks every day, but I get up and I crack on my day. I'm really aware of what my body allows for me to do, and every day I'm grateful for the fact that I can go to work, I can go to the gym, that my body's fighting off infection, that I can breastfeed my child, whatever it may be. And every day you've got these thoughts not at the forefront of your mind, but these are the way... these are the kind of thoughts that you're having. Then it's likely that you have a positive body image or at least you're up on that kind of upper end of that positive body image.
On the flip side of that, if stepping on the scales makes you feel really awful for the whole day, and you'll definitely know these people, maybe people when they start to work with you, they find that when they weigh themselves, they fall into a bit of a shame cycle and maybe overeat and then feel poorly about that. And if they can't exercise, then they feel bad about their body, or if they don't like the way they look in the gym, then they feel bad about their body. Then it's probably that you're slightly further away from that kind of positive body image that we look to foster.
Jono: Yeah, yeah. I was going to ask you about particularly I guess the functional aspect of someone who can't go to the gym at the moment because they're injured or can't because they're sick or something. Is that more than you would just encourage them to be like, "Well, yes, but what other functions?" That's going to be functions that your body is still providing and make sure that you are getting to be mindful of those?
Emilia: Yeah. I think that's something again that I probably got wrong when we, in the past... and I think we get wrong sometimes in the fitness industry of it's the first step of moving away from using exercise for calories. We know that we don't like to think about exercise in terms of burning calories and what the next step often is, and maybe it's a necessary transition for some people, but we go, "Okay, well, I'm not going to focus on calories, but I'm going to focus on PBs and just being really grateful that I can get in the gym and I can be strong." And that's great for people who are able bodies and who don't have injuries.
But what if you have chronic pain? What if you do get injured? What if you're pregnant? There's so many situations where you can't go to the gym and do everything, or maybe you're just on holiday and you can't train. What then? How is your body image impacted? Then when we look at functionality, there are some key components of functionality that we really want to focus on, and they are things like immune function. It might also be physical endeavors, but it might also be creative endeavors and connection and thinking outside of the, "Oh, will I manage to run a..." I don't know what a good time for a 5K is, 25 minute 5K,
Jono: They're just finishing as...
Emilia: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's where my mind went up, I thought I should be a bit more inspirational than that, but I couldn't think of a time. But those things are great, but you don't want them to be the only focus for your body. Your body allows you to digest food, to eat pizza that you love to eat. All of these things are things that your body allows you to do. If you took exercise out of the equation, how grateful are you for your body? What functions can you notice that your body allows? Because God forbid anything does happen, or if you're struggling with chronic pain right now, the messaging around body image can be really problematic. I've got a friend who struggles with... I say struggles actually, she's really great. But she has fibromyalgia. And we had this conversation when I personally started learning about body image because we've been friends for a long time, and she said, "Sometimes what you say can be really triggering for me because I can't do those things. I can't go to the gym."
She used to be bodybuilder like I did, and that's how we met. And she said, "I can't do those things when you're saying, go to the gym and be grateful that you managed to lift this weight." And that was the first thing for me where I thought that's actually a really good point. And there are a lot of situations where this can't be and it might not be you now, but it could be you tomorrow or it could be you in five years. You do not want to base your body image on something that can change so rapidly. You want to think about it in a much more holistic way.
Jono: Yeah, yeah. That's fantastic because it's not something I've properly thought through but have thought that... had that a little bit of discomfort of like, "Oh, well, it's good to say your body can do these things for you, but not everyone's body can do those things for you." And does that mean their body image, they're like, "Oh, well, you can't have a positive body image. Sorry." Is that in that space really encouraging clients or the people you're working with to just really think diverse and just think about there's always going to be something that your body is allowing you to do and encouraging to be mindful of that?
Yeah. So I mean with ET PhD Coaching, we have some clear methods and something that we'll do is we have a resource on body functionality and it breaks it down into these five core constructs that are evidence-based. There's a really cool paper, and I can't remember what when it was published, but it really breaks down this concept of body functionality and appreciation and it breaks it down in a really eloquent way, far more eloquent than I am. And so we've based our resource and our kind of training for our clients on that and it is breaking it down into these kind of five or six core areas.
And there's some things that you don't think about play and joy and creativity, these little things that we don't often think about, but actually when it comes to body image especially, actively incorporating things like play and joy is actually really helpful because a lot of the time with the less positive body image, just one of those things that we struggle with is complete preoccupation with bodies, preoccupation with comparison, preoccupation with what we look like, what we weigh, what our measurements are, body checking and actually incorporating and appreciating your body for being able to again, go out on family bike rides or playing at the beach or whatever it may be, is a really good way of both supporting your body image but also incorporating more joy and play into your life. And like I said at the beginning, a lot of our work is just about finding a happy, joyful, peaceful place. And so that's where a lot of that work comes into.
Jono: Yeah, yeah. I imagine surprisingly people's relationship with food and the way that they eat shifts pretty positively when they start to work on that stuff too. Do you see it... I sort of see it sometimes as any, I guess, important relationship in someone's life, whether that be family, chosen family, whatever, you still love them, but you're not always... you still fight. You still have good days and bad days. And is that sort of somewhat similar to body image where deep down you try to still love it, but...
Emilia: I think so. I think so. And again, I think we've run into problems with this in the sense of, I recently gave a talk on body image and chronic pain because we... and I was specifically looking at chronic pain and chronic illness and people... there was some cool research recently that came out, interesting research that came out about breast cancer survivors and body image. And it really delved into this idea that it can be really difficult to love your body when you feel like your body has kind of mistreated you in some way or done you wrong in some way. And I work with a lot of clients who are trying to improve their fertility to trying to conceive and maybe have experienced recurrent miscarriage and body image when you feel like your body's letting you down can be really, really hard. And so even saying, "Love your body for what it allows," to someone who's had three or four miscarriages for example, it's really patronizing and it really doesn't take into consideration the fact that you feel like you've been let down by your body.
And the same with people who have... maybe they're going through cancer treatment and things, it's really difficult to say, which is why you'll never hear me say, "Love your body," in any way, not even love your body for what it allows. I say acknowledge and appreciate those parts that you're allowed, but I'll never use the phrase, "Love your body," because I think it can be really problematic to suggest that someone has to feel that way.
Jono: Yeah. Does that come back to, I guess setting that probably honest unattainable goal for lots of people and then if you can't, if it feels unattainable, then why am I going to bother? I know I can't attain it, right? Yeah. So.
Emilia: It's also dishonest. There's some cool research around, you'll have heard of positive affirmations, and there's a time when a lot of influencers are saying, "Just look in the mirror and have you say, 'I love the way that my wrinkles look, or I love the way that the cellulite on my bum and all of these things," and these are really, really problematic because some research looked at the impact of having giving yourself these positive affirmations and the impact that it had on people's stress levels. And actually when you don't believe these affirmations and you're repeating to yourself, "I love these things, I love these things," you actually get a heightened stress response. So you don't want to tell yourself a lie. Your mind can't be tricked into just completely lying to yourself. If I ever looked in the mirror and said, "I love my wrinkles so much," I know I would just get pissed off because I really don't, and that's fine. But I can accept that they come with age and they make me wise, whatever.
So yeah, I think that it's about having that unattainable goal, but also the actual potential stress response and physiological impact, and also the mental health impact of lying to yourself and striving for something that doesn't exist and then thinking there's something wrong with you because, "Well, that person on Instagram loves the way that they look, and they said that if I just do this and this, I'll love the way that I look. So why does this not happen? There must be something wrong with me. I am a failure. I can't do this." So it just exacerbates. I think a lot of our struggles in any part of life come from unmet expectations, and sometimes we set these expectations for ourself and sometimes someone on social media sets these expectations for us, and when we don't meet them, we internalize it and think that we failed in some way and it just makes it worse.
Jono: That is a great summary of, I think my being unsure about body positivity specifically. Yeah, it's dishonest. You're standing and because like... I don't think I'm ever going to get to the point where I'm like, "Oh, these bags under my eyes, I love them. I love them. I'm so glad that I've got them." So yeah. Yeah, that's fantastic.
Emilia: And I think also if somebody does feel like that, good for them. If you've got somebody on online and they're like, "I genuinely love cellulite, I genuinely love these things," often the problem is also is that the people that say these things are people in small bodies that love their quote, unquote "cellulite" on their bum, and really it's just an angle. That's a whole other issue. But if someone does feel that way, good for them, it's just not attainable. We have to recognize that it's not necessarily attainable or desirable or achievable for a large proportion of people.
Jono: And again, I think it's coming back to that whole, what can make this topic difficult is there's no clear... everyone needs to achieve these things, love these parts of your body, and then you are done. And there's this certificate as you said. Oh, it would make our lives so much easier, wouldn't it? But also so much more boring if everything was so... everyone has to fit into these tiny little boxes of success. So I wanted to ask what some of your top tools were for body image. I suspected that question would be too broad to begin with. And now that we've chatted more about body image, it's absolutely too broad, you did mention, I guess that being mindful and taking that sitting down with your kids or someone else and being appreciative, calling out something that you are appreciative of for your body. Are there any other just sort of quick, I guess, of the broader tools or skills that you encourage clients to use throughout the day?
Emilia: Sure. A couple of things. One is managing your body checking. And what I mean by body checking is things like scale weight taking, pinching your skin, looking at yourself in the mirror, overly obsessing about the fit of your clothing, how it feels on your body, you know yourself what constitutes body checking for yourself, looking at yourself on Zoom, looking at me, looking at my [inaudible 00:24:26] on our podcast, that type of thing. That's all body checking. And when we're looking at body image, if you think of body checking kind of like a scale, so one end of the scale, you've got what we'd call excessive body checking. And on the other end of the scale, you've got body avoidance where you don't check at all, you wear baggy clothes all the time, you never look in the mirror, you never take scale weight, et cetera.
And when we're looking at a more positive cultivate and a more positive body image, most people where we want to set really somewhere in the middle and it's going to slide up and down. So some people, that might include taking scale weight, for a lot of people, it won't. For some people that will look like, "Okay, get a dress in the mirror, I'm looking at how my outfit looks and then I'm going on about my day." It's kind of somewhere moderate. And something that we do with ET PhD clients is sometimes, if they struggle with this, is to actually keep a tally for one or two days, how many times they body check. And just with no judgment, no expectation, there's no wrong answer, but just to tally up how many times in the day they check their body, and sometimes that number can be in the 56 days higher.
And sometimes just that realization of, "No wonder I'm thinking about my body so much, I'm actually checking it every single day." And then another thing you can do on top of that is to think what are the thought processes and the feelings that I have once I've checked my body. So for example, if I was checking my body talking to you right now, my thought process might be, "Oh, I used to have bigger [inaudible 00:25:58] than this when I competed," or, "Oh, I feel like I'm, I don't know, I look different or I look different with a tan or whatever." And I feel maybe low, I feel maybe self-critical. I haven't been to the gym. I haven't been to the gym in a while. I haven't been to the gym in a while. I'm such an idiot. If I'd been to the gym today, then I actually probably would've had a [inaudible 00:26:20] pump and it would've looked different.
I've been really, really trivial with this. But get curious about the stories you tell yourself when you body check. And then something that we'll do once we've done this sort of process is say, "Okay, well you body checked that day 50 times. This week what I'd like to do is on one day you're going to set yourself a limit and you're going to body check 30 times. And after that point no more, that is your limit." And so people will go about their day and then they'll do 30 times and say, "Yep, I've did it." And what's amazing with that is you can say, "Amazing. You can stop yourself from doing that. And how did you feel as a result of that? What was your self-talk like?" And you can keep pushing that. And we've had clients move from in the sixties, seventies, down to checking once a day, and that's it.
And it just releases so much mental energy to focus on other things because what a lot of people who struggle with their body image will know that it's so consuming. It takes away from so much of your life because you're constantly thinking about that and it's often tied with disorder eating habits. So just this combination of preoccupation can feel like a lot. And learning that one, you can change your behaviors just by that awareness, and you have a choice. And two, recognizing that you're not your thoughts, and this is a concept that needs to take a whole of the podcast. But my God, we're critical of ourselves. And sometimes it's the awareness of saying, "Okay, listen to the voices in your head, what's happening? And they're telling you you're fat, you're thin, your bum's too big, your bum's too small," whatever your self-critical talk is, and recognizing that that's just the voice in your head. That's not you, that's not something that you have to give your time to.
So a lot of this is about awareness. And other tools that we'll use are things like postponing these thoughts until later in the day. So recognizing that you can have all of these self-critical thoughts, but you're only going to allow yourself to think about them between 5 and 5:15, and that's it. And again, that's really cool because you start to go, "Okay, well, I can tell myself not to think about that," and it's not there. And that's amazing. And I don't want trivialize a lot of this because for some people, body image issues and food issues are really deep-rooted, and there's a lot to it, but just the awareness of your actions and your behaviors, and I think learning to just be aware of the way that you maybe mistreat your body in some way and the way that you mistreat yourself and the way that you speak to yourself and your body can be really, really impactful.
Jono: Yeah. Yeah. I love the tally. That's great. I mean, we all love numbers, right? Yeah, that comment on just because you have those thoughts doesn't mean you need to act on them or listen to them in that moment. I really like the idea of postponing because I think if you just say, "Don't have those thoughts. Okay, good luck," but still recognizing them, acknowledging them, but going, "Yeah, not yet. I'll see you at 5:00 PM." I suspect potentially at 5:00 PM you may be in a different mind frame by that point of the day anyway.
Emilia: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I think I learned about thought postponing through my own journey with grief a long time ago, and it was framed at the time to me as grief tunneling, and it was... but the idea of, and we use this in other contexts with our clients because feeling your feelings is really important when it comes to removing our need for food to suppress those feelings. And so you can use that with anything. If you're going through a breakup and you're constantly thinking about your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend or ex-partner, you can still give yourself room to think about that person.
But can you say, "Between 5 and 5:15, I'm going to think about that person. But for now I'm going to focus on my work." And it's amazing, actually. It's a skill to... and again, some of this sometimes sounds out of context as toxic positivity or as denial, but it's really not. You're still saying, "I'm feeling these things. I still recognize these things." And if you've just broken up with someone, you're not going to say, "Okay, I'm only going to think about them for 15 minutes." But if you're a month post breakup and you're still struggling thinking about this person every day, all day, then let's try and be a little bit more intentional with things and see what we can do.
Jono: Yeah, I think any sort of tool it's going to be... you've got to use it at the right time for the right job and understand that it's going to look different for different people exactly like you said, if it's 48 hours post traumatic event versus six weeks, eight weeks. But yeah, I got some... well, I was going to say Googling, but I think I'm probably supposed to say Pub Medding or something, right? Google Scholar.
Emilia: Oh, okay. Google Scholar anyway.
Jono: Yeah, look, it is a good... anyway, that's another. Yeah, cool. So in terms of body checking being, all of the strategies around that, that's fantastic. The different, I guess, aspects of body image and looking to work through each of those and be appreciative of different aspects of those. Any other big tools in the toolbox that people should have?
Emilia: This is probably not a huge one, and it's something that I remember I found it deep in a research paper once, and it was just a small phrase, and I thought, "That sounds interesting." And it was this idea of what we call beauty hunting. And the idea came from a book, I can't remember the title of the book, but the author was Jen Pastiloff. And it's about self-compassion in some way. And the idea of beauty hunting is that each day you go outside or maybe not, you find something that's beautiful in the world. So it might be, right now I've got a squirrel that lives outside my Airbnb and I'm in Austin, and every day he comes and he just sits outside and he plasterers himself over the wall, and it brings me so much joy every day. And so that might be my piece of beauty for the day, or the beauty might be the fact that your child ran in and jumped on you this morning when you woke up, whatever it is.
Or I always think of an old couple in street holding hands. To me, that is one of the most beautiful things in the world. And something that can be really helpful is every day capturing a piece of genuine beauty, of genuine joy that makes you feel grateful to be alive and to see the beauty in the natural things. And the reason this... there's no long-term evidence of beauty hunting on body image. I just saw it proposed as a bit of an intervention one time. But what my clients often find when we say them this, and they keep folders in their phone of beauty hunting and it's just all the beautiful things you've seen. And what that does is it takes a focus away from the internal and the body and back onto the external world that we live in, and it encourages people to start to find the beauty in the day-to-day stuff and the reminds people that there is beauty in the day-to-day stuff.
And really that's what life is about, is this interconnectedness that we have with each other, and that the beauty is not in the size of someone's body, but it's in these little moments. And so that's something that I would encourage everyone to do, even if they don't struggle with body image, really, because you then become one of those people that stop to smell the roses. You walk past some beautiful flowers and you stop and you smell them, and you're like, "Beautiful."
Rather than scrolling on your phone and looking at... comparing your body to that influencer or thinking about what diet you're going to try next, you're too focused on the squirrel or something outside. So again, that's not a super evidence-based tool, but alongside daily functionality, appreciation, awareness, managing your body check and managing your thoughts, all of these things, it's a beautiful add-on to support, again, just adding more beauty into your life. And a lot of body image work also comes from incorporating things in rather than stopping things, incorporating more joy, incorporating more play, and just recognizing how whole and full life can be outside of just focusing on the way that your body looks.
Jono: Yeah. Well, and like you said, I don't think anyone could stand a benefit from that, hey, in many other aspects as well. Awesome. In terms of body image and nutritional habits or just nutrition, I feel like it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation potentially, but do you find that there's a lot of push back and forth, someone's relationship with food, and again, that's probably a series of podcasts, but their relationship with food and their relationship with their body, do you find that those are linked? Do you find that it's a one-way pathway? Does it influence both ways?
Emilia: They're definitely associated. So we know, we pretty much know that more positive body image scores are associated with a more intuitive approach to eating. And what a more intuitive approach to eating is accompanied by is fewer disordered eating habits. And if we look at sort of more like... and we see this in a lot of cross-sectional research. But even if you look at some of the randomized controlled trials, we know that for example, people who are recovering from disordered eating and they're getting maybe CBT treatment, because that can be quite a common method to support people, especially towards the spectrum of eating disorders, that the people who have earlier improvements in body image see a larger improvement in symptoms and an earlier improvement in symptoms. And higher body image appreciation levels predict lower restrictive eating patterns. So we definitely know that they are inextricably linked.
And it makes sense even from a kind of baseline level that if you have a positive body image and you appreciate and nurture your body, it's likely that you're more likely to choose dietary patterns and ways of eating and exercising that nurture and support and respect your body. And if you struggle with thinking your body is worthy, and if you struggle with hating your body and thinking that you need to change it in some way, it's highly likely that you are going to then use food to try and do that to punish yourself in some way. And so often people will say, "Well eat like you love your body," and that could be really, really difficult if you don't have a positive body image. But they are inextricably linked. And actually when... I'm a registered nutritionist, my background is sport nutrition. I didn't train in this side of work until I... my PhD is exercise physiology, but it was really only until I delved into it for myself, I was like, "Oh, actually really, these are all things that really need to be considered."
And people who... I think what's really interesting, what often surprises people is that chronic dieting is associated with a less positive body image. So people who tend to diet more and more and more, they're more likely to have a less positive body image. Fitness industry doesn't want you to know that. Fitness industry wants to say, "Diet and you'll feel confident in your body." And that's what people often think, that people think that they want to feel confident in their body. And of course we all do, but that's not a positive body image. And I guarantee you, especially if you do a silly diet that that will not stay, and then you'll struggle with your body confidence. And we know that people who are more aware of their internal cues, hunger satiety, they're more likely to respect and appreciate their body. And dieting really does the opposite of that.
And I'm not anti-diet. Most of my clients have a fat loss goal at some point. So it's certainly not anti-diet. And there's certain things that you can do to support your body image as your diet, but dieting can increase the risk of dysfunctional eating habits, especially if it's not healthful style of diet and is associated with a less positive body image. So if anything, I would love people to recognize that you can support your body image and you can develop a more positive body image, and it's just as important as anything else you're doing for your health.
But the answer to it is not going to come unfortunately from fat loss. It's just not... that doesn't mean you can't do it, but that's not the route to getting a more positive body image. And I say this with all the awareness and the privilege that I have of being in a societally accepted normal body size. I recognize sometimes that can feel hypocritical or be perceived as hypocritical. I just base what I say for my clients and from the research as opposed to my own personal stuff. But you can never take off your own lens of privilege to some degree. You can only be aware of it.
Jono: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That is a conversation I really wanted to have, not the privilege one, even though it is a very important one. But where do body image and fat loss sit because you hear all manner of stories around that relationship and that narrative, I guess. So can I have a positive body image and still want to lose body fat? Do those two things go hand in hand or are they contradictory?
Emilia: I don't know if you personally can. Everyone is different. And I know that there are some people who are very well-read in body image, very experienced in this area who would disagree with me when I say that you can support, you can have a positive body image and still drop body fat and/or diet. Some people can. But I think often, and I think too, it might also depend on your kind of starting point. And what I mean by that is people who are in larger bodies who may benefit from fat loss for their health may have a positive body image, respect and appreciate their body. And as part of that, they want to maybe exercise more regularly or look at their dietary pattern and think, "Okay, well how can I respect my body maybe through a bit of gentle fat loss because that will probably support my health," not everyone, but for some people, "well support my health and that can support a potentially more positive body image because I'm doing things to respect and appreciate my body."
But I think that then on the flip side of that, you can have people who are maybe in a what would be healthy BMI range, who will not benefit from dieting in a health perspective. And if anything, that can be detrimental because of the increased risk of disordered eating, of micronutrient deficiencies, et cetera. And you learn when you diet to ignore hunger cues and fullness cues and to stop listening to your body so much, and you maybe ignore the signals for rest, maybe you get up a few hours earlier than you normally would to go to the gym slightly more regularly.
And that could be counterintuitive actually only getting five hours of sleep at night because you have kids and you're trying to juggle everything at once. Do I think that that is going to be supportive of a positive body image? No. And I think that if you have a positive body image in the first place, then it's unlikely that you're going to want to put yourself and your body through that if you have a truly positive body image, because you can see it in the overall context of your life and you know that you have to make sacrifices in your other parts of your life to achieve what is effectively a slightly leaner physique probably.
Or maybe you've got other goals like bigger, maybe you want to gain body fat, I don't know, whatever it is. So I think we have to recognize, dieting is the opposite to eating intuitively. And if we look at the research, like I said, intuitive eating is associated with more positive body image. But you can absolutely be at a place of contentment and still want to change in general. You can have preferences. If I could make my bum bigger, I would, because I love a big bum. But I genuinely believe that I have a positive body image. I really do. I just think I'll just love a big bum. And I think it's really reductionist to say that you can never have a positive body image and diet.
But I do think if people are really, really honest with themselves and they're in kind of that kind of healthy BMI range, I would question potentially that positive body image side of things, even just a little bit. But there's no shame in wanting to change your body if that's helpful for you. And I'm always very mindful of that messaging because I don't think that that's helpful. And sometimes it comes from this anti-diet movement and I'm a raging feminist, and I think the worst thing you can do is tell women to how to control their bodies, tell anyone how to control their bodies, that they should control their bodies in some way. So it's really tough. And I know that people will disagree with me for sure, but that's what I see with clients and the work that I've done.
Jono: Yeah. I've always struggled with it. Again, the black and white nature that lots of people try and apply to it of, "No, losing body fat is going to negatively impact your body positivity or your relationship with your body." But then exactly like you said, I think intent is really important in making sure that people have drilled down and really thought about the driver behind wanting to change their body. And like you said, for a lot of people, that drive is probably going to come from a less than positive body image. But for some people, it absolutely can come from a place of a positive body image. So, yeah, another gray area.
I know. This whole podcast is gray. But I also think too, it's important to think about if you are in a healthy body, and I am using this term really loosely, we know of course you can have higher levels of body fats with healthy habits, et cetera. But if you're in a healthy body and you're still wanting to get leaner, it's important to think about why. Is that genuinely that you prefer the way that you look and the way that you feel when you are leaner? Or is it because you get more external validation? Is it because your partner prefers that? Is it because it will stop the comments from your parents when you go home to say that you've put on weight? Is it because your Instagram algorithm... it enhances when you're leaner. And I work with a lot of personal trainers and coaches either in the coaching realm or the mentoring or both, who struggle with the idea of body capital and this thing that is unfortunately so prevalent for us, and you'll experience this yourself, I'm sure where we benefit financially from being leaner.
We do. We get benefit from being in societally accepted bodies. And it's a very difficult thing for a business owner to separate their body and knowing that if they dieted, even though they're healthy, if they dieted, they would probably make more money for a while. That's a really, really hard one to navigate. And so yeah, you might think, "Oh, I've got a positive body image. I've got the awareness of this and I mean I've got a good relationship with food. I just want to be a bit leaner." But really this applies to anyone really what is the driving force? And sometimes it is coming from that place of worth, and it's like, "Maybe I believe I'll be worthier when I'm leaner." And unfortunately when it comes to business, maybe that means that you'll make more money when you're a bit leaner, but that doesn't necessarily translate long term.
Jono: Yeah. Yep. Yeah, there's so many external influences.
Emilia: Many, too many.
Jono: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So many questions, but think of one Jono, just pick one. I wanted to ask about it, [Cami 00:45:55], where that fits. I feel like that... hopefully my interpretation is correct. It sort of pulls a lot of what we've chatted about sort of together. Yeah. Can you run me through that?
Emilia: Yeah, so this is really a model, and I'm assuming you probably saw it on my website that I wrote about, which is really the model that I developed through working with... I've worked with thousands of people now often from the fitness space who are trying to find peace with food, but don't resonate with the anti-diet messaging, and they just want to find a happy middle ground. And that is really where our development from [inaudible 00:46:28]. And it's not a style of eating as much as it's just a pattern of thinking about food and exercise that I find and I've seen with my clients is the most healthful way and most supportive way to support their goals, whether they have fat loss goals or not. And it basically incorporates some of the core principles of the intuitive eating paradigm. I'm not an intuitive eating practitioner, but I'm very well versed in the research on the intuitive eating and the methods there.
And it takes some of the core principles of intuitive eating aside from the anti-diet side of things. And it takes some of the characteristics of successful dieters and what that might look like to maintain either fat loss or a healthful diet and kind of puts it together. And we incorporate a lot of work around mindfulness and self-compassion with our methods. And so this method that I developed really incorporates all of this stuff. And the idea is that I used it initially for people who were trying to remove tracking and try and find a more healthful approach to eating. And I broke it down. It took me a long time to find six C's that covered all of my bases, but there are six C's that cover it.
Jono: Love the alliteration. Yes.
Emilia: Thanks so much. It took me a long time and I feel like I squeezed some into a C that quite possibly aren't a C, but-
Jono: Doesn't matter.
Emilia: No one has to know. We listened to these things. And so the idea is that when you're looking at your dietary pattern, can you, the first C is cultivation, cultivation of a pause. So can you sit for just a second, be mindful of your... well, of your presence, I guess that's the same thing, but be mindful of where you are, what you're about to do. Can you just stop and recognize, "I'm about to eat this meal and this is what I'm doing. I'm not distracted by my phone. I'm not scrolling. I'm being present with what I am doing." Basically mindful eating, but you can cultivate a pause before you emotionally eat, before you do anything. It's really, really helpful. The second C is checking in with your hunger. How often do people eat a meal and say, "How hungry am I to eat this meal?"
Or do people say, "Oh, I'm going to eat this meal because I've prepped it. I'm going to eat this meal because it's the only time that I've got in the day." Sometimes this is really important. If you're a busy mom and you have a job and you're raising four kids and you're doing all... well, just even one child, and maybe that is your full-time work because it is work, but you only have half an hour to eat, five minutes to eat whatever, it's sometimes that is the case. But can you start to check in with your hunger and being mindful of your hunger and just check what does hunger feel like in my body? Third C is being cognizant of nourishment and asking yourself before you eat, "What kind of nourishment do I need? Do I need food? Do I need hydration? Do I need a hug? Do I need some fresh air?"
Asking yourself, "What's going to nourish me? What's going to nourish my body?" Is it really healthful and positive way to support your body image? But also just in general thinking about what do I actually need right now? Something that we don't do often. We often just turn to food because it's the easiest thing. Fourth C is being mindful of circumstance and what I mean by that is maybe you have a fat loss goal or a body weight gain goal. So you're not necessarily going to be eating to hunger at that point. Maybe have a performance goal. So you're eating before training, even though you're not hungry. Are you in an emotionally heightened state? So you maybe your hunger signals are off, and that can happen when we're dysregulated or hunger feeling signals don't... we are not able to tune into them properly.
And so being aware of that and thinking, "Okay, well, mine might be, for example, when I get anxious, I don't want to eat, but that doesn't mean that I don't eat. Even though I eat intuitively, there are times in my life where I have to be cognizant of the fact that I am anxious or I feel anxious. So I'm going to eat because it's time to eat." And so it's just about being very cognizant of your circumstance and then making what we call a choice point decision. So I don't know if you've heard of the choice point model, but it's a model that's used in acceptance and commitment therapy. And this model, if you Google, if anybody's interested in it, if you just Google choice point model, you'll see on Google images, loads of pictures of this and explanations of what this is. But the idea is that you are presented with a certain situation.
So it might be you're presented with Susan's brought cake into work and you kind of want the cake, but you're on a diet, you don't know if you should eat the cake. So you kind of don't really know what to do. So the idea of a choice point decision is planning in advance and saying, "One of my struggles with my relationship with food or my fat loss, et cetera, is when Susan brings cake into work. I'm going to think, okay, what decisions would move me in line with my values here?" Maybe that would be having an alternative snack in place or setting a boundary that you don't eat those foods at work unless it's something that you really, really want. Mark Manson talks about the... I don't know if you can swear on here, the-
Emilia: [inaudible 00:51:21]. Maybe he's just like, "Only when it's a [inaudible 00:51:22], you should eat it," for example. And things that would keep you away from your goals and your values might be having the cake, feeling guilty and shameful for having that cake and then letting it spiral into eating more because you feel bad, for example. You can do choice point decisions in advance. So you say, okay, well maybe you're someone who emotionally eats. And you could sit there now and say, "What are the things that lead to me emotionally eating? What are the situations? What are the feelings? Can I think in advance what I can do in that situation?"
A key one is we see people who live with their partners, and when their partner goes out is often when they overeat. Okay, so that's a really common trigger point for you, or choice point. What decisions can you set ahead of the game that is going to move you towards your values and your goals, and what's going to move you farther away from that? And just actually having that awareness of, "These are the things that I struggle with, this is the direction I want to go in advance," is really helpful rather than wait until the time.
Because I don't know if you've ever struggled with emotional eating, but trying to stop in that moment is very, very hard. So a lot of it is about thinking about in advance, what am I going to do? And then if you're come back to that first C of cultivation of a pause, you get there, you can pick a pause, you can check in with your hunger. You can think about what kind of nourishment you need. You can think about that choice point decision that you said you would make, and then you can make an informed decision. And then the last C is compassion. Because without compassion, especially self-compassion, improving your body image, dieting, improving your relationship with food, all of these things is extremely difficult. And we think that being compassionate towards yourself means taking it easy. We think that being compassionate to ourself means we're never going to achieve anything because if we were just nice to ourselves, we wouldn't do anything.
And that's not what the research says. We know that self-compassion is associated with lower disordered eating risks. It's actually associated with the lower BMI, which is interesting. But I think that realistically it could be associated with the lower BMI because it's a hell of a lot easier to be compassionate towards yourself when people celebrate your body. That it's like, I'm not sure how I feel about that. But regardless, people who are driven and ambitious tend to do better when they have self-compassion, because when we struggle with setbacks, i.e., you're on a diet, but you emotionally eat, if you're horrible to yourself, how do you then behave versus if you're kind to yourself, how do you then behave? The kindness you're probably just going to crack on and move forward and learn from that situation.
If you're mean to yourself, you're much more likely to criticize yourself, overeat, try and suppress that guilt, that shame, start again on Monday. There's a very clear difference there. So I mean, again, there are a few things in this podcast where I think I would love people to take from it, and even just one thing is developing self-compassion is just one of the hardest things to do, but one of the most important things you can do when it comes to your body image and your relationship with food.
Jono: Yeah. Oh yeah. I think, yeah, that's one of the key and most difficult things to do, I think. I don't know, maybe it's just me. I think some people see it as being like... I think in our industry it can be a lot of hardcore driven, go hard, discipline, motivation, which in there's time and a time and place for those things, don't get me wrong. But I sometimes find that discipline and compassion are kind of contradictory in our... we're pushing discipline and actually people need compassion. But like you said, people then see compassion as, "I'm taking it easy. I'm not going to achieve things," when ironically, it can be quite the opposite.
Emilia: Yeah. But also, compassion has two sides to it. It has the soft side of compassion, and then there's the fear side. Compassion is an action. It's treating yourself with kindness and then taking action to move through that. It's being kind to yourself, but it's also being fierce with yourself of saying, "Well, what's the kindest thing for me to do right now?" Sometimes the kindest thing for you to do right now is to put the ice cream back in the freezer. That is. You don't give your kids four tubs of ice cream when they want four tubs of ice cream. That's very kind. Do you want their teeth to fall out? So there are both sides of compassion that you need to cultivate.
Jono: Yeah. What I heard recently, be kind not nice. I think, nice, yeah, because kindness, exactly like I said sometimes kind is stopping something or putting ice cream back in the fridge. Yeah. Sorry, I have two little kids, so that resonates very closely with... yeah, if they had an ice cream every time they had an ice cream, I would not be a compassionate or kind or helpful father. So look, I've really taken up too much of your time. Thank you so much for chatting through what I think is an incredibly valuable topic for everyone. I think for the people struggling with it, it's going to be really, really valuable. Lots of really practical takeaways. For the people who maybe haven't been aware of what body image actually is and how it's relevant to them, I think they're going to have a way better understanding of it and again, take away some really practical strategies. So yes, let's land the plane. The all important question, if people want to find out more, if they want to connect up with you, what links as a good podcaster should I put in these show notes?
Emilia: Best place is Instagram. My Instagram page is Emilia Thompson PhD, and you can get all of my other Instagram links from there. But if you're a personal trainer or coach, then EIQ Nutrition, EIQ_Nutrition is the best Instagram page. I also have tons of free resources, so body image diaries and stuff like that on my website, emilia.fitness, so you can get that there too.
Jono: Amazing. Thank you. I'll definitely link those Instagram links and the website in the show notes. Make sure everyone goes to check all that stuff out. Thank you so much for your time, Emilia. It's been epic. It's been so good. And I think if you've got time for 8 to 10 more podcasts in the future, let me know. I think there's... don't run off in fear. Yeah, that's not overbearing. Yeah, there's so many other things that we could be talking about, but the body image piece is so valuable. So thank you so much for your time and your expertise and your experience and sharing that with us today.
Emilia: Thank you for having me.