Archive of ‘Couples Therapy’ category

Intuitive Eating: An Anti-Diet Approach for Health

The concept of “Intuitive Eating” was coined in 1995 by Evelyn Tribole, a registered dietitian, and Elyse Resch, a nutrition therapist in their book by the same name. The concept: listen to your body for cues on what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. While the concept is simple, it can be difficult to put into practice because we have so much telling us NOT to listen to our bodies. Intuitive eating may not be for everyone, but it can be incredibly liberating for those of us who have listened to years (if not decades) of gurus or magazines or blogs (or even medical doctors) on the “correct” ways to eat. 

There have been over 100 studies on Intuitive Eating that show health benefits including “increased well-being, lower risk of eating disorders” as well as increased self-esteem and body image.  Practicing intuitive eating can help you develop a healthy relationship with food, mind, and your body.

Tribole and Resch lay out 10 principles of Intuitive Eating:

1. Reject the Diet Mentality

Diet culture is rampant in our society. Its the voice in our heads (and in the media) that says we should be a certain body shape, and that if you’re not that shape then you have personally failed (ie. lack of willpower). The first step of intuitive eating requires us to fight back against that voice in our head that thinks “maybe this next diet will work.”

2. Honor Your Hunger

You need calories (energy) to function. Our bodies are incredible at letting us know when we’re hungry. We’ve just been taught to ignore our hunger cues for one reason or another (eg. you shouldn’t have time for lunch if you’re a “hard worker;” or you must eat 3 meals a day, or you shouldn’t eat after 6:00pm, etc.). Ignoring your hunger signals often leads to overeating.

3. Make Peace with Food

Tribole and Resch request that you “give yourself unconditional permission to eat.” Following the advice of your “shoulds” can lead to cravings. This step is all about eating those foods you’ve been avoiding or afraid of, and giving yourself permission to eat as much as your body asks you to. Once you’ve given yourself permission to eat those foods, often you find they’re not as enticing as your mind would have you believe (because they’re not taboo). And for the foods that you find you absolutely love, it can be freeing to be allowed to indulge and experience the joy of eating without guilt. 

4. Challenge the Food Police

The food police are the voices in your head (and in society) that implement shame and guilt to govern your eating habits. They are the ideas that suggest you’re “good” or “bad” for eating certain foods or even that certain foods are themselves inherently “good” or “bad.” Sometimes you just don’t have any interest in eating a salad, and what you need right now is a scoop of ice cream. Other times the reverse is true. Listening to your body can help you determine what you need to eat. 

5. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Remember what it felt like to feel pleasure when you eat food? Think about how much you used to enjoy that chocolate pudding you ate in 1st grade during snack time. That’s the kind of pleasure we’re talking about! One of my favorite studies that Tribole and Resch mention in their book show that test subjects ate LESS of a milkshake when it was described as “rich” and “indulgent,” AND they found it more satisfying. This, in contrast to the test subjects who were given the same milkshake that was described as low-calorie. 

6. Feel Your Fullness

Mindfulness features heavily in this step. If you can slow down and eat food without distractions (eg. keep your phone in your pocket, don’t set your food up in front of the TV, etc.) you’re more likely to be attuned when your body says it’s satisfied. This is one of the harder steps for me, and so I take it as a win whenever I do this, rather than expecting perfection every time I eat.

7. Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness

Emotional eating is a fact of life in almost every culture. In the US, we celebrate birthdays with cake, we grieve heartbreak with icecream, not to mention all the holiday eating. This step reminds us not that we shouldn’t eat with our emotions, but that eating can be one of several ways we cope with our emotions. It can become unhealthy if we consistently rely on food to be our only coping mechanism, but this step helps us develop other ways to manage our emotions. 

8. Respect Your Body

You’re going to live in your body for the rest of your life. It might be time to start appreciating all the amazing things it does, rather than criticizing it for all of its perceived “shortcomings.” You deserve to love and be loved NO MATTER what your body looks like. 

9. Movement—Feel the Difference

Sometimes even just replacing the word “exercise” with “movement” can change your relationship to your body. You don’t have to sweat away in a gym to be happy. The goal here is to simply enjoy how your body feels, and movement can be an incredible way to access that. Maybe you love how your body feels after a sweaty workout, but also maybe what works for you is a leisurely stroll around your neighborhood, playing frisbee, or dancing in your kitchen.

10. Honor Your Health—Gentle Nutrition

Lastly (and they put this last for a reason!), paying attention to nutrition can help you feel good after meals. This can help you determine what kind of meal you want for the kind of day you’re expecting. For example, you may need extra carbs if you’re going to be active during the day, or extra protein to recover after a workout. There needs to be a balance between taste and health. 

“I” Statements: What They Are and How to Use Them

Have you ever found yourself frustrated with your partner because they just never seem to really understand what you’re saying? Maybe you’ve tried to gently confront them about something, but end up in an argument. Maybe you try to talk to them, but are always met with the same reactions over and over again, no matter what words you use. Maybe you’ve given up on a particular sticky topic, and have stopped trying to even talk to your partner about it.

If anything above or any similar communication issues are happening in your life, it might be a great time to try out “I” statements!

What is an I Statement?

The formula that I like to use is like an emotionally vulnerable game of mad libs: “I feel (insert emotion word here) when (situation).”

Some examples of this could be “I feel frustrated when the dishwasher isn’t loaded efficiently,” or “I feel happy when we cuddle”, or past-tense “I felt really worried and scared when I had no idea where my wife was all night,” or even a reverse of the formula “Sometimes when I hear loud noises, like the door slamming, I feel nervous and get distant.”

There are SO many ways to use “I” Statements! Even something as simple as “I get mad when I’m hungry” or “That frustrates me,” can be considered “I” Statements! 

Avoid Blaming the Other Person

You’ll notice in all of my examples, I avoid the word “you”. When we use the word “you” while confronting someone, they tend to get defensive and it becomes more difficult for them to connect with and hear what you are saying. One goal of an “I” Statement is to simply let the other person (or people) we are communicating with into our head, to understand what we are going through. Another goal is that we want to transform our communication from me vs. you into me + you vs. the problem

We can avoid using the word “you” by transforming the statement into a bit of a beating-around-the-bush phrase. If I wanted to tell my husband “you loaded the dishwasher wrong,” it would make him immediately defensive and feel blame and shame. To avoid this, I can 1) tell him my emotions and 2) make it about me, not him. An “I” Statement I could use would be “I feel really frustrated and annoyed when the dishwasher is loaded this way.” He is now more inclined to be on my team, to help me with the problem, rather than defending his way of doing things and arguing with me. 

Here’s another example of the beating-around-the-bush way of phrasing an “I” Statement: let’s pretend Noah’s girlfriend, Olivia, is angry that Noah keeps leaving the toilet seat up. She usually approaches him by saying “Ugh, you left the toilet seat up again! You have to stop doing that!” and he never changes his behavior. She would need to let Noah know her feelings behind the toilet seat: “Hey babe, when the toilet seat gets left up, it makes me feel anxious. Then anytime I try to talk about my need for it to be down, my need gets ignored and that makes me feel disrespected and unvalued.” She has successfully avoided the word “you”!

Why Use “I” Statements?

In addition to the previously stated goals of “I” Statements (letting our partner into our head, and turning the conflict into a me + you vs. the problem dynamic), another goal is to get to the bottom of the conversation. Usually, the argument isn’t actually about what we spend time fighting over. The argument is usually about our feelings.

Sticking with the Noah and Olivia toilet seat example, the goal of using that “I” Statement (or here, two “I” Statements in a row) is for Olivia to begin talking about what is really bothering her, because it isn’t about the toilet seat. It’s about an emotion, in this case, the emotions of feeling disrespected and unvalued. Once Noah realizes that his behavior of leaving the toilet seat up is activating Olivia’s feelings of disrespect and being unvalued, he is more likely to have the me + you vs. the problem mentality. By using “I” Statements, we’ve been able to help both partners see that the problem was never the toilet seat. The problem was Olivia’s anxiety, then her feelings of disrespect and being unvalued. 

TLDR (too long; didn’t read)

The formula for “I” Statements is “I feel (insert emotion word here) when (situation).”

Try to avoid the word YOU when using an “I” Statement.

Goals of using “I” Statements include:

  1. let the other person (or people) we are communicating with into our head, to understand what we are going through
  2. transform our communication from me vs. you into me + you vs. the problem
  3. get to the bottom of the conflict (i.e. the emotions)

If you’re interested in working on “I” Statements and other communication issues with me, click here to schedule a session!

Gridlock vs. Perpetual Problems in Couples

Did you know that 69% of problems are perpetual problems? What does that mean? According to a study by Gottman and Gottman, 69% of couples’ problems have no resolution and 31% of their problems are resolvable. Looking at your own relationship, do you find yourself arguing over the same issue over and over? With zero headway being made?  Just more hurt feelings and anger which can lead to a painful impasse. Gridlock. 

The goal is to move from gridlock to dialogue.

Problems that Lead to Gridlock

In counseling, the goal is to manage conflict rather than solving the problem because the majority of the time there is no solution. Even in the healthiest relationships, most conflicts are not resolved. The problems remain perpetual and couples learn how to live with them or become gridlocked. Another obstacle is simply a mismatch of conflict styles. One partner may be an avoider and the other a pursuer. We all know what this looks like.

Wife: “So you’re just going to let our son go to baseball practice after he failed English?” 

Husband” “Yes”

Wife: “So he gets a privilege? A reward? And You’re the hero again?”

Husband: “ He needs an outlet.” as the husband walks away to the bedroom.

Wife: “ If baseball was so important to him he would pass his classes….” as she follows her husband and continues, “We go through this every grading period since he was 10 years old…….

Husband: “I am not having this conversation again” and closes the door 

We can see where this is going. There is clearly a mismatch in conflict styles. There is clearly a long standing disagreement regarding grades and extracurricular activities. Couples can become entrenched in their respective positions. Refusing to engage in give and take. When in gridlock,  it is important to explore each other’s values in a position. 

“Why won’t he/she budge on ___?” 

And they may be surprised by the answer. There are reasons why certain values are important to us. And they often differ from our partner’s values. And that is ok. But have we explored why our partner finds certain values important? Can we put on their lens for a minute? Can we try and understand why they will not budge? And then can we compromise? Compromise does not always feel good. It can feel as though we are not winning or not being heard.

How to Unlock Gridlock

One of the hardest things to do is to come to some sort of acceptance of the problem. This can change the level of frustration. Without making some sort of peace with the problem, it can lead to emotional disengagement. The problem will remain gridlocked and couples will continue to hurt and vilify one another. 

The goal is not to solve the perpetual problem but to lay the groundwork for dialogue. Honor each other’s values. Turn the focus to exploration and understanding one another. Use your friendship to uncover emotions and underlying meanings regarding the perpetual problem. Compromise. We do not have to agree on the solution because there is not one. In most conflicts there is a conversation that should have been had. Using these strategies can avoid painful exchanges and icy silence. Wouldn’t it be nice for the couple in this scenario to be prepared for the next grading period? 

Written By: Jenny Cantu, LPC

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