Today we’re so excited to bring you this interview with our friend Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RDN, CDN. Jenna is a non-diet dietitian who helps people struggling with chronic dieting, disordered eating, and eating disorders. She uses a combination of Intuitive Eating, mindfulness, and meditation techniques to help her clients move toward greater peace, health, and wellness. This week we talked about the relationship between loving your body, body positivity, and intuitive eating. There’s so much wisdom in Jenna’s thoughts here you’re gonna want to take notes! If you want to learn more about how to use intuitive eating to love your body more, don’t forget to sign up for our October retreat here!
BTC: Hi Jenna! We’re so excited to chat today. So for our readers who don’t know, let’s start out with the basics. What exactly IS intuitive eating?
Jenna: Intuitive Eating is a 10-principle model of eating that was developed by two dietitians more than 20 years ago to help people stop fighting with food and their bodies and start realizing what they truly find satisfying in terms of eating and exercise.
Essentially it’s a way of shifting your allegiance from external things that tell you what, when, and how much to eat (and exercise) — diets, “experts,” serving sizes, meal times, seeing food or activity as good/bad or reward/punishment — to internal signals like physical hunger and fullness, what you find satisfying, and what kinds of activities you enjoy.
BTC: That totally makes sense. The emphasis on intuition instead of outside “experts” is so key, because those outside experts can be all over the map. So what do you see as the relationship between intuitive eating and body image?
Jenna: There’s a chapter in the Intuitive Eating book called “Body Respect” that suggests even if you can’t fully accept your body as it is in the current moment, could you treat it with respect? That is, could you notice and respond to hunger signals so that your body is fed regularly rather than vacillating between the extremes of starving and stuffed? Could you allow yourself to participate in activities you enjoy so your body experiences pleasure? Could you allow yourself to be comfortable by choosing to wear undergarments and clothing that fits well?
From my perspective, when you start to work with your body rather than against it (seeing it as untrustworthy and needing of reform, trying to resist or overpower its natural needs and urges), there is a softening that happens. That critical shift toward gentleness inherently leads to knowing that you deserve kindness and comfort just because you exist (not because you “earned” it in any way).
BTC: Love that so much, the idea of working with your body instead of against it. Do you actively do this work with clients on their body image? What are some of the most effective exercises you give clients to improve their body image?
Jenna: I do work with clients on body image because it is so critical to what and, more importantly, how we eat. In fact, I believe body image disturbances happen before disordered eating is set into motion. And on the other side of the spectrum, sometimes long after eating is normalized, body image issues can linger. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which the body responds (to Intuitive Eating) and the mind needs to catch up.
One of the most useful exercises in working on body image is recognizing automatic negative thoughts, or the “negative soundtracks” that are always playing in the back of our minds, and neutralizing them. Just the act of noticing the thoughts and taking the step to write them down can be a breakthrough for people who have never fully acknowledged them. Many people are shocked at how harsh they are towards themselves and comment that they would never be that unkind to others.
Then we work on coming up with neutral and/or self-compassionate alternatives that are just as likely to be true. Someone who habitually thinks “I’ll never find love because of my weight” might start to respond to this thought with “my weight isn’t what makes me lovable,” “my body shape/size is just one of millions of things that make up who I am,” or “there are lots of different body sizes and shapes in the world and different people find different bodies attractive.” This exercise can at the very least open up some space around habitual thoughts and allow gentler thoughts to occur.
BTC: YES. That negative soundtrack that plays almost subconsciously is so damaging and most women don’t even notice that it’s playing – but their bodies and feelings definitely notice. So loving your body definitely involves tuning in more to what’s going on inside your mind as well as your body. When people think about body image, they often think about how they think about the *outside* of their body. What do you think intuitive eating can teach us about the idea of an “inside” body image?
Jenna: Because Intuitive Eating shifts our allegiance from external forces to internal forces (behind eating and exercising), I think it starts to shift our thinking about our bodies from objects to be chiseled and perfected to instruments of our lives that allow us to be and do. And those instruments have a lot of components besides what is seen on the outside – there’s all of our internal organs that silently and often thanklessly chug away to allow us to live, our brains that allow us to understand the world and interact with one another, our hearts that allow us care for ourselves and others…you get the idea.
BTC: Totally. I love the idea of thanking your organs every day for helping you do what you do! It seems like so much of your insight comes from a very personal place. Did you personally struggle with body image in the past? What helped you the most in learning to love how your body looks?
Jenna: I did. I think we all do in some way. What helped me the most was recognizing habitual thoughts related to body image and starting to challenge them. One of the most basic magical thoughts was that I’d be happier/suffer less when my body looked a certain way or attained a certain weight. Having the experience of reaching that weight and still having all the same pain/struggle forced me to open to other possible truths.
Working with body image is an ongoing thing for all of us, I believe. I continue to work with my own, most recently though pregnancy, breastfeeding, and now after weaning from breastfeeding. The body is always changing, if not in such extreme terms than just because we all age.
BTC: I feel like the take-away from every kind of spiritual and mental work is really just “the universe is change, how can you learn to go with the flow.” This has been so helpful, Jenna, thank you so much for chatting with us. How can our readers find out more about your work and your offerings?
Jenna: My website www.eat2love.com is probably the best way to learn more about me. It has details about my individual client work, upcoming events, and online programs I teach often on the topic of meditation and how it has much to teach us about eating and body image.