The word boundaries comes with multiple meanings. The overarching concept of boundaries is that they provide limits or a dividing line. This can be in the form of a visible physical barrier or line or fence, or it can be more abstract in the form of setting limits to someone’s behavior or actions.
Either way, boundaries are important and necessary for providing guidance and offering a sense of safety. They can help countries and individuals alike feel a sense of control.
That sense of safety (as well as control) is what I want to talk about today. As it relates to intuitive eating anyway.
Boundaries in intuitive eating help you protect the work you’ve done to repair all the hurt from dieting and diet culture. They defend the victories you’ve achieved with healing your relationship with food. They preserve the work you’ve done towards mending your relationship with your body.
Boundaries. Are. Necessary.
Failing to set boundaries can leave you vulnerable to what feels like an attack. SEriously, they can feel like someone just punched you in the gut. Or they may be more subtle and you may not notice them at first, but when they’re there, they’re eating away at a part of you and so watching out for them and not just blowing them off is still important.
These gut punch attacks and sneak attacks will come from all the same stressors that led to the poor food and body image relationships in the first place. And they will come from sources you never dreamed would try to hurt you. For the latter, hopefully it’s an oversight and ignorance.
When you’re experiencing having your boundaries crossed, it can create a low level simmering anger inside you that you may not even realize is there. Until one day when you can’t take it anymore and you go off on your best friend or you find yourself wadded up into a ball on your bed in tears. AND you don’t know why or what happened. It feels like it came from nowhere.
Where this usually goes wrong.
Most of the time you’ll be told that you need to communicate your feelings, tell others what hurts you. I love this advice, and I get into that in the next post, but first I think it’s important to not gloss over the step before that. The step where you identify your boundaries. You have to know WHAT you’re communicating right?
What if I were to tell you that I believe you already know your boundaries and you have already set them. Setting boundaries is different than communicating them. Setting them means identifying them and also identifying what it looks and feels like when they’ve been crossed. It’s creating a clear line, an ability to say, “this is ok, this is not.”
How do you recognize your boundaries and get to that point?
First, you should understand that most boundaries are already a part of you and they come from your survival instincts.
You know that sick feeling you get when someone says something you find hurtful, like “are you still eating?” or “are you really going to wear that?” That hurt or sick feeling is telling you that this person found your boundaries (even if they weren’t looking for them) and they totally crossed them.
Shame happens when boundaries are crossed.
And in some cases, trauma happens when boundaries are crossed.
If you feel “off” or resentment about something, but you can’t put your finger on where it’s coming from, you likely have boundaries that are being crossed. Feeling quickly overwhelmed, easily frustrated, drained, or exhausted often indicates routine crossing of your boundaries.
Other times you will need to learn where boundaries “should” be. Most of the time I really hate that word. Yes HATE. It’s strong and it’s appropriate. I tell my clients to stop “shoulding” all over themselves because it usually leads to guilt and shame. But in this case, it’s appropriate when it helps you draw a line about boundaries that when crossed have the potential to erode work and progress you’ve made.
Identify your own boundaries.
To help you identify your boundaries, I’ve included a list of questions to ask yourself. For some, you may know right away what and where your boundaries lie. For others you may need to journal or sit with them for a while. And for others you may need to ask for help. A coach or mentor or trusted friend might help you with this. Be sure to consider all aspects of your life, personal and professional when answering these questions to really identify as many boundaries as you can. Keep in mind that not all boundaries are likely being crossed and many won’t necessarily need much for communication. You’ll know those that need the most attention and protection by how they make you feel. Do this with as much curiosity as you can.
Questions to ask yourself to help you establish your boundaries:
What are the roles you play in your life? In other’s lives?
What roles do you WANT to play in your life? In other’s lives?
What roles do you NOT WANT to play in your life? In other’s lives?
Are there situations where your role changes?
How do these roles contribute to (or diminish) your sense of self worth?
How do these roles contribute to (or diminish) your sense of self awareness?
What is happening when you feel happy?
What is happening when you feel sad? Angry? Annoyed? Uncomfortable?
Where are you and who are you with when you are alerted to these feelings? Do you have these feelings regularly when you’re in these locations or around these people?
What is going on inside of you and your life when you experience these emotions?
How will you handle the possible judgement that comes with these boundaries? How does the judgement make you feel?
Now, take your answers from these questions and formulate some boundary statements. I have some examples here:
“I will not allow others to make comments about my weight or food intake or food choices.”
“I will remove myself from situations where others (not close friends or family) are doing or saying things that make me feel uncomfortable.”
“I will ask close friends and family to stop doing or saying things that are making me uncomfortable.”
You get the idea. Yours may be much more specific like, “I will remind my mother-in-law each time she offers candy as a reward to my children that I am their parent and we don’t use food that way. I will be polite and thank her for her efforts, but stand firm in my choices. I can offer alternative suggestions like giving a hug or reflecting back to my kids how their accomplishments made them feel.”
Either way, you will end up with a list (maybe a really long list) of boundaries that can then begin communicating to others and working on respecting yourself.
In part 1 of this series you explored and learned that you needed and deserved a do-over when it comes to your child’s food relationships.
In part 2 you learned you learned about the issues it can cause when we grow up not knowing how to tune in to our
In this last part of the series we will dive into some action steps you can take to get started on your very own do-over.
The first step you will take is shifting your mindset. I’m hoping that if you’ve read this far in the series you’ve already started this process (if you skipped right to this one, you’ll want to go back and read the first two, start here). Your mindset needs to be in the zone of relinquishing control over the food your child puts in their mouth, how much food they eat, and when they are hungry.
I know. That feels scary. And a little like you’re giving up being a parent.
But I don’t mean you let the inmates run the asylum.
You can give up your need to control these things without backing off entirely. For example, you can work with your child (age appropriate of course) to create a list of foods they enjoy eating. Then when you plan and prepare meals, be sure to include plenty of food you know they will eat, alongside new foods you’d like them to try.
You release control over what they choose out of those foods and let them put their food on their plate (or help them as appropriate, but they are the ones who decide what is chosen out of the available foods). In this manner you do not have to become a short order cook.
In this same manner, you allow them to determine when they are full and want to be done eating.
The next step has two parts. Overall you will be taking your mindset shift and putting it where your mouth is.
Part one involves using words and phrases directly with your child that indicates your belief in their ability to tune in to their own body signals.
You can do this by asking them questions like: What food sounds good for supper tonight? What is your tummy telling you right now? How do you know when you’re hungry?
And part two involves using words indirectly. Your child will hear and pick up on everything. Nobody knows this better than you. So be aware and cautious of your word choices (as well as your actions) around them.
If they hear and see you limiting yourself from certain foods, they will follow suit (or rebel and eat those foods in secret, which will lead to feelings of shame and guilt). If they see you commenting about your body size or shape and wanting to shrink it, they will get the message there is something wrong with them too if they are or just feel overweight themselves.
On the other hand, when they hear you speaking out loud about how you’re hungry for a piece of toast with peanut butter and a little honey…and then they see you eating that and stopping when you’re full (whether that’s after half a piece and you throw away the uneaten galgo or whether it’s after two full pieces), they will follow suit. No resulting guilt or shame.
When they see you wearing clothes that you feel good in and you have fun and enjoy yourself with confidence, they will follow suit.
Speak these truths out loud so they learn (or relearn) how to speak to themselves. Yes, I do mean you need to be saying things like, “I really like how good I’m feeling today.” Or, “I’m looking forward to the fun we’re going to have at the pool party.” Speaking these kinds of thoughts out loud will demonstrate positivity and that normal conversation and thoughts don’t have to revolve around shame. In speaking with moms and kids, it’s a common thing for the unspoken thoughts to be negative and focused on wishing they were different. This is why I believe so strongly in including this action step in your process of shifting towards a more intuitive way of eating.
I also offer free curiosity calls if you’re ready to chat with me about how we might work together to help you continue to develop your intuitive eating muscle, and you can book one of those calls here.
In the first part of this series we established your need for a do-over.
But why do you want to even worry about it? After all, this is how your parents did things with you and you turned out just fine, right?
But did you really?
Stay with me here.
Let me ask you some questions about your own relationship with food and your own ability to tune in to your body signals…
In general, do you…
Feel like you recognize hunger (if you don’t typically recognize that you’re hungry until you’re ravishingly hungry such that you feel like you could eat everything in sight, then answer no here)?
A yes here is a good sign of a healthy relationship with your body signals for hunger. It indicates you have a solid trust in your body to tell you what it needs, and your body trusts you to respond.
A no here indicates a possible disconnect between you and your body. This disconnect can happen when you eat for reasons other than internal signals of hunger, and instead respond to external signals like time of day or because someone told you that you should be hungry (as is the case in many parent-child relationships). Eating for external signals rather than internal signals errores your trust in yourself. And in the case of our kids, it may never get off the ground.
Honor your hunger by eating when you recognize it (if you make yourself wait until a more acceptable or planned time to eat, then answer no here)?
Eat food sometimes simply for the pleasure of it (if you have to convince yourself to like something because it’s supposed to be healthy for you then answer no here)?
Do you allow yourself to have any food you want (if you have any off-limits foods you don’t eat because you don’t trust yourself to stop eating them then answer no here)?
A yes to any of these indicates a desire to and a belief that you deserve good self care. Whether you’re caring for your hunger or allowing yourself joy in food and the memories it can bring, you are showing yourself love because you believe you are worthy of it.
A no here can signal problems with your self esteem or that you don’t feel you deserve to eat when you’re hungry. It may be a sign of poor body image or a belief that you’re not good enough the way you are so you feel the need to manipulate your eating to change yourself.
Recognize when you’re full?
Stop eating when you’re full (if you recognize that you’re full but regularly continue to eat past or through it to the point of being overstuffed and uncomfortable or if you won’t stop eating because you don’t want to waste food, answer no here)?
A yes to these questions shows that you are solidly in tune with your body and make positive choices to listen to those signals.
A no here demonstrates a strained relationship between your choices and your body. This relationship could be strained due to problems with self esteem or could be indicative of never having learned how to recognize those signals.
So how did you do?
How do you think your child would answer these questions? All of the explanations given above are reasons to ensure your child is able to answer yes to these questions.
I want to take a minute here to help you recognize your humanity in this to help put your mind at ease. After all, my goal is not to be like diet culture and fear monger you into any of this.
Collectively as a society, we have created this thing called diet culture. I‘ll dive deep into what that is and how much I hate it in another article on another day, but for our purposes here today I want to be brief. Diet culture is
So when you identify as a mom who has spent your child’s life dictating their every food move, you’re not alone. Take me for instance. Three of my kids are grown adults now. I not only dictated their food relationships as their mom, but I backed it up as a dietitian who TAUGHT others how to do it. Talk about guilt! I’m certainly not downplaying your own guilt and emotions over this. I think it’s important we all own our shit and deal with it. But I do think it’s important to do so gracefully. We really are all just doing the best job we can using the tools we have been given. It’s honestly NOT our fault to have grown up in the diet culture we did.
The single best thing you can do as a parent to help your child build trust in themselves is to repair and promote a healthy relationship with food and eating.
(Okay, this might just be my opinion, but that’s what you get for reading my blog post! ????)
Did that statement scare you? Are you suddenly worrying about how you’ve impacted their relationship with food? And what if you suspect you maybe haven’t always done things just right when it comes to this? Can you ever get a do-over?
I get it.
First of all, let’s do a little grounding here.
You are a great mom. Let me restate that. I believe that if you are a mom, and you’re reading this right now, you are an amazing mom. Moms who aren’t amazing don’t take time to read articles about how to create their own do-over at the dining room table. (But really, even those moms who don’t read articles like this deserve tons of credit they aren’t probably getting, because being a mom can be the hardest thing some of us will ever do and it’s important we build each other up and show each other grace, we might be the only ones who do that for some moms out there.)
Which is the whole point of this series of articles.
Next, let’s assess your belief system. So what do YOU think? Do YOU think you can have a do-over when it comes to your child’s relationship with food?
I believe you can. In this three article series I’m going to help you understand when a do-over is needed, why it’s important to make time for that do-over, and then I’ll share with you my recommendations on HOW you go about it.
First you need to establish if you even NEED that do-over.
Tell me something…do you and your child ever argue over whether or not they’re hungry? Do you ever have stand-offs at the dinner table over finishing their peas or last bites of food? Do you ever withhold the sweets until after your child has eaten enough “healthy” foods?
If you can answer yes to any of these, then it’s fair to say you’re do-over worthy.
Let me explain.
When we as parents do the decision making about what foods go into our kids plates, decide for them how much they need to eat, or dictate when they should be hungry, we are taking away our kids opportunity to trust and rely on themselves to make these decisions. This is removing an opportunity for them to develop autonomy, which is something children both need and desire.
Autonomy is our sense of self government. It’s our ability to be in control of ourselves. Our thoughts, beliefs, and biology (or physical experience) guide our autonomy and so it’s important to be able to tune in to them. In order to tune in to these AND THEN ALSO LISTEN to them, we must have a sense of trust in them. We build trust through actions.
So for example, when our body needs more energy (calories) to do its thing (ie grow or keep us alive), it will adjust hormones and trigger a whole set of activities in motion that essentially end in what we call hunger. Hunger is a physical experience. And it’s not a particularly pleasant experience so it’s natural that we are driven to remove it. We learned how to do this when we were infants and toddlers. When we are an infant, we dealt with the unpleasant experience by crying so our parents would feed us. Viola! Hunger gone and our body and mind were pleased. Your body learned that the process of recognizing the hunger and then doing something to get rid of it (eating) worked to remove the unpleasantness. And so began the trust relationship.
If we as parents remove the opportunity for our kids to act on their hunger with food (and fullness and satisfaction have similar processes), we effectively remove their opportunity to build trust in themselves. Things we as parents do to remove these opportunities include dictating specific meal times and requiring minimal (or maximal) amounts of food be eaten. We determine what foods go on the plate and we restrict some foods (the “junk” foods). These are all examples of ways we remove opportunity for kids to build trust in themselves.
So back to my point of all of this. If you are a mom who has effectively been removing these opportunities for your child to build that self trust and grow that autonomy, then yes, you are a mom who needs and deserves a do-over.
I hear people say all the time, “I’m not on a diet, I’m just watching what I eat.” Whether they call it “watching what I eat” or “eating healthy”, it’s all part of the same “wellness diet”.
If this is you, I’m calling you out.
Let me explain what you’re really doing.
By calling what you’re doing “healthy eating”, you THINK that you really aren’t dieting. You somehow think this “healthy eating” is somehow better than other ways of eating.
Am I right so far?
But the truth about this way of eating is that it indeed is still a diet. Diet, for this purpose, is a way of eating that restricts you to eating certain types and amounts of foods (and maybe even restricts the times that you are allowed to eat too). Eating healthy or watching what you eat both fall into this category because there are always foods you cannot eat because they are not considered healthy (or you watch out for certain things to make sure you avoid). Maybe you restrict sugar, or gluten, or dairy, or all of the above. And it doesn’t really matter why you restrict these foods. Restricting them is restricting them. And THAT my friend is a diet.
I probably should clarify that I feel qualified to talk about dieting like this because I lived and preached it for many years. I am formerly known as “The Clean Eating Dietitian”. Hah! Clean eating is just another disguise for diet. It maybe even takes it a step further because by promoting “clean” food, it implies there are “dirty” foods.
I myself stumbled onto the concept of intuitive eating and this idea of non-dieting (and the concept of taking an anti-diet stance) accidentally. Although I don’t really believe anything is truly an accident. At first I was in denial; I thought the dietitian I was listening to had lost her marbles and wondered what snake oil she was selling.
I’m a science girl, so anytime I come across someone who seems to be promoting concepts contrary to my training, I take notice. And I want to know what they’re thinking. I look at it as a challenge.
So naturally I decided I needed to dig into this intuitive eating thing.
I wasn’t ready to have my world turned upside down.
But that wasn’t a bad thing. It was in fact one of the best things to happen to me.
Basically I learned how to question the mainstream scientific. I learned how to tell the difference between popular media decision making and actual valid science. I learned that the science doesn’t support the popular beliefs of an obesity epidemic or weight related disease risks. I learned that worry over what we eat and stressing over our size causes more harm to our health than the actual so called harmful foods or “extra” weight we might be carrying. I learned these things from fellow dietitians and some incredibly smart and unbelievably adept at objectively scrutinizing the science scientists.
As a part of my education in intuitive eating, I had the veil lifted on the culture of dieting, aka diet culture, in my life. I learned that diet culture promotes restrictive and prescriptive eating with the goal of convincing us we need to change our size or shape (and usually results in someone profiting from it).
It’s important to understand that healthy eating and the wellness diet are still diets, requiring you to restrict certain foods. People most often look at their “eating healthy” plan as a good thing (they’ve been taught to do this by diet culture). They will talk about the veggies and protein and low carb foods they eat. But the more we chat, I usually learn they ALSO don’t let themselves have things like sugar or dairy or refined flours (as an example, the specifics vary by person and plan and they will typically defend those restrictions with some popular media report on the food causing harm, like inflammation or cancer).
This, my friend, is a diet. It’s restrictive eating.
Two things to know:
All food is a source of nourishment. Food is not moral (it’s not good or bad, it just is). Some foods have more nutrients. Some have less variety of nutrients. But in the end, if it has any sort of nutrition, then it’s a food and it’s morally equivalent to all other foods. Food or specific ingredient restrictions should be reserved for medically diagnosed situations like allergies (Celiac disease for example).
Restrictions lead to biological and psychological dysfunction. Restriction sets off hormones in the body that can lead to increased hunger and drive to eat; Restriction also creates a psychological drive to think more about the thing being restricted. Think about it like a two year old begging for a toy you don’t want them to have…that two year old will keep begging and will seemingly never wear out. You, on the other hand, will wear down eventually, give in, and give them the off limits toy. The foods you restrict are like the two year old.
I get it. Diet culture effectively fear mongers is into believing we will rapidly die of some disease if we eat the wrong food or don’t eat enough of the right food. It sells us on the idea that thin bodies are ideal and “healthier” than larger bodies. This all leads to us frantically trying to find the perfect diet to stave off harm and shrink ourselves silly. The ramifications of this lead to wasted time and money and a lot of lost happiness.
Still in doubt? Take a look at the effect diet culture has had on the occurrence of disease and increases in our body sizes. There has never been more effort to control our eating. The sheer numbers of people on “diets” (including the wellness diet) hasn’t had any of its supposed advertised effect of shrinking us or reducing disease. In fact, the more we collectively try to control our intake, the less control we actually seem to have.
So you can maybe understand why then, when I hear someone say they are simply watching what they eat, inside I’m secretly cringing. Yep. I’m THAT over diet culture. I actually feel myself getting mad inside. Mind you I’m not mad at the person I’m talking to. Nope. I actually feel for them and want nothing more than to rescue them from these influences that are covering up the restrictive side of the equation and misleading them to believe they aren’t really following a diet.
Intuitive eating on the other hand promotes a life of satisfaction. It’s focus on honoring hunger and satiety to keep your body feeling comfortable. It encourages enjoying the food you’re eating and removing the rules allowing for food decisions that help you live within your budget, with no memorization of food lists necessary.
My goal here was to teach you how to sift through some of the diet culture rhetoric to help you make a more conscious judgement. So the next time someone tries to tell you “it’s not a diet”, and that they are just “watching what they eat”, use your intuitive eating filter to sort through the facts.
Hello! I'm Tammi and I'm so glad you're here. As an Intuitive Eating Dietitian and freelance writer, my goal is to help moms like myself heal their broken relationships with food.
I'm a mom of four, three are adults and my fourth is a teenager. I also consider myself a mom to 8 chickens (7 layer hens and one rooster named Lieutenant Dan!). I love to read and can easily be found snack on chips and queso. Make yourself at home!