57: How the Donut Eating Dietitian Finds Balance with Nutrition
Ashley Smith, MS, RDN has personal and professional experience with eating disorders. She has successfully navigated through a difficult experience with an eating disorder and now shares her loves for food on her blog and in her professional work as a dietitian. On social media she's known as 'The Donut Eating Dietitian' and I absolutely fell in love with her fun way of showcasing how she finds balance with her foods. I asked her to come on the podcast to talk about her story and how she balances a gentle concern for nutrition with room for indulging and having fun with food.
Ashley's blog: thedonuteatingdietitian.com
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Paige: Welcome back to another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. As you know, my name is Paige and I am your host. I’m so glad you are joining me today. Today, I want to share with you an interview I did with Ashley Smith. She is someone I can into contact with through instagram and I think she is awesome. So, I asked her to come on to talk about her approach to nutrition and she finds balance with it. Let me introduce Ashley and we will get on with it. Ashley Smith is a Registered Dietitian in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. She graduated with her bachelors and masters degrees in nutritional sciences and now works for a counseling center providing one-on-one nutrition counseling for people who struggle with eating disorders, disordered eating, various medical conditions and the effects of chronic dieting. Ashley actually has a personal experience with an eating disorder and she talks about that in this episode as well. She has a lot of great insight on a personal and professional level. In her free time Ashley loves being active outdoors, getting together with friends, cooking, reading and writing blogs and drinking iced lattes. If you follow her on instagram you will see all the iced lattes. She definitely isn’t joking when she says she loves that. So, just as a friendly reminder if any of you are really struggling with your relationship with food. Feeling like you need some extra support. You feel like maybe you are lacking in that practical guidance for how to work through a really chaotic relationship with food. I really want to be there to help you and that’s why I developed my 10 week course called, “Educate, Embrace, Empower: How to unlock your inner wisdom to become your own eating expert”. That is available on my website, www.paigesmathersrd.com/course, if you would like to check out more details. I walk you through how to get in the right mindset for becoming more intuitive with your eating. Then, I teach you essential nutrition science fundamentals to help you be able to separate fact from fiction. Then I walk you through bridging the gap from chronic dieting into empowered eating and talk about how to troubleshoot intuitive eating. What are the most common issue people struggle with, how to work through them. Then we finish up the course talking about unlocking your inner wisdom and becoming your own eating expert. It’s a ten week course, it will take you about two to three hours each week of course work. Then there are assignments you do each week, things to focus on and work on, exercises to complete. It will keep you busy for ten weeks. The best news is, you have access to the course information and a super supportive online community for the lifetime of the course. It’s really great and has been super fun so far. We would love to have you join us, if you are interested. With that, let’s get on with the interview with Ashley, the donut eating dietitian.
Paige: Hey Ashley! Thanks so much for being here.
Ashley: Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to talk to you.
Paige: The way I know you is because we are instagram friends. At least you are my instagram friend. I love following you and the comments you put on all your food pictures. I love your instagram name, especially. Your instagram name has inspired our conversation today. Do you want to tell people about your instagram really quick?
Ashley: Yeah, I’m the “Donut Eating Dietitian”. It started out actually as a blog. I didn’t have instagram for about a year. I was never on the instagram train until I got the blog. I started the blog and then got instagram. I just wanted to portray that eating can be flexible. Eating healthfully can include donuts and things like that. I was trying to think of what could portray that.My husband helped me figure out, “Donut Eating Dietitian” I use instagram to post recipes that I have or just food that I am eating currently.
Paige: Yes, I love it. One of my favorite things about the way you post on instagram is, a lot of people post food pictures and they are like, “oh, here is my super healthy, skinny version,” And it’s kind of like, okay. But, I love when you post pictures of this wonderful salad you ate and you show how you balance it out and how you don’t let it become a crazy obsession. You have a gentle concern for balance. I think you do a really good job of portraying that in a really tricky environment where so many people are pushing sort of this disordered eating, perfect eating paradigm that we all know isn’t real. I think you do a really good job of being real, balanced and that’s where we want to focus our attention in our conversation today. How you find that balance between being super duper flexible, maybe too flexible and not caring about nutrition, with caring about nutrition but not too much. Does that make sense?
Ashley: Yeah. Thank you for those kind words because I sometime wonder am I intentionally enough with the post that I put. So thank you for saying that. That is my heart behind it. I want people to realize there is a different way of relating to food because it is, in our culture, so much about “good” food versus “bad” food, “Clean eating” verses “unclean eating. I want to help people see that taking care of your body, eating healthfully includes a lot of different foods. It includes nutritious food but also fun foods. I am glad that comes across in the way that I post. So, thank you for saying that.
Paige: It does to me.
Ashley: You were asking how I balance those things?
Paige: Yeah, before we started recording we were talking about this a little bit where it’s like, it’s tough as a dietitian because we are trained to promote “nutritious foods”, right? And I’m using my air quotes so everyone knows. But once you start practicing as a registered dietitian it doesn’t take you very long to realize, okay there is this whole other world of people who are on this opposite end of the spectrum. I learned in school about people who maybe, they don’t care, they don’t have knowledge, they don’t have education so we need to educate them about what is healthy. But then when you start working you begin to realize there is this whole other world of people who are way obsessed, take every single thing they hear on the news or in a magazine about how to be healthy and they take it to the extreme. And here they are with a full-blown eating disorder or orthorexia or chronic dieting. So here I am as a dietitian, I want to promote health but what does health mean. Then you start questioning what is going on, what is this. So, I feel like as we are promoting health, again that is a very sticky, meaningful word, it’s not just “good” food, “bad” food type of idea. There is so much more to it. We are talking about how it is tough to talk to the middle or to both extremes or all these people all at once and not trigger one or the other, right.
Ashley: I think a lot of the reason that I come from the place that I do is because of my history of having an eating disorder. It was really triggering for me when I would hear people talk about the different eating styles they had, the different diets they had and once I was outside of my eating disorder and hear people comment how they were following a paleo diet or a sugar free diet or gluten free, whatever, I was really, really conscious of the things that they were saying and I really wanted to say, “No, you don’t have to be super restrictive in the way youare eating.” But because of my history of super restriction, because I work with clients with eating disorders, it’s really easy to go on that side of food-freedom. There is food freedom, but it’s easy to go on the side of well eat whatever you want even if it’s junk food all day without paying attention to what you body is saying. I do promote eating what you want, when you want it but doing it with attunement of how it makes you feel. It’s super easy to go, because I was so restrictive, to go to the other side. I don’t want to be on either side, where I am super restrictive or where I am eating food that doesn’t nourish us all day long. It took me a while to get to the point where I was able to balance, “okay, I can have all types of food. I can have what I want but I also want to take care of my body by nourishing it with food that makes it feel good, that fuels it. It’s kind of a hard balancing act because there are both things we can enjoy less nutritious food but we also want to take care of our bodies. We do that by fueling it with foods that are more nutritious.
Paige: So one thing that does sometimes become important for people is having that experience of maybe they were really restrictive, really a chronic dieter, went through a lot of that eating disorder realm. And maybe it is really important to reject that completely and swing over to the other side for a while and be like, yeah, food freedom! I can do what I need to do to heal my relationship with food. But I do think most people don’t want to end up there, right? So, most people want to find a balance where it’s not restrictive but there is a gentle concern for nutrition. It’s not a free-for-all but there is permission to eat “fun” foods. If someone listening and thinking, “wait a minute, I’ve been told that I need to eat all foods. That I need to have that food freedom.” That could be where you are and for a lot of people that is really important to have that experience. Where you are able to not think about the “rules” and just get it all out of your system, so to speak.
Ashley: Yeah, I would completely agree. I tell clients whenever you give yourself permission there are most likely going to be times you overeat or binge. There are times when we have been restricting and not allowing ourselves to eat, there is this stage of, kind of, making peace with food. It takes some time. It’s very, very normal to go through a stage where you are not eating nutritious foods because you have restricted yourself for so long. And that’s okay. It’s really, really normal. I tell my clients that’s normal. But as we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat what we want, when we want it, eventually we are able to let go of the emotional attachment to a lot of those foods. We then start to listen to how are these things making me feel. We have to get to the foundation of, “I can eat foods that I am craving. I can eat when I am hungry. There are no good foods/bad foods, there is just food.” When we can eat without thinking about, “What is this going to do to my weight?” That can be the foundation where we have a lot of freedom with food. Then we can start to think, “how do I incorporate nutrition principles into the way I am eating. When I talk to my clients there is a lot of exploration that goes into that of trying new foods in different ways, discovering what do I like, do I actually like broccoli when it’s roasted or not. When I eat certain foods does it make me feel good or does it make my stomach hurt, does it make me gassy. So, there is a lot of exploration that goes into there. I would say yes, there is definitely a phase, and depending on how long your relationship with food has been strained, that phase of letting go may be longer. I think it is very normal. I think it is helpful and necessary. Once we give ourselves permission, we know we can have it whenever we want, whenever we build that trust. Then we don’t have the compulsion necessarily to eat certain things all the time or we don’t have “cravings” all the time. Because we know we can have it whenever we want it.
Paige:Yeah so that last thing you said about, “we can have it whenever we want it”, I think there is a head and a heart aspect of that. I think our head can know that, but sometimes our heart or body, so to speak, doesn’t really trust that. It’s like, “no, you’ve done this before. You always end up going back on a diet. Right?” I think that that could be what that process is. “Yeah, I really can and I’m going to prove it because I’m going to do it.” I’m going to have these weeks or months where I’m really extra, super flexible in letting myself do this. That can help you body trust the fact that you’re not going to restrict anymore.
Ashley: Yeah, and it’s super scary at first when you are finally letting go of all those rules. You’ve told your self I’m not allowed to eat these certain things but now you are eating them all the time. It’s a scary feeling to jump in, but it’s totally worth it once you are on the other side of, “Okay, I can eat these things and be done when I’m done.” I don't feel super emotionally attached to them anymore. I don’t binge on them anymore. It’s worth it, but it’s scary at first.
Paige: So, let's make this personally, if you don’t mind. Let’s talk about you and your story as a way to frame this conversation of finding that balance. I think you’re a really good example of someone who has found really awesome, authentic balance in nutrition and life in general. Again, I only know you through instagram so I’m not with you all day every day. I’m sure there is room for improvement, which there is for me and there is for everybody. But, let’s hear your story, go through it and talk about in particular how you found some of these answer to how balance works for you. You already mentioned you had an eating disorder so start maybe before that.
Ashley: It took a long time to find balance and I’m still working on certain areas. Having to address different beliefs that I have or emotions that I have so I’m not perfect by any means but I am super grateful for where I am, compared to where I was. Growing up food was really normal in my family. We didn’t have a whole lot of money so we ate what we could afford. My parents were not super focused on nutrition. We would eat vegetables. I remember being forced to stay at the table until I finished stir fry. It was a frozen bag of red bell peppers, anyway.
Paige: Red bell pepper stir fry, frozen! I was forced to eat that and those red peppers were so hard to eat.
Ashley: Yes, they were so gross. I just have that memory sitting at the table crying and my mom making me stay at the table until I finish. Anway, so we ate whatever. We didn’t worry much about nutrition. We didn’t even talk about nutrition. I remember my mom mentioning going on a diet but it was never a big deal in our family. I also remember, maybe middle school, talking to my friends about starting a diet. Never followed through with it. It didn’t have a huge role in my life, it’s just something I remember. Until my 9th grade year. That’s when my parents decided they were going to go on the South Beach diet, which was devastating to me. I thought my world was going to end. I didn’t think we were going to have good food anymore and holidays were going to be ruined. It’s kind of funny when I think about my reaction. My parents started that which kind of formed my ideas I had about carbohydrates. My sister left around the same time.
Paige: For college? Is that what you mean?
Ashley: Yes, for college. We were pretty close. I had started my period that year. I had grown several inches. There were a lot of changes going on with my body, family dynamics and also changes in the way we were eating. So, I started to become more aware of the foods I was eating. There weren’t any major changes. I just started to watch my portion sizes and would talk to my sister, it was something we could relate on. She was very conscious of health and so I would tell her, “Hey, I’m eating healthier. I ate this and I didn’t eat this.” I felt like it was kind of a way for us to bond. It wasn’t really a big deal that year, but as time went on I became more restrive in the way I was eating. I was eating less food [variety], I was eating less of those foods. I would help out with my youth group on Wednesday night and we would go to Sonic [fast food restaurant] afterwards and I remember that Summer after my ninth and tenth grade year we would go and I wouldn’t get anything. I just felt such empowerment because I was able to say no to the food. I felt like they couldn’t. I almost felt superior in a way, which I feel terrible saying now, but I did. I used it as a way to make me feel like I was better because I was more self controlled.
At the beginning of my Junior year, I would say summer after my Sophomore year, is when it really spiraled out of control. I was constantly looking at recipes, counting calories, thinking about the food I would or wouldn’t eat, exercising, weighing myself. Food and exercise consumed my life. I knew that I didn’t need to lose weight. I could see that number going down and down and down and I loved it. I knew that I didn’t need to lose weight but the fear of gaining weight was too much. So even though I knew I needed to eat more, that fear of gaining weight, that fear of losing what was special about me, that fear of losing control kept me from taking care of my body. I didn’t realize there was real problem until the fall of my junior year. I went to a youth retreat and realized this is not normal. I brought my baggies of apples and carrot sticks and everybody else was eating their snacks. I thought, “man, I want to be able to eat like you and not worry about it.” I just realized this is not the way it is supposed to be. I contacted a personal trainer to ask him about how I could start eating more food. That ended up not being very helpful. I then ended up going to a therapist and being diagnosed with anorexia. It was a really, really scary time to hear what I had done to my body and how serious the problem was. Seeing my mom super heartbroken broke my heart. But there was no major transformation in my heart. I knew that I needed to gain weight. I had stipulations on what I had to weigh in order to play volleyball. But, the fear of losing my identity. The fear of losing what made me special drove my behaviors. Over a long journey of different people that came into my life, spoke truth to my heart, spending time with people that accepted me unconditional, I would say I finally found recovery in the sense that I was no longer restricting to where I was at a super low body weight. But I still had a very disordered relationship with food.
Paige: So this was right before college? I want to make sure I am following timeline.
Ashley: Yes, recovery was from the middle of my junior year [of highschool] through the end of my senior year. I would say I found a lot of healing the summer after my senior year. I went on a traveling sports camp and that’s where I really felt loved and accepted. I didn’t have a lot of control over the food I was eating, I guess you could say there was so exposure therapy in there. That was when a lot of my healing happened in terms of recovering from my anorexia. But, I still had very, very disordered thoughts. Very distorted relationship with food and exercise. So, I went to college and really throughout my whole college experience was restricting throughout the day. Eating at night, I wouldn’t say I was binging at eat, but I was overeating. When I would go to parties I would definitely go all out and leave feeling sick. But, I would not feed my body well, over exercise and because of that I would end up overeating. Which is normal. But, at the time I felt such a failure and that I couldn’t get my eating under control.
Paige: Did you think you didn’t have an eating disorder anymore? Did you think, “I’m totally recovered. I’m totally good.?”
Ashley: Yes, I did. There were times I would think, okay, when I would, I ran half marathons, which I would not recommend at all for somebody with a recent history of eating disorder because that really perpetuated my disordered behaviors and thoughts. There were times when I thought, “okay this is kind of becoming a problem again.” I would go to counseling for a few sessions then go back to life. But, yes, I definitely thought I was recovered because I wasn’t at a super low weight and I was eating. In fact, I felt ashamed because I felt like I was overeating.
Paige: Did you feel like you knew how to eat? Did you feel like you had that education of what a “normal” day of eating looks like. What a normal breakfast, lunch and dinner would, on average, have in them. Did you feel like you knew that?
Ashley: Yes and no. I feel like, with my nutrition background, I knew how we would set up meal plans for other people but I felt like I would never eat that way because I would totally gain weight. But, I would also say I really didn’t know what it looked like to eat normally, in the sense that I don’t feel like there are very many people in my life that are intuitive eaters. I didn’t have a good example of what it was like to have a healthy relationship with food. I wish I had gone to see a dietitian when I was healing from my eating disorder because a dietitian could have told me it’s normal to binge in response to restricting. There were a lot of things, I feel like, could have put my mind at ease as I was learning to eat normally.
Paige: Did you know you were restricting?
Ashley: Yeah, I knew it.
Paige: So like in the back of your mind, your heart, you were like, “yeah, I’m not eating enough throughout the day.” But you didn’t connect that with the overeating or the binging?
Paige: Oh, interesting.
Ashley: I just felt like I loved food too much since I thought about it all the time and would overeat. I didn’t realize that was a normal response to restriction and a normal response to deprivation. You know when we think about the things we can’t have.
Paige: Okay, let me ask you a question about your education. Is that okay?
Paige: I took a class in college that forced us all to follow various medical nutrition therapy diets. They had a certain intention behind it but it actually did opposite for me, I think. I think they wanted to take away this great understanding of what it’s like to be a diabetic or someone with chronic kidney disease on dialysis, but the only thing I really took from going on these diets was, “wow, it doesn’t matter what you tell me I can’t eat. The minute you tell me I have to eat a certain way, I don’t even hear what you are talking about during our lecture. I just sit and think about food all day.” I wasn’t the type of person that thought about food all day, until they forced me to be on these diets. So, I guess my question was did you ever have an assignment like that?
Ashley: No, I didn’t
Paige: I wonder if that would have helped you? I wonder if you would have realized? I don’t know.
Ashley: I don’t know. But, I thought about food constantly because I didn’t allow myself to eat a lot of different things. I was fearful of certain foods and what it would do to my body. I was fearful of social situations. Not as much as when I was in my eating disorder. Our college ministry would have monthly dinners. I would bring food there so I didn’t have to eat “unhealthy” foods that they had there. People praised me for my behavior. They would praise me for exercising a lot, eating healthy, bringing my own food and inside I was like, “you don’t want to be like me.” In one way it fueled those behaviors because I loved receiving praise. But inside I wanted someone to tell me I didn’t have to do this. So, all throughout college I had very, very disordered [eating]. Very much a slave to food, exercise and my body. It was miserable. I hated it and felt so ashamed of my eating because I felt like I failed. Every day it was that, “oh, i’m going to do better tomorrow.” Which is how it is with dieting. Now, I can see that’s what I was doing but at the time I didn’t.
Paige: So, let me ask you a question Ashely. When you talk about how you were thinking about food a lot and obsessing about food even though you were not eating a lot of it. Was that something that you showed other people? Was that something your roommate in college would have known about you? Were you kind of the “health girl” who loves food so much, sort of as an effort to seem normal? Does that make sense? I see that in my clients a lot.
Ashley: People knew that I had an obsession with frozen yogurt. It was one of the things I would let myself eat so I always wanted it. So people would make jokes about that. I talked about food a lot, obviously, because it was on my mind. I don’t know.
Paige: I ask because someone listening to this podcast might struggle themselves or know someone that struggles. For me, that is a huge red flag when I see someone we all know doesn’t eat a lot of food, brings their own carrot sticks to family dinner, brinings the scale out for Thanksgiving dinner and weighs their food. When that person is obsessed with food, when they are like “when are we going to eat? What time is food?” Their whole instagram feed is full of food pictures, or they take a lot of pictures of foods or they watch the Food Network or they go in the kitchen and smell the food because it’s almost like the next best thing to eating it is smelling it. If someone is doing those types of behaviors but you know they are not quite eating very normally, that often is really a big sign that on a psychological and physiological level the body is telling them they are not eating enough. You need to be obsessed with this so that you go and get it. Really the average person, sure the Food Network is fine, sure pictures of food is fine, but I would rather see pictures of babies on my instagram, personally. So, I don’t know.
Ashley: I would say yes, that is a huge red flag. If I hear someone talking about food all the time, their instagram feed is full of it, unless they are a food blogger, it is definitely a huge red flag. I am thinking they have a very disordered eating with food. But, I think that’s because we are educated on it and most people aren’t. Most people don’t know the warning signs. I don’t think my friends and people around me know that there was anything wrong with it. Whereas, there definitely was. Now that I’m outside of it I can see how disordered it was. Now that I am outside of it and have peace with food, I don’t think about it all the time. I get tired of looking at food pictures on my instagram feed. I don’t want to look at recipes all of the time. Food is not that exciting anymore, which sometimes is kind of sad because I don't know what to do with my time now. But I am so glad I don’t think about it all of the time because now I can think about more important things. But, yes, I would say that is a huge red flag.
Paige: Side note, I asked a lot of dietitians this and I get different responses so I want to hear what you say. Do you like cooking, eating, planning meal in your personal life since you talk about food all the time?
Ashley: I actually do. I love it. Because for me it’s an expression of myself I guess. It’s kind of a form of art, in a way. I love creating. It’s also a form of love for me. So whenever I want to serve someone I do that by making them food. I need to find other ways of serving them, but I do really enjoy testing new recipes. I mean, I enjoy eating. It’s fun for me to cook. I think part of that is my personality too.
Paige: Yeah, but it’s not on your mind nearly as much as it was?
Ashley: No. And I don’t fear food as much any more. I’m not thinking about the food I ate last night or dreaming about the next dessert I’m going to be able to eat. I just don’t worry about it, which is great. So that was my college experience. It was a horrible place to be. I felt a lot of guilt and shame about my overeating. Again, that’s normal and I wish I had known that. But it wasn’t until out of college, once I was an RD, that I started looking into mindful eating and then that turned me into intuitive eating. I read the book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch [Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works] and that completely changed my life. I am just so thankful for going through that. It was really my perspective of food that was causing all the problems. It wasn’t the food itself. I thought I just needed to cut out the sugar and then I can kick these cravings. But, it was my perspective on food that was causing me to overeat or crave those certain things.
Paige: And what was that perspective, just to kind of hit the point home. What was that perspective that was wrong?
Ashley: Oh, several things. One, that I needed to control my weight through food and exercise. I have now realized my body can do that and I can trust it. Now whenever I overeat, I don’t worry about it because I know my body with naturally regulate my appetite. That was a huge thing for me.
Paige: Just to make sure we are being clear. That doesn’t mean you are purposeful restricting the day after. That means that you trust your body will say, “well, we got a little extra yesterday. We’re going to send a little less hunger cues tomorrow to balance things out.”
Ashley: Yes, right. Because when I restrict I start to think about food more, then I just end up eating more and it just backfires. The other major one is that I don’t have to control my weight. There is a lot of science to support that our body does a great job at doing it by itself. The pursuit of weight loss is unproductive in a lot of ways. Other really great things, whenever we restrict, we want what we are restricting and we end up overeating. That was a huge one for me. I knew the whole challenge the food police, that’s one of the [ten] tenants, I was familiar with that but it was also a good reminder of what are the thoughts I am believing and how do I replace those thoughts that are untrue with true thoughts. I think the biggest one was that I don’t have to control my weight through food. That I can trust my body.
Paige: That’s huge because that’s the scariest part for people. There are so many people who, when I sit them down, I say let’s talk about dieting, why it doesn’t work and let's talk about intuitive eating and what it does. It’s like, okay, people can get on board with that. I am pretty good at talking most people through this. I’ve done it a lot. But, where people get tripped up is that whole weight thing… “But what about my weight.” How did you get over that, Ashley? I am so curious and interested in anybody who has been able to come to that peace with their weight. How did you do that? Can you describe it? Can you describe that process because I think that is so hard for people.
Ashley: I’ll be honest, I am still working through it. One, I realize it’s not worth it. I don’t want to go back to where I was. So, a bigger body to me is worth freedom. I don’t have to be in that place that I was because it’s such a dark place. So I think that’s one thing. The other is, again, I talk about renewing your mind and having to speak things over. So when I look in the mirror and I see fat, I have to say I need this in order to live. I need this in order to be healthy. Fat is required to keep me going. So there are certain things I have to say to myself. I tell myself my worth, my identity and my value are not found in the way my body looks. I am not my body, my body houses who I am. There are a lot of things I’ve had to say. I am a believer. I believe that God has given me great worth and value. Telling myself that. That we are all different sizes or shapes and that doesn’t mean any of them are wrong. I’ve had to address those different thoughts that I’ve had and instead replace them with true statements. Then sometimes I have to say, you know what, I’m just not going to look into the mirror. There are different times when you’re not happy or I’m feeling really happy about my body, what’s going on. My emotions are telling me this, what’s going on that’s making me feel this way. When I say I’m feeling fat maybe I feel like a failure in this area or I’m stressed. It’s a long process and I think you don’t necessarily have to get to a point where you love your body because I don’t know if that is actually possible. There is so much more to life than my body and that I have great things to offer outside of the way that I look. It’s taken me a long time to get there but it takes work and continually reminding yourself of those true statements rather than those that we hear in society, “You’re only valuable if you are thin. You are on pretty if you are thin. You’re only successful if you burned x amount of calories or you’re only good if you eat “clean foods”. We have to tell ourselves those things because we are told a lot of lies from society. Does that answer you question?
Paige: Yeah, what was my question? I’m just into what you are saying and I can’t even remember what my question was.
Ashley: You asked me how I got to a point where I am okay with my body. I will also say that I am really privileged, I say that in a society that values thin people, I am naturally thinner and so I don’t have to go through quite as much as people who are in larger bodies. You know, so in a way, I say privileged in that way just because our society, unfortunately, is biased against people in larger bodies. So I haven’t had to do as much work as someone who is naturally larger, so I will say that. There is still a lot of work that had to be done. Again, my biggest thing is I don’t want to go back there. It’s not worth it. Because even when I was thinner I didn’t like my body. I was miserable. Why would I want to go back there? I get to live life now.
Paige: Yeah, so many great comments. I just have a few things to address. One thing you said is maybe loving your body is out of what’s possible for certain people in certain moments, whatever. I think sometimes we get into this world of eating disorder recovery of everyone needs to love their body and eat perfectly intuitively. Sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves, maybe the goal is loving your body. Maybe it’s just not hating your body. Maybe it’s being a little bit more neutral about it. Maybe seeing if you can start peppering in some kind comments to yourself. Or some body positive thoughts or actions in your life just to see if you can create some more positivity. I think sometimes when people hear, “oh I need to love my body”, and they feel like that’s totally impossible for them. That can be so discouraging. We are not saying don’t love your body, oh my gosh if you can and if you want and you feel like that is possible, you go girl or boy. No one is trying to stop you but I think it is important to have realistic conversation about this. Maybe the goal is to start with, I’m not going to hate it any more. Another thing that I would add to your wonderful list of how you’ve found the ability to let go of that weight as something that was holding you back from living a healthy, happy, whole life. One thing that has worked for me personally with this is experimenting with intuitive eating. At one point, it was a super foreign idea to me. I was kind of like, “but if I let go of my rules what is going to happen.” When you start letting go of your rules and tuning into your own body, the best thing to do is notice what happens. Notice what happens to your body, your behaviors, your eating. For a lot of people, myself included, you actually eat more nutritiously when you let go of so many of those rules. So that can be helpful in this journey where you are like, “okay, when I stop being such a head-case about all this stuff and start listening to my body I actually end up eating more a little bit more along the lines of “how I want to” when I was trying to be so perfect with my eating.” Does that jive with your experience?
Ashley: Oh yeah. When I was trying to stop overeating at night, I was restricting which caused me to overeat at night, but then when I let go of that control I naturally stopped overeating at night. Yeah, it happens all the time.
Paige: Another thing to experiment with is, I start eating this way and then just watch what your body does.
Ashley: Oh yeah, and if you are listening to your body’s cues you are not going to just gain and gain and gain.
Paige: Exactly! That’s what I am try to say.
Ashley: The great thing about the set weight point is our body is going to regulate it. If we get beyond our set weight point and we are listening to our body it is going to tell us to either move more or eat less and we can trust that. But you are right, there are people who are chronically not listening to their body’s cues of stopping when they are full. So when they start to listen, listen to their body and eat intuitively they do loose weight. But that isn’t the purpose of intuitive eating. It’s freedom with food. I would really encourage people that are really fearful about diving in, to find an intuitive eating dietitian. I think it is really helpful to have someone walk alongside you so you can feel more confident in the process and someone can tell you, “okay, this is really normal”. Someone who can walk you through that process because I think it is really, really scary. Someone who can teach you the rules. For someone who is super scared, I’m not just trying to promote dietitians, but I think it is really helpful to have someone walk through it with you. It can be a lot less scary that way. They can give you the tools you need to be successful in navigating those waters.
Paige: Absolutely, I agree. Sorry, I got us off on a little tangent there. Let’s get back to your story. Was it the end of college we were at with your story?
Ashley: Yeah, so it’s once I graduated and became an RD I found the Intuitive Eating book. That completely changed my perspective. I was already telling people, “eat what you want”, but I wasn’t doing it myself. Now, I am practicing what I was kind of already preaching. I now have more skills, more knowledge to help people really let go of all those food rules, let go of the anxiety, fear, guilt and shame associated with eating to where they can eat in a way that makes them feel good emotionally but also physically. When I talk to people they say, “I want to get healthy”. Well, what does healthy even mean. For some people, healthy means eating low calorie. Other people it means gluten free, sugar free or whatever “clean” means. But for me, healthy eating is eating in a way that promotes physical health but also in a way that is promoting emotional health, relational health. Health encompasses so many different things. It encompasses our physical health, emotional, psychological, relational. Those things are impacted by so many things. They are impacted by our food choice, so food is important. But, they are also impacted by how we move our bodies. It’s impacted by how we reduce stress. Reducing health down to just food or weight is missing a huge portion of it. So, we need to talk about all of those things. I think that is really important.
Paige: I agree. That’s one of the areas where I’m kind of like, gosh, I wish dietitians were also trained therapist at the same time. How do you talk about food without talking about all that other stuff? I don’t really understand any dietitian who kind of doesn't ever even cross into those lines where they are talking about sleep, stress, relationships, mental health in general. How are we not incorporating all of that into our conversations about foo? You said it so beautifully, health is not food and weight. That’s part of it, maybe-ish, there is so much more to it. That’s such an important point that I wish more people would give. When someone says, “I want to get healthy”, my hope for this world would be that people think okay how can I get my sleep in order, how can I work on my relationships, how can I manage stress in my life that makes me feel good. I wish people would think about all those elements rather than just simply reducing that down to weight and/or food. Ironically, when we do that we are not healthier, we are less healthy when we do that. Right?
Ashley: Right. It just kind of occured to me, maybe because we reduce health simply to the food we are eating or the weight, I think that is probably why we go overboard on it. If that’s we only thing we think determines our healthy that’s why it is such a big deal to eat healthy. But then whenever we think about all of these other factors that come into play, we can loosen the reigns a little bit, eat in a way that promotes health but that also includes food that aren’t as nutritious. Maybe that’s why there is this huge crazy because we’ve reduced it to only the foods we eat.
Paige: It’s an oversimplification.
Ashley: Yeah, and I do think that food can play a role in our health for sure. I can tell you, you can eat blueberries all day long and you are still going to die. You know what I mean. We can eat healthfully and still get sick. And so, to reduce it down to just what we eat is missing a huge part of it. Which, I’m really grateful that food is not the only thing that impacts our healthy.
Paige: My four year old said that, actually. She said the other day, I was actually really sick a few weeks ago, and she said, “mom what is going on with you.” I told her I was just really sick. She said, “A dietitian can get sick?” I think she had just learned in school about healthy foods, anyway, don’t even get me started on some of the things she learns in school in that way, I’m like,”Ahhh, don’t teach that like that.” But, I have to undo a lot of that programming she got at school. Anyway, so that was one of the things that has come out. Her teacher taught her that healthy foods make it so you don’t get sick and she associated it with, “my mom would never get sick.” She knows that part of my job is helping people learn how to eat. That’s sort of how I explain it. So even a four year old struggles with that black and white mindset. So, it’s silly that adults would be like, “oh if I eat this way, magically I will reverse the aging process or never get cancer.” You can do your part to try to have the very lowest odds possible but we are all going to get sick and die at some point.
Ashley: Sorry, that was really blunt.
Paige: No, it’s true.
Ashley: I understand where our government is coming from and dietitians are coming from. Because as a whole, the health of our nation is not very good. I would say there is a large majority of the population that don’t eat well because they don’t have the means or they just haven’t been taught. But then I work a lot with clients that do have access to good food and a lot of money, so I understand where both sides are coming from. We want to improve the health of our nation by promoting healthful habits and that sort of thing. But I think that the way they present it, then backfires because people end up dieting resulting in them overeating or emotionally eating. I think there is a lot that has backfired. We’ve told people to get healthy you diet and in return the dieting is actually making us more unhealthy as a nation.
Paige: The way I conceptualize that is I think of it as a spectrum where there are these really rigid, crazy, super-duper obsessed with health people and then on the other end there’s people that don’t care at all. When there are those public health messages of, “Get Healthy!”, the rigid, crazy, intense healthy people are thinking, “oh my gosh, I’m not even doing enough. I need to do more.” Right? Because they are that personality type where they take every recommendation very seriously and very personally. So they get crazier. Then the people that don’t care at all just tune out the message. The message is intended for a certain group of people or population but the people who are hearing it and taking action are the people who were taking too much action. It’s just making them more sick and not helping those who need help. Then, like you said, maybe some of those people in that group do take it, start dieting and as a result they become more sick as well. It’s just such a tricky thing to put out messages and to have the right person hear your message in a way that is actually helpful for them without making them worse. Does that make sense?
Ashley: Yes, I think that’s a really good point and a really good way to put it.
Paige: So, let’s talk about how you find balance in your life. I know that’s a really broad question but when you go throughout your day of eating and you’re like, “okay, what do I want to have for breakfast. What do I want to have for lunch? Do I want to have this cookie in the afternoon at the office?” How do you manage some of those decisions? How do you with your history, your education, your work and your own personal spot with where you are with your relationship with food, how do you personally find balance between a gentle concern for nutrition and also having fun with it too?
Ashley: Well, I’m really fortunate in the sense that I love vegetables. I genuinely love food that is good for me so I’m really grateful for that. Sometimes I’m like, “Lord thank you for making nutritious foods super tasty.” Because it makes it easier for me to enjoy it. So, I am really grateful that I enjoy food that makes me feel good. That makes it easier. In terms of how do I figure out what to eat and that sort of thing, I really do things based off of what I feel like eating. In terms of what do I want for breakfast, do I want something sweet? If I do it’s usually oatmeal. Or, if I want something savory I usually eat eggs and cheesy toast. But as I’m meal planning I am incorporating nutrition principles of I need a protein, carb and a fat. I know my body in the sense that if I don’t have a protein or fat with my carb my blood sugar gets really low and I get shaky. But, I also know that if I only eat protein and fat I am super hungry because I need carbohydrates to satisfy me. I incorporate that gentle nutrition of protein, carbohydrate, fat because I know scientifically it’s going to satisfy me and benefit my body. But also because in terms of I want my body to feel good so I incorporate all three of those things. So that is kind of how I approach meal times. But, I will also say there are times I have to think is this food going to promote freedom in my relationship with food. If it is going to result in me feeling super restricted or if I don’t eat it am I going to feel super restricted, then I am going to choose eat it. I think that can be huge. A food can be nutritious but maybe an unhealthy choice for me in that moment. Because, it’s going to cause me to be restrivie in the way that I am thinking. So sometimes healthy equals food freedom. Sometimes I choose things based on what is going to help me pursue food freedom. I’m not sure if that answers your question. I eat, for the most part what I want, but also thinking is this going to make me feel good. Sometimes I will think if I eat that this time of night I am probably going to have a stomach ache. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with a stomach ache and think, “man next time I probably should be more mindful how this is going to make me feel later on.” I’m not sure if I articulated that well.
Paige: No you did, that’s great. Like I said in the beginning, my perception of you is that you are really good at that. Really good at finding that balance in nutrition that we are all looking for. I really think one of the biggest things you said today, that really resonated and that I’ve thought about a ton in work with my clients, is one of the biggest keys to be able to find balance, to be able to tune into your body, to be able to trust is that weight is not tied to food anymore. Or, you let go of weight as your primary motivator for eating or not eating certain things. It’s not about weight, it’s about the way I feel. It’s about my whole health. It’s about what I’m in the mood for. It’s about my intuition. It’s about supporting relationships and myself. It’s about all those things instead of weight. To me, that is such a huge key that is missing for so many people so I hope this podcast helps people wrap their mind around that idea. It’s so important. What do you think?
Ashley: I would completely agree. Let go of that control and then embrace how much better life can be.
Paige: And how much more time you have as a result to do the things that actually make you feel good. Time and energy to love people better. To serve people better. To move your body more, right. Unless that’s a problem for you, then maybe not move your body more. You have more time to do things that make you feel good and as a result you are healthier.
Ashley: I would agree. I tell my clients that a lot actually. The point of this is so that you can go out with a friend for coffee that’s really needing someone to talk to them. Or you can give you your afternoon to go serve somewhere because you are not worried about having to exercise or what food is going to be there. Whenever we find this freedom it really frees us up to love people well and serve them well. Which is what we should be doing.
Paige: Yes, that’s what makes us feel good. We are always searching for happiness and we think around the next corner we will finally find it. If I just lose ten pounds then I will be happy and that is such a lie. I’ve talk to enough people who have lost weight or whatever, who have gotten that promotion at their job they thought they would be happy one they got that and it’s still like, where’s the happiness? Why hasn’t it happened yet? So, if we can learn this beautiful truth that happiness is right here, in this moment if we choose to live life well. Part of that is loving yourself so that you can then go love other people. I just think that is so important and huge for right now. We’re all going to through a lot right now with the political pressure and all that. I think we need more selfcare so we can do better things in this world.
Ashley: Yes, I would agree.
Paige: Awesome. I’m so happy to have finally, kind of, have met you over skype. Met you in real life and gotten the chance to chat with you. I think you’re just awesome and I’m so excited to have had the chance to hear your story and learn from you. Let me ask you one more quick question. If you had just a few minutes to give people advice, who are struggling with food, would you add anything with what we said today? Is there something simple you would say to leave people with? I’m totally putting you on the spot. I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts.
Ashley: I think I would just say it doesn’t have to be this way. We were created for so much more than being a slave to the fear of food or our body. There’s so much more to life. I just desire for people to really truly live in freedom. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you can pursue finding healing in this area. If you struggle with food, whether overeating or undereating it doesn’t have to be that way, reach out and get help so that you can truly live life abundantly. Yeah, that would be kind of what I have to say.
Paige: I love it Ashley. That’s so great. So, people will probably want to follow you and find you. Let us know how people can do that.
Ashley: You can go to my blog which is www.donuteatingdietitian.com or you can look me up on Instagram as Donut Eating Dietitian. Really easy to find me. I love people commenting or send me personal message. I really enjoy being able to interact with people, answer questions and help. That’s what I am here for. I want to help people.
Paige: You’re in practice in which city? If anyone is listening close to you and needs help. Let’s make sure people know where to find you in person.
Ashley: I’m in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I work at a counseling center there.
Paige: Perfect! I will post links to your blog and your instagram [in the show notes] so people can find you, keep up with you and see your post. Again, I really enjoy what you are doing and I think the world of you.
Ashley: Thanks! I appreciate what you’re doing! I love listening to your podcast. I think you really great insights to offer. I am thankful for what you are doing too.
Paige: Well, thank you!
Ashley: You’re welcome.
Paige: I sincerely hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you haven't already, please leave a review on iTunes. Thanks again so much for listening. We’ll see you soon for another episode.