A Journey to Self-Compassion Through Healing Your Relationship with Food

A blog post by yoga teachers and dietetic interns, 
Emily Unwin and Maddy Walters

You have to create within yourself the experience of beauty, liberation, and infinity. This is health. Healthy plants and trees yield abundant flowers and fruits. Similarly, from a healthy person smiles and happiness shine forth like the rays of the sun. – B.K.S. Iyengar

A bit about us...


Emily: Hi there.

For those who don’t know me, this is Emily Unwin, a yoga teacher at Shakti, taking over the self-love blog for the day with a lil help from one of my best pals, Maddy. 

I've been practicing yoga for five years now, teaching for two. I went to Auburn University for my BS in Nutrition and Dietetics and found my first real yoga home at Yogafly Studio where I received my RYT-200. When I came to Athens to start my master’s degree in nutrition and my dietetic internship, the first thing I did was look around for studios, and the first studio I came to was Shakti! The freedom I felt with finding a yoga home that worked with my body and allowed for space to feel all the sh*t that comes up when we do yoga was palpable. Thank Yeezy for this studio.

Anyways, that’s enough about me. Self-love is a topic that is close to my heart and is so closely intertwined with nutrition. So, in order to talk about nutrition & self love and do it justice, I’ve asked my dear buddy, yoga warrior, and nutrition blogger extraordinaire, Maddy Walters, to help me out. 


Maddy: Hello friends!

I’m Maddy, and I am currently completing my master’s degree in nutrition science and my dietetic internship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

I have been practicing yoga on and off for about seven years and habitually for three. I received my RYT-200 through Yogafly Studio as well and have been teaching for seven months. After having some anxiety and reservations about whether or not I should pursue teaching, I decided to get in contact with a local community center where I taught my very first yoga class! Currently, I teach at the community center and at the UAB Campus Recreation Center. I have grown so much already, and I continue to find my voice as a teacher and as a human.

Self-love is a journey. It’s a journey in which I have progressed and regressed and progressed again, and it’s one I will never ever ever give up on. As Emily said, nutrition is such an integral part of self-love; and I have found that my practice in nutrition and my yoga practice have become absolute essentials in navigating through life in my body in a gentle and caring way. My body is my container, and I have to be kind to it. Love it. Spend time listening to it, and give it what it needs.

Emily: ^^^ So you guys now understand why I need Maddy here to help me. She’s incredible, and I can’t wait to delve into more details about what nutrition & self-love means for us. 

The long(!!!) journey to healing & self-compassion through nutrition

Emily: So Maddy and I actually met our freshman year but didn’t become best budz<3TM until our sophomore year when we went to Italy for a couple weeks to study the Mediterranean diet...

Maddy: …We were roommates throughout the study abroad; and, in hindsight, I think we were in very similar places in our journeys of re-establishing mind-body connections...

Emily: ...Truth! Many of my teenage and young adult years up to that point were hounded by body image issues, food restriction, and disordered eating patterns. Yoga was slowly but surely pulling me away from those habits, however reluctant I was to let those coping mechanisms go, so it’s safe to say that finding a like minded person who was on the same soul journey was an immense blessing...

Maddy: Similarly, my teenage years were wrought with anxiety, self-doubt, and self-deprecation. These things resulted in restriction and rigidity when it came to food. At the time Em and I went on this study abroad, I was mid-cleanse -- purging my life of some toxic relationships and encouraging good ones to bloom. With the help of my soulmate/better half/older sister and many others who love me so well, I began to come out of my own toxic relationship with myself and my body as I was led by example and supported by love and authenticity.

Emily: Like Maddy, relationships pulled me out of that dark place and see myself through a compassionate lens. Relationships and loving people that brought me to a deeper connection with myself through food and intuitive eating.

Hm okay, but how are nutrition and self love related? 

Emily: Let’s get into the meat of it.

To talk more about what intuitive eating (IE) means, I’m going to hand this over to Maddy, our very own IE guru.

Maddy: In a nutshell, intuitive eating is making peace with food. It’s neutralizing our relationships with different foods and rediscovering the “dynamic interplay of instinct, emotion, and thought, which work together to orchestrate life” (from the Intuitive Eating kweens). A large part of intuitive eating is relearning and honoring our hunger and fullness cues -- something that seems so basic yet is constantly overlooked or battled.

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole MS, RD and Elyse Resch MS, RD, FADA alongside the Intuitive Eating Workbook are resources that have made leaps toward straying away from the widely adopted and endlessly toxic diet mentality -- a cycle of restricting and craving and frustration. This mentality can be incredibly detrimental to our mental and physical health, and many people don’t even realize they possess it. 

Ask yourself... When the last time was that food made you feel anything at all? Did it made you feel happy? Did it offer relief and settle your stomach? Have you ever looked at food and thought, "I shouldn't eat that"? Have you ever felt regret after a meal? Food is an emotionally charged subject, and intuitive eating is the practice of neutralizing these strong emotions surrounding food.

So, what does intuitive eating look like? It’s eating when we’re hungry and eating things we like and enjoy. It’s incorporating variety, balance, and moderation. It’s going out to eat with your friends and not feeling guilty. It’s relearning to find the pleasure in food and reconnecting with your body. Because a healthy diet is a balance, not a restriction. My journey with intuitive eating and the journeys of clients I have gotten the pleasure of knowing have all resulted in a connection between mind and body that was not there before. These journeys, without exception, have moved us into a completely different stream of consciousness because it has changed both our mental and physical health.

Emily: Dang, right? Drop the mic.

Where does yoga fit into all of this? *Mindfulness

Less words:

Yoga has helped manage my body image issues and guide me back to a healthy relationship with food and my body. 

More words: 
Yoga creates a sacred space so that I can see and generate a sacred space within myself. Yoga serves as a reminder that taking care of myself will produce fruitful benefits—anywhere from making progress towards a specific pose, improving the way I treat others, or seeing my body in a more compassionate light. Acting “cleanly in the present” frees my mind from good and bad conditioning. Asana is a means of practicing this application—letting poses go and sensing where my body is right here, right now. Creating “yogic action” by acting from a place free from self-critique and judgment. Yoga is the taking in and expanding from the inside, seeing and accepting ourselves while expanding our knowledge and softening. 

Before consistently practicing yoga, I had lost all connection to my body. I no longer saw it as something sacred. With yoga, I have come to re-see myself as a moving and breathing part of nature. I have reformed the connection with myself and my surroundings and have realized that I can have a direct impact on a universal quality of energy with just my own energetic shifts. With yoga, I take the time to sense what energy I am creating within myself and how I can compassionately encourage my thoughts to be more loving.

Less words:

Through yoga, I have developed appreciation for my body and repentance for ever being harmful. I have reconnected to my body as a sacred vessel and one that deserves to be cared for.

More words:
Every interaction with others, with the world, and, perhaps most importantly, with ourselves is an opportunity to create space for what is pure and true and divine. I do my best to come to my mat exactly as I am each day and give my body what it needs in that particular moment. I work to notice how good it feels to be me, which was never a common practice for me before I committed fully to my yoga practice. This idea of being present and being at ease with where I am is mindfulness and it is yoga, and it translates into my everyday life. It’s not always perfect, but that’s not the point. The point is that I do the work to get there.

A lot of different things have come up on my mat, and I constantly have to remind myself that they're not coming out of thin air, they're being uncovered. And, often, that's hard to face. This mindfulness to what is already there has made me a better version of myself — a better daughter, friend, sister. Yoga has brought every emotion, every aspect of me, to the surface. All the good, bad, and ugly. The things I wanted and needed and dreaded discovering. Yoga has given me a home base where the things that pull at me don't seem so strong, a place where I can grow and become stronger, a place for me to be loving and take care and be grateful for what my body can do and not focus on what it can't. And in being present and gentle with myself, I hope to extend the same kindness to others.

Emily: Yoga is the bomb diggity. That’s all. 

Moving forward: resist restriction & embrace self-love through food

Emily + Maddy: 

Okay, let’s start with the ~lightly negative~ so that we can get it out of the way. It’s nearly impossible, whether that be through social media, health professionals, friends & family, popular diets, ~society~, to avoid the idea that weight and what your body looks like dictates health (overweight = unhealthy, & thin/fit = healthy). The overemphasis on weight loss and “healthy BMI” as the end-all-be-all for shiny, perfect wellness is an outdated idea that just won’t go away. Understandably so, since the diet industry and diet culture make billions off weight loss products. $$billionz$$. With a B. 

Not only that, but within the healthcare professional community, weight is used as the undisputed champion and predictor of well being. Too bad this isn’t really supported by research. I know, right. Wondering wtf? Ya, me too. That’s a whole nother six page long blog post, so I’ll just link you to a lil something if you want more info on Health at Every Size.  

Enough of that. Instead...

Let this sink in.
Health is so much more than weight and what your body looks like. 
More than your fitness level. 
More than your ability to do a crazy-a$$ yoga pose. 
More than what you see in the mirror.
More than a few pounds here or there.
More than your pant size.

If only our minds would accept this fact right away. 

But under the guidance of intuitive eating, we are invited to reclaim our bodies just the way they are and to create our own version of health. 

We’ll leave you with this… 

How can I love my body each and every day, no matter what?
Whenever a negative thought comes up, get curious. Is this a healthy, rational thought? Or is this my inner critic? Once you discern between the two, you can invalidate the thought and move forward. My best advice for a starting point here is to feel your body in motion. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant -- closing your eyes and placing a hand on your belly to feel it rise and fall with each breath. Going on a walk and noticing physically how it feels to stretch your legs. So I guess my best advice is noticing. And then once you notice, show gratitude for all your body does for you.

How can I fight back against diet mentality? 
Ride the wave of changing thought, hop on board with the rebels and health-at-every-size-ers, and reject the mentality that our bodies are not good enough. 
Instead of asking what your body weighs and looks like, ask:
How does my body feel when it’s happy and nourished? 
Can I see my body as honorable and cherishable? 
Can I challenge my own weight biases without judgement of myself or others?
Can I accept the way my body is at the present moment and let that be okay?

Can I love myself each and every day? Yes, you can. 


take time to take time

One of the most impactful lessons I have learned in my twenties is that time off leads to happier, more fulfilled time on.

I am writing this from my favorite low-key coffee shop in small city Athens, Georgia. My work is my passion.... aka I literally (and frequently) get teary-eyed while teaching yoga classes. I've created a life that gives me life, which comes from a lot of work and a lot of manifesting intentions... more on that another time. But I say all of this to say that work is still work, and it's important to remember that... 

Giving without any time to receive always always always leads to burnout. ALWAYS.

I first started taking Sacred Days right after I graduated from college. Then, it was Tuesdays. And on Tuesdays, I made zero plans. Friends would ask me to get drinks or lunch or go to yoga, and I would say, "That sounds great. And I'd love to. But I just don't make plans on Tuesdays. So I'll let you know on Tuesday what I'm up to." And you know what happened? Nothing really. No one was offended. No one questioned my Sacred Day. No one thought I was a bad friend or person. And in fact, everyone eventually knew my answer without asking and respected it. And you know what happened for me? I always felt fresh, ready, and in tune. I learned what it felt like to set boundaries and become a better person because of it. I learned the power of listening, receiving, and acting from my own intuition.

I started to learn how to nourish myself.

Fast forward through the 3 years between then and now, and the day of the week has changed a few times and sometimes Sacred Weekends once per quarter replace my Sacred Days, but the concept has remained and sustained. In fact, I recently got back from a Sacred 2-week Retreat in the Sacred Valley (appropriate name for a place) of Peru. 

In fact, I feel so nourished by taking time off that I also started holding space for others to do the same. Which should be noted, was not my original idea. One of my girlfriends who was around when my Sacred Days began saw what I was doing and after about 6 months said something that sounded a lot like this, "Ruby, this is important. You should lead women's retreats. I love you." And I said YES.

And just as gratifying as taking my own time off is seeing others value their own worth enough to do the same. That's what it's about... valuing your own worth.

We busy ourselves to the point of fatigue and then wonder why we are burned out, unhappy, and pissed off. It's just not worth your worth to live this way.

You have to remind yourself, "I am worth taking time off. I need to nourish myself. This is a priority in my life. I trust this. I trust the process. I trust that everything will be ok. Who I am is sacred, and I am worthy of Sacred time away from my daily hustle. Period. It is time to reconnect."

And then you have to be proactive about it. You have to set boundaries, make choices, commit, and trust. You have to invest... your time and money and resources. You have to show up for yourself.

When I see this play out for people, a beautiful magic unfolds. I see people regain their power, their presence, their poise... just from taking 2 or 3 days off. And the investment for that is priceless.

This past retreat (the 2 weeks in Peru) for me was the best thing I've done for myself in maybe ever.... Partially because I made it happen all on my own. Partially because I forced myself to trust the universe that my little world in small city Athens, Georgia would keep turning without me (sounds silly. feels big. always true.). Partially because, well, PERU.

This was the longest vacation I've taken in my adult life, and it was first exciting, then calming, then I freaked out a little, then I settled back into the calm. And oh my goodness was it impactful. And nourishing. And the perspective gained is invaluable. And it came because I chose to take time to take time. Sometime in April or May I reminded myself of how much I love and value myself and my work. And I told myself to take this retreat. To make it happen. To prioritize it. To trust and to let go and to not back out. And I am so glad that I listened to my inner wisdom, because here I am: 

Sitting in 1000 faces coffee writing this...settled back into my day-to-day after a 2 week retreat to Peru... recharged, reconnected, re-inspired... a better me, a better girlfriend, a better friend, a better yoga teacher, a better business owner, a better person.

Here are 5 reasons you should take time to take time:

1. You are worth it. This is what it always comes down to, and your worth is never less. You are in charge of your life, and you get to choose how you spend your time. Notice if you self-shame for taking time off, and remember that your worth is inherent... and your worth is definitely not contingent upon your busy-ness. No way. Not even close. You are worthy on your own.

2. It will make you a more productive, happier, and all-around nicer human. I promise. When you restore, you re-store... your energy, your brain power, your niceness. Don't believe it? Try it and feel for yourself.

3. You'll give less %#*$s about things that don't matter. When you prioritize your self, happiness and all, you will notice where you are giving energy in your life. You'll notice where that's working for you, and you'll notice where you could probably be caring less. Newsflash: Not everything is the most important thing. You do not make the earth spin on it's axis... THANK GOD. 

4. Your boss will (eventually) thank you. Or at least they should, because you're going to be a better bomb-ass employee when you return recharged and reset! And if they don't thank you, maybe get a new boss? And if you're depleted again within a week or less... maybe get a new boss? Seriously. This is a bfd barometer for job happiness.

5. Never feel burned out again. Never is a really big word, but burnout will significantly show its nasty head less if you learn to take time to take time consistently. Whether it's 1x per week, 1 weekend per quarter, 1-2 vacations per year, it's worth figuring out what works for you. And then do it. Schedule it. Prioritize it. Say no to other things. And take. time. off. It's the only way to create the space you need to keep showing up day-to-day 100%.

Peace out and Shakti Love <3

*Did this post really resonate with you? Shakti has 3 retreats before the holidays... check them out. (October 27-29 // Lake Lanier, GA ; November 3-6 // Gulf Shores, AL ; November 17-19 // Chickamauga Lake, TN) We want it to work for you if you want it to work for you, so reach out if you're interested. 


the space you hold is sacred

Holding space is one of the greatest responsibilities we have as human beings. Not only do we walk on this earth holding space in the sphere of infinitesimally small particles that make up the atmosphere, displacing and rearranging particles with our mass as we go. We also hold space in many other forms.

We hold space in our minds for the things and notions we believe to be true.

We hold space for our loved ones, carving time out of our ridiculously busy schedules.

We hold space in our hearts–-sometimes waiting for other beings to encamp in our love, other times protecting those slivers of love we are not quite ready to use.

We hold space in our routines, preserving personal rituals and prioritizing our favorite little habits and hobbies.

We hold space for our Self, the center of growth and flourishing, creativity and thriving.

We hold space for strangers without even realizing, every gaze met is space held.

Our role as space-holders is unavoidable. Holding space is what we were designed to do. Still, the space that we hold is always fluctuating, always fluid. The amount of space we are willing to hold ebbs and flows with our lives–our environments, our emotions, our age. How we distribute the space that we are willing to hold also flows on a daily basis–more space for Self, more space for strangers, more space for comfort. The idea is not a perfectly ideal picture of holding enormous space in all areas all the time. The idea is a messy, brilliant exploration of this remarkable responsibility. The idea is consciousness-–realizing how and when and where and why you are holding this space in this moment, every moment–-recognizing how and when and where and why this space where you are right now desperately needs you to hold it, to be present to it. The idea is an act of giving to receive, getting empty to fill up.

Holding space is a practice, really, just as all particularly special and innate responsibilities are a practice. Truly holding space and tuning into what that looks like in each moment is a practice of Grace. It requires a willingness to openness. It fosters humility so rich and so lush that Love shines through in a brand new way.

Holding space often requires listening, and it propels us to accept while allowing all judgement to melt away. Learning to hold space is a radiant skill. As we learn, we become beacons of irresistible light for all creation. We shine Divine. The Grace of holding space rejuvenates; it cleanses and heals and makes us happy. Holding space is a choice-–one that we must make time and time and time again. Wherever we go, that is where we are to be–-to be space-holders, givers, lovers.

Slow down.

Take a full, deep inhale. Even longer exhale.

Drop into this moment.


Notice the space you are holding. Notice what it feels like under your breath. Notice the rhythm of your heartbeat as it drives you forward. Notice the urges and impulses that are unexplainable but so so truthful.

Reflect on this practice. Be open to those moments when you are called forth as a shining beacon to hold space for a friend, a stranger, yourself. Be okay with whatever this looks like. Be okay with putting your ‘really important tasks’ to the side. Be okay with silencing your mind and sincerely listening to the person beside you. Be okay with waiting when the cashier is having a difficult time. Be okay with altering your ideals. Be okay with being, giving, holding space.

Notice the sensation, the feeling, that arises. Notice the peace that settles in your chest when you observe the way you do your duty as a space-holder. Notice the love that exudes from your skin. Notice the Grace that showers you. Notice the Grace that showers everyone and everything around you. Hold your space freely and truly. Hold it honest and easy. Hold it pure. This space that you hold is Sacred. It is holy. It is Divine and anointed. Only you can hold this space. Only you.

On B A L A N C E... how to get more of it

Balance...in life, in work, in yoga class...is really quite simple.

Trust me, I hear you... "I don't know, Ruby. I don't think balance is very simple or easy. It seems pretttty complicated, if you ask me. I feel like I'm juggling 376 things on most days, and when am I even supposed to be breathing, much less making time to 'self-care,' cook meals for my family, or make it to a yoga class to practice a tree pose?"

I HEAR YOU. And keep reading...

Balance is a lot less complicated that we make it out to be. I know this to be true mostly because we have a severe tendency to make everything more complicated than it needs to be (another post for another day...).

The same applies to balance. 

First of all, YOU ARE BALANCE IN ACTION. Already. No matter what you think about yourself. No matter what you think about your life. You are, as a living human being, a remarkable example of balance. Elementary school science teaches us that very early on. The inner-workings of your body offer an exceptional picture of what balance is...in short, this is what we all learned in elementary school...

There are a shit-ton of things happening, all at once and in coordination. These shit-ton of systems, organs, functions all trust each other to get the job done. And in order to operate in health and balance, everything is constantly fluctuating, accommodating, working together to keep you alive. [And this is the essence of life itself. It's strikingly awesome, because our bodies teach us so much about how to live this external life.]

The same applies to everything going on in your life...There are a shit-ton of things happening, all at once and in coordination. These shit-ton of people, responsibilities, places-to-be all trust each other to get the job done. And in order to operate in health and balance, everything is constantly fluctuating, accommodating, working together to keep you living in a sustainable way and thriving. 

The trouble usually rears its head not as an actual balance issue, but as an issue of EXPECTATIONS. Really, so much of our stress, so many of our 'issues,' all tie back to expectations.

We expect balance to be still, calm, or something we can finish or accomplish. We expect balance to mean a feeling of floating through your own life. We expect balance to come shiny and packaged, complete with operating instructions and a formula for how to make it work.

But balance doesn't work like that.


Balance is the beauty of the interweaving of our daily lives, each and every aspect of them. It's sometimes eating takeout 3 nights in one week, because shit's crazy at work right now and the project you're so close to finishing is your best work yet. It's afternoon naps because your life is so full of goodness that you wake up at sunrise and have work to do well after dark. It's looking your S.O. straight in the eyes and saying "This week is kicking my ass. I need you today. Will you please help me with ______." It's resting on days that need rest, and running 8 miles on days that need long runs-- without planning for them. It's rearranging your schedule for a happy hour drink with friends. It's doing things that make you happy just because they make you happy. It's falling out of tree pose because you were brave enough to try something new with your gaze or your arms. It's ending your day at peace, knowing well that you took care of yourself and did your best.

It's showing up to your life. Every day. 100%. Present. Willing to listen, fluctuate, accommodate.

The truth is that we can only truly learn what balance is when we grant ourselves permission to fall out of balance, which means giving up on expectations.

[side note: falling out of balance will happen whether we grant the permission or not. Because we set impossible expectations for ourselves. But if we don't grant ourselves that permission, permission to f*ck expectations, more often than not, we get pissed. Angry at ourselves. Angry at the world.]

We learn so much more about balance when we allow ourselves the space to discover and feel what balance *is not* than we do trying to force ourselves into balance via our own limiting, insane expectations. 

Here are some examples... [add to this list. I promise, it's liberating to write your beliefs on paper. You will see your heart spill out in earnest. It may even surprise you.]

Balance is-

knowing what balance is not


trying new things 



daytime naps

an ebb + flow (aka constant changing / shifting)


Balance is not - 

fixed... a single, firm, concrete thing



letting myself get hangry

attainable as a goal


. . .

Come back to your true nature of balance, and figure out what that means for you...

How to get more balance...

1. Try this:

  • Close your eyes. 

  • Take a deeeeeeeep breath in. 

  • Breathe out.

  • In this stillness, FEEL the dynamic life of your breath. FEEL your innate beingness... at its most basic -- breath + heartbeat. 

  • This is balance... the innerworkings of your body, showing you exactly what balance looks like, feels like. In and out. I N and O U T. in and out. I N and O U T. in and out. I N and O U T...

  • Come back to this often (5-10x per day or more)

2. Stop trying so hard. [more on how to master this next time...]

i have you. i hold you. i love you.