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. 

Ruby Chandler