Are you currently entangled in a restrictive diet for weight loss? Pause for a moment and consider the possibility of achieving a harmonious body without resorting to diet modifications or weight loss endeavors. Kathleen Layer, a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and Health and Body Image Coach, is on a mission to contribute to a world where women empower themselves to accept their bodies wholeheartedly. Her objective is to guide them in overcoming the confines of diet culture, fostering confidence and a profound connection with their true selves. Kathleen strives to create a space where women prioritize what truly matters, allowing them to live lives aligned with their authentic purpose.
BG – Can you explain the fundamental principles of your anti-diet approach and how it differs from traditional dieting?
Kathleen – Absolutely. Traditional dieting says you need to restrict or limit specific foods or calories; it categorizes foods as good or bad and focuses on weight loss. Research shows that at least 95% of diets fail, and no single medical study shows that dieting is effective in the long term. Body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, eating disorders, and weight gain are consistently associated with diets.
So, instead of focusing on weight loss, I focus on my clients’ relationship with food and their body. How does my client want to feel, and what do they want to achieve? Do they want to be more present? Do they want more energy? Do they want to be able to hike with their family? Do they want to look at themselves and feel confident? Contrary to popular belief, this does not come from a more petite body. Confidence, taking proper care of yourself, being able to enjoy food without guilt – it all comes down to how you think and feel about yourself, not how much you weigh.
BG- What inspired you to transition from a diet-focused mindset to promoting body respect and appreciation? Kathleen – I grew up as most of us do, believing that being thin was best and that eating foods like salad made you a better person than if you ate pizza. I took my “passion” for health and fitness too far, completely taking over my life. On paper, I was one of the healthiest people you’ve probably ever met–I was doing all of the “right” things–but in reality, I was constantly thinking about food, my body, and exercise.
I was nearing my dieting break when I stumbled upon an article about Intuitive Eating. I immediately connected with it. Everything I was struggling with finally made sense, and I started practicing a more loving, respectful, and freeing relationship with food and my body right then and there. After almost a decade of dieting and trying to create this perfect healthy lifestyle, I could finally take a big, long exhale.
Once I took myself through that process, I knew I wanted to help others do the same, and that’s when I decided to become a certified coach and open my practice.
BG – How do you define “listening to your body” in your coaching practice, and why is it important?
Kathleen –This is a great question. Diet culture tells us that our bodies can’t be trusted. We can’t know how much or what foods to eat, so we need a plan, program, or app to tell us precisely that. With this mindset, we slowly start to disconnect from our bodies. When they tell us they’re hungry, we decide that means our body needs water instead.
The truth is bodies are designed to be highly intuitive. Your body is doing so many things every second that you don’t have to be aware of (like breathing) consciously; it is very well-equipped to tell you when it’s hungry and full. Listening to your body means being aware of the unique signals your body gives you to let you know it needs something.
Your body tells you when it has to use the bathroom. It means you when it’s time for bed. Your body also can tell you how you’re feeling emotionally. Stress is felt in the body. Physical sensations occur that let us know how we’re feeling. And the more familiar with those sensations we get, the better we can understand what our body needs and act accordingly.
When you can listen to your body (and TRUST those signals), you can meet your own needs without question, doubt, or the need for an outside resource like a diet plan–you and your body are finally working with each other vs. fighting against it.
BG – Could you share some key strategies or techniques you use to help your clients foster a healthier relationship with food and their bodies?
Kathleen – For sure. The most significant keys are your ability to listen to your body, trust your body, and navigate uncomfortable emotions.
As I mentioned before, most women are taught that they can’t listen to their bodies because their bodies can’t be trusted. We’re told that our bodies are the problem. That we can’t be trusted around certain foods. We don’t have willpower, etc.
But you are the expert on your own body. Or at least you can be and should be. If you’ve experienced years of dieting, it’s common to no longer recognize or feel your cues like hunger and fullness–that’s okay. The first step is gaining back that awareness. Pausing to pay attention and quiet down the diet talk so that you can finally hear the voice of your own body again.
How amazing would it be to know when you’re hungry and full and what to eat that would be delicious, satisfying, and nourishing? This is what comes from listening to your body.
It’s one thing to listen to those signals but another to trust them and put them into action. Again, diet culture says to be weary of our bodies. To not “give in” to cravings. But these cravings are here for a reason; I’m just letting you know you’re missing something.
A simple exercise I practice with my clients once they’ve established they can feel their hunger cues is trusting their body when it says it’s hungry, regardless of the circumstance. Are you hungry an hour after eating? Permit yourself to eat again. Nothing has gone wrong; your body isn’t an endless pit; you probably didn’t eat enough earlier.
The last key I’ll talk about here is navigating uncomfortable emotions. We do so many things that we don’t want to do to avoid feeling a feeling. Like stress, overwhelm inadequacy, shame, grief, etc. Becoming an intuitive eating and listening to and trusting your body is all about getting to know your body (and yourself) well.
This can be uncomfortable. We’re learning to face our emotions head-on and allow them vs. resist, distract, or avoid. If you can sit with a painful emotion and know you’re safe and let your body work through that instead of fighting against it, I genuinely think you can do anything.
BG – You mention the Health at Every Size philosophy in your coaching. How does this approach inform your work, and what are its core principles?
Kathleen – Health at Every Size (HAES) principles are Weight Inclusivity, Health Enhancement, Eating for Well-Being, Respectful Care, and Life-Enhancing Movement. Body diversity–bodies coming in all shapes and sizes–is standard, improving access to proper and non-stigmatized healthcare for all bodies, eating intuitively based on hunger and fullness cues, what tastes good to you, and also what your body needs nutritionally, and promoting movement as a means to celebrate and enjoy your body vs. needing to shrink your body.
Health and well-being are not something that is reserved for thin bodies only. Having that mentality is harmful to everyone. I hope to incorporate HAES principles into my work and my clients to help as many people as possible understand that weight does not equal health. That weight does not equal status. That all bodies are worthy and deserving of care and respect.
For our entire lives, we’re fed the idea that larger bodies are unhealthy and smaller bodies are healthy, and that is not only false but is continuing to lead to worse health outcomes for all bodies by not seeing a person as a person but seeing a person as a body and categorizing them inaccurately based on weight alone.
Let’s focus on behaviors in our health. Let’s treat all bodies with the same care. Let’s focus on our relationship to food and our bodies, our relationship to movement. Doing things that enhance our life and well-being. Instilling confidence in ourselves. These things will impact health 100x more than any weight loss journey.
BG – How do you support individuals developing a positive self-image and self-worth, regardless of their body size or weight?
Kathleen – By first helping them see that self-image and self-worth are not connected to body size or weight. We are slowly peeling back the false messages of health and beauty that we’ve learned our whole lives and challenging those messages fiercely.
Body size is a neutral thing. Like we’d never expect someone with a Size 8 shoe to wear a Size 6 magically, bodies are made to come in different shapes and sizes.
The only thing that gives body size a positive or negative charge is our thoughts about it. Of course, those thoughts are heavily influenced by our diet culture society, BUT that doesn’t mean we have to listen to it anymore.
We can always create new thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and our bodies. There are many people in larger bodies who love themselves and their bodies. Many people with tiny bodies do not like themselves or their bodies. It’s not our body that decides how we feel about it; it’s ourselves and what we think.
I also want to note the difference between being in a small body and a large body in our world. Even if both humans have negative thoughts about themselves, a person in a larger body not only has their negative thoughts but also has much of the world around them, confirming that. That’s why it’s essential to incorporate Health at Every Size principles to help end weight stigma.
Once we break through that diet culture barrier and shift our mindset, it’s easier to implement behaviors that enhance self-image and self-worth. We do this by taking care of ourselves with respect and appreciation. You might have a rugged body image day, but your body still needs to eat. We start developing this loving relationship with ourselves, which is beautiful.
BG – What are some common challenges or misconceptions your clients face when they first begin exploring the anti-diet approach, and how do you address them?
Kathleen – I see two challenges with almost every client I’ve worked with. One, a huge fear that they’ll gain weight, and two, a massive fear that if they give themselves full permission to eat all foods, they’ll never be able to stop.
Something I teach through an anti-diet lens is intuitive eating. This simple framework helps people reconnect with cues like hunger and fullness and create a straightforward relationship with food. One where they can enjoy ice cream but not feel controlled by it and one where they can incorporate a wide variety of foods that support their well-being and enjoyment without guilt.
One of the concepts within intuitive eating is called unconditional permission to eat. If you’ve dieted before, the rules are usually eat this and don’t eat that. You are not “allowed” to have whatever you want. We see that the more you restrict, the harder your brain and bodywork to get you to eat. Foods are put on a pedestal. Foods are seen as bad or as a treat. It’s a lifetime kind of thing.
The philosophy behind unconditional permission to eat is habituation. The more familiar you are with food, the less “sparkle” it has. If you can eat ice cream whenever you want, we can create a relationship with that food that is morally equal to broccoli. You don’t have to get as much in as possible because the diet starts tomorrow. You can eat an amount that feels good and move on. And this is ONLY achieved when you fully believe and permit yourself. I know you think that you are a special snowflake and that this wouldn’t work on you, but I promise, the restriction is what’s causing you to feel out of control around food (now, this does not apply to anyone actively experiencing an eating disorder).
The other fear is weight gain or the belief that people can’t do this work because they still desire to lose weight.
The truth is, you might gain weight. You also might lose weight. And you also might stay the same.
And it also won’t matter in the end because the scale won’t be something you’re attached to anymore. It’s not the foundation of whether or not you can feel good about yourself, your body, or your day.
It’s okay to desire to lose weight; you can still do this work, but what I offer my clients–with the most compassion possible–is helping them decide what they want more. Do you want weight loss, or do you want to find true food and body freedom? I know this question feels hard, but it’s only tricky because you haven’t fully pictured what it would mean to be free from dieting finally.
BG – Can you provide examples of success stories from your clients who have embraced your philosophy and experienced positive transformations in their lives?
Kathleen – The most remarkable thing about embracing intuitive eating is the brain space it gives you back. Spending so much time worrying and stressing about food and your body takes up a lot of mental, physical, and emotional space. Consider how often your mind goes to… “how many calories are in that?” “Was my stomach showing in that photo?” “I need to go to the gym,” adds up quickly.
So, when you find food freedom and embrace your body exactly how it is, you get that space back. You have room to think about different things. You have the energy to pursue your dreams. You can be present in your life.
Yes, my clients go from obsessing over the scale to throwing it in the trash and never needing it again. They thought they could never have ice cream in the house to find a freezer-burnt pint because they forgot it was there. And they need to burn x number of calories a day exercising to make movement fun. But I think the work beyond the food and body is some of the coolest.
I have clients who started their businesses—invented products—and moved to different countries—navigating being new moms while having a career. They rekindled the fire in their marriage. They started painting—and joined clubs. Put themselves out there in their communities. Became the first person to jump into the ocean with their bathing suit vs. always sticking behind.
Every woman I work with has these beautiful dreams for themselves and their lives. The only thing in the way is the idea that their body isn’t good enough; thus, they aren’t good enough, and all their efforts have to go into being thinner.
They don’t. Your life is waiting for you! It’s right there. And this is by far my favorite part of coaching to witness that.
BG – How do you help individuals navigate societal pressures and external influences on body image and diet culture?
Kathleen – Our brains are wired to seek validation from others because we always want to ensure we are a welcomed group member. Being in a group is vital to human survival (literally), and so when we feel rejected, our whole body will feel threatened. Diet and beauty culture sends the message that if you follow this diet or this wellness trend, if you dress like this person and talk this way, and if you wear this size, you will always be accepted and part of the group.
So, there’s a genuine fear there, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that. I think it’s also essential to help my clients see that diet culture, although it can feel like it is everywhere and in everything and everyone, is not a life we must follow.
I encourage my clients to surround themselves with people and places encourage body positivity, acceptance, and respect. To get into spaces that have this kind of conversation. And to be exceptionally curated regarding what they allow in their orbit (this includes your social media feeds).
I also make sure my clients know that the feeling of acceptance does not come from other people’s validation. We only truly feel accepted when we accept ourselves. I know this sounds cheesy, but I promise you it’s true.
Have you ever gone to an event and someone complimented your outfit, and you thoroughly brushed it off? That’s because that person’s opinion didn’t matter. You weren’t confident; no one else could change that except you.
When confidence, acceptance, and respect come from within, we find a greater sense of community and connection with others because we can finally be our whole selves and feel SAFE to be that person with others.
BG – In your journey towards body respect and appreciation, you mentioned “peace with food and movement.” Could you elaborate on how your clients can achieve this peace and balance?
Kathleen – Peace comes with detaching your worth and value as a human to what you eat and how hard you work. It comes from knowing that you are worthy and valuable just as you are because you are a human born on this earth.
When babies are born, we don’t look at them and think, okay, you need to do XYZ for us to see you as worthy. They just are. And that does not go away.
Peace comes when the chatter in your brain dissipates. When you aren’t arguing with yourself whether or not you should have chips or a salad. Peace comes when you feel confident in your decisions and have your back regardless of the outcome.
And peace comes from the 1% shifts. The more we listen to our bodies–are you hungry? Are you full? Are you thirsty? Are you craving something? Do you need love and connection? The more we trust those cues–you’re hungry. Okay, let’s eat something. The more we’re intentional with our actions and compassionate with ourselves no matter what happens, the more peace we’ll find.
Peace comes when the diet voice is no longer in control. It might be in the way way back of the car and might offer some backseat driving now and then, but it’s not the one driving; you are.
BG – What advice do you have for people who want to begin their journey towards a healthier relationship with their bodies and food but are unsure where to start?
Kathleen – First, wanting that healthier relationship is the first place to start. If that’s you, give yourself a pat on the back because it is HARD to want to explore something that feels opposite to what you’ve been doing or what the world around you says you need to do.
Second, I would steer them toward the book and workbook Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch & Evelyn Tribole, Health at Every Size and Body Respect by Dr. Lindo Bacon, and Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison.
If you’d rather listen to something, I think The Ten Percent Happier Podcast featuring Evelyn Tribole is an excellent introduction to Intuitive Eating.
If social media is a big part of your life (which for many this is the case!) I’d suggest starting to start curating your feed. Anything or anyone that makes you feel less than–unfollow. And start filling your feed with accounts that make you feel good, inspire, and empower you.
I also know this process can be challenging to do alone, especially if you don’t have support from your circle of friends and family. Working with a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor or Coach is an incredible way to ensure support and success in your journey.
BG -How do you emphasize the importance of overall well-being and self-care in your coaching, and what role do they play in achieving body respect and appreciation?
Kathleen – I like redefining what well-being and self-care mean. We’re taught these things: juice cleanses, farmers markets, and sculpt classes. And yes, those things can be a part of your life, but well-being is not a part you’re trying to play; it’s what fuels and enhances your life, not what looks perfect to others.
So, I’ll create that new definition with my clients based on what they want and what feels good. This puts them in the driver’s seat vs. diet culture. They are creating their vision vs. forcing themselves into someone else’s. Well-being is simply what fuels you. What takes care of you? What allows you to enjoy your life?
And self-care doesn’t have to be bubble baths and pedicures. It’s the simple things–Adequately feeding yourself throughout the day, drinking enough water, getting fresh air, connecting with other humans.
When we have a foundation of simple self-care, we show our body respect. We are offering it appreciation. I know you need these things, so I will still do them regardless of your feelings.
And the more we practice simple self-care and incorporate pleasure and enjoyment and things that enhance our life, our overall well-being improves, and our natural inclination to respect and appreciate our body starts to shine.