Freedom Nutrition and Wellness | Christian Nutrition Blog
My name is Ashley Smith and I am a registered dietitian in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. I do one-on-one nutritional counseling for Cornerstone Christian Counseling for those struggling with eating disorders, disordered eating, and weight management issues. I am extremely passionate about helping people find freedom in their relationship with food.
A foundational part of making peace with food is letting go of controlling our body size. With this comes the uncertainty of what will happen to it and the potential of weight gain. And to be honest, the potential of weight gain that isn’t acceptable to our thin-obsessed culture. This is something that almost all of my clients struggle with: “but what if I become fat”?? I think we need to address what is at the root of our fear of fatness. Is it fear of losing some part of our pseudo identity (I say pseudo because your identity is not truly found in your body)? Is it fear of being ostracized by friends or family? Is it rooted in our own negative assumptions about people in fat bodies?
If I’m being transparent, I used to have a lot of negative assumptions about fat people (I say “fat people” because it is simply a description, not a negative judgment). When I learned about intuitive eating, I had to work through those assumptions and decide whether or not they were true and whether or not they were in-line with Scripture. There was no way I was going to be able to accept my body getting bigger if I made judgments about other people’s big bodies. As I started to explore my view of fatness and fat people, I realized that I had a lot of untrue beliefs about the behaviors of fat people as well as my own bias about it.
First, let’s address that our body weight is LARGELY out of our control and is determined by a host of factors, namely genetics. Socioeconomic status, education level, and stigma also play a huge role. When we recognize that our weight isn’t always a direct result of our behaviors, we no longer have space to blame the individual for the size of their body—it’s not because they are lazy, undisciplined, or gluttonous. And yet, these are stigmas that are very much attributed to people in large bodies. I assure you that there are people in large bodies who eat very little and move a lot, and that there are people in thin bodies who eat a lot and move very little. We canNOT know a person’s behaviors around food simply by looking at them.
Not only is it assumptions about their health or their food habits that we have to address, it’s also beliefs about their character. Again, I cannot know someone’s character or morality by looking at them. The size of a person’s body has no bearing on either. When we are quick to judge someone by the size of their body, not only are we acting out of step with the Holy Spirit, we may also be missing out on an opportunity to know that person deeply because of our preconceived ideas and stigma. 1 Samuel 16:7 teaches about the character of God and how He does not look at outward appearance as we do, but instead He looks at and judges the heart (which make me realize I need to be less concerned with others hearts and more concerned about my own). Furthermore, multiple times throughout Scripture, it says that God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11, 10:12, Acts 10:34, Galatians 3:28 just to name a few). In fact, all throughout the Gospels we see Jesus pursuing and loving the poor, sick, marginalized, and outcast.
Let me briefly address the identity issue: I completely understand finding identity in what your body looks like or how you exercise or what food you put in your mouth—I’ve been there. But trying to find my identity in how my body looked was anxiety-provoking, ever-changing, and ultimately, fruitless. Who I am and Whose I am are firmly rooted in the person and work of Jesus. Trying to find my identity in body doesn’t work because that’s not where its found. So if my body changes (which it WILL throughout life), my identity is not affected.
Now, I completely affirm people’s fear of becoming a size that is not acceptable. People in larger bodies are ostracized, judged, and treated poorly. For those accepting their natural size beyond cultural standards, there is the potential for experiencing real discrimination and emotional trauma. That’s not a position any of us want to willingly put ourselves in. But instead of constantly fighting body size, we need to be fighting culture. I hope to live in a society where all bodies are seen as good and that everyone has the space to pursue whole health (physical, emotional, spiritual, relational). For those of you in large bodies, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the messages you’ve received about your body. And for the way you’ve been treated differently. You are seen, loved, and cherished by your heavenly Father.
This is a difficult topic and I’m sure there are some who have lots of questions or issues with what I’ve brought up (the church at large teaches a thin=healthy=holy message). I’d love to hear what you’re struggling with when it comes to fatness and the Christian faith. I’d love to be able to address them in further posts, so comment below!
So I’ve been trying to write this blog post for several weeks now. But a certain babe has kept me from having the free time and mental space to actually do it. 🙄Such is life right now…
When it comes to pregnancy and breastfeeding, there is a LOT of pressure put on moms to have the perfect diet in order to provide the best nutrition for their growing babies. But can I be honest? That’s way too much pressure for me to handle. Yes, during pregnancy and now breastfeeding I am providing all of the nutrition for my baby. But getting it “perfect” is just too much pressure for anyone and can create a lot of fear, guilt, or shame. Besides, the opinion on the optimal diet changes from one person to the next (sounds a lot like the rest of diet culture). During pregnancy I just focused on eating what I wanted, when I wanted it, and as much as I needed. I didn’t focus on certain macros or food groups. I trusted that my body would lead me towards what it needed to grow my baby.
And this is the perspective I have taken into breastfeeding. Sure, I focus on drinking enough water and eating enough food, but it’s not difficult for me since my body is constantly telling me to eat and drink. 😂 However, since I’m in this stage of life and there is a lot of well-meaning (but stressful) advice out there for breastfeeding mothers, I decided to look into the research about breast milk and how maternal diet impacts it. I hope you find this post helpful if you are in this stage of life! Also, this post is not to convince you to breastfeed your baby. I completely understand that this is not always feasible and believe that “fed is best.” Please do not let this post shame you if breastfeeding was not feasible for you or if you chose to use formula instead.
Here’s a little bit of background information on breast milk. First, it contains a variety of growth factors, hormones, enzymes, immune system factors, macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). It’s caloric content varies from the beginning of the feeding to the end of a feeding, feeding to feeding, and even day to day. Lactose (a type of carbohydrate) is the most abundant macronutrient and is the most stable between feedings and from mother-to-mother. Fat content is what creates the most variability in composition and caloric content. It is more concentrated as the feeding goes on and varies in type depending on number of pregnancies, when your baby was born, how far you are postpartum (our body uses up our reserves of a certain type of fatty acid), and the types of fats you are consuming. Although the vitamins and minerals present in breast milk are in smaller quantities than in formula, it is actually more easily absorbed and utilized in the body. Basically, breast milk is constantly changing based on a variety of factors.
How does one’s food intake impact the nutrition available in milk? Can we increase the fat or vitamin/mineral content available in our milk? Here’s what we know—mom’s diet has some effect on breast milk composition, but probably not as big of an impact as we would like to think (fortunately or unfortunately). Neither mom’s food intake nor body composition are going to impact carbohydrate or protein content in the milk. But research does show that there is a correlation between maternal fat intake and breast milk fat composition. It doesn’t impact how much fat is present, rather the type of fat present in the milk. Some people have fattier milk (and therefore more calorically rich milk) than other moms, but I didn’t find any research that definitively answered the question of why there is so much variability among moms. Fortunately, volume of milk is important for infant growth rather than amount of fat or concentration of calories. This means that if you are feeding your baby often enough, they are going to be well-fed, even if your milk is on the lower side of fat/calories. (takes off some of the pressure, right?) A major type of fat that is impacted by maternal intake is that of DHA, a type of omega-3 that is important for brain development. Because of this information, I had been focusing on eating more plant sources of omega 3s (walnuts, flax seed, etc), but found out that the conversion of omega 3s into DHA in reality is pretty poor from these sources. The best sources are actually from fatty fish or a supplement. My recommendation? Take a prenatal vitamin with DHA 😉 (and eat some seafood if you like it!).
When it comes to vitamins and minerals for milk, food intake of those nutrients obviously creates the availability of them for milk. But just as we don’t have to consume 100% of our daily needs each day for our body (nutrition status is about overall intake over several days, not just one meal or day), we don’t have to consume 100% of all the vitamins or minerals every day for it to be present in adequate amounts in our milk. Research shows that our milk is incredibly resilient despite inadequate intakes, and slowly decreases in milk if it is not readily available from our diet. If we are lacking in certain nutrients day after day, our bodies will then use our own body’s reserves to feed our babies. Once that is used up, our milk concentration of those nutrients will suffer.
I know that breastfeeding is touted as THE way to help new moms lose their baby weight. There is a lot of pressure for moms to quickly return to their pre-baby body, which often results in moms trying to reduce food intake and increase exercise along with breastfeeding to get rid of that weight. In reality, research doesn’t support this. Yes, there are some moms who lose weight breastfeeding, but there is a large majority of the population who don’t. It makes sense that our bodies would hold onto extra energy if they are having to constantly supply energy for another human. It’s self-preservation. And although our milk supply and composition are fairly resilient regardless of our food intake, if we are not consuming enough food, it IS going to impact our ability to feed our babies as well as our ability to take care of ourselves.
I find it really comforting and reassuring that I don’t have much control over my breast milk composition and nutrient quality. Let’s take the pressure off of ourselves! But that doesn’t give us the excuse to underfeed our bodies in an attempt to make them smaller. Breastfeeding takes a big toll on mother’s nutrition status and requires that we feed our bodies regularly and adequately (and again, I recommend a prenatal supplement). We want to have the energy to take care of our babes, the available nutrition for our own bodies to create proper brain chemistry (motherhood is hard enough without having a lack of serotonin from underfeeding our bodies!), and the brain space to fully be present rather than thinking/worrying about food all the time.
I’d love to hear from you what your favorite breastfeeding snacks are (the hunger is no joke…)!
Dreading Thanksgiving tomorrow? I can relate. Maybe family dynamics are difficult and bring pain. Maybe you have no family to celebrate with tomorrow (I am so so sorry if this is your circumstance). Maybe you’re afraid of how to navigate conversations around food and body. Maybe you’re terrified about all of the food that’s going to be available. Or maybe you’re already dreading the shame and guilt you foresee yourself experiencing. For me, Thanksgiving (and any food gathering) brought on so much anxiety, shame, and guilt.
I remember one Thanksgiving in particular that we spent with my sister’s in-laws. The morning of, I bathed the day in prayer, asking the Lord to give me discipline around the food that was going to be there. I asked him to help me focus on the people and conversations instead of the food available. I begged him to help me put food in the “proper” place and to eat until comfortably full instead of stuffed. And don’t get me wrong, these are not wrong prayers; in fact, I think they are wonderful in the right context. But I fundamentally misunderstood something—my overeating in these occasions was not due to a lack of love for the Lord or lack of discipline. My overeating in these occasions was simply due to the fact I WAS HUNGRY. I would feel so much spiritual shame and guilt about eating high caloric foods, desserts, and overall too much. What I didn't realize was that my body was hungry and wanted food and therefore drove me to eat too much on occasions like these. Food was an idol, but not because I loved it more than God. Food was an idol because I restricted it and made the size of my body the most important thing in my life.
So I want to encourage you about tomorrow. If you have been manipulating your food intake, reducing portion sizes, exercises solely for caloric burn, OR if you’re a normal eater, you may end up overeating tomorrow. And that’s OKAY. In fact, if you’ve been underfeeding, it might actually be a good thing (getting out of calorie deficit is absolutely essential for eating disorder recovery). Realize that it’s not some moral flaw. It might be because you’ve been undereating. Or restricting. Or simply because you love a certain food or were enjoying time with family. Give yourself permission to eat tomorrow, and to possibly eat until you’re uncomfortable. And then move on and continue to feed your body regularly and enough. It might just impact your experience next time.
Just popping in to share something that I’ve been thinking about recently.
Because I’m pregnant, I get a lot of questions about my weight, appetite, and food cravings. Yes, my eating has changed during pregnancy—I don’t want nearly as many vegetables and I crave a lot of savory foods over sweet foods, but I don’t really have any crazy cravings (other than the hotdog craving for awhile—I’m not the biggest hot dog fan) and the amount of food I eat hasn’t changed exponentially. Yes, my appetite has increased, with a noticeable difference the past few weeks, but it’s not a crazy amount (but know that this is my experience. If you ARE extra hungry a lot of the time, that’s okay—you’re body obviously needs more fuel. Hunger is not a bad thing) . When I hear people talk about pregnancy cravings, I wonder if it’s because of the social allowance that pregnancy is the one time in life you can truly eat what you want “without the guilt” (this is society’s view, not mine). I think restriction in the rest of their life and the social permission to honor cravings during pregnancy then results in going a little overboard. Because I honored my cravings and desires before getting pregnant, that hasn’t changed and I don’t have to “take advantage” of this time. I can honor my hunger and cravings after having Camden.
Then there’s the contrast in social expectations of moms after having their baby. While they are growing a baby in the womb, it’s perfectly fine for them to eat what they want, honor their hunger, and gain weight. BUT once that baby comes out, the expectation is for mom to start watching what she’s eating, to decrease food intake, and to lose weight. It blows my mind because once Cam comes and I’m breastfeeding, I’m going to have MUCH higher energy needs than I do now. Yes, I am growing a human right now, but he’s much smaller than he will be when he comes out and starts gaining weight and growing. I am eating for two right now, but I will really eating for two when he comes out. So why in the world should I be eating less after he’s born?? And in order to sustain a milk supply and feed this human, I have to have adequate fat stores, which means potentially not losing all of the baby weight that my body is going to lose until after he stops breastfeeding (I’m not putting pressure on my body to get back to what it was before pregnancy—I have no idea what my body wants to do after pregnancy).
It makes me sad that mom’s have the social expectation and pressure of losing a bunch of weight and getting back to their pre-pregnancy weight right after having a baby when really they need the permission and freedom to honor their hunger, respect their cravings, and have the adequate fat stores needed to feed their child and to take care of their mental and physical well-being.
P.S. If you’re a mom and you chose not to breastfeed your child or had complications doing so, I have no judgment for you. You also deserve to feed your body adequately, honor your cravings, and give it the time and rest it needs in order to nurture your baby and yourself.
And again, if you ARE hungry all the time, there is nothing wrong or broken about it. I’ve had days and weeks of noticeably increased hunger and then days and weeks of less. I don’t put judgement on either one, I just listen and respond accordingly.