Help Clients Heal their Relationship with Food and Body Shame

Free worksheet to help clients understand the how the diet cycle affects their mental health

Increasingly, clients are seeking an anti-diet approach to heal their relationship with food and bodyshame. When a client who is already familiar with the pitfalls of the diet cycle comes to you, The Emotional Eating, Chronic Dieting, Binge Eating & Body Image Workbook can validate their decision to let go of the diet mindset and help them process—and sharewith you—what they’ve experienced as the result of diet culture.

However, many clients will come to you saying, “I want to lose weight.” When clients express this to you, how do you typically respond?

Keep in mind that if you support your clients in dieting for weight loss or commend them for losing weight, if and when they regain the weight, their work with you may become another place where they feel like a failure. While your intentions to support them in their wish to be thinner likely come from a place of wanting to be helpful, you may also, unfortunately, contribute to their shame.

No matter where you are in your own professional and personal journey, we encourage you to take a weight-inclusive stance that allows you to listen to your clients’ experiences without judgment. This attitude helps build safety and trust as clients reflect on their own experiences with dieting and explore new strategies to make peace with food and their bodies.

Here are three scenarios to consider:
  1. A new client comes to you stating they need to lose weight. You ask them to tell their story and, as they do, you respond to their situation with empathy. “I know how hard you’ve tried” or “I hear you’re feeling scared right now” are responses that help build a connected relationship without you colluding in diet culture. Letting your client know that you hear their pain, that you understand how hard they’ve tried to lose weight, and that there are other strategies to support them when it comes to physical and emotional well-being offers them hope. Providing psychoeducation around diet failure, as well as new skills to heal their relationship with food, leaves most clients feeling hopeful.
  2. You currently support clients in the pursuit of weight loss, but you want to make a shift away from promoting dieting behaviors. (It’s okay to let clients know that while you’ve encouraged dieting in the past, as you’ve learned more about the research, you realize it’s not the dieter’s fault.) You explain that there are other solutions to help them make peace with food and their body and to support their physical and emotional health. Clinicians often find it helpful to be open and direct with their clients about this shift in mindset and to ask for permission to share what they’re learning. For example, one therapist told his client, “I just attended a professional training on chronic dieting, and it’s changing my way of thinking about food and weight. Would it be okay if I share some of the information I’ve learned?” If your client is open to hearing the information, together you can begin to explore the strategies offered in The Emotional Eating, Chronic Dieting, Binge Eating & Body Image Workbook.
  3. You’ve been working with a client to let go of the diet mindset, but at some point in your work together, they tell you they’ve decided to start another diet. Given the pressures to be thin in our culture, it’s understandable that sometimes clients may feel the need to try to lose weight. You can remain supportive of your client as they explore whether their new plan is a viable option. For example, after working together for over a year, one of Judith’s clients announced she was starting a medically based weight loss program. Judith replied, “You know me well enough to know where I stand on the issue of dieting. At the same time, it’s your body, and you get to decide what you believe is in your best interest. I’ll be here to listen and, together, we can see how it goes.” This nonjudgmental stance allowed her client to feel safe enough to describe the ups and downs of her latest weight loss plan. When it ultimately became unsustainable, they were able to process the diet failure and make sure the client didn’t blame herself for the weight regain. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between being supportive of clients who continue to pursue weight loss and supporting the actual behaviors (e.g., eliminating “forbidden” foods or overexercising).
Now that you’ve considered these three different scenarios, let’s revisit the initial question we posed earlier, but with a slight change: When clients come to you saying they want to lose weight, how would you like to respond?

And if you want to take a deeper look at how the diet cycle works with your clients, download this FREE worksheet from The Emotional Eating, Chronic Dieting, Binge Eating & Body Image Workbook, which will be your go-to guide for helping clients learn how to reject diet culture, heal your relationship with food, and feel at home in your body – no “wellness plan” needed!

You didn’t fail your diet. Your diet failed YOU.
The Emotional Eating, Chronic Dieting, Binge Eating & Body Image Workbook
In a society where thinness is a measure of worthiness, it’s no wonder the multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry continues to flourish while its loyal, repeat customers continue to suffer in shame. After all, we’ve been led to believe that it’s our fault we can’t succeed at the latest diet, control our eating, or mold our bodies to the “correct” size and shape. Written by three leading experts in the fields of disordered eating, mental health, and trauma-informed care, this book will become your go-to guide for learning how to reject diet culture, heal your relationship with food, and feel at home in your body.

The Body Image Course:
Helping EVERY BODY find Peace with Food and Weight
Keep Breathing
Learn from 19 of the leading voices in the field as they guide you through the most up-to-date affirming interventions you need to skillfully and sensitively help all your clients cultivate body love, acceptance, and compassion.

Drawing on the latest research, you'll learn transformational body image interventions and approaches that will not only significantly improve your client's relationship with their body, weight, and food, but will also support the inclusion of race, gender identity, sexuality, body size, ethnicity, and culture.

Meet the Experts:
Judith Matz, LCSW, ACSW, is co-author of The Making Peace with Food Card Deck, Body Positivity Card Deck and two books on the topics of eating and weight struggles, Beyond a Shadow of a Diet: The Comprehensive Guide to Treating Binge Eating Disorder, Compulsive Eating and Emotional Overeating, has been called “the new bible” on this topic for professionals. The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care was a #1 bestseller on Amazon and a favorite resource for therapists to use with clients. She is also the author of Amanda’s Big Dream, a children’s book that helps kids to pursue their dreams – at any size! Judith has a private practice in Skokie, IL, where she focuses her work with clients who want to get off the diet/binge rollercoaster and learn to feel at home in their bodies.

Learn more about her educational products, including upcoming live seminars, by clicking here.

Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CEDS, is a registered dietitian, certified intuitive eating counselor, and journalist who has been covering food, nutrition, and health for more than 20 years. She is the author of The Wellness Trap and Anti-Diet, and the producer and host of the podcasts Rethinking Wellness and Food Psych. Christy lives in the New York City area.

Learn more about her educational products, including upcoming live seminars, by clicking here.

Amy Pershing, LMSW, ACSW, CCTP-II, is the Founder of Bodywise, the first binge eating disorder (BED)-specific treatment program in the United States, founded in 1995. She is the Director of Pershing Consulting, which offers training to clinicians treating BED around the world. Amy is also the creator of "Hungerwise™," a 9-week program for ending chronic dieting and weight cycling using the Attuned Eating And Movement approach, offered nationally online. Based on over 30 years of clinical experience, Amy has pioneered a treatment approach for BED that is strengths-based, incorporating Internal Family Systems, somatic trauma techniques, Attuned Eating and Movement, and a Health at Every Size philosophy. Amy lectures internationally and writes extensively on the treatment of BED and her own recovery journey for both professional and lay communities. She has been featured on radio, podcast, and television speaking about BED treatment and recovery, relapse prevention, weight stigma, and attuned eating and movement. She is a founding member and Past Chair of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), and is the winner of BEDA's Pioneer in Clinical Advocacy award. She is the author of the book Binge Eating Disorder: The Journey to Recovery and Beyond as well as many articles and chapters about BED treatment and advocacy.

Learn more about her educational products, including upcoming live seminars, by clicking here.
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