Nutrition therapist, certified intuitive eating counselor and macro social worker Ayana Habtemariam of Truly Real Nutrition changed her outlook on nutrition after years of dieting and dissatisfaction with the culture that surrounds it. She now helps clients find a similar outlook on food, health and body image. Habtemariam talked to us about the experiences that opened her eyes to intuitive eating and how she practices self-care. Note: This interview is a part of our 20 Masters of Mindfulness, Movement + Connection roundup, which ran in our Winter 2021 issue.
Tell me about your journey and how it brought you to your current role.
I’ve been a registered dietitian since 2007. Like most dietitians and other healthcare providers, I was trained through the weight-normative lens that equates health with thinness and ascribes moral value to foods. I practiced this way for a long time because it was what I knew. For example, when I worked as a clinical dietitian, I provided nutrition education that consisted of giving a list of foods to a patient to improve whatever condition they were hospitalized for – even though I didn’t have any idea if they had the resources to implement the changes I was suggesting. I also spent a great deal of time and energy trying to manage my own weight. I tried almost every diet out there and worked out obsessively, but was never satisfied. It wasn’t until I burned myself out from over-working out and got fed up with chasing this elusive body that I realized that there had to be another way.
It was also around this time that I came upon the body positivity community and the “all foods fit” philosophy on social media. The idea that I didn’t need to micromanage my body and everything I put into it deeply resonated with me. After 20-plus years of dieting, I was tired. I immersed myself in all things “Health at Every Size,” body liberation and intuitive eating. I changed my life and my professional philosophy, and have not looked back. I am a nutrition therapist, certified intuitive eating counselor and macro social worker in private practice. I proudly empower my clients to give up dieting in exchange for trusting their bodies and breaking free from food rules that result in feelings of failure and shame.
How are you practicing and prioritizing self-care, especially mid-pandemic?
I’ve had to redefine self-care for myself because this has truly been an unprecedented year for me, as I’m sure it has been for everyone. This has meant slowing down significantly, which is a pretty big deal for me. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to meet deadlines, be responsive to every single inquiry and maintain a social media presence. I no longer have the bandwidth for any of that, and it has truly taken a lot of pressure off. Eating intuitively and getting out for fresh air are also important self-care practices. I honestly do not have a method of prioritization, which is in and of itself a form of self-care for me. Every day is different, and so I trust that I will make the best decisions for whatever I’m experiencing at that time.
What does self-compassion mean to you, and how do you incorporate it into your practice?
Self-compassion means extending grace, understanding and kindness to myself in the same way I would to a friend or a loved one. It means recognizing my own humanity and not holding myself to unrealistic standards that do not serve me. Practicing self-compassion is one of the ways in which I care for myself. It is a health practice I use in all areas of my life. If I find that I’m being hard on myself because I’m having a bad body image day or because I didn’t move enough on that particular day, I may imagine myself embracing myself in the same way I would a loved one who is being hard on themselves. I remind myself not to place expectations on myself that I wouldn’t place on others.
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