I’m so grateful to have the wonderful, Emily Fonnesbeck, RD as my first guest for the #IntuitiveRD Interview Series. This series is aimed at bringing more awareness and encouragement for those whom may be ambivalent about utilizing a non diet (also known as intuitive eating) approach and want to see how it is successfully used it in practice. I love how transparent Emily is, and from my experience working with her, as well as from the answer she writes below I can tell you her work is heart centered and authentically geared towards helping women find peace with food.
Current practice information, credentials and how you got started in nutrition?
Thanks Jaren, for the opportunity to talk about a subject so near and dear to my heart! I’m a Registered Dietitian and my business model and nutrition passion consists of helping individuals free themselves from diets, food guilt, food shame and obsessive exercise. I have a non-diet, client-centered approach and use the principles of Intuitive Eating to help people escape the restriction/choas cycle caused by dieting or food anxiety and replace it with a flexible, satisfying and nourishing self-care plan. Instead of creating unnecessary restrictions with fear based therapy, I’ve found client-centered coaching in self-acceptance and self-compassion to be much more effective.
I got started in nutrition my first semester in college. I decided to take a nutrition class, which was a personal interest of mine, and my professor was a Registered Dietitian. I enjoyed the class very much and decided right away that this was the education path I needed to pursue. Looking back, I do feel that decision was fueled by my perfectionist mindset. A major in nutrition was just one more way more to feel like I was morally superior because I would know how to eat perfectly. I was just headed into what would become pretty disordered eating patterns and behaviors, which would be best described by the term “orthorexia.” I’m not proud to admit that; I wish I could say I became a dietitian with the intention to help others, but that wasn’t the case then. Fortunately, that is exactly what I feel I use my degree, skill, experience and expertise to do at this point in my career.
When were you first exposed to the idea of intuitive eating and what was your reaction?
I actually read Intuitive Eating very early on in my career. It resonated with me, but apparently not enough to apply it personally. I taught a class weekly on the subject and definitely promoted it’s principles, but was so afraid to give up the personal control over food that I felt was keeping me safe. I remember quite often coming out of those classes feeling like a hypocrite. I believed so deeply what I was teaching, but didn’t have the courage to practice it myself.
How has the practice of intuitive eating enhanced your personal relationship with food?
Practicing Intuitive Eating has been life-changing for me. I feel very lucky actually that every other road I tried lead to a dead end. I only felt worse physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally with any other approach I tried, and believe me I tried it all. Looking back I’m not sure what I was trying to solve other than figuring out how to finally be happy, peaceful and content. That’s exactly what Intuitive Eating did for me. I actually think it’s more like Intuitive Living because it has affected every aspect of my life. I’ve learned that I can trust myself to make decisions that are in my best interest. I’ve learned that perfection is miserable and that it’s OK not to be. I’ve learned that the natural flow of life is more fun than trying to control everything.
Intuitive Eating has made me more accepting and loving of myself. A more balanced and less rigid or chaotic mindset about food has allowed me to be more present, accepting and open with LIFE and all that comes with it.
How has it enhanced your professional practice and work with clients?
In so many ways!
- Professionally (well, and personally), it’s made me a more compassionate person. I don’t feel the need to “fix” anyone, nor does any client expect it. The idea behind Intuitive Eating is that there isn’t anything TO fix, it’s just about learning to trust yourself once again. We all start out as Intuitive Eaters and somehow lose our way. So, I just help people reconnect with what they already have.
- I care more about WHY people eat and much less about WHAT they eat. Here’s what I mean: I always feel uncomfortable talking to people about food. Weird right? I’m a dietitian! Since food is often used as a status symbol (you know, who can eat the most “clean”) it feels like an emotionally charged conversation. As I said before, I lived that way for far too long and it made me miserable. I choose to avoid those kind of situations as a result. I dislike the comparisons and judgments I hear even in casual conversations about food choices. I don’t like the flaunting of “clean” food choices or the shaming of “bad” food choices. Those comparisons and judgments don’t exist in Intuitive Eating so it’s a natural fit for me.
- It’s just so much more effective in terms of behavior change. When the emphasis is off manipulating your body and on self-care and nourishment, clients are more likely to want to move forward in productive change.
- There’s less talking and more listening. The focus is patient centered, which is always a good thing. Clients trust me with their stories, which means we are connecting and digging deep. This means less band-aids and quick fixes while really getting to the heart of the problem. To be honest, as a clinician, that can be very emotionally draining work. That means that I have learned how to be emotionally present with myself so I can be emotionally present with others. Another reason to love it.
- In our culture, it’s easy to feel shame about our bodies and food choices. With this approach, there isn’t room for shame. Connecting with and accepting your body leads to love, which crowds out any shame. That process isn’t necessarily easy, but most definitely worth it. In my opinion, Intuitive Eating is the answer for long-lasting mental AND physical health.
What suggestions do you have for dietetic student who are being trained in a traditional approach but who are aching to incorporate HAES® and intuitive eating work?
That’s a great question, I wasn’t at that point when I was finishing my degree. I actually think it’s a great time to bring up the research cited by Linda Bacon and her associates to raise awareness for others in the class. Any good dietetics program would likely welcome proactive students who are already willing to dig deeply into evidenced based practice for best possible outcomes in treatment.
But at the end of the day, you will always have other professionals who disagree with your approach. This might be a time to develop thick skin. I would encourage you to stay professional and objective – the most effective nutrition therapists are those who can stay open to all possibilities.
What suggestions do you have for dealing with colleagues who are not trained in the paradigm?
Great question. I actually work a few hours a week at a weight loss resort. I know, right!? I feel I bring a different perspective to the team and my experience has been very positive. Of course not everyone agrees with my approach, but as I am respectful of their treatment approaches, they are respectful of mine. I don’t shy away from sharing my perspective, but I can’t expect everyone to agree with me. My goal is to reach the clients, the ones who need my help. If other professionals disagree with me, I’m OK with that as long as I can use my voice to reach those who can find peace and answers in my message. At the end of the day, I don’t need to be right, I just need to be effective and helpful.
Thank you, Emily for sharing your wisdom! If you’d like to connect with Emily, you can check out her website & social media profiles below: