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EP53 - Somatic Eating and Exploring Food As An Ally with Stephanie Mara

Updated: Apr 15





In a society that is plagued by disordered eating and body image issues, there’s a need to explore somatic eating, which is a way of interaction


Today, I host Stephanie Mara, a Somatic Nutritional Counselor, who shares her personal story of struggling with food for many years and how her background story was fostered to take her to where she is today. 

 

Stephanie's pioneering approach shines a light on the urgent need for us to listen to our bodies and cultivate a deeper understanding of our relationship with food.


In this enlightening episode, we delve into:

  • Somatic approach to life and its importance in relation to food and the body. 

  • Stephanie Mara’s journey and how she developed the concept of somatic eating. 

  • Her personal story of having a troubled relationship with food allergies and food sensitivities.

  • How her early 20s digestive issues led her to become curious about the digestive tract and nutrition.

  • The somatic approach and its connection between the head, brain, and gut through the vagus nerve. 

  • How the sympathetic nervous system, activated in a state of perceived threat, can affect digestion. 

  • How trauma and chronic stress can contribute to a disconnection with the body and lead to using food as a source of safety and regulation. 

  • Compassion and normalization of using food as a resource while also encouraging diversifying stress management techniques.

And much more! 


Stephanie Mara Fox, MA, CMBEC, CHC, CYT, is a Somatic Nutritional Counselor and Mentor with a Master’s Degree in Somatic Psychotherapy. She is the creator of Somatic Eating®, a body-oriented, sensation-focused therapeutic approach to eating.


She’s supported women, coaches, and wellness professionals all over the world, helping them to heal from disordered eating patterns, binge eating, emotional eating, chronic dieting, and body image concerns. She has been working for over the past decade to guide women in feeling empowered in their relationship with their food and body.


Stephanie is published in the International Body Psychotherapy Journal, featured in Somatic Psychotherapy Today, VoyageDenverElephant JournalAuthority Magazine, and Your Recovery Revealed Summit.


She is a teacher at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating and has supervised thousands of mind-body eating coaches. Stephanie is on a mission to guide others into a safe and regulated relationship with food so they can go out and create their Satiated Life. 

 




LISTEN WHILE READING!

A: Every day, there is a forgetting, and every moment there is the possibility of remembering. Remembering who you truly are, awakening to your body, to the inner world and experience of being alive. Here is where you find the beauty, the joy. Here is where you free your Soma. 


A: Hello and welcome to Free Your Soma, Stories of Sematic Awakening, and How to Live from the Inside Out. Today I have Stephanie Mara with me. She is a somatic nutritional counselor. She works with people who are struggling in their relationship with food, and I can definitely relate. That was me at different points in my life, and we're going to be exploring what is a somatic approach to eating. What is somatic eating? 


And also share a little bit about Stephanie's personal story. These are such important topics because a somatic approach to life is not the status quo. It's not what we've usually been taught when we go to school. It's not what we've been taught by our culture. So very, very important for people to be exposed to this way of interacting with food, interacting with their bodies. Welcome, Stephanie. 


S: I am thrilled to be here today. I'm so excited to connect with you, and just loving your strawberry earrings as we dive into this conversation around food and body. 


A: Yes, yes. Thank you. I have now, and at this point in my life, I can say that I have a very happy, healthy relationship to food, but that was definitely not the case for the first part of my life. I had a very, very troubled relationship with food. I had a lot of food out. I had a lot of allergies and food sensitivities. It was a struggle for many years. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about your own personal journey that brought you to this approach. 


S: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like when I tell my background story, it feels like everything was fostered to take me to where I am today. Hindsight is a funny thing. But I like to bring this perspective in of my awareness of something as off here started in my 20s. But it wasn't until doing a lot of my own somatic work that I realized actually this started much, much, much earlier. 


I always like to add that, that sometimes when we get to the point where our body is yelling at us, that there has been so much that has been happening before that. So the thing that got my attention finally was digestive issues. And I had severe digestive issues in my older teens, early 20s, and even to the point where I got a colonoscopy and endoscopy done to make sure I didn't have a digestive disease just because that runs in my family. So here I come out of this, doctors tell me we didn't see anything, you probably have irritable bowel syndrome, did not give me any guidance whatsoever, was like, watch your triggers and your stress and like set me on my way. 


It's like, oh, okay. So I'm someone who is a very curious person and just go straight into wanting to understand my digestive tract, the gut, nutrition. It wasn't something that I had ever really been interested in previously. It was just like you eat a meal and you move on with your day. Except when your body is having a very hard time digesting that meal, your awareness of food becomes very heightened. And I know for a lot of individuals I've worked with who struggle with their digestion; it's hard to feel safe in your body when you're always worrying about, how's my body going to respond to this? 


Is this going to have some kind of reaction? And so then there's also this relationship that gets set up with the body that you don't necessarily feel like you can trust it. The body becomes the enemy. So I definitely saw my body during that time as something to be fixed. And if I could just figure out the right foods and the right way to eat and the right cleansing or detoxing I needed to do and went way down a path that sent me actually further and further away from my body. And so it wasn't actually until I ended up becoming a health coach and a yoga teacher and then decided to get my master's degree in somatic psychotherapy that some of the pieces that I was missing around actually having a relationship with the body that the body holds wisdom, that I can trust my body, that I started to really piece together actually what were these digestive symptoms trying to tell me all along. 


And that was that my body was holding on to a lot of trauma from my childhood. And so in my master's degree, I ended up my published thesis was on how to cultivate a relationship with the gut-brain. And that kind of started my work where I then took the next over a decade, almost two decades now since that graduate experience that I slowly started creating my trademark work now of somatic eating. So it is a combination of trauma work, of somatic work, of nervous system regulation work, and of nutrition that it's piecing it all together to kind of look at, okay, our relationship with food and what is playing out there, whether it's binge eating, emotional eating, overeating, chronic dieting, disorder eating, eating disorders, if we can actually see that those things were the answer and not the problem. It was the answer to something that felt difficult to navigate inside of your body that you were trying your best to cultivate a sense of safety and security inside of your body. 


And it just so happened to be with food. And so, you know, from now, you know, along the way, I've worked with thousands and thousands of individuals, I have a private practice, I have programs, I teach workshops. So it's been a very long time; I feel like of everything of my personal and now professional experience that have created this field that I'm now working on growing of somatic eating. 


A: Ah, astounding. So incredible. I think that often when we have a challenge or a struggle, it absolutely necessitates our own learning process to take place, like you were describing with the doctor, sort of not just necessarily dismissing, but just not really having anything to give you that was this, you know, complete picture. And that really setting you on a journey to create one yourself through trial and error, through that phase of further disconnection with yourself, through trying all the things, you know, I follow a few different, you know, doctors and nutritional experts out there. 


And the big common thread is that of the ones that I truly resonate with is that they are constantly inviting you back into your individual experience and what's going on in your body rather than giving you that perfect roadmap that's supposed to work for, you know, everybody, because this is the right way, right? And I definitely can appreciate that your approach seems to be a combination of data, like raw scientific information about what we know about human bodies, and really guiding someone into their personal experience, their personal history, and their relationship, their ongoing, you know, dynamic relationship with food, their body, their environment, etc. And I'm just super excited and impressed that you've been able to create this and somebody needed to, you know, I'm sure there's other people out there who are working, you know, parallel in this field, I know I have developed in my somatic program that I offer, you know, I have a somatic food conversation with people, but it's not the core of my offering, right? So I think it's just so incredible that you are just giving people an opportunity to dive deeply into this. 


So let's go into some of this. In terms of how our gut interacts with our central nervous system, can you give us a little bit more information about how that takes place in our bodies? 


S: Well, when I hear that, what we're talking about and what I researched and, you know, into my thesis was how our head brain and our gut brain are communicating with each other through the vagus nerve. And the vagus nerve is this wandering nerve throughout our body. I love the artwork that people have created of the vagus nerve. If you just even like Google search that, it's just like the most beautiful nerve in our body. And it is the main nerves of our parasympathetic nervous system. So if we're talking about the nervous system here, we have our autonomic nervous system, which it is automatic. 


And we have two branches of the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. And we do not choose to have it turn on. When something is perceived as threatening, it automatically autonomic; it automatically turns on for us. And so let's say for example, now you are entrenched in diet culture, and you have been told a certain food is quote-unquote bad to eat. Now you have been sending your body that message for maybe years and decades of your life. So now, when you go to interact with that food, your body perceives it's in danger because you have been telling your body, Hey, this food is threatening. 


This is a bad food. Your sympathetic nervous system, your fight or flight response, turns on. And when that happens, your blood, your resources actually move away from your digestive tract into your limbs so that you can fight or flee. So now digestion is turned off. And you go and say, Well, I want to eat this food anyway; I'll be fine. And you go, and you eat it in a sympathetic nervous system state. And you are going to have a really hard time digesting that food. And how you're going to try to make sense of that is, Oh, this is a bad food, like I shouldn't have eaten that food. But really, your body is trying to do the best it possibly can to eat a food in a state where it feels like it needs to be running away from a tiger. You know, if you are running, you are most likely not eating. 


So it's really hard to do both at the same time. So a lot of what I explore with individuals is what we have perceived as unsafe in relationship with food, how food has come in to also try to mimic and create a sense of safety inside of our body. And, sometimes, we need to actually work with not just food but also a general sense of safety inside of our body, which can actually feel more vulnerable and scary and uncomfortable, then maybe the fight or flight response that we have chronically been in. 


Because the body will get accustomed to whatever state we are predominantly living in. So if you have lived in that go, go, go, have to fight or flee or protect for years and decades of your life, especially if you experience some traumatic event when you were a child. And let me just say that trauma is defined as anything that is too much too fast or too little for too long. So, you know, I feel like the field of trauma is getting updated a little bit that it's not what we have necessarily connected of like being in war or, you know, having this really traumatic event occur that we have mentally created of all that, that's a traumatic event. But really, it's about how your body processes the event, not necessarily the event itself. 


Yes. So now your body is getting used to living in that traumatic response for years and decades of your life that, yeah, eventually, you know, either it needs a break, it needs a reprieve, and you might get that through food. You know, binge eating is a fantastic resource to kind of check out or numb out or stuff down. Right. 


A: And it can put you into parasympathetic. If you eat a lot of food, you can drop right down into your parasympathetic. 


S: Yeah, exactly. So I like to kind of bring in so much compassion that this is not your fault. You know, like food produces endorphins and dopamine and serotonin, and it is really effective. It's just it's effective in the short term, not the long term. And when it becomes our only source of feeling safe and regulated inside of our body, that's where we start to get an issue. I always like to normalize we never want to take food off of your list of options. Ever. It gets to be a resource always. 


A: I love that. I love that so much because I think that there is so much that has been entrenched, especially as women, about shame around binge eating, shame around using food to regulate our nervous systems. Like maybe people aren't recognizing as that language with it, but that is really what, you know, many of us have like instinctively learned how to do since childhood is use food as a tool to help soothe and calm ourselves. 


And like you said, it's extremely effective. And you know, I had a woman in one of my somatic programs, and I'd love to get a little bit deeper into the way other somatic work connects to this, but you know, she thought that coming into the program and having a food conversation would mean that she would stop binge eating and that she would stop, you know, having this dysfunctional relationship with food. And at one point, I just had to say like, you know, you've been using food to help calm yourself and deal with a lot of stress in your life. And I am not going to take that away from you. This program is not going to take that away from you. It's going to help you diversify the way that you handle stress so that that's not your only option. 


And so that you have more freedom to be able to make choices instead of feeling locked into one way and feeling totally out of control in your body. We're not going to take away the calming, soothing effect of food. I mean, there's literally studies out there that show ice cream brings happiness. Like it really does, our brain responds to it, our bodies respond to it. 


And then also socially, we have a connection based on, you know, the food experiences we had in our childhood that were, you know, related to fun and enjoyment and, you know, connection and peace and, you know, whatever culture you were raised in, there are specific foods that are related to that. And, you know, we don't need to erase any of that from our nervous system. It's more about integrating it. And as you said, having various tools to help soothe yourself and not just food. So, yes, please tell us a little bit more about how do people get guided in that specific process with you. Like how do you help people diversify the way they're handling their stress? 


S: Yeah, so for a lot of individuals, and this was myself included, that I've built up over time, struggle with what is called interoceptive awareness. So interoception basically means when we break down the word interception, so you can feel, you can sense what is happening inside of your body. And when we struggle in knowing how we feel and how different things facilitate different feelings, we can struggle in knowing what kind of foods would resonate with our body, how much we need, when we need to stop, when we need to start, you know, it's just hard to be able to understand what our body needs, especially also if there is some neurodiversity happening, or maybe you are someone who's navigating something like ADHD, which I find more and more information is coming out about that, especially adult ADHD, where, you know, if you're struggling with something like time blindness, you know, you may get so immersed within your life that you may not even know what hunger and fullness feels like. Now, take into account also this trauma response in your body, and your digestion is shut down, you're not going to be getting the cues of hunger or fullness in your body at all. 


And this is where I often stray away from the popularity of intuitive eating. It's great, it's helped so many individuals, if you're listening to this and it's helped you, fantastic, I'm so glad for that. I think everyone needs to find the resources that work best for them. And that if you are living in a body that doesn't feel safe to inhabit, it's going to feel really, really, really hard to intuit what to eat, when to eat, when to stop, when to start, all of these things. So first, I often find that just being able to slow down and pause and start to connect with the body and notice and name how you feel. And I know it sounds so simple and so small, and it is so difficult and so hard to do, especially when the body hasn't felt like the safe place to be in. And so we have to start to slow down, to take little pauses, to have tiny little micro-moments of being in the body. 


I want it to be like a second, like you could even set an alarm if you need to, like do not make this a long experience, this is not a meditation, you are not sitting on some cushion where you are stuck there, you are just slowing down for one, two seconds to name what's happening in my body right now. Can I notice any sensations? Are any emotions present? 


Or do I have any kind of reaction to that? And especially when you're in relationship with food. So usually, I like to guide individuals in doing these pauses, especially when you're around food, so that you can start to track and notice how your body is responding in that moment. 


So somatic eating is a body-oriented sensation-focused therapeutic modality to food and eating. So we have to come into relationship with the body and sensation to start to make that very, very slowly feel safe to experience again so that you can also know what safety feels like and that you can spend more and more time hanging out there. 


But at first, I think where we kind of left off because I was in a stream of consciousness earlier, is that safety can also be experienced as the threatening thing. So when your body has gotten accustomed to living in more of that sympathetic nervous system, or even in, you know, what we're kind of referencing here is a little bit of polyvagal theory. So we're talking about, you know, safety, fight or flight, but there's also in the branch of the parasympathetic nervous system, we have shut down. 


So something that I once heard Deb Dana talk about, that she's a wonderful teacher in the polyvagal world, is how we can see the nervous system like two pedals in a car, where if you see the parasympathetic nervous system as your break and the sympathetic nervous system as your gas. And so we need both, you know, fight or flight responses, isn't all that bad. If we just see that sympathetic nervous system is the state of mobilization, we need the gas to go sometimes, and then we need the break to slow down. But if we are always on the gas, and we're going, going, going, we're going to run out of gas at some point, we're going to run out of fuel. 


And now, if our foot is always on the break, we're going to be immobile; we're going to be shut down, we're not going to be able to move. So it's also kind of learning when do I need to tap on what pedal and what's needed in what moment, so that you can also understand even what foods facilitate that also for you, so that we don't necessarily have to see food, any food as good or bad, like you said, ice cream, for example, like if we take that, we take away all the diet culture talk around ice cream is bad for you and all the things that ice cream is going to do in your body and blah, blah, blah. Okay, ice cream can feel like a very grounding experience. If you need to tap on that break, ice cream is going to slow you down. Like, if you think about ice cream, like it's not a very like, I mean, maybe from the sugar, you might get a little bit of the mobilization activation there. But you know, we get to kind of see, okay, what does this food do inside of my body so that we can see all foods kind of as a resource that you just get to choose what's going to be most supportive to me based off of where I'm at in this moment. Right. 


A: And as you said before, when you develop that introspection and you start to connect with part of your body intelligence that's not just there for survival, but a part of your body intelligence that can actually be present, like in a grounded way, not just, you know, in a balanced way, you could say between those two nervous system extremes, right, that you may get information about what this food does for you or doesn't do for you. 


And it's a very interesting kind of dance because I, for example, for me, you know, as I've learned certain nutritional information about how my microbiome works, about how like, you know, very high, you know, processed food, like hyper-palatable foods affect my brain. When I started learning about the effects of sodium, like I started learning about these things. And it started bringing a whole new, like, dimension to what my body might be experiencing. When I learned all this, this was after I'd already established a somatic movement practice that had been helping me to build that intraceptive awareness. 


I mean, when I was younger, and I didn't have that connection to myself and I was stuck in a fight or flight, it would have been a very different experience. I would just learn about, you know, what high sodium does to your, you know, body, and I would have just freaked out and been like, I can't eat any salt ever again, you know, but in a state of being more balanced and actually able to sense in, you know, I had these moments where like, you know, I wasn't used to looking at the amount of sodium that was in something. But after eating some food with just more awareness in my body, I was like, you know, I feel really kind of charged up and strange after eating like those noodles or whatever. I wonder how much sodium they had in them. I wonder if that's part of the sensation that I'm having in my body right now. 


And I went and looked, and it was like some crazy amount, you know, 1500 milligrams of sodium per serving. And I was like, oh, I wonder if I'm experiencing, my blood pressure has risen, you know, and that's part of this sensation I'm having. And, you know, it didn't terrify me because, like I said, I was more grounded in my body. 


I trusted, but I was also kind of like, maybe I don't really like this sensation. Maybe I would probably choose to eat food that is like less salty. Maybe I can check the label next time and not eat that much sodium in one sitting because I don't know that I really like this feeling. It's like almost like anxiety, you know, and I think that kind of going back to that example of ice cream, like in the beginning when we learn about like sugar and fat and like cholesterol, it can be really terrifying. And then we're stuck in fight or flight, we're stuck in like ice creams bad, you know, but when we can step more into a balanced approach and then build that internal awareness of our bodies that you're speaking to, right, we can start to be like, oh, I'm going to eat this ice cream as an experiment and just see how my body responds. 


Oh, I find it really calming and soothing. And maybe I don't digest lactose that well. And I'm getting some information about that right now too. And we can maybe choose like a dairy-free ice cream next time or a sorbet or something else that and see if our body agrees with that more, you know, and I love that you're speaking to kind of an ongoing experimental conversation that you're having with your body rather than these like hard and fast rules that are created out of fear. 


S: Yeah, yeah, when you think about it, the lining of our digestive tract, it transitions over renews itself about every two weeks. So something that may not resonate with your body now, what resonate with your body in the future? And so if we go into this space of, okay, that doesn't resonate with me now, so I should never eat that food ever again. Okay, first off, if you entirely take it out, you also are down regulating your body's ability to produce those digestive enzymes to be able to even eat that food. 


So all of these like elimination diets are kind of self-fulfilling prophecies, so to speak of like, yeah, you take the food out, and they're like, okay, invite the food back in and notice how you feel. Of course, you're going to have a hard time digesting that food. You have taken it entirely out of your body, your body's like, oh, don't have to work so hard to digest that anymore. Okay, don't need to create those digestive enzymes. And so I often like to create a lot of exploration and experimentation around foods that maybe you haven't consumed in a while, and then it may even take some experimentation of trying that food over and over and over again in different contexts, just to assess for yourself and listening to your body's feedback and no one else. How does my body respond to this food? How does it respond in different environments? 


How does it respond around different people? That's great. Yeah. So, you know, it's not just this is a good food or a bad food. You may even notice that, like, oh, I can eat this food when I'm in a relaxation response when I'm home and I'm eating really slowly. But if I'm out at a party and I'm in more of a fight or flight response and my digestion is shut down, and I'm feeling really anxious being around a bunch of people actually have a lot harder time assimilating this food. So, you just get to know yourself deeply in that you then have more of an empowered choice of where you're going to eat, what you're going to eat, what's going to feel most supportive to you. Then everything is available to you, and nothing is like bad or off-limits. So, we don't go into scarcity mentality where then you're going, all you're going to want to think about is that food and eat lots and lots and lots of that food. 


A: Right. That's so true that a limit like a restriction, too much restricted eating, right, or really any kind of restrictive eating can make us even more attracted to that thing that we're not allowed to have. It's that reverse psychology, and it's just so, it's so tricky because that's what a lot of our dietary recommendations for people are based on. Like you said, elimination diets and things like this, you know, and for certain kinds of like issues, I can certainly understand like why someone would do that if they're experiencing like, you know, really intense digestive issues from things, you know, yeah, okay, to get some peace, to get some sense of calm, like go ahead and just like don't eat any of that food for a while, but that shouldn't be the end goal, right. The end goal is to start bringing a diversity of foods back in because that's what our microbiome thrives off is, is a diversity of different foods, right. 


And that is, in many ways, what a lot of people are built to enjoy is foods that change with the season, foods that change with the holidays, foods that are consumed, you know, with their family members or with their culture. So, you know, we don't want to leave somebody kind of high and dry like out there, you know, with no options. It's a terrible way to live. 


I know that because I live that way. I was dairy-free gluten-free, and soy-free for over 10 years because I was stuck in that nervous system fight or flight, and I believed that those foods would make me sick, and lo and behold, every time I ate those foods, they did make me sick because I was eating them terrified, you know, and sometimes I would be eating the food terrified of not knowing what all the ingredients were, right. And I recognize now how much that had to do with my inability to digest these things, you know, but there's another layer going on that maybe we can get into around emotional eating. And the, you know, and you kind of tapped on this, and I love that you were talking about environment, about the way that the people and, you know, being observed while we're eating can have an impact on our ability to actually digest our food. Say a little bit about like checking in with the different emotional states, because that's been a big one for me is that, you know, I might be alone in the safety of my own house, but I'm avoiding something. I'm avoiding some feeling in my body that I'm having or some memory or some trigger that's coming up. And so I'm stuffing that down. I'm literally stuffing it down with food so that I don't have to feel whatever's coming up. Yeah. 


S: So first, I like to normalize that emotional eating is normal. I think we really, what I see a lot is we want to pathologize emotional eating as if it were a problem. 


And it's something that like you need to get rid of like this is bad. And if we see that we are emotional beings, we are always feeling something always, even if it's boredom, content, ease, whatever it might be, that we are always feeling something. So every eating experience is going to actually be an emotional eating experience. 


Oh, yeah. But the societal definition of emotional eating is that you are eating out of a place to self-soothe. So that's often what I find most individuals come in with that kind of definition of emotional eating, which I would love to just update, just like we're always emotional eating, eating is emotional. Anyways, so when you are kind of maybe, yeah, at home, and there's so much emotion that's coming up inside of your system, you know, a lot of the times we will respond to our emotions the way that our parents did. So we internalize our parents' parenting, and that's how we learn how to parent ourselves. 


So if what your parents met you with was just get over it, or you're fine, or can we just move on from this, you know, what you learned is there is no space for my emotions here. And oftentimes, we will choose always attachment over authenticity. So if we have to choose between being authentic in a moment or attachment, attachment will win out every time until we get to a place where we're like, we can have both. That is possible as we get into more securely attached relationships as adults. So as a child, you were like, okay, there is no space for my emotions here. Okay, I still am feeling all of these things that I can't verbalize. I don't know how to express and no one can hold space for it. So I just need to stuff this down. 


This just needs to go away. What's going to help me do that? Food. Food is so often readily available as a child. 


You can meander into the kitchen. For most individuals, I know this might not be the case for every single person. So I always like to say that, you know, everyone has their own unique experiences, especially if you maybe you grew up with actual food scarcity in your home. But, you know, oftentimes we can go into the kitchen and say, well, I don't have to deal with this. No one else can. 


So I don't have to either. And the more that we practice that those neural pathways get so strong that this isn't a matter of like willpower anymore. You know, I talked to a lot of individuals that even have become aware that they're eating in response to an emotion. 


And it just feels like a habit at this point that they don't feel like they can get out of. And so a lot of the times even there, we need to be in the practice of getting comfortable with discomfort. Because that's what we're going towards, which is, you know, there's this idea of like, I just need to get rid of the emotional eating and then everything will be fine. What's on the other side of the emotional eating wall is a lot of emotional discomfort. 


Right. And so I always like to see it as if we see it like a dam. We just want to like poke holes in the dam. 


We don't want to like knock the dam down and then everything is flooding in where now like you're drowning in your emotions and you don't know how to surf that wave. So we just want to take little moments to say, okay, you're maybe driving home from work. And you take just a moment to say, I'm feeling right now. I'm stressed. I'm tight. I'm tense. I'm disappointed in how the day went. I didn't like how people responded to me. 


Okay. That's how I feel right now. And a lot of the times I get the question of like, okay, well, what do I do next? And if we see emotions as the analogy I like to make is it's like sitting down to a cup of tea with a friend and you're sharing all the things that are going on in your life and maybe you're super upset about something and they don't try to fix anything. They just hold space for what you're going through. They validate your feelings and they're like, yeah, that does sound hard. 


And you walk away from that tea date feeling connected, you feel maybe even lighter in your system. And nothing has necessarily changed. Like nothing that you were maybe decompressing about has altered. You're still going through maybe what happened at work or what's happening with a loved one. But the experience of it feels different because you got space to express it, to put it outside of the world, outside of your body, and just say, hey, this is my experience. 


Yeah. So that's what we're doing with our emotions. We're kind of like sitting down to a cup of tea with them and saying, I see you, you are okay to be here. I actually welcome you into my experience right now. 


And I'm so glad that you're showing up to inform me of how I'm digesting my life right now. Oh, yeah, they actually start to decrease in intensity simply because they're seen and heard. 


A: Yes, I mean, the main offering modality that I offer helps really build more space in people's bodies for them to be held. I often get that feedback, and it's interesting because, I mean, maybe you also experienced this like sometimes it's the clients that tell you what you're doing because they give you their feedback and their results, and they say, this is what I'm experiencing. And then you get that from multiple different people, and it starts to build a picture of, like what the practice that you have gone through and that you have developed an experience for yourself, what other people are getting from it, right? 


And so this idea of being able to hold ourselves in our experience and not have to fix or change anything is so deeply fundamental. And I love that just taking a moment to ask, you know, how am I feeling and allow yourself to just name it, maybe say it out loud, sometimes with that action of like wanting to do something because, for me, I was definitely like a car eater. I still do from time to time because, you know, I'll often be running around doing things or maybe I didn't, you know, I'm coming home from work, and I'm hungry, and I didn't eat, you know, a big enough lunch or something. 


And so my main thing would be just like stopping at the store to get a few things for dinner, and I would buy a bag of chips, and I would eat the entire bag of chips on the way home, and then, you know, like, yeah, I wouldn't feel that good because driving is a sympathetic nervous system experience, right? It's not like the most calming place to be eating a meal. And you know, maybe an entire bag of chips was like a little too much, right? 


But the questions that I will ask myself now, you know, having this capacity to hold myself as I'll ask questions, I'll invite people, you know, that I'm working with also to ask these kind of questions of like, okay, you know, maybe I'm halfway through the bag of chips. I didn't stop myself. I went to that for soothing or comfort, right? And then I asked the question of like, what do I need right now? Do I need the rest of this bag of chips right now? Maybe I do. 


Or do I need something else? Maybe I want to call somebody and talk to a friend, like, taking kind of that, that anxious energy of like wanting to take action and then asking your body what kind of action would feel good? You know, I've been sitting all day; maybe going for a walk is going to feel really good, maybe moving my body in some ways going to feel really good. Maybe I'll ask the question like, maybe, you know, there's a specific food or drink that would feel really nourishing right now that's not this bag of popcorn that I'm halfway through. 


Maybe my mouth is feeling kind of tingly from all the salt, and I want some water. Like just asking that question of, like, what do I need? And for me, it's been so therapeutic to just start bringing in helpful actions that are not, don't have anything to do with stopping the thing that I think is the problem. I can still do whatever it is I'm doing that my brain is deeming destructive or that my brain is deeming, you know, wrong. I can still let my body do that thing. And I can simultaneously bring in unconditional support in the form of what helpful thing could I do alongside this thing that I am judging myself for? 


How can I support myself regardless of like what I'm doing in my brain trying to tell me whether it's right or wrong, you know? And so, I think the way you're describing pausing in that moment in the car is very similar to kind of what I intuitively came up with. But I love the structure that you're offering people around building that safety slowly because I know from my own somatic practice that, you know, it's one of the reasons I actually don't have a bunch of YouTube videos of somatic movement because when I first started doing it, I needed guidance, I needed support, you know, I couldn't just lay down and do all these, you know, movements that we're going to bring up all the different feelings in my body. 


I wouldn't do it for one, I wouldn't do it by myself, you know unless I was in like a lot of pain and desperate. But I also like didn't want to do it alone, you know, so I think that what you're offering people, and maybe you can talk about your somatic eating program, is a way for people to actually co-regulate with you as they're learning these new coping skills around food. 


Because that's really the role of a healer, it's not to fix anybody. It's to just offer a new approach that comes from a more rounded, more balanced nervous system. Right? Can you say a little bit about that and maybe talk about your program? 


S: Yeah, absolutely. And one piece before I get into that, that I've been a name of what you're talking about is choice. And when you have experienced past trauma, that too much too fast or too little for too long, that oftentimes what gets taken away is that sense of choice. And so even sometimes when food has become your go-to, you also don't feel like you necessarily have a choice in that, I have to do this behavior. 


And so one of the most important things on this healing journey is to bring in that bodily experience of choice again. Even what you were naming in the car of, I can finish this bag of chips; that is an option to me. And that would be completely fine choice. I can also choose to say no and stop eating the chips now. And that is also a choice that is available to me. Just so that whatever you decide, you get to own that that was your decision and there was nothing wrong or bad about it. And I find that is such an important part of the healing process is to bring back in that experience of choice. 


So just wanted to name that because you were kind of going there already. So in the Sematic Eating Program, we do talk about that as well. And it is an 11-week experience, and I teach all the classes live for exactly the thing that you have named. 


You know, I know that the norm these days in online programs is to have it all pre-recorded. And the thing about relationship with food is that we need to be in co-regulation, connecting with other people to support in bringing more cues of safety into our body so that we can heal. Sometimes it's not about another tool, another strategy, another somatic practice. It is about literally feeling inside of our body. We are not alone in this experience. And there are people who understand me and get me in this. 


And that is healing in and of itself. And so I teach all the classes live and there's always live Q &As. And we go through all of the resources that I have collected over, you know, my entire life, but also through, you know, this main creation in the last like two decades of creating somatic eating of, you know, building into more of your somatic resources so that you feel like you have more of that choice of there many different ways that I could respond right now. And also going through how do we cultivate more of that sense of safety inside of your system so that you can also live more and more of space and time in a more of your parasympathetic nervous system. And it also feels maybe a little bit more comfortable to do that. Now 11 weeks, there's a lot that can change. And I often like to normalize it's like for some individuals, especially when you're first starting on this journey, we're planting the seed. And then a lot of the things that you will learn, it's like watering it over and over and over again. And so for anyone who goes through the program, they're also welcome to join the somatic eating community afterwards. And so that is a space where you can get ongoing support because, like you were even saying earlier in our chat today of this is an ongoing process. It's not a one-and-done. 


There is no like final destination here. We will be in relationship with food our entire lives. And so I find that what I strive for with individuals is that should you ever get a food impulse, a craving, or whatever that you have maybe labeled as bad or wrong, or there's certain behavior that's playing out in your life that regardless of whatever ebbs and flows and shifts and changes in your life, that you have so many resources inside of yourself and you know how to step into relationship with your body that you could navigate any food situation, any food impulse or craving that comes your way because you can kind of play with what is needed here and discover that for yourself. 


So it's not a matter of like abolishing, you know like I'm never going to do these food behaviors ever again, and like I'm never going to get an urge to do that ever again. I'd like to see it more as, wow, I'm getting a familiar impulse here to engage in a food behavior I haven't enacted in a really long time, and huh, I wonder what's going on for me. I wonder what my body is trying to communicate through this. So I kind of walk individuals through learning how to do that for themselves in a lot of various different ways. 


A: Yes, you know, one of the things I remember kind of reading in your content that I thought was a very super helpful, very inspiring way of looking at the, you know, specifically the way that a lot of women have, you know, shame around their weight or we'll start, you know, this way that I'm feeling fat, I'm feeling, you know, gross in my body, right. And these like ways that we're starting to get these sensations of like, you know, discomfort with our size and all of that, and there's so many ways that people talk about that in terms of, you know, diet culture and in terms of body positivity, right, but your approach with the take that you expressed on it was so unique because it was really like, oh, if we were able to just instead of saying that feeling fat in my body is a bad, negative, wrong experience that I shouldn't be having, I should always love my body and always feel good about my body all the time, which is just like a tall order, right, like really tall order to feel that way all the time. 


Instead, asking that question of like, what is the order of these signals trying to tell me? And I know from my own personal experience a lot of times when I would start feeling that way in my body, it was because I actually needed to move my body more. There was, you know, the activity level in my life had somehow gone dramatically down, whether it was because I was sick or ill or there was a lot of stress going on. And so when I was reading your content, there was this little light bulb that went off in my head that was like, oh, yeah, like every time that I was starting to feel really heavy and, you know, gross or fat in my body, it was actually my body trying to get my attention because I had been too, I don't know what to say, lethargic, but just like I had not been moving and moving my body in the ways that helped my body feel really strong and really well. And oftentimes, you know, people naturally, you know, they want to go work out because they feel fat. 


It was like, that's actually part of their body's wisdom, inviting them to move their body more. And can we figure out a way for you to do that in a way that's actually loving and sustainable, instead of a way that's just a further, you know, disconnect, right? So maybe you can extrapolate upon that a little bit further because I loved that piece of content. I thought that was so profound and helpful. 


S: Yeah, absolutely. And I have a whole class on this also in the program as well on, you know, when body image concerns come up, how to navigate that in such a different way, because absolutely, you definitely pointed to a lot of the things that I talk about around if we could just start to see that not as wrong when we're having a difficult body image day. I recently actually just put out a post that if we created a bad body image day, which is like, you know, so much of what people are having a bad body image day, could we create that into an acronym for body attention day? You know, like, our body is saying, Hey, there's something that's coming up for me. And when you think about it, like, every time you have worried about your body's appearance, how many times did you respond to that? I know for myself I responded to it every single time. 


Very reliably. I'm not gonna; I'm just gonna ignore that. It's like the body learns over time. Oh, if I need your attention, I know if I make use because about 80% of communication comes from our body up to our brain. So if our body's like, I need to get your attention. Okay, if I make you worry about what you look like, you're going to pay attention to me. And so we don't want to get rid of that. 


Because that's about the way the body learned to communicate with us. Now, can we update it? Absolutely. And we don't actually want to try to go to this place of, like, okay, I need to feel good about my body all the time. I need to feel loving about my body all the time. And we don't have that kind of relationship with anybody in our life. Some days, even the people we love the most were struggling with maybe feeling the love or we're having a kind of heated disagreement with them. And sometimes it's going to be the same thing that when we talk about relationship with your body, sometimes you're going to be in an argument with it. Sometimes you're not going to be on the same page. Sometimes you're going to be like, okay, body, we got to have a conversation because like, we're kind of not on the same wavelength right now. 


And it's the same thing that we would do with anybody that we appreciate in our lives, and we would sit down and we would talk through things with them. So that's where a lot of that like, you know, somatic work comes in of, there's many different ways of journaling of body movement of, you know, all sorts of different ways, singing, creating art that you can start to create a practice for yourself to be in communication with your body. And when body image concerns come up, if we can start to see it's actually a message from how our body is processing things, it is information even of our nervous system. And like you were pointing to of what I've talked about on social media before, is that why is it that we could look in the mirror one day and be like, I'm amazing. Like, I look so good today. And then, like the very next day, we're like, oh my gosh, everything needs to change, like nothing fits. 


And we're just like freaking out about our body's appearance. Your body did not change that much within 24 hours, probably not even really at all. Unless you're in a for women in a different part of your menstrual cycle, it may change a little bit from week to week, depending upon where you're at. But you know, we want to kind of bring in this context of the body doesn't change that quickly. But what did change is your nervous system state. 


And when we go into a different state inside of our body, that how we perceive our body entirely changes. And so when you hear the, oh my gosh, everything needs to change here. That's a moment to pause and be like, huh, yeah, what's been going on here? Like, why is that what's coming through? Why is that how I'm perceiving my body right now? Because if we can just start to experience it as the way that your body is talking to you, then we can work with it in a very different way. Instead of kind of maybe drowning in it, that's where a lot of the shame comes up, that you feel wrong or bad, or maybe some of the internalized beliefs start to come in around what you were told to believe about your body. And so if we just see it as like, hmm, that's really interesting that that's what I would think about my body right now, then we have a lot more space just to choose how we want to respond to that. 


A: I love that. I mean, I think that there are so many different possibilities when it comes to what your body could be communicating. And I often see people looking for a formula, you know, or like I just said, I noticed that my body often wants movement like maybe there's been a stagnancy, and I haven't been moving my body or exercising, and my body will get my attention and say, Hey, it's time to get moving by, you know, having me feel bad about my weight, you know, for a three day period. 


And then that motivates me to do something about it because, you know, it motivates me to move. Well, there's been other points in my life where maybe that actually wasn't the solution. Maybe my body wanted rest. 


Maybe I would have been over-exercising, moving too much. And my body is getting my attention in that same way. It may even be the same voice of feeling bad about my appearance, right? Or feeling bad about my body. And what would really be helping my body right now is to actually sleep more and rest more and do soothing things. 


Maybe, maybe go to the spa, you know, and get a facial or something to help my system relax. And there's a myriad of different possibilities of different things that our body could be communicating. It could have something to do with our relationship. Maybe there's an unhealed issue in our relationship that keeps coming up, and it comes up simultaneous to our body image issues. And it's our body's way of asking us to resolve or heal that wound inside of us. 


That maybe doesn't even have that much to do with our partner, that has more to do with our early childhood experiences or has to do with our relationship with ourselves. You know, I sometimes don't want to give people like how it is for me, because I'm afraid they'll think that that's how it is. And instead, what we want to invite people into is giving examples of the different possibilities of what your body could be saying because maybe there will be one that resonates. But ultimately, it's going to be your internal experience that's going to guide you into what this means for you because there's something that may not be coming up in my body that is coming up in your body because of your unique experience and your unique life history, right? Yeah. 


S: And then one layer even, we go deeper in that of that sense of trust, of, okay, so you're practicing listening to your body's feedback, and then there's this trust of like, can I trust what my body is telling me? Because we get so many messages, and it might have started even in your home life growing up of we can't trust ourselves, trust everyone else, trust the authority of the parents, trust the diet culture, trust this nutritionist. And, you know, I like to normalize with anyone that I work with, even one-on-one, that I also work with individuals in private practice, is I am not the authority over you. I do not put me on a pedestal. Like your body is actually the expert here. 


I am not. But what we get to create together is how to make your body your expert again, and trust that expert, because only your body is going to let you know what works for it and what doesn't. And that's going to shift and change over and over and over again. 


A: Oh, yes, yes. And then, you know, circling back to some one of the first themes that we talked about here, which is that your digestive system, given your problems, right, or feeling bad about your body or any of the number of things that we have identified as an issue that is actually just a form of communication. It is our body intelligence doing something to help us actually in its own way that we may not fully understand or that may feel outdated. And perhaps it is, right? The one way that I look at it is, you know, I work with a lot of people who have muscular body pain, right? 


And what is that muscular body pain related to in their body? I can't know that. I can never really know that we can talk about the different things that happened. Oh, you had a car accident. Oh, you had this. Oh, you had that these ongoing stresses and tension. We don't want to get rid of the way that your body contracts or tightens under stress. We're not going to get rid of that because that's actually intelligent. 


That's your body, you know, putting you in that fight or flight tensing you up so that you are going to physically be strong enough to survive whatever comes your way. But we can start to adapt the way that you respond to that response, right? We can update the way that you respond to that response. Do you respond with fear and, you know, upset and kind of compounding that tightness in your body by getting really alarmed? Or can you listen calmly and then maybe slowly take intuitive actions and steps that are going to help you to find some relief or to, as you said before, push that other pedal and your nervous system to balance things out a little bit. So, yeah. 


S: Yeah, you know, it's the more that we connect with our body with curiosity and compassion like you're talking about, it's okay like this is just the way my body is trying to tell me something. And so I see that in all the ways that whatever is playing out with food, whether that be binge eating, which I get, can feel really intense. 


If that is any kind of disordered eating behavior that's happening in your life, we get to start to observe what has this been doing for you instead of it seeing as the thing that's in the way towards what you want for your life. Because also, maybe it's, if you want to see it as in the way, that's totally your choice. Let's say you need something in the way. 


You know, maybe there's something that feels so scary to step into in your life that actually having this thing in the way of whatever else that you're wanting to go out for, that it's protecting you from how scary that feels to go towards that thing that you really, really want. So in any way that we can see that any action we're doing with food is for ourselves. And it is sometimes as protection and sometimes helping us feel safe. It's sometimes helping us feel bad. Like if we aren't used to feeling good and vibrant and energetic in our body, and that feels really uncomfortable to step into, sometimes we'll like overeat because that is what is inside of our window of tolerance is to just not feel good inside of our body. So we really get to bring in that like, yeah, it may feel like a brain explosion of just like, wait, I'm doing this to feel bad because that feels good. 


A: Yeah, no, yeah, I totally get what you mean. 


A: It's like, there's these things that we think we don't want, but we don't realize that they're actually serving us. And, you know, kind of going back to the definition of trauma that you gave us, there may be things that you are doing in your life that are pushing your edges and are scary and are, you know, exciting and are the direction you want to go in. 


But it's going to be too fast, too soon without that like kind of buffer of your bad habits or the things that you, you know, are doing in your life that maybe don't feel resonant, but they're actually serving you by slowing down your, you know, evolutionary process because becoming a whole new version of yourself overnight really wouldn't actually feel that good and might actually be kind of traumatic if we were to even be able to do that. So thank you so much for being here. I would love for you to leave us with any last words that you have for our audience, last words of wisdom about this topic. Yeah. Yeah. 


S: Just in where we have been going with this conversation right now is if there's any one place where if you are struggling in your relationship with food is just to start to get curious about what it's doing for you. And you might journal about that, you might get curious about that. It might even be like we were talking about taking those pauses and checking in with yourself, that even it might not be that you are able to pause before you start engaging in what I call your food coping mechanism. It might be that you pause afterwards after the whole bag of chips have been consumed after the whole container of ice cream is gone. 


And it's never too late to check in with yourself ever. And so even after the behavior is complete, you might practice just pausing and getting curious about what did that do for me? How did it support me? What was it protecting me from? 


Because maybe there was something else that was going on in your day or something that felt activating or a nervous system response that just felt too much to navigate. And that food behavior was doing something for you. And you get to start to practice meeting yourself with that compassion. That this isn't about willpower. This isn't about you being weak or whatever story or part of you wants to tell you about what this means about you. It is about you trying to do your best to survive and thrive. And sometimes your food behavior is trying to do that, even if it doesn't necessarily feel like that in the moment. 


A: Thank you. Thank you for that. That's such a beautiful invitation for everyone who's listening today. So for those of you who are listening, definitely check out the show notes where you will see Stephanie's links and details and her website. And you can learn more about her somatic eating program that starts in April, right? 


The next round. Beautiful. Okay, so check it out. Maybe you can jump in and go down this path of healing around food and create some ease and balance in your body and in your life, and in your Soma. Thank you so much for being here with me today. And I look forward to continuing to read your content, maybe have you on the show again sometime to talk about, you know, go a little deeper into some of these topics. 


S: Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was wonderful connecting with you today. 


A: Hey there, Truthseeker, freedom lover, consciousness expander. You've been listening to the Free Year Soma podcast. I'm Amy Tecaya, and I'd like to invite you on the somatic exploration of a lifetime. Join me for revive, a nine-week somatic movement adventure. You and an intrepid group of heartlet leaders will learn how to release muscular stress, tension, and pain, and how to come back to ease and flow in your body. What's more, this tension you've been holding in your back, your neck, your shoulders, this represents your untapped somatic potential. When these muscles lengthen out and relax, you will get to experience deeper body intelligence and wisdom throughout your life. Learn more about revive at www.freeyoursoma .com.



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