• Sydney Cochran, MS, RD, LD

Setting Boundaries (And Why They're Important)


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Boundaries have come up a LOT lately in my sessions with clients. As I mentioned in my last post , working with a dietitian isn't really about learning nutrition information. It's about learning what works well for you and your needs and how to overcome barriers to making those behaviors a reality in your life.

How does this apply to setting boundaries? Well, let's start by defining what boundaries are. You probably know what a physical boundary looks like - fences, walls, etc. It marks an edge or limit of something. Personal boundaries are similar. They define reasonable or permissible ways in which other people can behave toward you.

An example of a big boundary that comes up in relation to nutrition is when people push food on you. This is particularly common during the holidays but can happen in all sorts of situations. Without boundaries here, you will allow other people to tell you when or how much to eat, without regard to what your body is telling you. With a boundary in place, you can acknowledge that you know best when you are hungry or what foods you enjoy and can meet your needs appropriately. So, if someone keeps trying to get you to eat another helping or a food you don't enjoy, you can kindly (yet persistently) say "No, thank you" or "I'm already feeling full and don't want to be uncomfortable, but I'd love to take some with me for later if you have a spare container!".

The same idea applies to comments about what you're eating or how your body looks. Without boundaries, it is easy to just let these comments freely come in while guilt and shame piles up. With a boundary in place, you can either change the subject or kindly let the person know that their comments are inappropriate or are making you uncomfortable and you would appreciate it if they stop.

Time boundaries also affect how we relate to food. If you have a hard time saying no to people or opportunities, it is easy for your schedule to become jam-packed, leaving you with no time for even the most basic self-care. Some things that happen when we don't leave time for ourselves include:

  • No time for grocery shopping or preparing balanced, filling meals

  • Intense hunger due to lack of consistent meals, which leads to eating that feels out of control

  • Lack out outlet for stress or other emotions, leading to mindless eating to soothe emotions

  • Difficulty recognizing internal cues of hunger, fullness, and satiety due to stress/distraction

Saying no can be difficult but it is important to recognize that trying to be everything to everyone also isn't serving you (or them). Setting boundaries on your time and making time to care for yourself is in no way selfish. It actually allows you to recharge and better serve those around you! This is incredibly hard for me at times too but I know what works for me and that, when I take on too much, I can't do things or interact with people in a way that aligns with my values.

Social media may be one of the easier boundaries you can set because it doesn't involve having to directly confront another person. Because we spend so much time on social media and have constant access to it, it has an incredible ability to influence our thoughts throughout the day. If all you see on social media are people's perfect meals and perfect workouts and perfect clothes, you will quickly begin to feel inadequate and undervalue everything you're doing. Unfollowing accounts that aren't life-giving and instead filling your feed with things that inspire and encourage you can do wonders for your outlook. For me, this means limiting my time on social media and a personal Instagram feed that doesn't generally include other dietitians (that is what I do all day and, although I love it, I recognize that I need a break!) or people who talk about their food or exercise details and mainly contains accounts related to mountains, hiking, scripture, recipes, and creativity.

Have you set up boundaries in your life? If not, what are some areas where you think some boundaries could be helpful? What is one way you could start putting those in place?

#lifestyle #stress

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