Aaron and I reached out to you from home during the global COVID-19 pandemic in this episode of the Dietitians Unplugged podcast. This is clearly a time of stress and fear for everyone, and it can really bring up a lot of distress around body image, food insecurity and scarcity, and eating in general.
In this episode we discussed:
Our personal experiences of navigating scarcity at the grocery stores and the emotional roller coaster we’ve both been on
The hard work and ingenuity our clients and so many others are putting into their healing while stuck at home
The uptick in body image issues and how many of us use worries about food and body as a way to control anxiety and distract from bigger worries
Dealing with anxiety and difficult feelings during this time
How we can use this time to feel better about our bodies
How some people actually find themselves thriving in the slowed pace
How diet culture doesn’t go away even in extreme times of uncertainty and worry
We are social creatures, and community is important. But when you are divesting from rampant diet culture and are in a larger body, how do you find community when so many people are spouting off about their current diets and body dissatisfaction?
On the Dietitians Unplugged podcast recently, we discussed this issue with our colleague, Dr. Rachel Millner. She shared with us her thoughts on the importance of fat-positive spaces for clinicians and individuals and how weight stigma continues to negatively impact those working on healing from their eating disorder.
Rachel Millner, Psy.D., CEDS-S, CBTP (she/her) is a psychologist/activist, a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and Supervisor, and a Certified Body Trust Provider. Dr. Millner has been practicing as a psychologist since 2005 and has been specializing in treating people with eating disorders throughout her career. Dr. Millner works with people struggling with all eating disorders as well as those trying to break free from diet culture. Dr. Millner is a fat positive provider who works from a Health at Every Size® and Body Trust® lens.
Aaron and I welcomed Kristina Bruce to the Dietitians Unplugged podcast to help our listeners learn to challenge negative, unhelpful beliefs about themselves and their bodies.
Kristina is a certified Integrative Life Coach, Body Acceptance Coach and Certified Body Trust® Provider and a strong advocate for Health at Every Size®. She employs Byron Katie’s method, The Work, to help clients question beliefs that cause them stress and to help see those beliefs for what they are — thoughts, not reality. During this interview, we were so grateful to Kristina for sharing an important tool to help do this work and this episode will be pivotal for anyone hoping to get free from the negative beliefs they feel about their body.
The Dietitians Unplugged podcast was excited and honored to host Jes Baker, aka The Militant Baker, author of the books Landwhale and Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living to talk about what body liberation means and how it can change our lives for the better.
Jes is a positive, progressive, and magnificently irreverent force to be reckoned with in the realm of self-love advocacy and mental health. She is internationally known for preaching the importance of body liberation, hard conversations, strong coffee, and even stronger language. Jes burst onto the body image scene when she created her own ads mocking Abercrombie & Fitch for discriminating against all body types – a move that landed her on the Today Show and garnered a loyal following for her raw, honest, and attitude-filled blog missives.
In this fantastic episode, she tells us about her revelation that she hadn’t been a fat child, turning insults into cool nicknames, and how talking about mental health can be healing.
I’m a long-time TV fan but as I get older, my time is precious. I want to watch things that I find really entertaining. And with the rise of more fat representation on TV, there are more things for me to think about watching. But just because something includes a fat person doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a great show.
So in this episode, Aaron and I discussed the viewing options presented over the past year (thanks to streaming!) and offered up some criticism to help you in deciding what to watch. And it is summer after all, which, if you’re old enough, you remember as the time of summer reruns and trying to figure out what’s on that’s good (apparently this is no longer a problem, but nostalgia dies hard in my home).
In this episode, we talked about the TV show Dietland, based on the book of the same name by Sarai Walker, that aired last year on AMC and now streams on Hulu, and Shrill, which debuted this spring and runs on Hulu as well. We also mention a few shows with dubious fat representation that we have not and will not be watching (return of The Biggest Loser, Insatiable) for a variety of reasons.
Our bodies tell so much of the story of ourselves. In an ideal world, we’d be good friends with our bodies, appreciate them for what they allow us to experience of the world, and be in tune with what they tell us about those experiences. But because we don’t live in a perfect world, we can lose touch with the wisdom of our bodies. Or, because of past trauma, our bodies have become a scary place for us to be.
Getting back into our bodies can be a challenge, so we asked Tracy Brown, RDN, LD/N, a somatic nutrition therapist, how she helps people do just that. She talked about the effects of trauma on the body, how “feeling fat” isn’t really about body size at all, how the fight/flight/freeze reflex can keep us trapped in the diet cycle and how reconnecting with the body can help end the cycle.
And if you want to see body disconnection in action, I provided a spectacular example during this episode (you’ll probably know it when you hear it!). Last year was great professionally, but tough and also way too busy. I spent too much time working and growing, and not enough relaxing and regenerating. And I am someone that needs a fair amount of relaxation in order to function optimally for the long run. When we recorded this episode, I was experiencing the late effects of total body breakdown: exhaustion, headaches, and a real difficulty with concentration. It’s been a hard lesson in knowing my limits and learning to respect my body, but life is always a work in progress!
HAES Care for Diabetes
Rebecca Scritchfield and I are working hard on a new, expanded offering of our weight-inclusive diabetes groups. Make sure to sign up on this page to be one of the first to find out when it launches.
When we are in school getting our nutrition degrees, we learn all about food safety, how to counsel a nutritious diet, a metric ton of chemistry, and medical nutrition therapy to treat various conditions and diseases. We spent some time learning nutrition counseling techniques too.
But rarely are we prepared for what is often at the root of so many eating problems: a fractured relationship with our body image.
In school, they never gave us the language to understand this, for ourselves or other people, and they certainly never gave us the idea that we might also help the healing.
But in fact, we need to be able to help our clients heal not just their relationship to food and eating, but also their bodies.
I’m not talking about doing the work of a therapist. I’m talking about being able to listen and validate and understand WHY someone could hate their bodies so much that they lose their ability to eat in any peaceful, nourishing way. And helping them to find ways to reconnect with their bodies with self-compassion.
We CAN and SHOULD talk about this with our clients, and in the below episode of Dietitians Unplugged, Aaron and I talk more about how we as dietitians can start doing this work.
I’ve been hearing this a lot in my Facebook group lately, and it’s not a sentiment I’m unfamiliar with, having passed through it myself on my Health at Every Size® journey to normal eating.
For some people, giving up dieting is easy. Dieters are “falling off the wagon” half the time anyway – this is just like falling off and just staying off. Dream come true, right? Never diet again!
But then the reality of why you dieted in the first place comes crashing through. “I’m still fat!” or “I’ll get fat again!” is a stark realization that breaks the reverie of your no-diet bliss. And if you’ve been living with the fantasy of getting thin, or maybe even the reality of being thin, through dieting, then you’re facing some serious shattered dreams.
So yes, body acceptance is a HUGE part of diet and ED recovery. But where to start?
I think the first thing anyone should know is that you did not learn to hate your body, or fat, in a vacuum. We live in a patriarchy that enforces beauty ideals as a way to keep women busy and unable to achieve real economic and political power. Think I’m kidding? Have you seen the stats on wage disparity and representation in government for women? You may have been very busy dieting and chasing after the false currency of beauty and not noticed, so I’m telling you now: many people benefit when women keep hating their bodies. The diet and beauty industries are great examples of this.
I understand that just knowing that isn’t enough, so I recommend immersing yourself in some of the fabulous work of the many fat activists out there. I’ll take you through my own personal body acceptance journey as an example of how to do this.
The first blog I stumbled across was Ragen Chastain’s fabulous Dances with Fat blog. I read it obsessively for months. I began to see the societal fat phobia that had shaped my life and caused me to keep dieting even when I was unhappy with my body as a thin person. I’ve met Ragen several times and she is just as awesome in person as she seems on her blog. (Plus she’s the guest of our latest podcast episode which you simply MUST hear!)
I also happened to find the book Fat? So! by long-time fat activist Marilyn Wann. Marilyn is one of my early heroes and this book really set me straight about how I could start to feel good about my body no matter what size it ended up at. I also met Marilyn and I loved her. It’s some kind of amazing thing to get to meet your fat activist heroes and find out that they are truly good and cool people.
Along the way I tumbled down the fabulous rabbit hole of fat fashion blogs. I was like, “This is a thing? Fat fashion is a thing?!” I’m sad to say I’d never seen fat women proudly wearing beautiful fashion in such an unapologetic way. And the hilarious thing is, I thought the first fatshion blog I found was the only one! Turns out, no. There were many, and even more now than a few years ago (hell yeah body positivity!). There was something so incredibly liberating about seeing so many fat bodies portrayed so positively. A big first step for me, before I could totally accept my own fatness, was normalizing the fat bodies of others. Fashion was a great medium to help me do this because I like looking at pretty clothing. It wasn’t too long before I bought GabiFresh’s famous fatkini (yep, I own that exact one, although since then I’ve realized I find one-pieces much more comfortable) . Suffice it to say, fat fashion blogs were integral in my own body acceptance journey. My favorites are listed at the bottom of this post, although the list is by no means exhaustive, so do some of your own research too.
One of the reasons you’ve probably felt your own fat body isn’t fabulous is that we’re surrounded by media images of only one kind of body: thin. Here’s how to fix that: flood your social media feed with fat positive posts, pages and groups. They’re actually pretty easy to find. Most fat fashion bloggers have their own Facebook pages, so start there.
Finally, check out the work of Vivienne McMaster of Be Your Own Beloved. She has e-books and programs that will get you to explore self-compassion through self-portraiture. I took her course last year and it was not only fun but also instrumental in stomping out my inner critic.
And then, once you’ve immersed yourself in positive images of fat bodies, and you’re starting to see how your fat body is also awesome, realize this:
You are so much more than a body.
It’s important to come to peace with this body you’re in, but feeling pretty isn’t required. Physical beauty, however it’s defined by the society you’re in, isn’t important to the actual living of your life. You may think it is, and others may try to reinforce this, but in fact, it’s bullshit.
Your value as a human is more than your ability to fit into made-up societal beauty standards that were created to control us. We don’t need beauty standards and you are not an ornament for others to admire.
You are a person with a life to live, dreams to fulfill, gifts to give.
I have grey hair. Not a lot. Just some right now. There will in all likelihood be more down the road. This aging thing doesn’t go in reverse, Benjamin Button style.
When I was younger, I always thought I’d dye my hair. My grandmother did, until she was very old and couldn’t make it to the hairdresser anymore. My mother did too, until she got sick enough to no longer think about the dreaded roots (amazingly, only the last couple months of her life; and I think she still probably thought about her roots).
I thought there was no other option than to dye your hair because grey hair was simply to ghastly to be allowed to run unchecked on one’s head. If one’s head belonged to a female, at least.
Until one day I figured out there wasn’t just one option, which was to “hide” grey and pretend like it just wasn’t happening. If I no longer believed in societal beauty ideals, there were suddenly multiple options! I could let my hair get grey. I could shave it off. I could dye it not to hide it, but to bring attention to it, in unicorn pink-blue-purple! I could do whatever the fuck I wanted with it. That’s at least four more options right there.
I chose going grey, mostly because I’m lazy, but also because, as it came in, I kind of liked it. I liked it a lot, actually, once I decided that I’d see it as 1. simply another hair color that I was going to get to experience without having to do a lick of work 2. a way to buck patriarchal beauty rules that weren’t providing me with any real power, and 2. a symbol that I wasn’t afraid to get older — that in fact, I was going to own the hell out of getting older.
It hasn’t always been easy. As I dropped quickly and dramatically out of thin-and-acceptably-young-and-cute and deep into pudgy-grey-and-middle-aged, I noticed how people changed in reaction to me. Because I slipped out of the realm of fuckability in many people’s men’s eyes, it’s gotten harder to have my opinion heard around them. This would be a much bigger problem if I worked in a male-dominated profession, which thankfully I don’t anymore (frankly it was already hard enough to have my opinion heard by male co-workers and managers at any age); but not everyone has this luxury.
Anyway, I’ve thought about this stuff a lot as I’ve witnessed myself going from young-hot-mess (20s) to confused-but-getting-there (30s) to mature-and-on-a-mission (40s at the moment). I like me now better than me then. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still suffer the indignities of aging in a society that is distinctly anti-aging for women.
That’s why we got my friend and fellow middle-ager Michelle Vina-Baltsas on the line to chat with the Dietitians Unplugged. Aging affects our body image in a profound way, and it needs some processing. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as we enjoyed having it.
One of the most common reactions to what I write about learning to accept our bodies at the weight they are and taking a Health at Every Size® approach is, “But I’m not at the weight I’m supposed to be…I should be XXX pounds because that’s what I was [when I was my healthiest weight; when I was an athlete in college; before I had three kids; before I developed this knee condition; when I ran marathons all the time].” I totally get it. Lots of us have that utopian time in our lives when our weight was perfect (or so we think in hindsight), our health was optimal, and we were going to live forever…and we so desperately want to get back to it.
Even when, intellectually, we know that dieting doesn’t work, that weight loss is typically short-term (<3 years) at best, that even when our own personal experiences tell us that previous weights were not sustainable, we resist in accepting this. I recently read a great term for this: data resistance, meaning no matter how clear the science is on this topic, people still want to believe that long-term weight loss is possible for more than a tiny fraction of people. The propensity for magical thinking is strong in us humans, and weight is no exception.
Let’s roll with it, then. Maybe you aren’t at your optimal weight. Do you want to diet to try to get there? Is that something that has been sustainable for you in the past? If not, why do you think things would be different this time? What happens if, despite all your efforts, you never get anywhere close to your desired weight? How do you live your life then? What happens if the weight you are now is your weight for the rest of your life? I think it’s worth it to have this conversation with yourself, so you at least have some options.
There are also important things to know before you decide what to do next. First of all, despite what we have been told ad nauseam by the diet industry, your weight is not really within your control, at least in the long term. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you are well aware by now that intentional weight loss has a 90-95% failure rate over the long haul (>5 years). If you’re new to this blog, head on over to my Scientific Lit page and have a look for yourself.
Your weight is really determined by a combination of your genetics, your metabolism, and your environment (past and present) – and not so much by the weight you actually want to be. Do you have fat parents or family members (genetics)? Have you spent any part of your life restricting calories or foods (environment)? And if so, did you know that your metabolism is probably running slower than if you hadn’t (metabolism, obviously)? Possibly most significantly, if you have made multiple weight loss attempts throughout your life or were put on diets as a child, your natural set point will be higher than what it might have been had this never happened. Unfortunately, we’ve all been fed the calories in/calories out bullshit, and have been taught that calories out are totally within our control, when in reality our sneaky metabolism comes along and adjusts everything to make sure we aren’t spending too much energy, because Lord knows the body loves homeostasis.
So now you’re well-armed with information about the spectacular failure of long-term weight manipulation. That’s all well and dandy, you think, but maybe I’ll be one of the 5% who keep the weight off. Maybe you will be! I was for a long while – before The Diet Monster took over my life and made me more miserable than I had ever been as a fat person. It’s a dicey gamble to make – you might be one of the 5% who manages to maintain long-term weight loss by making it your life’s work, OR you might be one of the 95% who gains some, all, or even more of your weight back, leaving you even fatter than you started. In the words of Dirty Harry, “You gotta ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya??
“But I’m simply not healthy at this weight.” Hey, you might not be. I don’t know your particular health habits or your lab values. Just remember, though, that weight is not a health behavior; it’s a size. Health at Every Size® does not purport to say that everyone is healthy at whatever weight they’re at; it simply means that whatever weight you are right now, you can start to work toward better health. So maybe your health isn’t great right now – is losing weight truly the only way you can improve your health? What about improving your eating habits or activity level? If you consider yourself too large to exercise, check out The Fat Chick’s webpage for activity for people of all sizes. Plenty of studies show that fitness is a better determinant of health than fatness and recently even more are showing that weight loss in some populations is associated with greater mortality rates.
“Well, I’m just not comfortable at this size.” I understand; moving in a thin body is different than moving in a fat body. While I personally don’t notice all that much difference (I’m lazy at both ends of the weight spectrum!), I also recognize that my weight difference might not be as great as someone else’s and that my experience is not universal (I also developed osteoarthritis in my feet at my thinnest, so even that wasn’t a guard against joint problems). Whether your discomfort is physical or psychological, how much do you think our culture’s prevailing attitudes about weight are influencing your discomfort with your weight?
I used to feel like I had to suck in my stomach, no matter what weight I was. As I regained weight, my stomach was beyond sucking in – I could tighten those ab muscles all I wanted, but that layer of fat wasn’t going anywhere. Sucking in made me feel physically uncomfortable. Not sucking in made me feel psychologically uncomfortable. I felt out of proportion, and I felt like I was being outed by my tummy as a fat person. When I finally acknowledged that how I felt about my stomach had more to do with how the world views fat people and less to do with how I actually felt, I eased up on my expectations of my body. If your feelings of discomfort are 100% physical, consider a HAES® approach in which you could find activities that you are comfortable doing right now, and work your way up from there. Bodies are amazingly adaptable, especially when we are being kind to them.
I wish I could tell you that our desires controlled our weight. That it’s just a matter of trying really hard and you’ll have some satisfying weight loss that lasts forever without totally ruining the quality of your life. My own personal experience, the experiences of all the other people I’ve met in the fatosphere, and the bulk of available science on the subject does not permit me to do so. I can only recommend a kinder approach in which you let your body decide what it will weigh – it will do that eventually anyway – while you find your own way of living as healthfully as you want and can. That will give you a stable weight that is right for you. Because, with this one life you have, how long do you really want to struggle against your body?