Feeling Left Out of BoPo?

BoPo heartOne of the things I’ve heard said recently is that thin or “normal” weight folks feel left out of the Body Positive movement.

It totally sucks to feel left out.

Some feel that the body positive movement is too focused on fat bodies, and this feels alienating to those with thinner bodies. Because fat bodies are highly stigmatized in our society, they do get a lot of attention within the BoPo community because this is radically different from how they are treated outside the community.

So if you are not fat and feel left out of the Body Positive movement – you are not alone. I understand your need for the body positive community to be inclusive of all weights and shapes because body shame can affect someone of any size. You belong in the body positive movement as much as the next person.

But there is a reason why there is often a focus on larger bodies.

First, there is a difference in the way body shame is experienced by fat people and thin people. When you, the non-fat person, experience feelings of shame around your thin or “normal” sized body, you alone experience those feelings. You may feel that others are judging you, but in reality, your body still largely conforms to the expectations society has for women’s bodies: it is within an “acceptable” weight/size range, and is not deemed in any sense “overweight”, “obese” or “fat”. Dealing with feelings of intense body shame is no small feat and the body positive movement is important for you.

When you are fat and dealing with body shame, both you and society feel your body is not “right.” So you experience the double whammy of not feeling good about your body, and also society reaffirming that feeling through institutionalized, accepted weight bigotry. This is underscored most often in fat people’s visits to the doctor, where they often cannot get the same treatment for conditions as thin people do because all problems are blamed on their weight. That is a really big load of stigma to carry, not to mention life-threatening at times.

So, some things to know:

The Body Positive Movement is first and foremost a social justice movement. Body positivity used by individuals as nothing more than a personal tool to improve self-esteem is not the sole purpose of the movement. The Body Positive Movement is about dismantling systems of oppression that keep us in a state of body hatred. So while you can certainly be positive about your own body image in any way you want, Body Positivity, The Movement, hopes for more, for more people, and therefore requires more effort. (and if you’re wondering about how weight loss fits into this, I wrote about that here)

Thin people are not the only people feeling left out the body positive movement. Melissa Toler, Aaron and I talked about this problem on this podcast. The Body Positive Movement feels to many like it only includes the “right” kind of fat body: not too fat, hourglass, white, cis-gendered, symmetrical-faced, able-bodied, female.  This is a huge problem for something that started out as a social justice movement to include all bodies as good bodies. ALL OF THEM.

We need to include all the shapes, sizes, colors, abilities and genders because it takes all of us to lift up not just ourselves but everyone else in need of lifting. So you can be thin in the BoPo Movement while still recognizing that some bodies are not treated equally in the world and therefore need more help in achieving this equality, and that you can help with this kind of advocacy. And there’s a  whole lot of feel-good around doing that.

Also, if you are thin or “normal” weight/shape/size, I want to invite you to join the Fat Acceptance/Fat Positive movement.

Yes, really!

Why? Because we need you as allies. You’ll be helping to address a major civil liberties issue. And you may find that in helping to liberate other bodies, you’ll find some liberation for yourself as well.

You will be with people who are working on accepting themselves just as you are, while also trying to change the culture. We all lift each other up.

PS – just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post, I came across this brilliant article that says everything I’m trying to say here but SO much better.

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Dietitians Unplugged: Virgie Tovar is a Fierce Fat Babe

Cover2Aaron and I got to interview one of my fat-activist heroes recently, Virgie Tovar. Virgie drops some serious knowledge on us about fat phobia, sexism, dieting and fighting a toxic culture. Oh and Babecamp! She is way fun and I’m addicted to her laugh.

I hope you enjoy this episode as much as we did making it.

#LoseHateNotWeight

 

 

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Why Body Positivity Needs Your Help

BoPo heartI’m thrilled at how the body positive movement has really taken off and gone mainstream in the past year. I remember when it was little more than what seemed like a fringe movement only a few short years ago. I’m not even sure I remember anyone using the words “body positive.”

After suppressing my weight on diets for so long, my body naturally gained weight when I stopped dieting and started to eat normally (yep, it can happen).  I was dismayed at the change but I knew I couldn’t go back to dieting, so I decided to immerse myself in this body positivity stuff I’d been seeing a bit of on the internet. After poking around the web for a while I found some wonderful body-acceptance bloggers and advocates to light the way for me. Because literally no one else I knew in real life knew about this stuff, I felt like I had discovered a true body-acceptance treasure trove to which I and a handful of others had the secret key. Which sounds kind of awesome on the level of “Goonies” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, but in reality, when learning how to finally accept and like your body after many years of culturally installed body dissatisfaction, it’s not really a place you want to be alone.

That was in 2010. Flash-forward six years and it now seems like the words “body positive” are on everyone’s lips. While the spread of a body positive movement has, in my opinion, been a good thing, its lack of a codified definition has left it open to misinterpretation and hijacking by less benevolent forces (like what happened to “lifestyle changes”).

“Body positivity” is a pretty general, undefined term, and therefore it’s open to anyone’s interpretation. It can mean something different to everyone. For me, body positivity is about accepting the bodies we have right now, no matter how well they approximate the cultural beauty standards and ideals. It’s about having respect for our bodies and what they do for us, not just about how they look to others or in the mirror. For me, it is also about rejecting a diet-and-weight-loss culture that tells us we need to change our appearance in order to feel good about ourselves and become socially acceptable.

I’ve noticed recently that my definition isn’t necessarily everyone else’s. I’ve read a few “body positive” blogs in which the bloggers talk about their efforts toward weight loss for health purposes. That disappoints me; if it’s truly about health, we know that a person does not actually have to lose weight in order to make positive changes toward good health. Eating well, exercising, managing stress, getting social and emotional support are all things a person can do without requiring the number on the scale to change. And knowing what I know about just how unhealthful and futile dieting is both physically and mentally, I simply cannot equate the pursuit of weight loss with body positivity.

I’ve also seen people draw a line in the sand with body positivity and weight. Like, “It’s okay to feel good about your body up to a certain point. But some people are too big and need to lose weight.” No, this is absolutely not body-positive. This imaginary line in the sand is why I believe in fat positivity. It should go without saying that fat positivity is included in body positivity, but considering that the word “fat” is still largely wielded as an insult, and fat bodies are almost never accepted and celebrated as other body shapes and sizes are – well, it’s going to take a lot of extra effort on behalf of fat activists and advocates to normalize fat bodies. Part of that effort includes saying, unapologetically, that we are fat positive.

This movement needs to be inclusive and accepting of all weights even if it is not necessarily the best or “healthiest” weight for that person at that moment (example: people with illness that cause unintentional weight loss or gain). This is why the banning of very-thin models in France or ads of very-thin women in England is not the answer; this still puts a value on certain body sizes (and if they can ban thin bodies, they won’t hesitate to ban fat bodies at some point either). It doesn’t solve the problem of inclusivity; it only makes the problem of exclusivity worse. The real problem is that women have long suffered from being valued for what our bodies look like; body positivity needs to be about putting that particular valuation aside and embracing the other great things about our bodies and what they do for us, how they enable us to take part in the world.

All of these problems are merely problems of definition, or lack of. The thing that really gets my blood boiling is when industries that profit off of our body insecurities start using the language of body positivity to sell products that aren’t very body positive at all. Dove, I’m looking at you and your cellulite reducing cream. Weight Watchers, I see you trying to get “beyond the scale” with some #bopo language, but I bet you didn’t remove any of the scales from your meetings, did you? Products that propose to change your body are simply not body positive, because they insist that the body at its starting point is flawed and requires changing.

Body Positive Australia recently illustrated this point perfectly when they took Weight Watchers to task after WW put some naked larger women in its magazine and declared they would end fat-shaming:

“Don’t try and manipulate body positivity, mindful eating and other ideas that HAVE NOTHING to do with weight, or weight loss. At the very least – please get real because the veiled attempts at pretending you give a shit are really tiresome. Your advertising directly preys on people’s insecurities and promotes the idea that you’ll be happier and more confident by losing weight. You use fear of fat, and shame, to perpetuate the idea that we’re not enough as we are, we must change & that if we’re smaller, we’re better, more valuable, more worthy. Yours is a shame-based business that is built on the idea that smaller is preferred, and that controlling your food makes for a better person. It keeps the narrative alive that self-worth is contingent on weight, shape and compliant eating behaviour. Whilst we’re keeping the focus on weight, we’re not really addressing the REAL reasons we’re not living the life we want, and deserve.”

Becoming truly body positive is going to require vigilance as the diet industry continues to defend its turf against the potential self-satisfaction of millions of people and therefore the loss of profit for its shitty products that don’t work. Likewise, many people who are personally invested in and benefit from the status quo of cultural beauty ideals will want to continue to enforce these ideals, only letting a chosen few into the club under the guise of “body positivity” in order to continue to keep it exclusive and their power intact. Don’t be fooled, none of this is really body positivity. Being truly inclusive, compassionate, celebratory and accepting of all body shapes, sizes, colors and abilities is what body positivity really needs to be about.

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Latest Dietitians Unplugged Episode!

Aaron and I talk with Andrew Whalen of The Body Image Therapy Center about eating disorders in men. Give us a listen!

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That This American Life Episode: Tell Me I’m Fat

Cover2Have you checked out our latest Dietitians Unplugged episode? Aaron and I — and a lot of people we know — were pretty excited to hear fat being portrayed in a reasonably neutral fashion on the radio (considering how it’s usually portrayed in the media) when NPR’s This American Life aired an episode called Tell Me I’m Fat. So we did what we love to do, naturally: we got together and had a conversation  about it. What did you think? Did you like the TAL episode? Think it was lacking? Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear what you thought about both the TAL episode and our episode.

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We’re getting closer to our goal of 20,000 downloads by the end of July! As of this moment, we need 2436

Have you registered yet for the Making Friends With Food FREE video summit?

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I was interviewed for this video series that talked to a whole bunch of experts on non-diet, non-weight centered, body positive health and nutrition – and the best part is – it’s totally free.

So get your dose of non-diet goodness with a video delivered to your inbox every day from July 25 to August 8 and register here now!

Fat/Food Memes: Just Say No

fat food memesIt is one of the greatest ironies of my life that once I finally stopped dieting, I looked up and saw that everyone else around me had started, or at least were living like they should be on a diet, which is, frankly, almost as bad.

One of the places I see it the most is on social media. Although I have tailored my feed pretty well via my professional Facebook page to only see body positive/HAES/non-diet goodness, my personal page occasionally feeds me an intermittent drip of body hate/food fear messages by way of unfunny memes, sadly by people I actually know (and who are clearly not reading my blog!).

The most recent cringeworthy fat/food memes I encountered were these:

“Attention: Due to recent setbacks, my summer beach body will be postponed another year. As usual your patience is appreciated…”

“I don’t need a personal trainer as much as I need someone to follow me around and slap unhealthy foods out of my hands.”

Hilarious right?? On further critical thought…not so much.

The first one assumes that there is a particular type of beach body that one needs for the beach in the summer, and that if someone doesn’t have this body – well, sorry, no beach for them. I’m going to assume that the body that this meme would deem acceptable is the body type owned by probably less than 5% of the people in the world. So I guess the unlucky rest of us just need to stay home, miss all the summer fun, and wait it out till the Cultural Ideal Body Fairy comes along and bestows its blessings on us. Aaron and I talked about the “summer beach body” BS in this podcast.

The second one is wrong on so many levels it makes my head want to implode. First of all, the idea of “unhealthy” foods is just sooooo 2015. Have we not figured out yet that there aren’t really any unhealthy foods – that it’s really our relationship to food that makes the true difference to our health? Is a donut really going to decimate the health of someone who has a varied and balanced diet and a good relationship to food? No, right?! Then how can any one food truly be labeled “unhealthy?” On a personal note, I find talking about “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods really poor conversational fodder. When did we all collectively decide to stop enjoying what we eat??

I also hate the assumption that somehow avoiding “unhealthy” foods is the health equivalent to exercising. That’s simply not true on the scientific face of it. Studies have shown that exercise is far better than diet for helping to reduce visceral fat (the fat that collects around organs and tends to be more harmful than subcutaneous fat, the stuff that is much more visible) even when no weight is lost. As a dietitian, I’d love to just tell you to have a healthy eating pattern and be done with it,  but I’ve never been able to deny the health benefits of exercise. To say that eschewing movement and simply avoiding those foods you’ve designated as “bad” is somehow going to fix your health…dude, it’s misleading and it’s not even funny. Kill this meme now.

Perhaps in my dieting days I would have enjoyed this sort of bonding. “Haha, let’s all laugh about how bad we feel about our bodies and the way we eat!” Which is weird, because the reason I dieted and lost weight was to feel better about my body (something I achieved only fleeting with this strategy).

In reality, when we share these types of memes, we send a message: I am not in the right body. Other people are not in the right bodies. I do not deserve the food I enjoy. No one in the wrong body should get to enjoy food. We should feel ashamed.

These messages, while seemingly innocent, simply reinforce the culture of body hate and dieting that is weightist and healthist on the face of it and extends its long, gnarly fingers into sexism, racism, ableism, healthism, all the fucking -isms. Creating a hierarchy of good and bad bodies means that you can do that in any other facet of life: sex, ability, skin color, health levels. So let’s just stop, because a culture of compassion and radical acceptance is just so much better.

There are ways to motivate people to eat better and move more and like their bodies that aren’t shame-based. Shaming never made anyone healthier, certainly not in the long run. Meanwhile, if you feel bad about your body, consider why. Could it be the ever-present specter of a culture that practices hate and calls it humor? Reject it and define health on your own terms. And don’t make the world a worse place with shitty memes.

Free Video Series: Making Friends with Food!

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I’m super excited to announce that I got to be a part of this great video series, Making Friends with Food.

Topics include:
– Nourish Yourself with Love
– Let go of Yo-yo diets
– Let go of Perfection
– How to stop eating your Emotions

Once you sign up, from July 26 to August 8, you’ll get a free video delivered directly to your inbox daily. Many of the professionals interviewed for the series are giving away some cool freebies too…you’ll have to watch to see what mine is! Enjoy!

Dietitians Unplugged – Our This American Life Breakdown

Episode 12 is available now! Aaron and I had fun talking about the Tell me I’m Fat episode of This American Life.

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Re-Post: Congratulations, You Just Cured Obesity

thinkerI’m taking a little blog breather this week to enjoy life, so I’m re-posting one of my favorite post in the past year. I’ll be back soon with new content, but for now…enjoy some vintage Dare To Not Diet.

As a dietitian who believes in non-diet, non-weight focused nutrition, I often find myself explaining my position on intentional weight loss to casual acquaintances who always want to talk to me about weight loss. It usually starts out with someone else bringing up the topic after they have discovered I am a dietitian (there is a reason I don’t volunteer this information easily). They say something like, “Well of course diets don’t work. Permanent lifestyle changes are what lead to lasting weight loss,” or, “Eating less doesn’t work, you have to do interval training in order to lose weight and keep it off,” or, “The only way to maintain long lasting weight loss is to do resistance training.” As though fat people have never tried any of these things ever, and if they just would, they’d have their fatness cured, stat.  *Eye roll*

To which I have to answer: “Actually, no one has figured out a way to create long-term weight loss for more than a tiny fraction of people…and neither have you.” (In reality, I try to be nice about this. But for the purposes of this blog, I get to have a Snark-o-rama, ʼkay?) And then I clarify that I’m talking about basically all the weight loss science that exists out there and how it pretty much shows that long-term weight loss is pretty much a unicorn (as in, it doesn’t exist) for all but a few people. And then, of course, perhaps because I’m a dietitian and why trust someone with an actual degree in nutrition*, or perhaps because I’m a chubby woman who’s clearly just given up on herself*, they don’t believe me.

My favorite person (okay, not really) to argue with on this subject insists that the key to weight loss (even long-term!) is interval training weight weights (despite complete lack of evidence) . When I say that I lift weights and I’m still fat, the answer is invariably, “Well, you’re just not doing it enough.” When I ask how much and how often I should lift weights, the answer is, “More than you’re doing now.” Which is asinine, because he doesn’t know jack about what I’m doing now. When I say that I lifted weights very regularly when I was much thinner and dieting and that I couldn’t build any muscle to save my life AND my weight eventually returned even as I adhered to my regimen, he says it was because I was dieting. When I say I stopped dieting, still lifted weights and gained a lot of weight, it is because I’m not lifting enough. Basically, I’m a fatty who can’t win. Oh, and it’s all my fault.

This seems to be the prevailing attitude among people who all profess to have THE answer to the weight loss “problem.” What it really boils down to is, “Do this thing you might not even like to do, do it a lot, focus your entire life on this, forsake all the other things you might be interested in doing because they won’t produce weight loss, and you’ll be CURED of your fat forever!” Except that, oh yeah, there is zero proof that any of this will work LONG TERM for more than a tiny – like 5% tiny – fraction of people, even if you manage to keep at it.

And by the way, guess who’s tried these “foolproof,” “long-term” weight loss “methods”? (imagine me air quoting vigorously here). Only every fat person that’s ever tried to diet ever. Yeah, that’s right. We’ve tried it. It didn’t work and also, it sucked. If it was something most people could sustain long-term AND they enjoyed it, they’d do it. But we’re not talking about enjoying life here, are we? No, the idea seems to be that we do stuff we don’t like just to chase a body that isn’t really ours. Essentially, we are being punished for our fat. You only get one life on earth, so why don’t you do stuff you don’t enjoy to make sure everyone else is okay with the way you look?*

Let’s take weight lifting, for instance (something I actually happen to enjoy). Even if it did work to induce long-term weight loss for most people, what if someone hates lifting weights? Resistance training isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But in order to lose weight and maintain the loss, someone is supposed to sacrifice their interests and pretty much all their spare time just to make sure they have time for adequate amounts of weight-loss inducing resistance training (assuming one doesn’t make a living lifting weights, which most of us don’t)? Pfffft, thanks but no thanks.

There is a reason the weight loss industry is hauling in $60 billion a year – it keeps selling the same shoddy product over and over again to the same people (like, all of us) without ever actually working. If there was a way to produce sustainable weight loss that worked for most people, we’d have all figured it out, done it, and eventually the weight loss industry would cease to exist because we’d have all lost weight and kept it off. But we didn’t. And it keeps existing. And this weight-loss mentality is actually doing more harm than good by contributing to body shame, disordered eating and exercising, weight cycling, and even more weight gain for a lot of people.

So then I hear, “Permanent weight loss is hard work and people are just lazy.” First of all, short-term weight loss is no piece of cake either, but most of us who have tried it have lost at least some weight initially. And you know who works hard? Just about everyone. Yep, turns out the world is not full of lazy people. In a world of ever-increasing working hours and people with multiple jobs, we live in a society that is well-acquainted with hard work. Sometimes it’s hard work we don’t even like, but we do it anyway. But somehow we’re just lazy about losing weight permanently even though we’re willing to pay $60 billion a year for it? This is some serious non-logic.

So, no big surprise here, but nope, no one has “cured” fatness yet. Sorrrreeeeee!

The good news is, that doesn’t mean we need to give up on our health. Although they won’t necessarily cause most people to lose weight (yes, they may cause some people to lose weight, just not a statistically significant proportion of people), actual, doable lifestyle changes that support health are much easier to make and sustain compared to what you have to do to induce and sustain weight loss. So why not do the things that are achievable and sustainable, like listening to internal hunger and satiety cues to prevent overeating, adding more fruits or vegetables to our diet to boost our nutrient intake, or finding more ways to move enjoyably?

These things are easy to do in the absence of hunger and deprivation, or misery of doing stuff that you hate that often accompanies weight loss efforts. And while they might not “cure” our fatness (just as nothing has been shown to do), they will make us healthier. And maybe even happier.

*Sarcasm is a sweet, sweet balm.

Dietitians Unplugged Podcast – Listen now:

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Is There a Fat Human Biome?

fatmouseA friend of mine sent me this article about Sandra Aamodt’s new book Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss. Check it out, she said. Lots of shares on social media.

I’m excited to read this book since Sandra Aamodt has been a pretty staunch anti-diet advocate in recent years. She first came to my attention in this Ted talk. The research discussed in the article centers on the human biome of the gut – the trillions of bacteria that live in our GI system, which is something I’ve been interested in for the last 20 years since I first discovered probiotics – and how our gut microbes might affect our weight.

The article talks about the research done on the biomes of mice and how different body sizes are produced when they alter the biome of bacteria-free mice (which are produced in the lab; bacteria-free humans or mice do not occur naturally). It then goes on to talk about the research based on children who had been given antibiotics early in life and their prevalence for overweight/obesity (the article’s words; you know I prefer “fat” as a body descriptor).  The article, however, makes some wild assumptions and conclusions, and I’m wondering how closely it hues to the tenor of the book.

I’m definitely of the mind that antibiotics have been overused and abused for the last 40 or more years and that’s one of the reasons why antibiotic resistant microbes have developed (MRSA, drug resistant TB). On the other hand, antibiotics are one of the reasons humans are living longer – even despite the supposed “obesity panic epidemic.” So I worry about this kind of information getting filtered through the fatphobic lens of our society and being turned into, “OMIGOD I cannot give my child antibiotics or she will turn out to be FAT.” I’m worried, in essence, that this will become the new iteration of the current anti-vaxxer madness. What if a baby needs antibiotics to save his or her life? Will they be withheld to prevent fatness? This might sound extreme, until you look at the increase in pertussis (whooping cough) and measles outbreaks that were most likely due to anti-vaccination hysteria.

The article closes with, “For now, we can take a couple of lessons from this research. Parents should minimize antibiotic use in children, especially in the first year of life, because changes in gut bacteria at that age can have lasting consequences. The average child in the United States receives ten to twenty courses of antibiotics before age 18, increasing the risks of asthma, allergies and inflammatory bowel disease, in addition to obesity and diabetes.” Can we really take these lessons yet? I’m not advocating for the cavalier use of antibiotics in kids with a mere runny nose, but as far as I know, there is simply not enough firm data to jump to all these conclusions (remember that correlation does not equal causation). The science is far from clear, and people still die regularly from simple bacterial infections in countries where they have no access to antibiotics. I’m afraid this kind of simplistic pronouncement is just going to panic parents more than needs to happen.

So let’s use some commonsense here, please. Yes, we shouldn’t abuse antibiotics; no, we probably shouldn’t withhold antibiotics from children if they truly need them just because there is a chance they will end up fat later on in life.

I’m also concerned about the potential for the research on the human biome to be abused by the diet industry in the name of eradicating fat people. How far will we go (read: how far will the diet industry go) in trying to change the biomes of fat people in order to make them into thin people? I’ll tell you this: I for one am not swallowing any poop pills to facilitate a bacterial transplant no matter how thin it might make me (as has already been proposed in recent research. Ew.). I already know what I need to do to be as healthy as I can be at the size I’m at now (knowing that many factors are beyond my control); I don’t need to literally swallow shit on top of everything else I do.

And what if we find out (too late, as always) that one person’s gut microbes aren’t good for someone else? Or that our personal biomes hold certain advantages for us and that changing that environment removes those advantages? Count me out, thanks.

I know that Sandra Aamodt will make the case that diets don’t make us thinner like they purport to do, and probably make us fatter in the long run. I am hoping she has used the research around the human biome to make the case that our weight is not really within our control, and that there are many complex factors that go into determining our body weight that we cannot necessarily influence.  I truly hope she advocates for size diversity and body acceptance. Because what we don’t need is another hare-brained scheme – like dieting to lose weight has proven to be – to make further assaults on the bodies and minds of fat people.

Dietitians Unplugged Podcast download challenge!

Will you help Aaron and I get to 20,000 downloads by the end of July? We need around 7,000 more at this moment – about half of what we normally get in a given month. If you have enjoyed our podcast, consider sharing it on social media, or for professionals, recommending us to your clients. And if you can leave us a rating and review on iTunes, this helps boost our visibility and spread the non-diet, HAES® message further and wider.

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You’ll Be Happy When You’re Not Fat and Other Possibly Untrue Things

yellow skirt
Feelin’ easy & breezy these days

I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been experiencing an emotion that hasn’t been entirely natural for me for most of my life…I’ve been happy. Happy and completely content, both with my life and myself. I’ve felt happiness before, but it often felt tainted with mild-but-persistent anxiety.

It has only been very recently, when I’ve begun to embrace who and how I really am and the gifts I have to share that life started feeling really good. When I shucked off the expectations I thought the world had for me and just went with my own expectations…my life really started to open up.

And yet, I am as fat as I was before I started my first diet. We are frequently told fat people can’t be happy with themselves, so how is this possible? (Sarcasm meter: 10/10)

Looking back before my first diet, I cannot recall truly disliking my body. I knew that society saw my body as “wrong” but I didn’t have problems looking at myself in photos, and I didn’t look in the mirror and think “yuck.” I went out dancing a lot back then and remember feeling pretty awesome when I rocked an outfit I really liked. However, I went on a diet anyway because as much as I liked myself, I became tired of being the butt of society’s joke. I didn’t want to be seen as “wrong” any longer. When I began to lose weight rapidly and relatively easily, it just reinforced the diet mentality for me. When people around me started to congratulate me on my new body, I was hooked.

So in fact it was after I had lost weight that I learned to hate my former fat body.

When you lose weight and everyone tells you how awesome you suddenly look, that is some seriously addictive mojo. Now you know: before, not so good. Now, good. I decided to blame my former fatness for all that was wrong with my life before: the lack of love, the lack of self-esteem, the choice of bad hairstyles, feeling invisible. Since I had been able to “fix” the fat problem, it did not fully occur to me that this was actually a societal problem and not an individual one — that everyone knows the message that fat bodies are worth less and just maybe that negatively impacts our experience in the world.

I got into a relationship that I was pretty sure would not have happened had I remained fat. On the one hand I was relieved that I was no longer fat and could be in relationships, yet on the other hand, I was angry that my romantic life depended on something so trivial as my weight and appearance (little did I know, it didn’t have to). This, I guess, is what is meant by cognitive dissonance. It was hard to get relaxed enough in my life to fully feel happiness or contentment in any meaningful way.

Many years later, when I started to regain my lost weight after giving up dieting, I was disconcerted to say the least. I had somehow convinced myself that this was not possible or likely, and yet there it was – a straight shot back to my starting weight, pre-dieting. I was unhappy but also determined that I would make peace with my body and even try to like it. I was determined I would not let fat bigotry dictate how I felt about myself.

In the past few years, after a LOT of rumination on how fucked up this societal fatphobia bigotry bullshit is, I’ve come closer than ever before to accepting and liking my body, and feeling right and relaxed in it. Knowing that my body didn’t need to be my part- or even full-time job has freed me up to pursue my career (which, ironically, is about food and nutrition – but not about my body or my nutrition) and magic started happening. I finally garnered the confidence to start this blog and a podcast; I’ve been offered guests spots on other podcasts (check them out here, here, and here), I’ve been published in a magazine, I’m getting offered speaking opportunities, and soon I’ll be starting my own business and helping those who need it to find peace with food – essentially my dream job (more info on that to come in future posts) . I discovered that being loved did not depend on the size and shape of my body. On top of that, I’ve met a whole community of amazing people who also don’t buy the fat=bad thin=good BS we are sold on a daily basis.

When I was thin, I thought I should have been happy, but I really wasn’t. When I was thin, I longed for a career that I was excited and serious about, but I was too self-conscious to pursue. When I was thin, I wanted my relationships to feel like they were based on more than how well I approximated the cultural beauty ideal. When I was thin, I wanted to feel relaxed and unworried in my body, but I couldn’t. I got all that, but not when I was thin. That all happened when I got fat again.

I can’t guarantee this outcome for anyone else, and I can only speak to my own experience. My fatness is not someone else’s fatness. But I do think it’s important that we challenge the myths that the diet industry and society sells to us which few of us profit from.

We might not be happy with ourselves when we lose weight; we might not be unhappy if we are fat. As much as we are able, let’s try to determine our own levels of happiness for ourselves, and then, hopefully, also change the world.

Dietitians Unplugged Ep 10 – Be Your Own Beloved with Vivienne McMaster:

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The picture I used this week was taken during Vivienne’s Beloved Beginnings class. I hope you’ll join Aaron Flores and I for the Be Your Own Beloved 30 day class starting July 1. I have had so much fun in this class so far. I’ve started to learn to hush my inner critic and see myself with compassion. I can’t recommend it enough – and I don’t even get paid to say that.

Am I Healthy at Any Weight?

HAES graphic Someone accused me on Facebook recently of telling people that they were healthy at any size (she also told me that I was clearly unhealthy and unfit because of my obesity, despite never once having looked at my medical records. Perhaps she’s a psychic doctor?! No, just a run-of-the-mill internet troll). Aside from attributing to me words I have never uttered, it’s also a big misconstruing of the HAES® philosophy. But it’s something I hear enough that I think it warrants some clarification from time to time. If someone has not taken the time to look into the finer details of Health at Every Size® (which are encompassed in 5, easy-to-digest points, but hey, that could read like the ACA to some people), they might easily misunderstand what this philosophy is about. They might well think that what this movement says is that a person can be healthy at literally any weight, from 2 pounds to 1000 pounds.

So let me explain. That’s not at all what HAES® is about. But first let’s review the 5 tenets of HAES® as listed on the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s (ASDAH) website:

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

You’ll probably notice right off that it doesn’t say, “And BTW, you’re totally healthy at ANY size.” Nope. Nowhere is that said. The essential philosophy of Health at EVERY Size® is that no matter what your weight is right now, you can begin (or continue) your journey to health. Maybe you aren’t healthy right now – you don’t need to let your weight stop you from trying to become healthier (and just a reminder that health is not entirely within our control, nor is it an obligation). Maybe as a result of changes, your weight will change, but that’s not the important part of this whole shebang.

So the question remains – do I think anyone is healthy at any weight? Given that I don’t have access to most people’s medical records, I can’t ever tell that. It’s entirely possible that a person may not be healthy at literally any weight. What we know so far about metabolism and internal weight regulation is that the body seems to know what weight it wants to be within a certain range (set point theory), and despite our best dieting efforts, doesn’t want to be too far away from that range for very long (thus the very predictable results of the recent research on The Biggest Loser contestants). There may be a range of weights that your body could be healthy at, but I truly wouldn’t know. Only your body knows that.

But this is putting far too much emphasis on the “weight” part – because weight is not what makes someone healthy or unhealthy. We cannot simply look at a person and determine if they are healthy based on their weight. Genetics, environment, and behaviors all play a part in health. You can definitely work on the behavior part. Depending on your situation, maybe you can change your environment (this assumes a certain amount of economic privilege, certainly). Genetics – good luck, that’s always a roll of the dice. so yes, we can definitely influence our health to some degree. What more and more is shown in the science, though, is that while you may be able to influence your weight short-term, in the long-term, your body almost always wins out on that decision. What’s that serenity prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Yeah, that works pretty well here. Serenity now.

No, I can’t tell you if you will be healthy at any size. I defer to your body’s wisdom on determining those things for you. I only know that weight does not equal health. My suggestion is to stop worrying about weight and just work on the things you can and want to change. Maybe you want to eat more intuitively, or find exercise you actually like, or learn to cope with stress better, or get some much needed social or psychological support. The wonderful thing about HAES® is that it is all-inclusive – people of every size can work on those things to the best of their ability and according to their own desire.

 

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Shameless Plugs for Other People

This is something new I’m doing. From time to time I’m going to promote someone who’s work I love and think is important to the HAES® movement, because we just need more of that. This week I want to give a shout-out to Green Mountain at Fox Run for their wonderful new website! They have a great blog – check it out and share as you see fit!

 

 

 

The Fat Fear Factor

Big_Fat_Red_Cat
I’m okay, you’re okay.
I was talking to an acquaintance who doesn’t know what I do (this body acceptance/HAES stuff) for at least some of my time, which is why she said to me, “I’m looking for a 1500 calorie diet –  I saw pictures of myself at my nephew’s wedding and I didn’t like the way I looked. What diet should I do?”

Not being paid to treat her, I dispensed with any sort of motivational interviewing sensibility and pleaded, “Oh Harriet*! Please don’t even bother. Diets are horrible and in the end you just gain even more weight back.” She was interested in that, so we talked for a while about what all the science says and how food-and-calorie restriction just leads to crazy-eating and how in the end, almost no one loses weight forever.

But she kept coming back to one thing: I have to do something, because I’m just too big. Being a short, fat, older lady, she most likely receives confirmation, like all fat people, on a daily basis that she has the wrong body, if from nothing more than the near-total absence of fat bodies presented in every form of media that exists (but also probably from a lot more sources). I totally don’t blame her for getting stuck on this. I had talked about listening to our inner cues of hunger and satiety to regulate our eating, but that it probably wouldn’t make her thin. She concluded with, “I’ll try to listen to my hunger and fullness…but I also just need to have portion control,” which, sadly, is really just another way to say “diet.” And I totally get it, because the way she feels about her weight and needing to do something – yeah, I’ve been there.

So what I want to talk about today is not the massive failure of any sort of intentional weight loss effort, but rather the problem of body unhappiness. Because unless we at least explore the reasons for body dissatisfaction, it can be oh-so-hard to even contemplate achieving a peaceful relationship with food.

Why? Look at the above example. Harriet was interested in listening to her internal hunger and satiety cues (and she had a poignant story about childhood hunger that continues to fuel her need to overeat to this day) but she felt she needed to fix her body size first. She couldn’t get past it. She didn’t feel she had the right to exist happily in her body, no matter what her size. And we talked about the reasons for that too: the expectation of women that we always appear “attractive,” the lack of representation of fat bodies in the media, the weight loss industry who continues to perpetuate the idea that permanent weight loss is possible, the medical community who backs up this idea without acknowledging the overwhelming evidence that says that we don’t need to lose weight to be healthy, and society at large which says we need to lose weight to be happy. Everything that she’d ever heard told her that her fat body was wrong wrong wrong.

I think more than ever, thanks to this rampant fat-fear-mongering, so many of us have come to the conclusion that it’s NOT okay to 1. be in a fat body and 2. be happy with ourselves and our lives in that fat body. This is simply wrong.

So this is what I want you to know: you have the right to be happy in your body no matter what its size. You might be miles away from that, but you need to at least know that this is a possible outcome if you decide to choose it.

Permission is a powerful thing. We’re holding ourselves back from a fully-lived life when we feel we lack permission to be authentically ourselves. Your eating will suffer; your happiness will suffer; and your health will suffer.

Becoming happy in your fat body isn’t a quick trip. But you at the very least need the ticket – permission to be okay with your body – to get on board.

 *Totally not her real name