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.

That NY Post Intuitive Eating Article

thinkerIt’s been a banner month for Intuitive Eating in the press! First, we heard that Cosmopolitan magazine would be featuring an article by Caroline Rothstein about Intuitive Eating in the July issue – WIN! Then NYPost.com featured the article “Intuitive Eating is for People Who Have Given Up” by Brandon Drenon, personal trainer and holder of a nutrition certification from a Cracker Jack Box  Precision Nutrition, which on first read seems asinine in its conclusions…and continues to seem so on the second and third read.  But I’m of the mind lately that for HAES® and intuitive eating (and all other means of internally regulated, non-diet eating), there is no such thing as bad publicity. Let’s get these ideas into the minds of the people who need them.

That said, this article is in serious need of rebuttal, to be sure. Some of it gets it right – well, at least the parts he quotes or summarizes directly from the book. The incredulous tenor of the article is established right away, however:

“For anyone who has ever struggled with a conventional diet rigid with rules and restrictions on what you can eat and when you can eat it, the Intuitive Eating diet might sound very attractive. The guidelines of this eating philosophy are about as strict as the cool mom who smokes weed with her high school-age children — #bestmomever.”

I’ll forgive the ridiculous comparison to moms who might actually do this (do these moms really exist??). The major problem is the missing context for why some people find intuitive eating so appealing and even necessary. That context is a food-and-body-obsessed world that tells us 1. Whatever we look like now is not okay, and we must look a certain way to gain societal acceptance and optimal health and 2. We can do that by manipulating our diets in such a way that does not honor our instincts (which turns out to be, statistically speaking, a very short-term solution for most people often resulting in even more weight gained as a final result). Prolonged food and/or calorie restriction can really mess with a person’s perceptions of hunger and fullness, and intuitive eating helps them find those cues again.  The very idea of intuitive eating exists simply because of the astounding failure of dietary restriction for body manipulation for the majority of most people.

The next part of the article describes the basic concept of IE, taken pretty much right from the book. A former diet-junkie he interviewed even sings the praises of intuitive eating. So far, so good.

And then this:

“Eat what you want, enjoy every guiltless bite, and be happy with the way your body looks. If that’s all you want, the Intuitive Eating diet works flawlessly, [oh Brandon, please stop your sentence here!] but it stops there [dang]…If you want to look average, then go on an average person’s diet and eat whatever the hell you want. However, if you have concrete weight loss or physique goals, then definitive actions need to be taken that control your appetite and guide your food and exercise selection.”

Well now, here’s something we’ve never heard before! Oh wait, we have heard it. Brandon, you had me at “works flawlessly” because yes, those of us who practice intuitive eating do want to enjoy what we eat and be happy with the way our bodies look. That is exactly at the essence of intuitive eating! But then he goes on to let us know what he thinks of having, god forbid, an “average” body, and I’m reminded again of how hard it can be to like our bodies when we are surrounded by a world full of people who think this way. Haven’t you heard Brandon? Oppressive beauty ideals – like, say, the bikini-ready beach body – are soooooo 2015!

“The message of Intuitive Eating is self-acceptance and self-awareness, but what seems to be lost is self-discipline and self-control.”

Brandon, you have so missed the point. Not to mention, you forgot to read Traci Mann’s definitive and very scientific book on this stuff, Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, The Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again, which includes actual science on how when it comes to our diets, self-control and willpower are definitely not the most reliable eating strategies (especially for weight loss), and the body’s physiological and psychological processes almost always win out to keep our weight right where it is or was (unless you develop an eating disorder. I do not encourage this.). If they did work, then most diets (or at least some) would be successful and we’d all be thin. But they don’t, and we aren’t. But since you asked, the discipline in intuitive eating comes from truly listening to and honoring your hunger and fullness cues – you know, just the cues we’ve been equipped with to guide our nutrition since cavepeople days.

“What else in life do you leave to the whim of your intuition and expect positive results?”

Oh, just bowel movements, urination, breathing, sleeping and most of my other bodily functions. I heard that eating was also a bodily function, so I’ve decided to trust what my body is telling me on that, too. Turns out leptin and grehlin are wiser than my vanity.

“If we are to get anywhere in life worth going, the rules can’t be ‘Do whatever you want, whenever you want.’”

They can’t? Last time I checked, Brandon, as long as I’m not breaking any laws or hurting people, I can kind of do exactly what I want, when I want. Fun fact: once I decided to do exactly what I wanted with my body and how I fed it, I had so much time to do things other than plan my diet and worry about my weight all day that my life became filled up with awesomeness (like writing this blog, getting published in a magazine and doing a podcast). My life is WAY more fulfilling now than when I followed the body-police rules. Rules which I didn’t make in the first place, and for which I was not awared a ceremonial cookie when I followed them. Don’t get my feminist hackles up, now.

Brandon makes a few other ridiculous assumptions (that we would all blow our money on “Italian luxury items and Michelin-starred restaurants” if it were not for ignoring our intuition. Um, no. My intuitive desires fall more along the lines of self-care such as eating well and getting plenty of relaxation, sorry to disappoint) and sums up with

“If you have specific physique goals, you need to eat with intent and make conscious decisions to bring you closer to those goals. Whether it is counting calories, watching your carbohydrate and sugar intake, or eating Paleo, all of these mechanisms have the framework in place to help guide you toward weight loss.”

So here’s where we just need to go back to the science. Some people will be able to alter their physique significantly through exercise training, this is true. It will probably take up a lot of time and have to become the equivalent of a full-time job, this also seems true. But for many people with weight loss goals who aren’t able to dedicate their lives to the diet and exercise regime of an Olympian athlete (ie, pretty much most of us), the chance of making weight loss stick beyond 5 years even with diet and exercise is a paltry 5%. I wish people would put half the energy they spend on shaping their physiques into shaping themselves into actual interesting or good people, but I guess we’ll leave that for another, future epoch.

Perhaps Brandon’s nutrition certificate precludes the need for scrutiny of all the available science on weight loss (his B.S. from the University of Texas is in cinematography and film/video production, not nutrition). I feel like such a fool for taking all those silly classes like general chemistry, organic chemistry, physiology, anatomy, biochemistry and advanced nutrition (hello, metabolic pathways!) for four years that help me to understand the science I read regularly on this subject. Life would have been so much easier if I’d just gotten the 500 page Precision Nutrition textbook! (PS – My chemistry textbook was like 800 pages alone). What a friggin’ waste of time!

Listen, if people want to work out and manipulate their bodies into whatever they want, that’s cool. My concern is for the legions of people whose diets have failed them, and who then blame themselves for that failure only to get sucked into the whole cycle again. Intuitive eating isn’t about diving into a hill of donuts or a pile of calzones and eating until you are ready to explode (that’s called disordered eating). It’s not about eating junk food all day/every day (because our bodies actually crave diversity naturally in the absence of dietary restraint). These are gross misunderstandings about IE. In reality, many people have found that once they achieve a more intuitive relationship to food, they have improved diet quality. Here’s the latest research on intuitive eating so you can separate fact from fiction.

“Restrictions are necessary for balance. Although Intuitive Eating suggests otherwise, eating calzones until you spontaneously discover the desire to eat salads just seems very unlikely…Are you going to be happier following Intuitive Eating, or would you rather apply some discipline and eat a salad?”

The first part of this is simply incorrect, again, based on the science. High dietary restraint is actually associated with higher weights and poor diet quality. People who eat according to internal signals tend to have lower weights and better diet quality, not to mention they feel better about themselves which also happens to be good for your health (imagine that). The idea that we need to hold our noses to eat a salad is ridiculous. I like vegetables. Lots of people I know like salads. Why would this require any sort of discipline…oh, unless you were so damn hungry or deprived from restricting all the time that you only craved calzones.

Brandon got one thing really right though: intuitive eating is for people who have given up. It’s for people who have given up the futility of following yet another weight loss diet that inevitably fails. Given up feeling bad about themselves because their body doesn’t fit into a particular society-approved mold. Given up on living and breathing their diet every second of the day. Given up on feeling crazy around food. Given up on a bad relationship to eating and their bodies. I gave all that up and my life opened way up. Want to give up with me?

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

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Compassion For Dieters

“…One of the ways that shifted for me to be more compassionate is, I kind of struggle with feeling perpetually disappointed in people a lot. Like, why aren’t they living up to their expectations, why aren’t they living up to my expectations, why are they making these self-destructive choices?” -Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

It can be hands love signhard to live in this diet- and weight-obsessed world on a daily basis when you are no longer participating in the BS. Hearing diet-talk or food-fear driven conversation can be infuriating at best, triggering at worst. When we’ve tasted the freedom of a restriction-free life, we want to grab the world by the lapels and shake it and yell, “WAKE UP AND SMELL THE CREAM-AND-SUGAR INFUSED COFFEE! THIS IS EFFING GREAT! STOP DIETING FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY!” After giving up dieting and a life of chasing fleeting goal weights, we no longer see the world the same way – and so we no longer understand why so many others still seem stuck in the current weight-loss-diet paradigm.

This was me immediately after having given up dieting (and up to pretty recently).  Suddenly I was mystified that everyone was not aiming for non-diet nirvana like I now was, as though I had not spent the prior 16 years in ever-worsening diet-restriction oblivion. It’s easy to want to project our experience as the universal experience; after all, many of us came from the “if I can do it, everyone can do it” diet-mentality world. And it’s also easy to take the diet talk of others personally, and maybe even feel as though we are being judged for our non-diet choices.

Brené Brown explains how she dealt with these kinds of feelings in her book, Daring Greatly:

“One of the things that shifted for me, was this idea that maybe everyone – myself included – maybe everyone’s doing the best they can. But sometimes, that means that I don’t have to engage. …What I’ve learned for me, around boundaries and compassion, is that I don’t know whether people are doing the best they can or not, but my life is better when I work from the assumption that they are. … at the same time, that means that I need to have really clear boundaries. So instead of judging you, and feeling resentful, and feeling like you’re sucking me dry, or you’re taking advantage of me, I need to assume that you’re doing the best you can. And I need to set my boundaries, and not get involved to the degree where I lose control over how I feel about myself and what’s going on in that relationship.”

That’s where I’m trying to get with diet talk right now. I don’t always have to walk away or plug my ears and yell “LALALALALALALA,” but I don’t have to get emotionally involved, either. I can assume the dieter is trying the best she can. I don’t need to be angry or feel personally judged, especially because I feel good about the choices I’ve made around giving up dieting and embracing my body (aka, my boundaries) – and I can talk about that too, if that’s where the conversation is going. I don’t mind planting some non-diet seeds when appropriate, I just don’t need to get my knickers in a knot like I used to about “WHY DON’T THEY UNDERSTAND?”

This has actually come as a big relief. I spend plenty of time being angry at a society and diet industry that tells us we are not good enough as we are; I don’t need to be angry at the victims. I used to be one of them, after all.

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

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Becoming My Own Beloved

Be Your Own BelovedLast week was a bad body week for me. You know the kind I’m talking about. Suddenly the outfit I was totally happy with in the AM felt all wrong by the PM; I had massive bloaty-belly syndrome for most of the week (classic stress response for me); and I felt my body was taking on proportions and shapes that were more alien than human (body dysmorphia learned from years of dieting in full effect). I just wanted to be at home, hiding in my sweats, not thinking about what I looked like, calming my tummy. Yep, even the most ardent of body-acceptance advocates can have a bad body day (or days, in my case).

Hey, it happens. I’ve accepted my body, mentally and physically uncomfortable days and all. I have so much appreciation for the process of learning to accept my body as is and what that acceptance has given me. Thinner-and-afraid former me wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now –  putting myself way the hell out there with this blog, hosting a podcast, and writing for a magazine – because I was so afraid of losing even one ounce of acceptance from others. It’s much harder to take big leaps when you’re in constant fear-mode.

So it’s nice to not care nearly as much about acceptability to others. But I am still my harshest critic. I hide a lot in photos for fear of what my own personal inner critic will say. I sometimes even hide from mirrors in public (I’m completely cool with my home mirror, don’t ask me how that works), or my reflection in windows.  I’m still not entirely familiar with this new, non-dieted body, and I could use some help.

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Photo credit: Vivienne McMaster

That’s why I’m excited about this week’s Dietitians Unplugged Podcast. Aaron and I interviewed the very cool, very awesome Vivienne McMaster of Be Your Own Beloved. Vivienne helps others learn to love themselves through photography. I love taking photos, so this is something I can totally get behind. We were both so into this idea that we decided to join Vivienne’s July 1 class, and we’re inviting our listeners to join along with us. Let’s go on this awesome body-love journey together.

Enjoy this week’s podcast. It was one of our favorites. And hope to see you in the next Be Your Own Beloved class!

PS – This time only, Vivienne is including her 10 day class, Beloved Beginnings, in the price of her 30 day program. The 10 day class starts June 13. She has lots of other courses and e-books on offer so have some fun clicking around her gorgeous site.

Listen to Dietitians Unplugged Episode 10 – Be Your Own Beloved with Vivienne McMaster here:

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Dietitians Unplugged Podcast – Episode 9: Why We Hate The Biggest Loser

Cover2Greetings Dietitians Unplugged Podcast fans! We’ve got a new episode for you!  Aaron and I let it all out as  we discuss a show that epitomizes our current diet culture, NBC’s “The Biggest Loser.” We discuss the widely-shared article in the New York Times that reviewed the latest research on how contestants’ metabolisms have yet to recover even six years after being on the show.  We also talk about Sarah Aamodt’s great article from the NYT about why you should never diet again.  And we quote one of our favorite HAES® colleagues, Deb Burgard in this great article.  Take a listen to this very important episode — it might be the one you need to hear before you consider going on your next “diet.”

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