PCOS and Weight

DU + JulieI’m amazed to say that before a few years ago, I had never heard of the condition Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS for short). A friend in college had first mentioned that she thought she may have it, but couldn’t get a firm diagnosis.

Since then, I’ve met many more women who have PCOS – so many, in fact, that I have a hard time believing the statistic that 1 in 10 women have it. If I had to guess, it’s more than that – but the typically poor attention and research around many complex women’s medical conditions will probably hinder proper diagnosis and of course, appropriate treatment.

PCOS causes hormonal imbalances, can hinder fertility, may be related to unexplained weight gain, and is related to insulin resistance and diabetes. One of the common treatments suggested has been weight loss – and you know how a HAES® dietitian feels about that. Weight loss in absence of any medical condition is already difficult to achieve and nearly impossible to maintain. PCOS makes it even harder. And as we know, it is in all likelihood a temporary solution at best, with the most likely result being even more weight gained in the long run.

That’s why I’m so glad my wonderful colleague and fellow podcaster, registered dietitian Julie Duffy Dillon, is an expert in the area of PCOS. She’s on top of all the latest research. So, of course, I reached out and said, “Julie! Make sweet, beautiful podcast magic with us on this incredibly complex condition!” and happily she said yes without hesitation.

If you or someone you know struggles with PCOS and related weight gain or insulin resistance, I think you’ll find this episode of Dietitians Unplugged incredibly enlightening and reassuring. There are things you can do for your health and your fertility, but luckily, one of them isn’t suffering under the tyranny of yet another weight loss regimen.

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Check out Julie’s excellent podcast, Love, Food and her free PCOS Roadmap. She also has a PCOS and Food Peace Support Group on Facebook.

 

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Isabel Foxen Duke Teaches us How to Stop Fighting Food

Isabel and DUOne of my big heroes in the anti-diet world is Isabel Foxen Duke. She is a bad-ass who doesn’t mince words when it comes to explaining why diet culture is bullshit, eating isn’t the addiction, and why emotional eating might be saving your ass. So when we got to meet over the phone a while back, of course I leaped at the chance to invite her on our podcast.

In this awesome episode of Dietitians Unplugged, Isabel, Aaron and I talk about all stuff anti-diet, intuitive eating, Health at Every Size and yes, even sex (don’t worry, the episode is still by and large PG!).

More About Isabel

Isabel Foxen Duke is the Creator of Stop Fighting Food—a free video training program for women who want to “stop feeling crazy around food.” After years of trying to overcome emotional eating, binge-eating and chronic weight-cycling through traditional and alternative approaches, Isabel discovered some radical new ways to get women over their “food issues” once and for all—not just by shifting the mindsets of individuals, but by challenging the dominant diet culture as a whole.

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Learn more about Isabel’s free Stop Fighting Food video series now!

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Exercise For Everyone with Ragen Chastain

Ragen and DUI like to move my body, but sometimes I get sick of the same ol’ same ol’ when it comes to the exercise I’m doing. So lately I’ve been experimenting with trying some new ways to move.

I decided to try the dance studio down the street.  I signed up for a Zumba class. Long story short, it was a less than ideal experience. Despite being promoted as good for beginners, the steps were far too advanced, the instructor wasn’t cueing the steps or pointing out the direction ahead of time, and I ended up frustrated and lost. Then I looked around the class and noticed that there were only two people who could be even remotely considered fat – me and another woman. I started wondering how exercise spaces could be made more welcoming to more people – people of different sizes, abilities, and skill. And people who don’t want to think about their bodies as something to shrink or re-shape. People who want to exercise just because it’s fun to move your body.

When I told my podcast partner, Aaron Flores, about it, he had the brilliant idea of asking Ragen Chastain, speaker, writer, dancer, marathoner, fat activist and author of one of my favorite blogs Dances with Fat, about how exercise could be so much more inclusive of more people. She agreed, and we had a great conversation all about what needs to change in the world of exercise to be more inclusive and available to all people. Enjoy!

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4 Things That Happen When You Ditch Dieting

I did a guest blog post for non-diet dietitian Taylor Wolfram over at her site Whole Green Wellness! Check it out:

Say goodbye to dietsI spend a lot of time talking about how I quit dieting and why (hello – life of misery). I discuss how we know now that dieting does not actually produce long-term weight loss for most people, and how diets are a part of an oppressive culture that doesn’t encourage us to live fully expressed lives in which we can feel good not just about our bodies, but our total selves.

But today I’m going to talk about what it’s like to take those first few steps away from dieting and diet culture…. Continue here to keep reading

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“But I don’t like myself at this weight…”

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.

From here I found other fat activist and body love gurus Jes Baker and Virgie Tovar. Get Jes’s book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and Virgie’s anthology Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. Follow their blogs and listen to the podcasts they guest on. They are the very embodiment of fat women living full and fully satisfying lives.

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.

Fat Fashion Blogs:

Gabifresh
GarnerStyle
Le Blog de Big Beauty
The Curvy Fashionista
Curvy Girl Chic
Life and Style of Jessica Kane
MamaFierce
Nadia Aboulhosn
Nicolette Mason
And one for the dudes: Chubstr

Last Call: Registration for Dare to Eat closes tonight!

Dare to EAT Logo with Text HALF sizeMy 5 week online program, Dare to Eat…As much as you want, without guilt, in total freedom starts this Monday, July 19th.

Come and learn how to develop a peaceful relationship to food once and for all.

Registration closes tonight at midnight Pacific time. Click here for program details and to sign up.

Dietitians Unplugged Talk Getting Older with Michelle Vina-Baltsas

DU + Michelle VBI 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.

Show notes: we referenced this awesome article a few times.

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Dare to EAT Logo with TextReady to move ahead in your non-diet path to food freedom? My program, Dare to Eat, might be just the thing you need to get you to that blissful place of food peace. Program starts Monday, June 19thCheck out the details here.

Your Stomach is not a Bottomless Pit…It Just Feels Like It

sweets
Feel like you could eat this all the time?

As a dietitian who helps others get over disordered eating after years of dieting, I’ve heard this many times: “I don’t have a limit when I’m eating. If I let myself eat what I want, I won’t ever be able to stop eating.”

To this I say: bunk. It just feels like that.

Everyone has a stopping point*. You might not think so because maybe you, like I did at one point, have stood beside the cheese tray at a cocktail party scarfing ungodly amounts of mediocre cheese cubes fearing you’ll never stop. Maybe you did eventually stop at that “I’m gonna burst!” point and regretted the whole ordeal. And maybe you simply don’t know your stopping point, as I did not, because you are hungry much of the time…so very, very hungry.

Here’s a little secret: dieting and calorie and food restriction create a false impression in your body that you are a bottomless pit. That you are a vessel that will never be filled, especially when you are confronted by a favorite or particularly delicious (or sometimes even mediocre) food. Maintaining a body weight lower than what is natural for you will also cause your body to constantly crave food, large amounts of it. This is a pretty reliable biological response regulated by a cascade of hunger hormones, and anyone who diets will in all likelihood experience this kind of mega-hunger regularly.

On the flip side, honoring your appetite (aka, eating intuitively) has the opposite effect. Once you begin to eat satisfying amounts of food when you feel hungry and your body weight adjusts toward its natural set point, your bottomless pit starts to find its bottom. As you practice honoring internal cues more often, you may start to find that your stopping point is not, in fact, stuffed but satisfied. You may even find yourself easily leaving food on the plate, or turning down the offer of a homemade brownie if you are simply not hungry for it.

My bottomless-pit acquaintances are incredulous when I suggest that they do have stopping points. They don’t trust their bodies. Some are invested in maintaining a certain external appearance and don’t feel their natural appetite will support their desired size (and this might be true).

I sympathize. I was once a bottomless pit too. But I became sick of being ruled by food and by fear of the cheese tray. And I became tired of living my life solely to support a certain body size when there were so many other interesting things to do.

When I started truly honoring my internal signals of hunger and satisfaction (thank you again, intuitive eating), eating what I really wanted, and letting my body be, I no longer had fearsome insatiable cravings. Yes, I gained some weight, but in time (and with a lot of intentional effort) I began to lose the fear that had driven my need for a smaller body size; honoring my appetite came from a place of love and, for me, was the truest act of self-care (aka Health at Every Size®).

Eating what you want and as much as you want may feel scary at first. As your body adjusts, that fear may turn to comfort as you realize you are taking care of yourself and your needs and you no longer have to fear your own bottomless pit.

*Sufferers of Prader-Willi Syndrome excepted.

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On Becoming the Invisible Woman

invisible + DUMy whole life, until very recently, I have felt invisible. I have always been surprised when people I knew, but thought did not know me, say to me, “I remember you from…” (this happened a lot on Facebook back in its early days).

I’m like, Really? You knew who I was?

I am not sure why I felt invisible, but I really didn’t like it. I did a lot of things to ease that invisibility, like wear really flashy clothing, or make my hair crazy big, or wear a lot of make-up.

And yet, I felt I remained essentially invisible. Whether it was real or not, it felt real, and I think there are societal reasons for that.

Once I started getting very visible online and talking about all things Health at Every Size®, anti-diet, intuitive eating, body acceptance, fat positive, I realized my invisible days were well and truly over. They needed to be, because this movement needs more voices, my own included.

And once I joined a female-dominated profession (dietetics) I saw my voice welcomed as equally important to the others around me. This had not been the case when I had worked in the corporate world, I’m sorry to say, and I didn’t flourish in that environment.

So I’ve gotten kind of used to…visibility, lately. Imagine my surprise, then, when I ended up in a situation recently where I felt like I was turning back into the Invisible Woman.

On the set of a video shoot for a wellness mini-documentary by Vice UK, I was rendered irrelevant as I was overlooked, ignored by the males-in-charge around me, and eventually ended up on the cutting room floor (much to my actual relief). I don’t usually go around feeling like this is the case in most situations, so I decided I hadn’t imagined it after all. It was an upsetting reminder that outside my little HAES bubble of acceptance, there is still so much work to do.

If you want to hear the gory, yet hilarious, details of this story, listen to our podcast episode here.  WARNING: wheat grass was wielded as a torture device!

Anyway, I started to think about the many ways in which women experience erasure in our society. This is a real thing. It happens – and requiring women to diet to lose weight is one of the ways it is reinforced.

As a young, chubby woman, I was overlooked frequently as a potential partner for anyone. It was even hard to get a decent job back then. Once I lost weight and better started fitting into the cultural beauty standards du jour, all sort of attention — wanted, but also unwanted — was suddenly directed at me. It’s ironic that getting smaller somehow equated with better visibility, and yet it wasn’t real visibility. I ended up an ornament in so many situations, not a fully realized person with a mind and thoughts and ideas (and there would be so many repercussions for accepting this faux visibility, I later found out). I didn’t even feel visible to myself, and I had problems asking for what I really needed and wanted because of that. I had to fight for that kind of recognition, and although becoming older does not make the job any easier, I’m going to keep fighting for it.

Sarah Silverman had this to say not long ago: “As soon as a woman gets to an age where she has opinions and she’s vital and she’s strong, she’s systematically shamed into hiding under a rock.” Gawd, is that true or what?

We can’t let it continue to be true. We have to make our voices heard. We have to stop being afraid to take up space. We need to yell if we’re not being heard.

This is integral to our survival, to our very well-being, and to all the generations of women that will come after us.

Listen to the full Dietitians Unplugged podcast episode 23 here:

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I created this free, 3-day mini-course, Kick Diet-Mind to the Curb, to help you understand the rational behind WHY dieting is so damn dangerous to your body, mind and soul. Click here to give diet culture a kick in the crotch. This also gets you on my newsletter list.

Food is the New Classism

This week I wrote a post for one of my favorite blogs, ASDAH’s Health at Every Size® Blog. Enjoy!

The argument (really just a friendly debate; not an actual fight) has stuck in my head for years.

A self-proclaimed foodie friend and I were discussing the qualities of the best grilled cheese sandwiches. I declared that my favorite was still the kind made with processed cheese slices. She was horrified. “Ugh no!” she gasped. “That’s not REAL cheese!”

I burned a little with shame remembering my childhood growing up eating my mother’s classic grilled cheese sandwiches made with those processed cheese slices…click here to continue reading.

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I created this free, 3-day mini-course, Kick Diet-Mind to the Curb, to help you understand the rational behind WHY dieting is so damn dangerous to your body, mind and soul. Click here to give diet culture a kick in the crotch. This also gets you on my newsletter list.

The Weight You’re Supposed to Be

Bulldog

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?

Take my FREE mini-course!

I created this free, 3-day mini-course, Kick Diet-Mind to the Curb, to help you understand the rational behind WHY dieting is so damn dangerous to your body, mind and soul. Click here to give diet culture a kick in the crotch.