“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.

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.

Want to join my Facebook group where we all lift each other up??

Does Food Rule Your Life?

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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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How Tim Gunn Got it Wrong

yellow skirt
Warning: May add volume …and fabulousness.

By now you’ve seen the article Tim Gunn wrote in The Washington Post about how the fashion industry has long-ignored plus-sized women and how that needs to change.

In a statement I can totally get behind, he said:

“I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It’s a puzzling conundrum. The average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18, according to new research from Washington State University. There are 100 million plus-size women in America, and, for the past three years, they have increased their spending on clothes faster than their straight-size counterparts. There is money to be made here ($20.4 billion, up 17 percent from 2013). But many designers — dripping with disdain, lacking imagination or simply too cowardly to take a risk — still refuse to make clothes for them.”

Yep, we can’t figure it out either. Though soon enough, the picture becomes clear:

“I’ve spoken to many designers and merchandisers about this. The overwhelming response is, “I’m not interested in her.” Why? “I don’t want her wearing my clothes.” Why? “She won’t look the way that I want her to look.” They say the plus-size woman is complicated, different and difficult, that no two size 16s are alike. Some haven’t bothered to hide their contempt. “No one wants to see curvy women” on the runway, Karl Lagerfeld, head designer of Chanel, said in 2009.”

It’s no surprise that size bigotry and a laziness to design for any body outside of the narrow range of sizes represented by fashion models that leaves us with so little to wear – but it’s shameful as all hell. Again, nothing new to those of us who live in the plus-sized fashion world, though that designers find our bodies so repulsive to dress hurts a little a lot. If you’re a skilled designer, how hard it is to draw a few more round lines?? So I really liked that Tim was calling out this bullshit front and center.

But then he rounded a corner at the intersection of WTF and Hell, No!:

“The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes. Done right, our clothing can create an optical illusion that helps us look taller and slimmer. Done wrong, and we look worse than if we were naked.”

And later:

“Half the [clothing] items make the body look larger, with features like ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads. Pastels and large-scale prints and crazy pattern-mixing abound, all guaranteed to make you look infantile or like a float in a parade.”

Oh. That old trope. Adjust the proportions and the fat body simply just disappears into slimness! Pastels, ruching, box pleats and shoulder pads are all fine for thinner women – but not fat women. Yes, our bodies are different – but they aren’t so different that we can’t wear the same styles that thinner women wear. With limiting rhetoric like this, no wonder fashion designers don’t want to make plus-sized clothing.

Tim, allow me to enlighten you: that “flattering” shit is old and doesn’t even work. We don’t want to hear it anymore. We don’t need tips and tricks on how to appear less or different than we are because it’s damaging to our self-esteem to think that way. What many of us want (I won’t speak for all of us) is simply the same cool clothing choices that are available for “straight” sized women. We’ve all tried that small patterns/wear all black/vertical stripes are slimming/avoid ruffles and ruching crap and guess what – we were still fat, and with a boring wardrobe. Worse, we were paranoid that we looked fat and that looking fat was so, so wrong. In short: it sucked.

That’s when it hit me: Tim still thinks fat bodies are wrong and need to be disguised. That he can’t envision fat women in anything other than the most slimming silhouettes tells us that he can’t envision a fat body that is just fine as it is. Even worse, he tells us how bad we would look if we were naked. Gee, thanks a bunch!

He then takes Project Runway to task for allowing Ashley Nell Tipton to win with the first plus sized collection the show has had because she dared to design haute couture clothing that looked easily as ridiculous as it usually does for thin women. High fashion, in my opinion, is more about art than about practicality, and from what I saw of her collection, it didn’t look all that different from what is usually designed for thin women, except that it was on fatter bodies.

The article was a much-needed plea to the fashion world to make clothing for bigger women, and for that, I truly do thank him because he has a public platform to affect the kind of change that most of us can’t. But I do hope that he doesn’t get to be in charge of this project. His comments about what fat women should wear smacked of old-school patriarchy and condescension toward fat bodies, and I’m not having it. Tim, please challenge your assumptions about fat bodies, and maybe even consider asking a few more fat women what they want to wear and how they want to feel in their clothing. My guess is it would simply be a request for more more more choices, from the sublime to the silly.  I also invite you to check out the work that fat fashion bloggers have been doing for the last few years to bring about change in the fashion industry (see my list of favorites below). They don’t worry about whether their clothes “hug” vs “skim” their bodies, they just wear what they like and they look fucking fabulous because their best accessory is confidence.

I want to embrace Tim’s plea wholeheartedly but I’m weary of any sort of non-change change, ya know what I mean? This kind of “disguise your body” thinking is what led me to hide my French Connection sample sale orange and teal floral satin dress in the back of my closet in 1997 with nary a wear because I thought it made me look “fat” (this was back when I wasn’t). So what if it did make me look fat? It was a fabulous dress and it deserved to be worn. Worse, the mentality of creating the illusion of thinness from my very wrong fat body is what led me to starve myself more and more, wanting to create the reality of thinness instead of embracing exactly what I was.

“Flattering” is the concept I now eschew when I’m putting on my swishy pleated floor-length skirts that make me feel like a fierce and formidable fashion princess. It’s the symbol of all that I’m not supposed to wear on my fat body. We all deserve our own version of that swishy skirt without worrying if it transforms us into alternate versions of ourselves.

Here are my favorite fat fashion blogs:

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

Sign up here for the Dare To Not Diet Insider Newsletter!

Do you crave more non-diet goodness in your life? The DTND Insider Newsletter is crafted monthly to bring you the latest on Health at Every Size® news, podcast updates, blog round-ups, features on the great work of other body positive, non-diet folks, exclusive video content and more! September’s issue coming soon. Click here now to sign up.

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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!

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:

Dietitians Unplugged on Libsyn
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New! Now on Stitcher

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.

Fat Bodies Are Not Fixer Uppers

fatmouse
Body diversity, yo.

Dear People Who Want to Shrink Fat Bodies:

I think all bodies are awesome – thin, fat, disabled, buff, hourglass, angular, apples, pears, carrots, celery (what, thin people can’t have food body-descriptors?). To my mind, there is no body out there that is not simply wonderful. So it dismays me that there are people who do think that there is a hierarchy of goodness when it comes to bods – with fat bodies on the bottom. They are so distressed by fat bodies that they’ve committed, either personally or professionally, to help make us thinner. To those folks: I know you think you’re doing good, but you’re not, and so…we gotta talk.

I understand that for the most part, you are acting out of the goodness of your heart (even if you are making money from this endeavor). You see how fat people suffer at the hands of a cruel world who has decided that having at least one (but often many more) oppressed segment of society is beneficial in so many ways, especially the money-making way, and you don’t want us to suffer anymore. So you think the best way to end that suffering is to end our fatness. You’ve heard about how fat is killing us all (even though it really isn’t) and you want to save us from death (even though we all die. No matter what.). Because you know (just as we once all knew the world was flat) that it’s just a matter of changing our diets, getting off the couch a bit more, right? Even though if that were truly the case, there would probably hardly be any fat people, since that sounds pretty simple, and lots of us already do it.

You don’t understand that maybe some bodies are just naturally fat, or eventually become fat, that the bell curve of bodies tends naturally toward diversity of size and shape and ability (because from an evolution standpoint, that’s a totally helpful thing) and therefore you simply don’t understand why all us fatties are just choosing to be needlessly fat. Perhaps we are just like willful children who need your thinner, wiser guidance. (Also, you might make some money! A LOT of money!)

But here’s the deal – I know almost no fat person who hasn’t tried to turn herself or himself into a thin(ner) person at least once in their lives (fat people who have never dieted aren’t quite unicorns…but they are exceedingly rare in my personal, non-scientific, anecdotal experience). We’ve tried the sensible diets (supposedly Weight Watchers and healthy lifestyle changes) and when those didn’t work (or worked to turn us into crazy people), other diets were tried – some of them more and more extreme as time went by (you go, breatharians!). In reality, if just plain sensible nutrition and exercise (which isn’t all that difficult) worked consistently and reliably to turn fat people into thin people, there wouldn’t be any fad diets at all. But there are. Lots of them. So yeah, we’ve tried them all…and most of us are still fat.

But for the love of all that is kale-infused, if you’re going to make fat people your charity project, at least do the research. (better yet, get a different project). You will find out that most intentional weight loss efforts – like 95% – fail after more than 5 years (and usually by year 3). It is not due to lack of willpower, and the science shows this reliably. In a country that sent people to the moon (conspiracy theorists, stop right there) and invented the iPhone, and where people regularly don’t take vacation, you’re trying to say that we’re simply not trying hard enough? Hogwash. I’m not buying it. People try hard at things all the time, even fat people. If long-weight loss could be maintained by more than a tiny fraction of people, we would have maintained it by now. So you’re not going to make our lives better by making us thin, because there is no real way to make the majority of us thin for the long-term.

How could you help? Lay off the fat phobia, first of all. Consider that there are a lot of ways for people to be happy and get healthy without focusing on weight. Anyone can benefit from eating better – and I don’t mean more restrictively – or being more active, but unless someone has asked for your help, please don’t launch in on a reform mission. No one wants to feel like they need to be fixed, especially by someone who has never walked a mile in their shoes.

Please stop assuming you can tell how or what someone eats just by looking at them. You can’t. And you can’t tell their health status either. Good doctors don’t diagnose by looking at someone by five seconds and making assumptions. You shouldn’t either.

You can advocate to end the stigma and rampant discrimination that fat people face (or any people. No one should ever have to suffer from any kind of discrimination). You can decide to do nothing at all and just leave fat people alone – that in itself will be huge. If you do nothing other than to refuse to speak judgmentally about body shapes and sizes (and that includes thin bodies) you help to shut weight stigma down.

To all our thin and “normal” weight allies – thank you. I love you so much, because you have nothing personally to gain (other than living in a harmonious world full of happiness and rainbows, I guess). To all those who truly don’t give a shit one way or the other whether someone is fat or not – thank you to you, too. You at least aren’t making things worse.

And to those who still want to shrink fat bodies– I hope you find another hobby someday. Because this one isn’t working for us.

 

Dietitians Unplugged podcast – episode 6 available now!

Episode 6 is called “Clean Eating or Toxic Ideas?” and we had so much fun talking about this subject.

Listen on Libsyn or iTunes. Give us a review on iTunes if you like us — this helps to spread the non-diet love to more people. Check out our Facebook page for our latest episode and news and more weight neutral, HAES® friendly podcasts!

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

Even if They’re Fat

HAES graphicOccasionally, when it comes up in conversation, I’ve heard some dietitian colleagues agree that a non-diet or intuitive eating approach is the best way to help clients achieve better eating habits…unless they’re really “obese.” Then they should probably lose weight “for their health.” These dietitians are not yet wholly committed to HAES®.

So I want to be very clear: I do support rejecting a weight loss mentality for all people…even if they’re fat.

(Note: I’m going to use “fat” rather than “obese” or “overweight” because it is the word preferred by the size acceptance movement.)

I’ll say it over and over – the evidence on weight loss is pretty conclusive: while most people can lose weight in the short term, almost everyone (between 90-95%) gains the weight back and often even more somewhere within 3 to 5 years (and definitely by 10 years) after the initial loss. No one is sure of the exact figure of diet failure because most weight loss studies do not study participants longer than two years. Even Weight Watchers, who could easily have access to all their clients’ data and could track weight loss and gains for many years (I was a member for 16 years, and I know I’m not the only one), has not studied people beyond two years (after which participants lost an average of 5 pounds).

The other thing we know is that health isn’t dependent on body weight. We know now (and have actually known it for years) that fitness and other healthy behaviors contribute more toward health than body weight. Sadly, most studies that examine body weight don’t account for eating habits, fitness, and social stigma when they claim that fat is bad for you. So there are lots of confounding factors that could be contributing to poor health in fat people – but instead of looking at those more closely…nah, we’ll just blame the weight.

Telling a fat person to go on a diet is most likely to have one outcome in the long term: more weight gain. And I’m guessing that is the exact opposite of what anyone on any diet hopes for.

Therefore, I don’t advocate one set of rules (intuitive eating, not dieting) for thin or normal weight people and another (weight loss diets, dietary restriction, extreme, unpleasant exercise) for fat people. That’s called a double standard and it’s bullshit and it doesn’t even work.

So…

I support an intuitive eating approach for all people…even if they’re fat.

I support eating salads sometimes and pizza other times for whoever wants to…even if they’re fat.

I support eating dessert for anyone who chooses to…even if they’re fat.

I support any kind of pleasurable movement for people even if it doesn’t make them break a sweat…even if they’re fat.

I support people doing nothing at all for health, because health is no one’s obligation, if that’s what they want…even if they’re fat.

And I support respecting your body and treating it the best you can…even if you’re fat.

Health at Every Size® is not trying to say that every person is healthy at every size. It does mean that whatever size you’re at right now, you can begin your journey to health using a weight neutral approach. If one set of behaviors are healthy for one set of people, why wouldn’t they be healthy for all people?

Check out this excellent video by ASDAH that perfectly explains the madness around the weight loss paradigm – using poodles!

No Duh: Bodies Change

Your body will change. But apparently your dress style doesn’t have to.

The concept of bodies changing throughout a lifetime really does belong under the category of No Shit, Sherlock. We all understand this logically and intellectually, and most of us probably aren’t going around saying, “I’m going to have this fantastic 27 year old body for the rest of my life!” And yet, over the years I’ve heard many women AND men bemoan their changing bodies once they start to get older. “My [belly, hips, thighs, butt, arms] are getting [bigger, wobbly, saggy, poochy] – and they NEVER used to do THAT!” To be fair, I was once included in this group of complainers that I like to call everybody.

We live in a time that is positively phobic about aging (and maybe there was never a time where this wasn’t true for women, I honestly don’t know). Women are encouraged to “fight” the “signs of age” and now even men are increasingly expected to retain the taut physique of their youth. But bodies do change over the course of a lifetime. So why are we so damn freaked out when it actually happens?

Recently a gorgeous friend of mine lamented that all her pants had become too tight and she didn’t want to buy new ones. She’s a very healthy eater and regular exerciser, but she had just turned 30, so maybe things are starting to…shift. I recalled that right around the time I turned 32, my body, which had maintained its relative thinness for 9 years, also began to change. While my weight remained the same, there was some…sagging. Some pooching about the waist. Some poufing of the hips. I can guarantee you no one else noticed this but me. That’s okay, I noticed it enough for everyone. I decided to “fix” this “problem” of my maturing body with more dieting, more exercise and much more misery. You know how the rest of the story goes.

Now that I’ve had time to contemplate the ridiculous rules of the world, I haven’t got a clue why we are so determined to stave off age; after all, I was a mess in my 20s and much of my 30s (a fun mess, but a mess nonetheless), I struggled professionally in unsatisfying jobs, and in general nobody seemed to be rewarding me for my dewy youth. I have learned so much about becoming a better human in the past 20 years that I wouldn’t trade all my hard-won self-confidence and knowledge for a smaller waist or less saggy face. Those things wouldn’t mean I hadn’t gotten older anyway.

After I gained back all of my weight, I weighed as much as I did when I was 22 (before dieting). But I’m 44 now and my body is much different. I’m more muscular in some areas (probably from exercising) but my stomach is a fatter and for the first time in my life I have hips. Some of the changes in body composition might be from dieting (one theory is that we lose muscle mass which is then replaced with fat, a much better energy storage unit), but I suspect a lot of it is related to aging as well. The number-one complaint from my beloved middle-aged-lady friends is about their stomachs. Women’s stomachs get fatter over time because as estrogen production from the ovaries decreases, fat migrates to the stomach. The reason for this isn’t abundantly clear, but it may be because belly fat produces estrogen. If I had to guess, increasing belly fat after menopause most likely has a protective effect, but currently our fatphobic society focuses only on how to get rid of it (don’t do an internet search on this topic if you want to save your sanity points).

Back to my friend and her dilemma. I asked her, “So what will you do about your tight pants?”

“I’m going to try to exercise more,” she said.

“And if that doesn’t work?”

She paused and then sighed a little. “I guess I’ll have to buy new pants.”

And that’s the moral of the story: our bodies are going to change, and eventually you are going to have to buy new pants. You can do all sorts of crazy things to manipulate your body, or you can just buy some new pants, learn to appreciate all your body has done for you, and then work on the parts of you that really do get better with age: achieving wisdom, intelligence, kindness and happiness.