Body positivity

Fat is Okay! And Other Messages I Wish I Got From Straight/Curve

Last week, I went to a screening of the film Straight/Curve that Project HEAL put on as part of eating disorder awareness week. I knew the premise and I was excited for an uplifting film about body image and diversity, but I walked away confused and angry (like, really angry). This isn’t meant to be a review of the film- I am far from a film critic-but as a Health at Every Size provider and as someone who has gone through her own recovery, I found a few things really problematic that I want to touch on here for anyone who has seen the film (or who hasn’t).

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the film, this is the description you get from a quick Google:
“A majority of women say they do not feel represented in fashion or in the media. Filmmaker Jenny McQuaile examines the industries and obstacles responsible for this body image crisis and showcases leaders who are fighting for diversity in the media.”

Hooray!! I naively thought as I walked in. Finally blowing the lid off the bullshit diet culture nonsense that media forces upon us daily. That is…not what I found. The movie starts with the director and her team discussing about a dozen women who are all outside the modeling “norm” and how diverse they are. Then they pan to the models getting out of the car….and I’m not kidding when I say I thought those where the examples of what we were moving away from. It took me a few minutes to realize those were the diverse models.  

Before I keep going, I want to say: I have respect for all these women. They are, indeed, outside the norm for modeling (they are all above a size 0/2 that we are used to seeing in models, some of them were WOC, some of them were older than the average model). A few of them shared their histories with food and without a doubt, I have compassion for all of them and their journeys. I’m excited that the modeling industry is recognizing some variety. But as far as everyday, non-model bodies go, they weren’t particularly diverse. And there was no other discussion to acknowledge that; no mention of how bodies come in a lot more shapes/sizes/colors/abilities/genders/sexualities than what those 12 or so women represented. So while I appreciate them talking about their experience in the modeling industry, I wish the conversation zoomed out to discuss the bigger picture (no pun intended).

As far as diversity goes, I was happy to see that they included women of all ages including older and middle-aged women who are so often left out of the conversation. They also represented some people of color and some size diversity. Something I would have liked to see more of was representation of folks with different abilities, who are also frequently left out of the conversation. Also, there was no representation of non-binary folks or femmes who aren’t classically feminine. The film did include one model who was part of the LGBT+ community but again, I would have loved to see more (and more diverse) stories. I had the privilege of being on the panel discussion afterwards with the creators of ThirdWheelED who both identify as queer and who were gracious enough to make that part of the discussion afterward (and I highly recommend checking out their site if you haven't already which has a lot of great resources listed). It's hard to feel good about your body when you don't see your body represented anywhere else in mainstream media (especially a movie that's about representation). 


And then there was the scene when one of the models was talking to her daughter about body image. Her daughter, who was maybe 6 or so, was saying that a girl at school had called her fat and with no hesitation, the model answered, “you’re not fat”. And I sat there wishing with everything in me that her response instead had been “it’s okay to be fat” or “who cares if you are?!”  or even just "no, you're not fat but some people are and that's okay and normal" because that’s the message that the audience (kids/adolescents/young women and their parents) need to hear. And again, I want to point out how much compassion I have for the woman who said that. I get that a mother's instinct is to protect her kid and “fat” historically has been used as an insult. And I also get that she is trying to raise her daughter to love her body in a world that teaches women to hate themselves. But there was such a perfect opportunity for a discussion about size diversity and using “fat” as a descriptor (rather than an insult) and I felt sad to watch that moment pass by.

And finally, I want to touch on one scene that has stuck with me since Thursday night, that makes me rage a little bit every time I think about it. There was a scene in which one of the models, a thin woman who I believe has recovered from an eating disorder, went to get her body composition measured (first question: why?!) and the subsequent reports showed the distribution of fat on her body (second question: why?!). The doctor detailed the different types of fat a person has on her body and then declared her particular fat as being okay. And I swear you could probably see the heat rising into my cheeks as I sat watching thinking ALL FAT IS OKAY”. Listen. I took anatomy & physiology. I know there are different kinds of fat and I understand their functions. But for a movie whose purpose was to broaden the idea of beauty and promote body diversity, “fat is only okay sometimes” feels like really questionable messaging (and also, totally against everything I stand for but that’s beside the point). The truth is that you are not wrong no matter where the fat lays on your body and more than that, you don’t have to get anyone’s permission to feel okay in your body.

I appreciate what Straight/Curve was trying to do and it was a step in the right direction. As someone who is hoping for our culture to move towards body diversity and fat acceptance with leaps and bounds, that step felt a little frustrating but I understand that’s not the way the world works (but I can dream about a world where it does, right?) There were some problematic pieces but overall, I was left wanting moreThis movie is opening some doors and it’s not enough. This movie planted seeds and we have so much work to do. I dream of the day when we can see a movie about body diversity that involves women of all sizes and shapes and abilities and genders and sexualities and ages and ALL THE THINGS. Marginalized women, we need your voices! We need your movies! And dear reader, if you have suggestions for movies like this, please leave it in the comments because I would looove to watch.

Until next time xo
Meghan

Photo by Annie Spratt 

32 Habits That Promote Health and Have Nothing To Do With Dieting

Last week, I made an Instagram post with some ideas for resolutions that are health-promoting without making weight loss the focus and got an overwhelmingly positive response. The idea is to adopt habits from a place of self-care and self-compassion rather than deprivation and shame. Contrary to popular belief (if you pay attention to people who troll body positivity on Instagram), health is not a value that every one has to have or something that is necessarily accessible to everyone due to disability, chronic illness, etc. But if you are interested in making behavior change to benefit your health, I'm here to tell you that you can absolutely do that without making weight loss part of the equation.  And while January 1 is the biggest day of the year for setting goals and resolutions, behavior change can happen any day of the year (including today)! On that note, here is an expanded version of health-promoting habits that have absolutely nothing to do with weight loss or dieting. 

1. Include all the food groups in your diet.
2. Drink enough water.
3. Get to bed on time every night regardless of what you have going on- no pointless Instagram scrolling because you're too lazy to get up and get ready for bed (that one is actually just a note for myself). 
4. Try a new fruit or vegetable every week (or try a new preparation method).
5. Find & see a good therapist on a regular basis.
6. Develop a meditation or yoga practice. 
7. Make it a point to consume dairy products with vitamin D or take a supplement (most people are deficient, especially this time of year if you live in the US). 
8. Have a weekly dance party in your living room. 
9. Make time for genuine connection (not just social media) with friends, family and partners.
10. If your caffeine consumption is causing anxiety/insomnia, switch to half-decaf or swap out a cup of coffee for tea.
11. Say no to the things that don't bring you any joy or satisfaction.
12. Seek out weight inclusive providers (this HAES help finder is a great resource).
13. Find your set point weight by eating regularly and adequately. 
14. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues (and if you're not there yet, work on regaining your hunger and fullness cues). 
15. Take at least 15 minutes for self-care every day.
16. Allow yourself to take whole days off- mental health days are a thing.
17. Practice deep breathing in the morning, evening and whenever you're feeling stressed.
18. Try new foods or new recipes every once in awhile.
19. Read for pleasure. 
20. Make time to snuggle with your cat/dog/child/partner. 
21. Schedule yourself some downtime at some point in the day- you don't always have to be racing around.
22. If you're tired, rest.
23. Move your body if and when it feels good (in ways that feel good). 
24. Experiment with aromatherapy, essential oils and all those woo-woo things if you're into it.
25. Reject the diet mentality. 
26. Work towards radical acceptance of your body, regardless of size.
27. Take your meds.
28. If you have access to it, get a professional massage (hot tip: Groupon, baby).
29. Take time out for things you find genuinely fun.   
30. Release the idea of good and bad foods (foods have no moral value) and allow your intuition to guide your eating choices.
31. Develop healthy coping mechanisms to use when you have difficult emotions (and know that we all emotionally eat sometimes but it's important to have other ways to cope as well). 
32. Respect your body- don't force it to do things that don't feel good to you.

What else you would add to this list? I would love to hear in the comments. And if seeing a weight-inclusive dietitian is on your list of intentions for 2018, I currently work virtually with clients from across the US and would love to hear from you

Cover photo by Cassie Boca 

Why You Won't See the Term "Weight Management" on My Site

I see the phrase “weight maintenance” used a lot in the healthcare world- whether it’s from doctors, fellow RDs or other health professionals. And to be honest, it always makes me bristle a little bit.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why this phrase makes me cringe (especially when I see it in the same places talking about intuitive eating & Health at Every Size) so I wanted to share some of what I’ve come up with here.

The main reason is that it implies we can control our weight. It might sound radical to anyone who is new or unfamiliar with HAES but I just don’t believe that we have as much control over our weight as society makes it seem. I practice using the set point theory  - the idea that our bodies have a 10-20 pound range that it feels most comfortable in and will fight to stay within. How is our set point determined? A lot of factors go into our set point but one of the main factors is genetics. Some research shows that up to 80% of our body shape/size is determined by genetics; if you look at your parents/grandparents/siblings, you probably have a good idea of what that might look like for you. But the bottom line is- our set point is not within our control. So when you come to work with me, I can’t guarantee that I will help you maintain your weight. When you start eating intuitively, you might lose weight, you might gain weight or your body might stay the same depending on where you’re at in your journey with food.

Another reason I have trouble with “weight maintenance” is that to me, it sounds like a code word for dieting. As the body positive movement grows and we shift away from the dieting craze of the 90s, the $60 billion dieting industry has come up with a lot of euphemisms for dieting. Some of those are “lifestyle change”, “cleanse”, “detox”, etc. Weight maintenance just seems like another word for dieting i.e. weight loss. And as much as I know that there’s a demand for weight loss, it’s not a service I can provide. Don’t get me wrong- I will always meet a client where they are and living in our weight-obsessed world, I absolutely understand why weight loss is appealing. But it’s never a goal I’ll set with a client or something we’ll work towards. Why? Because there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that dieting for weight loss isn’t effective long-term. And the last thing I want to do is set my clients on a path towards failure.

That being said, I don’t expect anyone to be anti-weight loss when they come to me. We live in a culture that encourages, promotes and praises weight loss. It’s on the cover of magazines, it’s in an advertisement on the side of Facebook, it’s on social media, it’s everywhere. So if you want to lose weight…I understand. And my hope is that we can meet each other halfway. But promising that working with me will bring you weight loss or weight maintenance is not something I can do without compromising the values I believe in. Because the truth is, I don't know what your set point weight is, but I do know how to find it. And that's what I can guarantee when clients work with me- that I can help them find their body's natural weight and help them to feel at home in their bodies. At the end of the day, it's not about your weight; it's about your ability to take care of yourself in ways that feel right to you, feel at peace with your body and stop letting food get in the way of living your life.

A Look at 'Accidental' Fatphobia

If you dipped your toes into the body positivity waters, you may know a little bit about it but I wanted to take time to talk about the movement that was absolutely essential to where I am today. The body positive movement is an amazing community of empowered and inspiring women and men who work tirelessly towards acceptance of all bodies. But as body positivity becomes more mainstream, some of the message starts to get muddled. And one of the most important things that can’t be left out of the discussion is the fact that it is a movement that was built on the back of fat acceptance. Long before body positivity was popular, fat activists were working to change the inherent anti-fat bias of our culture. They were working to stop the discrimination against fat bodies that happens in the workplace, healthcare, society at large…pretty much everywhere.

One of the problems that I see with mainstream body positivity is the idea that it’s only good “up until a point”. Body positivity is fine “as long as you’re healthy”. It’s helpful “as long as you’re not tooo big”. It’s great “as long as you’re not ‘endangering’ your health”. No. No no no no. Body positivity is unconditional acceptance of all bodies. There are no upper limits. To confine body positivity to a narrow range of sizes would be to contradict the very idea it was built on.

So where do these ideas come from? Where was the idea that body positivity has a size limit born?

To put it simply: fatphobia.

Fatphobia is the dislike/prejudice against fat people. And if you asked most people if they were fatphobic, my guess is that (hopefully) they would say no. Of course, there are people who are blatantly fatphobic. People who trolls fat positive Instagram accounts and leave scathing comments on body positive blogs. But there is another group of fatphobic people- those who aren’t commenting with hate on social media and are much more subtle…almost accidentally fatphobic. Let me explain.

Fatphobia runs deep in our culture. Growing up, you learn from classmates and family members and society that it’s normal…that it’s okay even…to comment on larger bodies. You might be told all sorts of other damaging messages- that they are lazy, that they don’t take care of themselves, that they just eat “too much”. You might learn to make all sorts of assumptions about them based on one very simplistic view without considering how complex and nuanced each human is, how individual health is and how body type is largely determined by genetics and not behaviors. And when you grow up hearing that, you start to absorb and internalize pieces of it.

One of the ways we internalize this fatphobia is by thinking that fat is the worst thing that we can be. We learn to fear fat and thus, fear weight gain. And that’s something that comes into play especially when we talk about eating disorder/chronic dieting recovery. After the emotional pieces have begun to be worked through (because eating disorders aren’t about the food), one of the most difficult pieces is gaining weight. Why? Because it’s scary. It’s scary to let go of the perceived control we had over our bodies and possibly gain weight.

I hear from so many people that they are so scared to gain weight. And I get it, I really do. Like everyone else, I grew up in our fatphobic culture and I internalized pieces of it like anyone. I was never trolling fat people or shouting cruelties at them on the street, but as I went through my own recovery and expanded my knowledge as a Health at Every Size dietitian, it took a lot of unlearning. Unlearning all the bias, the stigma, the assumptions made. I understand what it’s like to fear gaining weight; but I also know that it’s possible to unlearn fatphobic beliefs and grow into unconditional body acceptance, whether it’s my body or someone else’s. And that’s the true goal of body positivity.

And one of the remedies to that mindset is to expose ourselves to diverse bodies- and to recognize that we are all worthy, lovable, powerful and overwhelmingly enough regardless of the shape or size of our bodies..jpg

I don’t believe that people in recovery who are scared of weight gain are intentionally fatphobic. But I think it’s often a reflection of a culture that teaches us body dissatisfaction and to fear fat. It's worth evaluating what assumptions you hold about people in larger bodies- how much of society's fatphobic message have you internalized? Are you carrying around weight stigma without realizing it? I don't blame anyone for absorbing pieces of the diet culture we are raised in. It would be nearly impossible not to. But it is our responsibility to critically look at those beliefs and challenge them when we can.

One of the remedies to that mindset is to expose ourselves to diverse bodies- and to recognize that we are all worthy, lovable, powerful and overwhelmingly enough regardless of the shape or size of our bodies. How do we unlearn? One of the things that I find most helpful for people is to diversify their social media feeds- and unfollow anyone who promotes one narrow view of beauty. Jes Baker (@themilitantbaker) has an amazing list of accounts to follow on all the platforms that show diverse bodies. Exposing yourself to different bodies and women who love themselves unapologetically is far more powerful than we even realize. Jes also has a fantastic book called Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls that is worth the read- and if you check out the link above, there are a ton of other great book recommendations as well. Start following and reading diverse accounts and start challenging your assumptions. Really analyze what your beliefs are and why. Start thinking about the value you have- the value that we all have- that has nothing to do with our bodies. It’s not our fault for growing up in a world that’s fatphobic, but it is our responsibility to challenge those ideas and unlearn our harmful beliefs.

If you want to see more about body acceptance, you can follow me on social media here and here. You can also join the Fall Into Freedom series and get daily challenges/prompts related to intuitive eating and body acceptance. 

Until next time,
Meghan