When I explain to people that I’m a therapist who works with eating disorders and that I believe in the health at every size movement, I’m often met with the same questions: “but what about the obesity epidemic? What about the health risks that with being overweight? What about the people who lack willpower and will just eat everything?”
My first response to this is to take a deep breath, because, I’m not going to lie, these questions totally piss me off. They’re narrow-minded, soaked in diet culture and sizeism, and they perpetuate fatphobia.
I love being able to educate others about body acceptance, size diversity, and eating disorders and recovery, but it can be really hard to do this when so many people still believe a lot of the lies that diet culture is feeding us. The truth of the matter is that many doctors still prescribe weight loss as a “fix all” for medical issues.
People’s first line of defense is in response to my words about diet culture, fatphobia, and the inherent sizeism that’s present in our society is normally something along the lines of “but everyone knows that the U.S. has a really high obesity rate!”
The main problem here is that people are still viewing obesity as a disease. It’s been proven that there are just as many health risks that accompany being “underweight” as there are that accompany being “overweight,” but our country still chooses to focus on the health risks tied to being in a bigger body (hello fatphobia and sizeism!).
Most discrimination stems from fear of or feeling uncomfortable around people who are different than us, and fatphobia is no different. Many people possess biases against those in larger bodies, those with different abilities, those of different ethnicity and race, and those of different socioeconomic status.
A huge part of challenging diet culture is being able to spot these biases and work to move away from them. That’s a big thing to do and isn’t an overnight process, but helping to spread awareness about the importance of size diversity (and all other forms of diversity) is a great first step!
When people try to spout off different facts and beliefs that are rooted in fatphobia or diet culture, I try my best to offer up a different way of thinking about health. So often the medical community sees health as measurable and quantifiable, but health is more than a vast array of numbers.
Numerical feedback (weight, temperature, blood pressure, hormone levels in blood) might be a symptom of underlying issues, but they’re not the end all and be all of health metrics.
As I’ve said many times before, someone’s relationship with food and body and their thoughts and feelings about food and body can be even more telling about their health. Part of recovery is moving towards a place where you see health as a holistic combination of many different measures, not just your body size, weight, or the foods you eat.
The whole intuitive eating movement is somewhat new, and I think one of the biggest misconceptions that I see on the internet in relation to it is this notion that intuitive eating is just a lack of “willpower” or “dedication” or even “self control.”
Those words are thrown around a lot in diet culture, and many people believe that they’re necessary for a healthy life. What these people don’t understand, however, is that these are the very “skills,” if you can call them that, that often lead to the development of eating disorders.
Intuitive eating doesn’t work like that. I have people message me all the time asking about intuitive eating, and most of them tell me that they’re afraid to try it because they fear they’ll binge, they’ll gain a lot of weight and won’t stop gaining weight, or that they fear the idea of giving up body control.
Giving up the control over our intake is the exact point of intuitive eating, and I recognize how scary that might sound to some people.
Most people assume that if aren’t mindful of what we eat, we would just eat carbs and fats and sugars all the time. I shared in my post about my trip to Paris how false this is. I had a HUGE hankering for fruit after not having any for a few days.
The truth about intuitive eating is that our bodies CAN be trusted to ask for what they need (fruits and veggies and other foods you never thought you’d crave included). We’ve been told by diet culture that we can’t trust our bodies and that the true path to health is to micromanage our intake and exercise.
I wrote a post a while back about how I’ve seen stuff on the internet about putting your babies on these restrictive “no sugar, low carb” diets. I talked about how babies come out of the womb knowing how to listen to their hunger and fullness cues, and because our culture is so obsessed with staying thin, we literally train them to ignore these cues. We also teach them that cravings are bad, this inherently leads to more cravings when we deprive ourselves of specific foods.
A good way to understand this is to think about how a huge part of eating disorders is the preoccupation with food. Many people who restrict their intake or binge and purge find themselves constantly thinking about food, and this is typically because they’re depriving themselves in some way.
As someone who is an intuitive eater (and I think other intuitive eaters will back me up on this), intuitive eating doesn’t mean you don’t eat fruits and veggies. It doesn’t mean that you only eat carbs and sugary foods. It means you eat fruits and veggies and carbs and sugary foods and that you trust your body to make sense of whatever you put in it.
And listen, I get it. We can’t blame people for wanting to take care of themselves and be mindful of their health, but people often neglect to realize that an unhealthy relationship with food and body is just as harmful to someone’s wellbeing as eating foods that are “linked” (supposedly) to certain health risks.
The reality is that all foods have a place in someone’s intake. I don’t think you’ll ever find a dietitian or health professional that says you shouldn’t eat veggies…we all know that veggies have important vitamins and nutrients. But you WILL find a dietitian or health professional who tells you to stay away from chocolate or bread. But my question is this: since when did we decide that vitamins A, C, and E are more important that carbohydrates or sugars? Those are all things that we need!
Listening to your body is hard, especially when we’ve been IGNORING it for so many years. But I promise you this: being in touch with our bodies allows us to do the real work to heal our past wounds, engaging in dieting or disordered eating only fuels the fire.