It’s been a really long time since I wrote a blog post here and I thought it would be appropriate to come back to blogging by telling you how I became a weight inclusive practitioner and why I practice through a non-diet, weight inclusive lens. If you want to read my personal story how I came to nutrition and decided to study Nutritional Therapy + a bit about my own complicated relationship with food eating on my body, it is here.
A few years into my new career it became quite clear that my passion is less so telling people what they should be eating, but rather helping people find their way back to having an uncomplicated relationship with food, so this means that how I work has evolved and changed over the years.
I learned through my own journey that dieting doesn’t work and that’s giving up the daily ritual weighing myself and handing over my power to the scales to let them dictate how I felt about and in myself allowed me to feel happier. Ditching the scales was the beginning of a journey to much more freedom and joy around food, and it also helped me developing more trust in my body.
Even with this personal experience I still believed that weight loss could be achieved without dieting. Now looking back, I am slightly embarrassed to say that my first set of business cards had the tagline “Lose weight without dieting”… But I suppose we all start our learning somewhere.
What I didn’t understand at the time, and I know that I am not alone in this, is that bodies tend to settle at a place where they feel happy once they are adequately fed, know that there is no more famine and we are at a place when we can meet our basic need of honouring our physical hungers.
The thing is that for some bodies this means they will settle at a place that is outside the “culturally acceptable norm”. This cultural “norm” is highly problematic and also as much a societal construct as anything else, and how we view and treat those bodies that deviate from this “norm” is equally problematic. Because my own body fits reasonably within this culturally accepted size, I realised how much I had been shielded, through my thin privilege, to the oppression, the blatant weight stigma and discrimination that those who don’t fit the culturally acceptable body size is experiencing on an ongoing basis.
Intentional weight loss pursuits does not work. At least not for the vast majority of people, long term. In fact, dieting is incredibly harmful and damaging to our relationship with food and our bodies, and it also harms our metabolism and possibly our physical health. Ongoing restrictions are not conducive to survival. That may be part of the reason why weight gain is typical after a period of dieting.
Research shows that going on a diet is the leading cause of people developing disordered eating and some of these people go on to developing full-blown eating disorders. I was lucky enough that I didn’t end up with a full blown eating disorder, however my eating and my relationship with my body was most certainly messed up for a long time.
Though I don’t feel like my initial foundational training was very weight centric (possibly because of the specific tutors I had), there was definitely some but because I wasn’t that clued in to it, I don’t think I noticed it as much. It was several years after my graduation that I came across the Health At Every Size (HAES) paradigm and taking a non-diet, weight inclusive stance. The idea that ALL bodies deserve respectful care, free from stigma is a given to me. However, I am learning that even the HAES paradigm is leaving some bodies outside the fold, it isn’t a perfect model by all means. However the early creators and fat activists who begun the movement decades ago, have paved the way for the immense work that is still there for us all to continue on today and into the future.
Over the years as I’ve become clear on my personal and professional values, it has become even more apparent that practicing from any other lens than a non-diet, weight inclusive one would be out of alignment with those values. I believe that all bodies (regardless of race, sexual orientation, religious background, size or health status) are inherently worthy and worthy of respect and respectful care. It wouldn’t be ethically to advocate for some behaviours that can be recognised as harmful for one population to be considered “helpful” for another. Furthermore, as someone who primarily work with helping people heal their relationship with food, eating and their bodies, it would be highly unethical of me to promote intentional weight loss, when this is often what has been the very trigger for their challenges.
In the past few years as I took the leap away from weight centric practice towards weight inclusivity I also learned that it is not just about helping my clients break free from the endless cycle of dieting, deprivation and bingeing but this has also opened the door to the much wider understanding of the harmful societal structures that allows for marginalisation, the roots fat phobia has in racism and even further over-arching structures such as the patriarchy and capitalism.
If I am going to be totally honest, these topics were not something that I learned about in nutrition college, but something I have learned (and continue to learn about) from peers, colleagues, books, blogs, podcasts etc.
The layers of complexity is vast and there’s so much nuance. I am far from an expert in this field, and because I don’t have lived experience of living in a marginalised body, I am immensely grateful to be learning from those that do, so that I can continue to learn and do better, in order to minimise any unintended harm + hopefully be part of the collective that chip away at breaking down these oppressive structures, whilst we are continuing to reimagining something new, that is fair and inclusive.
Diet Culture and weight stigma hurts us all, but they are even more harmful to those most marginalised where they can mean the denial of life affirming care. We can do better.
If you want to explore what it might be like working with a non-diet nutrition professional, find out more here.
This blog post will contain some words from my heart, as well as lots of swirling thoughts captured in print. Whilst I have been working on putting together a post about how our experiences with food, eating and our bodies as it relates to our (hi)stories, childhood and so on influences our relationship with same today, I found that for some reason it seemed like a challenge to put it all into words. I am still not sure why, as I have previously shared my own story on this topic here.
Anyway, I decided to pause it and write a blog post about many of the thoughts that have been swirling around my mind for what now seems like ages. Maybe I just need to get some of these words out there, in order to peel back and to keep writing about all the things that I plan to write about this year. So yeah, please see this one as an overarching intention of what may be yet to come.
Life is a journey of unexpected twists and turns. And we are all constantly growing and learning…
Last week I had the privilege to get up and speak about the line of my own work within the field of Nutritional Therapy, even though I was excited the opportunity on one hand, I was pretty nervous about it too. Why? Well apart from the ever present inner critic and a touch of imposter syndrome I was a little apprehensive about my choice of topic too.
It is rare that we speak about the prevalence of Eating Disorders and disordered eating, as well as the harm restriction and dieting can do. Yet I feel strongly that within a profession where food is used as the healing modality, it is more important than for anyone else that we understand the dynamics around eating behaviour.
I apologies in advance if this blog ends up being somewhat scattered and incoherent (as I won’t do a lot of editing before posting) as I am trying to let some of the many threads that have been swirling around come together and weave an new picture.
My journey into Nutritional Therapy and becoming a nutritional professional has been windy and is ever unfolding. My professional path has become part of my personal path, yet when I was 20 this type of work was NOT my intention for my professional path. My personal struggle with food and eating eventually lead me to this profession when I was looking for other things to earn a living from, rather than shovelling horse shit for the rest of my working life…
I will be honest and admit that I wholeheartedly believe in the power of food as medicine with nutritional supplements and herbs to heal, repair and restore. It would be my personal preference to use natural medicine as much as possible, yet I feel we are lucky to have the opportunity of drugs as well as lifesaving surgery if this is what is needed.
Over the weekend just passed my other colleagues who also presented on the day showed us some incredible case studies of healing happening with the use of natural medicines, often in cases where the orthodox medicine had written off a restoration of health as impossible.
However in the area of health and healing nothing is ever black or white… It’s never one thing or the other, but usually more like an interconnected web of many layers that interplay.
Over the past two years or so my own work as has changed because I have learned new things and been exposed to new teachings and approaches. Much because of this I really want to take a stand this year and get cleared in my own message and with my own voice.
This is something I am continuously working on, and I definitely feel like I haven’t gotten it right, yet. Consider it a work in process. Hence these words from my heart are simply a part of this unfolding process.
In the presentation that I shared, one of my first slides where the question “Can we truly promote healthy eating without having a healthy relationship with food and eating?”
Personally I don’t think so. Using nutrition as a healing modality may require some dietary changes, often to improve quality, variety and nutrient density. That is all fine. Especially when it is done together with a qualified practitioner who works with you, and your body. The issues arise when people start to self-restrict without any particular reasons other than following the latest nutrition fads and trends. It becomes an issue when we follow strict external rules, regardless if it may be points or calorie / macro counting without honouring our own body’s specific cues and needs.
Because, we already have what we need. Our own inner wisdom. Yet if you look around the messages you see, literally everywhere, is that somehow our bodies are not trustworthy. (I often wonder how we got to this place of distrust in ourselves, as somehow we’ve evolved and survived as a species up until quiet recently without questioning it much… But that’s maybe a question for another post.)
Another issue is when the intentional pursuit of weight loss is used as a panacea to create health. Controlling the amount of food as well as the type of food, is used as a way to try to control body size, health and even life.
About two years ago I came across the Health At Every Size ™ movement. It has changed everything for me and learning to navigate this new information as well as this new lens to look through is much of what this year is all about for me. How do I integrate this info with what I know about nutritional medicine?
Health At Every Size or HAES for short, is a movement that values ALL BODIES, and that all bodies are worthy of treatment with respect and care.
It is also a paradigm which looks at health beyond nutrition and even beyond health behaviours. Through HAES we get to look at health through the lens of social justice. This is what changes everything.
Though I never prescribed any crazy diets to help people lose weight, nor was I particularly interested in weighing them, (I don’t weigh myself for God’s sake!), I were part of some well-intentioned weight loss programmes early on in my career. My first round of business cards even had the words “Lose weight without dieting” on them. (I since cut whatever few were left up in pieces. )This was before I knew that any intention of actively pursuing measures to alter our body size IS dieting.
Dieting is one of the most prevalent pre cursors to develop eating disorders. And if you don’t go on to develop a full blown eating disorder, you most certainly end up with disordered eating behaviours.
HAES not only shines a light on the detriments of weight loss pursuits and dieting, it also brings to light the social justice side of things, when it comes to health and how often the individual is blamed on failure to keep their body under control, if it does not conform to society’s norms, rather than looking at the larger picture of other Determinants of Health and inequalities in our society that contribute to our overall health and wellbeing.
From this journey of venturing into learning more about HAES, I am also learning more about weight stigma and fatphobia. Both which play such a big part in why intentional weight loss pursuits are a form of oppression. And of course, denying yourself to eat when you are physically hungry just because you have reached your limits on points that day is a personal attack on yourself. A mini trauma, which is sending a message to your body that it is not worthy of one of the most fundamental things for life – food.
When we zoom out and look at the other well-meaning nutritional interventions for disease preventions, very few actually talk about the inequalities. That not all people have access to good quality foods, not the skills or means to buy them in order to create nutritious meals for themselves and their family.
We are not necessarily thinking about the people who are fearful for taking a walk in their neighbourhood, when we ourselves are feeling guilty for missing a gym session… Yet the message portrayed when it comes to health pursuits is often that of personal responsibility, and those who are not doing things necessary of this pursuit are often seen as lazy.
Why is that?
Is it because the idea of thinness = health is so entrenched in our culture?
Yet it is simply not true. Which is one of the messages of HAES.
Our worth as a human being is not based on how we look or what we eat, surely? I think we can do better than that.
The other is the take home message that our inherent worthiness in not tied to our health or body size. I don’t think I have ever looked at someone and thought that it was. It is not how I was raised. Yet when you become aware of this insidious cultural insinuation, you can’t close your eyes to the message that it is so, which is everywhere. Why else would dieting be promoted all over the place? Oh yeah, aside from the fact that it DOES sell and is a multi billion dollar industry of course…
I also can’t see why prescribing weigh loss as a cure all is so prevalent? Aside from the fact that it doesn’t work, so many people are nutrient deficient and prescribing restriction seems counter intuitive to me. It is already hard to get what we need from our diets, so why would be want to restrict them further? What about prescribing diversity (if this is within the individual’s means) together with some curiosity and an explanation of the illusion of finding the “right diet” and the importance of listening to you own body’s response to the food you eat?
So really, what is my intention with this lengthy rant? Well maybe it is to state that no I don’t think we can promote ‘healthy eating’ without at the same time promote a healthy relationship to food, eating and body (I feel another deep dive will come on this topic in the future too) , it is also highlight the inequalities in our society and the injustice that is done when we hand out all the blame on individuals for “not taking care of themselves better”. That is just unkind and unfair.
Long story short; we can’t really get to the root of healing individual’s eating struggles without at the same time working on understanding the root cause of what’s driving this struggle, which is the Diet Culture that we all live in.
So the work, which is what I have now woken up to and to the visionaries and frontline warriors to whom I have the immense privilege to learn from, is to simultaneously dismantle Diet Culture.
And finally… (almost 2000 words later) what my ultimate message from this lengthy blog post is: It is to declare that I am dropping out of this Diet Culture. I don’t want to participate nor do I want to be contributing to this shame fuelled oppressive system.
To quote Maya Angelou, “When you know better, do better”.
So this is what I am trying to do now. When I do now know better.
This is not an easy blog post to write. In fact, even though I have a clear idea of what I want to write here, it doesn’t come all that easy. Maybe because I know that this is a difficult topic to write and talk about. It is also both counter cultural AND will most likely upset some (many?) people.
I have decided that this year, I am going to be braver and speak and write about what I stand for and what is aligned to my values, as well as my professional mission. After some deep dives into what is driving our eating behaviours, what the obstacles to having a healthy relationship with food, eating and body are and how we cannot pursue whole self health without also healing our relationship with the same, I am ready to share my thoughts, learnings, observations and resources.
This year, my intentions are to truly let this space evolve into a place where you can come and find some sanity from diet culture and hopefully inspiration on your own journey towards food freedom and body liberation.
Over the past 15 months or so I have spent a lot of time with colleagues who are doing very courageous front line work and advocacy for the right to health, respect and care of people of all shapes and sizes. It has opened my eyes in ways where it is now impossible to turn the other way… Hence why this post is only the first of many. Brace yourself!
My TRUTH is tugging at me to invite you to some exploration around how we see our own bodies, how we regard (or disregard) them. How we speak ABOUT our bodies and how we speak TO them. In order to heal our relationship with food and eating we also need to examine and heal our relationship WITH our bodies.
Beyond how we speak, think and perhaps judge our own bodies we also need to wake up to how we and society at large speak, think and judge other people’s bodies. But let’s park that conversation for now. I will definitely return to the topic of weight stigma and weight bias in the future, as the impact both have on not just emotional health but even physical health are new revelations to me, perhaps most likely so because of my own thin privilege.
Why is it important that we remove weight loss as the main focus when it comes to the desire for lifestyle changes and why can’t we heal our relationship with food and eating if we don’t let this go?
I have experienced my own fair share of body dysmorphia / distorted body image.
Looking back at my relationship with food and eating, I could see that much of my disordered eating stemmed from a trigger comment of the size of my body (which in fairness at the time was still well within what society is considering “normal” & “healthy”). And so it begins for many others, with disordered eating or eating disorders.
In the 7 Systems of Health we speak of the ROOT as the system of Safety, Survival and Trust.
How can we anchor ourselves in these, if we are constantly at war with our own body?
Not trusting that it is telling us what it needs, in form of food, rest, play and connection.
How can we feel safe if we are trying to force our bodies into some societal norms of what bodies “should look like”? Always trying to fix them and make them conform, so that we are acceptable and fit in. The desire and external pressure to do so is what is known as Diet Culture. It is a very insidious way of being bombarded from all angels that we are not good enough as we are.
Somehow our bodies are not trustworthy. They are unruly and need to be controlled, often at all costs. Regardless of what body size our bodies actually are, this message all too often becomes internalised and we decide to do something about it. I.e. diet.
Diets, by design are restrictive.
Often it is about cutting calories, or portion sizes. Or food groups. With the intention of trying to control the size of our body. Sometimes it is even disguised as something we do in the name of health. But as long as you are following a plan, set by someone else that has a bunch of food rules and is aimed at helping you lose weight it is a diet.
Here’s the thing; How can we move beyond surviving into thriving if we are not honouring our physical needs in the first place?
Is it really possible to establish a sense of belonging, if we are always trying to make ourselves and our bodies into something they are not? Yet this is much of the cultural messages we are constantly bombarded with…
Then there’s the real desire to lose weight. I get it. It is ok to want it. We all live in this Diet Culture.
Weight stigma is real. Internalised weight stigma too. And it has been shown to affect our health (and not in a positive way) Yet at the same time actively pursuing weight loss is such a futile, life sucking pursuit, which longterm is a pretty good predictor of weight gain.
We definitely need to acknowledge the internal voices of fat shaming we have going on, as well as what it is like for someone to live in a body where society feels like it has some right to judge and criticise based on a particular body size. Especially if this have never been our own lived experience.
We need to be careful with the words we use, because as we know words hold tremendous power…
Shame never helps or heals. Kindness does.
So perhaps if we want to begin with some healing at the ROOT, let the invitation be; to note how we speak, see and value bodies, our own as well as others.
To hold a safe compassionate space where ALL bodies are welcome to heal, worthy of care and to be blessed with health.
To let go of the oppression perpetuated by Diet Culture through actively pursuing weight loss.
When it is about health and not about weight, all of our behaviour changes hold merit and value, whereas when weight loss is the main focus and goal, it becomes all too easy to let go of these if the number on the scales doesn’t budge, or worse if it goes up!
So isn’t it better to pursue healthy behaviours rather than trying to shame yourself into change?
You are a worthy human being just as you are.
(Photos from Unsplash.com)
Do you long to let go of obsession around food, eating and weight? Would you like to feel freedom and peace around meals and beyond, but need some help and support to get there?
It would be an honour to walk with you on this path. Please email me HERE to set up a free 30 min consultation to explore how this may be possible for you too.