It seems like every other day there is something new to be angry about, and I’m not even talking about the political climate. I’m talking about the body climate. Diet culture. Faux body positivity and internalized fatphobia.
Recent rage inducers include Nike admirably introducing more inclusive sizing only for it to be twisted into an initiative to “promote obesity,” Macy’s selling plates that manage to body shame and food shame under the guise of portion control, and Forever 21 shipping Atkins diet bars with their online orders. There are messages everywhere that are harmful to women, and I want the work I do to actively dismantle that culture.
This is a topic bigger than I can tackle in one post, but I want to frame it in the context of my approach to working with clients on their health and nutrition.
Diet Culture is Everywhere
Diet culture is pervasive and patriarchal, woven into the fabric of our daily lives. It’s ultimately about shrinking our bodies to be pleasing to the male gaze. Fitting in a set of Eurocentric beauty standards as defined by men and perpetuated by both men and women. And I don’t blame women for participating (when it comes to dieting, anyway). No one is immune!
Magazines advertise celebrities losing their post-pregnancy bellies after mere weeks. We’re sold fat-free, “lite”, and “skinny” versions of foods we enjoy at the grocery store. Tall, curve-less models are the default on clothing websites. The message is that your value increases the more (and the faster) you shrink. It’s everywhere. It’s instilled in us as children—watching TV commercials, mothers, friends—and stays with us as we grow up.
Because of this, I empathize with the plight of chronic dieters. I have been one and understand the mindset. I have also been able to climb out of the hole that the diet cycle digs through self-reflection, intuitive eating strategies, and self-trust. I help my clients do the same through the tools I developed along the way. It’s not an easy feat, but it’s possible.
Body Image vs. Body Positivity
Body image is a common topic in my conversations with clients, who often identify as emotional eaters or stress eaters. Society tells us to shrink our bodies, but now the modern body-positivity movement provides additional and competing pressure to love ourselves no matter what—how stressful is that? I often find clients conflicted here, facing fears of weight gain if they quit dieting, inadequacy as they fail to “correctly” love their bodies, lack of faith in themselves, all of which add to the diet cycle via emotional stress.
What the modern body-positivity movement gets wrong is that it’s not solely about self-esteem. We are absolutely all worthy of love no matter our size, but it’s important to note that this movement wasn’t started by white girls on Instagram telling us to love our bodies. It was black women, who righteously embrace their every curve and who are routinely excluded from modern body-positivity rhetoric as it has been twisted out of its original context.
It’s about accessibility, feeling safe and being heard by health care professionals instead of being automatically dismissed because of weight or BMI, getting the health care one deserves regardless of one’s appearance, eliminating the social stigma of weight, being treated humanely. It’s justice for marginalized bodies. (And I recognize that as a thin, cis, able-bodied white woman, I have work to do in this area, but sharing these ideas with others is part of it as I continue to stumble and learn, and it’s especially important for me to be familiar with as a holistic health practitioner.)
For [fat, plus-sized, however a person identifies] women of color, there are more factors that play into this too, namely racism, colorism, Eurocentrism, and the mental and physical toll all of that can take. An approach to better health that ignores these experiences isn’t likely to be effective or sustainable.
Numbers Do Not Define Us
It has been proven numerous times that weight should not be the sole indicator of health. In my work with clients, we don’t focus on numbers. I don’t even know what half my clients look like, as we work remotely over the phone. Weight is not always necessary for me to know, unless you want me to know it, unless it’s part of why you reached out to me.
We don’t do weigh-ins, we don’t count calories, we focus on how you physically and mentally feel and how your relationship to food is evolving (and what contributes to that relationship).
Dieting While Feminist
While most clients come to me for weight loss, at least at first, (and most women I know are actively focused on it), as feminists, wanting to lose weight is a touchy subject. Mixed messages all around.
Can you be feminist while dieting? It feels controversial, right? Like the opposite of what we’re supposed to do, shrinking to fit patriarchal beauty standards. But even those most devoted to the cause struggle with body image and emotional eating. Dieting while feminist doesn’t make you anti-feminist. It makes you human in our diet-obsessed society.
If you’re not happy with your body, your feelings are valid. If you want to make changes, your feelings are valid.
You can make changes without feeding into diet culture, which ultimately makes us feel worse. Together, we focus on nutrition and food habits, how your body feels to you, and how to shift your mindset into one that makes focusing on your health second nature (in the context of real life).
That means not having to constantly think about what your body looks like and how it compares to others. Not having to have an emotional conflict about how you’re supposed to feel about it vs. how you actually feel about it. Not running through the database of calories you’ve saved in your brain (precious space that could be used for more meaningful memories) every time you go out to eat. The freedom to just stop thinking so much about how you look, and more about how good you feel.
It’s shifting your mindset to view food as an ALLY rather than an enemy. Imagine that!
Work With Me
If this approach to nutrition and health speaks to you, I’d love to learn more about you and how we can partner together for your needs.
I invite you to fill out an application, and if it feels like we’re a good match, I will be in touch!
As a ex nurse, I can say that there is some validity in saying there is a point where size matters. It is borne out in diabetic statistics, joint problems, reflux, sleep apnea, etc. We exist in a culture where unhealthy food is easy, cheap and available 24/7. It is modified to increase our desire for it. We were built to want easy to get, high calorie food (cost/benefit), from a survival standpoint. So, I find myself in a struggle – wanting the Cheetos and hot fudge sundaes but not liking the consequences of overindulgence. I don’t think I am caving to Madison Ave’s beauty mold or male manipulation. I want to avoid diabetes and heart disease, painful knees, being out of breath with exertion, etc. ie, I desire an old age free from disease and discomfort. I want to be fit and active. But the Cheetos are calling…….
(I am 65 yr old, 5’4″ and I yoyo between 140 and 165. I try to eat whole food, plant based.)
Of course! Everyone is different and will have different needs for their health. In terms of the cravings, from an intuitive eating standpoint we aim to make choices based on what feels good. Sometimes it’s the hot fudge sundae, sometimes it’s not! That’s where self-trust comes in 🙂