There have been many ‘light bulb’ moments along my journey through dieting and eating disorders, I almost wish I’d written some kind of diary, though I’m not sure I would have realised what was important and what wasn’t at the time. There were days when thin white women on Instagram felt important, now I realise we have the least important voices and my politics is all about passing megaphones to women we never see.
But what was a huge wake up call was learning there was a term for how I felt about fat people. Fat Phobia.
Wiktionary describe Fat Phobia as:
1. Fear and dislike of obese people and/or obesity.
2. Fear or obsessive avoidance of consuming fat.
We all like to think that we don’t judge others, but in reality we have been conditioned to think all sorts of things about people, they’re the stereotypes we’re surrounded by. It has, however, become our culture to penalise and persecute fat people specifically because of a belief system we have been taught through exposure to the world around us. When you start to break it down and pull these feelings apart, it becomes easier to start countering those beliefs.
The word fat it’s self has been highly charged and politicised over the years. Fat in it’s most basic meaning is just a medical term to describe the adipose tissue that resides under our skin and around our organs. However recently fat has become a moral issue and we are now encouraged to consider ‘fat’ a public health issue. The messages we receive from childhood is that fat isn’t just bad, it’s the worst kind of bad you can be.
We learn through rewards and punishments. We learn through being picked on about our bodies at school, through what our doctors say to us a kids referencing ‘carrying extra weight’ or ‘needing to be on a diet’. We learn through watching our parents diet and listening to them comment incessantly on their own bodies. We may not mean to specifically punish and reward based on how someones body appears to us, but fundamentally we do and that’s why Fat Phobia is so dangerous.
As we grow those rewards become bigger whilst potentially more subtle, for example fat people are less likely to have access to work, to equal pay or to partners while thin women easily get jobs, boyfriends, clothes and basically move around the world without difficulty. Thin is absolutely a power symbol in our community, almost used as currency to prove levels of education, intelligence, wealth, worth and health.
What we find with Fat Phobia is that you are consumed by your shame. Shame is a super strong emotion and unlike the feeling of guilt witch is a response to ‘doing’ something wrong or bad, shame is specifically a feeling of being inherently ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ at your very core. Shame is a powerful tool of control, especially within fat shaming, because whilst you still believe that it is your fault that you’re not accepted or loved or valued, you will believe that if you do something about it your life will be better. Enter diet culture.
Given the level of fat phobia we live surrounded by, it’s no wonder that any women might feel anxiety and shame around food and their body. Is it any wonder you fear being a fat person given everything we know they face? I’m not surprised when women talk about having been on a diet for their entire life. When you’ve spent every day of your life being told fat people should be ashamed, you can surly see the link that you feel so much shame around your own body? As someone who lost over half their body weight, I can assure you Fat Phobia fuels the fire of diet culture.
It is true that when fat I received all kinds of dreadful fat phobic abuse, and as a thin woman I receive eye watering amounts of thin privilege, but as we’ve covered over and over again in this blog, no amount of shrinking your body will actually bring you happiness. We are led to believe it’s that simple, that is what the everyone told us, if you don’t like your body, if you’re a fat person, you hold the answer to make your life better, lose weight and your problems disappear.
This is what Fat Phobia does to us, this is how it controls and consumes us, this is how it grips us at a basic human level and makes us believe that it’s all of our own making. We’re blamed for being fat, we’re blamed for ‘inviting’ persecution and oppression because we’ve ‘brought it on our selves’. They doing a bloody good job too, making billions of pounds off women, and increasingly men, who are desperate to shrink themselves in order to be some kind of ‘normal’. Women are spending their lives killing themselves in the gym, starving themselves and living in abject misery in a bid to shape their bodies to meet societies standards. Fat phobia is an invisible force that is determined to keep women in sad spaces that they can’t escape without ‘failing’ instead of getting education, breaking glass ceilings and basically being awesome.
It’s your body so you get to decide what to do with it but it absolutely shouldn’t be the ‘project of your life’. You have far better, far more interesting and FAR more rewarding things to be doing than obsessing over calories, macros and clothing sizes.
You don’t need to be thin to be respected, to receive medical care, to get a good job, to have a wonderful sex life or partner. If you are picked on, persecuted and oppressed because of your body size THAT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. This is a social justice issue, this is Fat Phobic bullshit and this is why body politics is vital.
It’s been a while since I’ve written a post here and the main reason for that is I’ve been out living everything we’ve spoken about here. I feel like there are only so many times you can write about Intuitive Eating specifically before you actually need to do some bloody eating! And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
I suppose the moment that changed everything was a very cold morning in January, I’ve talked about that day here before. I’d just flown home from a weekend away with my friend and of course, I’d eaten everything I could get my hands on. Another ‘weekend off’ knowing full well I’d have to be ‘back on it’ first thing Monday morning. In a bid to ‘make the most’ of my ‘time off’, I binged on an entire family sized box of biscuits during the flight home. By the time I landed back in Bristol I was hysterical and realised that there was something horribly wrong with where my head was at. Skip forward only a few weeks and I came to the realisation I had been suffering from an eating disorder my entire life. Suddenly I had a flashing neon light above my head that I couldn’t ignore any longer.
In my misguided attempts to ‘cure’ the binge eating issues, I bought every book on Amazon with the word BINGE in the title. Sadly missing out the Intuitive Eating book, though I remember reading the description, my disordered brain found the idea of eating absolutely anything you wanted utterly laughable!
Looking back I probably couldn’t tell you how I found Intuitive Eating as an accessible platform, or what state of mind I was in when it finally sunk in as an option for recovery, but I suppose that doesn’t really matter now.
What I have been hoping to do here, however, is just that. Make Intuitive Eating an accessible option for recovery. Recovery from dieting, recovery from disordered eating, from eating disorders, from all the bullshit with live with surrounding morals around food and what we should be doing ‘for the sake of our health’. It’s impossible to move more than an inch without being confronted with what we ‘should’ be eating or how we should look. And once you start listening to your friends, your family, the TV, you can hear it everywhere. It is exhausting.
Fighting what everyone says may seem like a tiresome prospect, and I can assure you it isn’t a simple task. But what I’ve found so far is that as an alternative to the all-consuming disordered thoughts I lived with daily, this is a fucking improvement.
So what has it been like? If I’m claiming my recovery started in January and it’s now November, how has that period looked? Okay, I’m going to be honest. Messy. It’s been a really difficult few months. Recovering from an eating disorder is an uphill battle, let there be no mistake. Recovering in a world where everyone is fat-phobic and health shaming you IS A MILLION TIMES HARDER.
For the first few months, I was absolutely still in restriction, just a slightly less restrictive version. I was constantly judging how much food I was consuming, overthinking food choices, worrying about weight gain and clock watching ‘is it time to eat, should I wait for dinner’. These months were a real head fuck because I felt like I was doing ‘all the right things’, but I was still binging. Of course, now I can see that’s because I was still in a type of restriction. If you’re binging and you can’t work out why you are in some form of restriction.
It could be physically not eating enough – thoughts of ‘that’s enough food so I’m not eating anymore’, or ‘I’m hungry but I shouldn’t be yet so I’ll wait’ etc. It could be that you’re mentally restricting – thoughts of ‘I can have what I want but I’m not eating too much from this food group’, or ‘I’ve eaten enough of this food group so I’m not having this even though I really want it’. You might also be over exercising – thoughts of ‘I can eat whatever I want, I’ll just work it off later’ or ‘I’m out for dinner so I need to exercise now’.
What got me through that period was COMPASSION. I had just spent 5 years deep in anorexia, consumed by disordered thoughts, unable to think about anything but food. If I had been recovering from a physical illness (and to some extent I was) no one would have expected me to just be back to my usual self the next day, they would have given me months of healing time, months of taking it easy of being kind to my self and you need the same.
With my feet firmly rooted in what I believed, that diets don’t work and recovery can be achieved, I kept reading. I kept exploring. I purged my social media of everyone diet related, I followed people who felt politically important and I kept pushing forward with my own recovery. For me, learning about Fat Phobia and doing my best to deconstruct the deeply internalised fatphobia we all live with was a real boost to my recovery.
In the next few months, my food choices relaxed. Whilst I felt a lot of anxiety around food and it was absolutely still on my mind a lot, it was becoming easier to push through and eat until I was satisfied. However, I felt like I was binging ALL THE TIME. And I know a lot of other people feel this too. I receive message after message from women saying they’ve stuck out the first few weeks of intuitive eating but now they’re eating what they want they just can’t stop eating cake.
I so understand this. But what have you spent your life avoiding? What have you stopped your self from enjoying for decades? Because the chances are its fucking cake. Not only that, but you’ve been inconsistent with your calorific intake for decades too! Your poor body has no idea if this is a binge and we’re back in restriction tomorrow, or if this is going to be consistent. Your body is saving your fucking life right now. As far as it knows, it needs every ounce of energy it can get its hand on for fear that tomorrow this intake will evaporate again. So just eat the cake. Eat the food that you crave whatever it may be. Trust that your body is learning to trust YOU again and that when it does, you’ll arrive in a beautifully balanced world.
Without wanting to jinx it, I feel like that’s where I might be. I don’t want to over intellectualise where I am now or dwell too much on how my eating could be described. But let’s break it down a little.
I no longer feel I am in a mental or physical restriction in the way I was at the start of recovery.
I am no longer surviving on chocolate digestives alone.
I am able to eat at ‘unusual’ times of day, responding to hunger cues, without anxiety.
I am able to pick foods from all food groups without overwhelming fears or disordered thinking.
I am able to say no when I really don’t fancy something.
I am happy to eat over the point of full when something tastes amazing and it isn’t a binge.
I am able to stop whenever I want, knowing I can have more again later.
I am not obsessed with food. I am not obsessed with movement.
I DO NOT CARE IF I GET FAT.
Just to be clear. I AM NOT RECOVERED. I wake up each day with a little roll in my tummy. My disordered thinking wakes up when I do and it sleeps just a little after I’ve shut my eyes. But what I am now is a fuck ton more powerful. I am consistent in my ability to hear those thoughts and say ‘no’. I don’t argue with my voices anymore, I just hear them, acknowledge them and move the fuck on. Each time, it’s a win. It’s a boost. And as the fear of those moments rubs away, I realise I’m left with joy. I have space for anything I choose. I want you to find that space too.
In the last few posts, I’ve done my best to explain to you firstly why you should stop dieting, and secondly how you might start that process by following the intuitive eating principles. This time I want to talk to you on a really persoanl level about the things that have helped me actually use the tools I’ve talked about previously.
When I started attempting to eat intuitively, I found it, and if I’m being honest, still find it a real mind fuck. I have spent my entire life over thinking or ignoring my body and the cues it gave me that it needed to be nourished. It felt like wing walking at every meal. Letting go of the rules was liberating for sure, but it was also terrifying.
If you’re anything like me, with a history of disordered eating/eating disorders, you’ll be up to the eyeballs in rules and numbers. How many calories are in a serving of chicken breast or how many carbs in a cookie, not to mention an exhaustive list of foods you can or can’t eat. By the time I’d realised how severe my restrictive eating disorder was, I didn’t eat anything except vegetables and some meat. So I already understand the anguish you’re likely going through. And realistically, even if you did want to do everything I’ve suggested, you’re already painfully aware that the chances are you’ll never forget how many calories are in a tin of tuna. Now I don’t want to be one of those annoying people who say ‘if I can do it anyone can’, firstly because I absolutely am not recovered, nor am I ‘getting it right’ necessarily, but secondly because I think it diminishes the struggle you’re going through on a personal level. But I do believe that this freedom is possible. I do believe I see glimpses of it regularly, increasing in frequency as I ‘work the steps’ so to speak. So if you are going to do this, I beg you to do it wholeheartedly, without judgment or questioning.
There are many valuable tips, but here are just a few, when used in conjunction with the intuitive eating priciples from the last post, they should help you find your feet as you take your first baby steps into intuitive eating and hopefully body positivity!
• Be KIND to yourself. This is key. If you’re coming from years of dieting or disordered eating/eating disorders, you won’t get this down in a couple of weeks. I spent months not quite getting it right, ending up binging and having to resist the urge to restrict myself the next day. This should stretch beyond food, be kind in all aspects of your life. Exercise, food, work, parenting. I still get it wrong. But, I am always working for a better space for me and my body to live in harmoniously and for that reason, I AWAYS show true compassion to myself and I implore you to do the same.
• Throw away your scales. They DO NOT serve you. Especially in the first six to twelve months of this journey. Knowing what you weigh will only feed into all the disordered thinking you’ve been stuck in for however long, rejecting diet culture and fat phobia includes not focusing on what you weigh. Not only that but for many people knowing their weight only sets them up to binge. See a ‘good’ number and you want to restrict further in order to lose more weight. See a ‘bad’ number and you want to restrict in order to lose the weight you think you have gained. These numbers mean nothing and until you’ve settled into eating intuitively, they will only harm your progress.
• Trust your body. Truly, your body is amazing. It knows far better than your ‘rational’ mind what you need. If it’s asking for something, give it to yourself. If you’re hungry, eat. If you want to run, run. If you’re full, stop. If you’re thirsty, drink. I often catch my self thinking ‘I can’t need a wee again already’, this might seem like a silly example but it works perfectly for this. Why would just judge that your body is telling you to visit the toilet? I don’t decide how quickly my kidneys filter the fluid I injest. So apply the same logic to hunger.
• Learn what thirst feels like. I am a big drinker. But as with most of the cues my body gives me, it took me ages to learn the difference between hunger and thirst. Now, what I am not suggesting here is that bullshit ‘always drink a pint of water before you eat anything’ crap. In the last few years I’ve absolutely used water as a means of filling my self up and in turn avoiding nourishing my body as it was clearly requesting. This is simply another step in your mindful journey.
• Educate your self. One of the biggest tools I’ve used in my recovery is my access to knowlelage. Now there is some privilage here, but the chances are, if you’re reading this, you have access to the same kinds of privilage as myself in this area. So google. Learn about body positivity. Learn about fat activism. Read everything Everyday Feminism has to say on the politics of your body. Understand fat phobia. Check out blogs like Jes Baker, Thoughts Caught In My Fro, Alice And Peanut Butter, Choose Life Warrior, Body Posi Panda just to get you started. There is a welth of education out there, you just need to tap into it, and I can assure you this kind of thing speeds up the politcal side of your recovery – for me that absolutely kept me IN recovery during moments I wanted to quit. Also, it’s worth saying here, whilst it’s absolutely not your place to educate other people, don’t be afraid to do so if you feel able. COnsider sharing your story, getting the word out that diets aren’t the answer only strengthens the movement!
• Fill your home with food. Seriously, the first thing I did when I stopped dieting was a fucking huge food shop. I filled my home with ALL THE FOODS I WANTED! I especially filled up my stock of chocolate and biscuts. The moment I craved those things, I had them. I also craved fish fingers and baked beans, so I stocked up on those too. This isn’t a test, but it will help you prove to your self that you have, and in fact always had, the ability to have as much or as little as you wanted of a food. It will help you prove to your self that in fact it was the restricting and binging that triggered those out of control feelings and in actual fact it has fuck all to do with your ‘sefl control’.
• Actually eat. Now I know this will sound silly because of course while you’re following the intuitive eating priciples, you will be eating when youre hungry and deciding when your body wants you to stop. But for a good while at the begining, I would look at portions of food and decide that was enough, deniying my body anything more than what I THOUGHT was it should have. Using your logical brain wont serve you here. You actually need to eat. Whatever you want. As much as you want of it. As often as you need it.
• THIS IS NOT THE HUNGRY FULL DIET! Okay, so the intuitive eating priciples talk a lot about eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. And those things are important. But this is NOT the ‘only eat when you’re hungry and must stop when you’re full’ diet. Sometimes I eat because I am going out and I won’t have time to get anything later. Sometimes I eat because I’m with friends and we decide we want cake with our tea. Sometimes I don’t stop when I’m full because it tastes amazing. Life happens. This isn’t another diet. If there is birthday cake in the office and you want a slice, you don’t have to wait until you’re hungry to eat it!
• Delete all your diet related apps. Don’t calorie count anything, add up points or spend time worrying about your macros. I know this will take an age to stop but the sooner you start trying, the better. I have started taking food out of boxes so that I can no longer see calories ‘per serving’, now all my chocolates and breakfast foods are in jars so I can eat them freely without accidently seeing numbers that I might find triggering. I also buy brands that I didn’t buy previously and going to different coffee shops so that I’m not recalling old memories of calorie counts.
• Be spontanious and don’t worry about it. I used to carry an apple or boiled eggs everywhere I went because usually there wasn’t anything I ‘could’ eat when I left the house. It truly sucked all the joy out of being ‘in’ life with my friends and family. When we were out late and people suggested picking up dinner, when family wanted to meet up at a pub for lunch instead of coming to ours, I was filled with fear. Now, I pick from whatever options I have and I don’t spend time worrying about it before or freaking out about it after. This has taken TIME and KINDNESS to become proficient at, it will be the same for you too. These moments often bring the most fear, but also the most joy. They are truly ‘life happening’ and I love to be part of them. Honestly, I often still panic, still feel the fear and anxiety, but being more mindful, trusting my body and my hunger/full cues etc all help to make these moments more managable. I find that like with many things in life, the more I do this, the more it feels safe and comfortable. So I suggest you stop avoiding those things as quickly as possible!
• Only move your body if it feels really fucking awesome. It is still difficult for me not to feel like any exersice is simply a punishment for eating food, and I know many of you will feel the same. While I’ve been working on my recovery, I’ve deliberatly stopped doing almost any type of cardio. I live for pilaties. I have no idea how many calories it burns, it doesn’t make me sweat and I ONLY do it because I truly love it. The guilt associated with sitting down, with doing ‘nothing’, with not working out can be almost crippeling. But push through that. Trust me. The balance here is absolutely key. If you really love to run, then run, but learn to be just as intuitive in moving your body as you are becoming in other aspects of your life.
• Purge ALL social media. It’s so impoartant to keep the space around you clear of triggering bullshit. Get rid of people who post their diets on facebook, their work outs on Instagram or re-tweet Glamour magazine on Twitter. If your friend won’t respect your wishes to not talk about foods constantly or if your around people who body shame you, you are well within your rights to remove them from your life. This isn’t simple, but be explicit with people, tell them what you’re bounderies are and if they don’t respect them, fuck well sack them off.
• There is no pressure to get it ‘right’ or be ‘perfect’. There are no rules! This is the most liberating (and terrifying) part! When you don’t have to worry about getting it right, there is no pressure! Let it go! Use your new skills, listen to what it is you truly want and have it. Stop judging food. Let go of all the shit you’ve cataloged in your head about what is safe and what isn’t. It’s lies. Just as you’ve trained your self to believe it, you’re capable of training your self to believe something different.
• Talk to people. Part of the intuitive eating is learning how to manage fluctuations in emtions without it having an enormous impact on your eating. When my cat died, I made a batch of my favourate cookies and I ate every last one. I knew what I was doing. It’s exactly what I wanted to do and I didn’t regret it after. I ate them when I was hungry for them and I didn’t binge because I was absolutely in cotrol and stopped when I didn’t want any more. This is okay and absolutely normal. This isn’t something I do often because my cat only dies once. On a day to day basis, I have learnt to use my friends, my social media, my blog, my music collection, ability to move around and a host of other mechinisms to avoid using food. I know the feeling that no one cares, that youre alone or that your feelings are small in comparison, but I promise you there are people already in your life who want to listen if you would just give them the chance.
• Live for joy. Whatever it is you love, your life is more than a fucking diet. It’s more than your dress size. It’s more than the number on a scale. When you die, people won’t write your weight on your headstone. They won’t talk about how well you stuck to weight watchers. They won’t praise how you never ate cake. They’ll want to talk about the joy you made and shared. So get out of your own head and make some fucking awesome memories!!
All these things took time to settle into. I am still working on most of them. It truly is a daily commitment to my self, to my mental wellbeing, to recovery and to my political beliefs. I binged for months into my recovery because I was still restricting mentally, as well as refusing to take note of my hunger. Don’t feel like you need to get these down in a short space of time, the only thing you truly need to learn quickly is kindness, compassion and forgiveness.
So. How are you feeling after the last post? We chatted together about what diets had been like and why we might have been fooled into believing that the best way to ‘get over’ a bad diet, is simply to get a new one. But by the end, it became clear that quitting dieting all together is a far superior option, granting you freedom around food as well as freedom for your mental well being!
Intuitive eating isn’t a diet, and there are no buts. There are 10 principles, however, and I thought it would be useful to go through them together, having a slightly deeper look into what they mean and how you might use them.
- Reject diet mentality.
Rejecting diet mentality is an enormous task. It is number one on the list because if you continue to ‘diet’ whilst attempting to eat intuitively, you are setting yourself up to fail before you’ve even started. As we have discussed in previous posts, a diet gives you a set of rules to follow around food. Many people feel like they need these rules because without them they couldn’t be trusted not eat everything in sight, but in reality, diets often leave people feeling far more out of control, obsessed with food and fraught with stress and confusion. There is a great article by Everyday Femisim all about ditching diet culture that’s worth a read for some extra info on where to get started.
2. Honour your hunger.
Now, this may sound stupidly simple, but for many of us, this will be a huge struggle. In my own experiences of restriction, keeping calories as low as possible and following diets with such extreme rules meant that I was always putting off eating until I felt like I might actually pass out. Another drink, just another hour, it’s almost dinner time, eat an apple, essentially I did anything to avoid actually putting food in my mouth, and as a result, my ability to recognise hunger (or fullness) is seriously impaired. This part of intuitive eating was quite a challenge, but it’s also proved to be one of the most important elements of the journey. Having been ‘practicing’ eating intuitively for the last 3 months, in recent weeks there has been a noticeable change in my body’s ability to trust that I will eat when I am actually hungry. Regardless of what I ate earlier, or what I’m eating later, or how much exercise/moving around I’ve done, if my body tells me I am hungry, I will eat. Importantly, what I eat isn’t dictated by calories, macronutrients or rules I may have previously followed (like low carb or low fat etc) but what I crave, will enjoy or have access to.
3. Make peace with food.
We all know how I used to feel about chocolate digestives. They were my nemesis. If I ‘fell off the wagon’ I can assure you I fell into a packet of biscuits. And I’m not alone here, I’m sure MANY of you will have a food they ‘just can’t have in the house’ because once they pop, they just can’t stop. But it’s diets that have taught us we are untrustworthy around food and it’s restricting that has made us behave unpredictably around the things we love. Eating intuitively gives you a true freedom. What are you craving? Honour it. If you want a doughnut, eat one. Want another half an hour later? Have one. Listening to your body and learning to respond to it helps stop the binge/restriction cycles we’re trapped in. You will find that once you’ve had a couple of doughtnuts, and know that you truly have permission to eat the rest of the bag should you decide thats what you desire, you don’t crave them in the same way. I find that if I have a couple of chocolate heavy days, or a few meals out, all I want when I get home is a stir fry full of veggies or a home made soup. You truly have permission to eat whatever you desire!
4. Challenge the food police.
There is no right or wrong way to eat. I’ve been banging on about that for a while. Food doesn’t come with morals. This part of learning to be an intuitive eater may seem almost insignificant but actually, it’s another vital step. Part of the reason we’ve binged on forbidden foods is because we ruled them not good enough to be part of our diets in the first place. It is vital that you ditch the moral tags that come attached to foods. I used to make endless alterntives to cake and buiscits, low carb, low calorie, low fat, made from chick peas, brownies made from sweetpotatos, you name it I’ve tried it. Some how these suposedly ‘healthy’ altentives were meant to be better, but in reality a couple of digestives would have been far more satisfying. Instead, I usually ended up binging on an entire pan of ‘healthy’ treats that would have contained significantly more calories that the biscuit I craved in the first instence. You can eat anything. Absolutely anything. There are rules, no moral codes, no right or wrong choices.
5. Respect your ‘fullness’.
As a self-confessed emotional, over and binge eater, fullness was almost a new concept. I could eat through ‘happily full’ without even blinking, nose-diving straight into painfully stuffed and needing to sleep off the food baby I’d just conceived. Learning to monitor how you’re feeling while you eat is the equally important balance to eating when you’re hungry. This seems like another simple task, but in reality, just as difficult as it can be to start eating when you’re hungry it can be equally as tricky to stop when you’re full. As a restrictive eater, I often found that once I’d given myself permission to eat, I would continue to eat until it hurt. Once you can trust your self to eat when you’re hungry, it feels just as satisfying trusting your body to tell you when you’re full.
6. Discover the satisfaction of eating.
Food is a huge part of most relationships. Time with your friends or family, co-workers or partners, food is intergal. Food is interesting and amazing and fun and it shouldn’t be a punishment. Diets teach us that food is to be feared, that meals out are just weight gain waiting to happen and that ice creams at the seaside are to be punished with a 10k run. Accepting that there is much joy to be found in food will help you to learn what it is your body is really craving, when you’ve had enough of it and when to push the boat out a little more than usual.
7. Honour your feeling without using food.
I am the first to put my hands up to emotional eating. Happy? Pass the chocolate cake! Sad? Pass the fucking chocolate cake. Stressed, tired, overworked, anxious, lonely, bored, whatever it is you’re feeling, there can be a temptation to use food to help ease them. The helpful thing to remember about this step is it’s not used in isolation. Firstly being aware of these feelings will help you stay intuitive. Secondly, talking to people and using communication methods to open up about what’s happening is super important. And thirdly, keeping on top of the other steps we’ve talked about will really help – specifically honouring your hunger and respecting your fullness.
8. Respect your body.
Your body is fucking amazing. The things it does without you even realising is incredible. The things you’ve survived and then thrived in spite of are awesome. And through all of that, we’re desperate to make our bodies LOOK a specific way just because we THINK it’s better than what we have now. Isn’t that fucked up? While you start to learn to eat intuitively, you have to start to make peace with this incredible vessel you reside in and trust it to find it’s natural state without forcing it to be something other. For me, this is all about body confidence and body positivity so it’s worth reading my other blog posts!
9. Exercise – feel the difference.
When food is reduced to a number of calories, then exercise can become almost a punishment for everything you’ve eaten. You end up trapped in a cycle of working out to repay yourself for what you’ve eaten or flipping it and working out so that you’re ‘allowed’ to eat. Moving your body because you love it is joyous. Moving your body because you choose to is lush. Being an intuitive eater stretches to other areas of your body, including this, so use it as another chance to reconnect with what you truly love to do! Are you running because it actually brings you joy, or do you prefer to dance? Are you stuck at spin class because it burns the most calories when actually you’ve always wanted to try yoga? Sick of working out and want to take a walk? You may even spend a good few weeks sat on the sofa doing sweet FA, that’s fine too!
10. Honour your health.
Right. Before we get into this, let’s just be clear here, that this isn’t talking about the crappy health standard that you see all over the place used to shame fat people. When we talk about health in this instance, we just talking about overall wellness and that includes mental, physical and emotional. Often people know what foods their body tolerates best, I’ve never liked the taste of dairy and I know my body doesn’t love digesting it. This step is just another chance to listen to your body, what makes you feel good? What fuels your body in a way that satisfies you? My body not loving dairy doesn’t mean I don’t eat ice cream or chocolate, it means I choose foods when I really want them knowing fully how it will make me feel and being okay with that. Health isn’t a tangable thing that you have or don’t have, its a balancing act thats specific to you, finding your comfort zones is all that matters!
My journey into body positivity has been firmly rooted in intuitive eating and eating disorder recovery, alongside the rejection of diet culture and fat phobia. I feel like its almost impossible to do any one of these things without doing the others too. Giving the fingers up to everything you’ve been told about your body and the ways you ‘should’ treat it makes it so hard to truly move into a more positive space. I wouldn’t for a moment tell you this is an easy journey, but I can assure you it’s worth it.
I gave up weighing myself in January. I started eating foods that I loved, that made me feel good, that brought me JOY. I started eating out and learning to cook things I’d always wanted to try. I joined a pilates class and started visiting new cities so I could walk around them. I stopped counting calories and started to realign my body and mind, so much so that I still have Easter eggs in the cupboard that I’ve just not been in the mood to eat!!
This isn’t an over night change. These prisiples take time to sink in and to forful authentically. I said I was doing all of them from the start, but as the weeks and months have passed, I realise I’ve actually only just started to truly ease into them.
Up next, my top tips for starting to eat intuitivly!
Over the past few months, I’ve talked together a lot about how we live in a world where we moralise food, how we’re obsessed with numbers, and how our bodies are political. We’ve gone on to talk about how diets don’t work and even worse, that diets can cause serious mental harm.
As an idea to counteract that, I’ve also been sharing with you how learning to love your body is actually an option! We’ve looked at how body positivity differs to body confidence and how you don’t have to be healthy to be accepted in a movement that encourages us to work on side with our bodies rather than against them.
So I’m hoping you’ve realised that diet culture is the root of all evil. That it has been used to control you and shame you for your entire life. That it’s ruined how you feel about your body. That it’s dictated the clothes you’ve worn since you were a child. That it’s impacted on your love life and your sex life. And that it’s fucked with your head, your relationship with food and in turn covered all the occasions you should have been feeling on top of the fucking world with a dark cloud that you didn’t even necessary realise was there.
But my question now is, are you ready to stick two fingers up to this awful cycle of binging and restricting? Because, guys, there is another way!
GIVE UP DIETING.
I know. It’s utter madness. But seriously, you can quit dieting.
I felt, and still feel, totally fucking lost sometimes. I’ve been consumed in a life of extremes. Whilst some women find that they are able to follow diets ‘successfully’ for a few days or months before ‘falling off the wagon’, my experience is a larger version of a similar cycle. Years of restriction and supposed ‘successful’ weight loss then nosediving into years of profound emotional, over and binge eating. Without realising I had a severe eating disorder and I was firmly rooted in diet culture.
But we’ve been fed, pun intended, so much bullshit about food, and diets and what we should or shouldn’t be doing, I don’t blame you for feeling like the answer to your diet issues … is a different diet.
Dieting is about controlling and restricting food. For many, diets induce a food obsession, constantly worrying about the rules of the latest program their following. It’s almost hard to imagine life before we worried about carbs after 6 or what percentage of vegetables we have on our plates.
And just in case you wanted some quick reminders as to why dieting is awful, here are just a few:
- I constantly felt like I was missing out on life, saying no to things I’d like to do and avoiding social situations just in case I was expected to eat. Not to mention I had no energy, no desire to do anything other than exercise and I couldn’t focus on anything for longer than two minutes.
- I became obsessed with food, always thinking about my next meal, worrying about what time of day it is and how hungry I was already. I couldn’t listen to my friends or see a film because all my space was taken up with my food anxieties.
- I realised that dieting made my mental health terrible, I slipped further and further into an eating disorder I didn’t even realise I had. I felt low all the time and sex was absolutely off the menu.
- It was costing me a fucking fortune. Like actually worse than smoking.
- Reaching my goal weight didn’t change how I’d been conditioned to feel about my body. There wasn’t an ‘aha’ moment, I simply stepped off the scales and wanted to see a lower number the next day.
- I start to feel like no amount of weight lost would ever be enough. Ever.
- Self acceptance should always be the top of the list of things I do for my body.
- I realised that every day beauty standards don’t represent ANY woman, so why was I trying to reach a standard set by some white bloke? If we know that everything is photoshopped and that Victoria Secrets models stave them selves for a week before a shoot, why are we still trying to look like them?
- I finally understood that my journey to be ‘healthy’ also included my mental health and that whilst I was dieting, that became seriously unhealthy.
- I didn’t want to hate my self any more. I’m sick of it, it’s exhausting and there must be more to life than this…
So what is the anti-diet and what on earth does it actually look like?
If dieting is all about controlling food, then the anti-diet must be all about loosening your grip, letting go of all the shit you’ve been told about food and finally learning to truly listen to your body.
Intuitive Eating is the anti-diet. Intuitive eating is the dream. And the only tool you need is your own mind.
The idea of intuitive eating is to heal your relationship with food. To unlearn all the crap you’ve picked up over the years about the ‘rules’ around food and to finally connect with your body in a way that serves you.
If you think about how babies and young children eat, they’re not yet attached to foods in the way we have become, they’ve not yet been indoctrinated into diet culture and they’re able to remain in touch with their bodies. If you give a small child food when their not hungry, they’ll play with it, decorate their table, perhaps throw it on the floor, but they won’t eat it. You know when your child is full, because they stop eating.
In intuitive eating this is the aim. To re-connect with those cues that you did once have. It’s about respecting your body, giving it nourishment when it asks, moving when it feels good and fundamentally having more respect for your self. Dieting rubs away those connections, it confuses you into thinking food is simply ‘points’ or ‘syns’, meals become about calories rather than nourishment and you’re discouraged from connecting with the primal feelings of hunger, thirst, fullness in a bid to control your calorific intake.
Surrendering to food seems so far out of your reach when you’ve spent your whole life believing food is ‘out to get you’, but intuitive eating puts you firmly back in the driving seat, teaching you to settle your self back into your own body.
By moving away from dieting, and the horrible all encompassing dieting ‘lifestyle’ that we find our selves trapped in, we can free our selves from the ingrained fat phobia we have internalised and we find our feet back on the ground, ready to take on life with a totally different attitude.
In the next two posts we’re going to look more deeply at the principles of intuitive eating and the my own experiences and top tips for surviving the transition.
But for now, I just want to leave this here to sit with you, the idea that there is another way after 20, 30, 40+ years of dieting, this may need a couple of days to sink in….
I went to a hospital appointment with my wife this week. We saw a therapist that is used to dealing with disabled people every day – it is her job to find people the best wheelchair for their needs. As part of her job, she will be used to dealing with people just like me. I am a disabled person who sometimes walks, sometimes uses crutches or sticks and sometimes uses a wheelchair. As it happens, this appointment was for my wife. I’ve been to her wheelchair appointments before though, so this therapist knows me.
At the moment, my legs are reasonably reliable. I’ve been able to walk more, though it’s painful and I am unsteady, it’s a real pleasure to be ‘on my feet’ a bit more. Coming to terms with my body as it is, means embracing all the things that are difficult and accepting my limitations while celebrating all the things I am able to do, even though they might be impaired.
When the therapist asked who I was, and I gave my name, she asked if Letty (my wife) and I were related. Letty and I looked at each other, and said in a slightly comical tandem way ‘we’re married’. I saw the light bulb click on. ‘Oh, it Imogen, she’s is stood up’.
Once all the work to Let’s chair had been done and we were finishing up, the therapist said her goodbyes to us and as I was leaving she said ‘and Imogen, it’s lovely to see you looking so well…’ To be fair, she stumbled over her words, I could see her realising what she was about to say just as it was leaving her mouth. Really what she meant to say was just ‘it’s nice to see you’, because she knew – as a health professional – that I wasn’t any ‘weller’ or healthier simply because I was standing rather than sitting. Funnily enough, when I sat on a chair during the appointment, she didn’t comment that I had started to look unwell….
This isn’t the first time someone has commented on my ‘health’ because of the way I look. And it is something I’ve noticed is a huge issue in the body positive community. It would seem that recently just as much as we are subject and held up to stupid, unobtainable beauty standards, we are held equally to ridiculous health standards.
Let’s start by being clear. YOU CANNOT TELL HOW HEALTHY SOMEONE IS BY LOOKING AT THEM.
You cannot assume that a wheelchair is unhealthy, just like you shouldn’t assume that a fat person is unhealthy. Conversely, there is no reason to assume a thin person IS healthy. Once again for those in the back .. there is NO WAY to tell how healthy someone is by the way they look.
Now, we’ve talked about my impairment before. So I’m sure you will remember that it is genetic. It isn’t going to go away, and I will never meet the ideal ‘health’ standards that some people seem very worried about. I will always have difficulties with day to day tasks and my body will always need assistance in maintaining homeostasis. As my body has been changing over these past few years, my impairment has changed along with it, and whilst a few of those things were impacted upon by weight, none of them were caused by weight alone. And conversely, as my body changes again in recovery, so will my impairments. The important thing to remember here is correlation does not imply causation.
The political rhetoric that fat people are ‘crushing the NHS‘ and that OF COURSE being fat will kill you, is everywhere, but when you start to break this stuff down, just how true is it and just how much of this is people buying into or perpetuating diet culture?
Let’s start with this, a 44yo ex-football player died suddenly this week despite having been incredibly ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’ all his life. In fact, it’s not uncommon for seemingly ‘healthy’ people to die suddenly. And what about those incredible people who’ve lived extraordinarily long lives citing smoking 30 cigarets a day or drinking nothing but red wine as the secret. Why is it that we are so worried about the health of fat people and no one else when in reality we are all at risk of the same diseases?
And don’t be fooled. We ARE all likely to get the same diseases, regardless of weight. In fact, studies now are confirming what fat activists have been saying for years .. fat people are healthy .. .. overweight people are at no extra risk of mortality and even that overweight and obese people live longer! That’s if you can work out who the overweight people even are because it turns out the BMI index has been mislabeling people as overweight and obese in the first place.
All this focus on fat people though, and we’re missing the real truth. Diets are far more likely to harm your health. Fluctuations in weight have been proven to damage your health, in fact, weight cycling causes chronic inflammation and let’s not forget that eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. But why would the diet industry let those secrets reach you, they’re making millions by making you feel awful about your body, and the worse you feel about yourself the more likely you are to buy into their latest bullshit diet in a bid to ‘feel better’. The biggest laugh of all is that scientist have suggested that up to 80% of your body type is actually determined by your fucking genetics! And you can’t diet your genetics different!
What about all the other things that can cause illness? How about stress? Because it turns out that low-calorie diets cause cortisol levels to rise, meaning your body is under physical stress. The sad truth is that psychological stress is just as likely to raise mortality also. So why the fuck are we adding to the distress people already have to deal with in life? If we know that the mortality rate for those with mental health conditions is three times higher that those without, why on earth are we creating a world where people are literally driven to the edge of sanity purely because of how they look? What’s really fucked up is that those feelings start in childhood, I couldn’t believe it when I read that 80% of 10yo are scared of being fat and 90% of teens are unhappy with their body shape. Is this really the life we want our children to grow up into?
Let’s pause for a moment though, because maybe there is a chicken and egg element here too? Imagine you have been going about your life with no issues around food or movement, you’re at your set point and life is peachy. But then something happens, you break your leg, you develop cancer or an autoimmune disease, I mean just any number of life-altering things could happen .. but you go on with life, only now you’re not able to move as much, or you can only eat specific foods, or you throw up all the time and your weight changes. Have we considered that health might trigger someone to become fat rather than fatness triggering health problems?
A recent study proved that fat shaming actually makes people’s health worse. The notion that you might be encouraging someone to lose weight – or even ‘focus on their health’ by shaming them actually has the reverse effect..
“We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.
And what’s worse is that by isolating people, by pushing them to the edges of society because their fat, you’re adding loneliness to the list of things that might actually harm their health. As someone who has experienced fatphobia and fat shaming first hand, I can assure you the knock-on effects are huge. You might think that hearing things from your friend or family are specifically bad, but actually, strangers making comments in the street is something I found to be especially embarrassing. The worst of all though was the bone crushing shaming I received from medical professionals.
As someone who has experienced fatphobia and fat shaming first hand, I can assure you the knock-on effects are huge. You might think that hearing things from your friends or family are specifically bad, but actually, strangers shouting comments in the streets is something I found to be especially embarrassing. The worst of all though was the bone crushing shaming I received from medical professionals. I wonder how many fat people struggle to maintain health because they are shamed out of visiting their medical providers or refused treatment until they’ve lost enough weight to satisfy some doctor they’ve met once. I remember the outrageous things doctors said to me, denying me treatments that could have been considered life-saving, simply because they decided I was too fat.
I still can’t seem to get people to understand just how unwell I was at my lowest weight. Whilst still meeting acceptable beauty standards, I was so malnourished that my hair started to fall out, my periods stopped, my bones started to weaken and my sex drive completely disappeared. The psychological effects were even more difficult to deal with though, I couldn’t focus on anything except food, I was absolutely exhausted all the time, I felt perpetually anxious, and life felt totally unmanageable.
What makes me more frustrated today though, is that people who claim to be body positive, who share their thoughts in a supposedly safe space, are still insisting on health shaming. The knock on effects of this is enormous and you don’t realise the damage you’re doing to all the intersectional members of the community.
We seem to all be able to agree on one thing, that the ideal beauty standards are bullshit, that they are damaging and that we should be fighting as a community, to change the fucking world. So why is it so hard to understand these impossible health standard are just as unobtainable, just as irrelevant and just as harmful.
If you are in the body positive community and you believe that you should only accept your body when it is healthy, then you’ve already excluded me from your movement. If you think that your healthy body will last forever, and you are only worthy while it does, then you’ve just excluded yourself from this movement. You’ve just excluded every person who ever experienced any aspect of poor health, illness or disability. You’ve just excluded who this movement is for, those who have no access to representation, no access to a message that they are good enough, and no access to a world that tells them they have any fucking value.
There are two things that we as a community need. The first is to stand firm together to not only to reject beauty standards but also to dismantle this idea that we need to be healthy to be worthy. Without that, we are tripping ourselves up and selling ourselves short, we are taking away a vital element of our movement that lets everyone know they have worth regardless of health and ‘wellness’. But secondary to that, we have to find a louder voice for disabled people. That voice has to reach not only the corners of the community but the corners of the world. Just like fat people, people of colour, queer people and those from all of our wonderful intersections need to be represented out in the world, so do disabled people. I want to see bodies that represent me in the media. I want to voices that represent my voice in the media. I want to know that the world outside the body positive community values and respects me and bodies like mine.
It might seem like a long way off, but the fat acceptance movement has been doing amazing things with body positivity. We see plus size models in our media more, we see fat bodies on our TV screens, we even celebrate beautiful fat bodies sometimes.. and that’s what I want for disabled people. I don’t want us to be Paralympians, I don’t want us to be pitied, I don’t want us to have to be inspirational or the curse of the NHS, I want us to be accepted and celebrated just as we are.
Unhealthy, disabled, broken, fat, fucking glorious, fucking proud and so fucking worthy.