The other day I was scrolling my Facebook memories with my eldest son Connor peaking over my shoulder. We scrolled upon an old sweaty selfie from about 5 years ago, and he commented…
“You look different.”
I asked him, “how so?”
Writing his response I can feel a collective “GULP. Ohhhh, ouch.”
I knew he wasn’t making a comment about my worth or value as a human. But stating a fact based on his observation. One that was accurate.
Here’s the shocker. I was completely un-phased by it. Like legit it didn’t ruffle my feathers in the slightest. And that, my friends made me want to do a happy dance. Because it speaks to just how far I’ve come on my journey to ditch the diet, reject diet culture and embrace body positivity.
I can confidently say I no longer wrap my self-worth in my size, shape and aesthetic and it’s been truly transformative.
In this blog I want to share with you why this is such a HUGE deal, and also how I got here.
Warning: this blog is a pretty honest, vulnerable look at a few things. I’m sharing some insights I’ve never shared because I think they need to be said. There’s power in speaking your truth. Because it helps others feel seen and heard too.
Perhaps something I say will resonate with you and offer you an opportunity to pause and reflect as well. Or perhaps if this hasn’t been a struggle for you, it will plant a seed of empathy so you can understand the struggles so many face in this arena. Either way I invite you to read with an open, non-judgemental mind and get curious about your own biases and limiting beliefs and how they might be holding you back.
First, a little backstory and reference.
We live in a culture that is fat phobic. In a culture where “skinny” is placed on a pedestal (in many cases at great cost). There are wild assumptions made about thinness vs. fatness.
- thin = healthy
- thin people = healthy people
- fat = unhealthy
- fat people = unhealthy people.
Not only are these assumptions inaccurate, they’re damaging.
The cost: people in bigger bodies are frequently marginalized and shamed. Not just in the social norms, but also quite typically within our medical system. I could go on and talk about the stats and consequences of the demonization of fat (and will in a future post). But here’s the key assumption I want to address.
Thin people who become fat people = lazy, undisciplined and lack commitment and willpower.
This assumption is also wildly untrue. First off, we never know why someone has gained or lost weight (more on that discussion point here). Further, it’s based on the false dichotomy that health has a specific aesthetic. Which is also untrue (and something I unpack in my book, The Elephant in the Gym).
Here’s what is true: the physical manifestation of health is unique to every body. It is not only unique from person to person, it evolves over time as we age, and as we have different priorities, commitments and interests!
More colloquially you can think of it this way: healthy is an outfit that looks different on every body.
Again, I could deep dive into the reasons we culturally accept this false dichotomy and the social programming that has led us to believe this, but I’ll leave that for another day. For now I want to get to some tangible tips to help you move from GULP to grace if you too find yourself in a bigger body than in times past.
From gulp to grace: my journey to loving my bigger body.
Here’s what I know. As I said earlier, Connor wasn’t making a statement on my worth as a person or my fitness or my health. He was merely stating a fact based on his observation. One that happens to be true.
I was skinnier 5 years ago. It’s true. I was also dieting – I didn’t call it that at the time, I thought I was “eating healthy” – but looking back I can see it for what it was. I had a lot of “rules” around food. I counted, measured and perfectly portioned. I was definitely beginning my body positive journey, but I still had a lot of diet culture hangups (clearly). I thought I had flexibility in my eating, but as I reflect back now I can see how much power I still put “in the program.”
I gave myself permission to have the ice cream cone with my kids, but I made sure the rest of my day was “on point” and I was extremely mindful (read: near obsessed) with how much of the treat I had (ie. there was an acceptable volume of indulgence, and an unacceptable). This meant I wasn’t always satisfied, and I was often hungry (both physiologically and emotionally). In Intuitive Eating Counselling we call what I was giving myself “psuedo-permission.” It’s “permission” but it comes with caveats. I gave myself permission to have “treats” in the name of “balance,” but it was still very restrictive and controlling. I was still eating “within a structure” and I most certainly didn’t trust my body to guide my nutritional needs.
Five years ago I also feared re-gaining the weight I’d lost and was still actively trying to lose more. I wasn’t willing to accept my body as it was – here and now. And here’s the truth: the thinner I got, the thinner I wanted to be. The target was always moving, and I was chasing it.
Talk about exhausting and disempowering.
When I was “in it” I didn’t see it with the clarity I now have. I don’t look back on those days with anger or disappointment (that doesn’t serve me). But instead I view those days with the lens of growth and perspective.
As the awesome quote by Maya Angelou goes “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
This journey to being body positive and ditching diet culture is not a light switch. It’s an ongoing practice and a continuum of experience. And during the process of the practice you’ll move (sometimes slowly) along this continuum of growth.
Where I am now.
Five years later I am fatter than I was. This is the truth of it.
I’m also healthy, vital and in fantastic physical condition. But my health goes beyond my physical. I’m also more mentally well and spiritually grounded (something I value now, more than ever before). My physical health is still a top priority. But my commitment to my physical health is matched by my commitment to my mental and spiritual health.
With that all said, here’s how the rest of the conversation went when my dear Connor made his observation about my body.
This was my response: “Yeah, I guess so. Bodies change. It’s ok.”
End of conversation.
No rumination. No big plans to start another new diet, cleanse, detox or push my fitness to “make up” for this “mortal sin” of fatness.
Instead I calmly spoke to the comment and the facts. And not “duck style calm.” I wasn’t freaking out on the inside and keeping it cool for the teaching moment. I was LEGIT calm.
In reflection of just how far I’ve come this is what kept coming to me: peace takes practice.
Peace didn’t hapen overnight. It’s been a process and a practice. It took intentional commitment, dedication and work.
I had to educate myself about the issues through books like Health at Every Size and Body Respect by Dr. Lindo Bacon and Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Podcasts like Food Psych and The Love Food Podcast.
I had to consistently increase my awareness of the Fat Acceptance and Body Positive Movements. This means I have bumped up against my beliefs and values (some I didn’t know I had), and had to redefine repeatedly.
I’ve had more than a few uncomfortable conversations with family, friends and acquaintances as I set clearer boundaries about what types of conversations, comments and commentary I will (and will not) engage in or stand by and idly listen to.
I have made the commitment to be an active participant in this body positive fat acceptance movement by being a leader, educator and advocate. Which also means I’m an active listener and learner from others in the movement.
I’ve taken a lot of really thoughtfully practiced steps in this process – some of them easier than others – and I could not be more grateful. Because the peace I feel now is worth the price of the work. The freedom I experience as I navigate life with this new lens is truly extraordinary. And I could not be more grateful.
If you’re “in it” here’s what I want you to hear: lean in. Get curious. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Lasting change takes time, but this change is worth it. Stay in the practice and remember that this is not a light switch, but a continuum of learning, growing and evolving into a relationship with your body that feels genuinely good, joyful and peaceful.
Here are 5 things you can do to start your own journey from Gulp to Grace:
- Ditch Diet Culture. Put the scale in jail, stop counting “all the things” (points, calories, macros, etc.) and say no to the fitness fads and rigid eating rules that dictate than anyone (other than you) knows best how to nourish your body. Reclaim your autonomy and be empowered to regain your body trust.
- Deepen your learning (and un-learning). Read books, listen to podcasts and follow pages that promote intuitive eating, anti-diet, and body positivity. Put down the diet books, turn off the podcasts and unfollow the pages that promote “before and after” diet culture and a focus on aesthetic.
- Get curious and question. Be an anthropologist and examine the ideas and ideals you have around food and fitness. When you notice something that is wrapped in diet culture or that perpetuates an unhelpful relationship with food or fitness, explore how you can shift it.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Set boundaries for yourself. Determine what is (and is not) supporting and serving you. Are your friends sitting around having a conversation about the next fad, program or diet? Get uncomfortable, and without judgement share with them what you’re learning. Have a dialogue. You may just change their life too!
- Step out of your comfort zone (safely). Do things that help you challenge pre-conceived ideas and ideals. With safety. Take steps when you’re ready (and with the right support).
BONUS: ask for help. You don’t have to take this journey alone. Connect with a friend, connect with me. But find some ally’s to help you as you embark on this journey to embrace.
If you’re looking for some support around the topic of Body Positivity, Body Neutrality and Intuitive Eating of course I’d love to connect! You might want to check out my self-study Masterclass called Body Kindness. I’m also opening my one-to-one coaching to Intuitive Eating clients. You can learn more about Intuitive Eating here, or book a complimentary 15-minute Discovery call and determine if this philosophy is a fit for you.