'Est 7 min read
Last week we talked about diet culture in my blog post “Diet Culture: Is it Consuming You?” Much of the diet culture messaging you receive throughout your life is out of your control. This week, we're going to talk about the piece that you can control. We can't control that we're mired in diet culture, that we all live in this system of oppression, or that those systems are real and exist, but you can start to dismantle and reject those ideas. What can you do? Part of that is looking at an aspect that you can control: what are you taking in? What are you consuming?
First, let's look at self criticism. Self criticism around food and your body is internalized Anti-fat Bias. This is internalized diet culture messaging. Shilo George talked about those thoughts as an invasive species. They come, they're not yours, they are invasive, and they get all up in your brain. Self-criticism is perpetuating those messages.
What do you do about it? Increase awareness around self-criticism. Have a lot of compassion for yourself with it because this is a process that takes time. You may need to get support around it, but increase your awareness around your self critical thoughts and start to shift them. Noticing when they happen, celebrating, having awareness over these thoughts, that's a step in the direction that you want to be going and then questioning them. If you're having a thought like, “Oh, I'm fat, my jeans are tight”, first off, remember, being fat isn't bad. And it is anti-fat bias to believe so. So check that piece.
Second, ask yourself, is size really a measure of your value? Its not, but this idea might be lurking in your subconscious from the diet culture BS messaging. Your size doesn't change your value. Consider that it's possible that you can accept yourself as you are in this moment, regardless of your jeans being tight, it's possible that you just need some clothes that fit on your body, rather than trying to fit into clothes that don't fit you.
Speaking of tight clothes….one of the ways that we continue to consume diet culture messaging, is by going to retailers that only offer smaller sizes, or that value and promote a thin aesthetic. Are you going to someplace that all their models/mannequins are thin? Do you have to scrounge around to find your size or are you going someplace that is size inclusive? When you go to try on clothes, one of the ways that you can begin to shift this, is by not assuming that you should fit into the clothes, they should fit on your body.
What I recommend is when you try on clothes, make sure that you're getting a range of sizes and that you start at a higher size so that you're not trying to squeeze into a size that is too small for your body. Then, in the dressing room, actually turn around, don't face the mirror, put the clothes on, see if they're comfortable. If they're not comfortable, then take them off. And don't ever look at yourself in them. Then if you do get to the point where you find clothes that you like that feel comfortable, turn around and see if you like the way that they look on you. Recognize that these are going to look different than they do on a model or on a mannequin, which isn't even a human. Most of the images that you're seeing around this are going to be airbrushed. They're going to be highly posed. Clothes don't look like that on average human beings.
Again, consider where you are shopping. If you have access, shop at size inclusive stores. One of my favorite places to shop is Mary Rose Northwest Boutique in downtown Oregon City, for those of you who are in the Portland area, but it's also online!! They are a body size inclusive retailer.
This leads into the next area of consumption, media. What are you consuming in terms of media? Are you getting Glamour magazine? Are you getting magazines where the vast majority of their pictures are of thin white models? Or are you getting magazines that have a diverse group of people? I simply skip them all together and actually make a point of not even looking at them when I'm in line at the grocery store.
Where are the other places that you are seeing this kind of thin white beauty cultural norm? What shows are you watching? Do you have shows that have a variety of bodies, sizes, different ethnic backgrounds, different abilities, different ages? I really have struggled to find shows that have a variety of diverse groups of people in them. I try to watch those shows when I can. Even in books, podcasts, we experience anti-fat bias…consider where else are you getting images that are promoting thin ideal? In books, you might be surprised, because it's not actually a graphic usually. Most characters are thin and the thinness is valued. Are you reading books that say harmful things about larger bodies? That's anti-fat bias that's going to reinforce to your brain that thin is good and fat bodies are bad.
Last, take a hard look at social media, this is a place where we consume so many images and this is a place where we get a lot of diet culture messaging.
What's in your feed? Are you following accounts where people are having before and after pictures where people are promoting diets? Are you getting a lot of ads for Noom, Paleo, and Whole 30? These ads you can actually report them if you want to and say you don't want to see this. Over time, it does reduce, I still get them occasionally, but it's much reduced. I've unfollowed all the accounts where people are promoting fitness as wellness, or promoting weight loss, encouraging weight loss, and instead, we want to replace that.
You don't want to just take away those accounts, you also want to replace that with a lot of diversity, including size, ethnicity, diverse range of age and ability levels. There are some really great social media accounts I will link at the end of this. Follow these accounts and start following some of the fat adventurers who are out there; they're fat advocates out there doing things that I couldn't personally do, but I'm working on it. Following these accounts really opened my eyes to my own internalized Anti-Fat Bias, the ideas that I had that limited what I thought was possible for people who don't fit the thin ideal. They're living life to the fullest. Recognize that you have the ability to enjoy life at every size and that your body is good as it is regardless of what it looks like. It's helpful to have a variety of images coming in and having accounts where you're seeing that in real life.
For some people, it can be helpful to follow accounts where people are wearing very little clothes, because just appreciating all of the curves and dimples, the differences and nuances of all the human bodies, stretch marks, scars, what real bodies look like, can be really helpful. For other people it can be activating. If you are still having a lot of those diet culture messages ingrained, that actually might make you activate those anti-fat bias thoughts. You might internalize some of those. Be conscious of what feels right for you and get support if you think you need it.
I hope this blog was helpful and if you need support or if you have questions, feel free to reach out to me Tiffany@coachtiffanyrn.com.
Social Media Accounts to Follow:
Body liberation activist Jes Baker
Mirna Valerio (@themirnavator)
Ashley Manning (@ashleysadventure)
Jolie Varela (@indigenouswomenhike)
Sam Ortiz (@samortizphoto and @biggirlsclimbtoo)
Megan Banker (@pdxoutdoorchiro)
Ashlee Bennett (@bodyimage_therapist)
Erik Cavanaugh (@erikcavanaugh)
Amanda Lacount (@amandalacount)
Estimated read time 7 ½ minutes.
First, lets get clear on what diet culture is. It's the systems in place that value thinness and appearance over health, ideas that shame you into thinking that there's something wrong with you if you are not thin. This is a cultural system of oppression that harms everyone. I really appreciate Christy Harrison, the dietitian, and her definition of diet culture.
Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:
I want to go a bit deeper into the origins of this messaging…diet culture is actually rooted in white supremacy. It was created to bring separation of white women from the slaves; painting slaves as bad and a White Christian women as better and of a higher status. They created the idea that thinness and eating restrictively was virtuous and tied this idea to religion. This has only been around for a relatively short period of time. We didn't always value thinness over other body types.
Unfortunately, today, the healthcare system is inundated with Anti-fat bias and diet culture messages as well. Most doctors/clinics/hospitals are still measuring health based on weight. The BMI is bogus. You can reference an article here about that. BMI or weight are not good measures of health.
But you're told again and again, that being thin is a good measure of health, and along with that, the message that you're actually better if you're thin, even morally superior. Diet culture is total BS. It's really important to call out those systems, reject those systems, and recognize that a lot of us, well almost all of us, have an internalized anti-fat bias due to the system of oppression of that culture. It's important to bring awareness to that wiring within yourself, and start to dismantle it, because it creates shame. It also increases your preoccupation with your body, being thin and consequently with food.
The question is, is this consuming you? It causes you to really focus on that pursuit of thinness, of eating perfectly and of a certain body aesthetic. It creates shame when you don't meet that ideal, making you feel like there's something bad or wrong with you. It makes you also believe that your value and your worth are tied to that ideal. You feel like you're not good enough perpetually. Again, it's really important to reject those ideas and weed out those thoughts and start to recognize where it's impacting you so that you can shift away from that preoccupation with that constant pursuit of fitness or thinking about how you need to control or manage food and your body.
What percentage of your mental and emotional energy you are spending on your body and on your relationship with food? More than you’d like to be? This is what I would call preoccupation in the food attachment model. If you're curious about your food attachment style, here's my online quiz. You can check it out and get the information about your style so that you can start to shift your way of thinking and your relationship with food in your body. But here's some other thoughts to consider.
What does that look like? If you aren’t sure how much mental and emotional energy you are spending on food and your body, here are some things to consider…how often are you checking in the mirror? How often are you weighing yourself? How often are you trying to move your clothes? Body checking in the sense of do you look okay, are any lumps or bumps showing? Is this shirt right? Do you need to adjust anything? How does this start to show up when you walk into a room and you can compare your body to the bodies of the other people in the room? Are you sizing them up? Are you having judgmental thoughts about yourself every time you get dressed? Are you able to look in the mirror without having a lot of self critical criticism? How is this diet culture consuming you and how often is it consuming your thoughts? Is it kind of invading your day? How often is it hijacking your mental and emotional energy? And for food…are you counting calories or macros? Do you weigh all the consequences of each food choice? Do you beat yourself up if you eat something you think you shouldn’t? Do you push away hunger signals?
Some of the other ways it may be showing up is in your conversations with your friends. Are you spending time talking about diets and your bodies? I find it tremendously boring now to talk about diets, our bodies, and nitpick ourselves. We have so many other more interesting things to discuss. I just want to get to know my friends; I don't want to be spending so much time focused on our bodies, I want to focus on them and who they are in their lives. What is fulfilling and enriching to their lives and what's hard for them emotionally. So…is it invading your relationships in that way? Is it invading your relationship with a romantic partner? Are you able to pursue a romantic partner if you want one or do you think you don’t deserve one?
I'm writing a book, as many of you know, and I was sharing with my book writing coach about how much body image issues impact the sex lives of my clients. We both cried at how tragic it is that people are denying themselves that pleasure and closeness because of feeling bad about their bodies. I’ve been there, before healing my relationship with food and my body, it impacted my own sex life. For years, I felt self conscious, I didn't want to engage in sex because I was worried that I would look fat. Now I know that I deserve pleasure, regardless of how my body looks at this moment. I deserve pleasure and having love and acceptance for my body and being in relationship with my body is something that brings me closer to accessing pleasure, and makes things more enjoyable. You can read more about that here. So, is it impacting your sex life?
How about your sense of safety and connection at home? Is diet culture impacting your relationship with the other people in your household? Your housemates, your spouse, your children? Does it make it so that you can't eat and enjoy food meals with them? Does it make it so it feels like you have to hide and you can't just eat what you'd like to eat in front of them?
How is it impacting you in terms of your communities? Do you avoid events because of the way that you feel about your body? Or the way you feel about food? Does it make you feel like you have to make excuses for yourself when you're out in public or when you're eating with others. There are so many ways that culture consumes us and creates this preoccupation with food in our bodies. It prevents us from accessing joy and being fully connected in the relationships that we have in the world and in our communities.
In part two of this blog, I'm going to be talking about “What are you consuming?” What are some of the ways that you can start to consume media and things that will support you, instead of hinder you. In the meantime, we're going to talk a little bit about what it could be like instead. How would your life be different if you're able to really reject diet culture, have acceptance, and have that relationship with food in our body that feels nurturing and connected? In my world, I call this secure attachment with food and your body. It looks like being in relationship with food in your body, feeling connection and trust with your body. Feeling acceptance over your body is good as it is at this moment. Knowing that your value and your worth is constant and inherent and non negotiable. Your value is not tied to looking a certain way or eating perfectly. Secure attachment looks like having ease and peace in your relationship with food and your body. Knowing that these outside things don't dictate what is right for you and what feels good to you. It also looks like eating in a way that is resonant for you, this alignment that feels like you're taking care of yourself, like you're actually enjoying food. You're not restricting, you're able to have what you want when you want it but also eat in a way that is honoring of your body and is attuned to what does and doesn't feel good for you and your body. This is all possible for you! It starts with rejecting diet culture BS.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments or feel free to email me at Tiffany@coachtiffanyrn.com if you want to talk about what it could be like instead, just share your vision, or share the changes that you've made and how just simply starting to call out and reject some of those diet culture messages has allowed you to build more connection and trust and acceptance in your relationship with your body and help you to find more joy and peace.
I want to ask you today, what are you blaming on food? A lot of times people will say things like- I feel like my bones hurt, I feel creaky, I feel like I have inflammation in my body. I feel puffy. I feel bloated. I'm fatigued. I don't have a lot of energy. A lot of times you're blaming these things on food, and what you ate, or on your body.
This is because diet culture messaging tells you that if you don't feel great, it's your fault, right? You're doing something wrong, and it must be what you're eating. If there's a person who's thin who has more normative eating, then you're not blaming their health issues on food, right? You're only blaming it on food when it's you, someone who is in a larger body, or someone who struggles in their relationship with food.
I was talking with some clients during group coaching, and one of them is trying to manage their blood sugar because they have a diagnosis of diabetes. They were noticing that they sometimes would eat something and their blood sugar would be fine. They would eat the exact same thing another time and their blood sugar would be higher than they want. What happens in this culture and type of health education is we're taught that it's all about the food for blood sugar control.
When I worked at the hospital, as you may know I'm an RN, a lot of times people who would eat regularly and their blood sugar would be fine but just being in the hospital, being ill and stressed, having us poke and prod at them, would make it so that they would have to be on insulin while they were in the hospital. They would say to me, “I don't understand, I'm eating the same things I normally do but my blood sugar is so high, I don't normally need insulin.” There's also medications and other things that can impact it like steroids; that makes your blood sugar go completely out of whack.
Its important to look holistically at the entire picture, into what is impacting your blood sugar. One of the people in the group that I was coaching said, “Oh my gosh, I always blame it on the food. I track my food and I'm hyper focused on my food. This is the only thing that I've considered that impacts my blood sugar, but all of these other things impact it as well.”
So my question to you is, what do you blame on food?
Do you blame being tired on food? Maybe it's actually because you're not getting enough rest. You could have a medical condition like sleep apnea that's causing it, you could be going through something really big and just need more rest and healing time.
Are you blaming your energy and your vitality on food? Sometimes, especially during all of this COVID time that we've had and all of the political unrest, it may be not due to your diet, but instead due to all of the trauma that you're going through, all of the stress, all of the grief. Oftentimes, you're actually eating in a way that resonates for where you're at. You may be eating more comfort food, so it's easy to blame it on food, but actually, what's really going on is that you are not feeling well so you're needing to eat foods that are easier to digest or that are less intensive to prepare.
Are you blaming your bloating and digestion on food? Bloating can actually be caused by hormones, reproductive issues, stress, eating extra fiber, or GI issues. GI issues can be tied to nervous system regulation and have nothing to do with food.
So is it the chicken or the egg? I think it's that we're blaming the egg, but it's actually the chicken.
When it comes to our bodies we have to look at the nuances. Where are the possibilities of things that are creating these challenges for you, instead of just blaming food or blaming your body. Blaming your body actually just increases preoccupation with food. It increases preoccupation with your body and makes you feel like you're failing, you're not doing good enough, or it's your fault. When actually, your body is wise, it’s just trying to get you through. Your choices are driven by what's going on in your body, the things that are impacting you from your environment, and other issues that you might be having.
I'm hoping that this will really help you zoom out, look holistically at your challenges, and recognize that food is most likely not the problem. The problem is that something else is going on for you, there are multiple things that could be creating that problem and multiple ways of shifting it. It could be as simple as getting more sleep, taking supplements, getting more joyful movement in your life, or reducing stress. Maybe you're having a stressful situation that you actually can remove yourself from entirely, that has nothing to do with food. This is really an important distinction to make. It can be really helpful in creating more ease in your relationship with food and actually shifting the way that you care for yourself. Increasing that connection and trust that you want to build with your body so that you can really start to heal your relationship with yourself.
If you would like more information or you're curious how I might support you, you can reach me here. You can also take my food attachment style quiz if you are looking for a helpful starting point.
What are valid reasons to eat?
I’ll start with finding a term that feels good for describing eating patterns. There are a couple of terms that get thrown around in the eating disorder recovery world, and also in health and wellness. I want to talk about these. I'm not sure if you've heard of them before or not, but one is called normative eating.
Normative eating is the idea that you're not binging, you're not having a lot of restriction, you're just eating a normal amount. I get the reason that term is used, because rather than assigning a certain amount that is the correct amount, you're able to eat with ease and just eat normally. I think that erases a lot of the valid reasons to eat and the average normal eating pattern isn't necessarily the most supportive anyway. Many people are part of the clean plate club so they eat everything on their plate. That's very normative in our culture, but not necessarily supportive to the person who's just cleaning the plate and not eating in the way that's attuned to their body.
My preference is a term called resonant eating. Resonant eating is eating in a way that resonates for you. This is really helpful to help shift your thinking in this way, because we are so mired in diet culture. Diet culture is the idea that thin is the ideal, that you are only healthy and beautiful if you're thin, and that we should all be striving to be thin (restricting/dieting) and meet this ideal beauty standard all the time. Diet culture actually has racist roots. It's rooted in white supremacy and it's also oppressive to all of us. The idea that your value and your worth is tied at all to your size and that you need to be thin to be healthy is harmful to everyone. We're all steeped in that just living in this oppressive system so it's hard sometimes to see things from a different perspective. We're going to try to kick diet culture to the curb here and think about resonant eating for a little while.
What are valid reasons to eat? Well, what I don't think is valid is expecting yourself to use food as fuel all the time, you are not a machine. We all live in a culture where food is very significant. There are a lot of aspects to your relationship with food that are dishonored by the idea that it should only be used as fuel. Instead, we're going to look holistically at a few valid/resonate reasons to eat.
The litmus test that I like to use is asking yourself, does this feel nurturing? Food is meant to be nourishing but also nurturing.
Recognize that soothing is very normative eating as well. It's very normative in our culture and it works- it is absolutely soothing. It's valid. The key is not beating yourself up and also having other ways that you nurture yourself. Again, ask yourself, Does this feel nurturing? A lot of times it has to do with the trends of how often you're eating in those ways. Are you eating using food to soothe every single day? That's going to start to not feel very nurturing, and not feel very aligned, because it's not eating in a way that's attuned to our body.
Another key is, do I feel well nourished? Is this a nurturing interaction with food or a nurturing way of using food consistently? Am I eating in a way that's attuned to my body? Now, again, when you're mired in diet culture, you might be thinking, Oh, I'm only eating when I'm attuned to my body, if I'm eating vegetables, if I'm eating a perfectly balanced meal, or if I eat the perfect amount. That’s not attuned eating because that is hyper focused on controlling food, and not looking holistically at all your needs and desires. That is looking at it from the outside, like a list of acceptable behaviors, rather than checking in with your body and asking how does this actually feel in my body?
Some additional questions you might ask yourself to see if you are experiencing resonant eating- Are you generally feeling well nourished? Do you have vitality? Do you have energy? Do you get a variety of food? Do you feed yourself regularly and well? Do you feel nurtured in your relationship with food? Are you eating foods that bring you joy and satisfaction? Are you eating consistently enough that you feel really cared for? Are you able to receive food from other people? Are you eating joyfully? Are you satisfied with your food? Can you use food to soothe and not beat yourself up about that?
Download your free hunger scale now!
The first step to healing your relationship with food is reconnecting with the signals your body gives you. One of the ways to do that is by checking in with your hunger before you eat. Here's my spin on the traditional hunger scale..