All posts by Isabel

Weight Bias is Not In Your Head…and that’s probably not a reason to diet.

Isabel Foxen DukeDear Isabel,

I understand that a focus on “weight control” is what’s behind most restriction (and subsequent binge/emotional eating behaviors). For the sake of my own healing, I’d like to get on the body-positivity train, but it’s hard to let go of dieting in a society that *really does* judge people on the basis of size. I have a deeply set fear that if I get bigger, I won’t be loved, I won’t be chosen for jobs as easily, I won’t be noticed—how do I overcome this fear when I see it happening around me all the time? 

xo Anonymous

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Here’s the short answer to this question: 

Yes, we live in a highly oppressive world—towards all marginalized groups on the spectrums of race, gender, size, ability, age, class and various other factors.

Weight discrimination is not just “in your head,” and healing your relationship with your body may mean learning to navigate an incredibly violent and prejudicial culture without hurting yourself or causing yourself further harm.

That being said—I don’t know many people who are made happier, or healthier, by *participating* in their own oppression—by agreeing with, perpetuating, or acquiescing to the demands of cultural mandates that are fundamentally designed to oppress them.

It’s worth asking yourself the question—are you really happier trying to conform to a particular weight standard, than you would be rejecting those standards and being true to yourself—even in the face of judgment?

Are you happier doing the *constant* labor of harming yourself so you can look like something that isn’t natural to you? Likely without any long-term ‘success’ in these efforts anyway?

Are you happier suffering at the hands of restriction, food obsession, diet-binge cycling? Weight-cycling up and down?

Are you happier spending your numbered days on this planet trying desperately to conform at the cost of your own health, sanity, and freedom?

Yes, you may incur judgment by being your natural size—and given the long-term success rates of dieting, you’ll likely incur the same judgment whether you choose to diet or not,

but is incurring the judgment of some fatphobic people really *more* scary than living in a constant state of self-harm, with no promise of safety from that judgment regardless?

Like most people, I battled a deep fear of judgment when I first gave up dieting—but that fear seemed infinitely more manageable when I honestly considered my alternative.

At some point, it felt less scary to stand up to fatphobia, than continue pandering to bigotry, ignorance, and hate.

That’s the short answer.

Resisting Fatphobia (A Social Justice Perspective on Size)

First, what is fatphobia?

In a highly over-simplified nutshell,

Fatphobia is any number of beliefs, attitudes, or ideas that rest on the assumption that “thin is good” and “fat is bad.” 

Fatphobia includes any actions, statements, exclusions, designs, or policy frameworks that assume this view—rather than respect and celebrate the reality of body-diversity in our world.

Fatphobia is being proliferated around us all the time, affecting so many areas of our lives (individually, collectively; emotionally, physically, etc.), that it is unreasonable to believe any individual could escape this cultural force unscathed, or unaffected, in our current social climate.

Realizing that escape, denial, and/or attempts at assimilation (e.g. dieting) are NOT suitable solutions to the problems posed by fatphobia—we are left with one option: 

Resistance. 

We reject those forces, structures and ideas that rank acceptability of bodies on a scale.

We stand up for our right to exist proudly in our own bodies, and for all other persons who have the right to exist in theirs.

We explore, identify and challenge our own fatphobic beliefs on an ongoing basis—reviewing both our own self-judgment, as well as our judgment of others.

We question research, institutions, authority figures, and social structures that uphold fatphobic ideals.

We educate ourselves about alternative paradigms (e.g. Health At Every Size, or weight-neutral Intuitive Eating).

We say no to media, institutions, and in some contexts, relationships that deny the humanity of non-conforming bodies, and/or put our own bodies or recovery at risk.

We seek to understand fatphobia and other systems of oppression (e.g. sexism, racism, ableism, and others) so that we may be more skilled in challenging these ideologies when they become known to us.

We acknowledge our privilege where it exists, and fight for the rights of marginalized people, understanding that “no one is free until we are all free.” (*)

We practice those skills and action steps that dismantle oppressive systems—that serve to protect, liberate, and improve the lives of all affected.

“Resistance,” in a nutshell, is the conscious and intentional practice of these skills—not only for the purpose of healing ourselves but for the purpose of healing the world at large. 

*And yes, I just quoted Martin Luther King Jr.

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How to Recover from a Painful Binge-Eating Episode

Stomach AcheOne of the most powerful tools I ever developed for recovering from a “bad binge,”

was simply learning how to separate whatever physical pain I experienced post-binge,
from the emotional pain I experienced post-binge.

When I took the time to notice, I realized that the physical pain of bingeing,
even the kind that leaves you in bed in the fetal position for hours,
is really not much more uncomfortable than having to pee really badly, or having a bad rash, or hangover, or some other arbitrary physical irritation.  

The true bulk of my suffering at the “hands of a binge,”
was actually the result of emotional pain

that is, my shame at having failed,
my fear of gaining weight,
and my belief that there was something deeply wrong with me for not being able to “control myself around food.”

(It didn’t occur to me that most people can’t “control” —aka restrict— their food for very long, and that most people binge when they try.)

While there’s no safe way to eliminate the physical discomfort of a binge after-the-fact (other than wait it out, listen to your body, and take care of yourself like you would a hangover),

our emotional discomfort,
which is the much more painful part of bingeing in my experience,
can be alleviated in an instant,
through challenging our weight-normative beliefs,
our morality of food and eating,
and developing compassionate understanding of what diet-culture has put us through.  

(And don’t worry, the physical discomfort part goes away pretty quickly on it’s own once we get back to listening to our bodies–just like a hangover).

Like this post? Check out my free video series about ending the diet-binge cycle here!

The Most Common “Emotional Eating” Mistake

Emotional eating, at the end of the day, is just a coping mechanism.

I’m all about “feeling your feelings,” and there is no doubt that getting in touch with your emotions is incredibly important for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you eat over them,

but unless we practice new coping mechanisms, we will continue to eat when emotionally uncomfortable.

Thinking we can live a life without coping mechanisms is totally unrealistic — it goes against our biological instincts to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Not to mention that coping mechanisms are what allow us to function during times of emotional duress. We need breaks from crying when trauma occurs. Feelings can’t be processed every moment of every day. We have to get out of bed, go to work, pick up the kids, do our laundry…coping mechanisms take the edge off so we can show up for life in the midst of discomfort.

Now the problem for most “emotional eaters” is that they focus on “not eating” instead of focusing on developing new ways of dealing with their feelings.

Of course, the more we try to resist food, (i.e. the more we think about food), the more practiced we become at leaning on food as a coping mechanism. (I know, catch-22 from hell…)

Eventually, we fall out of practicing other coping mechanisms altogether and become dependent on food to take care of all our problems, especially as we obsess, worry and generally freak out about our bodies.

So here’s a new way to think about emotional eating…

instead of telling yourself “don’t eat emotionally,” I want you to start thinking about all the other ways you could possibly “cope,” and start practicing them…regardless of whether or not you eat as well. 

Ultimately, diversifying and expanding our coping mechanisms without worrying about the food is far more effective, than trying to resist (and therefore binge) over it later.

BTW – If you’re not quite sure the difference between “emotional eating” and “binge-eating,” this is something I cover in my free video training series, which you can sign up for here. All three videos of the series are out, so the videos will be emailed to you immediately after you enter your name and email at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!

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