All posts by Isabel Foxen Duke

How to do “health” without dieting

“How do I make ‘healthy’ choices without falling back into diet-mentality?” 

This is a big question (which I cover at length in my coaching programs), but here are some key conceptsto consider when addressing this important question, as well as some of my most popular blog posts on this topic:


The most common reason that attempts at ‘health’ fall apart, is that people confuse—or commingle—their desire for healthwith their desire for thinness

Making ‘healthful’ choices for the sake of actual health(e.g. balanced blood sugar, increased energy, improved digestion, etc.) is a very different biological and psychological process than making ‘healthful’ choices for the purpose of weight control (a.k.a. dieting).

Confusing these two motivations—or letting hopes of thinness interfere with your health decisions—is one of the most common causes of rebound, obsessive thoughts, binge-eating, and/or “falling off the wagon.”

More on this here.

#2 – “HEALTH” must include “MENTAL HEALTH”

Diet culture trains us to focus on food choices as the predominant determinant of health…when in reality, food choices are only a sliver of the pie.It is widely evidenced that stress, stigma, and our emotional world play an enormous role in our physical health outcomes…not to mention our general happiness, which in my opinion, is the whole point of pursuing health, to begin with.

If your pursuit of health is making you stressed out or unhappy, it’s time to seriously reconsider your definition of health—to one that includes *mental health* and quality of life.Our pursuit of health should support our happiness and well-being, not compromise it. This may mean having a cupcake for no reason sometimes, and it will definitely mean learning to let go “imperfect” health choices when (not if) they occur.

More on this here.


Even if you are approaching health from a *truly* weight-neutral lens (which is unlikely…I have yet to meet a client who wasn’t struggling with some form of fatphobia), you may still fall into “on-and-off-the-wagon” thinking if you feel emotionally attachedto performing health “correctly.”

In other words, if you feel anxious or badly about yourself when you make “unhealthful” choices…be prepared to feel stressed out around food frequently…and possibly rebound as a result. 

More on this here & here.


Approaching “health” as a binary—
that is,

a thing we can achieve or failat,
a thing that is black or white,
a wagon we can fall on or off of,

is not a useful or realistic paradigm. 

It’s more accurate to understand health as something that’s constantly moving and changing on a spectrum basis—a continuous gray area that we’re swimming around in all the time.

Learning to live comfortably “in the gray” is critical for both sanity and sustainability. 

More on this here.


If you’re in early recovery from what I like to call “post-diet-stress,” restriction for any reason (including weight-neutral ‘health’) may not be entirely realistic for you right now. And that’s okay—you have to meet yourself where you are. 

That being said, there are so many ways to improve health (including food-related conditions, like diabetes) that have *nothing* to do with restriction.For instance, moving your body, getting lots of fiber/protein, eating regular meals, etc., are all things you can ADDinto your life to help manage blood sugar, for instance, without actively restricting anything. 

This may sound simplistic, but I feel compelled to point it out since so many recovering dieters immediately leap to what they should “take out” when pursuing health—as if restriction were the *only* way to improve health markers.

The adage,“health isn’t all about avoiding things that make us feel bad—it’s also about adding in things that make us feel good,” is especially important for those recovering from “post-diet stress,” who may not be able to handle restriction (even for ‘health’ purposes)all that well.

Was this post helpful? For more insights on having a “normal,” non-crazy-making relationship with food, check out my free video training series here

Also, if you’re struggling with binge eating specifically, make sure to check out this important post: How To Stop Binge Eating for good.

Yes, Diet Culture (& Fatphobia) is a Product of Racism.

I was recently asked on Instagram why I have to talk about the “divisive” topic of race relations in the US and not just “stick to body positivity which is what we’re here for.”

While I personally consider anti-racist work a moral imperative and hope I would do that work regardless of my profession, it’s worth pointing out the deep relationship between diet culture and white supremacy in American history; these topics cannot be separated, and to talk honestly about diet culture means speaking honestly about race as well.

Let’s start here…

In the 1800s, fatphobia (and dieting) was intentionally used as a tool in justifying slavery.

During that time, white authority figures claimed that larger black bodies must be the result of “oral excesses” or “gluttony,” which was seen as un-Christian and, therefore, uncivilized; and encouraged white women to diet to distinguish themselves from black bodies—thereby “othering” black folks and supporting an “us” vs. “them” narrative in the culture.

At this time, thinness (as a marker of whiteness) came to be associated with civility, elegance, discipline, and self-control, while fatness (as a marker of blackness) became associated with gluttony, laziness, and barbarism.

Through the invention of such narratives, slavery and other labor policies that allow white folks to profit on the (literal) backs of black people, were justified, as black folks came to be seen as inferior, unworthy, and less than human.

While the reasons people diet today are complicated and touched by a series of intersecting forms of marginalization—including sexism, ableism, classism, and others—it’s important that we collectively acknowledge the racist roots of fatphobia as one critically influential factor in its development.

No person reading this post has gone unaffected by the racialized history of dieting and it’s important that we consider how this history affects us personally regardless of whether or not we are conscious of its impact.

For white folks, in particular, the past weeks have largely been about making what was previously unconscious, unseen, or unconsidered—conscious, seen, and seriously considered.

Reflecting on our relationship with diet culture is but one area where we can do this important anti-racist work.

To learn more about the historical relationship between racism and diet culture, I highly recommend checking out the book, Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fatphobia by Sabrina Strings—you can also glimpse into the author’s work in this short written interview.

I also hope you’ll check out this personal essay by Master Class alum, Savala Nolan, which shares her personal experiences navigating diet culture as a woman of color and how her relationship to whiteness and thinness intersect.

Body image feels aren’t the problem

when you stop dieting,
when you stop restricting,
when you gain weight…

all the difficult feelings that that you’ve tried “diet away,”
that you’ve tried to suppress through weight control,
will pop right up.

All the fear, all the shame, all the “not-good-enough,” all the “unlovable” or “unacceptable” feelings,

all the trauma you’ve experienced as a result of being judged on the basis of size or bearing witness to the judgment of others,

will come rushing to the surface when you’re no longer using weight control as a coping mechanism—

that is, when you’re no longer trying to assimilate as a strategy for managing the pain of oppression.

Contrary to popular belief, these difficult feelings are NOT a sign of “failure” in recovery; nor are they symptoms of mental illness. 

Difficult feelings related to internalized or externalized fatphobia are understandable for everyone and anyone regardless of mental health status;

it’s how we relate to those feelings—how we care for ourselves in the midst of those feelings—that is the much bigger predictor of our mental and physical health and well-being. 

How am I tending to my shame, my fear, my body-related trauma or anxiety? 

Am I trying to manage it through dieting, over-exercise, “self-control,” or self-denial? 

Or am caring for myself in more self-loving ways?
Holding myself in the tender moments—taking care of myself like a child in need?

Recovery is not the state of being “free” from body-negative thoughts or feelings;

it is the process of learning to love and care for ourselves in the midst of our pain; of tending to our wounds compassionately, rather than violently;

and ultimately, learning to be with our feelings and self-advocate for our needs…without running back to self-harm through restriction.

x Isabel

Diet Mentality & Amnesia

The most common side effect of diet-mentality or poor body image is Amnesia. 

In the midst of our emotional discomfort when difficult body-related feelings strike,

the pain of dieting or restriction—and our firm resolve never to diet again—suddenly vanishes from our memory

…as if dieting was never a problem
…as if “this time will be different”
…as if “only” cutting out sugar never hurt
…as if dieting didn’t eventually lead to All Hell Breaking Loose Every. Single. Time.

These bouts of Amnesia usually last as long as the mind and body can maintain another attempt at control—

before they’re brutally disrupted by binges, anxious episodes, obsessive thoughts, or some other symptom of “craziness” around food.  

“Oh yeah,” she says. 

“I forgot.”

“I’m actually not capable of dieting safely for very long…it’s only a matter of time before the shoe drops…before the wild beasts within me take over…”

“On my knees…desperate for help…I remember now.”

To learn more about How To Stop Binge Eating for good, make sure to check out this important post.