Posts in Eating Disorder Recovery
What Are We Doing to Prevent Eating Disorders?

There’s a fine line between “health” and too far

Over the last year I’ve become interested in, among many other things, how we use and abuse “health.” How health oppresses. Health — and “health foods”, such as green smoothies and chia seed puddings — as status or currency. Health as the new wealth, so clearly articulated in the term “wellthy.” 

intuitive eating, health at every size, eating disorder recovery. What are we doing to prevent eating disorders?

I used to believe — and a large part of me still does — that access to nutritious food could change the world. I wanted to deepen my “nutrition practice,” consume all the vegetables, and generally work on myself in ways that seemed meaningful but actually felt superfluous. An improved version of myself was a self who readily eschewed ketchup chips for carrot sticks, who ditched “carbs” for an extra serving of vegetables, who worked out instead of sleeping in. 

But when the comments on my body came, when I was congratulated for my discipline and my “super healthy” diet, I realized I had not really improved. I was still on the same hamster wheel I’d been on since I was fourteen. Was I searching for health or worth? Was I searching for improvement or value? When I consider how far we’ve come from promoting what I’d consider a “balanced diet”, things appear to take the shape of religion more than they do scientific fact. 

While we’ve crossed oceans in defence of “health”, I’d argue the same can’t be said for eating disorders. As a professional working exclusively with disordered eating and eating disorders, I’ll admit I don’t know everything — who does? — but most of the efforts I’ve seen in this area focus on preventing “obesity” rather than eating disorders (even though these are sometimes one in the same, a fact rarely considered or acknowledged.) 

We live in a time when Orthorexic food recommendations have become the norm. Dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free…that’s what health is, right? But it’s not. We’ve weaponized these groups. We’ve become so hyper-focused on what is wrong that we’ve created a war at the table (and furthered the distance between the haves and the have-nots.) Restriction and weight loss have become so woven into our culture that we can’t even see when our behaviours and attitudes are problematic. 

We also rarely consider the ways health has nothing to do with diet or exercise. What about historical trauma? What about marginalization? What about food insecurity and its long-term effects? What about lack of education, cooking skills, or basic electricity? Why do we say healthy eating is so easy when the world has shown up, time and time again, to tell us otherwise? Why do we assume health is a matter of choice and not a matter of circumstance? 

We’ve exchanged the thin ideal for a ripped, lean one, complete with the degrading #bodygoals tag. An ideal few can achieve without heroic (or genetic) effort. Without restriction. A goal that suggests the body is a project, not a vessel, one more important than being kind or hard-working or charitable. 

If an individual diagnosed with, let’s say, Anorexia Nervosa, decided to participate in Beachbody, we’d see this as a problem (I should hope.) So then why is it okay for someone who is not diagnosed with an eating disorder to do the same? 

Why do we promote such disordered attitudes and behaviours toward food? Is this health? 

I walked into a Greek restaurant the other day. It’s a chain, so calorie counts were littered all over the menu. I was so triggered by the numbers I couldn’t order and walked out. We would never think to hand someone recovering from lung cancer a cigarette, but apparently it’s quite alright to list numbers all over the goddamned city — including sandwich boards — for those in recovery to see. 

For anyone who barks how we shouldn’t make exceptions for those with eating disorders because “obesity is a bigger issue”, I want you think about all the efforts we’ve made in the name of physical health — and all the ways mental health is never considered

To have a mental illness in this country is to have a second class illness

But hey, being thin is so much more important, right?

10 Reasons You Still Hate Your Body (And What To Do About It)

I’m not anti-weight loss, but like most intuitive eating coaches, I’m anti-pursuit of weight loss. 

But what happens when you know this on an intellectual level and you’ve succeeded in ditching the diet, but you still haven’t made peace with your body? 

In my experience as an intuitive eating coach, the body image piece is the last to click. It isn’t a linear or quick process; it often takes a lot of self-compassion, patience, and perseverance. But the time is going to pass regardless of whether you like your body or not. I figure you can spend the rest of your life trying to change it while loathing it, or you can do the necessary work to make peace with it and move on to other things that will ultimately prove more fulfilling. 

Here’s 5 reasons you still haven’t made peace with your body and how to troubleshoot each piece of the puzzle. 

Intuitive eating, emotional eating, body positive, health at every size, all foods fit, non-diet, anti-diet. 5 reasons you still hate your body and what to do about it.

 

1 | You’re comparing your body to a younger (and possibly still developing) version of itself. 

While it makes sense that 37-year-old bodies won’t necessarily look like their 17-year-old versions, it’s sometimes difficult to accept and move forward with our aging bodies due to a number of factors. Female representations are arguably narrow; we’re taught we must always be hot. Who gets airplay? Hot twentysomethings, MILFs, cougars. If you get pregnant, you’re only permitted a small baby bump (and you best not carry weight anywhere else) and once you deliver, you need to lose the extra weight right away. 

The first step is really to set boundaries, and to regard your body as a vessel (what it has and can do) rather than an art piece (what it looks like.) Cellulite, stretch marks, wobbly bits, saggy boobs - these are part and parcel of the aging experience. Sometimes we get lucky, but by no means should Christie Brinkley set the standard for everyone else. 

Gently (and with a lot of compassion) shift your focus away from how much you hate your body to what it can do. If you’re not sure what it can do, I recommend starting there. How many push-ups can you do? Which forms of movement do you enjoy? Maybe you love taking walks around the neighbourhood after dinner with a cup of tea in hand. Maybe you love the way it feels to belly dance. Maybe you like swinging in the park. 

Secondly, immerse yourself in positive images. Unfollow social media accounts that don’t resonate with you or lead you to think negatively about yourself. 

2 | You’re playing a dead-end game of comparisonitis. 

We’ve inundated with transformation stories at every corner. From magazines to social media platforms, we’re reminded that if we don’t have something, it’s only because we don’t want it enough or haven’t worked hard enough to achieve it. But in my experience — and while many will certainly disagree — I think discipline is overrated. 

Whenever you pursue a goal, you need some degree of discipline. You need to commit and stay the course.

But ultimately the goal itself can (and should?) sufficiently drive you without much coaxing on your part. Whenever I’ve felt too much pushback from something, it’s usually a sign it’s not for me. I like to compare challenges to leather shoes. You want the shoe to fit somewhat snug initially because leather stretches out and you don’t want to be left with an oversized shoe. But you don’t want the shoe to fit too tight, either.

Weight loss is difficult for most people because it asks us to override our hunger signals to meet an arbitrary number on the scale, a measurement, or a percentage. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes no sense. It counters our very programming. 

But weightlifting to get stronger? This one’s easier. We can wrap our heads around it. 

Running to strengthen our hearts and lungs? Yes. 

Eating to fuel performance? Yes. 

So when it comes down to stories about so-and-so and her amazing weight loss, think critically about it. Maybe that person lost weight, but will she keep it off? Chances are good that she won’t (they say 90-95% of diets fail.) But getting stronger and eating a balanced diet make a lot of sense regardless of age or experience and they work with our biology — not against it. 

3 | Your friends are still dieting in various degrees.

It can be enormously difficult to live as an intuitive eater. It seems like everyone is on a diet, looking to spot reduce, or working to change their size or shape in some way. 

How can you possibly feel good about your body if everyone around you feels the need to change theirs?

Regardless of whether it’s a friend, family member, or colleague, I recommend having strong boundaries. Let them know what you’re trying to do (i.e. make peace with your body, accept your body, stop being at war with food…or your own words!). I find people are generally pretty receptive if you just let them in on your plans. 

Another option is to find some body positive groups to join or additional friends who are not as wrapped up in diet culture. 

4 | You’re consuming toxic media. 

Comparisonitis and toxic media consumption are totally linked, but the difference is this: comparing yourself to others is active and conscious (“I need to change”), while media consumption is (in my experience) tends to get internalized and grows from the inside out. Suddenly you want things you never thought you’d crave, like chiseled abs, a thigh gap, and a booty. You’re consumed with the idea that you’re not enough, not worthy, and not deserving, even if none of these things are true. 

One of the first things I get my clients to do is to ditch the negative media and surround themselves with more positive influences. Narrow beauty ideals may be the only ones we’re exposed to, but they’re not the only ones that exist. The body positive world is filled with gorgeous, diverse representations of femininity and appeal to a broad range of people. 

5 | You’re carrying unrealistic expectations for what your body should look like. 

I get it. We’re taught from a very young age to criticize our bodies and to treat them like projects. We’re taught we’re not good enough if we don’t meet the (arbitrary) ideal, and that regardless of our desires, we should always be working toward meeting it — that it’s “unwomanly" not to. 

But we’re not all meant to be Kate Mosses or Beyonces or Ashley Grahams, to be gaunt or voluptuous or “curvy in all the right places” or to have “legs for days.” That’s okay. Your body isn’t wrong. Over the course of our lives, our bodies are going to change. They’ll be bigger or smaller, firmer or softer, stronger or weaker. It is okay — and perfectly normal — to have cellulite, wobbly bits, and stretch marks. Pigmentation and moles. We’re not meant to be perfect. We’re only meant to be human.

Is My Weight Normal?: 5 Signs You're At Your Natural Weight

Weight is a heavy topic in and of itself, nevermind natural weight. 

When I worked out of a local fitness studio, many of my clients came to see me to lose weight. It’s always a topic I’ve hesitated to coach on, particularly when it’s concerned young women. Some expressed interest in hitting the lower end of the weight range they give you at your doctor’s office, as though being on the low end makes you healthier (to clarify: it doesn’t). Some had gained a few pounds over the years and were puzzled as to why or how and what they could do to stop it. And some just wanted to be a specific weight they deemed best. 

I’ve been all three of those women. 

I’m just under five-foot-two. Since about birth, I’ve felt intense pressure to weigh light. I played soccer, figure skated, and danced throughout my childhood and spent my summers rollerblading, so my legs and glutes have just about always been developed (plus, genes). But when you’re shorter than all of your friends, shouldn’t you weigh the least? Not exactly. And not with my bone structure. But I couldn’t resist chasing after this impossible ideal for over a decade, assuming there must be something wrong with me that I couldn’t get there. Maybe I needed to exercise more? Eat less? Give up carbs? Or maybe I weighed exactly what I was meant to weigh, which was the hardest of the possibilities to accept because I'd spent so long fighting for the alternative.

Now I'm of thin privilege. I'm a small human. Because of this, my journey has been easier. I don't have to "convince" anyone of my acceptable size. But I also know what it's like to feel uncomfortable in your own body and to search for ways to get outside of it. 

Intuitive eating, emotional eating, body positive, anti-diet, health at every size. Wondering if your weight is normal or if you're at your natural size? 5 signs you're at your natural weight.

 

So today I’m rolling through 5 ways to know you are at your own healthy weight — so you can feel confident in the knowledge that you are exactly where you are suppose to be, regardless of the opinions of others or what you feel you "should" weigh. 

1 | Your natural weight is the weight you arrive at when you’re moving in a sustainable, intuitive way

Fitness level is important; statistically, those who are fit experience greater health outcomes than those who are not fit. Unfortunately, exercise has been marketed and packaged as another dieter’s tool in recent years, a vehicle for fantasy physiques, “effortless” weight loss, and worshipped thigh gaps. But what few point out is these results take intense training and restrictive meal schedules (you know, the kind that promote disordered eating and binge eating), which are far from healthy. 

Movement is important, but you want to make sure you’re doing it in a way that is sustainable for you. Exercise should not exhaust you. Exercise should not deplete all of your resources. Exercise should not result in skipped or missing periods, injuries, and a compromised social life. Exercise is just one part of your amazing, crazy life. Not everything. 

Sustainable movement is going to mean different things to different people. For some, it’s regular activity through walking and cycling. For others, it might mean a morning run a few times a week and yoga on the weekends. Entrepreneurs have taken to the term “fitness minded”, where you blend fitness into your everyday. Some of the things you might do? Use of a standing desk instead of sitting, keeping a yoga mat out for mid-day stretching and savasana, and completing one exercise (say, push-ups) to failure rather than trying to stuff a structured workout into an already-crammed day. 

I don’t believe in being rigid with exercise, forcing yourself to complete a designated number of workouts if you’re not feeling it, or pushing yourself to extremes. I just don’t. I know I won't exercise on Mondays or Tuesdays, for example, because the beginning of my workweek tends to be busy and I'm flat-out tired. I might go for a walk to feel the sun on my face, though, and get some fresh air. While having goals can be an awesome thing, rigidity is not. You are not “bad” at working out if you commit to a couple of workouts a week if that feels good to you, in the same way that working out six days a week doesn’t make you a better person.

Ultimately, exercise or movement should energize you (mind and body), help you to manage and reduce stress, and keep your body flexible and strong. Try to focus on functional reasons for getting fit rather than aesthetics. For example, I exercise because I want to be able to haul my own groceries home at eighty, I don’t want hip or knee issues, I sit a lot for work and crave movement, and I would like to strengthen my hamstrings and upper body. 

Sounds pretty reasonable to me. 

2 | It’s the weight you’re at when you’re eating a balance of foods. 

Let’s get real here: sticking to the lean, clean, green life is unrealistic and unnecessary. There’s place for both green smoothies and cookies, for kale salads and ice cream at the beach (and yeah, I’m talking about cow’s milk ice cream laced with sugar.) 

I am talking about all the foods

Food is pleasure. Food is love. And it’s an enjoyable, amazing part of life. The weight you effortlessly maintain is not the weight you’re at when you’re caught in a vicious restrict-deprive-binge cycle, trying desperately to stick exclusively to an arbitrary (often elitist) list “approved” foods designed by pseudo-science.

It’s the weight you arrive at when life involves a balance of vegetables, fruit, fats, protein, carbohydrates. Wine and cheese nights with your friends, chicken salad with Mom, cupcakes on a Sunday, brunch at the local greasy spoon, holiday cookies, ice cream on a hot day, sandwiches at the beach, spaghetti al fresco on the best night of the year, margaritas and guacamole just because, the best roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots dipped in hummus that taste like the earth only sweeter, yogurt with walnuts, a just-picked apple, sweet potato fries dipped in mayonnaise, local hard cider after a tough week, a kale salad studded with hemp hearts and softened by butternut squash.

Your natural weight includes a wealth of experiences, unforgettable moments, random occurrences, and everyday eating. 

Your natural weight is not the place you get to by restricting, counting, macro-ing, or depriving. 

3 | Your natural weight is the number you land on when you’re respecting your body

This works with both #1 and #2, but it deserves its own separate category because self-care is that important and requires some serious spelling out. Your natural weight comes when you’re respecting your body —  whatever that means to you. Sometimes this means staying home with Netflix and tea because it’s snowing and you don’t feel like working out, taking a walk when you feel like you *should* be working, or enjoying a relaxing bath in preparation for a busy workweek (hand raised over here.) 

Self-care is as essential to our well-being as what we eat and how we move. If you’re anything like me, you’re used to dismissing it as something reserved for people with more time who’ve accomplished more and have somehow “earned it”. But self-care is for everyone and can take so many different forms. Eating when you’re hungry, intuitive movement, reading for fun, taking a walk, going for coffee with a friend, going for a drink by yourself, cycling around the city, having lunch on the beach, journalling, yin yoga, organizing your closet…these are all forms of self-care. Whatever you need to do to re-energize yourself is a form of self-care. 

Because while kale salads and tabata workouts are nice, hobbies and pastimes are pretty high up there, too. 

4 | You’re (quite possibly) at your natural weight if your hormones are balanced. 

Or rather, you may not be at your natural weight if your hormones are all over the place (you’re not menstruating regularly, for example, or your progesterone is low.) 

There’s way more to hormones than weight, but it’s an important connection to speak to. Even if you personally feel you can lose weight and get down to a smaller size doesn’t mean your body is happy there or your genes will allow you to stay there. I was “in range” at my lowest weight, but I wasn’t having regular periods. In retrospect I realize I really wasn’t eating enough food. I was always hungry, hyper fixated on food, and overate at parties, social gatherings, and family dinners because I was always depriving myself back at my apartment. Interesting how all of this resolved once my weight was restored and I returned to what I believe to be my natural set-point. 

5 | You're (quite possibly) at your natural weight if your energy is awesome. 

Energy level is another factor to consider. You need to eat enough to keep amazing energy levels and to feel good in your body. Unfortunately, diets prevent this from happening, zapping your reserves. Most people don’t realize that even minor calorie deficits can really curb your productivity levels and kill your energy. While sometimes it can be easy to undereat, especially if you’re stressed, busy, and overworked. But it’s even more important during these times to make sure you’re eating regularly and meeting your energy needs. 

I realize we’re often encouraged to undereat. The longest living cultures don’t eat much! Dieting equals health! So many disordered alignments. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you’re at your healthiest when you have the energy to do what you need to do with some leftover for what you want to do. This isn’t idealistic; it’s entirely possible. But you need to make sure you’re eating enough (and a variety of foods, most of the time) in order to do exactly this.