The Logical Conclusion to our Fatphobic Society is an Eating Disorder.

One of the most frustrating things I’ve ever heard is the apparent confusion over why rational people developing eating disorders. Countless times I’ve heard the refrain: “but you’re smart and logical, why did you struggle so much with food?” And I’ve wrestled a great deal with how to respond. In defense of my fifteen-year-old self, who lacked the words at the time to respond, I’d like to explain.  

You see, we don’t live in a vacuum. We didn’t all come together one day and decide to be terrified of eating carbs, count every calorie, and work out obsessively. We didn’t make up the idea that certain foods were bad and others were good, that thinner was better, and that we should error on the side of restriction rather than indulgence.

But we watched our parents pull out the scales they kept in their bathrooms to weigh themselves every morning. We watched our moms crash diet; we heard our grandparents comment on our bodies every time we came to visit.

We noticed labels at the grocery store proclaiming some foods “guilt free” and others “guilty pleasures.” We read tips on how to get “hot abs” in magazines at our doctor’s offices, and we listened to our dads sneak out of the house before 6am, sacrificing adequate sleep for another workout.

We picked up on the way fat people were treated in our society: mocked in magazines, made the butt of jokes, erased from mainstream media depictions of what it meant to be successful, happy, or beautiful.

And we got the message: Fat is bad. We should feel guilt when we eat, shame when we see our bodies grow, disgust when we look at fat bodies. Working out is a moral imperative, and restriction a virtue. We grew up navigating an onslaught of these messages, which may have been well-meaning, but certainly weren’t harmless. 

We were told the only thing between us and the life we crave is our gluttony, our intolerance for deprivation and pain—our humanness. Following diet culture to its obvious endpoint, eating disorder sufferers start pledging their loyalty to food rules over their body’s wisdom. Yet as they do so, they are called irrational and insane.

The logical conclusion to our fatphobic society is an eating disorder.

Don’t blame rule-followers for following diet culture’s rules. Don’t criticize individuals for falling prey to a society poised to disconnect them from their bodily intuition and then capitalize on their discontent. This is not a problem of insecure young girls dealing with adolescent confusion by harming their bodies.

So save us your self-righteous wonder about why “rational” people struggle so intensely with food, and recognize instead that eating disorders are rational responses to a society that’s imprinted fatphobia into our brains since birth.

Our recovery must go beyond individual progress. We have to change the structures that instill shame around bodies and morality around food, because that shame metastasizes, shape-shifts, and steals our lives. 

We are victims of a societal problem, and our healing is a social imperative.

Three Favorite Posts for One Year of @dietculturesucks!

HAPPY ONE YEAR of @dietculturesucks!! Today I decided I’d compile three posts from the past year of posting, writing, and live-streaming my thoughts to you all via instagram. These aren’t the posts that got the most likes or comments, but they were among the most meaningful to me. I hope there’s at least one new one in here for you—enjoy!

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Dear Little Naomi,

You know you aren’t supposed to look like this. You know when you started deciding to be active, it was a good thing, that rock climbing with your friend, jumping on the trampoline, that biking up the hill, doing your mom’s Pilates video, was just fine. And you know when you started asking for your burger without a bun it was ok, you were just trying to eat less bread. And when you started only using  small plates, it was something you learned in a Women’s Health magazine, and you also started insisting on eating with a small fork instead of the regular dinner one, but that was just another weight loss tip you picked up in a women’s magazine. Perfectly normal.

And when you started weighing how much turkey you would give yourself to eat as an afternoon snack you told yourself you needed to learn portion control because who knows how much you were just eating out of the package and you really should have a good idea about what serving sizes are. And that’s normal. The magazine that told you to do that, you read that magazine while you were in your literal doctor’s office. They wouldn’t have put it in the waiting room at a medical center if it wasn’t true, right? It said people do it all the time, all over America, all over the world—if they care about their health, that is. Nothing to see here.

And when you started taking things out of your lunch, considering at night “How much do I  really  need—I could go without that big sandwich, right?” you were doing something that you’d heard somewhere was just a way of living a healthier lifestyle.

And when you got on the scale and saw how much weight you’d lost, you knew you’d done something wrong. You knew you weren’t supposed to look like this, but at that point it had become too hard to stop. “Healthy” tips had become routines had become rigid rituals that had taken hold of your mind and caged you in. But you didn’t think you had a problem—you were just chubby, so you made changes to your diet, and did a lot of cardio, so you lost weight. And that’s what being healthy looks like. Right.

Right?

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Yesterday while driving in between commitments, running late as always, I started fiddling with my phone. I clicked between songs irritably and as I lifted my eyes a split second later in time to swerve away from the curb, a thought crossed my mind: “I want to crash.” I watched this thought track across my brain, and it surprised me. I didn’t want to crash, of course...so what was I thinking?

I wanted something to HAPPEN. I wanted something to happen to me that would mean that I could take a break. I wanted to be sick, or to hit something, so that I could skip my obligations and people would understand and be okay with it because this THING happened. I wanted an excuse to lie in my bed, to not be accountable to class or work or work events or for responding to texts or DMs or planning, or saying I’ll show up to things that I honestly just can’t.

It’s hard for me to say “no.” I used to be better at saying “no” when I was in my disordered phase, because my priorities were clear: my workout came first, and other things had to fit around that. That’s no longer the case, and I’ve found myself struggling at time to order my priorities, to be ok saying “no” when I need to. I suppose I expected, with my newfound time, to be able to do everything. But that’s just not possible. .

I don’t want my car to crash. I don’t want to get sick, I don’t want myself, and I definitely don’t want anyone else, getting hurt. What I DO want is a break. What I DO want is to let myself say no. What I DO want, is to release myself from this crushing feeling of guilt that I’m letting people down when I set boundaries for myself.

In an ideal world, I could do all the things. But I’m not superwoman, and neither is anyone else. And we ignore our own needs —even if those needs are as simple as lying in bed for 2 hours during the middle of the day—at our peril.

So here’s my renewed commitment to advocate for myself, and to let myself off the hook for not being everywhere I’d like to be in this particular season of life.

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Yesterday before I got into bed I lifted up my shirt in front of the full length mirror that sits across from my bed, and I looked at my body. “I don’t like this,” I thought. “I don’t feel sexy. I don’t think my body is cute. I don’t like the way my belly is sitting. Hm.”

I climbed into bed and lay down, thinking. Thinking about the kind of enormous amount of food I’d eaten that day and the not-so-amazing feeling I was having just then about my body. And I thought something else: “it doesn’t matter.” .

IT DOESN’T MATTER. Wait—what?

I don’t need to feel beautiful. My stomach doesn’t need to be cute. I don’t have to be in love with my appearance all the time, or really, any of the time. My value & worth as a human (ALL of it) lies OUTSIDE of my body. It has nothing to do with what I look like. My friends like me because of who I am, they couldn’t care less what I look like. I do or don’t thrive in school & job settings because of my brain—it has nothing to do with my body. I’m happy because of the people and places and memories and thoughts and passion projects that make me feel all the feels about getting to live my life every day.

Besides, my body literally DOES NOT CARE if I like it or not. It’s here. It’s here to stay, it’s here to keep doing its thing, FOR ME, every day, no matter what thoughts I direct towards it. I can love it or hate it, but my body is going to keep fighting for me all the same. And when I think about it that way, it seems pretty unfair to hate something that’s just doing its best to keep me alive.

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Finally, if you read this (or any other of my writings here or on instagram), thank you. Thank you for supporting me and creating and holding space for me to be vulnerable and honest and explore things I don’t always feel comfortable exploring in other contexts. I appreciate you more than you know.

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Reasons to Recover

My life used to revolve around workouts and strength training guides and protein bars, “hacks” to get leaner and “cut cravings,” ways to fit in workouts every damn day. I counted every calorie and considered a day “wasted” if I ate “too much” food. I was terrified to eat in restaurants, have a snack in between breakfast and lunch, or spend less than an hour doing cardio. I planned everything I did around getting a workout in. The concept of being okay with my body, let alone ever loving it, was completely unfathomable.

Sometimes I wish I could reach back in time, pull that girl into my arms, and tell her: little Naomi, this kind of life is not supposed to be yours.

It’s been sold to you by media images and #fitspo. It’s propagated by people who, underneath their smiling faces and “motivating” captions, are struggling more than you will ever know. And they make it look so appealing: thin = happy = successful = effortlessly glamorous = living your best life. It seems easy enough, or at least worth a little temporary pain. But little Naomi, you don’t want that.

What those images don’t tell you is that a full life can’t happen on an empty stomach. You want a life of saying “yes” to spontaneous dinner plans, making brownies in the afternoon just because, skipping a workout because your friends want you to come swimming. You want the life of agency, in which possibilities seem endless, where the confines of your accomplishments aren’t dictated by your disorder.

Life happens on the nights you stay up talking with your friend for so long that you lose all sense of time, that the minutes blur together and seem infinite, the quiet become something otherworldly. Life is hosting spontaneous parties, dancing in your kitchen because it just feels right, waking up early to call a someone despite the time difference. It’s writing in your journal and then realizing that it’s 3am and the only logical course of action is to make quesadillas in your underwear.

Life is food, and celebration, and spontaneity, and indulgence, and things not going according to routine. Life is learning that routines are meant to be broken and re-shaped by your evolving intuition. Life is flexibility and being able to listen to and honor your body, even when your mind gets stuck in the way. 

The life you want makes room for things that are inconvenient to you but matter a great deal to others. It involves being pushed outside your comfort zone, it involves long stretches of time when working out isn’t possible because other things are just so important. It involves creating space to give more: spiritually, emotionally, materially, than you thought possible. It involves hard work and loss and grit, and using coping mechanisms, including food, to keep moving.

But that life just can’t be lived when you’re hungry. You can’t be there for others when you’re not feeding yourself. You can’t help the people you love when you’re locked in a war with your body. You can’t begin to imagine what will make you truly happy when your only dream is being thinner. You can’t grow your life while you’re still obsessed with shrinking.

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Body Dissatisfaction

Body dissatisfaction has become a more frequent visitor the past month, and while I don’t care to read too much into it, it’s probably a combination of feeling overwhelmed in other areas of my life and gaining weight.

But no matter the cause, body dissatisfaction is nobody’s favorite feeling. And while I’m much more adept at handling it now than I was a year or two ago, that doesn’t mean it never pops up. Perhaps some of you are in this place now too, so I figured I’d share some things I do that pretty reliably boost me out of the body dissatisfaction sphere. I hope they’re helpful!

  • Look at your body in the mirror—seriously, as if you’re studying it. Every time a negative thought pops up, question it: “Why”? Why do I find this inherently ugly? What makes me think that my body “supposed” to look different? Why do I need to listen to society’s oppressive beauty ideals at the expense of my own wellbeing?

  • Scroll through your body-positive safe haven instagram feed. Some of my favorites to follow are @scarrednotscared @glitterandlazers @laurathomasphd @bodyposipanda @bodyimagetherapist @whollyhealed @maryscupofteaa @fatgirlflow @allisonkimmey @shooglet and @chr1styharrison (more on my recs highlight on instagram)!

  • Take a picture of yourself. I like to use snapchat, instagram, or the Huji app—it gives your pictures a cool old-timey feel and it’s free to download. Add fun filters and emojis until you have a picture that you can look at and think “hey, that’s kinda cute'“—even if you’re mostly just looking at the rainbows you’ve added to the picture.

  • Remind yourself that diets DO NOT WORK, like at ALL, in the long term. I know that if I am to ever decide that I wanted to switch back from intuitive eating, I’m setting myself up for failure, increased binge eating, probable weight gain (not a bad thing, but also something to remind yourself of if you’re contemplating dieting because your goal is probably not to gain weight), and digging myself deeper into a messed-up relationship with food. This helps me re-affirm that dieting is NOT, and will never be, an option for me.

  • Go back and look at a recent picture of yourself that I you like. Realistically, your body has not changed between few days ago and now.

  • Spend a minute dwelling on what it’s like to restrict food. Set a timer, and actually spend one minute thinking realistically about what it felt (or feels or would feel) like to be constantly hungry, to not be able to eat certain food groups, to be constantly body-checking, to be spending mental energy tallying calories and numbers on a scale. Still want that?

  • Ask yourself what you really need. We often take our anger or frustration about other parts of our lives, out on our bodies. Some questions to ask yourself when you’re feeling frustrated with your body: Is there something deeper I’m upset or worried about? Do I feel lonely? Full? Scared? Bored? Tired? Do I just need a break from working? Do I need to call my mom/friend/spouse/sibling? Do I need a reminder that I am loved & valued? What is the best way for me to get that reminder? (Some suggestions: Call or text a loved one, look through old photos/cards, memories, spent time journaling or praying, go outside and be with your thoughts…)

  • Make a list—or refer back to a list you’ve already made—of all the things you love about yourself that have nothing to do with your body. Sometimes the most satisfying way for me to deal with bouts of body dissatisfaction is for me to remind myself that I’m not a body, that I’m everything outside it, and that honesty? My body doesn’t really matter.

I hope some of those suggestions are helpful—as you can see, they’re exactly what I do when I start feeling down about my body. Remember—I’m right here with y’all. I still need walk through this too. If you’re reading this: I love you and believe in your ability to be there for yourself, to treat yourself with compassion and love and understanding. Know that it’s a practice that gets easier every time. <3

Self Love for the New Year

Repping my favorite “IDGAF About Your Diet” shirt from @iamdaniadriana and @fatmermaids

Repping my favorite “IDGAF About Your Diet” shirt from @iamdaniadriana and @fatmermaids

The New Year has often been a chance for me to make anew a commitment to my “health.” Sometimes I call this a commitment to “wellness” but I’ll just call it what it is—a commitment to the pursuit of thinness.

New Year’s 2016 I re-downloaded MyFitnessPal and started obsessively tracking my calories.

New Year’s 2017 I tried to make Whole 30 a lifestyle.

Last New Year’s I told myself I’d give intermittent fasting another go.

Each year, the diet ended sooner. I deviated from the plan, I started binge eating, I would over-exercise out of fear, watch myself grow out of new clothes, and feel miserable in my skin throughout.  

But 2018 was the year I decided to be done with all that that. Done hating my body, done bouncing back and forth between dieting and binge eating, done choosing exercise over work, over friends, over free time.

Of course, saying I was “done” didn’t immediately make it so. This year involved a lot of uncomfortable, demanding work to rid myself of restrictive behaviors, self-hatred, and exercise compulsion. It turns out that in many ways it’s easier to hate yourself than to learn to love yourself. On the surface, loving yourself sounds easier than self-loathing—but we have no blueprint for it. It’s much more profitable to be taught about our “flaws” and told to dedicate time, money, and energy to fix them.

Diet culture leads us to latch onto a plan, attach our self-worth to the fulfillment of that plan, and “motivate” ourselves with familiar running commentaries of self-hatred. Although this is a bizarre and unnatural way to live, it’s become normalized in our culture. So it feels a lot harder to step into the wide open space of no food rules, no exercise plans, no inner mean girl. I sometimes call this “free fall,” and it’s exactly as terrifying and exhilarating as it sounds.

Shedding rules and self-hatred feels like “letting yourself go.” And in many ways it is: letting go of the things that kept you small, that sapped your power and your confidence, that told you that to be most “yourself” was to look completely different. It is difficult to realize how much trying to be someone else, or to look like someone else, has harmed you.

Stepping into free fall was scary. But it allowed me to find new footing on ground far more stable than the fickle opinions of my inner critic.

I’m no longer trying to shrink myself, to become dedicated to eating “clean,” or more motivated to work out. I’m not attempting to fuel myself on dreams of a different body and loathing for the one I have now.

Besides, it all seems so futile now, fighting biology. It feels disrespectful—to myself, the vessel that keeps me alive, the creator who made me. It feels like the desperate distraction of a woman who hasn’t found what really sets her soul on fire, and who redirects undue attention to her body to compensate.  

I’ve been that woman, but I am not that woman today.

This year I want to write. I want to dive deeper into my friendships, my faith, my career aspirations, and the passion projects that keep me up late at night even when I have a thousand other things to be doing.

I want to give myself space to become more me, and none of those things happen to involve my food intake, my exercise routine, or the shape of my body. Self-love is more than affirmations or feel-good books, it’s the realization that I am everything outside my body. And leaning into myself means leaning away from things that keep me small.  

I will continue to love myself for who I am, understanding that to wage a war on what I look like is to halt this process. This is the self-love I am giving myself this New Year. I invite you to join me.