Taking Up Space: How to honour and connect with our bodies in a fatphobic world

Written by: Dustin LindenSmith

Time to read: 12 minutes

Please allow me to introduce myself: I go by Dustin, my pronouns are he/him, and I’m grateful to live with my wife and three children on a lake situated on the unceded ancestral territory of Mi’kmaqi and the Mi’kmaq people, at Punamu’kwati’jk (”Boonamagwaddy”), known in modern times by its colonialist name of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (across the harbour from Kjipuktuk (Chebucto), now known as Halifax). I am a White, cisgender man, a stay-at-home dad, a jazz musician, a recovering IT professional, and a peer supporter for people in recovery from eating disorders. I am also currently studying for my Master’s in Counselling Psychology to become a psychotherapist.

I come to this work by way of my own lived experience and my ongoing recovery from childhood trauma and an eating disorder.1 I first started eating for emotional comfort and stress relief at age 7, and I was always known as a “husky” child. I went on my first weight-loss diet in my pre-teens, and by the time I reached high school, I had “dieted my way up to” a very high weight. After another couple of weight-loss cycles followed by longer periods of weight gain, I became very fat by the halfway point of my undergraduate degree. I would go through about eight large swings of weight-cycling from that point until I entered recovery some 30 years later.

What I needed to recover from was an eating disorder. When I entered recovery, I estimated that I had gained and lost the equivalent of four times my adult body weight throughout my life—truly an epic, lifelong cycle of yo-yo dieting. Once I really connected the dots between my childhood trauma and my decades-long, food-based emotional coping habits, I was finally able to stop my weight-cycling behaviours by never starting another weight-loss diet again. However, in the fatphobic, diet-obsessed culture we live in, refusing to go on a diet is itself a quasi-revolutionary, countercultural act.

SOTU (State of the Union) for Fat People Today

First, a word about the word “fat”. People “of size” are reclaiming the word fat as a simple descriptor for our bodies that is stripped of its usual negative and pathologizing connotations. I will use the word as a non-judgmental reference term for people like me who live in larger bodies, and whenever I use the word, I do not imply that there is anything inherently wrong or unhealthy about merely being fat.

Second, our status: our numbers seem to be increasing every year, with the causes being multifactorial, complex, and interrelated with one’s socio-economic, cultural, and intersectional positioning within their community. In healthcare, the medical community certainly treats obesity as inherently pathological, but there is no consensus on how to “solve the problem of obesity” or even how to clearly define what “the problem” is in the first place (recent pharmaceutical developments with GLP-1 inhibitors such as Ozempic notwithstanding).

Third, how fat people might present today is multifaceted, but many of us share similar backgrounds and experiences. For years—likely dating back to our childhoods—many of us have had a dysregulated relationship with food, movement, and our bodies. Many of us have experienced chronic and severe weight cycling throughout our lives as a result of chronic weight-loss dieting, and many of us have experienced adverse childhood experiences that involved trauma, neglect, or abuse. Once more for the people in the back: Fat people are themselves often survivors of trauma and abuse.

A Primer on Anti-Fat Bias and Toxic Diet Culture

Anti-fat bias is rampant in our culture, and it is a force which is colonialist, misogynist, and racist in origin. It arises from holdover imperialist ideas about man’s apparent dominion over our mind and our bodies, and of mind over matter. It clings to the ill-conceived notion that we should all be capable of keeping the body “in line” through the rigours of our own mind and willpower, and this has cultivated a learned distrust within ourselves about our bodies. Many of us have lost faith in our own judgment about what is “the right thing” to do for our bodies.

Fat stigma is shot through our families, popular culture, our society, and in our physical spaces (e.g. restaurants, airplanes, and public seating areas which cannot comfortably accommodate fat people). In healthcare settings, it shows itself through the relentless pursuit of thinness for its own sake (+ the inanity of considering one’s BMI on its own as a diagnostic indicator for anything clinically useful on its own merits). We are also all involved (willingly or not) in a multi-billion-dollar dieting and weight loss industry that is deeply pervasive in our popular culture, news and social media, and within many of our friends and family groups.

Why Are We Fat, Anyway?

With apologies to any medical folks in the crowd, I’d like to start with a disavowal of our collective and cultural drive to be thin in the first place. It is simply not necessary to be thin in order to be happy or healthy, and just like anyone else, fat people deserve to be loved and to feel joy.

There are also well-established links between trauma, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and disordered eating behaviours 2. Some of us have that history + a personality type or an entrenched pattern of behaviour that derives emotional comfort or stress relief from eating or overeating, and this has led to weight gain over time.

Dieting for weight loss also contains a painful, intrinsic paradox: people can easily become fat by dieting for weight loss. Dieting has a 95+% failure rate for long-term, sustainable weight loss because of how our biology thwarts long-term weight-loss due to its protective metabolic functions against famine and starvation2. There is almost always an unhealthy rebound effect with dieting and weight-cycling, which can best be described as the result of a restrict*-then*-binge cycle (and not a binge-then-restrict cycle—i.e., the restricting comes first).

Being fat in this culture also brings with it body shame, self-loathing, a lack of self-trust, and pervasive feelings of failure and worthlessness resulting from years of “failing” at weight-loss diets. Shame is a physical manifestation of the existential fear that we might become excluded from our group, and this can often lead to dysfunctional and maladaptive behaviours and relational patterns3.

Many of us also deprive ourselves of food (and/or we have an adversarial relationship with it), and this can result in caloric restriction which then incites binge-eating behaviours. The truth is, *we all deserve to eat—*but not all of us believe that we deserve to eat (and/or not all of us believe that we deserve to eat what we want to eat and when we want to eat it).

In my observation, there are also certain factors that do not usually contribute to our fatness: these are a lack of self-insight, a lack of awareness, a lack of motivation, a lack of information, or a lack of knowledge. What we are missing is something much different than those things.

So What Do We Do Now?

So far, I’ve set some of the context for what it’s really like for fat people to live in a fatphobic world. But what can really do about all of that? I have four concrete things to suggest: (1) changing the way we think (and act) about fatness and our bodies; (2) cleaning up our social media feeds; (3) working on our boundaries; and (4) seeking professional support to work with any or all of the above.

Let’s get into each one in some detail.

1. Changing the way we think (and act) about fatness and our bodies

Here are some ways we can start to adjust our mindset and self-view about our own fatness and how we deserve to show up in the world.

  • cultivating accurate empathy and self-acceptance towards ourselves by working with our shame and forgiving ourselves for our past behaviour with food and movement
  • acknowledging our inherent sense of goodness and self-worth: acknowledging that we are all perfectly good, worthy people and we deserve to exist, to eat, and to take up space in this world—no matter what size we are or what number comes up when we step on a scale or whether we think “society” finds us attractive or whether we’ll find a partner or have a family
  • personal self-development and embodiment work: practicing personal self-development work that gets us into our bodies and cultivates mindfulness and self-acceptance (e.g. journaling, art, writing, crafting, singing, dancing, playing, music, acting, movement, or other embodiment exercises such as sports, yoga, tai chi, swimming, strength training, martial arts, walking, working out, golfing, racquet sports, sports in the water, hiking, camping, bouldering, landscaping, and more)
  • radical self-love: learning how to transform our adversarial relationship with our bodies into what Sonya Renee Taylor calls radical self-love

2. Cleaning up our social media feeds

Extensive research has confirmed that the use of social media has been linked to various poor mental health outcomes (e.g., Gioia et al., 2020; Keles et al., 2020). Here are some suggestions for how to mitigate those harms for yourself:

  • acknowledge SM’s real potential harms to our self-image, body image, and self-worth when we drench ourselves in comparisons with the beauty and health content online
  • initiate some accurate (but compassionate!) self-inquiry about your usage habits and about what you really want to “get” from your social media (e.g., if it’s for entertainment but the end result is that the images you’re exposing yourself to are harming you and making you feel terrible about yourself, is it really giving you what you’re looking for?)
  • revisiting privacy settings, posting/reading frequency, screen time settings
  • unfollowing accounts focused on weight loss, dieting, “clean” eating, excessive exercise, and anything that otherwise appears to promote toxic diet culture or misogynistic beauty standards
  • adding new accounts that pass your new fat-positive vibe check (e.g., the beautiful Black yogini Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn) (and don’t miss this guest reel by @funkingafter50); the ineffably happy Toronto gay bear Lukas (@bearlyfriendly); and the photographer and artist Sugar McD (@shooglet), who has taken some of the most beautiful pictures of fat people experiencing joy that I have ever seen)

3. Working on boundaries

This is the one I have personally found the most difficult; throughout my entire life, I have pre-emptively made self-deprecating fat jokes about myself in social settings in a misguided attempt to make everyone comfortable. I now understand that this habit was causing me more harm than I knew, and it was also giving everyone in my life implicit license to speak disrespectfully about my own weight.

It takes real courage (along with possibly a previously-unknown self-respect) to build up the confidence to start the challenging but worthwhile work of informing the people in your life that you’re no longer willing to put up with a certain type of discussion or judgment about your body weight, your diet, your food choices, or your health.

The best introduction to the topic I can suggest is Aleo’s own Lee Thomas’s 2-part blog post on this topic. When you’re ready to go deeper, I recommend looking at Black psychotherapist Nedra Glover Tawwab’s excellent work (e.g., her website, her Instagram, her book, and her workbook are all excellent resources).

4. Professional support

One of the sweetest gifts you can give yourself is the gift of professional support for what you’re struggling with. If you want to take a fresh new approach to your recovery, working with anti-diet, anti-oppressive practitioners such as the ones you will find at The Aleo Collective would be a great start. Lee and Raquel are MSWs; Courtenay is a Registered Dietitian, and I am a Peer Supporter who works with people in recovery from disordered eating and self-image issues.

  1. i.e., Binge-Eating Disorder (BED); see APA, 2022, p. 392 ↩︎
  2. Bakalar et al., 2018; Brewerton, 2022; Hemmingsson et al., 2014; Schiff et al., 2021 ↩︎
  3. Freire, 2020; Spreckley et al., 2021 ↩︎
  4. Doran & Lewis, 2012; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998 ↩︎


American Psychiatric Association [APA]. (2022). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed., text rev. (DSM-5-TR). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787

Bakalar, J. L., Barmine, M., Druskin, L., Olsen, C. H., Quinlan, J., Sbrocco, T., & Tanofsky‐Kraff, M. (2018). Childhood adverse life events, disordered eating, and body mass index in US Military service members. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 51(5), 465–469. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22851

Brewerton, T. D. (2022). Mechanisms by which adverse childhood experiences, other traumas and PTSD influence the health and well-being of individuals with eating disorders throughout the life span. 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-022-00696-6

Doran, J., & Lewis, C. A. (2012). Components of Shame and Eating Disturbance Among Clinical and Non-clinical Populations: Shame and Eating Disturbance. European Eating Disorders Review, 20(4), 265–270. https://doi.org/10.1002/erv.1142

Freire, R. (2020). Scientific evidence of diets for weight loss: Different macronutrient composition, intermittent fasting, and popular diets. Nutrition, 69, 110549. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2019.07.001

Gioia, F., Griffiths, M. D., & Boursier, V. (2020). Adolescents’ Body Shame and Social Networking Sites: The Mediating Effect of Body Image Control in Photos. Sex Roles, 83(11–12), 773–785. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01142-0

Hemmingsson, E., Johansson, K., & Reynisdottir, S. (2014). Effects of childhood abuse on adult obesity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews: An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 15(11), 882–893. https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12216

Keles, B., McCrae, N., & Grealish, A. (2020). A systematic review: The influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25(1), 79–93. https://doi.org/10.1080/02673843.2019.1590851

Noll, S. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). A Mediational Model Linking Self-Objectification, Body Shame, and Disordered Eating. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22(4), 623–636. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1998.tb00181.x

Schiff, M., Helton, J., & Fu, J. (2021). Adverse childhood experiences and obesity over time. Public Health Nutrition, 24(11), 3205–3209. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980021001804

Spreckley, M., Seidell, J., & Halberstadt, J. (2021). Perspectives into the experience of successful, substantial long-term weight-loss maintenance: A systematic review. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being, 16(1), 1862481. https://doi.org/10.1080/17482631.2020.1862481

What to Expect When Working with an Eating Disorder Dietitian

Written by: Courtenay Vickers RD

Time to read: 6 minutes

What comes up for you when thinking about working with a dietitian? Many people might say they feel anxious, or perhaps express fear that they’re going to be weighed, or maybe they’re worried about getting “lectured” to by the dietitian.

Navigating the journey of recovery from an eating disorder can be overwhelming, but understanding the role of an eating disorders dietitian (ED RD) can help illuminate the path forward. Let’s explore what a dietitian is, what you can expect when working with an ED RD, and practical steps to get connected with one. And, hopefully, leave you feeling less unsure and more confident about getting started with an ED RD.

What is a Registered Dietitian (RD)?

Registered Dietitians are healthcare professionals who provide evidence-based nutrition and food information to help individuals lead sustainable and enjoyable lives. To hold the professional title, a dietitian must:

  • Obtain a degree in nutrition from an accredited university.
  • Complete a one-year internship with rotations in clinical and community nutrition, and foodservice.
  • Pass a national registration exam.
  • Register with their provincial dietetic regulatory body.
  • Meet annual continuing education requirements.

Dietitians take a holistic approach, focusing on the overall well-being of their clients. In the context of eating disorders, this often involves specialized training and ongoing supervision to address the unique challenges of these conditions.

A note on “nutritionists”: In some provinces, the term nutritionist is a protected title that can only be used by Registered Dietitians. Currently, only applies to Alberta, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Other titles, such as holistic nutritionist, nutrition coach, etc. can mean different things, but they are NOT the same as an RD. Educational background and ongoing education, level of competence, and regulations can vary drastically. 

When an RD says they are eating disorder specialized, this means the RD has specialized training and supervision in addition to their required schooling. Unfortunately, most university nutrition programs have very little to no training on eating disorders, which means many eating disorder-specialized dietitians have gone on to complete many additional trainings and hours in supervision to build their competence and confidence to support those seeking recovery from an eating disorder.

ED RDs are a critical part of the professional care team for ED recovery, alongside a therapist & primary care provider. Many ED RDs have also adopted weight-inclusive, anti-diet, and HAES-aligned perspectives.

The Role of an Eating Disorders Dietitian

Eating disorders dietitians are a vital part of the recovery team, working alongside therapists and primary care providers. Their responsibilities include:

  • Conducting comprehensive nutrition assessments and regular follow-ups.
  • Developing personalized nutrition care plans.
  • Assisting with the implementation of these plans.
  • Addressing dysfunctional thoughts and emotions related to eating, food, or body image.
  • Collaborating with other healthcare providers and, when appropriate, family members.

What will come up in sessions with an ED RD?

Generally, the top nutrition priorities when working with a dietitian for recovery will be working towards nutritional adequacy and regularity with eating. Along the way there will likely be many other themes to explore and areas to work on, such as:

  • Exploration of weight stigma
  • Understanding set point theory, metabolism, and energy needs
  • Challenging diet culture and internal beliefs about food
  • Meal planning and grocery shopping
  • Pacing of meals
  • Fear foods / trigger foods
  • Body image
  • Intuitive and mindful eating practices
  • Managing gastrointestinal issues and nutrient deficiencies
  • …and many other things!

Most ED RDs will be bringing in tons of compassion and validation along the way, and an acknowledgment that the eating disorder is not your fault. Sessions generally should provide you with a supportive environment and a non-judgmental space to explore these complex issues, as you take these brave steps forward in your recovery.

What to Expect in Your Sessions

Initial Sessions

The first few sessions typically involve a nutrition assessment to understand your current nutritional status and recovery needs. This helps set the foundation for your personalized care plan.

Follow-Up Sessions

Subsequent sessions usually start with a check-in, where you can share your progress, challenges, and reflections. Together with your dietitian, you will work on breaking down the next steps toward your nutrition and recovery goals. Sessions can be conducted virtually or in person, depending on your dietitian’s practice setup.

Duration of Treatment

The length of time you will work with a dietitian varies based on individual needs, the availability of the RD, financial considerations, and accessibility. Many individuals see their RD every 1-2 weeks and continue until they can sustainably manage regular and adequate eating patterns, often spanning several months to a year or more.

How to Get Connected with a Dietitian

Free Options

  • Referral: Your primary care provider or specialist can refer you to a clinic with a dietitian on the team.
  • Family Health Teams, Primary Care Networks, and Community Health Centres: These often have dietitians available and offer free workshops, education programs, and counseling.
  • Home & Community Care Services and Hospitals: Ask your case manager or hospital staff about dietitian services.
  • Telehealth Services: Call 8-1-1 or visit the website to ask dietitians questions for free.

Finding an Eating Disorder Specialized Dietitian

  • National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC) – Find A Provider
  • Dietitians of Canada – Find A Dietitian
  • EDforRDs – Find A Dietitian
  • Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) – Healthcare Provider Listing
  • International Association for Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) – Member Search
  • Intuitive Eating Counselor Directory

Tips for accessing and picking your RD

Note – if you are part of a hospital-based program, you generally won’t get a say in who your dietitian is.

  • Consider your options based on where you live and financially: In-person vs virtual, Private practice vs a free option, sliding scale and/or direct billing to insurance providers, etc.
  • RDs with eating disorder knowledge may or may not highlight the extent of their expertise online, so ask about their knowledge and comfort level of working with EDs
  • Some ED RDs will specialize more specifically with a certain type of ED (ex, ARFID or BED). Consider your symptoms and ask the RD if they have additional training/experience with what you’re struggling with.
  • Consider what values the dietitian has, and if they are in alignment with yours
  • Ask if you can meet with the RD for a free initial call to see if you’re a good fit
  • It’s okay to say if you’re nervous!

Working with an eating disorders dietitian can be a transformative step in your recovery journey. By understanding what to expect and how to get connected with the right professional, you can take proactive steps towards a healthier relationship with food and your body. For those living in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Ontario, virtual nutrition counseling options are available through the Aleo Collective.

For more information or to schedule a free discovery call with the dietitian at The Aleo Collective, visit courtenayvickersrd.com and follow on social media at @courtenayvickersrd.

Remember: you are worthy of reaching out for help 💕

Reclaiming Your Birthright (Part 1)

An Introduction to Intuitive Eating: Rejecting the Diet Mentality

Posted by: Raquel Griffin

Time to read: 5 minutes

“I just want to eat normally”. In my experience teasing this statement out with folks, I typically learn that what they mean is they don’t want to feel so preoccupied with food, or worried, or scared. They are tired from being at war with food and with their bodies. Many of them want Intuitive Eating, but it feels far off, out-of-reach, out of their capacity.

But, what if I invited you to consider that we’re born Intuitive Eaters? Of course, there are always going to be exceptions to most things, but generally speaking we come out of the womb with much of our intuition (evolutionary and survival responses) when it comes to eating. However, what happens often is that internal wisdom becomes polluted by external factors like diet culture. We learn to disconnect from our bodies and deny our needs and wants. Intuitive Eating is about reclaiming our birthright by shifting focus away from external factors rooted in diet culture and rebuilding trust with our internal wisdom and intuition.

This blogpost is the first entry of a series, an Introduction to Intuitive Eating. To summarize, Intuitive Eating:

  • Its philosophy is rooted in an anti-diet positioning and is aligned with the concepts of Health At Every Size and weight inclusivity.
  • It is comprised of 10 principles that are dynamic in nature (not sequential steps, though the positions of #1 and #10 are intentional)
  • Interoception is the foundational skill of reference; it is the ability to perceive physical sensations that originate from inside the body. 
  • It has a solid footing in research in numerous ways: 
    (a) evidence for the ineffectiveness and damage of diets or intentional weight loss
    (b) is an evidence based approach that demonstrates the benefits of intuitive eaters (220+ studies and counting)
    (c) has a validated assessment tool. 

In this post, I want to focus on explaining the anti-diet positioning of Intuitive Eating, which is related to the first principle of Intuitive Eating, and I’ll pull in some research pieces to corroborate that stance.

The first principle is the most important, Reject the Diet Mentality, where right away things get real specific on why an anti-diet approach can be a helpful cornerstone in your relationship with food repair. Diets do not work, and by this I mean weight loss that can be experienced from dieting is not long lasting. On top of that, the ineffectiveness of dieting is not a neutral quality: diets can cause a lot of harm and damage on our health in a variety of ways.

Dieting and intentional weight loss have been have showing their hand in research for a while now. You can see a non-exhaustive list of some of this research at the end of this post. Way back in 2007 a team of researchers came together to conduct a meta-analysis of all the long term weight loss studies they could find to assess whether long-term weight loss was actually a thing. The results from this meta-analysis, and other research studies since, report a 5-year maximum window where approximately 95% of people will not only regain the weight they did lose from dieting initially, but up to 2/3 of people will actually regain MORE weight than they lost. Let’s recognize for a moment what that means: dieting is more likely to make you fatter in the long-run. Now, this is not meant to demonstrate colluding with diet culture, but instead to point out the ridiculousness of a product that worsens the very “issue” it claims to resolve. Imagine purchasing a water bottle that not only is ineffective in quenching your thirst, but instead actually makes you thirstier. Pretty ineffective product, eh?

So, the diet is the problem itself, yet we are convinced by diet culture that WE are the problem. We are somehow at fault. When the weight inevitably comes back we blame ourselves and try the next diet or “lifestyle change”, and the next, and the next. This often results in weight-cycling: the pattern of weight loss and regain that occurs with chronic dieting. Weight cycling is seldom controlled for in many large studies that associate weight with health issues; this is a major oversight because weight cycling itself is an independent risk factor for many health conditions including: cardiovascular disease, inflammation, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance. And what do you know, these health issues often are blamed on one’s weight or fatness, resulting in various prescriptions of the very thing that could be contributing to these health issues = intentional weight loss via dieting and exercise.

In future posts for this series on an introduction to Intuitive Eating, I’ll share more on how the concepts of Health at Every Size and Weight Inclusivity have overlaps with an an-diet approach, some of the benefits of Intuitive Eating that research has shown, Interoception, and more. For now, my hope is maybe reading this has helped you begin to consider a different perspective toward the normalized attempts to shrink our bodies via some rendition of eating less. If you’re feeling exhausted from the never ending pursuit of weight loss, or feeling obsessed with food or eating, know that exploring Intuitive Eating could bring more peace and ease to your food and body relationship. It has the potential to reconnect (or introduce) you to your birthright.

Research references (for dieting being ineffective), a non-exhaustive list:

Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, (10) 9. DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-9

Dulloo, A. G., Jacquet, J., & Montani, J. (2011). How dieting makes some fatter: from a perspective of human body composition autoregulation. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 71, 379–389. doi:10.1017/S0029665112000225

Field, A. E., Austin, S. B., Taylor, C. B., Malspeis, S., Rosner, B., Rockett, H. R., et. al. (2003). Relation between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics, 112, 900– 906.

Fothergill, E., Guo, J., Howard, L., Kerns, J. C.,  Knuth, N. D., Brychta, R., et. al. (2016). Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity biology and integrated physiology. doi:10.1002/oby.21538

Mann, T., Tomiyama, A. J., Westling, E., Lew, A., Samuels, B., & Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, The American Psychological Association, 62(3), 220-233. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220

Montani, J., Schutz, Y., & Dulloo, A. G. (2015). Dieting and weight cycling as risk factors for cardiometabolic diseases: Who is really at risk? World Obesity, (1), 7–18. doi: 10.1111/obr.12251

Neumark-Sztainer,D., Wall, M., Larson, N. I., Eisenberg, M. E., Loth, K. (2011). Dieting and disordered eating behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a

10-year longitudinal study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.04.012

O’Hara, L., & Taylor, J. (2018). What’s wrong with the ‘war on obesity?’: A narrative review of the weight-centered health paradigm and development of the 3C framework to build critical competency for a paradigm shift. SAGE open, 1–28. DOI://1d0o.i.1o1rg7/71/02.1157872/241450812484707128878728888

Richmond, T.K., Thurston, I.B., Sonneville, K. R. (2020). Weight-focused public health interventions: No benefit, some harm. JAMA Paediatrics. 

Ross, R., Blair, S., de Lannoy, L., Després, J., Lavie, C. J. (2015). Changing the endpoints for determining effective obesity management. Progress in Cardiovascular diseases, 57, 330–336. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2014.10.002

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach, 4th ed. St Martin’s Publishing Group: New York.

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2017). The intuitive eating workbook: ten principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. New Harbinger Publications: Oakland.

Pietiläinen, K. H., Saarni, S. E., Kapiro, J., & Rissanen, A. (2011). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. International Journal of Obesity. doi:10.1038/ijo.2011.160- online publication, 9 August 2011

Wing, R. R., Bolin, P., Brancati, F. L., Bray, G. A., Clark, J. M., Coday, M., et al. (2013). Cardiovascular effects of intensive lifestyle intervention in Type 2 diabetes. The New England Journal of Medicine, 369, 145-54. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1212914

All in the family: Learning diet culture

Posted by: Raquel Griffin

Time to read: 4.5 minutes

One of the most devastating things I hear as an eating disorder therapist is how many people have been put on diets as children. 

Diet culture can be so insidious that what a parent thinks is just trying to do the “right thing” or promote a “healthy lifestyle” for their littles, can really be the tee up of an eating disorder. These often well-intentioned parents can be predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating eating disorders in their kids. Not always, but often times, eating disorders begin in the home and in the family, normalizing the harmful all-or-nothing beliefs of “good” bodies and foods and “bad” bodies and foods. Research shows that kids begin equating “fat” with “bad” between the ages of three and five and one of the strongest precipitating factors in the development of eating disorders is dieting. Dieting is normalized disordered eating and the more this is modelled or expected in families, the more potential for harm.

Here are just a few examples of what I call “family food harms”, adapted from the book Intuitive Eating

  • Needing to clean your plate at mealtimes
  • Rules related to snacks, sweets, desserts
  • Food used as a conditioning tool (reward & punishment)
  • Encouraged/told to lose weight, put on a diet
  • Rules related to activity/exercise
  • Parent/caregiver engaged in dieting behaviours or disordered eating
  • Parent/caregiver criticized own body/weight, negative self-talk
  • Taking diet culture harms to the next level in families involves children being encouraged or instructed to limit their food intake for the purpose of losing weight or “preventing” fatness. To be told as a child that there is something wrong with your body and these are the measures you need to take in order to “fix” it is deeply disturbing. And yet, this is a common trauma experienced by many. And, yes I purposefully am referring to this as a traumatic experience for folks. To inflict the deprivation of an essential need such as food onto a child and encouragement of that child to disconnect from their body’s cues and needs is deeply traumatic. 

    It’s completely understandable to have anger toward the people that normalized diet culture to you as a child and taught you to dislike and distrust your body. Honouring those feelings is part of the grieving process. Remember, those who have done harm to us as it relates to food, eating, and our body relationship are also victims of diet culture themselves. Finding compassion for those individuals can be helpful in healing and helping us navigate what to do next, exploring how to provide ourselves the care we needed but didn’t receive. Virgie Tovar, fat activist and author, describes the challenge of this: “I can look back and intellectually understand that my family is made up of real, live, squishy people who are very hurt. […]  I can understand that they need compassion […] I can recognize that […] they actually did their version of their very best. But the body is not a creature of intellect.  It doesn’t care how damaged or hurt my family is because all my body knows is the very thing that has been beating like a drum in the pit of my stomach for as long as I can remember: I am not safe here.” 

    What I appreciate about what Virgie describes here is that we can’t always intellectualize ourselves out of a trauma response. We can intellectually have compassion for and validate the pain and suffering of our perpetrators while also making choices that prioritize our own inner peace. If you’re struggling with finding compassion for your parents and others who have sabotaged your relationship with food or body, you’re not alone. It’s never too late to begin to show your body its worth listening to, worth being respected, worth taking up space. Sure, maybe the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time to plant a tree is today.

February Is A Hard Month

Posted by: Lee Thomas

Time to read: 4 minutes

People say that the internet is forever, but try finding a Tumblr post from circa 2012.

I don’t remember it exactly, and it’s quite possible that I’ve sort of mentally Frankensteined it from a few different posts, but I remember it going something like this:

Of course you have seasonal depression. Look outside. Nothing in nature blooms all year round. Human beings are meant to spend the winter months curled up by a fire telling stories with our loved ones, not trying to perform the same amount of work in December as we do in July.

I’m sure it was phrased better by the original author, but you get the gist.

It impacted me a lot when I first read it. Not enough to change my behaviour at the time, of course. But enough to remember it over a decade later.

“February is a hard month for me” is a phrase I have been hearing a lot recently. And every time I hear it, I think about that post, and I feel the unsettling feeling creep over me that what we’re doing is deeply unnatural.

I’ve become really interested in birds over the last couple of years. Extremely millennial of me, I know. And in one of the bird books I read, they talked about how when migrating songbirds are kept in a cage and not allowed to migrate, the birds get distressed. This is true even if the bird was born in a lab, even if it was separated from other birds its whole life, even if it was kept in a location where it couldn’t see the outdoors to get any seasonal cues from nature. All of its other needs were met. It was warm, safe from predators, and had plenty of food. But it could not migrate, and so it did not thrive. 

It didn’t learn migration from its peers. It didn’t see the weather changing. It didn’t need to leave to find food. 

And yet, its body was clearly telling it: something isn’t right.

I think it’s easy for us non-birds to look at this situation and be like “yeah, no shit, that’s what this type of bird does, so of course it’s going to be stressed when it can’t do it.” We see a tiger in a cage with plain concrete walls and think “no wonder it’s not thriving”. It’s not rocket science.

…And then we feel exhausted and we shrug our shoulders and we say “February is a hard month for me.” And we go back to work.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways we’re taught to distrust and dismiss the things that our body communicates to us. When we’re exhausted, we don’t look at our agenda and see where we can do less. Instead, we berate ourselves for not doing as much as we think we should be able to. When we’re “overeating” we look up strategies for eating less, rather than noticing how our body is communicating that we need to stop restricting. We exercise before we’re fully recovered from injuries or sickness. Instead of getting more sleep, we drink more coffee.

We feel shame about our hunger — for food, for rest, for companionship — and we try desperately not to need these things. The worst thing we can be is needy. We call babies “good” when they don’t inconvenience us too much with their needs, and we keep telling them that for their entire lives.

I am still haunted by Brandy Jensen’s observation from her 2020 advice column Ask A Fuck-Up: American culture has always been allergic to need. We despise it in ourselves and recoil from it in others. So, it’s not particularly surprising that your question is not “how do I find this vital thing my life is currently lacking” but “how do I learn to stop needing it?”

I wonder about how differently we might react to our February exhaustion if we saw our bodies as legitimate sources of information. When we say “why am I feeling this way?” it’s so often a condemnation — usually what we’re really saying is “I shouldn’t feel this way.” But what if that question was from a place of genuine curiosity? What if we we saw our bodies as an equal partner, with their own wisdom and insights? As a friend worth listening to?

Lately I’ve been referring to my relationship with my body as an “ecosystem.” In an ecosystem, it’s okay to need. Trees need to shed their leaves. Bears need to hibernate. Birds need to migrate. I no longer believe that my human body is the exception to these natural rules.

And if we can accept that, and meet those needs? Maybe February won’t be such a hard month for us.

Body Image Group: Befriending Your Body

Do you feel like your body is the enemy? Do you believe that “all bodies are good bodies”… except yours? When you look in the mirror, do you criticize yourself – and then you criticize yourself for criticizing yourself? 

Our relationship with our body is one of the longest-term relationships we’ll ever have. But, like all relationships, sometimes it takes work. If criticizing your body hasn’t gotten you the results you’re looking for, maybe it’s time to try something new.

Befriending your Body is a six-week, professionally-facilitated group where you will learn how to rewrite your body relationship story.

As a group we’ll explore what body image is, learn about where our body stories come from, and develop new techniques to help bring peace to your relationship with your body. 

If you are interested, just CLICK HERE or email Raquel@BirchStand.ca and a member of our team will connect with you for more information!

Facilitators: Lee Thomas (they/them) MSW RSW and Raquel Griffin (she/her) MSW RSW

Location: Video sessions through secure online platform

Cost: $90 per session (may be covered through insurance – check with your provider!)

Time: Tuesdays 7:00pm-8:30pm Atlantic time, Feb 27th until April 2nd

This group is open to participants aged 19+ and living in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, or Ontario. All participants must agree to the Group Participation Agreement. Registration deadline is February 20th. 

CLICK HERE to let us know you’re interested!

Webinar: Befriending Your Body

Do you struggle with body image? Do you believe that “all bodies are good bodies”… except yours? Are you hard on yourself, and then hard on yourself for being hard on yourself?

Our relationship with our body is one of the longest-term relationships we’ll ever have. But, like all relationships, sometimes it takes work. If criticizing your body hasn’t gotten you the results you’re looking for, maybe it’s time to try something new.

Befriending your Body is a free one-hour webinar hosted by The Aleo Collective. It is open to members of the general public, health professionals, and anyone who has a body.

Time: Feb 15, 2024 12:00 PM Atlantic time

Location: Zoom

Cost: Free

Registration Link: Here!

About the presenter: Lee Thomas (they/them) is a social worker and therapist based in Edmonton, Alberta. Their main areas of expertise are eating disorders and body image concerns, with a special focus on how these issues impact queer and/or neurodivergent individuals. Lee is licensed to work with clients in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Alberta. You can learn more at leethomas.ca or connect with Lee via email at leethomasmsw@outlook.com.

About Aleo: The Aleo Collective is a group of interdisciplinary mental health practitioners who share similar values and approaches to sustainable recovery from eating disorders or disordered eating behaviours. To learn more, visit aleocollective.ca

New Year New View: A Dietitian’s Take on Challenging Diet Culture

Posted by: Courtenay Vickers RD
Time to read: 8 minutes

What is diet culture anyway?

Diet culture can be defined in many ways. I’ve been an RD (short for Registered Dietitian) for the past 10 years, and adopted a weight-inclusive lens with my practice about 6 years ago. I’ll preface this blog (as I did in my recent webinar) that I am constantly learning more about what diet culture is, how it shows up, and what to do instead.

When asked this question (re: what is diet culture anyway) I often reply by saying something to the effect of: diet culture is the harmful belief that certain body shapes and sizes are better than others, and there’s a “right” way of eating. To which I typically get the follow up question of “but you’re a dietitian, isn’t there a right way of eating?”. My response from here can get quite nuanced, depending on the audience – in short, there is no one-size-fits-all way of eating, because bodies are meant to be incredibly diverse and different! Not to mention everyone’s unique relationship with food, cultural connections and traditions with food, access to food, etc.

One definition of diet culture that I keep coming back to is by Christy Harrison:

“Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • – Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
  • – Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
  • – Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
  • – Oppresses people who don’t match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health.”

Diet culture in the new year

So, now that we have a bit more of an idea of what diet culture is, here’s a short list of various ways I’m seeing diet culture show up so far in 2024:

  • Overemphasis on getting “strong”
  • Influx of “clean eating”
  • Overambitious fitness goals
  • Bigger emphasis on dietary supplements
  • More orthorexic tendencies
  • Orthorexia = an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating
  • Sudden removal of entire food groups
  • Increased use of calorie-tracking apps + smart watches
  • Health washing + green washing on food labels
  • X # of day challenges related to food and/or fitness
  • “Watching” what you eat
  • More labelling of foods as good/bad, healthy/unhealthy
  • Lifestyle changes and wellness journeys

Here’s an interesting fact to highlight diet culture’s prevalence: according to Forbes, the top New Year’s resolutions in 2024 include improved fitness, losing weight, and improved diet.

I think it’s important to note that while there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with these resolutions, I find they are often fueled by diet culture and can perpetuate, worsen, or ignite eating disorder behaviours.

Why I’m concerned as a weight-inclusive dietitian in the eating disorder space

I’m concerned because diet culture can often be a precursor to eating disorders, and can perpetuate disordered eating behaviours. I think it’s important to mention that many factors can spur a full-blown eating disorder, such as genetics, food insecurity, trauma, and more (this is probably a topic for another blog post). And, diet culture is, unfortunately, a common piece that shows up along the way either in the development or recovery from an eating disorder. 

Challenging diet culture

Depending on where you are at with your journey to healing, you may have already started to challenge diet culture! I’ve compiled below a short list of ways I commonly find helpful to challenge diet culture (whether you’re starting this for the first time, or perhaps you are further along):

  • Learning more about the harms of diet culture
  • Setting boundaries (with yourself and/or others)
  • Stop labelling foods in binaries such as good/bad, or healthy/unhealthy
  • Take time to check in with yourself
  • Practice self-compassion
  • Get curious about a non-diet approach (or similar)

Here’s a short list of some keywords you may find helpful to guide your own reading and research as you start to learn more and challenge diet culture:

  • Anti-diet
  • Intuitive Eating
  • Body Liberation
  • Non-diet
  • Weight-inclusive
  • Health At Every Size®
  • Fat Positive

What to do next

A big (non-exhaustive) list of specific things you may or may not want to try instead of participating in diet culture this new year:

  • Eat regularly throughout the day. For some, this might look like multiple meals and snacks throughout the day. This might mean seeking help from a trusted support person, or a professional such as a dietitian. 
  • Integrate challenge foods, if you find there are foods in your life that are holding some sort of power over you. This might be foods that you are fearful of, foods you avoid completely, or foods that you often feel ‘out of control’ around. Integrating challenge foods is something that I typically only recommend once we are getting enough food in regularly first, and then slowly integrating the challenge foods one at a time in a structured way. 
  • Play with movement in a way that feels good for you and your body (only if this is medically appropriate and accessible for you).
  • Work on staying appropriately hydrated. What this might mean is ensuring you are drinking adequate fluids (or high fluid food sources) throughout the day. Watch out for overdoing it with caffeine as this can cause dehydration. 
  • Prioritize rest! And not just sleeping enough at night, but allowing space to rest during your waking hours. For some this might mean taking a nap, allowing yourself to ‘do nothing’ for an afternoon, or perhaps it’s pausing what you are doing for a few minutes periodically throughout the day to slow down and check-in with yourself.
  • Take time to explore your relationship with food and body. This might mean journaling, talking about this in therapy or with a dietitian, or reflecting on your own. 
  • Cultivate self-compassion ❤️ I truly believe we can’t talk about nutrition without talking about self-compassion. Nourishing ourselves and challenging diet culture is not always an easy thing to do. And at times, it can feel like a struggle. Can we work towards being kind and gentle with ourselves as we navigate all the sticky murky bits?
  • Challenge your food rules – especially if you find there are specific rules/patterns/or behaviours related to your eating getting in the way of recovery.
  • Re-evaluate your use of the scale and set limits around this. Many find it helpful to hide the scale, reduce the frequency of how often you use it, or get rid of it entirely. If it’s absolutely medically necessary to be weighed, consider these limits or have it done blindly at a clinic.
  • Put away diet apps and/or fitness trackers/watches. As a dietitian, I rarely find these pieces of tech actually helpful, and, if anything, they often cause an unnecessary focus and obsession with food/movement.
  • Curate your social media to better support your pro-recovery and anti-diet goals
  • Pick up a workbook or book related to ED recovery and/or an anti-diet approach
  • Improve your sleep hygiene. For some this might mean developing a bedtime routine, sticking to a sleeping schedule, or reducing caffeine intake.
  • Try a support group geared towards eating disorder recovery, body image, or intuitive eating (depending on where you are at and what fits best). 
  • Get professional help from an eating disorder registered dietitian, therapist, social worker, nurse practitioner, family doctor, or psychiatrist. 

I hope that by the time you are done reading this, something has stood out to you. Whether it’s a small takeaway, a new learning to ponder, or a new perspective on a familiar theme, I hope this has resonated with those reading. 

For anyone wanting to dig a little bit deeper, I’ll end with a few reflective prompts below.

Reflective prompts to help you challenge diet culture:

Whether or not journaling in a pen-and-paper way is your thing, these reflective prompts may be helpful as you work on challenging diet culture and healing your relationship with food and body:

  • How has diet culture shown up for you in your life?
  • What would it be like to step away from diet culture?
  • What’s the scariest part of challenging diet culture for you?
  • Who or what might be helpful to you during this process?
  • What’s one small thing you can do this month to challenge diet culture in your life?

Postpartum body image tips: from an ED therapist with ED lived experience

Posted by: Raquel Griffin

Time to read: 5 minutes

Originally appeared on: NEDIC.ca

At first, I thought I was successful in combating ED thoughts and the diet mentality that followed the birth of my child. Sure, my ear would initially be tickled with ED whisperings of fatphobia and diet culture. But just as quickly as they appeared, self-compassionate and comforting hums would replace them. But as time passed, I began to feel more stress about my new body shape and size. I had a number of friends and acquaintances who gave birth very close to when I did, and I really began to struggle with body comparison. Why was my body larger than theirs? Why did it seem like they were restored to their pre-pregnancy body sizes when I wasn’t? These fatphobic thoughts and expectations hung like a cloud as I squeezed my body into my too-small clothes.

At 4 months postpartum, I was horrified to come across a post in my social media feed from my local hospital’s pregnancy unit for an upcoming Q&A on C-sections. The post included a naked, very thin, flat-tummied, stretchmark-free, White person, from the navel down to the thighs. Laying on top of this body was a newborn baby, peaceful in slumber, blocking the birthing person’s labia but also positioned low enough down to wonder how this person had no pubic hair. It was a completely unrealistic picture of any body, let alone a postpartum body. I was so upset that a reproductive-focused medical facility was perpetuating such a harmful body standard (not to mention a weirdly sexualized one). I felt  shame about my postpartum body and at times bought into this diet-culture idea that my body should be getting smaller the further away I got from  my child’s birth date.

Pregnant people are often highly encouraged to try nursing at any cost (a whole separate conversation) and one of the “benefits” often included is weight loss. I hate to admit it… but when feeding/nursing was going well with my baby I was partially relieved, because in the back of my mind, I thought it would help prevent me from needing to adjust to a drastically new and different body. But, I was wrong. I was experiencing shame that my postpartum body was “too large” or differently-shaped. And, then I had shame about my fatphobia-induced shame, as that was not aligned with my values.

It’s a strange thing to hold reverence for the body that withstood such a major medical event and brought my treasured child into the world, while also resenting the bodily evidence left behind. To admire the softness and smoothness from stretched skin where my child was held in their first home, then to shortly thereafter hold disgust for new skin/fat folds and stretch mark scribblings. The good news is, with a lot of work, over time my relationship to my new body as a result of pregnancy and childbirth is becoming easier. If I’m being honest, I’m not yet at a place where I like my postpartum body and I’m willing to accept that maybe I will never be. But, I am at a place where my feelings toward my body are much more neutral and compassionate. My body has been and is capable of great things. My body is worthy. 

These are some of the things that have been helping me move toward body acceptance:

Remind yourself that eating is especially important during this time
Our bodies need energy in the form of food. Providing consistent and adequate nourishment following labour and delivery is extremely important—especially for postpartum bodies. The last thing your body needs right now is to have its starvation response triggered.

Whether your birth was vaginal or Caesarean, your body needs to recover and it needs food to do that. You will need the energy from food to help you combat the sleep deprivation you’ll be experiencing. I was able to have several family members and friends provide food and meals in the weeks after my birth so that I didn’t have to worry about cooking. This was an absolute life-saver. I also made sure I had Ensure and meal supplements on hand to quickly consume nutrients with little time/effort. Eating enough consistently and regularly will also help your milk production if you are nursing.

Respect your body by dressing in clothes that fit and are comfortable
Stop trying to squeeze into your old clothes. Wearing clothes that are too tight does not feel good. 

Pregnancy/maternity clothes are meant to accommodate a changing body. Your body may keep changing postpartum so just because you’re no longer pregnant doesn’t mean you should stop wearing pregnancy clothes if they are comfortable and fit. If it helps you feel better, stay away from the items that accentuate a “bump”.

If you find that your new body shape does not fit in any of the sizes provided in a store, consider buying a size that is too big and then taking to a tailor or a family member who has some sewing skills. Get familiar with thrift stores. I have bought some items new, but I have found most of my success with thrift stores. I’ve even bought a couple items with the tags still on.

Engage in re-embodying activities
With pregnancy, labour, child-birth, and nursing, there is a long period of time where you may feel like your body isn’t fully your own anymore. And, if you have a history of disordered eating and disembodiment, these feelings could be exacerbated. Where possible, engage in pleasurable activities that help you reconnect with your body in positive ways. For me, that was prioritizing walking, getting back to choir rehearsals and singing, and maintaining sexual intimacy with my partner. 

Reject the Diet Mentality
Shortly after giving birth, I completed my Intuitive Eating Counselling Certification. Immersing myself in anti-diet values, principles, and scientific research really helped me to reject the diet mentality and ED thoughts as they arose. 

There is no research to indicate that long-term weight loss is a realistic endeavour.
Speak out against harmful diet culture when you see it. For example, that Instagram post I mentioned— I commented something along the lines of “I’m really happy to see this event on C-sections will be taking place but I am very disappointed you chose to use a promotional image that perpetuates an unrealistic body standard”. Many other commenters followed suit and the account ended up removing that promotional image.
Consume weight-inclusive content, media, and literature that aligns with anti-diet values, fat-liberation, and Health at Every Size. Some of my favourites are:

“Yes, I’m Really Eating That!” (Boundaries Part Two)

Posted by: Lee Thomas

Time to read: 6 minutes

You can read Part One here.

Ok, so let’s get to the actual process of this: what does it LOOK like to set boundaries? When I recently did a webinar on this topic, it was around Thanksgiving specifically and so we talked about the three approaches of “subtle, solid, and spicy”. If you’re thinking that that’s just a rebrand of “passive, assertive, and aggressive” then you are absolutely correct :). But to keep with our driving metaphor here, I’m going to go with “swerve, educate, and honk”. 

Part of the reason that I don’t like to just talk about passive, aggressive, and assertive communication is because I think that “passive” and “aggressive” get a bad rap. Every communication style has its strengths and weaknesses, and I do really feel like there’s a time and a place for almost everything. Communication skills are just tools like everything else — instead of assessing whether a tool is good or bad I think it’s more useful to ask if this tool is well-suited for the outcome you are trying to achieve. Education is great, but there’s times where swerving and/or honking are the more effective tool! Every approach has potential pros and potential cons.

The goal of the “Swerve” approach is to avoid engagement. That’s an okay thing to do! Not every person or every moment deserves your engagement. The key element of nuance here is that while this approach might “keep the peace,” I would argue that it’s not the same thing as being selfless or compassionate. Compassion in our relationships usually looks more like “education,” even though it doesn’t feel as pleasant in the moment.

Best used with: relationships that you don’t think merit engagement (at this moment in time)

In my opinion “Educate” is the most complicated approach, because it asks that you engage really sincerely with the other person. This is a good example of the concept mentioned earlier, about how boundaries are a gift to our relationships. Even though in the short term this approach is not necessarily super comfortable, in the long term it helps the relationship become an environment that both of you can feel good in — and that’s an incredible gift to give to both of you.

Best used with: relationships that you care about and want to deepen.

Let’s go back to the driving metaphor. Honking can serve a handful of different purposes. We usually think of it just as a way of saying “Hey! F*** you!” But it can also be a way of trying to communicate information that you have no other way of communicating. “You’re coming into my lane!” “Pay attention!” “Stop it!” Honking can serve similar purposes in our relationships. I definitely think there’s a time and place for honking, but I think it’s kind to our relationships to try different approaches first. But, like with driving, you need to assess the current situation and respond accordingly.

Best used with: careful consideration, after other approaches have not worked.

I would love to expand on the above approaches, but this piece is already getting kind of long. Brevity is not generally my strong suit. So instead let’s look at what these approaches might look like in practice. As a heads up (or a content/trigger warning), I’ve used some specific examples of diet talk below. I’m hoping these situations are specific enough to be useful, but generic enough to be generalizable to your life. They’re certainly not designed to be triggering, but diet culture is a tricky beast and so if you notice that you’re feeling triggered, feel free to take some space. This blog post isn’t going anywhere babe! You can come back to it a different day!

You can use these responses verbatim if they work for you, but lots of them probably won’t be a perfect fit. Adapt them as much as you need to. And if you see a response that makes you shudder, that’s okay too — take what’s helpful and leave the rest. 

Situation 1: Hungry Eyes

Your family is together for the holidays. At dinner, your cousin glances over at your plate and says “you’re really eating all of that?”

Swerve: Yep, I am! Anyway, how have your kid’s piano lessons been going?

Educate: I’ve been working hard on my relationship with food, so I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my food choices. If you want we can talk more about this later, but for now let’s just keep our eyes on our own plates. Thanks! 

Honk: What I’m eating really isn’t any of your business. 

Situation 2: Your Fitness Pal

You’re on the phone with your friend and he starts talking about this new diet and exercise routine that he’s going to try in order to lose “all this extra weight”. 

Swerve: Well, I like you at any size. Anyway, how have things been at work?

Educate: I’ve been learning a lot about diet culture lately, so I’m not really into the diet talk these days. Do you want to hear a little bit about what I’ve learned?

Honk: I love you but I’m not the right person to talk to about this.

Situation 3: Aunt Misbehavin’

Your aunt is staying at your parents’ house for a few days and you come over to visit. At one point in the conversation she lets out a long sigh and says “You have such a pretty face. You’d look so good if you just lost a few pounds.”

Swerve: Anyway, I should get going. It was good seeing you!

Educate: That comment makes me uncomfortable. I’d prefer if you didn’t say anything about my body right now, positive or negative. Thanks!

Honk: What a weird, gross thing to say.

A final pep talk

Setting boundaries is a skill, and skills require practice! It’s normal to feel nervous when you’re new to driving, or when you’re driving in an unfamiliar place or in adverse weather conditions.

Try to remember that there are no perfect answers. Sometimes driving safely means staying off the road in certain conditions, driving slower than other drivers want you to, taking detours or shortcuts, or keeping pace with the flow of traffic even though it’s a different speed than you’d prefer. Sometimes taking care of yourself looks like “picking a fight” and sometimes it looks like “letting yourself get walked all over”. Ultimately it’s not your job to drive in a way that’s convenient to other drivers, it’s your job to drive in a way that you think is safe. Try to show yourself some grace and compassion. You’re doing the best you can. 

Good luck out there — drive safe!

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