My pain and obsession about my own weight fueled my determination to understand everything about weight regulation. I’m proud to report that my efforts paid off: I finally found relief from my painful preoccupation and now enjoy my body. Food and exercise have returned to their rightful places as sources of enjoyment and nourishment.
As part of that education, I earned three graduate degrees, conducted research and taught on issues related to weight, health, nutrition and social justice, my work spanning two decades and four academic departments: Biology, Health Education, Women’s Studies and Psychology. My job was secure and gave me a platform to explore and speak on issues important to me.
Yet, I hit a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.
Outside the safe confines of my classroom, I was acutely conscious that my country was at war, the war against “obesity”, and the war was taking a huge toll on my students and everyone else. The war isn’t about health, despite the rhetoric it claims and the good intentions of the many fighting it. Instead, it’s a war against bodies, and we are all victims.
By stigmatizing fat – and fat bodies – this “war on obesity” is creating stress and supporting discrimination. By inducing us to invest in so far useless efforts at weight control, it has resulted in rampant preoccupation with food and weight, disordered eating habits and billions in wasted dollars. And, by focusing the medical community on fat over other factors, it’s causing us to overlook more pernicious – and more curable – sources of disease.
Here’s the final irony – it’s probably also made us fatter than we would have been otherwise, given that dieting is a well-established predictor of weight gain, as has been shown in the prospective studies that have examined this issue.
The recent U.S. election, and the uproar that followed (and continues), pushed me past my tipping point. I couldn’t remain academic about what I was seeing. So I left behind my secure, tenured professorship to raise my voice through speaking and writing. (I maintain my Associate Nutritionist affiliation with the University of California, Davis to stay connected with an academic community.)
My hope is to see an end to these wars on obesity and other marginalized bodies and to galvanize the growing peace movement.
My promise is to offer you the critical thought, inspiring vision, and practical strategies you need to celebrate and care for your own body and to advance your skills to educate, motivate, and inspire others.
THE WORLD CAN BE CRUEL
It can be painful to live in this culture! There are many judgments about body size, and we face so much pressure around what behavior and looks are acceptable that few of us feel we measure up.
And the judgments do more than ruin our self-esteem; stereotypes about body size can affect our ability to get a job, what we earn, whether or not we’re promoted, even how well we’re treated in the doctor’s office.
It’s exhausting, depressing, and potentially life threatening.
And it’s totally undeserved.
This isn’t just theory for me. I’ve lived with that pain.
MY OWN LIFE-THREATENING EXPERIENCE
Social pressure and cultural expectations played a destructive role in my own personal experience.
As a teenager, I became convinced that I would be more popular if I weighed less. That my parents would love me more. That I’d be happier. I started dieting to escape a weight problem that only existed in my head. My dieting and obsessive exercising led to an eating disorder. I got thinner. But was I any happier?
I certainly wasn’t any healthier.
Millions of us are stuck in that chasm between who we know we are and who we think we’re supposed to be in order to get society’s respect.
But as long as we stay stuck, our lives don’t get better and the world stays the same.
Fortunately, I’m living proof that healing is possible.
That we can get unstuck.
And that we can live happy, healthy, resilient lives, love and be loved, and help others live healthier and happier lives, full of love, too.
HOW I BROKE THROUGH
While I was in college, I made a conscious decision to understand everything I could about weight. I started by earning a general liberal arts degree in cultural studies, where I came to understand this wasn’t just my individual problem, but that most of us socialized as girls and women felt uncomfortable in our bodies and wanted to change them. (Things have changed, and this has increasingly become a problem for people of other genders as well.)
As revolutionary as it was to see the cultural roots of the problem, I still had to deal with my personal pain. So I then went on to earn a master’s degree in psychotherapy, with a specialty in eating disorders and body image. I got therapy for myself and worked as a psychotherapist to help others. I kept questioning and learning, next achieving a master’s degree in exercise science and then a Ph.D in physiology with a focus on nutrition and metabolism and understanding how the body regulates weight.
As I challenged “conventional wisdom” about body weight, I realized how much the shame I felt about my body had less to do with me than with the cultural pressures society puts on all of us to look and act a particular way, the misinformation it feeds us on what to do about it, and the ways in which it privileges and disadvantages certain identities.
That led me to a revelation.
I wasn’t the problem.
Society’s expectations of me and how it treated me; the false notions about what it means to be healthy and successful; the narrow “beauty ideals” that leave most people by the wayside; false notions about our ability to control our weight and shape; the messed up ideas about race, and age, and gender identity and more…
Those were the problems.
I WAS OKAY!
This newfound awareness – that the problem was with the culture, not me – set me on fire! I rushed to the research lab to test out the new beliefs my studies had led me to. The results were phenomenal, making it clear that the best way to improve health and well-being is to give up the fight against fat and our bodies, to end the food deprivation and demonization, and instead redirect our energy to finding appreciation for our amazing bodies and selves, to treating ourselves with compassion, and to nourishing ourselves well. Of course, that isn’t easy in a culture which privileges some bodies over others, and this new awareness simultaneously drew attention to the need to develop the resilience to live in that unjust world – and destabilizing that unjust world.
Based on that groundbreaking research, I wrote my first book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Prevention magazine and others called it the “Bible” of the alternative health movement, while the New York Times said, “In the long run, the ‘Health at Every Size’ approach works better than dieting.”
Soon I was appearing on Good Morning America and the ABC Nightly News, in feature stories in Glamour, Newsweek and National Geographic, and writing articles in nutrition and health journals.
My most recent book, Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Fail to Understand about Weight, co-authored with Lucy Aphramor, kept momentum building, and is highly acclaimed for changing the way we think about weight world-wide.
MY MISSION TO HELP YOU
It is not enough for me alone to have experienced this life-changing transformation.
One person can make a difference. But we need all of us together to truly change the world.
I believe in our power to heal ourselves and our culture.
That’s why I’m on a mission to help you, too, and to join with you.
I want you to experience the same joy, relief, satisfaction and awareness that have changed my life.
I want to support you in developing your unique style of communicating and supporting others in this journey.
Together, we can create a world where all bodies are valued and all people are supported in compassionate self-care.
I wrote The Body Manifesto for you. Please, download it, read it, share it, embrace it, and make it your own.
Invite me to speak at your organization. I specialize in providing education AND inspiration.