Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yes I Am an Overweight Dietitian

This is Weight Stigma Awareness week which is being organized by the Binge Eating Disorder Association.  This online conference has provided both healthcare providers and the general public with a wealth of information about what is weight stigma and how it affects us.  Going into this week I was planning on writing about weight stigma from a general sense but after I saw the tweet below, I thought a personal post might be more appropriate so, here goes.

If you're an overweight dietitian, how am I supposed to listen to you telling me how to eat ? -- Via Twitter on 9/25/13.

I've discussed it before but I will say it again, I'm an obese dietitian.  Comments like the one above are not new to me.  I've heard it before either directly to my face or from second-hand conversations.  The comments come in many different ways, "Why should I listen to you?"  "Well it doesn't look like you eat that way." "Why don't you practice what you preach?" It doesn't matter how you say it or the context you say it in...all of these comments are shaming.  It fits into the old mindset that if your BMI is anything above normal, then you must not be healthy; that having a tummy is a sign of laziness, filth and sloth.

The funny thing is, being a healthcare provider, I don't only get it from my clients, I get it from colleagues.  "I've noticed you've gained some weight?"  "I"m going to tell on you for eating that." "Should you really be teaching that class?"  Even if I don't hear the comments, I see how they look at me.  I hear what they say and I read what they write.

But I'm here today, during Weight Stigma Awareness week, to stand up and say enough!  Enough of you judging my body.  My weight, my body, my habits are MINE and NOT YOURS.  The topic of my weight is off limits.  I did not ask for your archaic, backwards, close-minded comments.  My body is MINE.   Mind your own business and keep your comments to yourself.  I have never judged you for coming in my office/class and gaining weight.  I don't care if you are 320 or 120 pounds.  I respect your body, now please respect mine.

For me weight stigma hits home more often than most will realize.  Maybe you have to be "fat" to know what it's like but fat shaming happens more than I care to admit.  When I was 300+ pounds, people stared at me.  They rolled their eyes as I sat next to them on a plane.  They stared as I ate my Jack 'N the Box Double Cheeseburger. They laughed as I took off my shirt at the beach. It was as if the stares, eye rolls and teasing was going to somehow help me. Well, guess what?  It didn't.  Like any normal person, the shaming led to self-imposed isolation.  Isolation led to more eating because I really didn't want to be alone. And my weight rose higher and higher.  It's a horribly helpless feeling and you don't know what it's like until you've been there.

As I lost weight, people looked at me differently.  On some level I loved how their eyes and attitudes changed towards me.  I loved that now I was accepted by society because my belly was gone. But even though they saw someone new, the old person was still there (and on some level, still is today).  All that shaming that happened still affected my self-esteem.

So when someone asks, "If you are an overweight dietitian, how am I supposed to listen to you telling me how to eat?" my answer is simple.  You should listen, because I know what the hell I'm talking about.  Not just because I have a degree, completed an internship and passed a registration exam but because, despite what you think by looking at my stomach, I am a fantastic educator/motivator/coach/nutrition expert.  If all of you see is my stomach, you're going to miss out, not just what I have to say but what others who are just like me have to say as well.  My clients listen to me because I've been where they are.  You should listen to me because my full stomach is not a sign that I don't know what I'm talking about, it's a sign that I know exactly what I'm talking about when it comes to making peace with food.  I've fought the war against food and my weight.  The only casualty though was me.  Instead of fighting, I've made peace with food, my body, my weight and my critics.

I wish that I had a six pack, broad shoulders and rippling muscles but I don't.  I've come to accept my body for what it is.  Hopefully this post helps bring weight stigma to the forefront of our conversation. It's an issue that we need to discuss and that we need to be aware of.

And finally to thank the individual who posted their honest comment on Twitter thank you!  Thank you for your tweet that inspired me to write this down.  It has been cathartic to share my thoughts and without your tweet, they might have never made it out.

UPDATE: (9/26/13 8:45am)
I've been asked by the person who posted the original tweet to delete her name from this post.  After much consideration I've agreed to do that.  The reason I did: shaming someone, for any reason, is wrong.  I hope you respect my decision.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts (and Stomach)...Still Can't Lose

At sundown on Friday night, Jews around the world will begin to celebrate Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year.  It's a day to atone for the sins we have committed but also to reflect on our lives and commit to doing better next year.  One of the ways we do this is through day-long prayer but also by fasting for 25 hours.  (Why 25? Because anyone could do 24, the extra hour makes it hardcore!)

I've written about this holiday before.  I encourage you to read my whole post that I wrote two years ago here.  In short, what I decided after Yom Kippur of 2011 was that I was not going to fast on this day of days.  Why?  In short because while I was fasting, I was focused on my growing hunger and as that uneasiness grew, I was less able to focus on the day and instead I just focused on my belly.  As a continually learning Intuitive Eater, I feel that staying connected with my body and honoring my hunger is helpful for me, especially on Yom Kippur.  Since I wrote my original post, some have commented to me that fasting and the discomfort is part of the meaning of the day.  They said that this ritual is something that reminds us that if we can give this up for just one day (+1 hour...remember, we are hardcore) then we can do the hard work to make our lives more meaningful and be better humans, Jews, fathers, wives, sons, daughters and so on.

But as this second Yom Kippur comes up, I remain certain that for me, eating is my path to mindful reflection.  Honoring my hunger allows me to honor my body and soul and commit to the work of living a full life.

The funny thing about not fasting is that by the end of the day, when the "break the fast" meal approaches, you aren't overly hungry and don't end up binging on all the food that's available after the sun sets.  The "break the fast" meal symbolizes why fasting is not for me.  Most people I know who are fasting start counting down the hours until their fast ends.  They are waiting for that proverbial finish line to appear so they can run past it, right for the dinner table.  It's like they said, "I made it, now get some food in me NOW."  It seems to me that all the reflection is lost because now they binge to remove the feeling of hunger.  We spend 25+ hours suffering, atoning, and praying and how do we start a new year?  With a binge.  Well, no thanks.

I choose to continue my own ritual to eat on Yom Kippur.  I know it's not what some Jews agree with but that does not make me any less than them.  My spirituality is my own and I choose to engage in my Judaism as it best serves me.

How will you spend this Yom Kippur?  Do you fast or not?  Let me know what you think.

2015 UPDATE:
Just a few days ago, my son asked me why I don't fast on Yom Kippur. As my kids get older questions like these make me analyze my actions on a whole new level. I explained why I choose to eat during this holiday and I wanted to emphasize that I still make the day holy!  So with that in mind, I figured that I'd share  this page  that was written for Jews in recovery or working toward recovery from eating disorders.  It highlights how to mark the day without fasting and I find it very useful for me.  It allows me to make sure that what ever sustenance I do take it, that it's purposeful and with intention.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What Did My Rabbi Just Say?

Today's post is short but sweet!

"It's not what you look like, it's what you do that is important"  That is what our Rabbi said today during this morning's Rosh Hashanah service.  The context had nothing to do with Health at Every Size (HAES) or body image.  He said these words because it was 100 degrees outside and the AC was broken in the auditorium we were sitting in.  We were all uncomfortable and to help us relax and enjoy the service, he encouraged all the men to take off their ties and jackets and to roll up our sleeves to help us be a little more comfortable in the unbearable heat.  "It's not what you look like, it's what you do that is important," he said to us.

Immediately, those words meant something else to me than the religious context we were in.  I looked over to my kids and repeated to them, "It's not what you look like, it's what you do that is important," hoping those meaningful words would sink in.  I know that they didn't (because of the heat, because they are only 5 and because they didn't really want to be in services) but the seed was planted!

Now that I am home, just a few minutes removed from that service, those words continue to resonate with me.  No matter what your body looks like; round or thin, big or small, "it's not what you look like it is what you do that is important!"  I know those words mean a great deal to me and I find that message above all others today, this day of new beginnings and reflection, most inspirational.