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.

41 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this Aaron as a dietitian to be and one whose body does not conform it's a good reminder that we do know and understand the issue far more than most. We have a insight that don't, won't or can't ever have and for that reason our message is so needed. Love your work.

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  2. Such a humble, honest and genuine post, Aaron! As a fellow Health at Every Size advocate and counselor in the field, I am inspired, encouraged and feel hopeful for myself and other practitioners who may not fit the 'mold'. It's time to stop using the size, shape and texture of each other's bodies to determine worth and/or validity. I thank you professionally and personally for your words.

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  3. Thank you Aaron for sharing this very candid and thoughtful post! As a dietitian who has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other with her weight and who is currently obese, I have struggled so much with negative thoughts and beating myself up, because I'm fat and a supposed "poor example". I constantly fret about how my appearance is perceived by others and can almost feel people burning the word "hypocrite" on my forehead when I tell them I'm a dietitian. I wholeheartedly believe in and advocate for HAES, so thank you for your post. It means a lot coming this obese dietitian.

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  4. I think that tweet did more to highlight the importance of HAES and the need to address weight stigma than anything else I've read. Thank you for such an honest and enlightening post. My definition of what makes a good dietitian? Someone who helps others learn to love food that loves them back. That doesn't require six pack abs or a corporate sponsorship from Coke.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your story Aaron. It seems that as dietitians, we get a lot of extra focus on our weight, what we eat, how much we exercise, our food and lifestyle choices, and I have also received a lot of judgment and comments and "joking" like: "I've been told to monitor what you eat, so let me see your plate", "Wow, you eat a lot!", and I could go on and on. Why do people think that my body and what I put in it is their business? I'm proud of you for setting this boundary!

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  6. This is such a wonderful story, Aaron. It sounds odd to describe a story that reveals your pain as "wonderful," but it truly is great to see you standing up so vociferously against weight stigma. And clearly see that you are doing so well in taking on internalized weight stigma, too -- how we feel about ourselves because of our weight. What a role model. I'm going to tweet this all over! :) Thank you so much for sharing.

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  7. Thank you Aaron! I am a true Aaron-phite! I found the information you provided and recommendations and coaching extremely useful and supportive. I learned a lot if not just to feel comfortable talking about food struggles. This blog posting is no less informative and helpful. I think in my world and those in our work-time group who attended your presentations, you did and still do a lot to encourage a healthy lifestyle and self-image.
    Thank you!

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  8. As someone who spent her childhood teased and sad because of weight and has struggled ever since to keep it off, I totally relate to what you are saying. Fact is, even after I lost the weight I still felt (and feel) like a fat person. I congratulate you on arriving at a healthy self-love and think that's an important lesson you can teach your patients (just as important as what foods make sense.)

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  9. I can't wait to see more of your post! Especially your shopping list && and inform me on the healthy food to eat.
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  10. I disagree, you should really practice what you preach. You wouldnt want to take weightlifting sessions from a skinny person. You wouldnt want to take college classes from someone who is very dull...You wouldnt want to take soccer lessons from someone with no legs. You wouldnt want to take sobriety advice from a junkie! Why the hell would you take advice from someone for solving a problem that they themselves cant solve?
    Sorry, Im not gonna "fatshame" you, but dont give advice if you yourself are suffering from and cant solve the affliction

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  11. Wow, you just don't get it, do you? Nutrition is about so much more than weight. A fat body is not synonymous with poor health or poor nutrition, and there are plenty of thin people who are either unhealthy or poorly nourished or both.

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  12. Aaron you rock and you're not alone! Many of your RD colleagues myself included welcome size diversity and refuse to expect our profession to bow down to the thin ideal. I hope we as a profession can keep talking about this to help us strengthen each other while promoting health for all.

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  15. As much as this post is trying to be self-righteous, it's really just self-deceptive. Take better care of your body; it's all you've got, and there are no excuses for eating badly and not exercising. You say you want a better body? It's not your genes. It's your habits. Being overweight is being unhealthy, and leads to diabetes and heart disease. No evidence suggests otherwise.

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