This morning I ran into an acquaintance I knew through my teaching days. I told her a little about what I do as an intuitive eating coach. As we parted ways, she said, “Well intuitive eating must work, because you look great!”
She’s a very kind person, and I feel confident that her only intention was to give me a compliment, but it brought up some fears that I have.
Whenever I do a free consultation with a potential client, I am very clear that I believe in HAES and a weight neutral approach to health coaching. I do not dance around my belief that the purpose of intuitive eating is to create a more nourishing, satisfying, and peaceful relationship with food. I warn clients that they may gain weight, and also that I don’t think it will harm their health if they do.
Still, I know that when people meet me, whether through pictures, over Skype, or in person, they see a thin person, and that no matter what I say, they might come to the conclusion that I am thin because I practice intuitive eating.
To be fair, they may not even be thinking this consciously. We are so programmed to think that thin=healthy=good eater, that until we deprogram ourselves, we might not even realize we’re having this thought pattern.
I’ve often wondered if I should make a habit of explaining that I have, in the past, lived out the stereotype of “what makes a person fat and unhealthy.” It would be embarrassing to go into full detail, but I’ll give you the “lite” version:
- I ate mostly processed “junk” foods and fast food.
- My fruit and vegetable intake was nearly zero.
- My eating patterns were totally erratic.
- I was very sedentary. No exercise whatsoever.
- Sleep, stress, substances… total mess
You get the picture. During this time of my life I was not well; spiritually, emotionally, physically, or in any sense of the word. But guess what? I was thin.
I was thin when I ate recklessly.
I was thin when I was a vegetarian.
I was thin when I ate paleo.
I was thin when I had PCOS.
I was thin when I was falling apart.
I am still thin now that I am well.
AND I am still thin as an intuitive eater, but not because I am an intuitive eater.
I can’t say if I will always be thin. I did once take a medication that made me gain weight, and I may have to again someday. Or maybe my grandmother’s bizarre prediction will come true, and I will begin to gain weight once I turn 35 in a few months. Who knows?
What I can say is that intuitive eating dramatically improved my relationship with food. I can tell you that mindfulness has been the key to turning my life around, and that intuitive eating feels like a natural part of my journey towards greater mindfulness.
The results of a big study on intuitive eating were recently published: “A higher IE score was strongly associated with lower odds of overweight or obesity in both men and women.” And, “IE might be relevant for obesity prevention and treatment.”
My reaction was a mixture of, “Yay!” and “Who fucking cares?” (I’ve been feeling a little surly lately.) As much as I am glad that this study may get doubters to take intuitive eating seriously, I am really beyond sick and tired of weight being mistaken for health.
At some point, we have to ask ourselves if having a peaceful relationship with food is enough. For me, it was easy. I had little to lose besides my identity as a person who eats “healthy.”
For people who face weight stigma because they move through the world in a larger body, it can be a much harder choice. It is heartbreaking to me that anyone would tell a person who has done the work to fix their relationship with food that they are still eating incorrectly because of their body size.
Until we can look at each other’s bodies, and not make any assumptions about health or eating habits, no one is free from the oppression of sizeism. Let us do the work of checking our thoughts until sizeism is dead.