Hey there. If this blog popped into your orbit, chances are that you’re not feeling so hot right now…you’re feeling frustrated with yourself, your body…maybe even your choices?
Especially if you’ve come to the conclusion you can’t – or don’t want to – diet anymore… the frustration is even worse. But the truth is, with every hopeful “fresh start” on your next diet you wind up feeling disappointment as you regain the weight. You are tired of the binge-restrict extremes; and gaining and losing the same 20 pounds over and over again. In a lot of ways, not feeling motivated to diet again makes so much sense! CLEARLY – it’s not working.
The only problem is your mind keeps playing a tape over and over again. The tape is mean and critical and can feel so hurtful. Every time you feel uncomfortable in your body, your thoughts race things like: “I’m so fat and gross.”
We’re 100% going to unpack that hurtful idea, and it may change your entire perspective – so stick with me.
Ideas are not facts about you, and fatness isn’t gross (though many of us are taught it is).
The idea you are fat and therefore gross can be difficult to sit with. But what are you supposed to do instead of dieting again, when the reason that you were dieting, to begin with, is that you don’t feel good in your body right now?
If you’re new here: welcome! I’m Melissa Landry, a Registered Dietitian who helps women in bigger bodies find health without a side of body shame.
In this blog post, I’ll be guiding you through why you might be feeling fat and gross right now and what to actually do about it to feel better. You deserve to feel good in your body right now, whatever shape and size that is.
why is fatness seen as gross?
I’m going to do my best to explain a complex, unfortunate, and complicated history that I have learned in my travels as an anti-diet Registered Dietitian. At the end of this section, I’ll point you to the original authors and works – including that of Sabrina Strings and Aubrey Gordon who are the game-changing scholars who brought many of these ideas to the mainstream.
These authors’ books go into full detail over HUNDREDS of pages covering hundreds of years of history, so full disclosure – this blog post will do its best to give you the bullet points you need to start challenging the idea “fat = gross” but definitely check out the sources if you can. My practice as a Dietitian has been forever changed by what I read from these authors.
The sad thing is, I didn’t learn any of this history in my training toward earning my Registered Dietitian credential, and I think that is a gaping hole. Instead, my training was pretty typical for medical professionals: it was “weight centric”, meaning our lessons were based on the assumption that being thin is healthier and being fatter is less healthy. This isn’t true, not as a rule.
The history that led to this miseducation of medical providers is complex and the result of the anti-fat bias (aka negative ideas of folks in bigger bodies) embedded in our medical systems. And anti-fat bias, usually described as “medical weight stigma”, causes harm to patients.
The long story short is this: at one point, fatness *was* seen as ideal.
Remember all those beautiful renaissance paintings of women with curvy, robust, bigger bodies? Then, little by little – thinness and restriction around food became the preferred norm.
So what happened?
What happened was that colonizing countries in Europe brought black Africans back to Europe as slaves.
European culture morphed over time to separate “whiteness” from “blackness” in order to maintain the social order (1). Woof. That meant white skin and European features were assigned as superior to black skin and African features, which were perceived to be fuller and thicker.
Over time, the appearance of fatness was lumped in with “blackness” which is why it is felt today that anti-fatness is rooted in anti-blackness.
And as Europeans traveled to the Americas, they brought their prejudices with them.
Blend the anti-fat, anti-black body ideology with a rising religious culture obsessed with “purity” – including controlling oneself around food – diet culture and the thin ideal became a mainstay of our culture (2).
And in a nutshell – that’s how fat bodies fell out of fashion in favor of leaner ones, instead.
Because doctors are people, the cultural preferences and norms started to impact the way they conducted research and made conclusions about health. Which is one of the reasons why BMI – which is kind of a BS health metric – became such a huge part of your annual doctor’s visit.
Changing our perspective on what is fashionable and desirable took hundreds of years. Today’s society looks very different than it used to, but many of the ideas about health and beauty still remain and impact our cultural and individual relationships to food and bodies.
I see it show up all the time in my work as a dietitian specializing in generational diet trauma. We are taught thin bodies are better and healthier, and families can become obsessed with dieting as a result. This has an impact on those who grow up in diet-obsessed families long into adulthood.
Anti-fat bias is so prevalent that Harvard Researchers have included it in their implicit bias test. You can check your own biases here.
Recently scholars like Sabrina Strings and Aubrey Gordon, among others, have brought this history to light and helped us unpack modern-day “anti-fat bias”. We owe a huge credit to fat and black scholars – the very people this problem impacts most – and to whom we should really be listening to for how to heal our culture of the harms of anti-fat bias.
This history is a LOT to wrap your head around. Even if you’re still wrapping your head around this history – we can acknowledge this: how your caregivers talk about your body is reflective of the society we come from. In addition, how they talked to you about your body is PROBABLY how you talk to yourself. It all trickles down.
It turns out, we all have our biases. And learning what influences our own biases can be a clue to how we can unlearn them.
we are all biased
Even if you don’t mean to be biased, against yourself or others, you are. We all are.
And the truth is, it can be super uncomfortable to learn this. And what I can cover in a blog post is not doing this important topic justice, but it is a start. No matter what, we need to talk about it more. So if you want to do further research you can do so by grabbing a copy of these three books – I liked the audio versions to take with me on commutes and walks:
- Belly of the Beast by Da’Shaun L. Harrison
- Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings
- What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon
Meanwhile, if you grow up in a family of dieters as I did, understand that you are more likely to internalize the belief that “fat is bad” into your own worldview. Maybe your family even said the word “gross” in relation to fatness when you were a kid. No wonder you feel this way now!
And that is how fatness comes to “feel” gross to you, even though it is not. Not in and of itself. The good news is, beliefs can change (and I can help you, so keep on reading!).
Remember how we started this post? Feeling “fat and gross” can be hard to sit with – but – wait a second! Fat isn’t a feeling! Let’s take some time to unpack that, next.
fat is not a feeling
We just talked about some pretty heavy historical stuff. Interesting? I think so. Important? Absolutely. But knowing the history doesn’t automatically mean your inner struggles with food and body will magically go away on their own.
It’s okay that your head and your heart aren’t matched toward body acceptance just yet. Learning the history of diet culture is just the beginning.
Many of my clients learn to reject the ideas behind “fat is gross’ ‘ as a first step. What’s next? Changing the way you talk to yourself. That starts by diving into the language you use to describe how you feel.
Being fat is not a feeling. Just like being tall isn’t a feeling. And this is an important shift in language because a shift in your thoughts can shift your emotions, and vice versa. So, let’s retire the phrase “I feel fat” because it not only reinforces a negative weight bias, it is not constructive or helpful to your self-esteem or emotions!
But what to do instead? Find what is fueling your feelings at that moment.
Here are some situations clients find when those words “I feel fat” pop up.
Maybe they’re feeling physical discomfort. So instead of saying “I feel fat”, it might be more accurate (and less emotionally draining) to say:
- I’m feeling discomfort
- I’m feeling pain
- I’m feeling fatigued
Or maybe some uncomfortable emotions are bubbling up. Instead of saying “I feel fat”, it may be more accurate (and less shaming) to say that you’re feeling:
The thing is, none of these physical or emotional states are unique to being in a bigger body. And, fat folks can feel comfortable, happy, proud. So why are we associating fat with any of it?
This is important because for so long you’ve used “eating better” and “moving more” as a solution to “feeling fat”.
…and it never worked.
And this never-ending diet cycle blocks you from growing as a person.
Negative physical and emotional states are normal parts of life. And, they can be our teachers. If you choose not to diet anymore (which I encourage you to do) you have to also address these feelings differently.
Start by naming what’s happening within your body – emotionally or physically – directly. This way, you can work to address the true physical cue or emotion, instead of running to change your body. I help my clients do this all the time. In the beginning, it’s not exactly straightforward. They don’t have a lot of practice and can use the help!
Here are some examples to get you started. If you notice:
- Feeling physically uncomfortable in your clothes? Change them!
- Experiencing pain in your knees? Consider buying new shoes and making an appointment with a physical therapist. And listen to this podcast episode: Does losing weight help pain and mobility?
- Negative body image? Talk to someone who specializes in this!
What if you do just feel “gross”? With my clients, I help them recognize that emotion coming from beliefs or attitudes they may have gotten in childhood. And then we work on it, together.
Learning emotional coping strategies can also help you stop choosing harmful diets whenever that “gross” feeling comes around.
Let’s continue to explore coping mechanisms for feelings relating to fatness.
coping with feelings related to fatness
I want you to self-assess. Are you in a larger body, or, in a body that is larger than you would like it to be?
If you’re not sure, check out my blog post on thin privilege: examples of thin privilege hidden in plain sight.
When I say “larger body” I typically mean plus size.
This distinction is important because though anyone can benefit from doing the work to improve body image, someone in a larger body will have a very different experience learning Intuitive Eating, given the fact our diet culture still very much exists. If you are in a larger body, you may ALSO need to learn skills to navigate anti-fat bias in the world.
This is a completely unacceptable reality, and one we can change. Size diversity exists whether or not our culture makes room for it. This is why it’s important to recognize thin privilege and – especially thin people who often uphold it – we need to dismantle it as a society. (And if you’re thinking “I agree, but how?” Aubrey Gordon’s book I mentioned earlier in the post is a great start.)
When I am working with clients in larger bodies, who face anti-fat bias on top of body image issues, I support you in exploring the impact anti-fat bias has on your nutrition and body image work.
I help you identify ways you can self-advocate when possible, and cope with kindness when you cannot. Here are some examples:
- Self-advocacy at the doctor’s office (download: Doctor’s Visit Guide: how to talk to your doctor about health at every size)
- Setting boundaries with family and friends (read: how to set boundaries around “diet talk”)
- Self-advocacy at the workplace around wellness incentives (listen: what is healthism? with Patrilie Hernandez)
- Navigating shopping plus size in your style
- Navigating seating on airplanes (read: You Have the Right To Take Up Space: A Guide To Flying While Fat)
My whole mission is to help individuals push back on anti-fat bias in a grassroots way – especially within their own homes where they have the most control – so that we can teach our kids differently than we were taught
Social change takes time, persistence, and incremental steps. It won’t happen overnight. Which is why right now, starting with yourself, is the exact right time to start.
The younger version of you needed to grow up without diet culture. So did I. And my mother, too.
My drive to help people find peace with their bodies is fueled by my experiences growing up. My mother is in a larger body and was constantly on diets. I know how difficult it has been for her to find body acceptance. I wonder what it would have been like for me, for us, if anyone had told her “the world is wrong – your body is good.”
Even today, so few Dietitians are open to talking about the challenges of Intuitive Eating in a larger body, and I’m hoping to provide space for that here on my blog as well as in my sessions with you 1:1.
BTW – if you want to support or get involved in organizations working to push back on the anti-fat bias, I myself am a member of The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH). You can also check out The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA).
There are also Intuitive Eating Registered Dietitians in diverse bodies out there on social media and in your community. I do my best to create safe and sensitive spaces for all lived experiences, but that’s not the same as having gone through it myself.
And so, if learning with someone who has lived experience in a bigger body is important to you, please know, you can absolutely seek out that kind of support! I’m happy to point you in the direction of colleagues I know – just dm me on Instagram and I’ll shake my network to see if someone else is available.
…but I still want to lose weight
Yes. Still wanting to lose weight despite knowing the history of weight bias would 100% make sense. We’re not trying to change the way you feel about your body or add shame to how you feel about your body. The way you feel about your body is the way you feel about your body. Period. No judgments.
What you do to your body is also your choice. So if after reading this post you choose to do a weight loss program, that’s fine. My hope is to show you there are alternatives – especially if you’ve literally tried EVERY diet under the sun and want to feel free from restrictive, disordered eating.
If that’s you, then here’s the next step.
Begin by observing your feelings, be they emotional or physical, differently. Instead of trying to fix them with another extreme diet, we can learn to understand and be able to acknowledge where these feelings came from. And then, we can learn to relate to these feelings and emotions differently. Constructively, even.
This process takes work. It isn’t easy. Eventually, it does help you to feel more neutral about yourself, take better care of yourself, and feel calmer in your life. My clients hold space for the feeling of wanting to be smaller – for all its privileges and the fantasy of what it might bring – while also doing things like:
- Eating all foods: no longer labeling them as “good” or “bad”
- Being more emotionally aware and compassionate with themselves
- Practicing self-care – not waiting until they are “thin” to do the things they want or need to do in life
- Setting boundaries
- Adding nutrition
- Moving more
What is it that you would do differently if food and body image struggles were not part of your daily life?
As my clients do this deep work of unlearning their own fat biases against themselves and others, that creates the space for them to also work on creating a culture where anti-fatness can no longer take root. Once you’ve healed your relationship with food you’re in a better position to role model to others including your own kids. Here‘s a popular post I did on Instagram with ideas.
As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve worked with 100s of clients in larger bodies and listened to their stories. I’ve also witnessed my mom’s struggles with weight and a history of diet after diet throughout my childhood. Thanks to these insights, I know that we can’t just flip the light switch and stop feeling “fat and gross” overnight.
But, we can take the steps to work towards that goal. I’d love to help.
The first step is to stop dieting. Here are my top tips to get you started on your journey towards becoming an Intuitive Eater: six intuitive eating tips for beginners.
Next is to learn to eat food – any food – without guilt. Easier said than done, right? I have a free guide that you can download called 3 steps to eat without guilt! This 3 step guide will help you draft a plan to go from being stuck in food guilt and fear of weight gain to feeling free and peaceful around food – just like my clients do.
And when you’re ready, you are welcome to apply for nutrition therapy and body image coaching through my No More Guilt 1:1 Program. Private work with me is a great fit for you to learn how to feel better in your skin: free of body image worries and ready to accomplish your dreams and live a life without regrets.