Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stop Demonizing Food

I have to tell you, I'm a little sick of the sugar thing. And the carb thing, the wheat thing, the soda thing, the salt thing, and whatever thing we might be hearing about tomorrow.

Now, I'm not recommending mass amounts of any of these foods, as they're often consumed in the American diet. A daily Super Big Gulp likely won't do any body good. But to demonize any food item unnecessarily polarizes foods into healthy vs. unhealthy or good vs. bad, which sets the stage for all kinds of disordered eating.

And here's the thing: no food makes you fat. Not a baguette, a bowl of noodles, a cupcake or macaron. Overeating these foods may predict weight gain over time - eating more than our bodies need can do this - but part of the reason we're overeating is that we're so consumed by diet culture that we're hybridizing feast and famine. 

"I can't have bread. I can't have bread. I can't have bread." And then, because bread is actually available, "Oops, I had too much bread."

The more we learn about weight, the more we understand the genetic influences on this variable. What you weigh is largely a function of your genes and their products, particularly hormones that control appetite and satiation.

When we cut out certain foods to lose weight, there is often a backfiring effect, in which we end up overeating these foods due to the experience of physical and psychological deprivation. Developing a healthy relationship with food involves being able to interact with all kinds of food in a healthy way. It means moving past feared foods and and food rules.

I recently came across an eating disorder treatment program that advertises that it's food plan requires patients to "abstain from 'junk food,'" "eliminate highly processed foods," and "weigh and measure portions" while in treatment.

In my opinion, barring certain foods and requiring the weighing/measuring of foods is contraindicated with eating disorder recovery. In treatment, patients should be exposed to a variety of foods and should not be allowed to engage in food calculations and calibrations - these behaviors are symptomatic of the disorder itself and the goal of treatment is to extinguish them.

Referring to less nutritious food as "junk food" reinforces the eating-disorder mentality and eliminating certain foods in treatment doesn't teach patients how to interact with these foods, a required skill in the real world.

Food isn't the problem. It's our relationship to it that becomes distorted and dysfunctional. The more we demonize food, the more we prevent ourselves from cultivating a healthy relationship.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Shame in Advertising

By now, you've probably heard of Gap's Twitter fiasco, in which the clothing retailer landed itself in an uncommon, too-skinny debate after tweeting this photo last week:

The internet erupted with comments like “Seriously, @Gap? In what world do people look like this?” The model was referred to as "a pencil in plaid," and some claimed she needed to eat a cheeseburger.

Body image defenders swooped in to defend Gap's choice and accused online commenters of skinny-shaming the plaid-clad model. Many cited skinny-shaming as just as painful and dangerous as shaming those on the other side of the weight spectrum. 

And it's true, these comments are hurtful and misinformed. I'd love to live in a world where we refrained from judging and criticizing each other's bodies - period. 

But, this has nothing to do with this particular model's body. All she did was put in a day at the office. Oddly, I read five articles on this subject, and I couldn't even locate the model's name. It just reinforces the idea that no one's really interested in her.

What we need to do is step back and look at the larger context. If clothing companies routinely featured models of varying weights, the Gap ad would likely have fallen through the cracks - the model's body understood as yet another iteration of body assortment, rather than an exemplar of female beauty. Most clothing companies, however, widely promote our culture's thin ideal. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that says only five percent of American females are naturally shaped like the models we see in advertising (arguably an even smaller percentage when compared to the ultra-thin Gap model), and yet advertising sells us this ideal - at all costs.

We need to see more body diversity in the media and in advertising. We need to understand that certain images, when insufficiently balanced by others, can dangerously normalize eating disorders. And we need to recognize that the Gap controversy isn't about the skinny-shaming of a too-thin, nameless model but about an industry that perniciously thrives on selling an unrealistic, unattainable ideal. Here's where the shame lies.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at

Monday, August 04, 2014

Defining Plus-Size

Plus-size model Robyn Lawley made waves on the internet a couple of weeks ago by posting an unedited, bikini-clad photo of herself on Instagram:

Photo: Robyn Lawley/Instagram

The controversy? That Lawley is defined as plus-size.

Many were outraged that the tall, thin model could ever be considered too curvy or heavy for "normal-size" modeling. But the lanky (6'2"!), Size 12 beauty is certainly plus-size when you consider that the average American model wears a Size 0 and that Size 6 is often considered plus-size.

So, yes, Lawley is thin and yes, she's plus-size. In an industry where skinny is lauded at all costs, where models' "flaws" are airbrushed into oblivion, and where Size 000 now exists, Lawley, though thinner than the average American woman, is simply too big for mainstream modeling.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Changing the Conversation

In a recent Nutrisystem commercial, Marie Osmond asserts: "As women, we always talk about how we should look or what’s the best way to lose weight."

Is this the conversation all of us are having? Are we all conspiring around this goal? And if so, what we can do to challenge it?

The truth is, it's spot on for many of us. Some women are engaged in evolving dialogues that have nothing to do with weight or shape. But it's sometimes challenging to get women from the first group to the second.

In a recent interview, a reporter asked me for tips on what else women can talk about if we're to ditch fat and diet talk. My tip is, there are no tips - because the answer is infinite - if we remove fat/diet talk from our language, we get to talk about everything else.

Women have so much more to talk about than food and weight. We have jobs and families and hopes and ideas, feelings and interests and beliefs. If we remove fat and weight talk from our dialogues, we're freed up to talk about anything else - everything else - to explore and create and connect in a deeper way, and ultimately, to be more of our authentic selves.

And shouldn't this be the goal?

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Unconditional Body Acceptance

One thing that's struck me recently in the body image world is a sort of conditional body acceptance in the first-person narratives I've read - let me explain. . . .

I accept my body after baby - the weight and stretch marks and scars and marks - because I created and hosted the miracle of life.

I accept my wrinkles and sags as I age, as they tell the story of my long and winding journey.

While these stories are often poignant and certainly move our dialogue along, a tacit message is, I'm okay with my imperfections, but only because I've carried a baby or arrived at a certain age. 

But here's the thing: You don't need to have a baby or be of a certain age or accomplish or endure anything else to explain away a feature on your frame. Belly fat is okay with or without child and lines and wrinkles can pop up at any age. In the words of Sonya Renee Taylor, "The body is not an apology." Make no bones about it.

The rimples and dips and creases and puckers, the swelling, distention, flab and fat that your body naturally houses - you don't need an excuse.

Your body is okay.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

10 Things I Wish the Public Knew About Eating Disorders

Dr. Ed Tyson, a medical doctor who specializes in treating eating disorders in Austin, Texas, recently wrote an article, entitled, "Ten Things I Wish Physicians Would Know About Eating Disorders."

Inspired by this piece, I've compiled my own list of ten things I wish the public knew about eating disorders:

1) Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. You cannot guess if someone has eating disorder by looking at him/her. This goes for body type, race, gender, etc. (Side note: Someone who's average weight or heavy could have a restrictive eating disorder - and not the binge/compulsive/emotional eating disorder you might think - don't assume behaviors based on size.)

2) An eating disorder is not a desirable condition of glamour or restraint. It is a mental illness in which a disorder takes control of a person's thoughts, emotions, behaviors - and life.

3) Eating disorders are not about vanity or simply the internalization of society's thin ideal. Yes, our culture's thin ideal can play a big part in triggering an eating disorder (which is why I fight so hard against it), but there are other factors (genetic and constitutional) that increase susceptibility to eating disorders. The thin ideal also plays an unfortunate backdrop for eating disorder recovery - another reason I work so hard to challenge it.

4) There are other ways to purge (in bulimia nervosa) outside of vomiting. Some patients abuse laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or engage in excessive exercise - and some compensate for binges by significantly restricting their food outside of the binges - all can constitute bulimia.

5) There are evidence-based treatment approaches for eating disorders. These are treatment modalities that have been proven effective in research studies. Such treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy, family- based treatment, and dialectical behavior therapy. Seek out providers who practice evidence-based treatment.

6) Along these lines, seek out providers who are licensed professionals and who have experience and expertise in eating disorders. Life coaches, health coaches, personal trainers, etc. are not equipped to deal with serious psychiatric disorders.

7) Diets, including juicing, cleansing, and other plans, are not recommended for the treatment of eating disorders. Cutting out specific foods or food groups is contraindicated for eating disorder recovery. Same goes for 12-step programs that prescribe diets or similarly limit food intake.

8) School practices, such as BMI reporting and class weight-loss or calorie-counting assignments, can trigger pathology in those who are susceptible.

9) Disordered eating can be painful and self-destructive, even if it never shifts into a full-blown disorder. Let's take disordered eating and other eating disorders (besides the most talked about) seriously.

10) It is possible to recover from an eating disorder. The sooner someone gets treatment, the better the chances at full recovery. Recovery, though, is not linear, nor something to perfect. It might be a long and windy road, and life can happen along the way.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Freedom Is. . .

Inspired by Independence Day - what does freedom from food and body concerns look like to you? Feel free to add to my list of 20. . . .
  1. Allowing yourself to eat when you're hungry.
  2. Allowing yourself to stop when you're full.
  3. Recognizing these functions are a work in progress.
  4. Saying "yes" to a variety of foods, including those that used to be off-limits.
  5. Prioritizing food flexibility as a goal.
  6. Ignoring the latest diet trends (including _______-free, juicing, cleansing, etc.), recognizing they do more harm than good.
  7. Giving yourself permission to make mistakes.
  8. Learning from setbacks.
  9. Exercising when you feel healthy and capable but not when you're sick or tired.
  10. Learning to appreciate the benefits of movement when it isn't tied to a specific weight goal.
  11. Tossing clothing that no longer fits without any self-reproach.
  12. Treating your body well, despite the fact that it might not be your ideal body.
  13. Saying "yes" to people and opportunities, despite how you feel about your body.
  14. "Zooming out" from fixations on weight and shape - regarding yourself and others.
  15. Finding a life purpose greater than maintaining a particular weight or size.
  16. Refraining from comparisons - your body may need more or less food than someone else's and it may also be naturally bigger or smaller than someone else's. 
  17. Ditching the scale, the measuring tape, the skinny jeans, the mirror, or any other external means of tearing down or validating yourself. 
  18. Building yourself up due to other attributes outside of your weight and shape.
  19. Surrounding yourself with people who also want to be free.
  20. Accepting where you are, wherever you are, while recognizing you are still capable of growth and change.

You can find Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder? Challenging Our Nation's Fixation with Food and Weight on Amazon (as a paperback and Kindle) and at