How to Honor Your True Hungers

We’re all born with a strong connection to and innate trust in our hunger cues, but diet culture and other experiences of trauma can disconnect us from those internal signals, to the point that we create a relationship of distrust between our brains and our bodies. 

Over time, the more we ignore our hunger (or are unable to honor it for whatever reason), the more we erode our bodies’ abilities to trust us.

That’s why eating enough is so important in recovering from deprivation—because it helps our bodies learn to trust us again.

And by the way, even if you think you eat “too much” by way of bingeing, there’s actually an underlying environment of lack, of not-enough. Binge eating is a response to deprivation, not a matter of willpower.

So when you practice responding to your hunger at even the subtlest levels, every bite you take helps you heal from the trauma of deprivation.

It shows your body that it’s safe, that you’re no longer in a famine, and that it can start to relax around food.

What if you don’t have any hunger cues to honor? That actually means your body needs even more TLC, even more consistent eating, in order to come back from the deprivation that was imposed upon it.

It means your body was so deprived that it basically stopped even trying to get its needs met, like a neglected child who knows their cries won’t be heard.

So for you, too, the solution is showing your body that it won’t be deprived anymore, and that means eating consistent meals and snacks, even if you don’t feel hunger cues.

When you recover from deprivation in this way, slowly you’ll start to rebuild trust with your body, and eventually you’ll get back to the place of being able to recognize and honor your hunger the way you were born doing.

For all of us, the key to the process of healing from deprivation is feeding ourselves, both literally and figuratively:

Literally, you need to FEED YOURSELF FOOD—enough of it in general, and a wide enough variety that you can feel full, satisfied, content, and not deprived of the things your body needs and your mind wants.

And then figuratively, you need to feed yourself anti-diet resources to unlearn diet culture’s rules and re-learn how to feel and trust your body’s innate wisdom about food and movement.

You need to stop reflexively filling your mind with “diet food” and start nourishing it with truth.

When we consistently feed ourselves in these ways, we let our bodies and our brains know that we won't be depriving them of food any longer.

Once they trust us again, they can relax, and we can reclaim the peaceful relationship with food we were born with.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

It’s a repost of my conversation with Rachel Estapa, a size-acceptance advocate, yoga teacher, and the founder of More to Love Yoga.

We discuss the connection between physical and emotional hunger, why diet culture's promise to "fix" us is so alluring, and why rediscovering our true loves and desires in life is essential to recovery from dieting.

Rachel also shares how the practice of yoga helped show her the path to body liberation, how an acute illness led to an unexpected truce with her body, and lots more.

Tune in to the episode now to hear this great conversation—and if you're celebrating Labor Day today, I’m wishing you a happy one!

Here’s to honoring ALL your hungers, 
Christy

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What Is Diet Culture?

If you're familiar with my work, then you know I'm all about dismantling diet culture. But what exactly is diet culture? It's a term that gets thrown around in anti-diet spaces without a lot of unpacking, but it's incredibly important to understand so that we can recognize how it's showing up in our lives and fight back. Here's how I define it:


My Definition of Diet Culture

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that:

  • Worships thinness and equates it to health and moral virtue, which means you can spend your whole life thinking you’re irreparably broken just because you don’t look like the impossibly thin “ideal.”
  • Promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, which means you feel compelled to spend a massive amount of time, energy, and money trying to shrink your body, even though the research is very clear that almost no one can sustain intentional weight loss for more than a few years.
  • Demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others, which means you’re forced to be hyper-vigilant about your eating, ashamed of making certain food choices, and distracted from your pleasure, your purpose, and your power.
  • Oppresses people who don't match up with its supposed picture of “health,” which disproportionately harms women, femmes, trans folks, people in larger bodies, people of color, and people with disabilities, damaging both their mental and physical health. 

Diet culture doesn't just mean “being on a diet,” because you don't have to follow any sort of official diet to be caught up in the culture of dieting.

Moreover, some people may eat in a way that they refer to as a diet for legit medical reasons (e.g. diagnosed celiac disease, diabetes, etc.) and not actually be engaging in diet culture (which, I should add, is very rare and hard to do, since diet culture has its tentacles all up in the medical field).  

I've worked with hundreds of people who think they're not dieting, but when we dig into their relationship with food, they realize that they're pursuing “wellness” or “health” in a way that looks veeeeeery much like a diet. 

That's a form of diet culture that I call The Wellness Diet, and it's rampant in the 21st century. “Clean eating,” detoxes, cleanses, the overuse of elimination diets, carb restriction, gluten phobia, “ancestral” diets, and performative health all fall under the umbrella of The Wellness Diet. The weight-stigma aspect of diet culture may be de-emphasized in some iterations of The Wellness Diet, but the moralization and demonization of food is front and center.  

There are many other forms of diet culture, too. It's a sneaky, shape-shifting thing that robs people of their time, money, health, happiness, and so much more, which is why I've nicknamed it The Life Thief. It can be hard to spot, and yet in Western culture, it's everywhere. 

To learn more about diet culture, how to recognize it, and how you can reclaim your life from it, check out some of my writing on the subject, and tune in to my podcast, Food Psych. I'm also working on a book about diet culture that's coming out in 2019, so be sure to check back here for more info, or pop your email address in the form below to stay in the loop.

Diet culture is a form of oppression, and dismantling it is essential for creating a world that's just and peaceful for people in ALL bodies.

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What Diet Culture Gets Wrong About Health

Food is so much more than nutrition.

When we eat, our bodies don’t just absorb nutrients and move on.

The act of eating is a complex experience, and it involves a lot more than just giving our cells energy (although of course giving them *enough* energy is essential, otherwise you end up in this situation).

Food is also about satisfaction and socialization and community.

It’s about pleasure and flavor and tradition.

It’s about creativity and connection.

It’s about SO much more than the nutrients. In fact, nutrition is just one small paragraph in the story of how food has functioned throughout human history. 

But The Wellness Diet—the modern guise of diet culture that pretends to be all about “wellness”—looks at food only in terms of nutrition, of physical health.

That completely misses the major role that food plays in mental health and well-being.

This negation of the mental and emotional aspects of food belies The Wellness Diet’s claim to be about “holistic” health.

*True* holistic health means considering your mental well-being just as much as you do your physical health. 

If your mentality about food and movement makes you feel obsessive and anxious rather than nourished, then I don’t care how much kale you’re eating, you’re NOT actually supporting your health.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

It's a repost of one of our all-time fan favorites, in which religious scholar Alan Levinovitz and I discuss how diet culture turns nutrition into a religion, totally negating the mental and emotional aspects of health.

We also discuss why “food as medicine” prescriptions should come with a warning label just like medications, why you don’t need to listen to diet culture’s fearmongering about gluten, and so much more.

Check it out here to see why this is one of our most beloved episodes of all time, and be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode!

Here’s to TRULY holistic health, 
Christy

P.S. If you’re ready to heal your relationship with food and your body, come check out my intuitive eating online course and community. It’ll help you break free from diet culture, so that you can care for your well-being in a real way—mind, body, and soul.

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What Diet-Culture Recovery *Really* Looks Like

I’m back from my honeymoon, although I must admit I never wanted it to end.

We were in Oahu, which was incredible and romantic and such a needed recharge—I was also off social media for 2 weeks, which seriously gave me life—but also occasionally messy and imperfect and unpredictable, like life itself.

I could just tell you about the gorgeous parts, which far outweighed the messy ones, but as my brilliant pal Jes Baker points out in her latest book, Landwhale (which I finished devouring by a pool), being a diet-culture-recovery advocate who never shares their messiness can lead to unrealistic expectations of what recovery really looks like.

It can make people think life in recovery is 100% sunshine and rainbows, which it most certainly is not (although the sunshine-and-rainbows-to-gloominess ratio is definitely WAY higher than it was in the throes of diet culture).

So instead, I’ll tell you about our trip to the breathtaking Hanauma Bay, the island’s top snorkeling spot, where I had a mild panic attack when I couldn’t figure out how to breathe through my snorkel at first.

And I’ll tell you about the unbelievable view of the Pacific from our balcony at the resort (thanks to my in-laws for hooking that up), where I had another panic attack when a giant bug wandered onto the scene.

I’ll tell you about how I ate a dodgy room-temperature Spam Musubi because it was delicious and I pride myself on eating anything, but soon thereafter I got terrible food poisoning, which then led to a crying jag because being sick freaks me the f*** out.

I’ll tell you about the time I sat on the beach with a piña colada, trying to get my happy vibes back after seeing our professional wedding photos for the first time and having a moment of body-image BS from diet culture—because even the most ardent anti-diet activists sometimes have bad body-image days.

And I’ll tell you about Fumi’s, our favorite shrimp truck in Kahuku, a super fun day trip where my husband did all the driving because I’ve recently developed major anxiety about my own ability to drive on freeways, for obscure PTSD-related reasons that I’m still untangling.

So lest I ever come across as having it all together, let me assure you that I do not 😂 I love my life more than ever these days, AND sometimes I still have mental-health challenges just like anyone else.

I share this to show that all of us, no matter how far we’ve come or what we do for a living, are human.

We all have our stories, and we all have our reasons for going into the careers we do.

When it comes to those of us who make anti-diet activism our life’s work, many of us have gone through our own history of disordered eating and body shame, and we’re forever changed by that experience.

Once we get to a place of peace with food and our bodies (which includes the occasional bad body-image day, because, again, not 100% sunshine and rainbows), we feel pulled to help other people get there, too.

That’s what drove my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych to the work she does now.

These days Fiona Willer is a badass anti-diet dietitian from Australia who lectures at universities all about Health at Every Size, but as a teenager and young adult she struggled with body shame and binge eating.

She shares how her efforts at “clean eating” only made the problem worse, how learning about mindfulness helped her heal her own relationship with food and her body, and what it’s like to be a lecturer teaching a radically different paradigm than her students are used to.

We also talk about how scientists are human, too, and how it affects the outcome and interpretation of research when their perspectives are influenced by diet culture (as most are in our society).

It’s a great episode, and I know you’ll love Fiona as much as I do, so be sure to check it out here or wherever you get your podcasts!

Here’s to recovery, in all its messy glory, 
Christy

P.S. If you’re craving support and guidance from fellow humans on your journey to peace with food and your body, come check out my intuitive eating online course and community. It’ll help you break free from diet culture so that you can get back to living your life—ups, downs, and all.

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Why You Actually *Aren't* What You Eat

I wanted to stand up and applaud when my guest on this week’s episode of Food Psych, Sarah Thompson, said this: 

“Our relationship with food is more important than the food that we put in our body.” 

It’s so true: What we eat really doesn't matter as much as diet culture leads us to believe. 

I know, especially coming from a dietitian, that might sound radical. 

Really, though, our health is largely determined by genetics, socioeconomic status, experiences of oppression and discrimination, and a whole host of other things that are largely or entirely beyond our control. 

Those social determinants of health have a lot more to do with our outcomes than whether or not we eat the amount of kale and chia seeds currently prescribed by The Wellness Diet.

Sure, nutrition is important in the sense that we need to have ENOUGH food, and a wide enough variety of foods, to keep our bodies biologically satisfied and nourished. 

Of course those things can play a role in our overall well-being.

But a balanced relationship with food—and a balanced LIFE—is about so much more than just nutrition. 

Our relationship with food is more important than the food that we put in our body.
— Sarah Thompson

It's about connection, relationships, satisfaction, pleasure, and purpose.

Our mental health has a huge effect on our overall health and well-being, and we tend to forget that amid all the “you are what you eat” rhetoric swirling around in diet culture.

You actually *aren’t* what you eat. You are so much more. 

By reducing us down to what we eat, diet culture negates our ideas and passions and goals. 

It negates our relationships and connections and pleasure

It negates that little voice within, observing the world around us as well as our own feelings and desires, and doing the best it can to care for us.

It negates our intuition.   

Obsessing over food and exercise and struggling with disordered eating or chronic dieting is *not* health-promoting. And it has a much larger and longer-lasting negative impact on our health than any of the foods our culture has demonized.

So it's time to stop looking at food as the be-all-end-all of health. 

You actually *aren’t* what you eat. You are so much more.
— Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CDN

That's what Sarah and I talked about on this week’s episode.

She shares how pursuing a training program in naturopathic and Chinese medicine led her down a dangerous path of restrictive and disordered eating—anything but the holistic wellness these programs promised.  

We also discussed how she was able to start trusting her body again, and start focusing on *truly* holistic well-being—including the mental, emotional, and social components. 

Plus, she shares why naturopathic and Chinese medicine don’t need to be as far removed from Health at Every Size and intuitive eating as they are right now in western culture, and how people practicing in the alternative-health field can become important allies to the anti-diet movement. 

(By the way, this interview is the one I recorded in a closet on my trip to San Francisco—tune in to see how my MacGyvered solution to a noisy hotel room turned out!)

Here’s to everything that you are,

Christy

P.S. If you’re ready to heal your relationship with food and break free from The Wellness Diet, come join my intuitive eating online course and community. It’ll help you get back in touch with your body’s innate wisdom about food, so that you can get back to all the infinitely more important aspects of your life—because you really are so much more than what you eat. 

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