83: Giving Up Dieting and Exploring Health at Every Size
Nutrition Matters Podcast first explored the Health At Every Size paradigm in episode 41. In this episode with Meredith Noble, we take on the topic of HAES a second time, exploring it in even more depth than the first time. Together, we answer common questions about the HAES paradigm and attempt to dispel myths and misunderstandings about its scope and mission.
Meredith Noble is a coach who helps plus-size people find food and body peace. Her practice combines Health at Every Size and intuitive eating philosophies. With her compassion and expertise, her clients learn how to feel more comfortable in their skin, be at ease around food, and leave toxic diet culture behind.
“If you’ve been made on a generous plan, you have qualities that littleness can never possess. Who with any authority has said that slender persons are of the best type? Only carry yourself well, be reposeful and stately, with a brain that sits supremely on the throne of your being, and you may come into your kingdom of power and love.”
- Beauty of Form and Grace of Vesture, 1892
Meredith's post about how she understands why people want to lose weight
Paige's article exploring what the word "healthy" actually means
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Well, hello everyone! Welcome back to another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. My name is Paige Smathers and I’m your host. And as always, I’m really excited about sharing this particular conversation with you all today. Today, I’m sharing my conversation that I had with Meredith Noble. Meredith is a coach who works with plus sized people incorporating the ideas of the health at every size and intuitive eating models into helping people heal their relationships with food. She has a particular interest and expertise in the arena of resiliency and it’s so fun to hear her talk about that. As well as her really interesting approach to health and the idea of health at every size. So, today in this conversation, I sit down with Meredith and we talk all about health at every size. We ask some of the burning questions that I know a lot of you might have about it. If you’ve ever wrestled with the idea of health at every size, maybe you’re a little bit confused about what it is and what it isn’t. Maybe there’s elements of it you love and elements of it that are hard for you to understand, this episode is for you.
So, Meredith and I tackle the things we hear most often and the responses people give about the paradigm of health at every size. So, we ask the tough questions and don’t even hold back in responding honestly and truthfully and candidly in regards to this really important idea of health at every size. So, I’m really super excited that I was able to have Meredith on the show. We were able to be honest and candid in our back and forth with each other and I really appreciated that about her and I learned a lot from this conversation myself.
So, before we get into that, just a couple of things. As always if you like what you hear on the podcast, you’re more than welcome to join us in the Nutrition Matters Podcast community on Facebook, where we have a bit more of an intimate setting where sometimes I pop in there and do Facebook lives and connect with you that way. Also discussing episodes and having a community of like minded people can always be fun! So, join us there if you’d like to and also if you like what you hear on the podcast and want to take things a little further with healing your relationship with food, you’re always welcome to join my online course, which you can find on paigesmathersrd.com/course. And this is an online course. It’s 10 weeks long and instead of one giant leap into intuitive eating, it’s helping you take some stepping stones along the way to get there. And this course has been a lot of fun. People have had such great responses to it. It’s been really great so far. So if you’re at all curious, I encourage you to check it out and see if it might be a good fit for you. And if you have any questions, you’re more than welcome to reach out to see if we can have a chat and see if it’s a good fit for you as well. So, with that, let’s get into talking with Meredith Noble, again, a coach who helps plus sized people find peace with food, incorporating ideas of health at every size as well as intuitive eating. Also, from a feminist perspective as well as a fat acceptance and social justice perspective. So, enjoy this episode and feel free to reach out and let me know what you think of it in the Facebook group if you’d like! Alright, let’s listen to Meredith.
Welcome Meredith Noble to the Nutrition Matters Podcast! I’m super excited to chat with you today!
Meredith: Me too! Thanks so much for having me.
Paige: You’re welcome! So, let’s go ahead and start with some of the basics. Get to know you a little bit. Tell people about how you got into this line of work originally and initially.
Meredith: Yeah! I came through quite a different path than a lot of others who do this work. I came to it from personal experience. I struggled with my weight since age 13 or so and I never really dieted, but I did watch what I ate and eventually what happened was, in my mid 20s, a doctor said “you need to lose weight for your health.” She said “Weight Watchers is the only way I know to do that safely.” She said “go off to Weight Watchers and lose weight.” And that was only the first time I was like, “oh my God! I need to do some about this.” Until then, it was like “oh God, I’m plus sized and that’s uncomfortable and people judge people for being plus sized.” So, I dutifully went off to Weight Watchers and I lost a bunch of weight. And I thought all was well and good, but the closer I got to my goal weight, the more I started having these uncontrollable cravings. And I ended up experiencing severe bingeing problems at that point. I would “eat well” all day, and then at night, I would lose all control. And it was this massive source of shame for me. I hid it from everyone I knew.
Paige: Can you tell us about that a little bit? This is such a common thing that I see. Where you’re “eating well” all day, which kind of translates to hardly anything, right? And then at night, you’re surprised and shocked like “woah! Why am I feeling out of control with food? Why do I just feel like I cannot stop? Why does one thing lead to another?” Did you understand the dynamic of “maybe I’m just not feeding myself enough throughout the day?” How did you internalize that that was going on? It’s kind of scary.
Meredith: Yeah. That thought never occurred to me. I was just like “well, this is what my doctor told me to do and therefore, the problem is me. The problem is not the diet. I don’t have enough willpower. I’m not trying hard enough.” It never occurred to me that it was because I wasn’t eating enough. And that was the source of the shame. I saw all these other people succeeding and no one was talking about this as a possible side effect. And so I just kept it so hidden because it felt like it was marking me as a weak person in some way. And like I said, I didn’t even tell my partner. I would have a drawer of candy in my desk and he would come into the room and I would shove things down and hide them. And if I didn’t have anything in the house, I would binge on just whatever was available. If it was Cheerios, okay, I’m gonna binge on Cheerios.
Paige: So, before the diet, before Weight Watchers, did you have a binge eating situation?
Meredith: No. I didn’t. It was completely the diet that did it to me.
Paige: This is like such a common story, right? Where you’re trying to be so “good” and you’re told to do and next thing you know you feel even more out of control around food. You have more issues than you did, before you even started, and now you’re feeling “I can’t trust myself. I’m ashamed of myself.” Confidence [issues]. And for a lot of people, what that does is it just makes themselves think “I need more rules. I need more boundaries.” And it only brings you further and further down that rabbit hole.
Meredith: Totally. And I ended up hiring a personal trainer and would be in the gym for many hours at a time, more than one should be there. And I remember thinking for a while, “thank goodness I’m working out so hard, because if not, I’d be putting on weight with all of these extra binges that I’m doing.”
Paige: And you never connected those binges to dieting.
Meredith: No! Now when I look bad I go, “oh my God! How was that..” I even I felt I got to the point I was so out of control. Just to be clear, this was probably 12-ish years ago before people started talking a lot more openly about this stuff. I ended up going to a therapist. And he brought up the idea that “sometimes, people do this because they’re not eating enough. Do you think that’s a possibility?” And I was like “no! How could that possibly be a possibility? Because this is what I’m being told to eat!” Basically, medically supervised, that was sort of how I perceived it. And I remember completely dismissing it. And he didn’t go any further than that. He was also really stuck on “okay, let’s do cognitive behavioral therapy and try to heal your emotions” and all of these things. And later on, as soon as I stopped restricting, in terms of physically restricting and not letting myself eat food, but also emotionally restricting, as in feeling guilty about the food. As soon as all that stopped, the bingeing went away.
Paige: Oh, I love that distinction! And I’ve definitely thought about that too. Where, sometimes, people are not really physically restricting their food, but they have a mindset that’s so restrictive, that it’s no different, right? It’s the same whether you’re actually “succeeding” with not eating those foods that you’re restricting. But, some people, end up overeating, eating more than they’d ever want to with that food, but then they’re still in that mindset. Which is just as dangerous! Leads to just as risky of behaviors and chaos with food.
Meredith: Yeah. And unhappiness and shame.
Paige: Right! All of that too
Meredith: Basically, what happened, was eventually I realized “okay, Weight Watchers is not good for me. This is not good. They’re making me do all these things that are not good for me.” Then I was all “oh! I’ll just eat clean. And eat whole foods.” And I went through this litany of coaches and programs. And eventually, I was like “I can’t do this anymore.” It got to the point where I was eating whatever I wanted. But I was still bingeing. The key was the emotional restriction. Because, I was still feeling bad about the choices I was making even though I was letting myself eat what I wanted.
Paige: Well, that’s interesting. So you did experience both. Where you were physically restricting and emotionally restricting and then once you gave the physical restriction up, you still had some work to do with the emotional restricting side. How did you do that?
Meredith: Thankfully, that was when I discovered the concept of Health At Every Size. And I just feel so tremendously grateful that I came upon this paradigm because I worked with some wonderful people in the field and they taught me about emotional restriction and the concept of creating full allowance. You know, letting yourself eat everything and feeling good about those choices and not guilty about them. And that was when it was like “oh my God! Why doesn’t everyone know this?” I started eating intuitively. And it was just so profoundly life changing for me. I was so primed for it. I was ready for it. And then it was like once I learned those basic concepts, all the dominoes toppled and it was like “oh my God! This is it!”
Paige: So, I’m really curious to hear what you mean by primed and ready for it. Because, maybe someone listening is wondering “oh, am I ready for that? What do I need to do to be ready if I’m not already ready?”
Meredith: Yeah. I love that question. Thank you for asking that! I think that’s a really good point. The reason I was ready at the time was because I’d already reached the point of “okay, diets are not working for me.” And I was very aware that all the things I tried were just making me miserable. I was ready and looking for that solution that didn’t involve dieting in some way. And personally, at the time, I thought this is all about my emotions. I just need to process my emotions and then I won’t eat emotionally and I won’t binge anymore. Which was mistaken. Once I discovered health at every size, I realized that wasn’t true. Basically, I was already at that point where “what I’m doing is not working.”
Paige: So like diet rock bottom?
Meredith: Exactly. And the book, Intuitive Eating, they say “diet bottom.” And that was pretty much where I was. And I don’t believe that people necessarily have to be exactly there. But, health at every size is such a counter cultural paradigm that it’s very helpful if you can have perspective on your own experience, like “this hasn’t been working and I’m ready to try something different.”
Paige: Yeah. I noticed that too with my clients. The ones that are 100% convinced that “diets do not work. They send me the places that I don’t want to be.” Those are the people that I see as being ready to hear some of these things that are so counter cultural but can be really difficult to hear. The ones that this idea of “well but, my neighbor tried X thing and that worked!” When you have that thought in your mind that “Ooo, I don’t know. Maybe diets do work.” I think it’s very hard to do this whole thing of “okay, I’m going to trust my body.” To be the right body when I treat it the way that it’s right to treat it. The way that’s best for me. If I take good care of my body through all different aspects of myself. Just trusting that it will communicate and it will look and be and feel and everything the right way for you in your body.
Meredith: Yeah. Exactly. And it’s not like there’s no room for ambivalence. You have people who are super ambivalent all the time and can help them along this path and even when I started, in the back of my mind, one of my former coaches was doing this new thing and I remember working with my intuitive eating coach saying “what do you think about what this lady is doing? Do you think maybe that’s the secret?” and we had a session where we went through and debunked all the claims that this other person was saying would lead to thinness. There’s room for all of that and I definitely understand ambivalence. It’s just helpful if you’re closer to realizing that these diets are not working for you.
Paige: And another thing that’s popping up in my mind is that I’ve seen a lot of people feel very angry when they realize all of their best efforts and all the things that they’ve been told from various people in their lives - whether it’s their doctor, their parents, whatever it might be. They realize that all of that’s just actually perpetuating unhealthiness. Unhealthiness, not meaning size, just an unhealthy relationship with food, an unhealthy mindset, an unhealthy mental status as well. When you realize that, that can really make some people angry and I totally get that. But, what I’m hearing you say, Meredith, is that and I think that this is a really cool point, is that maybe there’s purpose to all of those experiences you’ve had? It’s proof to you “okay, this isn’t going to work.” Here’s an analogy I have. I love analogies. So, I was kind of grateful that I had a terrible time dating. I really didn’t enjoy dating at all. I dated a lot of jerk people. And once I got married, I realized that that was actually kind of good. Because I don’t look back and think “I wish I could be dating! That was so much fun!” I am so grateful that I’m not doing that. Right? I don’t know if that makes any sense or if that matters. But, that’s just how I think about it. It gives purpose and meaning to all of your experiences to send you to this place where you really are sure. Or maybe, like you said, a touch of ambivalence, but you’re pretty convinced that dieting isn’t where you want to be.
Meredith: Yeah. I love that analogy! I think all of our experiences lead us to a certain point in time. And I discovered health at every size at exactly the right moment for me and some people may discover it and then want to try a few other things first and then eventually come back to it. But, that seed has been planted in the very least. And they’ll come to it when the time is right for them. And when they feel totally convinced.
Paige: Yeah! So health at every size has a lot of misconceptions. I’ve done an entire episode on it, but maybe some people haven’t listened or maybe this is someone’s first time hearing that term. So, just in case that is, I would love to hear your take on what that means for you. When you say you discovered health at every size, what does that mean to you and how do you apply it to your life?
Meredith: Yeah! I think there’s many different components to it. And I think a lot of people just look at the name and go “oh! Are they trying to say that everyone can be healthy no matter what their size?” So, health at every size to me is a compassionate approach to well-being. And it uses many different principles, one of which is that we can tell someone’s health status just by looking at the size of their body. And that just because you are in a larger body, doesn’t mean you are necessarily unwell or destined for health complications. It’s also a social justice movement and it advocates that everyone regardless of body size is worthy of respect and dignity. Takes a new look on weight science and acknowledges the bias that’s inherent in a lot of weight science. And actually says when you look a little more closely at this data, it’s not as conclusively showing that weight is necessarily always bad for you. For me, it also encompasses the concepts of tuning into your body and that your body can guide the way. Both with regards to guiding you towards a way of eating. I use the concept of intuitive eating and tuning into your body’s intuition to help you figure out what to eat and when and in what amounts. And also the concept of joyful movement and tuning into your body and helping it guide the way. How you move your body and in what amounts and when and all of things as well. So, it’s multifaceted, I would say. Does that mesh with how you define it?
Paige: Yeah! Totally! I love everything you said. One thing I would add is - and this is how I explain it to some of my clients. I feel like this resonates with a lot of people. The idea that you don’t have to wait and I mean, W-A-I-T until a certain number on the scale to all of a sudden say, “okay, good! I’ve arrived at health!” There are so many flaws in that logic. The idea of you can adopt behaviors and patterns in your life that are healthy, no matter what your size is. And today! You can do that today! You don’t have to wait till some other size or some other number on the scale. And so I think it’s just a really powerful weight neutral approach to health that encompasses... It’s a compassionate approach. It has a social justice aspect to it that I think is really important and a lot of people don’t recognize that that’s a really important part of health at every size. It’s the fact that people in larger bodies are not treated the way that they should be treated. In the medical community, with jobs, I mean, there’s all kinds of research supporting the fact that there’s inequity there. It’s just a prejudice that we really don’t talk about as much as some other ones. But, it’s important.
Meredith: Yeah! I focus on helping plus size people in my practice for that exact reason. I feel like more emphasis needs to be put on the experience of people in larger bodies, plus sized people/fat people - I use the word “fat” all the time as simply a descriptor. And I agree. This is health at every size and we’re including everyone in the spectrum. From the smallest people to the biggest people in our society. And it can help everyone.
Paige: Yes. And I think fundamentally, it’s just saying “hey. There’s more to health than the number on the scale. And let’s pursue true, holistic, I know that that’s a tricky word, I mean, from lots of different angles and every aspect of who you are as a human being.” Pursue health with that and not just say “oh, it’s all about the number on the scale.” That’s just missing so much of what’s important about health.
Meredith: Yeah. Just going back to my story as an example, according to some people, when I was in my smallest body, that was at the peak of my health. But, I was emotionally miserable. I was also socially unwell. I wouldn’t go out to eat with people. I couldn’t go out and share an appetizer with my husband because I was worried about how many points that would take away from my daily total, and things like that. So, even if I was “physically healthy”, there were other parts - if you look at health as multidimensional, including emotional and social and spiritual health, etc., I was not well.
Paige: That is such an important point that I often actually draw a picture of for my clients. Where I draw a circle and then we draw different fractions. What parts of your life help you feel well? Getting a good night’s sleep? Drinking enough water? Having people to hang out with? Having a social life? Balanced nutrition, whatever that means? Different people do that differently. Moving my body. Just mentioning what are all the aspects of your life that make you feel whole and well. And visually, it’s important to understand and see “okay, nutrition is important, but it’s this little slice of that fraction, that pie chart.” And it’s a fraction of the pie chart, is what I’m trying to say. And it’s ironic. When people pursue health, they typically say that they need to eat a certain way and need to exercise way. And what’s ironic is that those pieces of the pie chart become so big, that they take over other aspects of what make you feel whole and well. So, this is what you’re describing. So, when you pursue “health” and you say “okay, I need to do this nutrition thing and I need to do this exercise thing,” but then all of a sudden, you don’t have enough time to get an adequate night’s sleep. Or you don’t feel comfortable or able to go out and socialize. You are not your whole healthy self.
Paige: That’s another important concept of this paradigm that really resonates with people. To help them understand that there’s just more to health than one little facet of that. Like yeah, we can look at that if you want to, and we can add that into the picture. But let’s take a holistic view of it and zoom out on the big picture of what makes you whole and well.
Meredith: Yeah. Exactly. And even though the word “health” is in health at every size, I tend to use the word well-being. Because it connotes that comfort and contentment in one’s being and one’s life….if we reclaim the word “health”, it can include those things. But it includes so many connotations currently that I’ve moved away from that word.
Paige: Totally understand where you’re coming from with that. I actually wrote an article about that very thing - what does the word “health” actually really mean? It’s so overused and misused, that it’s doesn’t mean anything anymore. We don’t really understand the true meaning. Well-being. That’s another really good word.
Meredith: Because I think health can also sometimes be taken as the absence of disease. You can pursue health at every size and have chronic illness. Or be disabled in some way. Or have all these other issues. It’s not meant to say everyone needs to be healthy at all costs. It’s saying health is a resource. It’s taking the morals out of health. Pursuing health is an option you have. It’s not like you don’t have access to it when you have a chronic illness.
Paige: That’s great point to bring up. Thank you for that! So what I’m hearing is, you had this whole journey with doctors and Weight Watchers and finally at the right moment in time there was this other way of being. Tell us about what you do these days with your stuff.
Meredith: Yeah! To complete that story. I’d been working in technology for 12-ish years at that point and I was, speaking of well-being, I was not. I was under a lot of stress and burned out in my tech job and this happened to coincide with me discovering health at every size. And I gained this new perspective. This holistic perspective of health. And I got up the courage to quit my job and take some time off and while I was in the middle of taking time off, I realized more people need to know about this concept. And at that point I said “okay, I’m changing careers. I’m going to leave tech. It’s not healthy for me.” I don’t think it’s healthy for a lot of people. And I started pursuing how to be a health at every size practitioner. Not having dietetics training, I decided to become a coach. And as I mentioned before, chose to focus on helping plus sized people, just because that’s what I identify as, and as I said before, I feel like plus sized people have unique needs and experiences with regards to body acceptance. And social stigma.
Paige: Talk about some of those unique needs and I’d love to hear what you commonly hear come up for the people that you work with and maybe some things that you have found really effective in helping people move forward.
Meredith: Yeah. I think the biggest thing is the more I got into this work, the more evident it became that until our culture changes, plus sized people are going to face stigmatization and discrimination in the world. It’s a little different coaching them because they’re experiences of sizeism and fatphobia is real. Whereas, what happens with smaller people is they’re not facing that ongoing discrimination. So, it’s about helping them heal their own internalized fatphobia. Helping them realize that they’re body is great as it is. But at the end of the day, no one’s going to be judging them harshly for once they’ve moved through this journey. My clients have to learn to be resilient in the face of the fatphobia that they experience every day.
Paige: So, if someone’s never heard of the term “fatphobia” - and they’re like “what is Meredith talking about?” I just try to keep my listeners in mind and just define that really quick and then I want to talk more about resilience because I think that’s amazing. I really like that word.
Meredith: Yeah. It is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. So fatphobia. Fear of fat. And we are taught in our society to fear fat above almost everything else. And when people in smaller bodies still think they need to lose weight because they’re afraid of being fat. And people who are in larger bodies can develop hatred of fat themselves. And that is what spurs on self loathing about being in a fat body. Is bad feelings about themselves for being fat. Like “I’m less worthy because I’m fat. I brought this upon myself.” Thoughts like that. That are just taught to us by our society. We are just swimming in those ideas.
Paige: I have to say that doing this work has helped me uncover and unpack some of the fact that I believe that a lot of my body image issues weren’t about things that were directly said to me. But, internalized fatphobia of people in my life who I loved. Without even knowing it and you’re not really able to verbalize “oh, this is what’s going on in my head.” But, in retrospect, I’ve realized that my internalized fatphobia made me think I just never ever want to be that. So, even though I am not now, I am just going to do all these things to make sure I never get there. Because that seems like that’s the worst thing ever. So, I’m hearing you and I’m explaining the situation not to talk about me, really, but to help anyone listening understand that just take a look at how you might have internalized fatphobia, regardless of your body shape or size. You’ve internalized that if you’ve lived in this world and maybe that can shed some light on any struggles that you maybe are currently dealing with or may have in the past.
Meredith: Yeah. Consider where those beliefs came from. I want to be clear. It’s no one’s fault for having these beliefs because they are indoctrinated in us from a very young age. From before we’re able to consent to having these ideas planted in our head. So it’s no one’s fault. But when you realize what’s going on, it can provide some useful perspective on “oh, it’s the culture that’s making me feel this way.” And I have the option to opt out. I don’t have to believe that fat is something to be feared. There is nothing inherently wrong with being in a bigger body. What we were talking about before with the health at every size concepts. Realizing that fatness doesn’t lead to poor health. That makes it possible for some people to start fearing it less. There’s just a lot of concepts in the social justice aspect of health at every size and fat acceptance that can make it possible to fear it less. I guess that’s basically what I’m trying to say.
Paige: There is such a thing as thin privilege, right? Me saying “oh, I’ve internalized fatphobia. And bla bla.” I understand that that’s a lot easier for me. To say “oh, I recognized that. I see how that played into my life. I can choose to opt out of that type of mentality.” I’ve only lived in one body. And obviously I’ve had my own experiences, but in your experience with the people that you’ve worked with and in your own live experience, do you feel like that “opting out” is more difficult for a person in a larger body? Because, you know, I don’t have to live with the prejudice everyday.
Meredith: Exactly. Giving up on dieting when you’re larger, I think, is a much bigger leap, is a much bigger risk to take because if you don’t have that hope of losing weight anymore, you have to acknowledge that you may be experiencing these incidents of fatphobia for the rest of your life. Or until the culture changes. Which, for those of us working in this field, are trying to change as much as we possibly can. But, realistically, it’s going to take a while before we can change that. Part of health at every size is also acknowledging that we don’t have any way of intentionally helping people lose weight. The fact that dieting can lead to long term weight loss is a myth. And we all believe it. I was able to lose a significant amount of weight for a short period of time. But, eventually, that weight came back on. And all the studies about dieting show that people are not able to maintain their weight loss for more than 2 to 5 years. That’s part of the picture too. Part of the work that I do is helping people realize that and helping them cope with the emotions that come up as a result.
Paige: It’s a pretty emotional thing.
Meredith: It is incredibly emotional. Especially in the context of a plus sized person who can’t escape the micro and macro aggressions about their size in their experience.
Paige: Absolutely. It’s no easy task. So you mentioned something that’s come up before when I’ve discussed these topics with my clients. You said something about letting go of hope or there’s no hope. That, for a lot of people, is a sticky spot. It’s hard to live without hope for something that you maybe, truly, do want. So how do you help someone navigate and negotiate “well in heart of hearts, I do hope for weight loss” let’s just say. How does a person navigate that?
Meredith: Yeah. I think that’s such an excellent question. It helps to piece apart how you want to feel and what you think that losing weight will accomplish for you. And see if you can achieve that in other ways. All of the studies may say that losing weight is not possible. But, that doesn’t mean that living an awesome life at whatever size you end up at, at the end of your particular journey.. It doesn’t mean that life can’t be amazing. There’s a lot of ways to question assumptions. A lot of people have things about like “I can’t do that because I’m fat.” Or “I can only do that when I get thin,” right? Questioning that. Is that really true? Can you really not have that now? Are you holding yourself back in some artificial way? Like I mentioned before, can you build up resiliency to incidents of fatphobia that you experienced so that you are less affected by them in the moment? And are able to stand firm and secure in who you are and that you feel good about yourself? Can you hold a community around you of other people who accept others no matter what size they are? And who can support you when you have struggles with your body positivity or health at every size concepts? Yes, you may have to mourn the idea of being in a thinner body. And that is a significant process and can take time and it’s not insignificant. But, you can have hope for all these other awesome things in your life. And being thin is not the only good way to feel good about yourself or celebrate your life.
Paige: Yeah, the topic of weight loss in the health at every size world is a big huge taboo. It’s something that is very hard to talk about and it can be so gimmicky. The phrase weight loss prey on vulnerable people. So, all you have to say is “I have the key to that” and people will shell out cash like it’s nobody’s business, right? So I understand the apprehension of talking about weight loss because it is such a tricky issue. But, for being realistic about “what are people googling? What are people thinking about? What are people being told by this society?” I know we’re trying to change that, but I think it’s great that you’re willing to talk about that. And to talk about “okay. How do we navigate the fact that there is no scientifically validated method for long term weight loss?” What do we do with that fact? On an individual basis. “What does that mean for me?” What does that mean for you?” How do we do this? I feel like I’m talking and talking and not making any sense. But, this is just a very difficult issue I see when people hear this concept of health at every size and say “okay, this sounds really great! So how do I lose weight with this?” This is kind of where people tend to go. So, I think it’s good to get it out in the open. To hit it on the head and to not dance around it and not be scared to talk about it because people are so used to hearing some type of plan or paradigm, or whatever you want to call it, and having the punch line be “and this is how you lose weight.” And so when it’s not really that and well, you might gain weight doing this. You might stay exactly the same. You also might lose weight. I don’t know. We’re neutral about the results of what happens with your body. Because, we’re honoring it fundamentally and trusting it will do what’s right for it with this approach. Does that make sense or am I rambling?
Meredith: No! That makes absolute sense. It is true that in most health at every size spaces online there’s rules about not talking about weight loss and things like that. And I believe in those rules in terms of I think that discussing it can be really triggering for people who are in that vulnerable, early days, of walking through this path. But I also work really hard to hold space for that desire and honor that desire in the people that I work with. Because, of course you want to lose weight. Everything in our society is telling us that you need to lose weight for a variety of reasons. Either just media messages or again, the populations that I serve, just personal experience of experiencing microaggressions and experiencing horrible health care. And people not taking you seriously. Or just blaming your fat on all of your health issues, right? I try to really emphasize to people that “I get it. I know why you feel this way. It makes perfect sense. It’s not your fault that you want this.”
Paige: And you don’t need to feel ashamed of that, right? That’s another thing that I hear all the time “okay, I’ve learned about these things. And they make a bunch of sense. In my heart of hearts, I still want to lose weight! But I feel ashamed of myself for that.” That really makes me so sad. This is definitely not intended to make you feel bad. Or feel ashamed. Let’s talk about that! You were in the middle of a thought. I don’t want to interrupt you..
Meredith: Oh no, I’m good.
Paige: I think that that’s actually a really important thing to hit on. This idea of “what if.” What if that’s still on my mind. I’m working through it and I feel ashamed of myself. Or I’m feeling shame as a result of that desire or that thought that keeps coming up for me. Any thoughts on resilience toward that?
Meredith: Yeah. I guess the thought that I was going to add, it just occured to me, it’s really unfortunate if people have almost negative reactions in response to this movement that is supposed to be a kind and compassionate one. I do agree, that sometimes those messages can be problematic and make things harder for people, which is not productive. In terms of individuals who are experiencing that, I would just go back to “you don’t need to feel ashamed of having these thoughts because literally everything in our society is oriented towards reinforcing that message.” Like, everything. Of course you feel that way. So you’re in a smaller body. You witness people in larger bodies being mistreated and of course you don’t want to be mistreated and of course, therefore, you want to be in a smaller body, right? If you’re in a larger body, you may have personal experience or with your friends, you know? Everyone has seen this happen and wants to avoid it for themselves. Of course, you want to be smaller! But, then we come back to the reality of unfortunately, we don’t have a way of making people smaller. We don’t have an immediate way of healing this culture or avoid the root problem of this, which is just mistreatment of fat people. Right? So then it’s about honoring that desire and then gradually helping people see that it is harming them in the long run to hold that desire and providing reassurance and evidence when helpful/necessary to help them move past that desire and see a. That it’s not necessary to lose weight to lead a good life and I just forgot my b!
Paige: That’s okay! I always forget my “b” I totally understand! I do that all the time! So, this is great. This is really, really great because I really feel like there is some dissonance for people sometimes. When they hear this message and then they’re like “well, what does that look like? What does that mean? If I’m not totally or able to wrap my head around this” I mean, you and are I have trouble even defining or talking about it and we both do this day in and day out. So if a person is feeling like they can’t wrap their head around this the first time they hear it, great! That’s no problem. Sit with that. Wrestle with it. Journal. Talk to a therapist. Talk to a health at every size oriented dietitian or coach or whoever about what you’re going through. And it’s not a terrible thing to have these thoughts that aren’t completely “in line with the paradigm.” It’s all about what’s healthy and right for you. And I really believe, if you sit with your thoughts and just be a little bit still and just pay attention to what’s coming up for you, and then when that thought comes up, “where does that lead me?” For example, if I’m thinking “I get all this. But, I still have this desire for weight loss.” Okay. Make sure that those shame thoughts stay away. Just look at that with curiosity and say “okay, when I have that thought in my head, how does my day go? What do I do? What choices do I make? What do I think about? How much do I interact and socialize with people? How willing am I to take that promotion at work? How willing am I to strike up a conversation with someone I don’t know?” You know? I would guarantee, that most people, if you’re being real honest with yourself, those thoughts of “okay, I really want to lose weight” come up into your brain, you’re probably not living the kind of life you want to live. That’s really taking over! And that’s again, if you’re looking at that whole picture of you’re probably suffering in one way or another, if that’s socially or mentally or sometimes even physically, because you’re not feeding your body adequately. Right? So, I saw sometimes post about this online recently. “I feel so ashamed that I still have this desire.” And I actually reached out and said “let’s talk.” And this is what I wanted to say to her, because we never ended up being able to talk, but maybe she’ll listen to this episode. I just wanted to say “just sit with that. Take a look at where that leads you. And you’re allowed to do what’s right for you. And there’s no one pin prick right method. Like, you need to fit into this one tiny box to be a good human being. You can do things that are right for you. I just think that your body is wise and if you sit with it, you will know what the right thing to do is. And it’s okay if that’s a little bit dissonant for a while. It’s totally okay.” It’s not an easy concept to wrap your head around.
Meredith: It is. Especially when there’s so many messages saying “there’s this one right and true way.” I do believe 1000% that health at every size is the best approach for the vast majority of people, but I also recognize not everyone is ready for it yet and needs some time to move in that direction. I should say it takes a really honest look at the harm that diet culture and the act of dieting has done to you as an individual. And it takes a community of being able to accept people who are in various stages of understanding and integrating it into their lives and figuring out whether it fits with who they are and what their values are and things like that.
Paige: Yeah. I know we talked before this recording and you mentioned “I believe in health at every size as the one true way.” That’s not your words - I’ve just for me, and for where I’m coming from, I just wanted to be clear that I’m speaking for myself. So if you share this episode with someone that you love and care about, they know where you stand. While I totally love this approach and I think it’s amazing, I just fundamentally struggle with the idea of “this is THE answer!” Because I feel like when you think that you have the answer, you get into this moral high ground situation. Where you kind of feel like “oh, I’ve got it all figured out. I’m so above me. I’m so past where you are.” And I feel like that doesn’t help anybody. To do that. And I’m not saying that you’re doing that. I’m just trying to create some space for people on this spectrum and I personally, do believe, that most people will come to “okay, when I let go of these things, my life is so much better. When I pursue health in the way that’s right for me, I find a really nice groove.” And I believe that too. I just struggle with the moral high grounds idea that can sometimes come along with “oh, I’ve got things all figured out.” You know?
Meredith: I absolutely agree with you in terms of that. I think it’s really easy for people to get self-righteous about these ideas. And feel like they’re better than others and they have the one true way. And I acknowledge that that does pop up in the health at every size community. Absolutely. I feel like a lot of the way it pops up, at least, the way I’ve seen it, I feel is the more labeling of things. And people having strong beliefs about “how do you define health at every size” and if you choose another path, like that’s absolutely well and good and you have complete autonomy to do whatever works best for you. But, don’t also try to say that that’s health at every size. Or intuitive eating. Or body positivity. I feel like a lot of the conflict that comes up is around naming things. And saying this is what we define things as.
Paige: Yeah. And it’s fascinating because it’s just the nature of language. It’s so difficult to encapsulate such a rich and deep and meaningful approach that has so much nuance in a phrase. Yeah, so one person might hear “health at every size” and interpret it one certain way because they don’t really understand it or look into it or realize what it is. And then another person might coopt the term because it’s trendy and popular and say “well this will get people to buy my such and such product” right? I get the policing around the labeling. Because, there is an aspect of “I want this to remain pure. And I want this to remain good and wholesome.” And it’s a fascinating thing to observe. If we all take a step back and just observe what’s going on right now, it’s fascinating! Just non judgmentally look at it. It’s really super interesting. I see a lot of tribalism going on and policing of the borders and who’s in and who’s out and what are our signs of who we can take in and what are the signs of people who we don’t want a part of this. And I just don’t have a judgement about that. I just think that it’s really interesting dynamic. Do you see that too?
Meredith: I do! And I think it is a fascinating, special dynamic. And it’s people trying to protect this thing that they believe in so fully and trying to make sure that others don’t get the wrong idea. But, it’s so easy to get the wrong idea about health at every size. Even just from the name. And we talked about this before. The name sounds like it is claiming that all people are equally healthy no matter what. Above all else. It also sounds like saying health is a really important thing that must be strived for. There’s just so many ways to get the wrong idea. Because as you pointed out, super complex and nuanced. At the end of the day, I just think of the paradigm as being my ability to trust my body to lead the way.
Paige: Love it!
Meredith: Yeah. Really, at the end of the day, listening is all it is. Asking my body “what do I want? What do I need? How can I treat you well?” And without all this construction around is from the community. That’s what it boils down to. For me, personally.
Paige: Love it! Thanks for that, Meredith, really! A beautiful way to boil it down. I’m a big fan of boiling things down as much as possible. So, I wanted to ask you about this. Since we both are in the role of helping others to navigate their own journeys, right? I really feel like my approach with the people I work with is that they’re the expert and I’m not. I’m an expert in various arenas and I’m my own expert of my own body. But, I really like to approach people with that type of mentality. And so I’m kind of pin pointing that that’s where I push back a tiny bit on the idea that I don’t want to people to feel like I’m steering them or I have a different goal in mind than they do about where they want to wind up with their health. And so, I do find that most people when you introduce them to this concept and kind of let them sit with it. We were talking about earlier - I really think that most people find that this is the direction they want to go. But again, I don’t want to feel like I’m preaching at someone or let me educate you, dumb person, about your body. I just try to avoid that. So, I think that’s one of the arenas I’m coming from - is approaching my clients in that way. What do you think about that?
Meredith: Yeah! And I do the same thing as well. Everything that I do is co-created with the client than I am in session with and they are absolutely the experts on their own bodies and their own experiences. And what I try to do is provide valuable information that they can consider and then take that on however they want to or feel ready to or anything like that. I might share information that actually has been shown that restricting can lead to bingeing. “And what’s your experience with that?”
Paige: Right. They might even have that in their experience.
Meredith: Yeah. “And does that ring true with you? Let’s talk about that.” It always comes back to their experience and trying to combine some of the knowledge I’ve gained through personal experience as well as professional training with their experience and knowledge and what feels right for them. And using that to help them find the way that works best for them. I definitely don’t believe in pushing on anything on anyone. But, my experience is with clients that when I share these things they do tend to ring very true. Then from there, it’s dealing with any ambivalence or holding space for all those emotions that are coming up around “what if these things are true?” The same things we talked about earlier. Supporting them in learning intuitive eating, if that’s something they are interested in. Supporting them with the concepts of “my body is fabulous just the way it is. I don’t need to change it.” When I introduce those concepts, I find that most people are like “okay, even if I’m not quite there, I want that.” As in, it’s such a compassionate, intuitive approach, that really helps people come back to themselves instead of having all these rules and this shame and this guilt - using those as a motivator, I think, most people realize, isn’t working well for them. So, yeah.. I totally get what you’re saying and it does need to be driven by our clients and their beliefs and where they’re at needs to be honored at all times. Above all.
Paige: Yeah! And that’s sometimes the difference between a podcast interview versus an actual client session. A lot of my potential clients and even past clients, or current clients listen to my podcast and I always try to make my podcast an extension of who I am and I’m sure you feel the same way with being on a podcast. And so, I just thought it was important to help people understand that there might be a slight difference between talking about health at every size and what it means and how to implement it and the powerful principles that it can really enhance and improve your life, versus that individual who might be hearing this for the first time and thinking “woah, that’s so much to wrap my head around! What if I’m not there? I feel like a terrible person because I’m not there.” That’s seriously 100% not the goal. And I see enough of that sentiment, that I wanted to take a little second to talk about that. I hope that’s okay.
Meredith: Oh, absolutely. Of course! Yeah!
Paige: I appreciate it. So, what else do you want to add about what we’ve been talking about today or summarize or anything we’ve left out?
Meredith: Anything we’ve left out.. Well one thing that we could talk briefly about is body positivity and where larger people are fitting in the body positivity movement right now.
Paige: Please. I’d love to hear you talk about that.
Meredith: Yeah. Because I think what’s happened, and others have spoken about this before. This is not my brand new thought or idea. But, it’s really valuable to talk about. Body positivity has gone more mainstream in the last year or 2. We’re at a point where a lot of brands are touting body positivity in their marketing and a lot of people are getting on board. And I think one thing that some people are missing as they enter the body positivity movement is this historical understanding that the body positivity movement kind of grew out of the fat acceptance movement. And that’s something I’d really like to emphasize. Because, what ends up happening, is that sometimes the body positivity movement has increasingly become focused on either very small women or people who are acceptably curvy. And I just wanted to point out that the whole point of what we’re doing in this movement is aiming toward accepting people of all sizes. And recognizing, restoring dignity and respect to people of all sizes up to the largest person in the entire world, you know? I wanted to share that because it can become really easy, based on all of the media out there, to be like “yeah! I can totally accept someone who’s a size 16 and hourglass shape.” But really, my goal, as a practitioner and activist, is to help people learn to accept people of all sizes and shapes. And not have this limit on what is acceptable.
Paige: And to not have a limit of who deserves dignity and respect.
Paige: I would encourage listening, no matter who are you, to just take an honest look at your own prejudices about size. And to sit with that and see what you can do to work through it. Because, it’s there. It’s got to be. We live in this world and I think that that’s a really important point that you bring up. A lot of people have got wind of body positivity. Maybe they follow certain people on social media and they’re like “yeah, I can get behind that. Okay, yeah, that’s great.” And it’s a softer term than fat acceptance, right? Fat acceptance is jarring for some and some people are all “what does that mean? That sounds scary!” You know? Versus body positivity is all “cool, kumbaya, we love, that sounds great!” And it can also be co opted to sell weight loss things.
Meredith: That’s a whole other issue. Totally.
Paige: This definitely does tie into what we’ve been talking about. These words are very tricky to understand. And think understanding the history is an important component of understanding where we are right now in this moment and to take a look at that and recognize that is key to be able to truly embrace these concepts and do what we’re trying to do. What we’re trying to do, in the end, is change the way that our culture works. Which I know like, hello! The hugest goal ever.
Meredith: But, it’s happening! I think it is!
Paige: What makes you say it’s happening? I’d love to hear what you think about that.
Meredith: Yeah. I do see changes happening. Maybe it’s a silly example, but I was watching Project Runway last night. And this season, they have models from size 2 to 22. Do I wish that that was 32? Yes. But, it is progress. Seeing these high up people in the fashion industry saying “oh, it’s so great that we’re including people of all sizes!” And over the last 3 years, I’d say there’s been an explosion in the number of options for plus sized clothing available for people. And that is a real thing. That makes a really positive, significant difference in people’s lives. For the longest time, I felt I couldn’t express myself. Because there were no clothes available that helped my express my personality. And that is improving every month. It gets a little bit better. So, I know it’s huge to think about changing this culture. There’s no doubt that we have a long way to go. But, progress is being made and it is making lives better.
Paige: Well, gosh! Let’s end on that positive note! That’s so great! I love hearing that! Sometimes, it’s hard to know, because I’m in this space. If I feel like things are changing, or if I was a regular person, if I would feel that way. So, it’s good to hear your perspective on it too. Because I feel the same way. I feel like people are talking about this more. I feel like people are more aware. I feel like there’s more people coming out as “hey! I am who I am and take me more leave me but I love myself.” There’s a lot more of that going on and I think that’s really, really encouraging.
Meredith: Yeah. And the culture is made up of all of us as individuals. So, each time an individual makes a choice to opt out of diet culture, that is changing the culture drip by drip by drip.
Paige: Oh, love it! Because that can feel so overwhelming and huge and silly almost, as a goal to say “let’s change this culture.” But, you’re right! Each and every person who opts out, that makes a difference in and of itself. And then the people that they interact with see that and they go “oh! Maybe there is another way!” And that’s really, really cool. That’s a great thought! You’re awesome! I love that! That’s so hopeful! That’s a good way to put it.
Meredith: Haha, thanks! And I am hopeful. If I do this work, I want to accelerate the pace of that progress as well. I think of my work as being, yes, I am supporting individuals in healing their wounds that have been inflicted by diet culture and fatphobia and this world that we’re swimming in. But I also think it’s my responsibility to help heal the culture more broadly.
Paige: I totally resonate with that. That’s what this podcast is for me. An effort at providing conversations that people can learn from. No matter who you are and this doesn’t cost any most to listen to. This is my effort to provide that for people at large too. So, I’m really grateful for people like you who are willing to come on and express your thoughts and your story and your wisdom. It’s just so meaningful and so lovely. I really appreciate it.
Meredith: Thank you! And it’s been an honor to have this conversation with you as well.
Paige: Great! Before we go, I want to make sure we take a minute to talk about you and your work and how people can get in touch with you and follow you. So, take a minute to talk about that.
Meredith: Yeah! So, my company is called Made on a Generous Plan. And the name actually from, of all places, a 19th Century etiquette book. From this beautiful piece of prose. And maybe I’ll read it. Because, I just find it so beautiful.
If you’ve been made on a generous plan
You’re qualities that littleness can never possess
Who with any authority has said that slender persons are of the best type?
Only carry yourself well, be reposeful and stately, with a brain that sits supremely on the throne of your being
And you may come into your kingdom of power and love
Paige: That’s awesome!
Meredith: When I read that, I was like “oh my God! That is going to be my company!” I want to emphasize it’s not about putting down in people in smaller bodies. It’s about raising people in larger bodies up to even footing.
Paige: It benefits us all when that happens
Meredith: Yes, exactly. We’re all swimming in the same culture together and again, it’s no one’s fault. The more we learn, we can decide to opt out. So yeah! Right now, I work exclusively one-on-one with people in coaching sessions, but I’m hoping to launch some group programs and other options for people moving forward. If people are interested in learning more about my work, you can go to generousplan.com. And while you’re there, I create a Plus Sized Food and Body Peace Beginner’s Guide. So people can get it free if they want. It’s a 23 page eBook that I created. It introduces people more to these concepts about diet culture and lays out a vision for what life can be like if you decide to opt out of this culture. So, you can get that at generousplan.com/freeguide.
Paige: Okay, what about social media
Meredith: Yeah. I’m very active on Instagram and I post a lot of body positive art and other things there. So I’m madeonagenerousplan there. And then I’m also really active on Facebook. So, you can search for Made on a Generous Plan and you’ll find me there!
Paige: Perfect! Well, this has been really fun for me. I hope it was really fun for you. I know I asked some tough questions, but I’m grateful that we’re able to have that conversation because I think it helps people in the end when we just hit on those issues like we did. So, I appreciate that.
Meredith: I appreciate the open and honest conversations about that too. I think there are growing pains and struggles that we’re going through right now and we can’t get through them unless we talk about them and share ideas and thoughts.
Paige: Like any other family, right?
Meredith: Yes, exactly!
Paige: Okay, well, awesome! Thanks so much, Meredith! This has been an absolutely pleasure for me.
Meredith: Likewise. Thank you!
Paige: Well, I sincerely hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you haven’t already, please go ahead and leave a review on iTunes. Thanks again so much for listening and we’ll see you again for another episode.
#healthateverysize #bodypositivity #weightneutrality #recovery