(Content warning for discussions of body image, diet mentality, disordered eating, and overexercise)
Since discovering the Health At Every Size community, I’ve made a lot of changes to my lifestyle. I’ve slowly backed away from my old mentality on food and exercise for something much more peaceful, much less controlling. And while I’m still very much in the beginning of this journey, I’ve noticed some subtle changes. I’m more forgiving with myself after eating at buffets; I don’t feel the need to compensate for a mac and cheese with salad the next day; and I don’t suck my stomach in as often as I used to.
While I’m not an expert in health or body image, I’m learning—and I want to document that process. More importantly, I want to join the many others offering a counter-narrative to the diet industry that’s controlled us for too long. So acknowledging that I’m new to this school of thought, here are some tangible steps I’m taking to feel more comfortable in my own skin.
1. I stopped “working out” and reevaluated my relationship with physical movement.
I’ve mentioned before that I replaced my desire to be thin with a desire to be strong. This was true for a significant chapter of my relationship with yoga. Yes, there are elements of yoga I genuinely enjoy. Stretches feel wonderful, and I have a community-oriented, women of color-run yoga studio that feels like family. But yoga was introduced to me at age twelve as a means of getting the “perfect body,” and that influence hasn’t ever really gone away.
Over time, diet culture evolved from the “thin ideal” to the era of fitspo. And that’s a problem, too.
People were talking less about how much weight they wanted to lose and more about how much stronger they wanted to become. I followed Instagram accounts of yoga teachers showing off their handstands and standing splits, wanting my body to get there, too. I thought the more I could do with my body—arm balances, inversions, chaturangas—the more I would love myself. Later I realized that not only is this wrapped up in toxic diet mentality, it’s ableist, too. How is measuring my body’s worth in terms of strength and ability any better than measuring it in terms of weight or looks? And what does that say about how we view people with disabilities?
I haven’t rolled out my yoga mat or stepped inside a yoga studio in months. I miss my studio—it’s the first place where yoga didn’t feel like a workout or a product but a place of community and healing. But I don’t trust myself to resume the practice without returning to my unhealthy mindset, so I’m sitting it out for now.
Instead, I look for joy in movement in less structured ways.
I’m a writer, after all; I have no intention of becoming a fitness expert or hobbyist. Once I let go of exercise as a moral imperative, it became clear to me. What was I doing lifting weights every day at the gym? Or going to grueling yoga sessions for three hours a day? How much of that did I really enjoy?
It’s sad how much diet culture has taken away from us. Many forms of physical movement are enjoyable, and often something your body naturally craves. Yet we can’t seem to do these things anymore without thoughts of “losing weight,” “getting fit,” or “staying healthy” intruding our minds. These days, I’m unlearning the negative, controlling messages I grew up with around physical movement. And I’m figuring out what I actually like, what types of movement I go to naturally without even thinking about the supposed health benefits.
I dance to the latest Fifth Harmony album in my room when I’m putting on makeup. I take my dog on morning walks because it makes her happy. And I go swimming in my neighbor’s pool to get away from the LA heat—no timing, no counting laps. These are things I love to do that I don’t feel the need to schedule or force into a routine. Maybe one day I’ll be able to unroll my yoga mat again, but right now, this is what feels good and healthy for me.
2. I unfollowed the fitspo accounts on Instagram and replaced them with fat positive, body liberation-focused accounts.
The only yoga teacher I follow on Instagram is Jessamyn Stanley, who is outspoken about the corporatization of yoga and its lack of racial and size diversity. I unfollowed all the others. It didn’t benefit me to read their motivational, then-now posts about accomplishing certain poses. I didn’t need them to tell me that with enough practice, I too can master the handstand. I wanted out of the mindset that my body needed to be something other than what it is right now.
Now, my Instagram feed is full of badass activists and groups focused on body liberation. And because I want to encourage people to revisit their body politics, here are some suggestions:
- Nalgona Positivity Pride (a body-positive community for Xicanx and indigenous folks; here’s their Etsy)
- The Body Is Not An Apology (a community promoting radical self-love for ourselves and our bodies)
- Megan Jayne Crabbe (author + blogger at Body Posi Panda)
- Virgie Tovar (activist who founded #LoseHateNotWeight)
- Jes Baker (author + blogger at The Militant Baker)
I never considered how much social media can affect your mental wellbeing when I was bombarding myself with fitspo. But it’s clear it had an impact. Now, with only body liberation messages on my feed, I’m more at peace with my body, in looks and ability. It’s done wonders for my mental health and my self-image, and I recommend you give it a shot.
3. I only wear clothes I’m 100% comfortable in.
This means a lot of loose-fitting clothes, oversized tees, stretchy bottoms, and braless days. When I go out, I wear swing dresses or relaxed-fit tops with the only comfortable denim shorts I own. Most recently, I bought the most comfortable pair of jeans (to be reviewed)—designed with bigger women in mind—and can’t wait to live in them this fall.
When I shop, I pay more attention to fabrics than I did before. This is partly because of sustainability concerns, and partly because it’s important that clothes feel good against my skin. Considering the costs of high-quality clothing, I realize the ability to be choosy about my clothing is a privilege.
It’s true that body fluctuations affect my body confidence, which in turn affects the clothes I feel comfortable in. Last year, I was thinner, had slightly more body confidence, and preferred more slim-fitting clothes. I went out in bodycon dresses and wore shorter, tighter tops. Still, this body confidence came at a price, and I have no desire to force myself into dreaded workouts anymore. So while the loose-fitting clothes are a symptom of existing body image issues, they’re an important step to feeling more comfortable in my own skin.
4. I eat whatever I want.
I don’t have any food allergies or medical conditions that require me to restrict my food, so why was I doing it? Earlier in the year, I would have told you I’ve been eating whatever I want for my whole life. Then I realized how much our current language on food is actually thinly veiled diet culture.
In health circles, there’s a lot of talk about letting yourself eat whatever you want—but always with conditions.
There’s the 80/20 rule (80% “healthy,” 20% “indulgences”), which is still a diet. Allowing yourself to eat the “bad foods” 20 percent of the time means you’re still moralizing your food and imposing rules on them. There’s also the “eat whatever you want, just make sure you exercise enough to work it off” mentality. That’s what I once believed until I realized there’s something deeply messed up about thinking I had to “earn” or “burn off” my food. So yes, while I was going for the Ben and Jerry’s and the side of fries, I was also punishing myself for it. Which means that no, I was not actually letting myself eat whatever I wanted.
These days, I approach food with an emphasis on my sustenance and enjoyment above everything else.
When I eat my favorite Thai salad, I savor the combination of lime, fish sauce, and chili peppers mixed with the herby flavor of Chinese celery and the texture of the glass noodles. I silence the inner voice wanting to congratulate myself for “being good” by eating a salad. After all, this is food I enjoy. Shouldn’t that be enough?
When I eat mangos and bananas, I don’t think about their starch or sugar content. Instead, I think about how pop science has made us afraid of so many foods, only to reverse those beliefs over time. Think egg yolks and the fearmongering around their cholesterol content—despite the fact that most nutrients from eggs come from the yolk in the first place. Think last year’s news about how scientists were funded by the sugar industry to make us afraid of fat.
Eliminating “health” concerns from food hasn’t changed my preferences. I’ve always liked what I liked. It’s just made me more laid-back and unashamed about what I eat, which is exactly what I needed.
5. I listen to podcasts that promote body liberation, Health At Every Size, and intuitive eating.
The first time I ever heard of intuitive eating and Health At Every Size was on the Every Body Podcast in an episode featuring Evelyn Tribole, a dietitian who focuses on intuitive eating and eating disorder recovery. Since then, I’ve searched far and wide for similarly awesome podcasts, and there are some great options out there! Let me share my favorites:
Of course, there are many more body liberation-focused podcasts beyond this list—I just haven’t gotten around to checking them out. Food Psych so far has been my favorite. I think it’s something to do with Christy’s voice and the way she conducts her interviews. Also, she features some amazing guests who I admire: Ijeoma Oluo, Sonya Renee Taylor from The Body Is Not An Apology, Gloria Lucas from Nalgona Positivity Pride, and more.
The more I listen to these podcasts, the more I learn how deeply ingrained sizeism is in our culture. Why is something so basic and essential as medical care not inclusive of people in larger bodies? Why is the “body positive” movement, which branched out of fat activism, now excluding the very people who started it? And finally, why is weight loss prescribed—by doctors and by society—when research shows that it’s practically impossible in the long-term?
Body liberation is a long, difficult journey. I want more conversation that counters the moralization of food and exercise we see in “health” communities today. I need to see more intuitive eating and HAES experts in the mainstream. And if you’re struggling in your relationship with your body, I hope this post offered you something new to consider for your journey as well.