Interview with Christy Harrison, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor, chatting about why weight loss focused diets don’t work, how to make steps toward accepting your body, the concepts behind health at every size, and looking for health outside of body weight.
For podcast transcript, scroll down.
SHOW NOTES + LINKS
- Feel awesome on your keto diet with The Keto Bundle
- Subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app
- More from Christy Harrison
- Get Linda Bacon’s book
- Knowing what your body needs (20:55)
- Trading self-control for self-care (30:20)
- Signs of health beyond your weight (56:07)
PARTNERS OF THE KETO DIET PODCAST
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TRANSCRIPT FOR THIS EPISODE
Leanne Vogel: You’re listening to episode number 5 of the Keto Diet Podcast.
Leanne Vogel: You’re listening to episode number seven of The Keto Diet podcast. Hey. I’m Leanne from hearlthfulpursuit.com and this is The Keto Diet podcast where we’re busting through the restrictive mentality of a traditional ketogenic diet to uncover the life you crave.
What’s Keto? Keto is a low-carb, high-fat diet where we’re switching from a sugar burning state to becoming fat burning machines. The Keto Diet has helped me with fertility, has ended my constant weight struggles, blood-sugar regularities, in-balance moods, and so, so much more.
I want to share this magic with you using a realistic approach to this powerful diet. No restriction, new ways of looking at things, and positive support awaits. Let’s get this party started.
Hey, guys. I hope you’re having a wonderful Sunday. I wish I were out camping right this moment, but I’m not, and I’m sad. We just got home from a camping trip, which was amazing. All we did was sit by the fire, and chat, and listen to music. It was so great. The dogs just napped the entire time, and then they come home, and they’re so crazy. I had to keep them in Kevin’s office. Otherwise, they’d be running back and forth in the halls right now, so thankfully they’re up there with Kevin so that we can have some fun on today’s podcast.
Starting off with the awesome thing this week. I am obsessed with Newco coconut wraps. I love them. They’re so good. They’re raw, glutton free, corn free, soy free, dairy free, egg free. There’s no need to refrigerate them or freeze the wraps, and the reason, I’m mentioning this is because when we were camping, all I did was cook up a bunch of meat at home, because it’s such a pain to cook meat when you’re out and about, and camping, and doing all the things, and then I just put all of the meats in the wraps, and wrapped them up, and dipped them in mayo and other sauces that I was making. They’re just really, really easy.
If you’re looking for a keto friendly coconut type of wrap thing… It doesn’t really taste like coconut to me, but I’m pretty sure I lost my taste buds for coconut. I just don’t even taste it anymore because I eat it so much. You can get more information by going to NewCoconut.com.
We’re going to be covering the following items in today’s episode, including why weight loss focused diets don’t work, steps toward body acceptance, how to deal with negative beliefs and comments about your body, body acceptance for children, signs of disordered eating, and more. The show notes for today’s episode can be found at healthfulpursuit.com/podcasts/e5, and let’s hear from one of our awesome partners.
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Leanne Vogel: I have absolutely no announcements this week. A lot of fun things happening. Definitely be sure to check back on the blog, healthfulpursuit.com, on November 2nd, because I have a very exciting thing happening. If you go there on November 2nd, you’ll see it and you’ll be excited, and you’ll love it. I’m very excited to share it with you next episode.
If you have an idea for a podcast episode or you want to submit praise over and above your review that you already left for the show, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s read a review really quick. It comes from Lolo101!. Very excited. It began, “Leanne is so incredibly knowledgeable about everything keto. It almost seems that if I have questions or a problem, she has most likely already addressed it in her podcast. I really appreciate how in this podcast, there is a focus on body love and positivity. I’ve listened to a lot of other podcasts about the keto diet, and none of them even come close to her level of understanding about the female body, the intricate workings of the mind-body connection, and much more. I highly recommend this podcast, and all of Leanne’s books and videos, for that matter, to anyone who is looking for a deeper understanding of their health and wellness.”
So very awesome, and such perfect timing, because today’s podcast is going to blow your mind, I hope. To leave a review and support my show, you can go to healthfulpursuit.com/review, and you’ll be directed to a page where you can submit your review. Click on reviews and write a review. Give me five stars, hopefully, and write something nice, or you can go to your favorite podcast app and search for the Keto Diet Podcast, and submit your review over there.
Before I introduce today’s guest, I wanted to chat about intuitive eating and health at every size, because I get a lot of questions from many of you about how I know what’s best for my body, and it’s a really long answer, and our guest today does a really good job at explaining how me, Leanne, am able to know exactly what my body needs and when.
Now that I’m on the other side of intuitive eating and health at every size, and this has been a long, long journey for me, I realized and have continued to practice a ketogenic diet. Well, a ketogenic like diet, I like to say, because it’s not the traditional ketogenic diet, as most of you guys have already come to realize. This whole knowing what my body needs, and when it needs it, and whether fasting works for me or doesn’t, started with intuitive eating, and within intuitive eating, there are layers of self-acceptance, connecting to what your body needs, having compassion for yourself and others, and so much more.
Now that I’m on the other side of it and gone through all of this work, my intuitive eating practice has led me to what I now call being fat fueled. It’s a compassionate approach to using fat to fuel your body, while not prescribing to the perceived “right way” to follow a ketogenic diet.
I invited Christy Harrison, NPH, RD, CDN, who is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and certified intuitive eating counselor based in Brooklyn, New York, to chat all about this very topic. She offers online intuitive courses and individual nutrition therapy to help people make peace with food and their bodies. Christy began her career as a journalist in 2003, and has written for and edited many publications, including Gourmet, The Food Network, Slate, Buzz Feed, Modernist Cuisine, All Recipes, and many others.
As an expert on nutrition and people’s relationships with food, she has been quoted in top media outlets, including Refinery 29, Health, Men’s Fitness, Bon Appetit, The Observer, and more. She currently writes Refinery 29’s nutrition and advice column, How To Eat, and hosts Food Psych, a podcast that explores intuitive eating, health at every size, and body positivity.
You can check out Christy’s work at ChristyHarrison.com, and take her quiz for a free checkup of your relationship with food, and I’ll include all of those links in the show notes, so let’s cut over to today’s interview.
Hey, Christy. How are you doing?
Christy Harrison: Hey, Leanne. I’m going great thanks. How are you?
Leanne Vogel: I am fabulous. I was saying just earlier before we started recording, it’s so strange to hear your voice because I listen to your podcast all the time, but now it’s directed at me.
Christy Harrison: It’s so great. I’m happy to be on and talking to you directly this time.
Leanne Vogel: Totally. We’ve had many amazing questions for you gathered by our listeners, but before we dive in, for listeners that may not be familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Christy Harrison: Sure. Yeah. I am an anti-diet dietician and an intuitive eating coach. My podcast is called Food Psych, and I talk with people about their relationship to food, their eating habits and eating disorder recovery stories, and their journey toward body positivity and body acceptance, and that’s really become the focus of my work as an intuitive eating counselor in recent years, is really helping people implement body acceptance and ditch the diet mentality, and really trust their bodies to guide them in this intuitive eating practice. That’s my professional background.
My personal background is that years ago, I had my own eating disorder history and had a winding path to recovery, and I was, also, a food writer. I started out as a food journalist. My careers as a food journalist and then later as a dietician, dovetailed in this podcast that I do, and that’s where I have my journalistic hat on, but I, also, talk about the things that are coming up in my work with clients one on one and my online intuitive eating course, and I get to really dig into those issues.
Leanne Vogel: Very cool. I highly recommend checking out her podcast. I’ll include a link in the show notes, because it’s fabulous.
Christy Harrison: Thank you.
Leanne Vogel: You said a bunch of awesome words there, like body acceptance, health at every size. There’s lots going on that maybe a lot of people aren’t familiar with. Why don’t we bite off the health at every size piece, because it can be a really overwhelming… Even when you say that I know when I first heard health at every size, and I was like no.
There was a question that came in. I’ll start with that one first. It was, “What’s the difference between overweight and actually having an unhealthy amount of body fat, and where does health at every size come into all of this? I feel like it’s a cop out for people that don’t want to put the work in.”
Christy Harrison: Great question and I will say that I definitely identify with that, because when I first heard the term health at every size, I had that same reaction. Then I started to dig into the research and really learn about… I came to my perspective, as a health at every size dietician, through treating people who were recovering from eating disorders, and that is where the health at every size literature has become really integrated into practice in a lot of ways, where the research really shows that people can’t intentionally lose weight and keep it off for any significant length of time. We know that there’s that statistic that gets thrown around that 95% of diets fail. Some more recent research suggests it’s even higher, like 98, 99%.
The issue is that a lot of studies will show some weight loss in the short term, like one to two years from doing a typical diet, but then five or ten years down the line, people generally gain the weight back and oftentimes will gain even more in the process.
Health at every size is partly born out of this idea that weight loss doesn’t really work. Intentional weight loss doesn’t actually work as it’s supposed to, and we’ve seen that people tend to get less healthy the more they weight cycle. It’s commonly called the yo-yo dieting. In the medical research, it’s called weight cycling, and it’s where people lose and gain a significant amount of weight again and again over many years or even a few years, and weight cycling has been independently associated with a lot of negative health outcomes, and interestingly, they are the ones that are typically associated with “overweight” and “obesity.” I use those terms in quotes for a reason. We can sidebar that and come back to it.
These diseases that we see that are associated with weight cycling are diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, all these things that people typically associate with being at a higher weight. It turns out that the reason they’re associated with being at a higher weight, is likely because people who are at a higher weight have weight cycled more in their lives than people who are already at a lower weight, and weight cycling, also, tends to drive people’s weight up over time.
That research is all the backdrop to health at every size, and health at every size says that weight loss doesn’t work, intentional weight loss doesn’t work. Weight cycling makes people less healthy. Is there a way that we can make people more healthy without focusing on weight loss, wherever they’re at, and then whatever happens to their weight in the process is what it is. That’s the approach of health at every size is, yes, actually you’re behaviors, your relationship with food, your exercise, your fitness level, all of that stuff does actually have a bearing on health independent of weight, and that’s why we get these things like the “obesity paradox” or the “fat and fit” phenomenon, where there are people who are actually in larger bodies and who are very metabolically healthy, and very fit and able to do things, and not constrained by their size in any way.
The goal with health at every size is to say whatever your weight coming in, let’s help you get healthier and engage in healthier behaviors wherever you’re at, and sometimes that means people do end up losing weight along the way. Sometimes that means people end up gaining weight along the way, because they were restricting and engaging in an unhealthy relationship with food to get them into a smaller body, so what is necessary for their health is actually to gain weight, and then some people just maintain their weight, because they were already at a stable weight for them.
Leanne Vogel: Yeah. I think the key… The thing that really took it home, I think it was just Baker’s book, when she was talking about health at every size, and she said, “It’s about healthy behaviors, guys,” and I was driving listening to the audiobook, and I had to stop and pull over, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I finally get it.” It’s not about some excuse or anything. It’s just about creating positive healthy behavior, because when you’re in that weight loss dieting structure, it’s like you’re constantly counting, and tracking, and all of the crazy things, and your mind is muddled with all this stuff, and maybe you’re pushing yourself too hard, and you’re going to the gym all the time, and you don’t even like it. Your husband is having a conversation and you’re not even listening, because you’re counting how many calories you had.
That was my life. Those are all unhealthy behaviors and made me live in a body that I didn’t love and a life that I wasn’t experiencing.
You mentioned a couple of the healthy behaviors. What are some healthy behaviors within the health at every size structure?
Christy Harrison: Yeah. That’s where intuitive eating comes in, because intuitive eating is the model of relating to food in a health at every size way, and the health at every size and intuitive eating were independently evolved disciplines, but they’ve come together really nicely, because intuitive eating is the way to support health at every size nutritionally.
Intuitive eating is about getting back in touch with your body’s natural cues about hunger and fullness, but, also, using satisfaction and pleasure to guide you in your food choices, and really taking away those food restrictions and rules, like those things that you said, like you get so fixated on counting calories, or I can’t eat this or I ate this, so I now I need to compensate with that or compensate with this exercise at the gym, using food and fitness in this really instrumental way, rather than using food to nourish yourself and, also, give yourself pleasure and enjoyment, and learning to trust your body ultimately about your food decisions.
I think when we’re stuck in the diet mentality, the diet mentality tells us, the diet industry really tells us that we can’t be trusted with food. We can’t trust our bodies to make the right decisions. We have to give up our control to some higher force, whether that’s whatever diet plan is being sold to us, or whatever guru is on TV talking about the latest supplement or whatever. We’re told to advocate our trust to someone else, and then if we’ve been dieting for awhile and we try to trust our bodies again, and we’re like, “Okay, this diet thing clearly isn’t working. I’m going to give up and try to listen to my body.”
Usually what the body does when it’s been in a restricted state for a long time, is it’s like, “Cool. Give me, give me all the treats, all the things that I’ve been deeming off limits, all the sweets,” et cetera, and so it reinforces this notion, “See, I can’t be trusted, because when I try to take the reins off, I end up eating nothing but cookies, so clearly I need some kind of diet to give me structure.” That’s the mentality that we’re all stuck in when we’re in this diet mentality.
Intuitive eating says, “Yes, that’s clear…” We actually have science showing that that is a natural response to restriction and deprivation, that your body will go through that phase, but if you can get through it and you can really break down and let go more of the restrictions, keep letting go, even when it’s uncomfortable, eventually you get to a place where you really do stop eating those foods because you want to, not because you feel like you have to. You start making choices from a more balanced place, because it feels good in your body and it’s self-care, not self-control.
That’s my big catch phrase with intuitive eating if I’m giving a super quick pitch for it, it’s about self-care, not self control because we’re all conditioned to think, “I need to control myself around food. I need to have discipline and willpower,” and intuitive eating says, “No, you actually don’t.” You have a built in meter for all of that stuff. We’re all born knowing how to eat intuitively, knowing how to nourish ourselves well, and all we have to do is get through the diet mentality and really work out a lot of these things that have been placed on us, including body shame and weight-based discrimination. Get through those things and get back to this essential nature that we all have, which is being able to intuitively decide what feels good to us, what feels nourishing and how hungry and full we are at any time.
Leanne Vogel: Yeah. I can definitely attest to when I said, “Screw this dieting thing. I’m just going to eat whatever I want when I want,” there was a large period where I ate all of the things. I couldn’t even…
Christy Harrison: Me, too.
Leanne Vogel: When you get over that hump, it’s like everything is free to eat whatever you want to eat, whenever you want to eat it, and then it becomes… I love that self-care, not self-control, like not controlling yourself but rather caring for yourself, and once I got over that hump of eating all the things, I was like, “Wow, I know I really don’t like this. I don’t really enjoy this. This doesn’t really feel good in my body, but this does,” and so it was just navigating and creating an eating style that worked well for me, and the other thing is it changes. There are months where… For instance, I made a pork steak over the weekend, and even the smell of it made me nauseous. I was like, “Okay, nope, don’t do pork steaks anymore.” That’s just the way it goes. It’s not a big deal.
The thing that I love most about what you mentioned is listening to your body, and knowing that we all need something a little bit different. You talked about the gurus and people out there saying, “This is the golden ticket.” I think if anyone says, “All you have to do is follow this 100% and you’ll be great, and if you don’t do it right, you’ll fail, and that’s why it didn’t work,” is scary, and you probably shouldn’t be associated with that, because every body is different.
Christy Harrison: Yeah, I completely agree, and I think my goal, as an intuitive eating coach, is really to make myself obsolete for any given individual. I would love to get to a point where you can do it yourself. Your body is back in charge, and I have facilitated that, and then I can step out of the way and be like, “Go forth and do it yourself,” because we’re all really born knowing how to do, and that’s our birthright really.
Leanne Vogel: Really, it is. Before you mentioned getting into your body and really feeling your body. Do you have tools or tips on how one could even think about doing that?
Christy Harrison: Yeah. It’s so tough, and it takes time, and it takes opening up to it as well, because I know from my own experience and that of many of my clients and my podcast listeners as well, if you’re not ready for it, you’re just going to either do it in a way that confirms your negative beliefs or you’re going to push it away and be like, “That will never work for me.”
I think the first step before even doing anything, is just pondering what it would be like to do it. I think my podcast, one of the things that I like to do with that is just put out there information for people to digest, and explore, and think about in their own time, and they don’t have to do anything with it right away, but to just let that simmer on the back burner, and maybe eventually you’ll be able to make a change.
The first step is contemplation really, and then I think the next step I would say is I really like to focus on two things, two of the core principles of intuitive eating, which are getting rid of the diet mentality or ditching the diet mentality, whatever you want to say, and honoring your hunger, because I think when people come to intuitive eating, oftentimes the way it’s sold in weight loss culture is intuitive eating is a way to stop when you’re full, so you won’t gain and you’ll actually lose weight, and that’s not what it is.
Yes, you will stop when you’re full eventually, but I think the first step towards that is honoring your hunger, and we all have so many barriers towards honoring our hunger and even experiencing our hunger if we’ve been steeped in diet culture for a long time, because if you think about it, diets trick you into eating something that’s not really satisfying when you’re hungry to take the edge off, and doing that again and again all the time, or getting into a state of semi-starvation really, where eventually your body is crying out for nourishment so much that it drives you to binge, and that kind of primal hunger, where you feel like you can’t control yourself around food.
The first step is really getting back in touch with hunger, what that even feels like, what the subtle levels of hunger feel like. I think for a lot of chronic dieters that I see, they’ll be in touch with hunger at the very extreme levels, like very hungry and a ten on the hunger scale, or very full and not at all hungry, but what about that mid range, where it’s like, “It’s probably time to think about getting some food. What would I like? What sounds good right now?” A lot of people skip over that part and miss the part where they could actually be making more considered and self-care based decisions, because they’re like, “I’m not hungry. I’m not hungry. I’m not hungry,” like trying to convince themselves that they don’t really feel anything, and, in fact, there are signals that your body’s giving you.
I will say that if someone has an active eating disorder or has had an eating disorder for awhile, especially binging and purging or severe restricting, your hunger cues are going to be really out of whack, and sometimes this doesn’t work. This really can’t work until you’ve had the nutritional rehabilitation period of eating enough at regular intervals so that your body gets trained as to what is appropriate amounts of food and types of foods.
Usually with conventional eating disorder treatment, the model is to go on a meal plan, and I do that for my clients, like anyone who sees me with an active eating disorder, I’ll usually give them a meal plan that’s designed to mimic what their body is actually going to be telling them eventually in terms of how frequently to eat, how much to eat, what a baseline normal amount of food is, so that they can just start getting back in touch with those cues, and then eventually when you recover enough from an eating disorder to where you’re not significantly engaging in behaviors all the time, you can start to actually feel your hunger, but I would say if anyone is listening who has an active eating disorder and is thinking about trying this, I would say don’t necessarily go into intuitive eating right now. Try to get nutritionally rehabilitated first.
Leanne Vogel: I think that’s really good advice. I had bulimia for many, many years, and I’ve been I call it sober for 480 days of no eating disordered patterns, and I know that that rehabilitation portion took me a really long time, like a really long time.
Christy Harrison: Good for you. That’s awesome.
Leanne Vogel: Thank you. Thank you very much. Yeah. It’s really cool to be on the other side of it and seeing things the way that they actually are, and having positive reinforcement, and, also, understanding emotions and hunger cues, and you’re right. Those hunger cues, when you’re coming from a history of an eating disorder, and mine lasted a very, very, very long time with multiple different layers. It’s interesting now to know when I’m hungry and feel that hunger. Like you said, stages one through ten, you can feel like, “I’m a little bit hungry,” whereas before, there was zero signals. I think whether you have a history of an eating disorder, even like you said, that diet mentality, your hunger signals are a little bit wonky when you’re actually trying to listen.
For those listening, one thing that I love to do to try to connect to my body in the moment, and I think I’ve talked about this in other podcasts, is doing a little body meditation. I look at my hands and think of all the things my hands have done for me, and really get into to just connecting to my body and looking at one part and just focusing on it. Sometimes that can help me get into my own body, instead of thinking of rules, and details, and where I should be, and what I should be doing, and if I have plans, and if I need to eat, and all this craziness that comes along when you get outside of your body, so that might be helpful for those listening.
Christy Harrison: I love that. That actually was really helpful for me, too, doing mindfulness exercises and mind-body exercises, including gentle yoga, the body scan meditation, where you go through and, like you said, think with gratitude about different parts of your body, or just even try to reflect neutrally on different parts of your body. If you’re really steeped in body shame, sometimes even gratitude is a step too far.
Leanne Vogel: Totally, yeah. I can’t even be thankful for… Yeah, baby steps.
Christy Harrison: Baby steps.
Leanne Vogel: Been there.
Christy Harrison: It’s totally something that I encourage with this because I think one of the things that when people hear health at every size, and they’re like, “No. It’s an excuse,” I think one of the things that is going on with that reaction is that it feels like completely giving up everything you know to be true and diving into this alternate universe. It feels very black and white, so really recovery and getting out of the diet mentality is such a specter and such a continuum, and it, also, took me a good ten years, I would say, to be fully recovered from my eating disorder, so I know what a journey it can be, and if you’re not there immediately, that’s okay. Just try to open the door to the possibility.
Leanne Vogel: Yeah, totally. I’m going on nine years. It takes awhile, and it’s not a quick fix, but, like you said, it’s not just snap your fingers and then you’re good to go, but the process, in and of itself, is so fulfilling.
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Leanne Vogel: Speaking about fulfilling and feeling happy with one’s body, I’m sure body acceptance plays a role in intuitive eating, health at every size. How does one navigate body image and body acceptance?
Christy Harrison: Yeah. That’s a huge, very important question. I guess I’ll speak in philosophical terms, and maybe then in practical terms. I think in philosophical terms, it’s really so necessary for the process of intuitive eating and health at every size to do the body acceptance work, because if there’s part of you… And, of course, there will still be part of you that wants to lose weight with this. You can’t jump from diet mentality to no weight loss thoughts overnight, but I think doing the work to drop that part of you and decrease the power of its voice is so important, because if that voice is in control, then your body can’t be in control. If the voice of, “You have to lose weight and if you eat that, you’re not going to,” or if you’re too hungry and you can’t trust your hunger, or, “What are you doing still eating? You should be full by now.” If all of those critical thoughts are driving the bus, then you’re never going to get to a place of intuitive eating and health at every size.
You really have to work to put that voice in its place, and I think some practical tools you can do to get there are journaling, which is hugely helpful. It was a very helpful part of my practice and of a lot of the clients I see. This journal exercise is very helpful in rewiring your brain to not go down those negative thought patterns, but to substitute more positive ones, which is something that the eating disorder therapist, Carolyn Costin developed. It’s called Eating Disorder Self, Healthy Self, but with diet based thoughts, I call it diet mentality self and healthy self.
It’s writing down those criticisms, writing down the negative thoughts that the diet mentality is telling you, like those things I just said, “If you eat this, you’re going to get fat. If you’re, fat, no one’s going to love you,” all the horrible things that are really untrue that our minds often tell us, and then, on the other side of the page or below those thoughts, writing down, channeling your healthy self, which is really your intuition, that wise part of you that sees beyond these rules, and restrictions, and self-criticisms to what’s really true and what’s really possible.
It’s going to be tough at first, and sometimes it feels like you’re going through the motions, but if you can just write back from, “If I could even hear my healthy self right now, what would it say to me,” or, “What would my dietician say to me,” or, “What would someone that I trust and love say to me about this,” and it might be, “Of course, we’re going to love you whatever size your body ends up. You’re worthy of love no matter what body you have,” and, “If you eat this food, you’re not going to automatically get fat. You’re going to be nourishing yourself and developing a deeper connection with your body that will ultimately help you get to whatever size you’re meant to be.”
Just practicing that, which I know might sound kind of cheesy if you’re not believing those things to begin with, but there is actually research that doing that helps to rewire your brain to think differently, and to go down different automatic thought patterns, and it’s not just stopping the thought and saying, “No, shut up.” It’s saying, “Okay, I acknowledge and I see what this part of my brain is telling me. What does this other part say in response,” so it’s like letting that part of you being there, not shaming yourself for having those diet mentality thoughts, but then, also, bringing in this wise part of your mind to respond and to say, “Hey, maybe you could see it differently,” or, “Is what you’re saying automatically true? I don’t think so. Here’s a reason why not.”
Leanne Vogel: I love that. Those negative thoughts and those dieting you, that version of yourself that’s dieting mentality, when those thoughts… Even today, they come up often. You can’t always have them go away completely, but I always ask that negative voice, “What are you trying to protect me from? What are you trying to accomplish by saying these things,” and oftentimes, it’s a fear of not being loved or feeling unworthy, and then I’m like, “What are things that I can do to make myself feel worthy and loved,” so that this voice… Like I get what you’re saying. That’s totally cool. I respect that, but I’m going to go in this different direction, and like you said, to nourish my body, and I can attest to when I was recovering and even getting out of the diet mentality and creating my own eating self, I would always say when I was eating, out loud or in my head, “I’m nourishing my body. I’m nourishing my body. I’m nourishing my body,” and I literally repeated it over and over and over, until I was done with my meal.
Christy Harrison: I love that.
Leanne Vogel: Now I don’t even think about it. You’re so right. It totally changes the track of your mind, and it’s not an issue. But what happens when you’re on this boat of, “I’m going to do this self-love thing, and I’m going to add in healthy behaviors,” but there are people external from you, that because you are “overweight,” they perceive you as being unhealthy, and how do you continue to care for yourself when people external to you are like, “But you’re not caring for yourself. You’re fat.” Do you know what I mean?
Christy Harrison: Yeah. That is such a great question. Again, I think it’s a many layered sort of thing, because it’s true that in our society, it’s profoundly body negative, and there’s tons of research to date showing that the body mass index categories aren’t actually a good predictor of health and should be thrown out. The doctors should not be using them, and, yet, many doctors tend to cling to this outdated science, because either they don’t know, or they don’t believe, or they have a lot of biases of their own preventing them from accepting the new science, and so they say, “Well, you need to lose weight, because you’re at risk for diabetes,” or whatever, or your family says, “You’re clearly not taking care of yourself, and we’re worried about you, and you need to lose weight.”
That is such a reality to be expected in our society, and I think to counter that is it’s important to be solid in your own place with it, and to do that, I think finding a community of other body-positive people, whether that’s online or in person is really a huge part of this process. Online, I think a huge thing you can do is to unfollow and unsubscribe from people who trigger you, whether that’s friends and family posting about their latest weight loss challenge. Just like quietly unfollow on Facebook. They won’t even know you did it, or unsubscribe from the people trying to sell you diets that are making you feel like you should be losing weight.
And surround yourself with body positive content, body positive media, because there are tons and tons of people out there now putting this stuff out into the world. I’ve had many of them on my podcasts, but you can find them through the hashtag body positive. On Instagram or Twitter is a great way to search. Refinery 29 does a lot of great body positive media, and so you can just look around and start to see there are these people out there living their lives in this profoundly different way than I was, and who are actually healthy, and happy, and have lives and all the things that I want, have relationships, have love, have financially success, have a life that is worth emulating. I think that is so important to see as a counter to the messages we always get in the media about you have to be thin to be happy. You have to look a certain way. You’re not going to achieve these things without having this body. That’s just patently untrue.
Then I think in terms of talking to the individuals in your lives, that’s a challenging conversation, and I would say definitely try approaching that with people you trust and that you feel you could have that empathic connection with. A good place to start for resources around that is Linda Bacon’s website, LindaBacon.org, and Linda Bacon’s book, she wrote a book called Health at Every Size, that is the Bible of health at every size or the first major book to come out detailing the research behind it and the principles, and then she co-wrote a book more recently called Body Respect with Lucy Aphramor, who is a dietician, and that’s a more condensed, more digestible version of health at every size with very action oriented principles. Those two books might be a good thing to read for yourself to get grounded in these philosophies, and then to share with people in your life who might be receptive to them.
Leanne Vogel: Yeah. It’s everywhere. I know I had to do a purge of all those people that I follow and Instagram accounts, and Facebook accounts that just made me feel like I wasn’t a good human unless I was eating X amounts of calories a day and fitting into certain jeans that they were selling. I ain’t got time for that. Imagine all of the energy that you spend on all of these things that take you away from living your life, and that was the big turning point for me is I just want to live my life in my body, because this is really the only thing I have that’s keeping me on this earth, so I better love it because without it, I don’t get to experience all the things that I do love.
I think there’s, also, a conversation around judging others. Oftentimes when you’re going through… I would imagine when you’re going through this health at every size and body acceptance, I know that we had a question come in from one of the listeners that said, “If we’re trying to love ourselves, how do we stop judging others, because I think it’s silently how I judge myself.”
Christy Harrison: Yeah. It’s so inter-related, like how we speak to ourselves is sometimes how we relate to others or judge them in our minds. I think to that point, self-compassion and compassion for others is a huge piece of this. Something that was really helpful in my practice in my recovery, was just learning to apply compassion to myself, to start giving up the control and the really detrimental restrictions that I was placing on myself, and having compassion for you need to eat more. You need to be nourished. You need to be able to have pleasure and flexibility around food to enjoy your life, and that really caused a profound shift in how I related to food and my body over time.
Again, it wasn’t overnight, but having a regular self-compassion practice and a therapist who really encouraged that and worked with me on that, was a huge piece of the puzzle, and through self-compassion, I was able to start to connect compassion to other people, too, and start to offer that out into the world, because I think it’s a two way street. When we start to have compassion for others, we sometimes can start to feel more compassionate toward ourselves, and when we start to feel more compassionate toward ourselves, we can identify that common humanity in others.
I think it’s a really important process to go through that, to work through your own judgments about yourself, and I would say for a lot of people, it tends to work better when they do that first, working through your own self-judgments and why is this so important to you, why is someone’s body size so meaningful to you? It’s probably because you have your own associations with that, your own beliefs about what would it mean if I was that size? What would happen to me? How would I be rejected, or unloved, or not fit in? These are very common themes that come up for people in thinking about body negativity.
Then once you can get compassionate with yourself around that and create a nest of self-compassion for these other things to flourish, then I think it’s really important to start looking at the social justice aspect of health at every size, which is that we really don’t have any known way to help people or make people lose weight and keep it off in a sustainable way. The things that people at higher weights do to try to lose weight actually make them unhealthier or really people at any weight do to make them lose weight make them unhealthier, so how are we not just accepting that some people are meant to be at a larger size and maybe that’s what’s healthy for them?
It’s actually the last bastion of discrimination in many cases, even among very progressive people who believe in equality for all races, all genders, all sexual orientations, all ethnicities. There’s still this piece of discrimination against people in larger bodies, and, again, from a self-compassionate place, I think you need to not beat yourself up over this, because in our society, it’s so common, but from a self-compassionate place, look at why is it that I’m holding onto this discrimination? Would I feel comfortable thinking the same things about a person with a different color skin than me, so why am I thinking these things about a person in a larger body than me or in a body that just looks different from mine in some way?
Leanne Vogel: Yeah. When you say it like that, you can’t argue that. I actually just finished making a bunch of videos, and in one of them, I talked about that very thing. It’s okay for your body to be different and it’s okay to accept that your body is different, just like we look different. You can’t expect us all to have the same body shape, and if I wanted to be a size zero, I’d literally have to cut one of my hips off. There’s no other way to get around that. I have big hips. Even when I was a kid, my hairdresser called me computer hips, because they are the… It was horrible. It was horrible. I just had big hips, and these hips don’t lie. They can only go to a certain size. Yeah. When you say race, or gender when you apply that, it’s very true.
As somebody who is maybe… Let’s say parents, because I know that there are some parents listening, and they’re wondering, “What can I do for my children, so that I set them up in a way that they can love and accept their bodies, and see that there is media out there that will tell them that they shouldn’t trust their bodies. What are some things I can do as a parent to ensure that my child has good values when it comes to their body?”
Christy Harrison: Great question. Yeah. I think the first thing is not to ever say anything to kids about their bodies that could be construed as critical, or shaming, or even praising. Praising someone for their size or for how their body looks can, also, sometimes be used in service of an eating disorder without the parent even intending that, because kids get the message, “Oh, I’m valued for my looks. I’m valued for how my body is, so I better keep that or I better do more of that.”
Really taking the emphasis off of how your child looks, and putting the emphasis more on what their body can do, and showing them the cool things that it’s possible for bodies to do, like, “Wow, we just walked across that whole field or whatever. It’s that cool,” or, “Let’s go play ball or let’s go ride bikes,” or getting them involved in sports or something, to give them a sense of joy in movement and in using their bodies to whatever capacity and abilities they have, and, also, in ways that they love, so letting them gravitate towards the styles and movement that make them happy, which might mean something different than what you feel is appropriate or something.
Then, also, around food, just giving them a lot of options and a lot of good modeling around balance and a neutral relationship with food, and having a lot of things available, both nourishing balanced meals, and, also, fun foods, so not making sugar off limits in your house. Not making anything off limits in your house, and having fun, different things occasionally, so that they know, “Sometimes we get this candy and sometimes we get these chips.” It’s all on the table, and they can learn to relate to them in a neutral way because I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve seen who grew up in a household where there were no treats allowed. There was no sugar at all, and they developed this binge pattern when they would go over to friends’ houses, where, “So and so has a candy drawer, and I’m going to spend all my time just eating snacks at that house and not really spending time with my friends.” It becomes this forbidden fruit if you have something off limits.
Kids really know, once they start interacting with other kids, they pick up on what’s available out there, what kinds of foods are other kids getting, and the kids that get the variety of foods and get to develop a neutral relationship with every type of food, really don’t show that same compulsiveness around it. They can take or leave their candy drawer. Usually the kid with the candy drawer in their house is like, “Oh, yeah, that old thing. Maybe I’ll have some. Maybe I won’t,” like forget about it.
Leanne Vogel: Yeah. I was the girl who ate literally an entire garbage bag of popcorn when I went over to a friend’s house, because my mom was like, “No treats,” and my mom even mentioned it the other day. She’s like, “Wasn’t it great that we didn’t have any treats in the house,” and I was like, “Mom, you have no idea how horrible that was,” because it’s true. It creates binge tendencies for sure.
To get back to the social piece, in a podcast, I can’t remember, one of your podcasts, you were talking about the socially accepted aspects of disordered behaviors around food, and how it’s socially acceptable to count calories or skip a meal, or whatever the case may be. To get back to the social piece, what are some of the disordered behaviors around food?
Christy Harrison: That’s a great question, and, yeah, we live in such a… Our culture is so steeped in the diet mentality that it’s really hard to recognize sometimes. It is that thing of counting calories, or compensating for a meal, like thinking, “I ate X thing earlier in the day, so I need to not eat… I had a carb with lunch, so I shouldn’t have a carb with dinner,” or, “Even though I want it or even though it’s part of the meal that someone is serving me,” or whatever, or, “I really want this thing, but I’m going to seek out a substitute that’s lower in whatever nutrient, because I’ve had too much of that,” so like the low-fat version of the thing you really want.
All of those little things that are women’s magazine diet tips. If you flip through any women’s magazine actually that’s on the stands today, you’ll probably see some great examples of disordered eating. A big one today is clean eating. It literally is moralizing about food. It’s clean versus…
Leanne Vogel: Dirty.
Christy Harrison: They don’t say it, but dirty. Yeah. That’s the flip side here, so who are you if you’re eating dirty, right? You don’t want to be that person. You want to be clean. It’s not to say that whole foods, and plant-based, and greens, and vegetables aren’t great. They are, but if you’re only focusing on those things, and you’re demonizing all other foods and telling yourself you’re bad for eating them, or that you broke your diet and you have to get back tomorrow, that is setting up a really disordered relationship with food.
It’s really true that all foods fit, and I didn’t believe that when I first started down the road of becoming a dietician. I did not believe that all foods fit in a healthy diet or a balanced lifestyle. I thought, “Yeah, but there are certain foods that are just bad and that you should never had,” and I’ve realized that that was a limiting belief that kept me locked in a very disordered mindset, where if I did choose a food that I deemed bad because I had to, I was like, “Oh, I feel so terrible. I need to exercise to burn this off,” or, “Oh, my gut is just reacting so badly to this,” and it would almost make it feel worse in my gut.
Now I really have no restrictions around food. I don’t demonize anything, and on those rare occasions when I have to go to a fast food drive through on a road trip, I’ll be like, “Cool. That was good.” Now I can move on, and we got our eating done so that we can keep going on this trip. It doesn’t hold that same stigma, and it allows me to just have a lot more flexibility and fun in my life, and my health has never been better. It really has been out by my personal experience, and I’ve seen it in hundreds of clients as well, that people’s health can be so compromised by trying to follow whatever diet they’re trying to follow, and especially with this clean eating thing because I think it causes people to really fixate. It causes people often to way over consume vegetables and fruits because those things can be eaten in too high amounts, like give you a lot of gas and stomach pain if you eat too many of them.
We got to stop compromising our health for the sake of following some perfect diet. We got to just be cool and flexible around food, and recognize that all foods can fit, because if you can really accept all foods fit and nothing makes me bad, then you can tune into, “But what really tastes good? What do I really want, and what will I choose if I have to in a pinch, but that’s not my favorite?”
Leanne Vogel: That’s really where creating your own eating style comes in I’m sure. That was my process of now that I understand, yes, definitely. All foods fit. Which ones feel best for me? Which ones give me acne? I don’t really enjoy having acne, so I avoid those foods because I don’t like the acne, but that’s a choose that I make, and if I eat that food, like tomatoes. I love tomatoes. They mess up my complication, so when I eat them, I’m like, “Ah, shoot. Okay. Well, it was tasty.”
But it’s not, all of a sudden, everything is cut out, and I’m not going to eat these things because I think that there is a space for… Once you get over the hump of intuitive eating and you’ve eaten all the things, and you’re doing body acceptance, and you’re listening to your body, there’s going to be foods that you like, don’t like, that make you feel good, that maybe give you headaches, and then you get to choose, “Do I want a headache or do I want this thing,” and sometimes I choose the headache, because I want the thing, but it’s a choice that you make, instead of being told that’s bad. That’s good. You eat this sort of rigamarole.
Christy Harrison: Yeah, absolutely. I think it really puts the ball back in your court if you can liberate yourself from those rules, because someone devised those rules based on either their personal experience, usually some very limited research that was not reflective of the years of research that followed. They glommed onto one study to create a diet plan or some combination of the two.
You actually have to figure out what works for your body, because what one guru says might not be the thing that works for you, and the large body of nutrition research that we have shows that all foods really do fit. There is no one magic diet that’s going to solve all your health problems, and that being too rigid about a diet can actually make you have health problems you never had before, like an eating disorder. Diets really set you up for eating disorders. That’s been shown in the research.
It pays to be flexible about food because then you really do get to be in charge. You’re in charge of your own body.
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Leanne Vogel: How do you determine, like you mentioned, I’m healthier now than I ever have been. How do you determine health if weight isn’t the thing that’s determining your health?
Christy Harrison: Great question.
Leanne Vogel: What is the marker?
Christy Harrison: I think mental health is a huge component of overall health. I think that is a big piece of it, is that I’m no longer ruled by food rules. I am flexible around food. I only think about food five or six times a day when I’m hungry, and then the rest of the time, I’m doing other things and focusing on my life and the things that bring me joy, and food brings me joy, too, but it’s not the sole focus of my day, or taking me away from the other things that bring me joy.
Then in terms of physical health, when I had my eating disorder, it went undiagnosed for a long time, and during that period, I lost my period. I didn’t have a period for over a year. I had acne. I had really high anxiety. I was depressed. I was ruminating about food all the time. What else? I had night sweats. There was just all these little things that I was like… My mind, at the time, was so focused on, “What’s the food I can cut out? What’s the thing that I can restrict to make this all better because the answer can’t possibly be “restrict less.” I was not…
Leanne Vogel: La, la, la, la, not listening.
Christy Harrison: Not listening, yeah, because there were people in my life telling me that. I was like, “No, I will not hear you.” It was like what’s the magic bullet here, and I seized on gluten, because this was back in 2003, when it was not even a trend yet, but there was some emerging research, and the hippy, crunchy friends that I had were like, “Have you heard about gluten?” That was the thing I grabbed onto, and, sure enough, cutting out gluten just made everything worse, not better, because then I was, also, obsessing about this thing, and now restricting and binging on gluten-free foods, too.
I look back on that time in my life, and I’m like, “Wow”. I feel like I’ve come so far. My life feels so profoundly different, and all of the professional success that I’ve had, all of the romantic happiness that I found, all of the friendships and connections that I have, and my spiritual practice, all of it came out of recovery. All of it would not have been possible without letting go of those restrictions, and just letting myself be around food a little more, and letting myself be around exercise, so practicing only movement that makes me feel good, rather than as punishment for something I ate, or a way to lose weight or compensation for something.
I just feel like my life has done a total 180 from that restrictive place, and that, to me, is the measure of health. It’s overall well-being.
Leanne Vogel: Yeah. Not a biomarker. You don’t go to a lab and get a blood test.
Christy Harrison: Side note, a lot of people who pursue health at every size, do see an improvement in biomarkers, too. Your cholesterol might go down if it was high or things like that. For me, the only real biomarkers were a hormonal imbalance caused by not having my period, which, sure enough, cleared up when I stopped restricting and gained a little bit of weight.
Leanne Vogel: It will do that.
Christy Harrison: It will do that.
Leanne Vogel: I had amenorrhea for eight years, so it was a long journey, but all it took was… Well, all it took. That’s like, “Oh, it’s so simple. Just snap your fingers,” but, yeah, it was eating enough. I know that my body needs to be “bigger” in order to menstruate, and, to me, that’s a sign of health, when I feel like a woman. Every time it comes, I’m like, “Yes. This is awesome. Thank you body,” whereas before, I wasn’t eating enough and that will do it.
Christy Harrison: That will do it. Yeah. Women need an adequate amount of fat on our bodies to menstruate, and it’s different for every woman, because we all are genetically determined to have a certain amount of fat stores, just like we’re genetically determined to have a certain height, or a certain eye color, or whatever. It’s all very natural.
Leanne Vogel: Yes, and completely outside of BMI. I agree with you. Did you actually know that BMI was created by a mathematician in the 1800s?
Christy Harrison: I did. Yes. I recently wrote something about that. I think it was for my online course. Yeah. It completely blew my mind when I found that out.
Leanne Vogel: Me, too.
Christy Harrison: It was a mathematic exercise. It was nothing to do with health at all.
Leanne Vogel: Then after World War II, they picked it up because of insurance policies and stuff, and then it just snowballed from there.
Christy Harrison: An insurance company is the one that started using it for health purposes, because they were like, “I wonder how this would predict the health outcomes in our insurance pool,” and it seemed to have some bearing in that particular population at the time, but the thing that is so crazy about it, is that it was meant as a normal distribution of how body sizes are in the population. We fall along this curve naturally as humans, and then it was arbitrarily decided to demonize these certain parts of the curve from “overweight” on up. That’s why I put it in quotes, overweight and obese because the categories don’t mean anything, especially overweight. It’s like over what weight?
Leanne Vogel: Yeah.
Christy Harrison: Right. Why is this over anything? They’ve done now so much research around body mass index and health, as to whether it’s actually useful at all, and found, A, no, and, B, paradoxically, the people in the “overweight” category seem to have the lowest mortality risk. They live the longest, and the people in the “normal” and “obese” categories have the same mortality risk as each other. What are we doing saying that people who are in these “overweight” and “obese” categories need to lose weight to be healthy? It makes no sense.
Leanne Vogel: None whatsoever. None. Yeah. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Where can people find more from you?
Christy Harrison: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It’s great talking with you. People can find me at my website. It’s ChristyHarrison.com, and my podcast is called Food Psych. It’s on iTunes or on my website at christyharrison.com/foodpsych, and then I have an online intuitive eating course if anyone wants to learn more about intuitive eating and is ready to really work through the principles, and that is at christyharrison.com/course.
Leanne Vogel: Beautiful, amazing. I hope that everyone enjoyed today’s episode, and I will include the links, all the links that Christy mentioned in the show notes today, which you can find at HealthfulPursuit.com/podcast/episode5.
That does it for another episode of The Keto Diet Podcast. Thanks for listening in. You can follow me on Instagram by searching Healthful Pursuit, where you’ll find daily keto eats and other fun things, and check out all of my keto supportive programs, bundles, guides, and other cool things over at healthfulpursuit.com/shop, and I’ll see you next Sunday. Bye.