With Intuitive Eating, we often talk about “letting go of the fantasy.” The fantasy that says “When I’m thin, I’ll have everything I’ve ever dreamed of.” Or, “When I’m this weight/size, then I will go on that vacation, start dancing again, join that dating site, apply for that job, ask for a promotion, start my own business, etc.”
Growing up, I believed that if I could get and stay thin, my life would be perfect. I’d find true love, I’d get a good job, I would get to be a Mom, I’d have a nice house, a nice car, and go on nice vacations.
I’ve never been smaller than a size 8. In fact, any time I reached a size 8, I picture it like a bouncy castle where I bounce into the “size 8 wall,” and immediately bounce right off. My body didn’t stay there long - no matter what I did. Sadly, until the age of 35, I did not think that my body was acceptable unless it was a size 8. A size that my body clearly communicated it cannot achieve through physically and mentally healthy means. There was a point when I was 18-years-old, that a size 16 was getting too tight. For the majority of my life, my body has been in the size 10-14 range (with the exception of pregnancies and maternity clothes).
At each point in this size spectrum, I had deep and meaningful friendships, romantic relationships, academic success, and career success.
I forced my body to get to the smallest size I could manipulate it into, when I was married to a man whom I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with. He ended our marriage. The reason he gave me, was that he could never be happy with the size of my body. This was my worst nightmare. It’s as if God said to me “OK Tiffany, the most devastating, painful, and humiliating thing that you could ever imagine happening to you, has happened. It’s time to move on.”
God has since blessed me with a man who loves me unconditionally - no matter what size of body I’m in (he’s experienced the whole spectrum). However, he makes it VERY clear that he appreciates the more voluptuous state my body naturally gravitates towards.
So...I'm married to my best friend who completely rocks my world. I’ve been hired for every job I have ever interviewed for. I’ve achieved my ultimate dream of becoming a Mother. I own a TWO-story house (as a kid, I thought that this was the sign that one had really made it in life). I love my old Acura, and I am grateful for the many vacations I’ve been able to experience. Living in a body that is larger than what I used to deem acceptable for myself, has not prevented me from achieving my dreams.
It’s important to note here that I also experience a tremendous amount of privilege. I am a white woman who comes from a middle class family, with college educated parents. I had financial support while I earned my degrees. I am able-bodied and heterosexual. I can walk into department stores and find my size. I can fit comfortably in an office chair and airplane seat. These are some of the aspects of my identity that make life less challenging/painful for me than it is for others.
This doesn’t mean that I haven’t experienced deep pain from living in a “large” body within diet culture. Through my Intuitive Eating journey, that pain has transformed into anger and annoyance towards diet culture, and has led to a beautiful place of self-compassion and self-love.
Where are your fantasies misguided? What is it that you want to do, that you’ve mistakenly believed you had to reach a certain weight or size to do it?
I went to a water park with my Mom when my son was an infant. We were having a conversation about another diet product that I had just ordered. I was excited! I was always excited to start a new diet - oh the promises of a better life once you are thin!
Two thin women in bathing suits walked by. I told my Mom that now that I’m done having babies, I can work towards having a body like theirs. She said “Ya but Tiffany, look around. Most women don’t have bodies like that.” I could see that, but I also believed that remaining in a body my size was not an option or acceptable. Bodies are categorized, and I wanted to be in the thin category.
My Mom has been in a large body for as long as I can remember. I always knew that she would prefer to be in a smaller body. However, I never sensed that she experienced the shame that I experienced when I was in a larger body. Maybe it was because she had no problem putting on a bathing suit anywhere, anytime. In fact there is no way that my Mom would let the size of her body or a diet, keep her from any opportunity for fun, or connection with others. This is what I now refer to as “Living More.” She loves to swim - so do I. Unfortunately, putting on a bathing suit for me was so emotional from a very young age.
I was always MORTIFIED in any locker room with my Mom, or when I had friends over. My Mom had no problem stripping down in a crowded locker room completely naked. Nor did she feel like she needed to close a door at home when she was changing. I would “yell” in a whisper “MOM!!!! HOW EMBARRASSING!”
Now I look back, and am in complete awe and admiration of her comfort in her body. To her, her naked body is no big deal.
I have arrived at a peaceful place where I can accept that my body was not designed to look like the women who walked by us that day at the water park. For twenty years, I tried to force it to be something it could never be, and was miserable in the process. My genetic blue print is stronger and more powerful than any diet.
Today, most people who see me in a bathing suit would put me in the “large body” category. However, I love water. I love water slides. I love water rides. I love pools. I love hot tubs. I love swimming in warm ocean water. I’m also a Mom of a 7-year-old daughter, who is watching me very closely. I want my daughter to look back and say that her Mom was comfortable putting on a bathing suit anywhere, anytime.
I’m lucky to live in a time where I can look around and see positive representations of bodies my size. I can see that there are many bathing suit companies who design beautiful bathing suits, with my body in mind. I have the opportunity to follow body positive role models who are living it up this summer. My favorite right now is Allison Kimmey (look her up!)! My Mom didn’t have those positive representations of larger bodies available to her. At 36, I’ve realized that she was one for me all along.
Twelve years ago, I went to a dietitian. I told her that I wanted to lose X amount of pounds a week until I’ve reached a certain weight. She looked concerned. In an almost maternal way she asked “Why? You are at a healthy weight.” I said, “No, I’m at the high end of the healthy/normal weight range. I’m one vacation or holiday season away from being ABOVE the normal range.”
I now know that “healthy weight” charts and the BMI is a bunch of B.S., but throughout my life (until now), those measures of “health” felt like measures of my self-worth.
I explained that I needed to be more towards the middle of the range so that when I occasionally gained weight, I’d still be normal/healthy. As a young person who was almost always larger than my peers growing up, being normal or average was very important to me.
She looked at me reluctantly and said “OK.” Even though I detected her reluctance, I chose to focus on her willingness to help me come up with a plan to lose X amount of pounds a week, as her validating/agreeing that I needed to lose weight.
She told me the amount of calories I would have to eat in order to reach my goal. In a way, it felt like a death sentence because it meant that in order for me to be the size I wanted to be, I had to be miserable and hungry every day. I often thought to myself that other people get to be small and still enjoy beer and nachos, or wine and pizza…but I will never be one of those people.
I now know to not make assumptions about WHY people are the size that they are. There is so much shame in diet culture - we rarely know a person's whole story.
I left her office and drove to work. As I was walking to my office, I got a call. It was my dietitian calling to tell me that she had made a mistake. I was relieved! She got the math wrong! Except, she was calling me to say that the calorie count she gave me was what I needed to lose less than I wanted to lose each week. Therefore, we had to cut the original number even more. Her voice sounded as if she were calling to inform me of a death of a loved one. To be honest, it felt almost as bad.
I now follow many dietitians who have rejected a lot of what they were taught in their formal dietetics programs, and instead focus on Intuitive Eating (IE) and Health At Every Size (HAES). I am so grateful to have stumbled across the book Intuitive Eating last summer, and to have found great research based podcasts on IE and HAES.
Starting your Intuitive Eating journey can be lonely. It definitely goes against the grain of what mainstream society says is acceptable. It is helpful to find a body positive community. That community can be online. That community can be a group of friends who can hang out, without talking about the diets that they are on, or speaking negatively about their bodies.
Unfollowing people who promote diet culture and the thin ideal is also very liberating! Following people on social media who positively represent body diversity and HAES, has made a big difference for me.
We ALL deserve to love, appreciate, respect and take care of the body that we live in now, so that we can Live More NOW!
Ten days on the island of Kauai is a dream come true…unless you are deep in the trenches of diet culture. I had been on this last “round” of dieting (meal plans, restriction, food rules) for 13 months. I had really tightened the diet reigns seven months prior to my Hawaiian vacation. I took pride in waking up every day at 5:00 AM, no matter how little sleep I got the night before. Daily weigh-ins that predicted my mood, along with sunrise workouts were my thing. I was determined to keep that up on vacation - and I did.
I did NOT keep up the meal plan, food rules, and restriction. I over-indulged in whatever I had been dreaming of for the past 13 months. My mentality was, “This is your chance, it’s back to your strict meal plan when you get home.” I would later learn that this is referred to as “Last Supper eating.” It was a special trip, with so many fun and memorable experiences with my family. However, diet culture presented itself like a black cloud over my head the entire time - as it had for the last 20 years.
Instead of feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, I returned from Kauai feeling ashamed. I was overwhelmed with the amount of work it would take to undo the damage from my vacation. I dreaded the remaining two fun summer getaways that we had planned, because I feared that they too would destroy my dieting efforts. I remember sitting at my dining room table while mapping out my meal plan, and creating a grocery list. I started thinking seriously about how I could get out of our last two planned mini-vacations.
That’s when I hit diet bottom.
I realized how sad it was that I felt guilty for not dieting on my previous vacation (even though the diet loomed over me the entire time), and how insane it was that I was trying to get out of our next two fun family trips.
I started journaling thoughts including "What kind of life is this? I would be heart-broken if my children lived this way." It was then that I called a truce with myself and wrote “I would rather live in a larger body if it meant that I was actually LIVING a full life."
“I would rather live in a larger body if it meant that I was actually LIVING a full life."
A life where my diet does not predict my social calendar. A life where I RSVP based on whether or not an event sounds fun, I feel up for it, and it works with my family’s schedule. A life where I don’t have to work at being in a pleasant/good mood because I’m constantly hungry. A life where instead of being preoccupied with feelings of stress, anxiety, or guilt around food, I am fully present - taking in the experience, and connecting with the people around me.
How do I do this? Enter Google. Search requests: Body positivity, body image, mindfulness, mindful eating.
This search led me to a podcast. I put in my earbuds, and went on a walk with my dog that completely changed the direction of my life. I listened to an interview where Intuitive Eating was being discussed. There was a brief summary of the principles, and a book recommendation. I got a copy of the Intuitive Eating book in late July of 2017. I couldn’t read it fast enough - I knew that this was the tool I needed to learn how to Live More.
Tiffany was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She lives with her husband, kids, and chocolate lab. Her favorite vacations so far (beyond camping in the family motorhome), have been to Kauai, Key West, New York City, and Sayulita. She looks forward to expanding that list!
A heartfelt thanks to Julie G Photography.