I have just returned from a week on retreat with some of the wonderful members of our UNTRAPPED online program. 22 of us – members and guides – spent the week together at the lovely Gymea eco-resort, in far Northern New South Wales. It was a lush, tropical oasis, and we had the entire place to ourselves. It was very much a dream of mine to run something like this. One of the main reasons I started the UNTRAPPED program was because I knew how important it is to feel part of a community, to not feel alone in standing up against diet culture. Over the last 18 months, I have watched the UNTRAPPED online community form and bond, and bringing everyone together in real life was the next logical step.
The tranquil and mesmerising magnesium pool at Gymea!
I’m still trying to process everything that happened at this retreat. We really had an adventure! Our foundation was definitely the food, which was lovingly provided by our incredibly hard working and dedicated guides Susan Williams from Zest Nutrition and Meg McClintock from Choose Nutrition. It’s not everyday that you get to have all your meals prepared by anti-diet dietitians, and they blew our minds! The food was nothing short of AMAZING – there was a huge variety of choices, and each meal was served in a relaxed, family style, with serving bowls in the middle of the table, so that everyone could choose exactly what they wanted, and how much. The meals were regular, and there was such a wonderful feeling of abundance at mealtimes. Susan & Meg put so much thought into every single experience, and you could feel the love in every single mouthful.
Unbelievably delicious food on Lebanese feast night
It was lovely to watch the group bonding in real life, and to notice the freedom which everyone seemed to sense. There was a rich and beautiful array of body shapes and sizes, and every body belonged in this private oasis of body liberation. People talked about how freeing it felt to not feel ‘the gaze’ on them. In diet culture, there’s a constant surveillance of our bodies operating, and this diet culture ‘gaze’ inhibits us on many subtle levels. To not have that for a whole week felt GREAT. I can’t help but imagine what it would be like if the whole world was truly accepting like this.
I can’t help but want that with all of my heart. I can’t help but feel incredibly angry that the world isn’t safe like this for people in all bodies. I shouldn’t have to create ‘safe spaces’ in pockets of the Hinterland. Safe spaces should be EVERYWHERE. The fact that they aren’t is criminal.
We had many incredible experiences at this retreat – including an unforgettable visit from a slightly aggressive snake – but the growing sense of community and camaraderie was definitely a standout for me. As we progressed through each of the workshops, we got to know each other, and our conversations deepened. We grew into the experience, and learned to listen more closely to our needs. Daily yoga sessions with Maya Rees from Om Illusion Yoga complemented this theme of listening and learning, and people who thought they would never like yoga found that they really did!
Simon the snake, #notfriendly
Of course, not everything about the retreat was fun, light hearted, or easy. We covered some very challenging topics, and opened up about our ‘stuck’ points. As we progressed, people found their voices in a big way, and really felt, in their bodies, the rejection of diet culture. This amazing, incredible conviction that there is nothing ‘wrong’ with us, that nothing has been wrong the whole time. The felt realisation that we have all been dealing with a huge injustice. And from that, a growing sense of rebellion.
With such recognition comes great emotion, which was expressed in some fantastic ways. We threw things (supervised, in art therapy!). We danced, we laughed, and we made fun of fat hatred. There was at times great sadness, even grief. And a growing sense of anger.
This is what has been on my mind since we wrapped up. Anger. I feel deeply angry to know that each person I spent the week with has had their lives so severely impacted – smallened, cut off, isolated, amputated, shrunk, suppressed, – by diet culture. I want the entire world to know that these women are all INCREDIBLE. Smart, funny, loving, wonderful people! It should not be so hard for people to feel safe to bloody well EAT, move around in the world, to just feel ok in their bodies. And it’s UNACCEPTABLE to me that these women have had to put in so much work just to get back to that simple sense of self acceptance. And it breaks my heart that for many of these awesome humans, the struggle will continue after they leave our retreat.
It’s just so screwed up and wrong. And I am angry about it!!
As you know (or maybe you don’t), one of the foundations of the UNTRAPPED program is self-compassion, this idea of developing a kind, loving, and supportive relationship with yourself, in order to foster lasting self-care. Traditionally, self-compassion has three components: mindful awareness – being aware of whatever is going on, without judgement, responding with kindness to one’s own suffering, and common humanity, in which we recognise that everything belongs, and all humans experience pain. Self-compassion in this nurturing, caring framework is very much an attempt to re-parent ourselves, to turn towards ourselves when things get tough, as opposed to responding to our suffering with harsh self-judgement.
As a clinical psychologist who deeply values self-compassion, but who is also massively pissed off at diet culture and the harms it has inflicted on my lovely UNTRAPPED retreaters (and on countless others), I have been thinking about how anger fits into all of this. Isn’t it against the premises of self-compassion to be angry? Shouldn’t I just focus on feeling empathy for diet culture?
The answer is this wonderful idea of FIERCE self-compassion. If self-compassion is essentially about parenting yourself in the way you wish you had been parented, fierce compassion is the lioness that roars when her cubs are being threatened. Kristen Neff explains how the three traditional components of self-compassion look when they become fierce:
“The three components show up as fierce, empowered truth. Self-kindness means we fiercely protect ourselves. We stand up and say “NO! You cannot harm me in this way.” Common humanity helps us to recognize that we are not alone. We don’t need to hang our heads in shame. We can stand together with our brothers and sisters in the experience of being harmed and become empowered as a result. Me too. And mindfulness manifests as clearly seeing the truth. We no longer choose to avoid seeing or telling in order not to rock the boat. The boat needs to be rocked. When we hold our pain with fierce-empowered-truth we can speak up and tell our stories, to protect ourselves and others from being harmed.”
The retreat showed me the power of women coming together in a collective rejection of diet culture, refusing to feel shamed, reclaiming their bodies and their right to take up space, discovering their ferocity. And it was gloriously awesome!
Anger is ok. When it is filtered through the lens of fierce compassion, anger can give us the fuel we need to fight injustice and to bring about change in the world. Anger is a message from our body which lets us know that we are not being treated properly, that our needs are being ignored or suppressed. The key is to not let anger consume us, to look after it with a sense of self-compassion, and to channel the rage into decisive, positive action. Rather than being burned by anger, allowing it to warm us, to light us up.
I am angry, and this is because my mind and body are reacting to injustice. I can recognise my own anger, the anger of the retreaters, and the anger of the entire anti-diet community, with a sense of fierce compassion. I return from this amazing retreat galvanised, not paralysed, by my anger.
So that’s me after the retreat: angrier and more determined than ever before! Thank you to everyone who made the retreat so transformative, in particular each and every one of the wonderful UNTRAPPED community. You are amazing. And to the guides: you are my rocks, my inspiration, my joy.
The incredible team of guides for the UNTRAPPED Retreat, from left to right: Fiona Willer from Unpacking Weight Science, Ashlee Bennett from The Body Image Therapist, ME, Meg McClintock from Choose Nutrition, Maya Rees from Om Illusion Yoga, Susan Williams from Zest Nutrition. Not pictured: Shelley Lask from Body Positive Health & Fitness, Nicole McDermid from The Embodied Journey, Janet Lowndes from Mind Body Well.
I’ll finish with this wonderful fierce compassion mantra from MSC teacher, Eva Sivan, which I find seriously useful when the bullshit of diet culture is firing me up:
May I be strong in the face of hate and may my resolve never falter.
May I seek justice with mercy and embrace righteousness and equity.
May I be a source of compassion and kindness and hope.
May I be a pursuer of peace.
If you are feeling the ferocity, but unsure of how to channel it into meaningful and lasting self-care, consider joining our wonderful UNTRAPPED community. I’m so incredibly fired up right now that I am offering you a 20% discount off the membership price! This means you’ll save OVER $100 !
There are only 20 of these special places, so be quick: enter the coupon code FIERCECOMPASSION at the checkout & grab this amazing online course at a bargain price!
Click here to join! – and click on ‘add coupon’ to make sure you claim your discount!