Don’t miss a FURIOUS FROLIC with my amazing guest, the Food Psych herself, Christy Harrison! Christy is COMPLETELY fired up about diet culture bullsh*t and all of the harm it perpetuates. In fact she’s so p*ssed off she wrote a book! Join us as we dissect the history of diet culture and reveal its bigotted roots in racist and sexist propaganda about what type of human belongs at the top of the food chain (spoiler alert: thin white men). Even the Suffragettes sucked! Christy has done some amazing detective work and quite literally, this book will change your life and get you MAD AS HELL! Do not miss this episode!
- My guest this week is Christy Harrison, intuitive eating coach, anti-diet dietitian, and host of the amazing Food Psych podcast. She is COMPLETELY fired up about diet culture and all of the harm it perpetuates.
- In fact she’s so pissed about it, she wrote a book! “Anti-Diet” has just come out, and it’s wonderful to see such an awesome HAES message coming out at Christmas, a time when diet culture ramps up the pressure. And here in Australia it’s not just the Christmas pressure, it’s also summer & so we’re all being doubly pressured with those “summer body” messages.
- Shape shifting diet culture messages keep on being rebranded & re-sold to us, but it’s literally the same old shit sandwich, as Christy is over it!
- This book has been a long time coming. Christy started her career as a journalist 17 years ago, but has wanted to write a book since she was a child. This book has had a very winding path, like many parts of her career.
- Around 10 years ago Christy decided she wanted to write a book about emotional eating. She’d just gone back to study public health & nutrition and wasn’t feeling fulfilled creatively. But before that she worked at Gourmet magazine, where she wrote a lot about food and culture and people’s relationships with food. But Christy had a very negative relationship with food, she had been a disordered eater since the end of college. This lead into her first career in food & nutrition reporting – and it wasn’t from a place of feeling at peace or balanced around food.
- Christy was obsessed, she wasn’t eating enough so constantly thought about food. She kept researching & falling down rabbit holes, and wanted to make use of it. She got very interested in Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and the politics of food. This was actually quite problematic and she writes about that in the book.
- Louise also remembers going through a stage of thinking that people like Pollan & Nestle were fantastic, but reflecting back she was coming at it from a disordered place – through a weight centric lens.
- It really caught Christy’s imagination, and she wanted to “End the o****ty epidemic”. So around 2009/2010 she started researching for the book. In many ways it did help inform her for the book she ended up writing, but it took a totally different direction.
- She started to research the cultural history of emotional eating. How did we get the idea of emotional eating – where does it come from?
- At that point Christy identified herself as an emotional eater, someone who ‘ate her feelings’ – not realising that actually it was because she was restricting herself and not eating enough.
- Through her research she discovered the work of Janet Polivy & Michael Herman, on the impact of restrained eating (basically they demonstrated that restriction leads to binge eating). She also came across a psychiatrist called Hilary Bruch who had some very offensive ideas on how children come to be larger bodied.
- Christy also discovered the book Intuitive Eating, and fell in love! It made so much sense as Christy finally saw that before she started to try to control her eating, she ate intuitively and was fine. Christy acknowledges her thin privilege which made it easier for her to accept that everything was fine before her disordered eating started. But this was the starting point for Christy’s formal recovery, and she worked with a therapist to address her eating issues specifically.
- She worked on healing herself, but she was working in nutrition education at the time & was often required to give people information that was not in line with how she was starting to think. Some of her “best” students started to remind her of her old disordered eating patterns. The cognitive dissonance was huge.
- So Christy went down a path of opening up to the Health at Every Size philosophy, and starting to specialise in helping people recover from disordered eating.
- Through her training in disordered eating it became very obvious to Christy that the HAES paradigm is a fantastic alternative to this diet-y paradigm that holds so much influence.
- Christy’s current podcast, the Food Psych, reflects her transition and commitment to the HAES path. It started in 2013.
- Christy had been trying for several years by then to write her book, but the pieces did not yet fit together. Which is great – imagine she had written such a fence sitting book!
- She even found an old email to a friend where she said her book was like the “Michael Pollan take on emotional eating” – her take away was going to be, “you have to eat emotionally the right way, by knowing your farmer!”
- It’s ok for this to be a huge, long process of un-learning. Some HAES concepts will make sense almost immediately, others will take time to take hold or even make sense.
- Because Christy was in a thin body, the intuitive eating side of things made sense easily. But because of that privilege the whole social justice and health side of things took much longer for her to come to understand on a deep level.
- Christy also grew up in diet culture, and HAES flew in the face of everything she had learned about body size and health.
- Now, 10 years later after having her book idea, it all finally makes sense and all of the pieces fit together.
- The podcast was a big part of Christy’s learning, she learned so much through researching and talking to people all about these concepts.
- So when it came to write the book, she already had a lot of information ready to go.
- There are a lot of fence sitting books in this space, as people in diet culture tend to write almost as soon as they have an idea. And there’s a lot of non-diet books which miss the nuance – for example, selling the idea that intuitive eating will “cure” emotional eating.
- There are people who don’t understand what they don’t yet understand. And publishers want to make money.
- The book is truly amazing – it has information about the history of diet culture, and weight science, how diet culture is just a life thief that takes our money – there are many awesome rabbit holes!
- In the book we meet the activists, researchers, and HAES community – it’s great to hear from them – even a few from Australia!
- So – what is diet culture?
- Diet culture is a system of beliefs and values that worships thinness, treating it as a marker of health and virtue, that promotes weight loss as a way of attaining higher status. Diet culture demonises some foods and elevates others. The whole system is oppressive and excludes those who don;t match up.
- Diet culture has a tremendously negative impact of people’s wellbeing and mental, physical, spiritual, and community health.
- Diet culture is endemic in Western culture. And it’s relentless – messages are constantly coming, from our media, from doctors, to our peers and families, teachers, books – everything! Everything is steeped in this way of thinking.
- There’s an awesome chapter in the book on the history of diet culture which is fabulous. Basically, diet culture stems from extremely racist & sexist origins.
- Diet culture is a system of oppression born out of other systems of oppression that already existed and then became its own system that reinforced all of the other systems of oppression.
- It became a way of policing people based on their body size. It’s so fucked up!
- Even Charles Darwin: flat out – fatphobe! And sexist, and racist.
- All of the evolutionary biologists had this fucked up view about bodies that categorised people on a moral hierarchy.
- This didn’t make it into the mook, but there was something called the “Great Chain of Being”, which ranked people according to how close they were to God. People from Africa were the lowest ranked on the Great Chain of Being (interesting as the authors of the Great Chain had a political interest in enslaving people from Africa!). The whole idea was a tool to justify slavery and white supremacy.
- And of course, white Northern European men were the closest to God – surprise surprise!
- From there the evolutionary models were born, and again people from Africa were the lowest on the chain of evolution, as well as Native American people – because again there was a political motivation to keep them oppressed and they needed to find a way to justify it.
- And again, white Northern European men at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy.
- And from these ideas came quasi-scientific practices such as phrenology, where they’d measure people’s head sizes, noses, ears, etc, and draw conclusions about temperament, criminality, etc. And from that it was determined that people of colour and women tended to have more fat on their bodies. And from that the idea that fat bad ‘bad’ because it was a marker of evolutionary inferiority!
- It is so useful to trace back our diet culture ideas to their roots, and to really understand how bigotted these roots were.
- So this idea of bigger bodies being “bad” actually pre-dated any kind of “health concern”.
- The medical establishment were actually late joiners to the “fat is bad” message.
- People who went to the dr at the turn of the 20th century seeking weight loss were told that gaining weight with age was normal & nothing to worry about. And weight loss was seen as taking dr’s away from serious medicine.
- It wasn’t until fatphobic ideas were solidly entrenched in society thanks to the efforts of the evolutionary biologists, and insurance companies started to hound drs about the relationship between weight and mortality (based on tiny data sets) that things started to change.
- So, the medical establishment followed the Zeitgeist.
- Even the Suffragettes were sizeist – the first women’s rights activists fighting for the right for women to vote. They got a lot of pushback and resistance from the dominant culture about this. One of the ways they’d be challenged was they were painted as larger bodied, masculine looking, “ugly” – as a way to undermine the movement & dissuade other women from joining in.
- Rather than pushing back against the whole ides of size or beauty being at all relevant to the fight for human rights, the Suffragettes caved, and began to cultivate an image of them as slim, wearing white, traditionally ‘beautiful’. This was effective in many ways (sadly), but women of colour and size were effectively excluded from the movement.
- It’s so fucked up. Here in Australia, white women got the vote around the turn of the century (1902), but it wasn;t until 1962 that all Aboriginal women in Australia could vote (Louise said the 1970’s in the podcast, this is incorrect!).
- It’s so sad, in the history of social justice movements it seems that small steps are made but a lot of marginalised people just get ignored.
- Size acceptance is becoming more mainstream around the world. But we’re a long way off achieving real equality in this space – and in the USA there’s still a long way to go before equal voting rights are attained.
- Size acceptance as a movement has been going since the late 1960’s, but in reality we’re just getting started – it’s a young movement.
- There’s definitely an upswing in mainstream attention to size acceptance now which is great.
- Size acceptance was started by activists with lived experience of being in the world in a larger body. Then they were joined by health professionals and eating disorder experts who also saw the need for greater equality.
- This was the groundwork for the Health At Every Size movement,which recruited more people in the health space with educational privilege and ability to influence research etc. We’re now at a point where a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life are talking about size acceptance.
- It’s even ‘the cool people’ talking about size acceptance now – not just outsiders. And that’s interesting because that’s what it takes to get an idea more mainstream.
- There are definitely challenges when a movement becomes more mainstream, but overall it’s so positive.
- We can use the ‘cool people’ to open the door, but then allow everybody to come through. Not like the suffragettes!
- Cool people like Jameela Jamil is very fired up about size acceptance, which is amazing! And how good is it that outdated crap, like the Victoria’s Secret lingerie parade, has been cancelled!?
- Watching Lizzo perform at the VMA’s – just watching more diversity. Even in stores here in Australia, mannequins which are larger sizes are appearing in stores. And when we shop online, there’s increasingly models there who are not just a size 4 or 6!
- It feels like in fashion, and in the traditional “thin ideal” industries, there’s just more diversity appearing & it’s not even being commented on. But then in the health space it feels like it’s getting worse!
- Where are we in a world in which Victoria’s Secret is actually cooler than your local dr!?
- The diet industry is clinging on for dear life & doing its damnedest to survive. The diet industry is so scared by body acceptance because more & more people are walking away from weight loss.
- And the diet industry is built on selling weight loss.
- Diet culture now frowns on weight loss dieting – it’s now the “wellness diet”. We’re not supposed to be focusing on weight loss, but the modern scourges of vague healthy symptoms like brain fog, and ‘bloating’.
- All of these symptoms can be caused by restriction and dieting. And so for the diet industry to tell us to ‘solve’ these problems by becoming more restrictive or cutting out more foods – is so insidious and so shady – because they’re the ones who caused these problems in the first place!
- Diet culture got us into this mess of disordered eating in the first place – and now the ‘solution’ is cutting out more foods? I mean, talk about doing the same thing over & over again & hoping for a different result!
- In the book Christy talks about how HAES provides a completely new way to look after your health & body. One misconception of HAES is that it’s a “do-nothing treatment”. But it’s not – it’s self-care, not self-control.
- There’s a lot you can do to support your health that has nothing to do with weight change.
- Christy talks about emotional eating in her book. She found that people who self-identify as ‘emotional eaters’ don’t actually eat more than regular people in experimental settings. People who self-identify this way tend to be more worried about their health, tend to follow more rules about food, and are hard on themselves when they don;t measure up to their own standards of eating healthily.
- Also, people are much more likely to eat in response to feelings or when things feel out of control when they’re not eating enough.
- Unravelling your relationship with food means eating enough, and also working on things like letting go of internalised weight stigma, and letting go of food rules. When people do this, they tend to ‘eat emotionally’ less of the time.
- In diet culture if we don’t question this idea that we shouldn’t be eating very much, it’s easy to misunderstand out of control eating as a ‘problem’ that needs therapy to cure it, when really it’s all about not eating enough.
- And sadly so many therapists in diet culture co-sign this idea. Therapists are not trained nutrition professionals, so may take what a person says about emotional eating at face value, not questioning the basics. This is where it’s good to refer to a non-diet dietitian!
- If a therapist has his/her own implicit weight bias, they’ll be unlikely to see the red flags. In fact they might buy into diet mentality.
- Christy went to see a therapist who specialised in eating disorders, who told her that the calorie intake she was having was “enough” and “not disordered” even though Christy knew it was nowhere near enough for her!
- A HAES eating disorder specialist is your safest bet to go to for treatment in order to avoid blatant weight bias in treatment.
- There’s a whole chapter in Christy’s book about getting angry and why it’s absolutely ok!
- It’s about waking up and recognising how much impact diet culture has had on our lives, how much time, money, and life has been taken in this never ending pursuit of body change. It’s about pushing back and getting angry is part of that.
- Particularly women never get validated for feeling angry in diet culture, even though it is 100% valid! Diet culture encourages us to be angry at ourselves. But if we can turn it around & flip it over, that’s a huge shift all in itself!
- This also helps us make change in the world, because we’re now aiming our anger at the right place.
- In the “O****ty research” world, they are befuddled by the anger, and try to dismiss it. In New York there was an “O***ty conference” and one of the titles of the presentation was “Paediatric o****ty interventions in an era of outrage”, and they had a whole panel there talking about how angry people are. And they’re using the same tactics targeted at the Suffragettes – dismissing activists as these fat, angry people who can’t see what a great thing the researchers are doing. It’s the same attempt to silence by putting people in an ‘out’ group.
- Painting HAES activists as “angry” equates it with being “unfeminine” too. It draws on social norms in an effort to police this – you don’t want to “be like them”. It’s these emotional, hysterical women, we’re the rational ones with our science and logic”.
- When people dismiss anger and tone police they miss an important piece of the puzzle – why are people so angry? If anger is there it’s a signal of injustice.
- That’s important information. To just dismiss it and to think of ways to keep doing what they’re doing is just not ok.
- We are not going away!
- Christy is gearing up for some major backlash. But the HAES community is here for her.
- Christy does practice self care – trying not to look at comments, particularly recently when her New York Time Op Ed came out. Her editor screened the comments & sent questions to her that were relevant, shielding her from the abusive comments.
- Venting to husband and friends in the community helps. Not posting publicly and being choosy about where and who to reach for for support. Yoga, unplugging, meditation, being in her body, being in nature. All of it helps.
- There is something very healing about being in physical space, with nature, animals. Just stepping away from technology.
- The New York Times Op Ed pieces were Christy talking about the “WW” Kurbo app, the weight loss app for kids, they’re here in the shownotes below.
- Even the fact that this was in the NYT – kind of a big deal! One of the editors of the opinion section is a Food Psych listener. The fact that people with such influence listen to the podcast is a reflection of how much HAES awareness is growing.
- The book is called Anti-Diet and it’s out now to buy! Link is below!
- May you outsell every shitty diet book on the planet!
- Christy is coming to Sydney in June 2020 for the International Congress on Eating Disorders (ICED) and Louise will be on a panel with her – so cool!!
- Bring on 2020 and the downfall of diet culture!
Link to Christy’s book!
Michael Pollan wrote a book “In Defense of Plants” which is totally elitist, but was the absolute bees knees at the time (do not read without a drink)
Marion Nestle wrote “Food Politics”, another fatphobic tome which was all the rage. (do not read without a drink)
The work of Hilde Bruch included some very offensive ideas on how children came to be larger bodied (Just do not read it, it’s awful)
The amazing book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole is a HAES classic.
Christy’s first New York Times Op-Ed on the WW Kurbo App.
Her Second New York Times Op-Ed after the first one went gangbusters
The “O****ty Society’s” Opening Session which was actually called “Treating Pediatric O****ty in an Era of Outrage”. (do not read without a stiff drink or 3).