Episode Transcription by Fayelle Ewuakye. Find her on Twitter at @FayelleEwuakye.
– Welcome to Fat and Faithful , an ongoing conversation about faith, politics and culture, as they relate to fatness.
Amanda – Hey everyone, Amanda here. Nicole is not with us today, I am interviewing a guest, Julie Duffy Dillon. She and I talk about intuitive eating, what it means to find food peace, and how that connects to being a person of faith. I’m really excited to share this with you guys. So once you’re finished, or right now, if you can go, rate and review this podcast on iTunes, that would be really helpful to us, because the more people that rate and review, the more people see when they’re searching for things about fatness and faith. Thanks so much! And here’s today’s episode.
Amanda – Welcome to this episode of Fat and Faithful, I’m here with Julie Duffy Dillon, of the Love Food podcast, one of my absolute favorite shows to help me in my journey towards food peace.
Julie is a registered dietitian who discovered that diets didn’t work for her clients. She set out to find a better way. That brought her to intuitive eating and Health at Every Size, also called HAES, Mindful Eating and Joyful Movement. And she uses her wisdom and insight, not only in her practice but also on her podcast, which has an epistolary format, which I love. It’s written as a letter, a listener writes a letter to food, with a questioner’s struggle, and then Julie and usually a guest discuss the letter and then we hear food’s response.
Here on Fat and Faithful, it’s our mission to encourage our listeners and ourselves, to love God incarnate and to love our neighbor’s body as our own. Finding peace with food is an integral part of loving one’s own body, so that we’re more available for relationship, which doesn’t happen with restriction.
Nicole and I wanted to give our listeners and ourselves a better understanding of food peace through intuitive eating, and that is why we invited Julie to the table.
Julie I’m so glad to have you on the show today, welcome to Fat and Faithful!
Julie – Thank you Amanda, you know it was so great to hear that introduction, that was so lovely, so I appreciate the kind words. And I am honored to be here and I’m so glad to know about your podcast because I think it’s filling a really important need.
Amanda – Well thank you, we’re excited to be able to talk about faith in relationship to bodies but we know that, not all our listeners are people of faith so wherever you’re at in your journey, I hope that you can learn from what Julie’s gonna teach us on intuitive eating. So let’s talk about, in your experience as a dietitian, why is dieting harmful?
Julie – Well, what I’ve come to appreciate from research and also clinical observation, you know, sitting next to people who are trying to make peace with food and also trying to find ways to promote health that’s long term, is, I basically came to this conclusions, that, diets don’t work. And not only do they not work, there’s risk with dieting, you know it’s not just this kind of decision that has little meaning to it, and as a Health At Every Size informed practitioner, something that appreciate is that, a person’s size is not something that’s necessarily going to determine how healthy they are. And as a Health At Every Size practitioner, I also appreciate that, when someone’s at the statistical, which is always a hard word for me to say, statistical extremes of the weight spectrum, we are pretty sure that weight is something that can be harmful. Yet when someone is at those extremes, you know, those extremes, I try to be like sound in my research, but I can’t say the words. When someone is at those extremes, we still don’t have an option for a person to lose weight in a way that’s gonna help most people and promote health long term. And what I always tell people, especially dietitians, who are struggling with this conversation, is even if someone comes to you and wants to lose weight just because they want to look differently or because maybe they’re at a very high weight, and you have to let them know, like they need to have informed consent before they start a diet, because it is something that we know is harmful. So like, starting a diet, you basically need to tell them, well it’s probably not going to work, it’s probably gonna lower your resting metabolic rate, so basically, the amount of food that you eat to maintain your weight at whatever weight your body wants to be at, is gonna be lower than it was if you had never tried a diet. And also it’s gonna increase your risk for things like high cholesterol, high triglycerides, depression, you’re pretty much gonna have a lower self concept as per the research, you know there’s like all these things that we’ve been able to connect with dieting. And also like, dieting predicts weight gain. So like, there’s so much to just be aware of, so yeah, it’s harmful, and they don’t work, so we need to find another way. That’s where intuitive eating helped me in my career and also how I relate to food, it helped me to have a language to do that. And it’s, I think there’s 85+ studies now on intuitive eating and how it helps promote health and how it’s being established and the research as an option, so um, and more being done everyday. So it’s an option that I think is really important and, I don’t know as I’m saying all this stuff, there’s often things that people will say to me whenever I talk about intuitive eating, like well, if I do intuitive eating, does that mean that I’m just letting myself go? And I always think about how, intuitive eating is really this, it’s not a passive process, it’s a really active process to stay engaged with one’s body and also to be aware of messages of like, shame, and judgement and to try to move away from that type of paradigm. So it’s not letting yourself go, and it’s really something that you have to work towards and acceptance is not being a gluttonous kind of couch potato, it’s actually the opposite, you know.
Amanda – Right well it’s interesting, you use the word gluttonous because that gets thrown around in faith communities when it comes to bodies and we did an episode a couple weeks ago on what is gluttony? In looking at the scriptural backing towards gluttony, it’s actually connected towards consumption that harms your neighbor instead of just eating a lot. So, listeners if you wanna check that episode out, it’s actually 2 part episode because we talked a long time about it. Please do that. So Julie what I’m hearing you say is, dieting doesn’t bring about the desired results and intuitive eating helps people get to a place of listening to their bodies.
Julie – Yeah, I think the assumption is, is if I just do the diet correctly, and keep doing it, then it’ll work. And what we know from our research so far is that, even if someone does the diet correctly and continues on it forever, they’re still gonna regain the weight and one third to two thirds of people will regain more, so, so yeah, I feel like intuitive eating is this kind of, I don’t know, a gently kind of in your face like, hey it’s not you that’s failing, it’s the diet that doesn’t work so don’t think you’re doing it wrong, like you got the wrong tool.
Amanda – And on your website you have a saying that you alluded to earlier, that intuitive eating is not letting yourself go, it’s letting yourself be. I love that so much.
Julie – Yeah it’s an important one because I think there’s a lot of shame with addressing, where’s the source of this judgement and shame coming from and saying, you know what? It really isn’t my fault. And I think a lot of people hear from maybe family or in their community that they should really be working hard on their health, and that if you’re not working hard on it then you’re letting yourself go. And that’s why I feel like intuitive eating is often just thrown out there like, well you’re just letting yourself go and when we let ourselves be, I think, what I connect to personally and from a lot of my clients too is, when you let yourself be, I think you can help quiet the noise. And I often picture, like if we live in a, I live in a pretty small southern town, but if I even went further out in the country, and there were no like, city lights, you know I could see all the stars in the sky, in the nighttime sky. But then if I went to like New York City, or Hong Kong, all the lights and everything, I wouldn’t see as many stars, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. I just can’t, there’s all these things blocking it. And I picture dieting and body hate and this misuse of things like you said, gluttony, I think that’s basically the smog and the city lights keeping us from what is already there. And so when we can just be, I think we can connect with our faith, we can connect with our body’s wisdom and the answers are there. And I don’t think we, we shouldn’t have to have dietitians, I feel like, we have our own in there that’s letting us know what we need. So yeah, when you just let yourself be, I think it connects to all of our strengths which for many of us will be our faith, and also the like, innate kind of processes in our body, like our physiology that just lets us know, hey, this is what we need to eat right now, and this is what we need to be satisfied. We really can rely on that.
Amanda – I love it. It makes me think of when Moses is on the mountain and he hears, or he sees this bush that’s not burning up, it’s like so weird and out of his comfort zone, and he hears the bush inviting him to come closer, and it’s God in the bush. And when he asks what his name is, God answers, I am who I am. Like, he’s so comfortable being himself, and I think that you’re saying of it’s not letting yourself go it’s letting yourself be, puts us, puts me at least in a place of being in touch like, I can be me, and I’m a fat woman, and I use the word fat as a descriptive, neutral, rather than an epithet, and I can walk into a room and not worry about what other people are thinking about my size, because I’ve just come to this place of, I am who I am. I am the person that is in front of you, and that’s enough.
Julie – And you know, one of the most beautiful experiences in my office, is when I’m sitting across from someone who has that moment where you can see it, you can feel it in the room, where there’s a touch of acceptance. And they’re feeling acceptance, I’m getting tingles just thinking about it. And it’s a very, to me it’s always been a religious experience in a sense because I know I’m a religious person and I feel like it’s how God is, in the room. And I can tell in that moment how it’s happening, it’s always wonderful and I never thought about connecting it to Moses like you just said. That is really awesome, thanks.
Amanda – And even to connect it further to Moses, Moses is really insecure. Like, he says, a lot of people say he has a speech impediment or he’s just unfamiliar with the Egyptian language because it’s been 40 years. And I just see God being like, you know what? It’s okay, you can be who you are and do the things I have for you. Like, I’m so empowered by that because in the church a lot I hear, you need to be fit, you need to be healthy so that you can do what God has for you. And I think that, that is a limited view of who God is and who he has inherently made us to be.
Julie – Yeah yeah, I love the, how you said that, for two different reasons. One is, the fit and healthy, like are tools that we think are supposed to do that, don’t actually promote that, they promote the opposite. From most research, suggestions, what we’re finding right now is that really in the end, diets make us more sick. But then the other side of it is, health isn’t a moral issue either, you know? That doesn’t provide favor as whether someone’s healthy or not. Because there are people I feel like, they shouldn’t have to choose to be healthy, there’s so many, there’s such a dynamic type of experience and access to health is not equal, so it’s a very complex kind of situation so I’m like, yeah, health isn’t a moral issue either. So, that’s an interesting point to me.
Amanda – Not even, listeners I did not tell her to say that health was not a moral issue, you’ve heard us say that here before.
Julie – Oh that’s funny!
Amanda – Which is amazing because it’s true, and the truth makes itself known. But, especially as a thoughtful Christian, to look at the kingdom of heaving as being, turning the expectations of the world upside down, where might is right in our world, and whoever has the strength and the ability is celebrated and given wealth and honor. And that in the kingdom of heaven, it turns that on its head in the weak and broken and the sick are to be cared for with a special tenderness and so to recognize that our worth is not in our ability and is not in our weight, it’s not in our health, but it’s in the goodness of our bodies as created by God, so. I love, we did not plan to talk about all that, it just kinda came out, it’s awesome.
So when we talk about intuitive eating, can you tell us how we can eat intuitively? What are the practices we can set up in our lives?
Julie – So intuitive eating has three main areas to it. And when, I’ll describe em, but I feel like it’s important to just acknowledge that it’s pretty non linear. It’s kinda, it’s messy and complicated. And it takes time. I remember Evelyn Tribole, one of the authors of Intuitive Eating, when I first did a training with her in 2006, I believe, she mentioned that when a person comes to her and they’re in a place where they’re not restricting their eating anymore, but their relationship with food still doesn’t feel safe, it still may be chaotic, but yet they’re not, malnourished. It can take, typically about a year, to go through a lot of the processes. And I’ve seen a lot of people experience that and also people take a longer, oftentimes just depending on how they’re experiencing their body, like you, we were talking about earlier about body size. My clients at higher weights, they have to live in a world where their body’s not accepted all the time, and still reject diets. I think that’s harder than for someone who’s at a lower weight. And so I, those are clients that often take longer. So I just want to put that out there. But one of the foundations that I think is important for people to know about is the unconditional permission to eat, and when I sit with clients who are working to make peace with food, that’s the first thing. I think it’s the default always the most important one, the important part of intuitive eating and you know we have to have unconditional permission to eat whatever we need and whatever we want. And that’s the part that gets really messy and is uncomfortable, especially if someone is new to intuitive eating they’re like, wait, so I would just eat cake all day? And in the end it ends up being a much smaller part of the process time wise than a lot of the other stuff, but it still is the most important to me as I, when I work with clients and often times we have to go back to it. Because if we don’t have permission to eat certain foods, certain amounts, or certain times of the day, or for, measuring our weight in the process, which messes that all up, it’s not healing. It’s kind of staying with the paradigm that’s still dieting. But then the other parts of intuitive eating are eating according to hunger, fullness, and satiety cues, so like, using our body as a way to know how much to eat. Like our body’s tools that it was just born with, through our physiology, and relying on those. And then when we’re not relying on those, whether it’s not eating or eating past a fullness or satiety level, often times, I feel like, we don’t all eat intuitively all the time, because we’re not robots, and we all emotionally eat. But if it’s something that’s happening frequently as a way to cope, it’s eventually finding ways to cope outside of food, for more of the times. So those are kinda the core things that people go through, and as I’m saying all this, I can’t remember your original question. But, hopefully I answered it.
Amanda – I think you did! So the question was, how do we intuitively eat? And so, number one is, giving yourself unconditional, full permission to eat. And then number two you said –
Julie – Relying on your hunger and fullness cues and satiety cues.
Amanda – So the good body that God gave you, to trust that it knows what it needs. And then three?
Julie – And then when, that’s not happening, to find another way to cope with tough experiences, tough emotions, basically building a toolbox that’s gonna allow coping without food as the only option.
Amanda – That’s awesome. So I get this question all the time and I wonder if you do, but, people ask me, but what about health, how can I be healthy if I’m not counting calories in and out?
Julie – And that’s the really important part of the intuitive eating research or the non-diet, or mindful eating research, is that they basically were asking that question, because that’s always, that is the first question. I remember talking to a friend of mine’s father just a couple months ago and I hadn’t seen him since I graduated from college which was 20 years ago, and at that point I was a pretty typical dietitian, and working in weight loss and things like that. And so, he said something about like, oh could you give me a diet, and I was like, well actually… this is what I do now. And he was like, what? So I mean, you wanna promote like, cirrhosis and heart disease and like, what? Wait! And so one of the key things to keep in mind about society is that we tend to think in extremes and black and white, especially in the US, it’s just kinda how our brains are used to thinking about concepts and it stinks because the world is so beautifully gray and complicated, and diverse in so many ways, right? And so when we think about not dieting, like we said earlier, well that just means I’m letting myself go, it’s the same kinda thing. Just because we’re not dieting, does not mean we’re not pursuing or promoting health. ‘Cause there is, like, if you had a continuum and had, not like super diet-y and I don’t know, maybe doing that to promote health and then someone who’s just sitting on the couch all day and not doing anything, like, that’s just not the only options, there’s like a gazillion spots in between there. And so it’s just really moving away from dieting that as long as you keep yourself from going to the all or nothing, kind of calling it out when it happens, I think is really awesome. That it’s just not an all or nothing event. And what the research is showing us, like I said, there’s like 85+ studies now on intuitive eating that it does promote health, is that people who score as high in the intuitive eating scale that they have developed, they are people who have lower triglycerides, lower insulin levels, they have lower blood sugar, lower blood pressure, their markers for health are better. And the other part of it is, it’s more sustainable, that’s what research has been able to show too, this is something we can do forever, unlike dieting. And especially if we lived in a community that supported it, which a faith based community would be amazing to have the support to help people in their community to continue to make peace with their food and are just not think that diets are the only way to do it.
Amanda – I think, two things that stuck out to me as you were talking and one is, food peace is a part of health. Because health is not just your indicators, right, not even like your blood sugar and all those things. Health is for your body, your mind, your soul, and it’s an incarnated thing. I think that the line that I like to use when I’m talking about, what about health, is, do what brings you peace. The scriptural analog to that would be, seek peace and pursue it. From the Psalms. That we have the opportunity to find peace that works for all parts of us. We are one whole person. And if I am over emphasizing “health” which is usually slang for thinness or lack of fatness, then that can be very damaging to my mind and my heart. And then therefore I am not actually healthier.
Julie – Wow, yeah, that’s a wonderful scripture, what did you say?
Amanda – Seek peace.
Julie – Seeking peace
Amanda – And pursue it.
Julie – Yeah I love that.
Amanda – And so that means, I have people ask me, well then should I just eat junk food? And I’m like, that escalated quickly.
Julie – That’s that all or nothing, yep!
Amanda – All or nothing. Which, I have a very all or nothing personality and I’ve had to learn to let that be challenged by things that I’m learning.
Julie – Yeah, I think too, we live in a world that’s all or nothing, and some of us will have personalities that are very detail oriented so we can easily kind of, that can be our default, plus culturally we learn it, but the really neat thing that intuitive eating can teach us to do with our brain, is to acknowledge that the first thought is what we’ve learned, and then, or part of our brain wiring, but the second thought can be more in line with what our heart knows to be true, or what we’re trying to promote. So if we’re trying to promote the peace like you said, you can have that as your second thought, it’s kind of like the unlearning, I like to call that.
Amanda – Yeah, absolutely. It’s an unlearning and that’s what we are trying to do through our podcast is unlearning what we’ve been taught about bodies and starting with, for me, part of my faith journey was learning that my body wasn’t bad because I grew up thinking that everything spiritual was good, but my body and all my appetites were bad. And that is actually a heresy addressed by the early church, called gnosticism. And I talk about it in my book, but basically when we see Jesus as the incarnated God, he is reaffirming that the human body is good because he is uniting himself to humanity forever. And so we can’t say, all these spiritual things that I do are great and all the things I do in my body don’t matter, no we’re integrated wholes, we are, just like Jesus is fully God, fully man, we are spiritual beings with good bodies. And so changing that script of my body is bad to my body is good has let me pursue peace in a more holistic way. That, I think, gives a great berth in my life, b-e-r-t-h, for intuitive eating, so I’m excited to learn more about it.
Julie – I would wanna add something too to what you were saying about, when someone is saying, does that mean I’m gonna be eating, I don’t know what you said, like junk food or candy or something like that. And one of the areas I specialize in is working with women who have poly cystic ovarian syndrome, which is a condition that has lots of nutrition recommendations, often diet focused, and they have, I think it’s like 40% of women with PCOS get prediabetes or diabetes by the time they’re 40, so if someone maybe has maybe diabetes, has this PCOS, and they’re seeking food peace, eating the “junk food”, or candy or whatever, may actually be the healthiest thing to do, and this is why. If someone has a relationship with food that’s super chaotic and has no permission, seeking permission, and you have to think long term, you know, in the long term, it’s gonna allow for the variety which variety in food like, choices and access to a variety of food, and I wouldn’t say just in a day process but more of like a week or month. That variety to me is what healthy eating is. I mean, if I had to like, describe it, if I was forced to describe what’s healthy eating, then like, eating a variety of foods and a variety of pleasurable foods and it’s, and you’re nourished enough, that to me is healthy eating. So seeking permission and sometimes having then to work through permission of certain foods that are labeled as not health promoting, is what is the healthiest step. And so I often will kinda chuckle, because I’m like, when they gave me my license to be a dietitian I bet they weren’t thinking of me eating cookies with clients, but that’s what I do with some people!
Amanda – I love it.
Julie – We eat foods that have a scary connotation because we need to find a way to live alongside all the food that we have. And I also want people to be able to go to like a birthday party or some kind of celebration and be able to be a part of it and not avoid it or have food be the focus. Like, relationships are what’s the most important in life, not the food, food does not deserve that power. So seeking that food peace, like if you just examine one slice of it, it may be like, whoa that doesn’t seem right, that’s not healthy. But when you look at the big picture, it makes sense, and that’s, really I’m about long term, lets long term help people find that peace and promote whatever they’re able to do for their health.
Amanda – I love it. That is so helpful. Julie, this has been an amazing conversation. Before we finish, I would love to ask you a question that I learned from listening to your podcast, which is, do you have a resource that you would like to encourage our listeners to access, it can be your own or something that you’re reading, we’d love to know what has helped you and your clients.
Julie – Well one thing that I would recommend is my podcast, you know it’s something that if someone is experiencing some kind of complicated relationship with food, they’d find it helpful, and you can get to it by juliedillonrd.com, and the other one is the blog Body Beloved, which is a blog that’s written by dietitians of faith. And it’s from a Christian perspective, so it’s specifically Christian faith, and they’re really dissecting all of the topics that you also seem to be going through, so if you would like to read things instead of just listening, that may be a resource. When I get questions from people of the Christian faith who are feeling stuck in intuitive eating because of things like gluttony that we were talking about earlier, that’s a resource that I, many people have found helps with that peace process. Because they’re like, oh, so that’s a really good one.
Amanda – Thank you so much! And again listeners, Julie Duffy Dillon, her website is juliedillonrd.com, and the name of her podcast is Love, Food. The comma is actually the sign, not the word. So, and it’s available anywhere podcasts are downloaded. And you’ll really, it’s a treat to listen. I’m, I’ve only recently discovered it and have been listening like every day. I listen to multiple episodes a day and it’s really great.
Julie – Aw, thank you.
Amanda – Where can our listeners follow you on social media?
Julie – So I’m probably most active on Instagram. And it’s at foodpeacedietitian.
Amanda – Perfect. And anything, any words of wisdom you’d like to close us out with today?
Julie – Oh wow, well I believe that everyone can trust their bodies, so you can too.
Amanda – I love it. Thank you so much, this has been so helpful.
Julie – Thank you so much for inviting me, it was so nice to talk about this and I really look forward to listening to it.
Amanda – Thanks for joining us for episode 9 of Fat and Faithful, season 2. We hope that this discussion with Julie Duffy Dillon on food peace and intuitive eating gave you some insight on how to live at peace with food. We have one more episode coming to you before we take a break, and prepare for season three. And as always, we would love to hear your input. You can email us at email@example.com or reach out on social media. Search for us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, with the handle fatandfaithful. May God bless y’all and have a great week as you deepen in love for God incarnate and your neighbor’s body as your own.
This is a photo from my childhood – I am standing with a neighbor of ours, Ms. Trudy. She and her sister whom she lived with – Ms. Mattie – were like grandmothers to me. They taught us how to make pickles and their home was a frequent destination. I’d admire their collection of porcelain dolls and my brothers would watch baseball games on TV with them. This is one of the only pictures I have with Ms. Trudy. Although it is blurry, I’m grateful for the tender moment it captures.
I write about Ms. Trudy in my book. About how she was one of the first people to model for me what it means to be body-positive. She certainly didn’t use those words. She just lived her life in ways that we call radical now. I write more about what that looked like and how it impacted me at a young age in chapter one.
My publisher, Fortress Press, is offering a download of chapter one of Fat and Faithful as well as a discussion guide to everyone who pre-orders.
You will receive a link to download the first chapter of Fat and Faithful AND a free discussion guide.
If you ready chapter one in these next few weeks before August 1 – I’d love to hear what you think!
Join me this July in Hot Springs, NC for a weekend of art, spirituality, music, and stories at Wild Goose Festival.
I’m thrilled to be returning as a speaker for the third year in a row. I’ll be leading two sessions, one open to all and one in the youth tent.
So often we look at fat bodies as failures – and that is no different inside the church than out. This session will look at some truths about fat bodies – that they are made in the image of God, tell us something unique about God, and are not a sign of sin. While the world tells us that our fat bodies are too much, the truth is that all bodies are expressions of the body of Christ. We will talk about how our churches and communities can be places where fat bodies are welcome and intentionally included as part of a vibrant community. There will be time for questions and discussion.
This weekend is one the highlights of my year for a variety of reasons; the body-diversity and inclusion present at the festival is one of those reasons.
To learn more about booking me as a speaker for your event, visit my Speaking Page.
A friend asked me to share her story with you – and I am delighted to do so. Valerie is a new mom to a darling little boy. She, like most of us, has struggled with her body image but is finding joy in the way her son responds to her body. Here’s her story:
by Valerie Bojarski
One warm morning, after nursing my son, I was sitting on my bed with him in front of me. I was in a nursing sports bra and shorts, he in just his cloth diaper. That morning he officially turned 20 weeks old. I started telling him about what things were like 20 weeks ago, when he was first born. Upon hearing my voice and seeing me interact with him, he smiled and started excitedly kicking his feet. I told him, “Not too long ago, you were kicking me from the inside, now you’re kicking me from the outside!” and tickled him. He squealed with delight and kicked harder. The heel of one of his feet hit my stomach and sank into it pretty far. He pulled his foot away, and repeated the movement, alternating both feet, an expression of great concentration on his face, fascinated by the squishy surface into which he was pressing his feet. A happy moment immediately turned into one of embarrassment, and I felt hot all over as shame washed over me. I looked down at my stomach, lined with stretch marks, and felt disgust. My inner voice told me, “One day he is going to be ashamed of you. He won’t even want to be seen with you in public. You’ll just embarrass him.” I stood up and scooped him up, holding him against me. I looked in the mirror and was struck by the contrast of our sizes.He picked that exact moment to start squeezing and pinching my upper arm. I turned away from the mirror, too ashamed to look any more.
When I first learned that I was pregnant, I immediately asked God to give me a boy. Being fairly new on my journey towards body positivity, I didn’t want to risk causing a daughter to have the same issues that I had. While I know that boys can be insecure in their appearance as well, I felt like having a son was “safer” somehow. I was so relieved when I learned that our little one was male! As I carried him within me, I promised him that I would never cause him to feel as though he was not good enough. I pledged that I would never, not even when he was a baby, speak ill of my body or anyone else’s, and if I heard someone else do it, I would make a point to say to my baby, “We don’t talk about people’s bodies that way, because there is no right or wrong way to have a body.” I had the best of intentions.
That evening, after feeling ashamed of myself in front of my infant son, I told my therapist about the situation, how my squishy tummy was entertaining to my baby. Saying it out loud, I felt ashamed all over again — both of the situation and my response to it. I was enjoying my baby, interacting with him, playing with him, and I ended it because I had an emotional response to an innocuous behavior by my baby. While we processed it, I thought of other ways he has interacted with my body. While nursing, he will press on my breast or stomach, palpating it, almost as if the softness comforts him. He squeezes my upper arms and smiles. He will reach up and squeeze my chin. He nuzzles into my bosom when tired. He turns to me, my body — as it is now — for comfort. He loves me, all of me, as I am. This body, as it is now, carried him for 39 weeks and five days. It nourishes him. It cradles him. It comforts him. It protects him. That sounds like an amazing goal body to me. This body belongs to his mother. And he accepts it, without question.
I can either let other peoples’ perceptions of what a good “goal body” looks like cause me to question my own motherhood, or I can choose to be a good mother right now. Deciding that my body is a reason to hide, to be ashamed, and to judge myself will only take me away from these innocent moments where my son doesn’t know what fat or thin is. My therapist pointed out that If I carry myself in a way that shows that I am embarrassed of myself, or I refuse to go out and engage with the world, he will think that there is a reason to be embarrassed. If I go out and do things with him and not allow my size or fear of judgment affect me, he won’t be embarrassed. I can say that there is no right or wrong way to have a body until I’m blue in the face, but if I act like my body is a wrong body, it will mean nothing.
A few days later, I went to the zoo with a friend. I briefly agonized over whether I should wear a sleeveless shirt. Ultimately, I dressed comfortably, and had a great time at the zoo. I posed in pictures with my son. After looking at the pictures, I immediately noticed stomach rolls and flabby arms. I looked again, and saw a mom with her son, having a great time and making memories. There is no reason to hide. When my son looks back on these pictures, I hope he doesn’t see an embarrassment; I hope that he sees a mom who loves her son and took him to the zoo.
Regardless of whether or not I achieve society’s standards of a goal body, I hope that my son learns that our bodies, as they are, are worthy. Loving them should not wait until or unless a change happens. Our bodies, as they are, are good. As long as we use them to love one another and be there for one another, they have already achieved a goal. Also, squishy tummies are fun for kicking.
It is past time for an update on my faith and fatness work. Here’s what I’ve been up to since I last shared with you:
I am writing a book!
Fortress Press and Theology for the People will be publishing my book on Fatness & Faith in 2018. Most of my writing the past year has gone into this project and I can’t wait to share it with you. My prayer is that it will speak truth and light to those who are afraid their body is too much for God.
Fat & Faithful Podcast
Beginning August 1, you can listen to a podcast featuring myself and Amanda Martinez Beck of Fat, Catholic, and Loved. We’ll be talking faith, politics, and culture as it relates to fatness. You can download the pocdast now and hear our short introduction episode. We’ll release the first few episodes on August 1st and then will have new ones for you a couple times a month after that.
I wrote a few articles on Fatness and Faith
1. Our Bodies are Imperfect Temples at Christianity Today.
God dwells in us whether we’re Olympian-level muscular or morbidly obese.
2. I Saw Myself in This is Us at Christianity Today
I am rooting for Kate. Rooting for her to find hope and redemption and joy. Rooting for the deep insecurities planted in her childhood by a well-meaning mother or insensitive friends to be vanquished by truth and light and love.
3. Fat, Faithful, and Fruitful: Bodies in the Church at Evangelicals for Social Action
I asked a few women that I know who care about body image and the church to answer a few questions about their experiences with how the church has talked, or failed to talk, about bodies. Their answers are instructive about the ways that calling fat “bad,” or excluding fat people from the discussion on bodies, is damaging to the Body of Christ.
I am guest-posting today at a new website dedicated to providing resources for fat Christians. I hope this article is helpful both for pastors and church leaders and for fat Christians who feel unseen.
As a teenager, I professed faith in Jesus at a summer camp in the mountains of Tennessee. I remember badly wanting to ask my youth pastor to baptize me right there, that week, in the pool on the college campus. Not because of any spiritual urgency, but because I was afraid that if I waited to return to church the next week that there would not be a baptismal robe large enough to fit me. My adolescent reserve won out and I waited until we returned to our church to be baptized there. The robe was snug, but did technically fit. A few years later after I was finished with my white high school graduation robe, I donated it to the church and told them to keep it in their baptismal robe supply – just in case.
There are a variety of ways that our churches can be inaccessible to people of size. Often church leadership doesn’t know to look for these areas and church parishioners don’t know they are allowed to speak up. I sat down to talk with my current pastor, Brian Wright, D. Min., about these issues. This article provides some starting points to make your congregation welcoming to people of diverse body sizes.
Wright worked as an eating disorder counselor during his undergraduate days as a psychology major, ministered as a pastor for many years, previously served on the board of the Interfaith Disability Network, and is currently in medical school to become a doctor.
In other words, he is an excellent person to talk with about the intersections of faith and bodies!
Read the rest at Fat Privilege
I had the privilege of writing an article for Christianity Today this week.
This article first appeared on October 14, 2015 on Her.Meneutics
In all of my remembered days, two truths remain constant: I believe in God, and I am fat. While there have been seasons where I struggled with my faith or my fatness, neither has ever left me.
As a teen, I thought that being a good, effective Christian meant being thin. Fatness was associated with a lack of self-control, one of the fruits of the Spirit. So I came to view my weight as an outward sign that I must not really believe or obey. I was terrified that my witness would be hampered by the size of my thighs. Surely no one would believe in the power of the Resurrected Christ if his Spirit wasn’t strong enough to keep me from gaining weight.
It is very common for me to hear, “I can’t believe churches talk about weight loss!” Or, I have people who have a long history with church tell me they don’t remember their church talking about weight-loss. (My instinct here, given that people who went to the same church I did tell me this, is that weight-loss at fat-shaming is so common in our churches we don’t even notice it.) However, I also hear from countless people who have. In addition, my research has easily produced countless faith-based weight-loss resources. So, I never question whether or not it’s worth it for me to talk about body-image in the church. But, the next time someone tries to tell me I am imagining things, that I am too sensitive or in-tune to the idea somehow, I am going to show them the 2015 Christian Book Awards.
The overall best Christian Book of the Year award, the best book published out of the many many Christian books published last year, goes to the weight-loss book The Daniel Plan (TDP) by Rick Warren. The books for these awards are considered to be “the highest quality in Christian books.”
Some Diet Devotionals talk just about “health” or “lifestyle changes” and don’t actually market themselves as a weight-loss book, though many still are. Not TDP, it is up-front about its weight loss goals. From the press-release from the Christian Book Expo: (emphasis mine)
The highest honor of Christian Book of the Year™ went to The Daniel Plan by Pastor Rick Warren (with Daniel Amen M.D., and Mark Hyman M.D.). The New York Times bestseller with a strong and regular presence on the ECPA Bestseller list, is described as “creating a health plan” that adds faith, focus, and community to the usual “food and exercise” approach to weight loss and health. The plan is credited for helping 15,000 of Warren’s church members lose 250,000 pounds in the first year. Warren is the author of The Purpose Driven Life, the highest bestselling non-fiction hardback in publishing history with more than 32 million copies sold.
Warren says that the goal is to make “health a form of worship [because] God made your body, Jesus died for your body, and He expects you to take care of your body.” This is not an inherently body-shaming approach, but the cultural connotations of “take care of your body” get us quickly there.
I have no problem advocating for people to take care of their bodies as well as they can. I just believe that including “weight loss” in that care speaks more to our cultural obsession with thinness than it does to physical, mental, or spiritual health. I take care of my body by honoring what it does. I take care of my body by providing it with food when it’s hungry, exercise for enjoyment and strength, rest when it’s weary. I take care of my body my monitoring my health. I take care of my body by not assuming it’s bad and diseased just because of the size of my dress.
Also worth noting, once Warren decided to write the book, one of the people he recruited to give him medical advice was Dr. Mehmet Oz, the talk show host who has recently been called-out by people as far up as Congress for promoting snake-oil tactics for weight loss. On the Daniel Plan website, Oz is still listed as a “founding doctor” of the plan. These doctors are described as: “Some of the best doctors and contributors in the world have collaborated to transform your spiritual, physical, and emotional health.”
The “inspiration” behind Warren’s diet books, as reported in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, came to Warren while he was “doing baptisms ‘the old-fashioned way’—by physically raising and lowering people into the water.“ Warren said that as he was “lowering people, [he] literally felt the weight of America’s obesity problem [and] thought, ‘good night, we’re all fat!’” There were reportedly 850 people that Warren baptized that day, certain to qualify for some tired arms for the pastor no matter the size of the people.
What strikes me, as a person who once waded into baptismal waters with jiggly thighs and a snug baptism robe, is that this sacramental moment that tells us of new life and being made holy became a moment of judgment on the very people who were commemorating their new life.
And that judgment produced a book to add to the ever-growing collection of how we don’t get it right enough to be acceptable as we are.
On Dr. Oz’s own website, his promotion of this book includes the line, “Pastor Rick Warren is waging a holy war on fat.”
While 850 baptisms is certainly tiring, I also wonder about what it was that triggered Warren’s “we’re all fat!” revelation. Water is friendly to gravity, theoretically easing the force needed to lift. I wonder if it was the sight of wet clothes clinging to every roll and wave of the bodies that walked out of the pool that made Warren want to rid his field of vision of this “unpleasant” sight.
We don’t need a holy war waged on anyone’s body. We need the holy beauty of God on earth, here with us us, in flesh and blood. And when we go under the baptismal waters, we should come out knowing that the only judgement upon us is the one God issues: “This is my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”