Confessions of a not-fat nutritionist
I have a confession to make…I’m not fat. No, I’m not a size 0, and you definitely won’t see me strutting down the runway during Fashion Week any time soon (and not just because I’m clueless when it comes to fashion and can barely walk in heels!). My body has been slightly bigger in the past when I wasn’t honoring my hunger and satiety quite as much, but even then I was still considered within the “normal weight” range (whatever that means!).
Most people would think that being in a smaller body is an asset for someone working in the nutrition field, and definitely not something to be ashamed of. In fact, when I was in graduate school I had well-meaning friends and family members say things like, “Of course you’ll make it as a nutritionist! People will trust you to give nutrition advice because you’re thin.”
For someone who does the kind of work I do, however, the idea that my body size would have any effect on my ability to counsel someone is truly absurd. Here’s my secret– I didn’t do anything special to get to this weight. Sure, I eat pretty well. Like a lot of people, I try to include vegetables in my diet as much as possible, I usually choose whole wheat over white bread, I make an effort to minimize the amount of processed foods I consume, and I (somewhat) regularly participate in some form of movement. But I also eat ice cream and chocolate…like, almost every day! So, how am I this weight if I’m not dieting or juicing or working out constantly? Pure and simple: Genetics. It’s true. Most of why I’m at this size is because it was written in my genetic blueprint. Because I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m satisfied, my body has settled at the size and weight at which it is comfortable.
The truth of the matter is that sometimes I feel that being in this normal-sized body might actually make me less qualified to do nutrition counseling. It might seem ridiculous to say something like this, but with the kind of nutrition counseling I do, sometimes I feel that I would have more credibility if I were in a larger body. This is because when I counsel people, I ask them to respect their bodies, regardless of size. I encourage them to honor their hunger and fullness, and to eat in a way that makes them feel satisfied, both in body and mind. When they do this, eventually their bodies will settle at a size and weight that is comfortable. For me, that size is one that is considered “normal”; for others, they might be considered “overweight” or even “obese” by some medical charts, even though they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, and honoring their hunger and satiety, just like me. I want to tell these clients that it’s okay, and that they should accept their bodies no matter what size or weight. That they can give the big middle finger to society for telling them otherwise. After all, the important thing is that they are happy, they are enjoying a balanced variety of foods, and they aren’t yo-yoing with their weight, which is actually more detrimental to their health in the long run. They should focus on their health, both physical and psychological, not their dress size! Easy for me to say, though, right?
If I’m being honest with myself, as much as I am accepting of all body shapes and sizes, and as much I truly believe in a Health at Every Size model, I realize that I am lucky to have the genetics that I have. Being an intuitive eater is easier when your body is a size that society deems acceptable. Weightism is real, and dealing with discrimination or judgment because of one’s size certainly would make eating intuitively hard as hell, and I recognize that. I can’t necessarily say that I know what that feels like, because even though I’ve made peace with a body that is certainly not perfect by society’s standards, I’m still considered “normal,” and I’ve really only had to deal with my own judgment, not that of others.
While I can’t necessarily empathize on a personal level with those who are struggling to accept a body that society tells them isn’t good enough, I can sympathize with the fact that the part of Intuitive Eating that tells us to respect our bodies and eat for health, not weight loss, can be particularly challenging for those who are in a body that they are told is not good enough. I recognize that it takes that much more courage and determination to tell society to f**k off with its one-size-fits-all ideal of beauty and learn to accept oneself from within. Hopefully someday society will catch up and learn to accept all types of bodies as well.