Marci RD Nutrition:Food & Body Image Healers® helps clinicians and clients alike develop smart, enduring strategies for overcoming eating disorders, disordered eating, and the backlash of chronic dieting.
For many of us, the months between October and December are filled with a flurry of celebrations with the holiday season.
This can be a time filled with joy and excitement but also a tremendous amount of overwhelm and financial stress.
This can be a time filled with joy and excitement but also a tremendous amount of overwhelm and financial stress.
As this week marks the celebration of Thanksgiving here in the United States, I thought you all might be thankful (see what I did there?!) to be reminded of free resources that I have developed over the years and are available to each of you.
Every single thing that I create and put out into the world is with the intention of it being truly helpful to someone. This includes all of my newsletters, blogs as well as the resources named below. As someone who HATES superfluous emails and “in your face” sales pitches, I hope my intention comes through.
Freebies and Resources for Dietitians and Clinicians
All of the resources listed below can be found here.
“But I Hate My Body: Cracking the Code on Body Acceptance” This 7 page e-book provides you with things to read, watch, and listen to as you embark on your journey of body image healing. I discuss the rationale for why I believe body acceptance is so important, normalize why it may feel impossible, and give you some tangible stepping-stones to calling a truce with your body image.
Weight Stigma in Dietetics Practice This is a must read for all nutrition professionals, heck, all professionals. This document lays out the research for what weight stigma is, what it looks/sounds like, and specific changes you can make TODAY to provide non-stigmatizing care for your patients. If you ever wished you had a document to share with your administrator, boss, or colleague, this might be it!
Connecting to the Wisdom of the Body Meditation This is my all time favorite meditation for body image work. While it may feel a little strange the first time you listen, this meditation is designed to help you to listen and learn from what your body has to say (as opposed to what your brain has to say!). Research shows that developing this skill helps our critical minds to quiet down. And as you likely know, working with our critical minds is key to healing negative body image.
Mini-Me Meditation When it comes to helping my clients move away from the dieting mentality, this meditation has been one of my longest standing go-to resources. A key step in the process is learning how to decipher your hunger cues. So if you want to be clearer about your hunger cues and also feel less judgmental about them, give it a try.
What Are You Hungry For? Meditation Did you know that unless you are regularly eating food that is truly satisfying to you, the odds of being food obsessed are quite high? And yet most people feel terrified of giving themselves permission to eat meals and snacks that they love. And so I designed this meditation to guide you through the practice of thoughtfully listening to and honoring your cravings and preferences.
Is Eating Disorders Work a Fit For Me? If you or someone you know is considering work in the field of eating disorders, please take a look at this quiz! I developed a pretty exhaustive 4-part questionnaire that assesses your relationship to food, exercise, body image, and counseling. The quiz is accompanied by a scoring rubric along with recommendations based on your score.
The Dietitians Guide on Where to Go for Eating Disorders Training I have attempted to compile the most comprehensive list of resources for eating disorders training for this 9 page e-book. Many of the resources are free or low cost and it serves as an excellent starting place for any practitioner who wants to deepen their knowledge and skillset in the eating disorders field.
I hope that something on this list of freebies piques your interest. And if not, you’ll have to let me know what you think is missing!
In closing, I want each of you to know how deeply grateful I am for the immense amount of privilege I enjoy in my professional life. While it takes a lot of hard work, I am humbled and thankful to pursue work that I find intellectually stimulating, soul expanding, and heart opening. And if you are receiving this newsletter, you have been a part of my experience in some way. So thank you!
Negative body image plagues most women and many men.
It’s a truth that makes me sad but an issue I care deeply about because negative body image threatens our capacity to follow our passions, feel connected to and accepted by others, and experience joy. Negative body image is not a matter of vanity because it alters the very core of our identity and represents our greatest fears as humans – are we acceptable, can we be loved, are we safe?
I can imagine that if you are reading this, you have already worked to feel differently about your body. You’ve read books, you’ve cultivated an awesome Instagram feed, and you are trying to be more positive. Perhaps some of that has helped and perhaps you still feel disappointed that your body image remains such a thorn in your side.
Learning to work with negative body image is SO VERY HARD and is precisely why I teamed up with the inspiring Deb Schachter, LICSW, to create our upcoming, day long body image workshop. Together we have crafted a day of healing to give you a new language of relating to your body, a new paradigm to use when you are hit with those bad body image moments, and more tools to employ when you feel like junk! We teach you how to decode the meaning behind those terrible body image feelings and how to work through them with greater compassion and hopefulness.
We would love to invite you to our workshop. And we totally get if the word “workshop” makes you want to runnnn!!!!! Don’t worry – you’ll be in the best of company. This stuff is vulnerability inducing but you won’t be asked to do anything you don’t want to. You can take what you want and leave the rest. This is a no pressure space of curiosity, support, and growth.
If you’d like to learn more, head on over to my website. You will find a link to the registration on that page. We hope you’ll consider spending the day with us!
I have been a voracious (compulsive?) reader since I was little. Winning my 6th grade class reading competition ranks high on the list of my life accomplishments. Barely edging out Aaron Brooks (he was a very reasonable 2nd placeman, despite my gloating) made my little heart soar. And I can still remember pouring over the Scholastic Book Fair catalogues with equal parts excitement and distress – how many books will my parents let me buy and how can I possibly choose with so many incredible options at my fingertips??
Fast-forward to today and I still have fantasies of a paid sabbatical where I can read and read and read. So after getting some requests via social media, I thought it’d be fun to provide you with a summer reading guide. I have divided them up in two categories: 1. books I have recently read and loved and 2. books on the docket. I’ve decided to include work and non-work related books because, why not? We need balance in all things, right?
Books I’ve Recently Read and Loved
Landwhale by Jes Baker Jes writes a memoir from the perspective of a fat, body positive activist. But it’s a book I would recommend to anyone, fat or not, who wants to intimately connect with a wise and sassy soul who is determined to make peace with food and her body. I deeply appreciated her nuanced voice, stunning honesty, and thoughts about shifting from body positivity to body liberation. Important note: If you are sensitive to swears, then this books is definitely not for you. Additionally, she was raised Mormon and speaks quite a bit about how her religious upbringing had a negative impact on her self-esteem and body image. So if you or your client aligns with more traditional Christian values, those parts might feel difficult or off-putting.
Fat Activism by Charlotte Cooper Ok, I’m cheating. I can’t mark this as “read” because I am “currently reading,” but I couldn’t send this newsletter off without giving it a mention. This book reads more as an academic text – a far cry from Jes’ memoir! She frames fat activism as a vital social justice movement and infuses research that is centered on the lives of fat people. I can tell that this book will challenge and encourage me to push my boundaries. Excellent.
Note, are you cringing at the word “fat” every time you read it? That’s because we’ve been conditioned to think of “fat” as a bad word, rather than a neutral descriptor. As you can imagine, if most of us (all of us?) are conditioned to think of fat as bad, how are folks in fat bodies likely to be treated in our culture? Important food for thought.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi Shifting away from work, “Homegoing” is one of the most uniquely and beautifully written stories I have ever read. Set in both Ghana and the US, and spanning 300 years and multiple generations, this book will crack you wide open and break your heart all at the same time. I rarely give books a 5/5 rating. This one hits the mark.
The Likeness by Tana French Oh my gosh, I love a good crime novel and Tana French is perhaps my favorite crime novelist. Need a summer page-turner and don’t mind a good murder? Pick this baby up!!
Books on the Docket
I have a bazillion books waiting to be read so I’ll keep this reasonably short. In no particular order:
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
Eat up! By Ruby Tandoh
Journeys of Embodiment at the Intersection of Body and Culture by Niva Piran
Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel (can’t believe I haven’t read this one yet)
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Now I want to hear from you. What is the best book you have read in 2018? Head on over to Facebook and let me know!!
I posted an image on social media a few weeks ago stating “Calories In = Calories Out is Bullsh*t” and it was met with a massive response.
I had a sense it’d strike a chord and it sure did. One of the dominant themes I heard from students and professionals was, “It is BS, BUT it’s what I was taught in school!” And even more disheartening, I got this message from students, interns, and recent grads. This left me both depressed and eager to do a little bit of myth busting here.
First, a rant.
The mantra “calories in = calories out” is unhelpful because it assumes our bodies can be worked over like a math calculation. It can’t. I’ll never forget my first year as a dietitian. I was busy preparing a workshop and the book I had bought to help me prepare listed examples like this:
Remove 1 Tb of butter/day and lose 10 pounds in 1 year
Swap 1 oz of chocolate for 2 TB jelly beans and lose 5 pounds in 1 year
These kinds of dieting messages are useless because it assumes you eat the same exact number of calories every day and that subtracting a specific number of calories will lead to a consistent caloric deficit. That’s not how it works when you’re human. This message is also harmful because it’s misleading. It gives the false notion that if you count your calories precisely (spoiler: you can’t) and exercise enough willpower (spoiler: willpower dooms us all), you can simply write up a math calculation to get yourself to your chosen weight. None of this is possible and here’s why.
The Math is Incomplete
Of course our body weight is impacted by what we eat and how our body uses that fuel. But it’s also influenced by a host of other complex mechanisms that we have very little control over, thanks to the genetics passed along from our parents. Most importantly, attempts to decrease intake and increase output creates a massive change in our physiology that undermines efforts to down-regulate our weight. This includes but is not limited to:
Basal metabolic rate: This accounts for about 70% of our metabolic activity and decreases as weight is lost.
Appetite hormones like leptin and ghrelin: Turns out that, as a person loses weight, the body shifts the production of these hormones to encourage increased intake.
Changes in the reward system in the brain: For you neuroscience geeks, it’s particularly related to the orbital frontal cortex, which is related to the reward pathways in our brain making sure we seek out more food and don’t die of famine.
Consequently, when we try to alter calories in, calories out, there are a host of other “numerics” that step in to complicate the equation. However, an important note is that the way and the degree to how these responses happen in you body is outside of your control and largely dictated by genetics.
What I Am Not Saying
I am not saying it is impossible to increase or decrease your weight by changes to what you eat and how you move. I AM saying that manipulating one’s weight is not as simplistic as calories in = calories out and reducing our experience to such an incomplete equation is both false and harmful. It also fails to explain why the vast majority of people regain lost weight. This is largely due to the mechanisms I listed above.
The book, “Rethinking Thin” by Gina Kolata, changed my view on weight regulation when I read it over a decade ago. She cited research done by “obesity” researchers back in the 80’s. In brief, participants were fed calorie-controlled diets and were only allowed to move in highly controlled ways. The researchers assumed that this would prove that “obese” individuals simply had a willpower issue. Nope. The results were shocking. Even though calorie levels were the exact same for the participants, they lost, gained, and maintained massively different weights. The light bulbs flicked on and they realized something else must have been happening in the equation of weight regulation. And this explains why humans can consume very similar amounts of food and look differently! We are designed for diversity – height, hair color, skin color, and weight.
If you are looking for an even deeper dive into this topic, I can highly recommend the research of Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, whose talk on “The Metabolic Changes that Occur with Weight Loss,” provided me with up-to-date science when I heard him speak at an eating disorders conference a few years ago. I’ll provide citations below. Ironically, it’s the work of “obesity researchers” that continues to inform my non-weight centered approach to health and well-being.
I am so excited to be finalizing plans for the very last, live and in person Body Image Workshop, being held in London, England this September.
Fiona Sutherland and I wanted to let you know that we still have some spaces for our final Body Image Workshop being held on September 1st and 2nd in London.
If you want to discover ways to bring a new level of expertise to your clients and enhance the work you do with them this event is for you.
Registration is open now for this workshop and seating is limited , so book yours now.
What is the Body Image Workshop about?
Helping your clients overcome their negative body image. This is arguably one of the more challenging aspects of our work as clinicians, therapists and health professionals. We hold a unique place in the minds of our clients when it comes to helping them feel better about their bodies. Yet, most of us do not feel equipped to cope with body image issues – OR – that doing so is not within the scope of our practice.
It’s time to FREE yourself of these outdated, limiting beliefs about your abilities and credentials!
The Body image Workshop event will help you do this. It is a full 2-day workshop, specifically designed for clinicians and health professionals, and will be held in London, UK on Sept 1st & 2nd, 2018.
Here is what one of our participants said from the event held in the USA this past April.
Healing poor body image is a critical piece of eating disorder recovery, relapse prevention, and addressing the trans generational transmission of body hatred. When we can help our clients improve body image, everyone benefits, our clients and us as clinicians. The work might be challenging at times, but it is incredibly rewarding.
I hope you’re able to join Me and Fiona and the final workshop we are holding. Click here for all the details and book your seat before the spaces are all filled (as of June 30 we are half sold out) .
Due to time constraints, we will only be able to offer this event in London this one time on September 1st and 2nd. Do not miss out on transforming not only your clients, but yourself and your skills too.
Body image healing is possible, and we can play an important role, with the right training.
Click here for more details on the Body Image Workshop.
Do you struggle with your relationship with their body?
Do you struggle with your confidence around body image?
Would you like to heal your negative body image and move towards a place of body peace?
Body image dissatisfaction and distortion are key issues for many people regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race, or background. This can even be true for those not suffering from an eating disorder. Today, few of us can enjoy true peace of mind when it comes to our bodies and appearance – giving rise to body shame, body loathing, low self-esteem, and a disconnection from our bodies.
Helping individuals develop a less painful relationship to their body’s is one of the most challenging aspects of a wellness professional’s work.
Marci Evans and Deb Schachter, your hosts, offer skills and expertise to help you heal. As a therapist and dietitian, they hold a unique place in the minds of our clients when it comes to helping you feel better about your bodies. And we believe that body image healing is accessible to everyone.
It IS time to discover that:
Body image healing is possible.
Healing poor body image is a critical piece of eating disorder recovery, relapse prevention, and addressing the transgenerational transmission of body hatred.
Improving your body image might be challenging at times, but it is possible, with expert help.
Negative body image is one of the most prevalent problems getting in the way of folks living their fullest lives. When you join us, you will learn how to move away from the daily messages that your body needs to be “fixed” or “worked on” for you to be happy.
Instead, you’ll learn through community, tools, and healing strategies that you don’t have to be stuck in body hatred and self-loathing.
The goal of this workshop is to focus on you and help you heal. By attending this workshop you will learn:
A framework to help you deconstruct and rebuild your own body image story
A unique set of tools that you can use to create your own recipe for individualized body image healing
Here are the ‘Making Your House a Home: A Body Image Healing Workshop’ Details:
When: Sunday, September 30th, 2018 // 9:30 am – 4:30 pm Where: Simmons College, 300 the Fenway, Boston, MA
There are only 40 spots available – Book your seat now!
Marci has written about the intersection of digestive disorders and eating disorders previously in this blog post. Because they are so closely intertwined and prevalent in the Eating Disorder (ED) population, we wanted to give you some simple strategies for alleviating digestive discomfort/pain. Please know, you are 100% valid in your struggles, it’s not all in your head! This is a well-known barrier to treatment and recovery and supported by the evidence:
In one study of ED patients, 96% reported postprandial fullness, 90% abdominal distention, and more than half complained of abdominal pain, gastric distention, early satiety, and nausea.
In the same study, family history of GI disorders was present in 48% of the patients.
In other studies, AN patients tended to complain of early satiety, postprandial discomfort or recurrent vomiting, severe constipation, and bowel obstruction. BN patients tended to experience bloating and flatulence, constipation, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, and nausea.
41-52% of patients with EDs also have IBS, with 68.8% of BN patients diagnosed with IBS.
It is also important to rule out other causes of GI discomfort/pain such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), celiac, lactose intolerance, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis). If you experience severe satiety, nausea, and distention and feel as if food sits in your stomach like a lead balloon, talk to your dietitian and primary care doctor as these are potential signs of gastroparesis.
Figure: Gastrointestinal disorders of patients with eating disorders, Sato and Fukudo, 2015
Below we address some simple strategies to implement into your daily routine for alleviating GI symptoms.
Stress is so underrated when we think of digestion. I’m sure you’ve heard of the link between the gut and the brain. In fact, our gut is now thought of as our “second brain”. The gut and brain are directly connected via the vagus nerve. So, when you are anxious, angry, sad, etc. these emotions can all affect digestion. One way to calm this gut-brain connection is to reduce stress via some techniques outlined below.
Hypnotherapy has beneficial effects in improving gastrointestinal symptoms of patients with IBS.
Yoga not only reduces stress but improves body image and mindfulness and the gentle movement gets your digestive juices flowing!
Sarah Patten, RD, LDN, RYT is now offering individual yoga sessions, click here for more info!
Deep breathing – try this whenever you are feeling particularly stressed and right before meals.
Essential oils can be very calming, particularly lavender, rose, sandalwood, and tea tree. Try rubbing 1-2 drops in your hands and inhaling prior to/during/after a meal as needed.
Acupuncture may reduce stress and improve digestion.
Sometimes less is more. Reduce stress on the body by refraining from intense exercise – studies have linked increased intestinal impermeability (leaky gut) during exercise.
Not catching enough zzz’s can really mess with our whole body’s system so put together a relaxing bedtime routine and rest up! Thisarticle has some great ideas.
When experiencing GI upset, it is common that the first reaction is to blame it on the food. Does “It must be something I ate.” or “I ate too much.” sound familiar? This can not only heighten anxiety but lead to more GI pain. This ultimately exacerbates the problem because many of these common issues can be avoided with proper nourishment.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are very healing for our gut lining. EFAs can be found in foods like: avocado, olive oil, fatty fish (salmon), and eggs.
Bone Broth is also healing as it contains a variety of minerals and amino acids.
Sometimes eating raw fruits and vegetables can be hard on our digestive tract because it takes more effort to break down. Instead of a raw salad, try boiling or roasting veggies. Fruits like apples are known to cause bloating and discomfort. If you notice a particular fruit or veggie upsets your stomach, talk to your dietitian about how to navigate these challenges while also healing your relationship with food.
Prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria and probiotics are the healthy bacteria. Prebiotics include a variety of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Probiotics are mainly found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi. These two are essential for a happy gut and digestion.
Butyrate repairs the lining of the intestine. Fiber rich foods that produce butyrate include: whole grains, fruits & veg, cheese, and butter.
Sometimes supplements are needed for supporting digestive health and may provide relief from certain symptoms.
Iberogast is a well-researched and safe herbal supplement that may alleviate a variety of digestive symptoms.
Digestive enzymes may also help support digestion.
Magnesium/Natural Calm help to alleviate constipation and stress.
Probiotics may be helpful – VSL#3 and Culturelle are two well-known brands.
Ginger tea or putting fresh ginger into hot water for homemade tea is known for alleviating nausea and increasing gastric motility.
Peppermint oil has been shown to alleviate IBS symptoms, including abdominal pain. It can be consumed as tea or taken as a supplement.
Drinking warm water before and after a meal may aid in digestion.
Apple Cider Vinegar may improve digestion, mix 1-3 tsp with a glass of water and drink 15-20 minutes before a meal.
Using a heating pad after meals may ease stomach pain.
Avoid eating too fast, straws, gum, and carbonated beverages which may bring air into the digestive tract and increase bloating and gas.
Don’t feel as though you need to implement ALL of these suggestions at once. Doing all of the things can in and of itself trigger stress and/or anxiety so choose 1-2 realistic strategies that you can implement and see how you feel. Trust your body to know what works for you and utilize your team for support.
Herpertz-Dahlmann B, Seitz J, Baines J. Food matters: how the microbiome and gut–brain interaction might impact the development and course of anorexia nervosa. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2017;26(9):1031-1041. doi:10.1007/s00787-017-0945-7.
Lee HH, Choi YY, Choi M-G. The Efficacy of Hypnotherapy in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2014;20(2):152-162. doi:10.5056/jnm.2014.20.2.152.
Salvioli B, Pellicciari A, Iero L et al. Audit of digestive complaints and psychopathological traits in patients with eating disorders: A prospective study. Digestive and Liver Disease. 2013;45(8):639-644. doi:10.1016/j.dld.2013.02.022.
Sato Y, Fukudo S. Gastrointestinal symptoms and disorders in patients with eating disorders. Clin J Gastroenterol. 2015;8(5):255-263. doi:10.1007/s12328-015-0611-x.
Shen Y-HA, Nahas R. Complementary and alternative medicine for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Canadian Family Physician. 2009;55(2):143-148
Załęski A, Banaszkiewicz A, Walkowiak J. Butyric acid in irritable bowel syndrome. Przegla̜d Gastroenterologiczny. 2013;8(6):350-353. doi:10.5114/pg.2013.39917.
Traveling across the United States, training clinicians on body image work with my Aussie side-kick, Fiona Sutherland, was not something I ever envisioned for myself.
In fact, just about everything I’ve done in my career thus far fits under the category of “things I never envisioned.” But the process of developing and giving this training across the U.S. (and soon to be London) has been truly transformative and deeply humbling.
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers for what helps individuals feel less pain in and about their bodies. I didn’t embark on this project because I thought I did. I simply believed in my heart that these are the conversations that we desperately need to be having. And, in the course of this experience, I learned some invaluable lessons that I’d like to share with you. The conversations I had with hundreds of colleagues taught me, inspired me, and nourished me. I hope these few thoughts might spark a little something inside of you too.
1. Body image healing is distinctly different from body positivity. Body positivity was a movement designed to center and affirm the bodies that are most often silenced and oppressed (fat bodies, gender non-conforming bodies, bodies of color, disabled bodies, etc.). This movement has largely been co-opted by many folks who have bodies that are reasonably well regarded in our culture (bodies like mine – white, relatively thin, able-bodied, cis-gender). The mainstream version of body positivity has left many individuals feeling that they are doing body positivity “wrong” because they can’t or choose not to post a shiny/happy bikini clad pic on Instagram. This often feels like another failure. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to body positivity. It can be a beautiful and inspiring concept. But I felt it was important to note the differences from my perspective.
Body image healing is about learning to live in relationship to your body and body image experience with skillfulness and kindness. It’s about being able to unpack the wisdom that is housed in your body to access greater self-understanding and to make choices about how to take care of yourself. With body image healing, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel about your body because healing isn’t about eradicating negativity. While we would all like to never feel badly about our bodies ever again, that goal is problematic and not at all possible. Our bodies don’t conform to beauty standards – they get sick or injured, and they change with age. Getting “rid of” negative body image is sort of like setting the goal to never feel sad, disappointed, grief stricken, or angry every again. It’s a nice fantasy but not at all reality. Instead, this process is really about developing skills to support yourself through moments that feel painful. But as it turns out, cultivating things like insight, mindfulness, self-compassion, critical thinking skills, and a values-driven life typically helps to turn the volume down on the feelings of body hatred.
2. Your story matters. Taking time to reflect on the development of your body story, from birth until now, is often a crucial step towards healing. You may want to consider journaling or just thinking about any body-related memories you have from various stages of your life: childhood, adolescence, teen years, young adulthood, etc. This can include aspects of your identity that are significant such as race, gender/sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status, illness, family messaging, etc.
3. Cultivate self-compassion. If there were one set of skills that I had to choose (and I’d really rather not) to assist you in your body image journey, it’d be the skill of self-compassion. You can start by taking this free quiz (don’t worry, it’s not on Facebook!), developed by researcher Kristin Neff. Then get curious about what you need to begin to learn the language of self-compassion. This could include listening to a meditation, finding a book, or perhaps a therapist. The research on self-compassion and body image improvement is blossoming! And remember, that with any new language, it will feel odd and foreign at first. But don’t let that stop you.
I hope you have a lovely rest of your day and know that I’m sending each of you support as you continue on your own unique paths of body image healing. Hang in there.
In the spirit of body image healing, my dear friend, Alex Amorosi, has graciously accepted my invitation to share his story.
Alex is a masterful yoga instructor, trainer, and healer. And I have no doubt that his personal journey of body image healing will inspire your own. Thank you Alex.
I’m not quite sure how to begin, as it’s the first time I’ve written openly about this aspect of my experience. But suffice to say I wanted to shed light on some of the ways gay culture and growing up gay has affected my own view of my body and myself. I wanted to talk about some of the reasons why I think gay culture is so disordered in its relationship to health, body, and food. I also wanted to be a voice for any men suffering with these issues and hopefully open up some discussion and room for healing. All of what I write about here is from my own observations and experience, and I make no claims to be speaking universally for all gay men or to be unpacking all the varied and complex issues that can contribute to body-image shame and difficulties with food.
I’ll preface by saying I was never formally treated for an eating disorder. However I spent my teen years to my early thirties in a very complicated relationship with food and exercise. I also spent these years in almost pure hatred of my body and deep issues with control and guilt around food. I’ve seen partners, friends, and other gay men that I know deal with similar issues in different ways.
I read in an article once that gay men often live in mortal terror of rejection. I think as we grow up our internal experience of our sexuality can make us feel extremely isolated and alone. We desperately want to be seen and validated for who we really are. When we finally get approval and validation, be it by healthy or unhealthy methods, the fear of being shunned back into that place of isolation is terrifying.
One way we try to save ourselves from this “ricochet rejection” is by being the most perfect we can be. We jack ourselves up at the gym, make as much money as we possibly can, adorn ourselves with the most and the best of everything including other men, and hope that this constant perfect image will be enough to prevent us from falling back into that excruciating pit of loneliness. We hope that if our self-image is just right it will cut the rope that keeps threatening to pull us back into the pain. We try rep after rep, man after man, controlled meal after controlled meal, to stay above ground.
We hope that by being perfect we’ll be beyond reproach. We won’t be bullied and humiliated anymore. We’ll have some sense of power and be able to laugh off those who once tore us down. We might even achieve this to some degree. But if we rely on the externals of our lives always being and looking a certain way to give us power, we’ll always feel unstable and insecure. We’ll never have enough and we’ll never be enough. We’ll look for more muscle tone, bigger houses, fancier clothes, more sex and sexual partners, more validation and more approval all to keep shoring up an inner house of sand constantly being eroded by the rising tide of our insecurity.
So many times for gay men, this perfect image manifests in our relationship to our bodies. If we could just get it all perfect, toned, jacked, eliminate all the bad and untidy bits then we’d be lovable and ok. I spent years berating my body. No matter how thin or how jacked I forced myself to be I never ever thought I looked good enough. I’d pinch the minuscule amount of fat on my hips every day and think about how disgusting I looked.
I endured many years of subtle and overt body shaming from men I dated because I thought this was normal and what I deserved. Many gay men can regale you with tales of the mean-spirited, body-based insults hurled at them by other gay men. For my part a sample of what I’ve heard from partners, men I’ve dated, or online chats:
If we’re going to date I’m going to make you go to the gym to get bigger muscles.
Your body is gross, but your face is ok.
You should watch how many carbs you eat it would make you sexier.
Maybe if you didn’t eat so late at night you’d be thinner.
I felt I deserved all this for not having the “discipline” to be perfect. I allowed partners to shame me publicly for how I looked, embarrassing me for embarrassing them in front of other men for not having the trophy body to make them feel good about themselves. Never mind that I had and have a really healthy, fit, yoga body. There were imperfections in their eyes that could be an opening to humiliation and disapproval.
For me this all led to years of disordered eating, exercise addiction, abysmal self-esteem, and isolating shame. I still look back at that time in my life with some amount of sadness; that I saw myself as flawed and unhealthy instead of the perfectionist body-culture of gay men as flawed and unhealthy. That I was so shallow myself I thought my looks and body were all that gave me self-worth. Who cares that I’m intelligent, reasonably handsome, fit, caring, kind, giving, and sometimes maybe even funny? The only thing I believed made me worthy was an unreasonable and unattainable standard of body perfection I held in my mind. And that perfection was a relentless taskmaster that could never be pleased.
So where am I today? After many years of seeing incredible therapists, spiritual teachers and practice, yoga, and meditation, I’m in an exponentially happier place. I’m able to look at my body with genuine love and kindness. I move my body now, in yoga or at the gym, for the pleasure of movement and for my health rather than weight loss. I eat according to what my body wants to eat when my body is hungry. I remembered how to have pleasure again in cooking, food, and eating. Now of course, I haven’t overcome all my vanity or insecurities, but they no longer rule me. I see more of the things that make me a lovable human being and see myself as a whole person not just an object. I know now clearly what I will and will not accept from men I date. I know my value and my worth are innate because I am human, not defined by any standard of imaginary perfection concocted by my mind or imposed on me from anyone else. In essence, I finally love myself.
In the almost 50 years since the Stonewall Riots gay men have fought tirelessly for acceptance and civil rights. We watched friends, partners and whole neighborhoods be wiped out by AIDS. We watched our brothers be taunted, beaten and killed. We marched, went to court for our civil rights, and created a world where new generations of gay men can grow up with greater ease and much less fear. I’ll be damned if we’re going to let all of that work be overshadowed by our own continued self-hatred and self-abuse. It’s time for us to look inwards as a community, to really look at ourselves and heal those poor tender spaces of fear and isolation. It’s time we worked for our inner rights to feel lovable and accepted just as we are. It’s time we loved each other and ourselves with greater openness and ease. It’s time we allow ourselves the freedom and joy of authentic love that we all deserve.
Alex Amorosi, ERYT, Reiki Master Teacher Alex Amorosi Yoga and Healing LLC
NEW PROGRAM: Yoga Therapy Training – Do you (or your clients) struggle with poor body image, feel disconnected from your body, or experience resistance in getting to know your body? Have you endured a negative relationship to exercise and want to reclaim movement in a gentle and compassionate way? Do you feel stagnated in your recovery from an eating disorder due to the challenge of relating to your body?
If so, we wanted to let you know that Sarah Patten, RD, LDN, RYT is excited to announce she is now offering individual yoga sessions. Sarah approaches these sessions through a therapeutic lens with the hope of empowering clients to foster connection to their body, engage in gentle and compassionate movement, and develop mindfulness and grounding skills.
Appropriate for all levels and abilities. Participants must be medically cleared for movement, however, sessions are not intended to be high intensity.
Private Yoga Sessions: 50 minutes, $110
Interested in small group yoga sessions with 2-4 participants? Click here to add your name to the Yoga Interest List and we’ll be in touch about our small group offerings.
Monday marked the start of the annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) and I thought long and hard about what I could say that might feel meaningful to each of you.
Many of you know an awful lot about eating disorders because you treat them or have suffered from one. An eating disorder has touched you in some indelible way.
Professionally, I have lived and breathed eating disorders for over a decade. It is a mental illness that puzzles the most brilliant researchers and clinicians due to the confluence of many causes and the tenacity to which they resist treatment. When it comes to research, we have far more unanswered questions than the things we know for sure. And the art of providing treatment often feels like a series of experiments, with the hopes that something will stick.
And do you want to know something miraculous? Despite all of our limitations, people recover. I personally believe that, at the center of every person’s recovery, is a story of relationship and connection.
In the spirit of this year’s EDAW theme, “Let’s Get Real,” I’d like to share with you some of the very “real” things my clients have taught me over the years.
Here are their words:
“You know what Marci, I’m coming to realize that I had an eating disorder for many years. But it was never acknowledged despite all of the clear warning signs because of my larger size. That’s really “f*#%&@” up. And I’m not going to stand for it anymore. I deserve to be kind to my body just like anybody else.”
“I look back at my 19 year old self and wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop. To tell myself there was another way to deal with and express my pain. I had no idea that I would still be dealing with this 20 years later. Our culture acts like eating disorders are a cute fad. It has taken over and destroyed most of my life. But I’m determined to beat this.”
“When I first developed my eating disorder no one knew and I got so many compliments on my body. It’s no wonder I still equate my worth to my size. People saw my weight loss as exciting and everyone asked me my tips but they had no idea how much I was hurting and how much their comments fueled my own sense of worthlessness.”
“There is perhaps nothing that enrages me more than when I tell someone what I do for a living and they respond with “Oh I wish I could get an eating disorder…” I look those people squarely in the eye and say, “No, no you don’t.””
Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness out there and they impact people regardless of age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and size. They are not about vanity and they are not a choice. And, while we don’t have the ability to prevent all eating disorders from occurring, there is a single thing I believe we can all collectively do, and that is to work hard to create a world where our inside matters far more than our outside
We can begin by:
Telling our friends how great it is to see them and ask them how they are doing rather than telling them how good they look.
Express interest in what our loved ones are doing. Ask about hobbies, books, TV shows, work, relationships, what lights them up on the inside, etc.
Of course, we can affirm one another’s beauty from time to time but because we live in a culture that equates worth with appearance and size, we must intentionally express interest in and affirm non-appearance related qualities. We must proactively emphasize all of the other aspects that make us unique and valuable to counter all of the appearance focused messaging.
C.S. Lewis teaches us, “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.”
Our bodies will change shape, size, and they will age but the truest essence of our goodness lives right inside and that is what matters most.