On Fatphobia

Let’s talk about Fatphobia.

Fatphobia is the reason why — for many people — saying “I feel fat” is the same as saying “I feel depressed” or “I feel insecure and anxious.”

For the record, “fatness” is not the same as depression or insecurity or anxiety.

“Fatness” isn’t an emotion. It’s a description of a physical reality. All of us have some quantity of this physical substance — adipose tissue — on our bodies. We might have a lot or a little, relative to the rest of the population.

Being “thin” or “fat” is not inherently good or bad. Those words are descriptors. Just like “brunette” or “blond” or “tall” or “short.” Most of us don't say "I'm feeling so brunette right now" and expect people to understand that we are upset.

And yet, almost every woman I know lives in fear of being “fat.”
Even those really enlightened, fabulous, smart women who know that beauty standards for women are unreasonable.

On it’s most basic level, that is fatphobia. Many — potentially most — of us are afraid of becoming fat or staying fat. We don’t like or want fatness.

Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that you didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be unfair or mean towards people who have more adipose tissue. Most of us want to be kind towards ourselves and others.

In general, we feel negatively towards fatness because of the society we live in (not all societies feel this way — here's one drastic example). Fatness is one of the last remaining ways in which it is socially acceptable to judge and discriminate against people.

To give just a few examples from one metastudy on weight bias:

  • 28% of teachers in one study said that “becoming obese is the worst thing that can happen to a person.”
  • 24% of nurses said that they were “repulsed” by obese people.
  • Parents provide less college support for their “overweight” children than for their thin children, even after controlling for income and grades.

It’s not just people in the largest bodies who suffer. Another study found that, all other things being equal, a woman who is average weight earns $389,300 less across a 25-year career than a woman who is 25 pounds below average weight.

Though women of all body sizes face a financial penalty for any weight gained, the study found that very thin women actually faced the greatest per pound penalty for their first few pounds of weight gain. The researchers hypothesize that because society so richly rewards women who conform to the unrealistic female standard of thinness, it also “mete[s] out the stiffest punishments for the initial “rebellion” from this standard.”

In other words, gaining any quantity of fat is literally costly for women.

Even writing about these studies makes me feel sad and frustrated. Do you feel that way, too?

Fatphobia is a social justice issue, and there are many activists now working towards a world where all bodies are equally respected and have equal access to opportunities — a movement that is alternately called fat acceptance, fat liberation, fat positivity, body positivity, or body liberation.

I can’t fully do these movements justice in this piece, but I think it’s important to mention for two reasons:

  1. If you struggle with your eating, a conscious or subconscious fear of fatness is likely contributing to your struggle.
     
  2. Your “body image issues” are not only a personal issue, they also exist within a larger social context. No matter how much inner work you do, if we continue to live in a fatphobic world, accepting and making peace with our bodies will be harder.

This is a deep, complex issue. And on one hand, that’s a bummer — this stuff goes so deep!

On the other hand, I hope it gives you hope that it’s not just you. If you are struggling, it is also because of factors beyond your control. But by getting aware and hopefully vocal, you can help  contribute to progress.

Here's a small challenge for you: The next time you think, man, I'd love to lose some weight, ask yourself: "Would I feel this way if I lived in Mauritania?"

Sometimes things have to get really bad before we’re ready to change. 

I was talking with a friend this week, and she was telling me how she had procrastinated getting help for personal things she was struggling with. It was only after her inner turmoil started manifesting in her body — intense stress in her back, muscles freezing up, and occasional panic attacks — that she realized she really needed to do something.

It was a story I really related to, and I thought you might, too. How many of us wait until things get really bad before we’re willing to take action?

Especially about issues — like our eating or our inner lives — that we know are going to be thorny and painful, and may take some time to resolve?

(I bet everyone reading this is mentally raising their hands.)

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On one hand, I wanted to share this story to remind you that if you are wanting help or support, you should go get some! There’s no need to wait until things get worse (as they inevitably do).

Sometimes it can feel overly indulgent to deal with personal issues when there are more “real” issues at hand — like the need to earn a living or make dinner for your kids or clean your apartment.

Sometimes the things we truly need — like eight hours to veg alone, a massage once a month, or to talk to a professional once a week for four months — seem unfathomably indulgent.

Please consider this your permission slip to get what you truly need.
Please consider this your permission slip to revise your personal definition of “indulgent” and “necessary.”

But on the other hand, I want to remind you that if you know in the back of your mind that you need to deal with something, but just aren’t ready to face it yet…that’s fine, too.

I mean, yes, most of us would suffer less if we acted sooner on things that we know we need to deal with.

Like our food issues.
Like our personal issues.

But, on the other hand, most of us got into many of our personal struggles because we stopped listening to and trusting ourselves.

To rebuild that trust, we have to start somewhere.

If nothing else, I want you to know that you are allowed to trust that voice that says oh man this is a big ol’ bag of crazy that I’m just not ready to open right now.

And, as always, please know that I’m sending you strength + support for the week ahead. You’ve got this. 

Really, really good relationship advice

Sometimes you read something so good, it’s like the author handed you a nugget of gold.

I read some golden-nugget relationship advice recently, and I wanted to share it with you:

You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough.

Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all.

Be brave enough to break your own heart.


— Cheryl Strayed (Full text here)

Whew. "Be brave enough to break your own heart." That hits me hard every time I read it. I never dated many “bad boys,” but I’ve definitely dated my share of nice, good men…who just weren’t quite right for me.

And those same thoughts that Strayed describes — Am I incapable of commitment? Am I incapable of truly loving someone? — definitely crossed my mind.

Maybe you’ve been there, too. I find that many of my readers are kind, good people…and I find that kind, good people often have trouble walking away, especially if things are “mostly good.”

So I just wanted to send this today, in case it is what you were needing to hear:

1.     You are allowed to leave, just because you want to.
2.     Honoring your true needs may require breaking your own heart.

(And for the record, this doesn’t just apply to relationships).

As always, I'm sending you strength + support for the week ahead. You've got this.

My natural "antidepressants"

Last winter, I went through a mysterious multi-week “down” slump. I felt sad, down, depressed, and I didn’t know why.

As someone with a lot of feelings, I wasn’t necessarily concerned that I felt sad or down. But usually, my feelings will pass in a day or two or three. And this “down-ness” just stuck around.

Eventually, out of the blue, I came upon the idea of a natural "antidepressant” — and it really turned things around for me.

I wanted to share this concept with you, so I made a video.

After you’ve watched the video, I’d love to hear: what’s your natural antidepressant? Comment below the video and let me know!

Here’s a good trick for when you’re feeling insecure about your weight.

Whenever you feel insecure about your weight, remember this: underneath almost every weight-based insecurity is another deeper and truer insecurity about life. 

For example:

I wish I could lose 10 pounds before my college reunion.
The truer and deeper feeling might be: I want to be respected, admired, and liked by my former classmates and I think they might respect a thin person more.

I wish my dress were looser for this wedding or party.
The truer and deeper feeling might be: I worry that my relationship status/career/appearance/self is not “good enough.”
Or: I worry that my brother/aunt/friend/random acquaintance is “better" than me.

Maybe I should lose weight before my doctor’s visit.
The truer and deeper feeling might be: I worry that a person who I respect will judge me and tell me that I am unhealthy and irresponsible.  

Do you see a pattern? When we feel like our weight is not good enough, we are usually worried that we are not good enough.

Even if we claim that our concerns are about “health," it’s never just about that; we can be healthier without losing a pound.

If we assume that feeling insecure about our weight is actually about our weight, we never get to address these extremely important, core issues.

So the next time you feel insecure about your weight, try going a bit deeper.

Ask yourself: what is the deeper and truer feeling, underneath my insecurity about my weight?

Another reason why this "food stuff" is hard.

Last week, I reminded you why this “food stuff” is hard: You receive so much subtle encouragement to eat (from advertising, portion sizes, and even free food), it can be hard to figure what and how much food you actually want.

But there’s another, more important, reason why this “food stuff” is hard: Powerful forces constantly tell you your body isn’t good enough.

Nearly everyone you see in television, on TV, in movies, and in fashion magazines is thin, despite the fact that even for many of these actresses and models, this body type is not natural and requires strict, constant dieting. 

Or, in the words of Julienne Moore: “I’m hungry all the time. [… ] I think I’m a slender person, but the industry apparently doesn’t. All actresses are hungry all the time, I think.”

Also, powerful companies are very invested in encouraging you to lose weight. The diet industry earns more than $20 billion dollars in revenue annually, as of 2012 — a number that is likely higher today. Celebrity endorsers of weight-loss programs make $500k to $3 million dollars. Oprah owns a $77 million stake in Weight Watchers, so she wants you to go to Weight Watchers. These companies want you to want to dislike your body, so you’ll use their products to try to lose weight. 

It’s easy to gloss over this. 

Blah, blah, blah, I get it. So much pressure to be thin

But do you REALLY get it? Or do you just intellectually understand and agree that the pressures put on women's bodies are unfair...but then still secretly think I know I'll never look like Julienne Moore...but I WOULD like to lose those 5 pounds.  

And have you been "wanting to lose 5 pounds" for the past two decades?

Body image has big implications for your eating. If you don’t like your body, you are far more likely to develop an unhappy relationship with food. This, in turn, will make maintaining a healthy weight even harder. 

Bottom line:  It’s hard to like or even accept your body in the world that we live in. Given the pressures we're under, making peace with your body may be an ongoing project for many of us. If you’re struggling, don’t beat yourself up. Just keep trying. 

A reminder about why this food stuff is hard

A reminder: Having a good relationship with food — one in which you use food to “take care” of yourself in all senses (physically, emotionally, etc.) is much harder in the world that we live in. 

Someone who was living 500 years ago didn’t have large quantities of delicious food available constantly. A female farmer in 1517 didn’t have free donuts available at her 10 a.m. meeting, sixteen delicious lunch places near her work, and free candy sitting on her co-worker's desk in the afternoon. 

Also, powerful companies want you to eat as much as possible. In 2012, fast food companies alone spent $4.6 billion on advertising. The number is likely much higher today, and doesn’t even include advertising of chips, cookies, sugary cereals, or soda.

None of this is to say that you can’t or shouldn’t eat indulgent food. I love indulgent food!

But you are under a lot of pressure to eat indulgent food, thanks to the reality of larger portions, the ubiquitous availability of free food, and the messaging of powerful companies. 

Given this pressure, it may be hard at times to figure out what you truly want. Do you want that entire enormous burrito because you are actually hungry and craving that particular food? Or because it’s there?

If you want to use food in a way that serves all parts of you (your body, your spirit, your taste buds), you might need to pay a bit more attention than if you were that random farmer woman 500 years ago. Random Farmer Woman could eat anything that was available, because there just wasn’t that much food available. 

Bottom line: The world in which we live makes this “eating stuff” harder. But you don’t need to obsess or make draconian food rules; you just need to gently stay in touch with yourself.

On being Stoppable

For a long time, I tried to be Unstoppable.

In other words: I tried to pretend that I didn’t need to Stop. If you’re trying to be successful in school or your career, maintain relationships, do “extra-curricular” activities, and keep up normal-human-maintenance like exercise or laundry, there’s often just not a lot of room time left over.

And if there wasn’t a lot of time or flexibility in my day, then I certainly didn’t have time to be Stopped by feelings or thoughts.

Instead, I often had to push through to get the paper or the analysis or the presentation done. My days, too, and nights were often jam-packed without time to Stop: I gotta get home from work, shower, eat something, maybe exercise, and get to that party.

And yet, I wasn’t Unstoppable. No one is.

So many things are supposed to Stop us — intense feelings like fear, anxiety, insecurity, and more, but also more “mundane” feelings like boredom, mental or emotional or physical fatigue, and more. They don’t exist to be glossed over.

But processing feelings — really being with them, feeling the (often intense) physical sensations, and figuring out what to do about them — takes time.

As I mentioned, I didn’t have a lot of time.

So, instead of feeling all that stuff, I often ate. To be clear, it usually wasn’t always a full-on “binge.” More often, it was a cookie here or a mini candy bar there. Oh, did I just eat that slightly stale biscotti from the break room on my way to my next meeting, or was that my imagination?

When I did my own personal examination, I realized that each time I was eating in this way, something else was going on.

When I wanted to eat that slightly stale biscotti, what was actually happening was that I was tired from my day and needed a break to process my frustration and fatigue.

Or, in other words: I needed to let myself Stop.

Acknowledging that we are “Stoppable” means acknowledging:

  • That we are not machines put on this earth to complete to-do lists as efficiently as possible.
  • That we often can’t do as much in a day as our brains think we can or should do.
  • That we might not be able to be as “perfect” a friend, employee, student, boss, partner, girlfriend, or friend as we would like to be.
  • That we might have more feelings than we thought.

Here are some things that you can do when you Stop:

  • Feel your body (is it sweaty? Is your heart racing? Do you have a zinging or a tightness in your chest?).
  • Write in a journal or a random piece of paper (or even on the notes app on your phone).
  • Have a mental conversation with yourself (What are you feeling? What are you resisting? What do you need?)

If this sounds like it would take “a lot” of time, you’re not wrong. Stopping will take a some time, especially if you are inexperienced with checking in with yourself on a moment-to-moment basis.  

If it frustrates you to think that you might not be able to “do” as much as you thought, I feel you. That realization was tough for me, as well.

But please know that I am here with you, just another normal woman with a barrel-ful of feelings.

And I promise: Stopping is worth it.

 

It’s okay to love food!

I recently threw away some papers from my teenage bedroom, and I found a list of “things to bake” on a small Winnie the Pooh pad of paper. The list included quiche, sourdough bread, and cinnamon rolls.

It reminded me of two things: 

  1. I love food, and I have always loved food.
  2. The way that I love food now is so much better than the way I loved food back then. 

Back then, my deep love of food felt kind of dangerous, like a liability. I always had to keep it under control — only three bites of that slice of cake, Katie. I was usually pretty good at keeping everything moderate … except when I wasn’t (like when I'd eat a ton of cookie dough while baking and then take a walk afterwards and think, I’m never eating cookie dough again. Ever.)

The way that I love food now feels like a happy and well-adjusted relationship. I feel like I can express my love without causing some kind of crisis or problem. 

As I ate a small piece of chocolate peanut butter pie for a snack this afternoon, I realized that I write a lot about what a relief resolving our “eating issues” can be, how it can reduce the mental clutter and make us happier. But I wonder if I explicitly say something else frequently enough:

Loving food is not wrong. 

Loving fresh bread and warm cookies and baby back ribs that are covered in barbecue sauce is not wrong. 

And eating bread and cookies and baby back ribs is not wrong either. 

What’s “wrong” is that you’ve spent so long messing with your eating that you’ve convinced yourself that your cravings can’t be trusted.
What’s “wrong” is that you’ve gotten lost in the restrict-and-overindulge cycle so often that you’ve forgotten that true satisfaction is natural and achievable.

Loving food can be a natural and awesome expression of sensuality, pleasure, and humanness. 

So I want to remind you, in case you forgot or never learned: 

You don’t have to be afraid of your love of food. 
It’s okay to love food. 
It’s okay to eat food that you love.

You might just have to do some personal exploration to figure out how

 

Maybe you’re wrong about what you want

Imagine that that I told you to “eat whatever you want.”

What do you imagine?

Are you sitting at a table surrounded by food? A box of deep dish pizza, a six-layer chocolate cake, chips with bowls of dip and guacamole?
Do you envision eating and eating and eating?
Do you envision eating until any reasonable person would be sick?

Even if this isn’t your exact fantasy, when most of us are faced with the thought of eating “whatever we want,” we envision frequent, large quantities of rich food.

And that’s why I can’t eat whatever I want, we tell ourselves. Because I would eat till I got sick and till I got fat.

But can I offer a reality check?

Why is “eating whatever you want” the same thing as “eating until you feel sick” ? Does it have to be?

I mean, yes, something that I “want” is a deep dish pizza with Italian sausage, sautéed peppers, and onions.

But something else that I “want” is the energy to take a gentle walk, do my work, and spend time with the people that I care about.

So I don’t really want to eat so much pizza that I can’t do the other things I want.

Is it possible, if you’ve always thought that you could never “eats whatever you want,” that you’ve just been defining “what you want” too narrowly?

If “eating whatever you want” means “eating only junk food, forever” — it probably wouldn’t make anyone feel great.

But if “eating whatever you want” means doing a nuanced calculation in the moment, balancing all of your complex needs — to satisfy your taste buds, your body, your soul, your emotions….isn’t this something that we all can do?

p.s. If you’re reading this and thinking, “I guess I might feel good and relatively healthy if I ate in this way, but it wouldn’t be good enough because I wouldn’t lose weightthen let’s talk about that elephant in the room. 

p.p.s. If you'd like to work on figuring out how to actually do that in-the-moment calculation to figure out how you truly want, I'd love to invite you to join a Dessert Club.

 

My body image “shame”…and what I learned

As much work as I’ve done to accept and embrace my body, I still sometimes find myself having negative thoughts about my weight.

Thoughts like, “Maybe you would look better if you lost a couple of pounds, Katie.”
Or: “Maybe you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable at that party if you were slimmer.”

For a long time, I felt embarrassed about even having these thoughts. I knew that they weren’t true, but I kept thinking to myself: I’m a coach and I help women make peace with food and their bodies! I should be 100% past this!

Eventually, I realized something really important about these negative body thoughts, and what to do about them. I wanted you to hear about it from me, so I recorded a video.

After you’ve watched the video, I’d love to hear what you think. Have you ever tried the technique I suggest to deal with having negative thoughts about your body? Comment below the video or even hit reply to this email and let me know!

A weekend reminder.

A reminder: You can’t rush your own process. 

It’s going to take the time it takes.

Even if some intellectual part of you thinks that you “should” have enough rest, hugs, love, money, chocolate, or French fries by now….

…It doesn’t matter. You need what you need. Lying to yourself doesn't do you any favors.

(Of course, you may not be able to meet every single one of your needs right now — if I'm wanting a croissant from Paris, that's not really possible at this exact second — but at least acknowledging it is an essential first step.) 


p.s. If you'd like some support on learning to sit with your needs + figure out how to best meet them (with food and with life), you might be interested in joining a Dessert Club (summer sessions are now open for enrollment!)

Confusing the outlier with the average

You know those days when you eat a small, “healthy” salad for lunch and it’s exactly what you’re craving?

And then you think to yourself, I’ve finally found my new average meal! I’ll just have salads every day now! And then I’ll be skinny and beautiful and healthy! And did I mention that I’ll be skinny?

And then, inevitably, you eat pizza for lunch the next day. Or twelve large spoonfuls of brownie batter.

Does that ever happen to you? It used to happen to me a lot (and sometimes still does).

Many of us have a tendency to confuse the outlier with the average. 

This is particularly likely to happen when we are attached to a certain “idea” of ourselves.

If we are attached to the idea of being thin (perhaps due to certain societal expectations), and then find ourselves eating in a way that might result in weight loss, we get very attached to that way of eating. And we’re very disappointed in ourselves when we — inevitably — return our more “average” style of eating.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to eating and weight. It can happen with any false “ideas” we have about ourselves:

Ideas about our productivity
Or generosity
Or interest in exercise
Or courage
Or selflessness
Or kindness

It’s not exactly news that most of us are flawed, messy, good-and-bad folks. We eat healthily and unhealthily. Sometimes we prioritize others and sometimes we prioritize ourselves. Sometimes we get a lot done and sometimes we don’t.

The real pain is the suffering you experience when we deny our own variability. 

If we accept that the “perfect” salad day is just one end of the spectrum, and not our new “average”…the suffering disappears.

You get me?

 

The real tragedy of your unhappy relationship with food.

The real tragedy with food isn’t that you spend hours worried about what you’ll eat at the restaurant tonight.
Or that you’ve lost and gained the same 10-20 pounds countless times over the past decade or two.
Or that you hide your pizza box in the bottom of the trash, so that your roommate won't see how much you actually ate. 
 
(Of course all of those things are sad and unfortunate and even heartbreaking.)
 
The real tragedy of your unhappy relationship with food is that it has tricked you into thinking that your unhappiness is about food. 

Yes, your eating is probably making you unhappy.
But, even more problematically, your eating is likely distracting you from much deeper issues.
 
Issues such as:

  • How do I feel about my days? Why do I spend my entire day numb in my body? 
  • How do I feel about my relationships? Why do I always find myself eating way too much with this person? 
  • Why do I always feel like I can never have "enough" of time/money/love/chocolate?
  • Who gets to say whether I am worthy of love or respect? 
  • Who gets to say whether my physical body is worthy of love or respect?
  • Will other people respect or love me if they see all the parts of my personality (even the messy, dark, or out-of-control parts)? 


 
You can spend your entire life gaining and losing the same 10 or 20 or 40 pounds. 
You can spend your entire life carefully measuring out portions, and then beating yourself up when you eat too much.
You can spend your entire life living the daily soap opera of “omg I ate too much today!”
 
And in a certain sense (stay with me here, I know this is a bit radical): That will be easier than the alternative.

I'm serious.
 
Worrying about your eating and your weight means that you stay safe in the sandbox of “food issues.” You’ve felt these feelings before; you’ve thought these thoughts before. You know how the drama plays out: the herculean efforts of dieting, the sweetness of overindulgence and the guilty remorse that follows. The drama! The action! Even if you never quite “get it right,” it’s all familiar, in a way.
 
The alternative, of course, is to step out of the sandbox where you’ve always been, and actually go on a deep journey of personal exploration. What is really, truly, motivating your “eating issues”? Hint: it’s probably not that you don’t know the appropriate portion size of ice cream. 

Every single time I run a Dessert Club group, the participants tell me that they have way more “feelings” than they ever realized. And it can be scary. Overwhelming. 

It's worth pointing out that these same Dessert Club participants are thoughtful, self-aware ladies...but they just didn't realize how deep this stuff goes. Food stuff goes really, really deep. 
 
If you choose the "deep journey of personal exploration" route...it may be intense, but it also allows you to eat cupcakes without guilt and experience truer joy and connection and self-worth than you may have felt before. 
 
What do you choose? 



p.s. If you want some support for this journey, I just posted dates for the two summer Dessert Clubs (Including one that is Europe-friendly!). I know it can be scary to think about talking about this stuff in a group, but I suspect that it will be way more fun + encouraging + helpful than you imagine. 

p.p.s. To be honest, I still feel kinda awkward on social media (I'm pretty private!), but I'm trying to dip my toe into the Instagram pool because it seems so fun. Want to say hi? Here's my personal-ish account, and here's one for the Dessert Club. I'd love to meet some more of you :)
 

It’s not cocaine, folks.

Just a quick reminder for your weekend: It’s okay to overeat or eat emotionally sometimes.

Yes, it’s fantastic to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
Yes, it’s great to try to be aware of the underlying feelings that are driving your eating.
Yes, we probably don’t want food to be our only coping mechanism.

But most of us will still occasionally eat a dark fudge cupcake when we feel exhausted or sad or frustrated or awkward.

And you know what? It’s not that big of a deal.
Actually, in the big scheme of things, it’s not that bad of a coping mechanism occasionally.

It’s possible to get obsessed with being a “perfect intuitive eater,” the same way you might have been obsessed with being a “perfect dieter” or a “perfect clean eater.”

Please don’t do that. Food isn’t cocaine. It’s not heroin.* If you use it occasionally to numb out or celebrate or appease your grandma who just made you a pie and is looking at you expectantly, it’s not a big deal.

You feel me?

*On a more serious note, I want to acknowledge that food addiction can be a real thing. And even if you don’t identify with the label of “addict,” many of us still use food compulsively or to numb out…like any kind of “addict” (e.g., someone addicted to shopping or gambling or drugs or alcohol) might.

There are some schools of thought, like Overeaters Anonymous (OA), which believe in complete “abstinence” from overeating — and I completely support that, if it feels right and necessary to you.

But my experience tells me that almost everyone will overeat, at times. Even people who are totally sane and happy around food.  So while some people may need a complete abstinence-only approach, most of us will benefit from being kind and cutting ourselves some slack.  Overeating an extra piece of cake isn’t the end of the world — and if we interpret it as the end of the world, we’re more likely to keep bingeing from the panic. So why not just accept that everyone eats emotionally sometimes?

 

p.s. The next round of Dessert Clubs will be opening for enrollment next week! Enter your email here if you'd like to be updated when they're open!

Why it doesn’t feel good to eat an entire box of Oreos

I keep making myself feel sick from sugar. I need to stop eating sugar entirely.

I hear this a lot from people. The “I’ve made myself feel terrible, so I need to stop it entirely” way of thinking. I’ve heard it about other things, too: social media usage, shopping, travel, and more.

It’s possible that giving up sugar entirely might make you feel better than, say, eating an entire box of Oreos in one sitting. But if you’re looking to maximize your happiness, there are likely some other choices that would make you even happier than either bingeing or going cold turkey on sugar.

To explain why, take a look at the curve below**:

I don’t usually use math to describe eating principles, but this curve has extraordinary explanatory power and may help you make yourself a lot happier, so stick with me.

To understand the curve, let’s use chocolate consumption as an example.

At point A, your chocolate consumption is zero. However, even with zero chocolate, you have some level of happiness, which is indicated by point A on the graph.

(Of course, point A — or the y-intercept of this graph — will vary by person. Some people might be at a “0” or neutral level of happiness when they’re not eating any chocolate at all, for example. Others, like “super-duper chocolate lovers,” might be below 0, at a more “negative” level of happiness, if they aren’t consuming any chocolate.)

As you consume more chocolate, your happiness increases. I think this makes intuitive sense to those of us who’ve ever tasted chocolate.

At some point (point B on this graph), your pleasure from eating chocolate reaches its maximum level. This would be what is happening to me in this picture.

Past this point, your pleasure starts to decline. It’s worth noting, though, that as long as your pleasure is above point A, you’ll still be happier than you were if you weren’t eating any chocolate.

At a certain point, though, if you keep eating chocolate, you become just as happy as if you hadn’t had any chocolate at all — probably because you start feeling a little less good in your body. This is represented by point C on the curve. And if you keep eating, you’ll be less happy than if you didn’t eat any chocolate at all…and might even become genuinely unhappy (point D).

There are two reasons why this chart matters:

1. If consuming sugar or any other food is making you unhappy, you may not need to give it up entirely. You just need to find you sweet spot.

There’s a strong current of black-and-white thinking in today’s diet and nutrition culture. “Stop eating sugar” or “give up gluten” are ideas that are very in-vogue right now.

In a certain sense, it might make you happier to stop eating sugar if you are currently eating a HUGE quantity of sugar. This makes visual sense by looking at the graph — you’d be happier at point A, for example, than you would be at point D.

But you know where you’d be happiest? Eating some Oreos, but not too many. That’s the wonderful sweet spot at point B.

 

2. You’re going to have to figure out what your own chart looks like. 

People often assume that there is a single “right answer” when it comes to how to eat to make themselves feel good, and that this “right answer” will be in a book or online article.

Here’s the thing: You are not a robot. You are not a car. You are not an airplane. There’s no one-size-fits-all recommendation here, and everyone’s chart is going to look different. Your point B will be at a different number of Oreos than your mom/friend/worst enemy or even some random nutritionist who wrote an article on the Internet about how much sugar is “okay” to eat.

And, even more importantly, your graph will vary by the day/hour/second.

There is no substitute for you doing your own experiments. Period.

 

Other applications:

 It may be obvious, but this chart applies to an astonishing number of other experiences in life:

  • Email: Cal Newport writes about this powerfully here and was the writer who introduced me to this curve to begin with. In general, most of us are more productive with some email usage — otherwise we’d have to call or write letters to get anything done. But too much email usage can radically decrease our focus, ability to get things done, and happiness. This also applies to social media and general Internet browsing.
  • Travel: Some travel is lovely. Too much travel is exhausting. Again, everyone is going to have a different amount of travel that produces different results — some people crave three months of travel, while for others, a couple of days at the beach is perfect.
  • Socializing
  • Shopping
  • TV watching

The bottom line: most thing in life are pleasurable, up to a point. But at another point, it would have been better if we hadn’t done them at all.

So why not spend a bit of time and attention in search of your personal sweet spot?

 

 

**I was introduced to this concept by Cal Newport, who applies it to email productivity . 

 

 

Sunday PSA: The Pajama Technique

Here’s a suggestion: when life gets hard, put on your pajamas.

As in: don’t even take the time to think/process your feelings/talk to others. Put on the pajamas right away.

I got this idea from my older brother, who is an ex-college athlete/successful businessman/all-around-intense-and-impressive dude. I’ve always been a big fan of pajamas, but on a recent visit, I watched him take the Pajama Technique to a whole new level of self-care mastery.

As soon as I walked in the door and started to tell him about how exhausted I was, he interrupted me: “Katie, before we discuss this, why don’t you go put on your pajamas?”

Just like that. As if it was the most normal thing in the world.

I wanted to share this radical idea: Put on pajamas immediately. Think/feel/emote/take action after. 

Who knows, it might help with a tendency to eat cookies as soon as you walk in the house? :)

Why do we prefer to overeat in private?

Why are we so afraid to let other people see how much we truly eat? 

Why do we hide the evidence of our overeating “episodes”?

Why do we prefer to binge in private?

The very bold ones among us might mention our “struggle with food” in conversation with friends, in an abstract sense. But would we sit down at a table with a loved one and say, “I’m bingeing right now”? And then proceed to eat an entire gallon of ice cream while the other person watched?

I was discussing this with some Dessert Club members last night, and the unanimous answer was that we don’t want other people to see us like that. We don’t want them to see us in that wild, out-of-control, scary place. 

This is a food issue, but this isn’t a food issue. 

This isn’t a food issue because it’s really about control, vulnerability, and connection. It’s about being afraid that who we truly are is “too much” for others, and that if our closest loved ones really knew how we ate sometimes, they might be disgusted. They might even leave us. 

It’s really about feeling like the world can’t hold us. Even our closest, most-loved people can’t hold us. We can only be that that wild-and-out-of-control version of ourselves in private.

Then we must clean up the mess, get ourselves together, and reconnect with the world. 

Can you feel what happens when we tell ourselves that this is how we “have” to be in the world? 
That we can only be this limited, corseted, sanitized version of ourselves? 

What would happen if it were okay for us to be out-of-control, unseemly, and messy? What if this part of ourselves could be loved and respected and seen and cared for just as much as we are loved and respected for the parts of us that are “together” and “kind” and “generous” and “smart”?

This is a food issue, but this isn’t a food issue. 

Last night, I asked the Dessert Club members: “What would happen if you tried to only binge in front of others?”

Even writing that sentence, I feel a zing of fear move through me. Bingeing in front of others sounds pretty freaking scary.

Here’s what I think: If we could binge in front of others, if would be pretty freaking scary. It would be terrifying and vulnerable and we’d feel like we were risking everything. We’d worry that they wouldn’t love us or like us or respect us anymore.

But you know what else I think? I think it would be clean. Because we’d be facing all those fears about abandonment and our need to be loved and seen head on. We’d be eliminating the part of bingeing that makes it even worse, which is the story we tell ourselves: No one can see me like this.

And I think that the food part of the binge, that part where you eat too many chips or too much ice cream — I think that would be much less scary. I think you’d probably eat less, because it wouldn’t be so secretive or shameful.

I also think that some relationships couldn’t take it — some people couldn’t support you in your most vulnerable moments. But others would be much, much stronger. I think you’d gain confidence in knowing that it was okay to be yourself and to stand tall in the world, and that it’s okay if every single person doesn’t like or love you. I think you’d be more joyful, more loving, more compassionate, more creative, more generous, and, most importantly, more you.

When we act like food issues are just about food, we can never really solve them. And, even more problematically, we miss out on the opportunity for the incredible personal growth that can come from tackling what they really are about.

And, for the record, bingeing in secret isn’t just about the things I talk about above. It’s also about 100 other things.

Are you willing to peel back the layers?

 

Lindy West’s advice for how to be confident in your body

I just finished reading Lindy West’s memoir Shrill (if you like hilarious, body-positive, inspiring writing, I can’t recommend it enough), and loved West’s advice for how to start liking your body:

“Honestly, this ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ chapter could be 16 words long. Because there was really only one step to my body acceptance: Look at pictures of fat women on the Internet until they don’t make you uncomfortable anymore. That was the entire process.

“(Optional step two: Wear crop top until you forget you’re wearing a crop top. Suddenly, a crop top is just a top. Repeat.)”

Lindy West at her wedding. Via The Guardian

Lindy West at her wedding. Via The Guardian

I haven’t ordered any crop tops — yet — but looking at pictures of women who we don’t traditionally see in the media was also super useful in my body image journey.

I love how she describes her body-positive transformation:

I discovered a photo blog called ‘Hey, Fat Chick’ (now, crushingly, defunct) run by an effervescent Australian angel names Frances Lockie, and pored over it nightly like a jeweler or a surgeon or a codebreaker. It was pure, unburdened joy, and so simple: Just fat women — some bigger than me, some smaller — wearing outfits and doing things and smiling. Having lives. That’s it. They were like medicine. One by one they loosened my knots. 

First, I stopped reacting with knee-jerk embarrassment at the brazenness of their bodies, the way I’d been trained. I stopped feeling obscene, exposed, like someone had ripped the veil off my worst secrets. 

Next, they became ordinary. Mundane. Neutral. Their thick thighs and sagging bellies were just bodies, like any other. Their lives were just lives, like any other. Like mine.

Then, one day, they were beautiful. I wanted to look and be like them — I wanted to spill out of a crop top; plant a flag in a mountain of lingerie; alienate small, bitter men who dared to presume that women exist for their consumption; lay bare the cowardice in recoiling at something as literally fundamental as a woman’s real body. I wasn’t unnatural after all; the cultural attitude that taught me so was the real abomination. My body, I realized, was an opportunity. It was political. It moved the world just by existing. What a gift.

No matter what your weight is*, if you're afraid of, or embarrassed by, non-thin bodies, you will struggle more with your eating. Why? Because if you’re afraid, on some level, to be anything but thin (or whatever is your ideal), you will have to control your eating so that you don’t somehow have this terrible, undesirable body.

On the other hand, if you appreciate and admire all bodies — yes, even “fat” ones — then you can be kind to yourself, exercise and eat to make yourself feel good, and trust that whatever your body ends up looking like, it will be okay.

So the practice is simple, just like West says: “Look at pictures of fat women on the Internet until they don’t make you uncomfortable anymore.”

This strategy sounds so simple, but please don’t underestimate its potency. If you are wondering where to start, here are some sites I’ve been enjoying lately: 

To find more resources, search on Google, Instagram, Pinterest, or your favorite social platform for terms like “body positive photos” or “plus-size bloggers.” And share what resonates with you in the comments, so we can all appreciate the wealth!

*It’s also worth acknowledging that as a person with what might be called a “medium-sized body,” I haven’t ever experienced the kind of weight-based stigma that someone like West has had to face. Thin privilege is an unfortunate reality, and there are many ways in which we need to question and push back against it — for the benefit of all people. But one of the ways we can push back, quite simply, is deciding that we get to determine for ourselves if we are beautiful. Virgie Tovar wrote a fantastic article on this recently, if you’d like to read.