toxic positivity is not self care

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it’s ok to not feel ok right now.

no matter how well-stocked your house. no matter how (relatively) stable your financial situation. no matter how extensive your support network. no matter how good your health.

even those of us who are well-resourced are struggling during this pandemic. many of us have nervous systems that hold rich histories of trauma & fear, and despite the reconnective & reparenting work that many of us have done, in the face of this degree of stress it can feel like we’re shifting into a previous version of ourselves.

i promise that that backsliding feeling is not forever. i promise that the work you’ve done, the strides you’ve made, the tools you’ve developed to heal you, are still there.

gratitude is important. seeing the opportunity in the tragedy is beneficial. but ultimately, the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to hold space without judging, minimizing, or pushing away feelings of overwhelm & fear.

for many of us, trying to tell ourselves it’ll be ok when we’re in a moment of crisis or overwhelm feels like gaslighting; even if we cognitively know that things will be alright our nervous systems may believe otherwise. so i’d like to share with you the language i’ve been using for a while to guide & support my nervous system during times of panic & helplessness. (you may want to write your own script.)

“you spent your life receiving information that indicated you weren’t safe. first it was from your family, and from your environment growing up. then it was from the beliefs about yourself that formed from the original cues.

you didn’t have knowledge or resources to move away from danger & toward safety, to learn to regulate & thrive. and while you still have these old neural pathways that make you feel in the present like you’re in the danger of the past, they are the original messages refracted through the ways in which your body has learned to hold your fear.

the danger is no longer real. it is ok to still feel like it is, because it’s what you know, but it’s also ok to move toward new beliefs that you will be ok.

ps healing isn’t linear, so some days will be worse than others; try not to let that pull you into the vortex.”

why the language of wellness matters

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HEALTH is something that’s yours. it is not the adjective that describes it; it is what your body needs and does, the aggregate of certain measurable markers (like blood pressure, liver & kidney function or blood sugar regulation) with how you feel in your body and about your lived experience.

HEALTHFUL has traditionally applied to things that promote health, like hydration, stress management and eating nutrient-rich foods. but over time, “healthful” has been replaced with the term “healthy” — and here’s why that’s a problem.

on its own, HEALTHY technically means to possess good health. but in practice, it gets assigned based on an unclear set of standards, by anyone with an opinion. and “healthy” & “unhealthy” don’t stop at describing a state of health; they’re also used to refer to how we and others look, feel & eat and what we do.

many of the assumed indicators of health we label as healthy (or not) don’t come from medicine, but from diet culture & beauty culture, adopted into a wellness shorthand. moreover, the average person has been taught to feel empowered and entitled to do this labelling, not only of themselves but of others — which is a product of diet culture as well.

because health is so multifaceted and what is healthful is so individualized, the terms HEALTHY and UNHEALTHY don’t mean anything concrete. at best, they are unhelpful and at worst they are harmful.

we need to push back on the normalization of categorizing people in ways that we are neither qualified to nor should be concerned with. stopping and thinking about what we actually mean when our instinct is to use the terms “healthy” and “unhealthy” is how we start challenging this programming.

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when boys and men see and hear womxn talking about their own and each others’ bodies–praising certain bodies while criticizing or ignoring others–how will they learn to not do the same?

when girls and womxn hear these boys and men commenting on their bodies, what will prepare them to reject the narrative?

break the cycle. don’t comment on bodies.

diet culture is medically unsound

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diet culture did not start with science and work its way into popular culture — it moved in the opposite direction. given that fact, it’s unsurprising that diet culture is medically unsound.

for example:
– dieting often causes weight cycling
– weight cycling can cause insulin resistance
– insulin resistance increases the risk of type 2 diabetes
– yet dieting is what’s prescribed to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes

isn’t dieting important if you’re overweight, you may be wondering? that’s what we’ve been told by doctors, taught in school, heard from our families and friends and colleagues, seen on talk shows, and definitely what’s been modeled in mainstream entertainment.

the answer is NO. not only do 97% of dieters regain their lost weight (and then some) but the relationship between weight and health is correlative, *not* causative; that means your weight in and of itself is not a negative health outcome.

medicine is fatphobic; the same eating disorder behaviors that are guarded against in smaller bodies (when they are screened for at all) are condoned for larger bodies. whether western or holistic, most wellness practitioners (including me) were taught that weight was a super important measure of health — and it’s really, really not.

the good news is that many of us have been learning the anti-diet and health at every size paradigms that allow us to provide comprehensive, compassionate and medically sound care to our patients, regardless of their body size.

by the way, a big part of how you actually reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes is keeping your blood sugar regulated — and that’s done by eating, not starving, and by learning to hear your body’s hunger and fullness cues 💛

anti-diet is not anti-health

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i don’t subscribe to diets. not just diets whose goal is weight loss — “diet” as in any way of eating that comes with a label and set of guidelines.

yes, i believe in eating w/consideration for my physical & mental health and with care for the health of the planet.
yes, there are elements of many diets that are valuable to those goals.
so why am i anti-diet?
because at the end of the day, i’m not ok with asking my body to follow a set of rules that were not determined by/for its unique (and changing) needs.

diets are generally built on the premise that our body’s natural desires lead to bad choices–eating the wrong foods, or not enough of the right ones, or too much in general–and bad outcomes. the only way to stay safe & healthy, diet culture tells us, is to rely on an external set of guidelines to override our instincts towards food.[1] and in the absence of being able to listen to, hear, understand & honor the needs of our bodies, those guidelines can turn into rules.

diet culture has us believing that before it came along we didn’t know how to feed ourselves or be healthy.[2] but diets, by design one-size-fits-all (or at best, one-size-fits-many), don’t work for our unique human bodies, both practically and medically.

diets don’t help us identify & undo programming we’ve received about our bodies and about food — which is imperative to finding a nourishing *and* sustainable approach to what & how we eat.

diets don’t have the capability to help us understand & navigate our cravings or aversions, which provide important information.[3] and if a craving is not in compliance with diet guidelines (like the “wrong” food, portion size, or time of day) we might feel frustrated or ashamed, and are more likely to get mad at our bodies and start ignoring their cues.

it takes guidance, learning, practice, compassion, & ultimately time to rebuild the rapport and trust around food that we’re born with. it also requires rejecting paradigms (like diets) whose goal it NOT to create space for & meaning from what we want and feel.

anti-diet is not anti-health[4]. saying “no” to what doesn’t serve you creates room for enthusiastic “yes,” and that is what an anti-diet approach is: pro YOU.

[1] yes, we are experiencing a health crisis with unprecedented rates of heart disease, cancer, chronic illness, and depression, among many other ailments that can be alleviated in part by access to fresh, whole foods. but diet culture is not the solution, because this is not a failing on the part of the individual — it is a perfect storm of systemic stress, societal harms, separation from cultural tradition & ancestral knowledge of the foods that nourish our bodies and communities, and corporate greed that exacerbates the inaccessibility of nutrient dense foods as it propagates the prevalence of foods that lack nutrient density.
[2] settler colonialism has pervasively and tragically shaped how many of our social systems function. it relies on the myth that what existed before colonial arrival was nothing of worth or consequence — that settlers were the saviors who provided civilization & culture & commerce & medicine — and that mindset, along with the racist and classist origins of diet culture, serves as the template for contemporary diet culture.
[3] feeling out of control about cravings may have physiological or psychological components that compound the programming we’ve received. it’s possible to explore this with a holistic wellness practitioner using a non-diet approach!
[4] what about diets for medical conditions? while there are absolutely commonalities in nutritional needs when eating in support of a specific condition or illness, your body is nonetheless unique, and the way you eat has to work for *you* specifically; a “diet” can neither anticipate nor accommodate what that may be. this is also something that can be explored with a holistic wellness practitioner using a non-diet approach.