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Labels (Food and Otherwise): How I Identify My Approach to Wellness

Hello all,

It’s been a while since I’ve done a post about some of my personal experiences and my own journey with health and wellness. So here’s what’s been banging around in my head lately.

I’ve written before on here about my past (and to some degree, they will always be current) issues with eating and body image, but the ways in which I am talking about them and identifying with them have changed over time. I’ve also written on here about my tendency towards plant-based eating, but again, the ways in which I am talking about and identifying with this have shifted recently and are still in flux.

Basically since I identified the problem and began to work towards a goal of actual health (both physical AND MENTAL) instead of the wellness-industry-fabricated picture of health that we’re are sold on a daily basis (where thin is in, being skinny is required to be healthy, less calories are always better, you could always be exercising more, and cutting foods out of your diet is the path to enlightenment, etc.), I’ve been identifying my struggles (with restrictive eating and over-exercising for the number of calories I was intaking, as well as striving to be a weight that is simply too low for my body to thrive at [aka below my body’s natural set-point weight, which is different from an “ideal weight” set by BMI calculations; ask me about this if you would like to hear more on the subject]) as disordered eating and body dysmorphia.

More recently, however, despite learning about the definition of orthorexia while I was in school and in the midst of struggling with the worst of these issues but not fully identifying with it at the time, I have come to now identify my experiences with this category. I struggled with orthorexia, an obsession with the health and purity of foods, over-exercising, and an obsession with becoming or maintaining being thin, and to some degree, I will always be in recovery from this.

Yes, I did struggle with disordered eating that was highly restrictive; that part of things has largely moved to the background of what I face on a daily basis. I would say my eating habits and my relationship with food are fairly “normal” now; I am able to eat for both pleasure and utilitarian reasons, to eat a wide variety of foods of varying nutrient-densities without shame or guilt taking over.

Yes, I feel I will always struggle with body dysmorphia; I feel I have little to no idea of an actual reasonable picture of what my body looks like most of the time. I can’t identify if I’m thin, muscular, curvy, or what, and I’m learning to realize that that doesn’t really matter. Certain things, like joking or serious comments on my body looks or size or weight, situations like trying on clothes, etc. will trigger me into a spiral of body shame, of wanting to restrict or be smaller, or simply of fear that my body will change as a result of something or on the other end of the spectrum, fear that my body will never look how I want it to, never muscular enough or just the right shape or size. And sometimes it won’t bother me at all; someone can tell a joke, and I’m fine; I can weigh myself the once or twice a year that I do and be fine; I can change clothing size and be fine. But, body dysmorphia, for me, is now the brunt of what I deal with in regards to my overall struggles on a daily basis.

This has been reflected in how I coach clients with these issues and how I talk about them from a political perspective. There has been a large activist movement to shift from a lens of body positivity (which has been co-opted by many companies and professionals to sell products and services while still promoting a thin, white, cis-, and ableist notion of the ideal body) towards body neutrality and fat positivity/activism (fat positivity or activism is based on the idea that those in larger bodies are oppressed by the medicalization of fatness through terms like “overweight” and “obese” as well as a huge amount of fat stigma present in our society which oppresses those in larger bodies and that without removing this stigma, no one’s body is truly free). I agree with this shift, but I am also not leaving behind body positivity, as finding things I loved about my body and could appreciate dragged me out of a dark place. So yes, I also believe in body neutrality, that the body and how it looks is one of the least interesting things about people, that personality and talent and self-development are so much more and should be focused on as such. And I believe in fat liberation, stopping the social and medical stigmatization on larger bodies. I believe in the Healthy at Every Size paradigm by Linda Bacon, which states that bodies can be healthy at any size, and that weight is not nearly the linear link to health outcomes that we have been lead to believe but that stress and other environmental/social/genetic factors play a much larger role in health outcomes. And I’m also anti-diet, as I believe restrictive eating and weight cycling is a bigger health risk factor than weight itself, and I believe that our bodies are smarter than we give them credit and that Intuitive Eating (which includes mindful eating but is also bigger than this) and truly listening in to what our bodies are telling us is the way we were designed to live and eat.

As far as being plant-based, I started off vegetarian because it was something I had always wanted to do for ethical reasons, not because I couldn’t believe anyone would ever eat another living thing or thought it was an outrage but because I personally didn’t jive with the idea or really consume or like consuming a lot of meat myself. I then co-opted this pure intention and personal choice for distorted “health/purity” reasons, and I guess my body fought back on that one with lactose intolerance and eventually, trouble digesting eggs as a cruel prank. Luckily, by this time, I had figured out what I was doing to myself and vowed to never become fully vegan to avoid feeling too much restriction and spent years identifying as “mostly-vegan.” More recently, I’m identifying as plant-based; I truly stand behind reducing intake of animal products as a personal choice I make to decrease my environmental impact, but it’s not something I think should be forced on anyone else, especially not for health reasons. I enjoy eating mostly plants, but I’m also working towards letting go of some control by not reading food labels to check for animal-based ingredients but simply using intuition and thinking to myself: “does this seem like a food I want and can digest easily or is worth some digestive discomfort?” I’m also working towards being able to try a bite or two of someone’s meat or fish-based dish without anxiety and fear, as meat/poultry/fish have been things I have completely avoided since the start of this particular journey. This part is really just about being able to enjoy life, prove to myself that I can, and challenge myself to push out any and all remaining food anxieties/fear foods.

So in summary,

In the past I have identified as:

  • Struggling with:
    • disordered and restrictive eating,
    • body dysmorphia,
    • and purging calories with exercise
  • Vegetarian
  • Mostly-vegan
  • Body positive

I still identify as:

  • Struggling with body dysmorphia
  • Body positive

I currently identify as:

  • In continual and perpetual recovery from:
    • orthorexia,
    • disordered eating,
    • and body dysmorphia
  • Body positive
  • Body neutral
  • Fat positive/activist/liberationist
  • Anti-diet
  • A HAES (Healthy at Every Size) practitioner
  • An Intuitive Eater
  • Plant-based

BUT, I’m also working to not care so much about labels, to just be, to live unrestricted by boundaries.

Also, I am planning a future post about weight set-point theory vs. BMI and other measures of “ideal weight,” so feel free to ask questions about this or anything else in this post, but also know that that one is on the horizon!

And if you have some interest in finding out what a more intuitive relationship with your body could look like, Pam’s and my next workshop is on Intuitive Movement on the 23rd of November, and Pam has written a blog post on her journey with learning to approach movement intuitively, which you can find here.  And our next Intuitive Eating workshop is on January 4th. If you would like to attend either or both of these or would like more details, please do not hesitate to send me an email.


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About Ellen

Every body is a good body, and my goal is to help you feel your best!