This is one of the most important podcasts that I’ve recorded and is a must-listen for both men and women, and especially if you’re a parent.
Jennifer Fugo, Kaila Prins, and Ali Shapiro all join me to discuss what women are taught about health and fitness as kids, teens, and even into adulthood. This is an important discussion about the unhealthy words, thoughts, and actions that are pervasive in homes, schools, and media; a collection of ideas that are manipulating and warping how girls and women see themselves, what they value, and what they’re willing to do to fit inside the “acceptable” box.
If you find this episode powerful and helpful, please help it land in the hands of others by sharing it — email, Facebook, Twitter, however you prefer. And please leave a comment or a review to let us know your thoughts!
Kevin: Welcome to the Rebooted Body Podcast, the show that’s all about reprogramming your body and mind for sustainable fat loss, vibrant health and peak performance. I am your host, Kevin Geary. Today I have a special roundtable episode for you centered around a Facebook post that I put out last week asking women to tell me what they were taught about health and fitness as a child, as a teen and into their adult years.
There’s an important issue here that society as a culture are putting people, both men and women, but especially women into unhealthy boxes. Their thoughts, their feelings, their actions are judged a certain way, steered in an unhealthy direction and even negatively manipulated.
As girls grow up in these societies and cultures, they face an uphill battle when it comes to having a healthy relationship with food, a healthy body image and a healthy relationship with exercise. And that’s what we’re here to dig into today.
If you’re a guy listening to this, it’s important for you to hear to. This means something to your wife and it’s going to be especially valuable if you’re a father. Joining me is Jennifer Fugo from glutenfreeschool.com, Kaila Prins from Finding Our Hunger Podcast and inmyskinnygenes.com and Ali Shapiro from Truce With Food (alishapiro.com)
Kevin: Look, all three of you have specific missions in this industry and you have unique perspectives. Take a few minutes and describe your core mission, what you’re doing and who you’re doing it for. Jennifer, I’ll start with you.
Jennifer: Hi, everybody. So I run a website called Gluten-Free School. The mission of Gluten-Free School is to give people who need to be gluten-free (whether it’s they’re gluten-sensitive, Celiac disease, they have some sort of autoimmune condition) the real truth about how to live gluten-free in a way that also is healthy. So the focus is really on health and the things that don’t get out there in the traditional mainstream media. People can go check that out.
Kevin: Excellent! And Kaila?
Kaila: Yes! So I started inmyskinnygenes.com back when I was just first beginning to recover from an eating disorder by using real food. So my whole idea is to help support other people who are looking to fix their relationships with their food, their body and themselves by showing them that we’re not alone in this journey and that this is a process.
So I ended up starting Finding Our Hunger, the podcast with my amazing co-podcaster, and we interview guests every single week about where they are on their journeys. So we just get everybody’s perspective and kind of show that, “Hey, we’re on this journey and we’re on it together.”
Kevin: Perfect! Ali?
Ali: Yeah, so I started Truce with Food about six years ago and it’s evolved. My background is really in functional medicine. And then what I do is I overlay a coaching process, my master’s. My educational background is more in coaching than holistic nutrition.
I work mainly with women who are honestly on their last resort often. They’ve tried everything else. They have a lot of baggage with comes with food in their body. And really, we work to re-story the relationship with food and what they’ve projected on to weight loss and it’s different for everyone.
And it’s really an un-learning process. I think we’re going to talk about today how culture really shapes the stories and the ideas that we get. So I don’t say I’m transforming people. I’m just getting them back to what they’ve already known. It’s been, like you said, this uphill battle of putting labels on themselves and on food in their bodies. So yeah, that’s what Truce with Food is.
Kevin: Awesome! Here are some statistic that really describe where we’re at as a society. And then I want to break down how we might have arrived at this point. These are just a few that I pulled randomly.
Ninety-one percent of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Now contrast that with only 5% of women naturally possess the body types they’re portrayed by American media. So we can see the uphill battle there.
And it gets worse, 58% of college aged girls feel pressured to be a certain weight. More than third of the people who admit to normal dieting will merge into pathological dieting and roughly a quarter of those will suffer from a partial or full-on clinical eating disorder.
Ninety-five percent of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25. And 25% of college aged women engage in binging and purging as a weight management technique.
So eating disorder or no eating disorder, women, statistically, are just flat out not content with their bodies. And when I ask women on Facebook to share a little bit about themselves and their upbringing, their responses confirm that we’re likely making huge mistakes as a society. I’ve selected some of those responses to put in the middle of our roundtable.
I will note that nobody’s identity is going to be disclosed either on this show or in the show notes on the website and I’ve deleted the Facebook thread, so it can’t be referenced back to just to protect everybody’s privacy.
So here’s the first one:
“I was always taught that you have to eat only 1200 calories a day to lose weight and every time I did, I gained and nobody knew why – and no one, meaning the dietitians. So the other year, I got metabolic testing done, it turns out I need 1700 calories or around that amount a day to lose weight and to be comfortable and et cetera, et cetera.”
So Kaila, this 1200 calories concept is everywhere. It’s the magic number so to speak. What is wrong with this assertion that women need to eat 1200 calories?
Kaila: Well, it’s based on flawed logic. The idea of the 1200 calorie myth – well, first of all, you and I have discussed this before. Calories are an imaginary concept. They are just a measure of energy. 1200 calories is pretty much what our bodies need to function. So if you are eating below that amount, your body is actually not getting enough energy to do things like make your heart beat, make your brain work, allow you to breathe and things like that. And if you’re only eating 1200 calories, yeah, you may be losing weight, but it’s because your body is trying to conserve that energy for doing all of the other things that keep you alive.
If you’re not giving your body energy, it can’t build anything. It can’t properly synthesize proteins. It can’t give you muscle – not just muscle in the terms of being a bodybuilding, but just muscle that you need to move your limbs.
So as we sit here and we starve ourselves based on this arbitrary number that some governmental body or doctor or dietitian made up a million years ago just because it seemed like that’s the baseline for losing weight so that your body is busy focused on losing weight, we’re so busy focused on this number, which first of all, can’t work for everyone because everybody is different, but second of all, really is just a baseline for functioning.
We seem to forget that in our crazy pursuit to lose weight and change our bodies to fit this ideal image, we’re actually giving up the idea of being able to function. I ask what is actually more important – just losing weight and breathing or being able to go out and go for a run or play with your kids or hang out with your friends and enjoy your meal? I mean, that’s the way I look at it.
Kevin: Perfect! Like I said, when one person is done, if you guys have some thoughts, just jump in with them. If not, I will move on to the next one.
Jennifer: Well, I would actually love to say that I think the problem with our approach has been that we’re not allowing people the opportunity to be evaluated based on their own unique needs, which is clearly the case of this woman who shared their story.
When you look at different cultures and you see, for example, Ayurveda, they have three different body types and not everyone is meant to be stick thin. When you start looking at kids, you can see the difference in their activity level and what they may need nutritionally or exercise-wise, various stimuli and such in order to be and feel fulfilled.
I think that by trying to fit into this ideal super-skinny model-type ideal – and the only reason I have that notion of the idea of the super-skinny model is because I actually come from a fashion design background and it’s horrifying to me to see that these women are in essence just used as coat hanger. And then the rest of us are trying to model our bodies after women that are literally walking on a ‘catwalk’ as a coat hanger for clothes.
It’s a shame that we don’t have some understanding that it’s okay maybe if certain people have a different shape than others, that we don’t learn to love that and that we don’t look to address the unique needs of each individual person.
Ali: Yeah. This is Ali. I just want to piggyback on this because a lot of what Truce with Food is actually about is neutralizing the hyper-masculine metaphors that we use in our culture to address the body. I think what happens is the basic paradigm is that the body can’t be trusted, we have to come in with our mind and our western science – and look, I love western science. There’s a lot of faith in science, but it’s not a complete answer, right? Science is the continuing quest for knowledge. But there’s a general approach to the body.
And if you think about it, we have the war on Cancer, the war on heart disease. We’re fighting food. We’re fighting our bodies. And there’s this basic disrespect for what the body needs thinking that we can do it better with logic, which is just not true.
Kevin: Yeah, and I think we see over and over again the pervasiveness of this substance list paradigms like calories, food pyramids, macros, the emphasis on cardio as exercise and things like that. They’re more pervasive towards women. My question was why – there’s never a number really placed on men. I never have heard anybody say, “Well, as a man, you need to eat this many calories.” So there’s a huge distinction there.
Kaila: Yeah, I’ve heard it said like 1500 subsistence for men, but nobody you need to subsist. That being said, especially if you’re in the bodybuilding communities or the bio-hacking communities where people are very focused on quantifying as opposed to necessarily just eating intuitively, I think men still play some restrictions on themselves and there are certainly men who develop eating disorders or disordered relationships with food and exercise, it’s just not necessarily as pervasive and culturally-accepted as…
Kevin: Right, or promoted.
Kaila: Exactly! As the way that we speak about women and numbers and the way that we have to control our bodies.
Ali: Well, and this was kind of a deep quote, but I love it. It’s one of my favorites and I’ll just go here off the top, but Naomi Wolf who wrote the Beauty Myth, she has this great quote that says, “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history. A quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
I love that because we’re telling women – and men are getting it more and more as the advertisers realize they can’t make women feel any more worse about themselves. They’re now targeting men, right? And we see men eating disorders on the rise too because when you don’t feel good about yourself, you buy more stuff. So sometimes I think this is a gender neutral conversation more and more, but women have the legacy right now.
When you think that all your meaning and worth is tied up in your looks, then you’re frustrated, you’re mad and you don’t really recognize your real power of going out in the world and changing it. You’re just spending all your time on losing weight because that’s what society has told you is going to get you the meaning that you’re really looking for I think.
Kevin: Yeah, I think that’s a good segway into the next one. Here’s the next submission. It was:
“I remember reading a book stating that the size of women’s thighs should be small enough that you can wrap your thumb and ring finger around them. To this day, I still think of that measurement.”
Ali, I’ll start with you on this one. I don’t know exactly what book she’s referencing, but I do know that there’s a concept gaining popularity (at least with women under the age of 30) called the ‘thigh gap’. I have an example of that from an article on the Guardian that states:
“She may have modeled for Ralph Lauren and appeared on the cover of Vogue, but when a photo of Robyn Lawley wearing a corset appeared on Facebook, the responses were far from complementary – pig and hefty and too fat were some of the ways in which commenters describe the 24-year old. Her crime? Her thighs were touching. Lawley had failed to achieve a thigh gap.”
Ali: Yeah. Whoa! So this is interesting for me because it’s someone who – you know, I never had an official eating disorder, but I emotionally ate for 20 years. And because I had Cancer and a lot of my obsession with losing weight was to distract from a lot of healing that had to happen there. So I really was never concerned about the gap in my thighs or my body in general. I just want to be skinny.
But what I think it comes down to – and I can’t speak from personal experience because I’ve never tried to get the thigh gap – but again, I think it’s this idea of it’s something unattainable. It’s something that’s going to distract you from really trying to go out there and feel whole in a way that matter.
And I think what happens though is these blogs and these comments attract the very people that had the same delusion, right? It’s like not us for eating this kind of stuff and commenting this; it’s the same people.
It’s a very shadow side of our culture I think that we need to bring it to the light, but I don’t think people know how to do it constructively. Rather, what they’re doing is criticizing this women because a lot of these people probably do think that’s true. I mean, I don’t know. I’m not that person, so maybe someone else can chime in.
Kaila: Sorry, go ahead.
Jennifer: Go ahead, go ahead.
Kaila: No, no, no. Go ahead.
Jennifer: Well, I was just going to say like going back to what I said before, it’s this idea that we all have to look like a clothes hanger. It’s really a shame. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone that may be listen to this who may be a model. I have friends that have done modeling and such, but literally, when a fit model walks in or they’re looking or the designers are vetting models for maybe a magazine spread or whatever, their shows, they’re looking for just a rack and it happens to be a human rack and that’s it.
And because we see this, we see these women walking out and they’re in the most glamorous clothes, we assume that that’s the pinnacle of beauty when it’s really not. I’m assuming that’s where part of this has come from because there’s been a lot of uproar at least in the fashion world about how skinny models are. And I believe it was France – correct me if I’m wrong if anyone knows this, but I think it was France that may have put the kibosh on like a certain level of thinness that’s not allowed anymore. There had been talking about doing that as well in the U.S. because it does really create a negative stigma in the minds of young girls and of women that they’re supposed to look a certain way.
I was not raised in a family where – at least, for me, my weight was never questioned or criticized. I only had issues when I developed food sensitivities and doctors just told me to stop exercising and they didn’t know what was wrong. But in actuality, the weight that I had put on was inflammation.
So again, I think part of this is – I think Ali has a great point. It’s a lot of talking points and skill and understanding that this issue of how healthy we look or appear – I don’t know, like we just don’t have the skill set around it to really address it appropriately.
Kaila: And on top of that, it is such a deeply ingrained cultural conversation that at this point so many people see it as necessary and important to the point where their identities become wrapped up in the idea of how they’re supposed to look so much so that when you tell them to stop looking at it, they become angry and actually will almost react in such a way as to go out and make it worse.
I know as somebody who had an eating disorder, when people told me I looked too thin, it was almost like a point of pride for me. And so I know there are a lot of pro-anorectic communities out on the Internet who are actively using people’s outrage and indignation who are looking at us and ridiculing the things that we’re saying right now because for them, it’s a point of pride that has become such a part of their identities.
I think when it gets to that point, that’s where things start to get scary. The problem is so much more of our culture is focused on looks and the things like the ‘thigh gap’, right? Because we have access to it on the Internet, so more and more people have access to these communities and to this conversation where they can start to make it a part of their identities.
So just saying a model in France can’t weight so much or so little, I’m not sure where to point where that – yes, it will help, but I think we need to be doing something even deeper and I’m not even sure where we get started with that if that makes any sense.
Ali: Yeah, and Kaila, I’m so glad you brought that point up because as someone who – I know logically that your looks shouldn’t matter and all these. A lot of my clients, they’re super type-A, successful women, right? And it’s almost like we’re all embarrassed of like, “Why are we still getting hooked like this?”
I mean, I’ve worked with these women and I guess culture is so ingrained and it’s so deep that even if you didn’t grow up in a family where your mother had an issue or like for me, my Dad was always watching his weight, even if you didn’t grow up in that, you were thrown out to the world of a society where that’s the dominant conversation. And so because there’s another conversation happening, no matter how much you invest in your intelligence or being something different, you get hooked.
It’s really challenging. I think there’s almost an embarrassment sometimes of being hooked by it. My clients say, “I know I shouldn’t care, but…” and now it’s almost like I’ve noticed, everyone says, “Well, I just want to be really healthy,” but then when you really talk to them, it’s like, “But I do want to lose weight.” I understand, but it’s like we can’t even act like – it’s just a powerful, powerful hook.
Kevin: I think part of it is like if we focus on the substance, if we focused on ingredients versus calories, if we focused on biomarkers versus weight, at some point, there would be no controversy anymore. And when there’s no more controversy, all these media outlets and advertising agency, they have nothing to talk about anymore. I think that may be one of the hurdles that we have to get past.
Ali: Yeah, this is Ali. I always tell my clients, “There’s so much money in confusion.” But again, because I look at everything so much from a story or metaphor standpoint, our culture is very superficial in general.
I mean, I’m guilty of this too so I’m not an pointing fingers, but look at a blog post, if it’s more than a couple of paragraphs – that’s why podcasting is growing, because people do want these longer forms and deeper. But I mean, our culture in general is very superficial – surface, I think that’s how you pronounce it.
It’s like, “Okay, what does your resume look like?” And this is the definition of success – a certain level of income, a certain title or whatever. I think there’s a lot of backlash against that now because people are realizing that wasn’t really fulfilling them. It wasn’t really – probably Kaila would say it’s not really what they’re hungry for.
But the whole culture, because it’s so superficial, the reason we don’t have the language to go into these deeper things because the culture at large can’t go very deep.
Kevin: Yeah, let’s get into the next one. The next one is…
Ali: Sorry, I kind of went off.
Kevin: No, that’s fine.
“As a child, I heard things like, ‘Why do you want to do that? You’re a girl’ or ‘That’s just for the boys’. The often heard caveat, she’s [insert positive attribute for a girl here] like ‘she’s strong for a girl’. As a teen, the general message was ‘don’t be fat’ and more specifically, ‘boys won’t like if you’re fat.’”
So Jennifer, there’s a strong contrast placed on girls versus boys and especially on how to be liked and valued by the opposite sex. And often, it has nothing to do – I guess we could go back to the substance here – it has nothing to do with intelligence, it has nothing to do with self-respect, it has a lot to do with how someone looks. What is your take on that?
Jennifer: I think unfortunately – oh, gosh! And I will acknowledge and I’ve said it many times, I was very bullied as a child not weight issues, but other reasons all centered around, “How do you look? What’s different about you?” I think it really in a sense – it’s just a shame, we’re looking for any reason – children, unfortunately, (and I feel bad saying this, but so many people agree with me when I do say it), children are growing up – and I don’t know maybe it’s different now, but it feels like children are getting meaner and they’re much meaner to one another.
Parents are your first teachers. I’m not sure if kids are seeing their parents be cattier. Unfortunately, the moms are very picky. They’re very judgmental. And we see these TV shows where – what is it? The beauty pageant things for little girls and the mothers are screaming at their daughters. They’ve got to look a certain way. There is a lot of money wrapped up in promoting a culture of how you look. If you don’t look a certain way, you’re weird, you’re ugly, you’re not good enough.
To be honest with you, I got to a place where I have to just kind of throw back that nastiness in the face of the kids that are bullying and I became a smart-ass, which they weren’t expecting and eventually, they stopped bullying me because I wasn’t an easy target anymore.
But is something that has lasted for many, many years. It’s something that it’s hard for me to address and deal with. I have spent a lot of time working on being full in other ways. And even though I get told all the time, “Well, you’re a really attractive young woman,” it’s something – and I don’t know if maybe the other ladies can comment on this too, but it’s almost like I don’t know how to react to that. It’s weird. I’m so used to being called names for so much of my early life and I even had an awful incident in my mid-20s where I was a harassed by a group of women about the way I looked. I was like, “Aren’t we a little old for this?”
But I’m also afraid like what if you do say thank you and take a complement, are you being like full of yourself? So how do you – I don’t know what the question I’m trying to ask, but maybe Ali or Kaila can comment on this, how do you find that space where you can feel good about who you are.
This is something that I don’t have an answer for. I really don’t. I understand what this woman has gone through and feeling like she doesn’t know how to fit in at all. So that’s just my perspective.
Kevin: Go ahead, Kaila. I’ll let you go on this.
Kaila: Yeah, I think again it goes back to the cultural ingrained language that we have. It’s so easy for us to sit and pontificate and expound upon why we need to say – we need to break down the barriers between how we address little girls versus little boys. Change the language with, “You’re so x for a girl.” That’s why the whole ‘strong is the new skinny thing’ has become such a fun cultural mean if you will because we’re trying to change the language. But at the same time, we’re in the process of internalizing it by trying to change it.
So for example, doing the strong is the new skinny thing. We’re sitting here drawing these barriers about how women still have to look or be or feel. It drives up a wall because again, we’re still saying, “So women can be strong. Oh! Oh, but you don’t have to look like a man.”
Every single ‘strong is the new skinny post’, I can guarantee you, somebody’s going to say, “We’re not talking about looking like a man. We’re saying that women can have muscle that make them look like women.” It’s stuff like that where we always have to qualify everything.
And again, I don’t think it’s something we necessarily are going to be able to do today here on a podcast, but that being said, the fact that we’re becoming aware of it and other people are listening and becoming aware of it, maybe that will allow you to think about it the next time you say something like, “Oh, well she looks so ___________ for a woman” or, “Gosh! You’re so pretty. You’re just such a pretty little girl to…” whatever your niece or your daughter, whatever.
We have to think about how we create these cultural paradigms. The more aware we are and the more we’re able to do some thought-stopping I think, the more we’re able to affect other people because we’re no longer engaging in that same conversation.
So while it may not entirely erase thousands of years of a patriarchal society in which we’ve developed this language, at the same time, you might be able to affect your group of friends.
I hate to hear this horrible culture of bullying. Unfortunately, the Internet is breathing that, the Internet in reality is because we turn that into the sensationalized, glamorized situation where the pretty women always win. The divas, the bitches, all these horrible stereotypes that we can fit women into, they’re the ones who win whether that be because we’re busy spending all of our time demonizing them and focusing our attention on them or because they’re the ones who get the money or the handsome guy or whatever it is that’s the goal of that reality show or that Internet blog or whatever.
I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I think it’s just we need an awareness and we need more people to be aware of the fact that they are internalizing those messages that then allow them to go back into the world and do things like bully women when in their twenties.
Ali: Yeah. This is Ali. And I think Kaila what you’re saying is kind of like a fish doesn’t know it’s in water. And because the messages are so pervasive, we don’t even know that we can ask different questions. We don’t even know that we can have different language because it’s been so ingrained in us.
I’m so excited that you talked about ‘strong is the new skinny’ because we’re still assuming that we have permission to tell women what they should be doing with their bodies. It’s like, “Why did that ever become okay?” I don’t know.
One of the things – Kevin, I’m curious what you learned about female beauty being a male.
Kevin: I mean I just heard all of these exact kind of paradigms second-hand. Just as a teenager especially when I started to become aware of it all, it struck me as seriously odd that people were having conversations like this. It didn’t really make much sense to me. I never was pulled into it. I did my absolute best not to perpetrate it on other people. It just never made sense to me.
And then as I got older and older and started seeing that it’s everywhere to the point where it feels like that it’s unstoppable.
Ali: Yeah. Yeah, I was in a session with a client last week. We’re working on the unconscious reasons that she feels less than because of her weight. One of the things has to do with her mother. Her mother was always very conscious of her weight and said a lot of things to her, right? This isn’t to demonize her mother, but it’s just to understand the legacy that we’re dealing with.
And finally, we’re working on a certain coaching technique and she’s like, “You know, I’m wondering do I even care? I never thought to ask do I care. It’s just assumed that I should care, that I’m upset that my mom doesn’t like the way I look.” I mean, they still have a great relationship outside of that, but it’s like this unspoken tension when they were together and we’re working more on her getting to the point where she doesn’t really – it was like this revelation of like, “Oh, maybe I don’t have to care.”
I think all of us, at some point, if we’re to get out of this deep entrenched cultural paradigm and start changing and using different language, we really have to ask, “Is this really the same way that people think? When I get this job, when I move, it’s always the next thing that makes me happy versus what is really going to make me feel right in my body – not as ‘strong as the new skinny’, not skinny, but what’s going to make me feel great in my body?”
And again, it’s a complete paradigm to trust the body and trust that it has a wisdom there. It’s not easy. Like Kaila said, we’re not going to solve this in a podcast, but…
Ali: …just knowing that there’s different questions to ask can be very, very liberating.
Kevin: Definitely! Yeah, back to your question, Ali. I think I was insulated from it to a degree because I’m an only child so I think maybe if I have had a sister, I would have been around that conversation more, but I really didn’t start hearing it until maybe like middle school or high school and that’s when it really started to dawn on me that like this happens.
Ali: I’m curious. Were there other boys being like, “Oh, all these skinny girls…” or is it women kind – I mean, there’s also this girl-on-girl crime. It’s like I often think…
Kaila: There’s a lot of that.
Kevin: I think that – I would say like when I was growing up, the girl-on-girl crime would have been the most pervasive thing. It wasn’t the boys making fun of the boys. It was the other way around.
Kaila: Yeah, when you look at fashion magazine and mastheads, I mean many of these senior editors in charge are women. I know they’re caught up in the system. It’s not just their fault. But I think often, we as women it’s men want us to be a certain way when that’s not necessarily always the truth.
Kevin: Yeah, the magazine said they interviewed the men that said they want you to be a certain way, but they really didn’t. They just start writing that article.
Kaila: Or they might have, but that guy might just be a douche.
Kevin: Right! That too.
Kaila: That’s true. What about if you don’t even like that guy, you know?
Kevin: And going back to what this person used as the quote, “Why do you want to do that? You’re a girl.” If that’s coming from a parent, that is like the beginning of bullying. That’s where bullying starts.
The quote that I always use to help people understand this – and everybody has this ‘how do we stop bullying’ conversations and they go into schools and they talk to children about not bullying people. I would be the first person to say that that conversation is going to go nowhere because the bullying comes from home.
Now the kids that are actually being the bullies, they can go on to cause other kids to maybe catch on to that and become bullies as well, but it all starts with that original bully at home being bullied because hurt people hurt people. That’s all people need to understand. Until parents or adults stop hurting kids, then the bullying issue is never going to go away.
Kaila: Yeah, I totally agree with you. The challenge is though that the culture, in general, you have parents coming from this culture. I’ve had a lot of clients who, their moms always struggled with their weight and they tried not to project that onto their daughters, but – you know, Carl Jung says you were unconsciously projected onto. It’s important for parents to move their own lives because they will unconsciously project their dreams onto their children. I think part of that is it’s all unconscious, but you don’t see the mom loving her body, you don’t see her taking time for herself. And the culture pervades that.
So even if you’re the most loving, kind, good-intentioned person (and I know bullying is different. I’m not saying that. I was bullied in fifth grade as well, so I totally understand the repercussions of that), but you have all of us wounded because our culture is very sick – very, very sick.
And so you do have to address it I think. Not that you weren’t saying that, but I think we have parents growing up in an equally sick culture.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s definitely a cycle.
Kaila: Yeah, exactly. It’s the same way that when you hear about rape cases, it’s like all about the girls not dressing provocatively. Well, when are we going to have conversations with the boys about boundaries and sexuality and you can’t – that frames our paradigm. We don’t even think about it.
Kevin: Definitely! Alright, let’s go on to the next one. She says:
“All I got was mixed messages. We didn’t do any active as a family except canoe once a year. I was always told how overweight I was. I went on diets with my mother by age 13. Pictures of me show a big girl, but not what I felt like. I would put myself through extreme rigorous workouts. And then I saw an after-school special in bulemia and thought I found my answer.”
Alright, Kaila, dieting at age 13, extreme rigorous workouts and eventual eating disorder, we’ve had this conversation before, so I assume you have something to say about this.
Kaila: So basically, that’s pretty much the story of my life – dieting at age 13, developing an eating disorder after learning how to work out really hard. I find it just so interesting that so many women have the exact same story even if the details are a little different (my family did not go canoeing, for example).
Kevin: That wasn’t the precursor.
Ali: Yeah, correlation doesn’t mean causation.
Kaila: Exactly! But at the same time, I cannot tell you how many people I have talked to who were like I was dieting as soon as I hit puberty and then I found out about how eating disorders work whether that be explicitly in this case such as, “I watched an after-school special, learned the behaviors from something that was trying to teach me not to do it and then started doing it” or you go the opposite route, which is, “You internalize the things that are happening around you and you start to develop your own conclusions.”
So in my own case, I had started restricting food because of an allergy and I had started exercising because I was told I should probably start doing that and it was something fun, but once I realized the effect that it had on my body and I hit puberty and the idea of being attractive to men and the idea of being attractive to other women in the sense of, “Oh, she’s a beautiful girl. I wish I could look like her,” all of these things started to play with my mind.
I think puberty is a really, really delicate, volatile age where we’re looking. As children, we’re not aware. We don’t have any idea what’s going on. We’re playing pretend. We’re making up the world around us. As adults, we’ve already kind of gotten whatever messages we want to hear and we built up our walls and we don’t want to hear anything different until things stop working and then we’re willing to start looking for other answers, which is where health coaches and other people come in. But at puberty, there is like that one moment where – I don’t know what happens, but a switch gets flipped in our brains and suddenly, we become these sponges for everything that’s going on. I want to do everything that’s happening in the world, so that I can look like, feel like, be like, do like, et cetera and it’s no longer about playing pretend, but actually doing these things.
And so we start actively creating these visions of ourselves. I love that she says, “The picture showed a big girl, but not what I felt like,” so there was a disconnect between this vision of herself and the sense of self and the sense of self actually gets subsumed by the vision. I think that really is that moment where we start looking for answers like, “Oh, wow! This after school special on bulemia shows that women are getting thin or getting rid of calories by purging or using laxatives”or whatever it is that their particular mode of elimination is.
I just find it really interesting that – I’m not sure it’s necessarily mixed messages, so much as it’s just we’re constantly getting messages that we have to be a certain way…
Kevin: The wrong messages, yeah.
Kaila: Yeah. And we’re particularly receptive at that age because a lot of the women I talk to – and I’m not talking about young women anymore. I’m not even talking about 18-year olds. I’m talking about women who are in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who say they started the battle at 13.
So while anorexia, bulemia and other forms of disordered eating like compulsive exercises, other forms of EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified), these things may start young and are always perceived as that teenegers’ problem, it persists and it starts at the moment that we start to define who we want our adults selves to be.
Kevin: Ali, do you find this conversation happening a lot with your clients?
Ali: Well, what comes to mind for me is that what happens – and especially because a lot of the ways – I know gender is highly socialized. I don’t want to go on the gender conversation here, but in general, there’s a lot of things about women as a teenager or as a young girl that you’re taught aren’t going to fit into society.
And so what happens, you start closing off those parts of yourself, right? You can’t be too smart. You can’t be too – I mean, if you’re too pretty, right? I love how Ani DiFranc, 32 flavors and some like you can’t be too pretty, right? But what I see happens is your confidence as a female –
I remember being in third grade and I got a note sent home because I spoke out without raising my hands. The only reason I had to do that was because all the boys were talking and I couldn’t get a word in, but they didn’t get reprimanded. And so you learn these certain things that take away part of your confidence.
And I think what happens as your confidence leaves, then you feel less than whole and then society tells you, “Well, what’s going to make you feel whole is losing weight. You’re going to get a makeover. You’re going to get a dress that’s not black and there’s going to be confetti and we’re all going to celebrate you,” right?
And so that’s how it starts. And then because you can’t lose that weight – well, you can, but it comes back – you’re not getting what you really want, which is this wholeness in this confidence. The cycle perpetuates and you start to feel like, “Oh, this is why I’m insecure, because of my body,” but I think it really starts with losing those parts of yourself that either you close off or you don’t express because they’re not okay, because you’re afraid of being too much or you’re afraid of, “Girls don’t do this.”
One of the feedback on the Facebook was like, “Girls don’t do this” or whatever. I think that’s where a lot of perpetual dieting comes because I think dieting is often – and I’m not saying that it isn’t hard to be in a body that you’re not happy with because I totally understand that. However, I think a lot of that dieting is a distraction from doing the work to really make ourselves reclaim that stuff that makes us feel whole.
It’s kind of like when people, they’re like, “I’m so busy. I’m so busy,” right? It’s like, “Well, are you being productive?” Not necessarily. I think dieting is often a huge distraction from really doing the work to build genuine self-confidence that comes from being fully-expressed using your strengths and your values.
I kind of went off, but that’s what I see in my practice. As women start to reclaim what’s really important to them and use their gifts, that’s when the attachment to weight loss decreases. And ironically, that’s when it happens because it’s not really about that anymore.
Kevin: Yeah, one thing I’ve been thinking about lately is this ‘striving for perfection’. I’ll just throw this out there because it just struck me really hard lately that counting calories, doing x number of minutes of cardio, following meal plans, people attach on to that stuff because those are ways where they can achieve some sort of perfection.
If they tell me to eat 1200 calories, I can count those and get to exactly 1200 and I’m perfect. I did what they asked me to do. And if I do 60 minutes of cardio a day, like I did that, I can be perfect. That’s what they asked me to do. And if they give me a meal plan, I can make those exact meals on the exact days and that’s perfection. That’s what they asked me to do.
Ali: Right! And that’s the good girl archetype, right? We like the good girl, the good girl who’s going to follow in the lines, do all that stuff and be what society wants you to be because you’re being good. You get your gold stars. That’s why I tell clients, “Don’t label food bad because you want to be bad unconsciously. This is not a way to live, to be in society’s structure of a good girl.”
Kaila: Yeah. And on top of that, it takes up so much time that you don’t have to focus on – I think you said this really well. We don’t have to spend the time to invest in ourselves. And if you really are spending all of your time counting calories (I can attest for this), it takes hours. Those stupid calorie counters, you have to go searching for the right food from the right brand and then you have to put in the right amount and you do it every single day. You spend hours doing that. And then you have to get to the gym and then you have to spend an hour doing x, y and z. And then you have to get home and then you have to shower and make yourself look pretty so that you can go out and prove to people that you did all those things.
By the time you’re done, you’re so exhausted. When I finally decided it was time for recovery, my third relapse with anorexia, I was so exhausted that I only had energy to do the things that involved counting and tracking and exercising. That was it! I was so tired and angry at the world because I felt like I was being burdened by it and I didn’t have any other options.
Ali: Oh Kaila, I used to spend – I did Weight Watchers like three times. At the end of the night, I was always like trying to play tetris with my points, “Well, was that really two? Maybe it’s two and a half.” I was really going to fractions and then it’s like, you just spend your whole week and exactly! It’s so energy-intensive.
I think that goes back to the Naomi Wolf quote, “Well, let’s keep them distracted rather than being like, ‘What is going on out here?’”
Kevin: Yeah, that’s a great point about being distracted and not doing work that matters – going back to substance again. But in Total Body Rebook, when I have people journal, I say, “Alright! Here, you need to go get a journal, but guess what? You’re not going to write down calories. You’re not going to write down points. You’re not going to weight your food. The journal is for weighing emotions, not food.”
The journal is for doing actual work, real work and talking about this process with yourself and it’s not for anything else. You have to ditch all of the counting, the meaningless stuff and really focus on the stuff that matters.
Ali: Yeah, I think though the challenge is – and Kaila, I’m curious when you ask people what are they hungry for, I find a lot of women don’t know.
I always give this example. I was studying abroad in London. I met this really cute guy at the club. We were talking and he was telling me how he served and went to museums and did all these really fun stuff. He’s like, “What do you like to do?” and I didn’t have an answer because all I was doing was dieting. I was like, “Uhm, you know, cultural stuff. That’s what we do in America, we diet.”
It was this huge realization for me, that that was my hobby because I thought that what I wanted and what I really wanted was thinness. So I think it’s challenging for people to know. If you as someone who, again, have food hanging over their head for so long, I didn’t know any other feelings. It was just always this like shadow in a way. And so I think it can be really challenging to even have people recognize that.
I always use the analogy of when you turn a hose on after winter, right? All these rust comes out and it’s gunk. And then the clean water flows. I think people get afraid of all the anger that they feel or all the confusion or the uncertainty or, “Is this helping?” but if they stick with it, that clarity will come. It’s knowing that that’s part of the process that can be really helpful for people – knowing that you’re going to be angry and you might not know, but you just have to keep sifting.
Kaila: That is such a good point. I mean, I think that kind of sums it up. We become this culture of angry dieters where we don’t know how to find our hunger figuratively because we’re literally unable to find our hunger.
Yeah, I deal with the same thing. I’m 27 years old and I don’t know what kind of movies I like. I stopped going to the movies because going to the movies was such an anxiety-fraught experience that I don’t know what kind of movies I liked. It’s a very scary empty feeling.
And this is why I started the podcast and my blog (or at least the podcast). What I’ve been using my blog for now is that you can’t be alone when you are trying to find your hunger. You cannot be alone.
And I think that’s why this conversation is so absolutely important because people, first of all, need to know that the conversation is being had and second of all, need to know that they can continue to have this conversation with other people who understand and be willing to support them and/or support those who need that support. You cannot go out and try to find your hunger by yourself because it’s scary.
And yes, you will end up relapsing or falling back into the old patterns because they’re safe and they’re comfortable and there’s nobody there to remind you that it’s okay to be angry or lost or there’s nobody to remind you that there is a path and they can help lead you back. So that’s my two cents.
Kevin: Go ahead, Ali.
Ali: Well, I just want to chime in about this support because that is so important, but knowing that you are having the right kind of support – I had a lot of friends in college, I only realize now, our only bond – I mean, we were great friends at the time and we supported each other, but our main bond was dieting and trying to lose weight. We were both caught in that hall of mirrors.
I mean, we think we’re doing something healthy and you’re buddying up, but I think what would’ve been really great is if I would’ve listened to my other (who is still my best friend) who was like, “You don’t need to be doing this.” But I had this bond with someone else and so it’s important to not –
I think women bond often over their bodies, the things that they don’t like about themselves. I mean go into any gym locker room, right? It’s like…
Kaila: Yeah, yeah.
Ali: I think it comes back to Jen’s point where we, as women, it’s really hard to receive even a complement, right? If someone says, “Oh, you’re looking good. You have color back on your face,” it’s like, “Oh, but…” and we shrug it off.
So I think it’s really important to get support of people who are out of that matrix of ‘no pain, no gain’ and depravation and that whole battle mentality. You have to have someone who is out of that bubble.
Jennifer: I also think that – it was interesting. Last night, I was out and I ran into someone that I haven’t seen in a couple of years. I have no idea how old this guy was. He’s someone I’ve known for many, many years and he was asking me, “Oh, have you gotten married yet? What are you up to?” He’s like, “You look great!” And again, I have a hard time taking a complement, “Oh, you know, whatever. Thanks… I guess.” That wasn’t really the main point, but obviously, I just wanted to reiterate this is something I deal with all the time, not knowing how to take complements.
But he said to me, it goes, “I don’t understand.” He’s like, “I look awful. You look so good.” He’s like, “What do you do?” I said a couple of things, “This is how I eat. This is what I do for fitness and what-have-you” and he’s like, “Oh, I can’t do that. I love bread and pasta way too much.” And when I asked him how old he was, he’s almost four years younger than me and he looks almost ten years older.
I was like, “Look, here, focus on this. Focus on protein and veggies. That’s it. Get rid of the carbs for a little while and just focus on that.”
“Yeah, but I love them too much.”
“But you know you look bad, you know you don’t feel good. Why are you not willing to…”
He’s like, “Well, I love it too much.”
So it’s interesting that people are so fixated on getting their enjoyment out of food and food that then makes him sick. It’s not to say that he should care so much. Listen, I personally don’t deal with eating disorders. It’s a whole area that I would send those people to you, guys. But it’s just interesting that people recognize they don’t feel good and they continue down the same path because they’re so unwilling to make a change.
I think that as much as we think about eating disorders, as you have said it, Kevin, it’s this idea of disordered eating, I think there are plenty of people that are also very overweight that they might not have a traditional eating disorder, it’s just that they’re so hung up. That is their sole source of enjoyment, to eat food that makes them feel awful that they really can’t get out of that paradigm. Who’s to say that that also isn’t some sort of – obviously, it obviously is disordered eating, but who’s to say that isn’t also an eating disorder on the other spectrum where you’re punishing yourself with food.
Kevin: Yeah, I think Kaila would agree that you – up until recently, I haven’t heard a lot of people making the distinction between a clinical eating disorder and just generalized disordered eating. Disordered eating in our society is far more pervasive than anybody is willing to admit and kind of using the term, it’s like, “Well, you’re charging me with having an eating disorder. We’re talking about your relationship with food, your relationship with exercise isn’t necessarily optimal or healthy.” That’s disordered eating.
Kaila: Yeah, and the thing is the difference between an eating disorder and disordered eating, eating disorders are clinically diagnosed, which means that a psychologist can charge your insurance to help you out with it. Eating disorders tend to happen or at least are diagnosed when people are at that point where it becomes clinical or the need for intervention is so obvious and apparent where many anorexics die. This is a really, really, really scary disease. Bulemics destroy their stomachs, their esophagus, they rot the enamel off their teeth. It’s a horrible, debilitating disease, right?
But when you’re just waking up in the morning hating yourself, that in a lot of ways, whether you’re overweight or underweight or regular weight and just hating yourself, in a lot of ways, that’s a pretty darn debilitating disease as well. It doesn’t kill you quite as fast. You can’t get a psychiatrist to write you a script for it…
Jennifer: Actually, you might be able to. There’s a lot of people on anti-depressants that shouldn’t be as a result of eating awful food because they don’t ever ask you about your diet. I’ve talked to a number of different people who are in the psychology and psychiatry fields who feel that as a result of HMOs actually that now primary care doctors are allowed to write prescriptions for anti-depressants and then, they’re not followed. No one is checking up on them. The right questions aren’t being asked about what’s really going on.
Unfortunately, there are so many people on anti-depressants when on reality – oh, my gosh! I mean, if you’re not eating the right food in your body, if you’re starving yourself in various different ways, if you have food sensitivities, if you have Celiac disease, if you have any number of different problems, depression could be a thing that comes up. Instead of asking questions to look deeper, we only see, “I’m depressed. Give me a pill.
Kaila: Right! Well, I guess my point is that you don’t necessarily have to be at that place where you’re a sitting a doctor to have a disordered relationship with food because I absolutely hundred percent agree. I one hundred percent agree with you. I think too many people are – part of my eating disorder was I didn’t eat any fat for 13 years and I had depression and anxiety. I started eating coconut oil and butter, things and it’s like, “Oh, I can think again.” It was great.
But I think to Kevin’s point, a lot of people are like, “I don’t have an eating disorder. There’s nothing wrong with me.” But I know plenty of people who I could sit next to them in the couch, watch a television show and hear the most disordered food and exercise conversation.
And so I think people need to understand that just because you’re not clinically diagnosed doesn’t meant that you can’t have a disordered relationship with food and you may not even be realizing it.
Kevin: Yeah, the point about medication, again going back to it, it’s so much easier to take a pill than it is to do work.
Ali: In the short-term. In the short-term.
Kevin: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s a good point, Ali, in the short-term.
Ali: My parents are almost 70. They take great care of themselves. I’m starting to see like these little notches at like 55, if you haven’t been doing that even if you’re on medication, a lot of people drop off that. And then, there’s another like bump at 65. And then there’s a lot of people now with their age who can’t travel, can’t do a lot of stuff. So I just want to put that in there because it is temporarily.
And I think it’s important though. I had tried various anti-depressants. A lot of it was my gut health was destroyed after chemo and steroid medication because I was also gluten-intolerant. I was on an inhaler. I think it’s important though that sometimes medication – and I know that you guys all agree with this, but just for the record, that sometimes medication can be very helpful to help jumpstart. I mean, I’m not on anti-depressants anymore, but I really do think sometimes that I needed that just to get out of the hole that I was in.
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely.
Ali: And I knew you guys would all agree with that or whatever, but I did want to say one thing about it because I don’t actually work with people who have eating disorders. I think the last statistic I’ve read – and Kaila, you might have much more updated ones, but I really think eating disorders are like 1%-3% of the population and the rest, 97% and most Americans, I wouldn’t say have disordered eating.
And it comes back down to – Jen, you were saying this guy doesn’t want to give up his food, I think we’ve lost the art of leisure here in America, like everyone run and food has become leisure. Leisure takes time to develop. What do you want to talk about? What are you interested in? And it’s this vicious cycle.
And so I think most people actually have disordered eating. A lot of people will say, “I don’t have a disorder. I just keep it out of my house” or, “I just keep whatever.” I think if you can’t be around food – look, it took me 20 years to get there, so again I’m not judging – but if you can’t be around food and feel moderate about it, I would say that there’s something that you’re not dealing with there. It’s kind of a radical statement.
We see everyone else around us talking about food all the time, so we think it’s natural, but again, it’s not. It can be joyful, but it shouldn’t be – it shouldn’t be, but it is, but figuring out why I think is really…
Kevin: Yeah, I think people learning to just love themselves is a big first step because if you look at people with addictions, most often, they love the addiction more than they love themselves and that’s a huge angle there.
Ali: Right! And there’s so much confidence lost. I went on my first – I started watching my weight at eight. I was at Weight Watchers at 11. So there’s so much confidence loss that comes with dieting and constantly – you don’t even have to have a huge trauma in your life, but if you’ve been trying to diet for 10-20 years, that idea of self-love is just really like a pie-in-the-sky idea and you need help getting back there.
And it is a process. I think Kaila said in the beginning that it’s so process-oriented because you have to really shift your identity and that doesn’t happen overnight. And then you have the dieting industry telling you, “Ten pounds in ten days. Follow this plan. It’s all wrapped up in a bow” and then people think they’re doing it wrong when it gets really messy. And it’s messy, but it’s meaningful and it’s worthwhile.
Kevin: That’s one of the best points, that it is messy. Everybody is looking for the next plan that’s going to go 100% according to plan. That’s the realization that I want people to come to, there is no plan that’s going to go according to plan. It is going to be extremely mess.
Ali: Yeah. I always tell my clients, change is not this slope. It’s not a straight line of a slope. It looks more like a crayola drawing where you just go all over the place. Eventually, you get a shot out on the other end, but it takes a while.
Kevin: Alright! So the next one is short, but it’s probably one of the most pervasive ones. And I have a lot of experience with this one from being a teacher. She says:
“My family called me ‘porky’ starting when I was nine or ten. I’ll leave the learned messages to your experienced imagination.”
Alright! I’m going to start with this one. I’m not a woman obviously, but I have a little girl and I was also a teacher for over 12 years. As a teacher, I got to watch the interactions with kids with their parents and without their parents. You would be surprised how often you hear these judgments and pet names in public. It leads me to believe I can’t even imagine what they say to their kids in private.
I will be talking to a parent for instance – and by the way, I was teaching in competitive athletics, so the conversation was naturally around fitness and performance and things like that. They would say something like, “Well, she’s been slow lately. She’s looking like it’s a little chunky.” I’m thinking to myself like, “She’s eleven and she can hear you. She’s standing right next to you.”
It’s absurd to think that children don’t internalize this stuff. So I think parents and coaches, they have to start taking greater care in how they talk to their kids because the truth is that kids can’t discern the difference between judgments about their performance and their abilities and judgments about themselves as a person.
A lot of people think they can. They think they can make that distinction and they really can’t. To them, they’re one in the same. So if you tell a 3-year old, “No hitting. That’s bad. Go to time out,” they really internalize that as them being a bad person. They just don’t have the mental development to differentiate between self and action.
So if you use a pet name of ‘chunky’ or ‘chunk’ on a girl from the time she’s three to the time she’s 21, that’s exactly what she’s going to think she is forever and always unless she finds somebody to intervene and can help that image in her mind.
And I just want to end this little rants her with a quote that I parent by and it really determines everything about how I think people should approach parenting or coaching or teaching or whatever and that is:
How you speak to your child becomes their inner voice.
When you place that idea first, it just changes everything about your behavior as a leader and as an authority figure in people’s lives. So I’ll let you three take it from there.
Ali: Well I was just thinking, one thing that’s interesting is first of all, if you are three years old, what I find really fascinating is if you say ‘chunky’, that person knows that’s negative. They somehow just know that’s a negative. They do. I think that talks about how much legacy there is and how much healing needs to be done on our own body.
But what’s really interesting putting on my little coach’s cap here, kids don’t start narrating their lives, thinking in story until they’re much older. And so when you are three years old – one, two, three – everything is so emotional and sensation-based, so you don’t even have an ability to make meaning of something. It’s in your nervous system. I just wanted to add that it’s even more important to younger people that are they are not spoken to like that because they get that sensation versus being able to narrate and actually create some sort of meaning out of that.
Kevin: Perfect. Kaila, got anything?
Kaila: Yeah, it’s just so funny. I just re-watched Love Actually for the first time in a really long time. I don’t know if you guys remember the character, I forget her name, but I do remember this, every character in the entire movie calls her ‘porky’. I don’t know if you guys remember that. The essence of her character was reduced down to, “Why would the prime minister like a girl who was slightly larger than any other girl that he could have?”
Her family calls her ‘porky’. That’s her nickname in the house when they come to visit her. And now she’s a grown woman and she has kind of internalized that as who she is. She’s this loud, brazen, brass, ‘non-feminine’ type of woman who’s outside the paradigm of what the prime minister should like.
And I think we really do have to be careful about the names that we use because they become our character. They become our identity. We can see this in the figurative sense of a character in a movie or we can see this in our children and our family members.
I’m not a mother. I don’t have children of my own, but I do have siblings who are 10 and 13 years younger than me respectively. So they’re in their teens right now. I look at how they interact with their friends and I look at the things that they have grown to want to do and they always seem to fall along the lines of what gendered roles were.
My little sister was a really great soccer player. Now she’s a cheerleader because that was what – I mean, she’s a great cheerleader too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s almost like expected at that point. When you enter high school, you stop going for soccer. And she still plays, but her identity is cheerleader. I just find that really interesting because she makes sure to wear super high heels on dress-up days to school.
I don’t know how to best phrase this, but I just find it interesting how watching my siblings grow up and not necessarily being there to influence the way that they’ve grown up. I’ve been watching through Facebook photos and things like that, kind of seeing how they create their world around them based on the messages that they perceive.
Kevin: And it’s harder when you think about the helplessness of kids or anybody who lives in a household with parents really that all of these stuff is perpetrated on them. The labels is perpetrated on them. It starts with how are the parents feeding the children.
I hear a lot like the parents kind of excuse themselves saying, “Well, it’s not fault. Obviously, I have other kids that are not overweight. It’s not what I’m doing.” If you really look at it, maybe your kids who aren’t overweight have metabolisms that are allowing them to survive what you’re doing to your family. It’s not necessarily that this one person who’s a little bit more overweight is that much different somehow or they’re doing something wrong or anything like that. Really, everybody is in the same paradigm and some people’s bodies can adequately defend themselves better than other people’s bodies can.
Ali: And I just want to chime in because I had asked my Facebook group this question about what they have learned as women in preparation for this podcast and a lot of them, they assume that they weren’t athletic because of what was defined as athletic. One woman was saying how she really liked martial arts, right? But that wasn’t defined as athletic necessarily. And on top of that, you get the message.
And so a lot of people might be active in other words, but we define what is fitness, what isn’t. And then on top of that, the conversation on my Facebook page was around if you’re a woman, you don’t want to be too muscular. That’s an image.
As a result, I think sometimes girls do stay away from the very things that would make them feel good about their body – not necessarily being thing because everyone is different, but if you get those messages of it’s important to be not too muscular, not too fit and then defining what fitness is to someone like ‘it has to be running and long cardio’ like what you were saying, Kevin, then that really puts the kobish on it being an enjoyable experience and becomes this thing that’s rife with discipline and sacrifice and, “Argh!” which then feeds into the whole entire other story about how health has to be hard and all that kind of stuff.
Kevin: Yeah, I was an only child like I said, but going back to how these households were set up a little bit, I can’t help but think that if I had a brother and I was overweight and my brother was naturally skinny – like we’re eating the same things, we’re eating what our parents were feeding us, which when I was a kid, that was horrible crap food and I was a little bit overweight as a kid and I thinned out into my teen years, but I was aware that was a little bit heavier than other kids, I can’t help but think that if I had a brother who is in that same exact household doing all the same stuff that I was doing and he was thin, that there was something wrong with me.
This is like the paradigm that we’re placing kids in. I just think that’s extremely damaging.
Ali: Yeah, my sister actually – I mean grew up with a sister who was extremely skinny. It wasn’t until I understood how weight loss and weight gain occurred, but when I was around six or seven years old, I had this very unfortunate exposure to pesticides. It’s a long story – not that long, but it’s not worth going into. I realized that my weight went up after this horrible rash that I had for two weeks. That was the start of when I was gaining weight and no one knew why.
It wasn’t that much of a focus. I mean, my parents were pressuring me, but I grew up always so curious and thinking that I was doing something wrong when really now that I understand how inflammation works and how environmental toxins work, that’s what it was.
I felt like, “She’s so skinny and she was blond and pretty.” I mean, I love my sister, but it’s like you feel like you’re doing something wrong. It really does create this ‘I’m wrong’ feeling even if your parents aren’t saying anything.
Just not knowing the basic fundamentals of how the body works can really send people down the wrong path. I should’ve detoxed, but instead I went to Weight Watchers.
Kevin: And I guess the side effect of that is most people in society don’t know to look to food, they don’t know to look to toxins, so they’re unable to really step in. And if they had just taken you to a doctor, for instance, what are they going to do for you? They’re not going to solve your problem. It leaves people in a tough spot there too.
Ali: Yeah! My dad was a health and Phys.Ed. teacher. I was a tomboy. I was the son he never had. I was super active. My mom grew up on what is now considered an organic farm. We were into health food. I mean, we were eating whole wheat bread. We didn’t know about wheat, but we were a family that you would consider educated on this stuff. And so if we didn’t even know what was happening – you know, I feel bad for the people who it’s not a value. Health isn’t a value in their family. It’s a real juggernaut. I don’t know why that word came to mind, but it’s very layered.
Jennifer: I would just say as being a child that was heavily bullied, if you have kids, just realize that if your children are bullying people at school, it does last. It makes a lasting impact and I have not forgotten a single person that bullied me.
It’s really a shame because it’s taken a lot of work to unwind my reaction or negative reactions even as an adult towards those people and they are just some people that I have no interest in ever knowing as a result. I mean, I wish them well, but it has a lasting impact in life.
So do your best to really help your child understand that we need to find love and compassion for one another as opposed to pointing out everyone’s flaws. As a child being told over and over and over again and even into my teenage years that I was weird and different, I internalize that message.
I even dated someone in my early twenties who repetitively told me that I was stupid. I eventually started to tell people, “Oh well, I can’t do that. I’m not smart enough. I’m too dumb to…” – I don’t know why I started saying that.
But eventually my current husband when we started dating heard me say this, so I’ve been saying it for years and he said, “You’re smart enough to do anything you want to do.” He’s like, “I know you can figure anything out.” He’s like, “I don’t ever want to hear you say that again because that is not true.”
No one had ever corrected me. No one had ever told me that I was wrong. I’m so grateful for him that he helped me see my own value, but we internalize the things that other people say and we even still do it into our teens, into our twenties, maybe even into old age. I don’t know, I haven’t gotten there yet. But I think that we don’t realize the impact of our words when we say negative things to another, when we rip people down and tear them apart for our own – I don’t know, for whatever our reasons are.
And I will just say that you know what? I accepted very young that, “Yeah, you know what? Maybe those kids were right.” I started to twist it around. “Oh, yeah. Maybe I’m weird. I’m different.” And yeah, you know what I am? I am different. I’m totally different and I have grown to love it. I don’t want to be – whatever normal is, I decided I don’t want to be it.
Ali: That’s not working though.
Jennifer: It’s really not working and I like the brand of weirdness. If everyone wants to say that I was weird, you know what? Then I’m just going to live it up.
I love the way that I am, so those words, if they’re meant to be mean don’t have any power anymore. I don’t know where that even came from or where those ideas came from, it was a lot of self work, but I love the way that I am and I think we have to in some respect take the power away from the words that run rampant from our brains.
Ali: A really good resource for people. This gets back to paradigms. We often think that the ‘no pain, no gain’, if things are hard, that we’re – because we believe in this hyper masculine metaphors, we think that pushing ourselves, cutting ourselves down (which then makes us cut other people down ) is the way to help people, but there’s all these new research coming out. Her name is Dr. Kristin Neff and she has a website with a lot of great resources about how powerful self-compassion is and how actually having self-compassion for yourself, which then translates to how you interact with the world is actually so much more effective.
And Carl Rogers who I really think of him as the grandfather of coaching, he really changed the therapy world where – I’m really generalizing right now, but pre-him, the therapy is like, “You have to fix someone. You have to fix someone.” He came along and said, “Wait! If we accept people and help them figure it out on their own, that really helps them change” because he said, “the curious paradox is when I accept myself and I can change.” That really comes into this self-compassion.
If you go to self.compassion.org, there’s a lot of tools for people if they want to start learning how to be gentler with themselves, so they can in turn be gentler with their children and gentler with the people that they interact with.
Kevin: Awesome! Alright! If you send me the link to that person, Ali, I’ll put them in the show notes.
Ali: Oh, great!
Kevin: And I just wanted to mention another – I was listening to a psychologist recently (and this goes back to what you said, Jen) about the pain that goes with all of these stuff and he was talking about how rejection, which is an emotion is the only emotion that triggers physical pain in the brain. So it triggers the same centers of the brain that physical pain does. It’s the only emotion that does that and bullying is that ultra form of rejection. So that goes to show why that’s so hurtful and why it’s so damaging.
Alright! We’re about out of time here. I want to finish up with some takeaways and closing thoughts from each of those perspective. I’ll start with Ali. What do you want women to know? What do you want little girls to know? What do you wish society would start doing differently just in a quick wrap-up?
Ali: Yeah. Well I think the biggest thing is asking different questions. Know that just because it’s not in the mainstream, but you can ask different questions. I think really, rather than saying, “How much do I weight?” thinking about what’s weighing on you and what that hurdle is you’re fully expressing your gifts and talents.
I think the world needs a more feminine balanced perspective. That includes men who want to adopt that. But the structures that we’ve created in society are not working. As Kaila referenced, the patriarchy is crumbling because it’s diseased. Go out and be you and really always check in with who you really are because it’s easy to get swayed.
Kevin: Perfect! Jen?
Jennifer: I would say take the power away from the words that run rampant in your mind that really holds you back. Definitely go and look at other ways of approaching your health and wellness that are outside the western models like Ayurvedic and plenty of other Eastern cultures. You may find the missing key someplace else that will never cross your doctor’s desk.
Kevin: That’s a good point. Kaila?
Kaila: I think kind of going back to what we were saying before, you have to be unafraid to do that deep digging, to go out and to actively seek what you are hungry for not just in the sense of food, but to really go out and say, “I want to develop a sense of self that is outside of this image of me and I want to build a community that is going to support me in doing that.”
So it’s kind of that dual notion of having to do the deep dive into what really makes me me and also opening myself up to going out and finding others who are on the same journey who are willing to be my support and whom I can support as well.
Kevin: Love it! Alright, I want to thank all three of you so much for doing this show today. I think it was an amazingly valuable discussion. Let’s quickly sign off by letting everyone know where they can find you online. Jen, you can start.
Jennifer: You can find me on glutenfreeschool.com. I’m also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Twitter and Facebook are the best places to find me. You can check that out at glutenfreeschool.com with no hyphen between ‘gluten’ and ‘free’.
Kevin: Awesome! And Ali?
Ali: AliShapiro.com. I’m also on Facebook, but my website is probably better to get on the list and stay in touch.
Kevin: Cool! Kaila?
Kaila: You can find me at inmyskinnygenes.com or at findingourhunger.com. See if you can listen to the podcast there or through iTunes or Stitcher.
Kevin: And I’m Kevin Geary from rebootedbody.com and you can get the show notes and a full transcript of this episode at rebootedbody.com/038 for episode 38. I will be back next week with another life-changing episode of the Rebooted Body podcast. Have a great weekend!
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.