Health at Every Size; My Choice to Fight or Flee

Yuck.

What was that smell???

Uh, oh…It was ME!

It was my body odor.  It had been a couple of years since it had been this strong.  The last time I smelled like this it took 5 days of a yoga retreat in Alaskan wilderness to reset my scent.  The preceding event was a watermelon placed on the desk of the only black physician in my clinic.  Yesterday it came back as I sat in my chair trying to explain how the members of my Health at Every Size(R) community (all lovely, mostly white women) have made ignorant and even racist comments at times.  I tried to explain that I think they need to come to terms with their privilege before their space can truly be inclusive.  It didn’t turn out well, at least for me.

The meeting had started off strong.  There was another black woman there, glory of glories!  She backed me up when I mentioned that the HAES may not be accessible to many POC.  She understood my dilemma about quitting the Leadership Team for the Association for Size Diversity and Health because that would mean that the POC total left on the team would be zero.  And then she had to leave….

I had come to this meeting with the intention of being honest and I did not want to back down this time.  There had been many other times I hadn’t spoken up in this and other gatherings; the fear of being ostracized–personally and professionally—by the only HAES community I had known was too great a barrier.  I hadn’t spoken up, yet others—white folk–hadn’t either, yet afterwards they were able to tell ask me, “WTF was that about?!”  These folk had been there longer than I.  This group wasn’t the space for challenging thoughts and getting uncomfortable, I realized.  And because of this it couldn’t be the space for me, at least not now.

And today I’d decided to let them know this.  So when I was asked about a proposed outreach/program effort, I told them.  “I think it’s great…but I think y’all will still be perceived as well meaning white folk to the POC you meet until you do your own internal work.”  It took a long time for me to get it out.  And that’s when I started to smell it.  The smell that signaled the most intense fight or flight reaction my body knows.  But I couldn’t flee just yet.

They wanted me to give them more details.  By now my cortisol levels were impeding the parts of my brain that governed coherent speech, and I struggled to give them what they wanted.  I tried to explain the complexities of privilege, and thankfully someone jumped in to help me.  A woman told me that she could speak up about weight stigma if she were the only fat woman in a room of thin people, but someone else may not, and that was a difference in personality; it didn’t have anything to do with privilege or power.  Right.  About now the smell intensified and I felt the need to press the imaginary eject button.  Due to this comment and a few other awkward statements about communication styles made by the same person, I was getting the distinct feeling I was being blamed for not having the ability to speak up sooner; that it was my own fault for not pointing out every insensitive, ignorant, classist, racist statement that flew across the table and letting it become an issue.  Never mind the fact that we were in her home.  Did I bring that spray-on deodorant…?!

I was asked again for more specifics, for ideas about education; all while trying to explain that this burden shouldn’t fall on the one POC and the person bringing up these issues.  I even problem solved: “NOLOSE had recently done a good job of this; why don’t you talk with them?”  I wish I could have spoken eloquently at the time.  I wish I could have explained power and privilege and given them a crash course about dealing with our own institutionalized racism.  But I couldn’t.  At some point I remembered what I had already learned.  This is not the space to challenge people.  In fact I was even told at yesterday’s gathering that no one ever shows up to a meeting ready to be uncomfortable or challenged.

Maybe no one at that gathering does, but I sure do.  I’m ready to have someone point out my blind spots, my racism, my ignorance, and when I eff up.  And I think that for me to become a better HAES provider I need to.  I think the movement needs it too.  What do we do if the HAES Principles are not accessible?  How to trans folk, disabled folk and chronically ill folk perceive the “love your body” message that so many HAES folk espouse?  How does weight stigma intersect with other identities? How do we push the intuitive eating idea when people don’t have enough food to eat?  How does “stop when you’re full” resonate to people with community and collective eating dynamics, where not finishing your plate is a sign of disrespect?  I don’t know, but I’m not going to figure it out if I don’t ask!  And as Fall Ferguson noted in her last HAES blog piece:

“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” –Eldridge Cleaver

I’m going to get uncomfortable, and I hope you’ll join me.  I want to move this movement forward, and hopefully you’ll come along.  I’m going to start a new group for folks ready to challenge their thought and perceptions.  The first gathering will be July 13th and everyone will be welcome; in-person and via online presence.

When I got home from that meeting, and hugged my wife she lamented, “Wow, this must have been super stressful for you” as soon as she smelled me.  She, too, could remember the situation from two years ago. This time I was able to wash that smell away with a single shower, and it didn’t come back.  I think the reason was because this time I had chosen to fight, not flee, and had the support to do so.

 

Jessica Wilson, MS RD will be bringing more of her experiences as a person of color working within the HAES model to her blog, stay tuned. Check out her new group: HAES’d and Confused: https://www.facebook.com/events/675167409215091/

Dear Oregon (the journey to my private practice)

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to write this part of the story so that I can move on and I think I finally figured it out.  I also figured out a fun writing style that I think I’ll stick with for a while.  I’ll be sending this to Oregon, and I’ll make sure to post the response if I get one!

Dear Oregon,

It has taken me a while to tell you how much you meant to me, I apologize for the tardiness of this letter.

Oregon, thank you for your part in making me the person I am today.  Without you I would have remained blinded by privilege, even as a black, queer woman.  But because some of your truest Oregonians believe that because they compost, recycle, voted for Obama and/or drive a Prius that by association they are incapable of racism that my blinders were thrown off time and time again.  Seeing the magnitude of disappointment and sorrow after racist pranks, and then the people and institutions who supported and protected these pranks crumbled my faith in humanity for a time.  But don’t worry Oregon, this also made me able to relate to others who have felt the same due an underrepresented identity of their own.  For this I will be eternally grateful.

While in your luscious, green state, Oregon, I was introduced to people who had found a better way to provide healthcare than the traditional medical model.  These people were using a Health at Every Size® approach in their care.  After adopting it myself, I quickly saw the difference that I made in my clients’ lives when I stopped using weight as a health outcome or marker of success and began working with my clients to make sustainable lifestyle changes.  Because of you Oregon, I moved to the California Bay Area to pursue a fulltime practice using Health at Every Size and have felt so affirmed by the choice.  I am now seeking to understand how weight stigma and race intersect, and it was you who lead me down this path.

Thanks Oregon for my clear understanding of the difference between rain and showers, for my knowledge of different types of pollen, pollen counts, allergy remedies, asthma attacks, and how to make clay soil less dense.   Thank you dearly for my ability to exercise in the rain and my appreciation for the sun every hour (okay, minute) that it shines through the clouds.

Without you, Oregon, I may never have known that my body was meant for riding uphill and sprinting for the end.  I also would not know the exhilaration from riding in a paceline, and that the best way to eat fudge is 75% of my way through a race.   I would also not have the friends I made on that cycling team, and the others I met as they passed through Eugene on their way to other life adventures, and even those who have stayed.  I wouldn’t know that a white man could be my biggest advocate, and best friend.  Most of all I thank you, for if it wasn’t for you, I would not have met my wife (we did wed there, but it wasn’t a legal marriage, I hear you’re working on this).

So hats off to you, Oregon.  You may not stand out on the national stage, but you’re a standout in my book.  Without you I wouldn’t be, well, me.

Sincerely,

Jessica Wilson, MS RD

Mindful Monday

Welcome to the first Mindful Monday post.  A reason to get up on Monday!
I’m writing a short piece about mindful eating for a fat acceptance anthology.

The following is my thesis:

How we eat.
Our recent traditions of relying on people (typically older, straight, white males) to tell us how and what to eat have resulted in our lacking abilities to trust our bodies’ diversified in shapes, sizes, colors, and histories to tell us what we need.

We are “shoulding” all over ourselves and disconnecting from our individual cultures.  I know that my intersecting identities are far different from those typically delivering all of the “shoulds” in our culture and I cannot expect them to know exactly what my body should be eating each day and how much.

To eat.
Our ability to let go of shame, stigma, and shoulds, to reconnect to ourselves, our bodies, and our cultures.   I’ll provide some suggestions.

Stay tuned for more updates on the piece and more about mindful eating.

Welcome to Mindful Eating!

Welcome to my blog and to my life.  This blog will focus on mindful eating.  I will also discuss how we’re pushed and pulled to not eat mindfully in our societies and to instead eat according to someone’s “rules.”

My goals with this blog are to 1) increase your ability to listen to and trust your body to tell you what it needs, and 2) to help you focus on behavior changes, not changes in size and appearance,  you can make that will increase health and well being.

Every Monday (Mindful Monday) I’ll post something about mindful eating and a different technique or perspective for incorporating mindful eating into your life.

In my about tab you’ll find the things that guide me: My beliefs that you cannot judge a person’s health based on their appearance, and that size does not indicate worth.  My clinical experience that size and health are not related, and a person’s behaviors are a better indicator of health than their anthropometric data (BMI, waist circumference, etc.)  My experience living as a queer woman of color on the West Coast.  My yoga practice and the awareness it has brought me and continues to teach me.