What if your "food issues" weren't a commentary on your willpower or worth? What if nothing was wrong with you, and everything was wrong with our culture's unsustainable, unrealistic, and harmful diet culture? Isabel Foxen Duke believes these radical truths to be elemental in overcoming binge eating and weight cycling. She coaches people at stopfightingfood.com, and walks the walk in her daily life. Here's how she fights back when the weight of diet culture feels too heavy to bear.
Your coaching practice comes from a place of experience. Can you share a little about your journey and experience with food weirdness and body dissatisfaction?
I struggled with food and my body my entire life, starting at the age of three years old. I was put on my first diet by my pediatrician at that time, which marked the beginning of two decades of near constant yo-yo dieting, weight cycling, tightly restricting and controlling my food, and then binge-eating or falling “out of control” when I just couldn’t take it one second longer—that is when I lost my grip.
I always thought there was something wrong with me when I would binge. I thought binge-eating was my problem, like it was some sort of “addiction” standing between me and my ideal body. The truth is, my binges were likely keeping me alive after periods of brutally trying to starve and restrict my food.
I wouldn’t have spent the entire first half of my life obsessed with food, and hating myself for “failing” at something I was doomed to fail at anyway. I could have enjoy my younger years, if I wasn’t obsessed with trying to be a size that simply wasn’t natural to me.
Our culture’s expectations for the way our bodies “should” look feel stifling. But you point out that we don’t always have to engage. What are some ways you actively “fight the system”?
I “fight the system” be refusing to be someone I’m not; by refusing to try to manipulate my natural size by dieting; and by proudly “wearing” my body exactly as it is—in front of God and everyone.
It’s scary to stand up and be yourself in the face of judgment (and in some cases, oppression), but there is nothing more radical that I can do than to stand up for my own freedom—by refusing to give in to the demands of fatphobic or sexist bodily ideals.
In my experience, that first step really started with giving up pursuits of weight loss—and allowing my natural body size to exist freely. Giving up dieting was the most radical thing I’ve ever done—and the most rewarding and freeing thing I’ve ever done.
How can we discern difference between the truly positive stuff and “health” media that’s actually just shameful diet culture in disguise?
In a nutshell, diet-culture promotes weight loss as a goal or proxy for health—as opposed to focusing on objective health indicators, like blood sugar, heart health, mobility, stress levels, etc.
If someone is suggesting weight loss as a goal of “health,” they’re not selling health—they’re selling a diet-industry proxy for health.
Let’s talk about the structures and systems we don’t have the power to change. How can we interact with them, without falling for their diet or body-shaming propaganda?
Educate yourself so you know what IS propaganda (e.g. what is fatphobia). You can’t reject fatphobia unless you can identify it—and most people are unable to identify it without education.
I am continually learning the subtleties of how fatphobia (as well as sexism, racism, etc.) show up in our culture. The biggest challenge in overcoming bias is that it is largely invisible to us (or at least, unnamed). When we name fatphobia, we can reject it (either internally or externally or both).
The media is one thing, but what about our friends and families? Do you have any tips for navigating personal relationships that can feel problematic?
I don’t engage in fatphobic talk of any kind—period, end of discussion. In my family relationships, or other relationships that feel non-negotiable, I have strong boundaries around diet-talk or fatphobic talk. Friendships that have felt oppressive in the past have fallen away from me. I don’t choose to hang out with dieters or outspoken fatphobes in my personal life very often, if ever. Really the only exceptions would be family members, with whom I’ve set clear boundaries.
This may seem overwhelming for those newly in recovery who are surrounded by fatphobic friends—but I notice that as my clients recovery deepens, their relationships start to shift naturally almost without them even noticing it. Your relationships and friendships are ultimately a reflection of where you are in your own recovery, and who you are as a person. As you change, so too will your relationships. It’s almost a law of physics.
Can you share some of your body-diverse favorite personalities and social media accounts? Who inspires you?
I don’t use social media too much anymore, but I love Virgie Tovar and everything she does. I also read Ragen Chastain’s blog almost religiously.
Isabel Foxen Duke is the Creator of Stop Fighting Food—a free video training program for women who want to "stop feeling crazy around food." After years of trying to overcome emotional eating, binge-eating and chronic weight-cycling through "traditional" and alternative approaches, Isabel discovered some radical new ways to get women over their "food issues" once and for all—not just by shifting the mindsets of individuals, but by challenging the dominant diet culture as a whole. Her writing and free guide, How To Not Eat Cake, can be found at isabelfoxenduke.com and you can watch her free video training series at stopfightingfood.com.