Reframing Health & Wellness in the Face of Diet CultureFebruary 22, 2021
The Yoga and Body Image Coalition is a 2021 Featured NEDAwareness Week Partner. The following is a YBIC National Eating Disorders Awareness Week post that highlights how the practice of yoga can be an integral component in the effective treatment of and on-going recovery from eating disorders and disordered eating. The shares included are from those who have first-hand experience with disordered eating or from those who are called to share their body acceptance journeys.
Health is political. What we eat, how much we should weigh, and which kind of exercise we should do is the topic of far too many debates that do not center marginalized people or their lived experiences. And we know that eating disorders and body dysmorphia do not discriminate against racial lines, gender identity, body size, ability, class or age. So how do you find peace with your body and with food in a system that centers whiteness, perfectionism, either/ or thinking and a singular path to wellness?
You fight like hell.
For much of my life, I have seen eating disorders framed as something that rich, white girls experienced in order to attain and maintain thinness at any cost. None of us is immune to the barrage of shaming messages we receive from the media that have us believing that our inherited body shapes, genetic variations and culturally relevant foods are somehow less than. These messages, rooted in diet culture, along with some well-meaning (read: unsolicited) advice from my own fatphobic family have made finding recovery as a Black, mixed, fat, chronic illness warrior really tough.
After close to 30 years of yo-yo dieting and self-loathing, I grew tired of the struggle. I was never going to be that girl. My thighs were thick at birth, y’all! I take up space. I slowly began to understand that there was not anything wrong with me, but rather that I had invested time, money and energy into a system that was not built with me in mind. It ignored my lived experience, culture, ancestry, traditions and chronic illness. And ultimately, I did not reap any of the promised rewards of thinness.
The last ten years have been an unlearning process. Much of my healing has been about letting go of the black and white thinking that drives diet culture to make space for a more holistic approach to health. I’m reframing my thinking about what food and exercise mean to me. Exercise has been a point of resistance for a very long time because I had always associated it with weight loss, which I perceived to be a punishment. So, finding joyful, physical movement that could accommodate my fibromyalgia restrictions and challenge my limited thinking about health was critical. It was not until I began practicing yoga six or seven years ago, that I made this connection. Yoga allowed me to really be in my body so that I could intuit my needs – physical, spiritual and mental.
As someone with fibromyalgia who identifies as fat, yoga was the answer I didn’t know I needed. It expanded my view of what was possible for my fat body and what I could do to heal myself from the inside out. I immersed myself in a virtual and in-person community of teachers and yogis of all sizes, races, ages and abilities who helped me see that my body did not owe anyone anything. I was capable of healing and I did not need to do it perfectly or compete against anyone to be on that journey. It was a true gift.
In yoga I found self-acceptance, physical strength and peace of mind around food and much more. But when my son came along nearly 4 years ago, my practice took a back seat. I prioritized everything else but my health. I can feel that my body needs to be back on the mat for my sanity as much as for my physical health. In fact, this year my personal hashtag is #HealthIsWealth. I’ve begun to reincorporate the gentle poses that made me fall in love with yoga years ago. I literally do yoga in my bed in the morning and evening as way to reacquaint myself what my body needs. I avoid the black and white thinking that tries to tell me that if I’m not doing a headstand that I’m not reaping the benefits of my practice. Going at my own pace and being gentle with myself are reminders that recovery is not a linear process.
I use my social media accounts and my website to address these issues so that marginalized folks know they aren’t alone. I rely on being part of a strong and diverse community that resists diet culture and seeks to extinguish fatphobia, and the other isms that stand in the way of our collective healing. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Some of you might be familiar with me by way of public speaking or from features in Good Morning America, People magazine, and Yoga International Magazine. I’m super proud to have been recently named one of the top 100 Responsible Health & Wellness Influencers of 2020 by New Hope Network.
For the last decade, I’ve been authoring a blog that empowers women to take up as much space as they damn well please. As a fat woman of color, I use an intersectional approach to explore a myriad of subjects including race, equity, mental health, motherhood, and conventional notions of beauty and health.
Since 2003, I’ve been studying and performing improvisation and acting at the Studio Theater, Bang Comedy Theater and Improv Olympics West. I use life coaching and improv to help adults, children and organizations to develop better communication skills and increase their self-awareness, confidence and creative-thinking abilities. My most recent work involved putting together an improv curriculum to address issues of inequality using Theater of the Oppressed concepts for underserved students in LAUSD schools in East L.A. and South L.A.
I have also spent the last eleven years in communications in the social justice space. I am currently a partner and brand strategist with the social impact firm, Momentum Solutions Team, which develops stories and strategies that spark change. My strong suit is connecting people to a common language and to skills they can use to better communicate with each other and the world. My clients for training and social media campaigns include California Conference for Equity and Justice, Los Angeles Unified School Districts, Urban Peace Institute, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Los Alamitos High School and Cal State Dominguez Hills. I currently serve on the Board of Directors for Open Paths Counseling Center.
I’m a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I am African American and Sicilian, and speak Italian fluently. When I’m not writing my blog or shopping for funky jewelry, I enjoy cooking for friends and family, performing karaoke, and spending quality time with my dope partner, Will, and precocious son, Paolo in my South L.A. home.