MANIFESTO FOR AN INCLUSIVE WELLNESS INDUSTRY

After discovering that there was nothing “wrong” with her body except conventional health messaging, Jillian Murphy shares her manifesto for a more inclusive wellness industry …

Photo: Samantha Santy

I had put on 40lbs in my second pregnancy and they seemed to have nestled in for good. I was eating well and moving my body religiously but I just couldn’t lose the weight.

Every well-intentioned health care professional I worked and interacted with as a naturopath was happy to offer up advice about what must be wrong with my adrenals, thyroid, hormonal health, sleep patterns, food combining, mindfulness, sugar intake, etc. etc. etc. and I had worked on it ALL. But to no avail, and I was exhausted from the effort.

Frustrated, I hired a body image and emotional eating coach and, after explaining my long and convoluted health and weight story to this new mentor, she told me something I was wholly unprepared to hear:

“There is nothing wrong with you except for your belief that your body is wrong. You are exceptionally healthy: you don’t have a food problem and your body is exactly, happily, where it needs to be.”

It was one of the strangest, most revolutionary things I’d ever heard. It simultaneously crushed and liberated my soul. Crushed, because, OMG! All the lost time I’d spent trying to “fix” my body. Liberated, because I’d finally been given permission to shed the physical expectations of our culture and just live my life.

The mere suggestion that my body weight and shape may not dictate my health nearly blew up my brain. It set into motion a 7-year journey of critical thinking, self-discovery, and research that would ultimately serve to heal my relationship with food and my body and revolutionize my understanding of health.

What I realized was:

Conventional health messaging flattens beautiful, complex, and biodiverse individuals into 2D facsimiles. Squishes us into mathematical equations, diets, and wellness checklists that promise abundant health and complete control over our bodies.

This messaging makes us believe that if our bodies don’t fit, we are at fault – too lazy, not enough willpower, intelligence, or effort. And in our attempts to conform, we offer up our emotional and spiritual wellbeing, our peace of mind, and sometimes our sanity.

Now, we in the wellness industries are being called to dismantle and challenge outdated, oppressive, and limiting beliefs about food, movement, weight, and health. To present a model for inclusive wellness that is respectful of ALL bodies; critical of information that leaves us feeling confused and in lack; and that offers alternatives to restrictive and prescriptive health ideologies that ignore the lived experience and values of the individual.

This is my manifesto for a more inclusive wellness industry ….

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1// Pursue physical health without compromising your mental, emotional, and/or spiritual self.

When we exercise though our body is asking for rest; when we cut carbs or calories despite our body begging for sustenance; when we skip dinner out for fear of not having the “right” food options; when thinking about food and health consumes our every thought – we sacrifice our sense of peace, connection, and joy in the pursuit of physical “health.” The outcome is a feeling of depletion despite doing “everything right.”

The shift: Put physical health back in its place, as one piece of the health puzzle and not the whole picture.

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2// Respect and appreciate the diversity of human bodies. 

All bodies deserve access to quality healthcare and health resources without judgment or shame. Current body type and weight ideals are problematic and unscientific (including the Body Mass Index or BMI). They negatively impact our relationship with food and movement, and encourage the stigmatization of all but a small percentage of bodies deemed “appropriate.”  Those in bigger bodies are judged harshly and mistreated in every sphere of society, from the workplace to medicine.

The shift: We must shed the belief that losing weight is the #1 path to health and wellness and work instead to pursue behaviors that have been proven to have a positive impact on health – whether we lose weight or not – while developing a much broader and inclusive definition of bodies we deem healthy, attractive, and worthy.

Photo: Samantha Santy

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3// Define “health” and “wellness” for yourself. 

These terms are social constructs that differ across communities and cultures. It’s also important to recognize that many people don’t have the privilege of prioritizing wellness, even if they want to. We can own our own investment and interest in health and wellness without projecting it onto others. Imagine how many hours a day/week could you free up if you let go of food, body control, and worry.

The shift: Consider what aspects of health and wellness actually light you up. Can you think of moments when you’ve judged the health and wellness choices of others? Begin to think about how our narrowly drawn ideas about these concepts impact the overall health of our society.

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4// Become the leading expert on YOU.

We have been taught that we must rely on externally devised, highly moralized food plans telling us how much to eat, what to eat, and when to eat. The Now Age way is to turn to models for nourishing ourselves that put us back in touch with our innate ability to regulate food variety and quantity. These models consider the needs of our physical bodies, while also taking the mental, emotional, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of food, movement, and health into account.

The shift: Promote eating based on our bodies’ internal cues instead of following fad diets or parroting somebody else’s food rules. (ED: read Jillian’s tips on using body positivity to unlock your intuition).

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5// Cultivate a sense of purpose and worth beyond your physical form.

The exhaustion, digestive issues, inflammatory processes, and body concerns I see in so many of my patients are one part physical, two parts spiritual/emotional. We feel disconnected and the stress of floating through the world unsure of where we belong, what makes us worthy, and what our purpose is shows up as dysfunction in our thought processes and bodies. We then cling to the rituals, routines, and ideologies of wellness and weight that serve as the ultimate distraction.

The shift: Replace diets and health “regimens” with rituals that connect you to the moon, meditation, talk therapy, dance parties, ditching toxic relationships, eating mindfully, speaking up, saying no, walking in nature, swimming in the ocean, lighting a candle, giving back. Anything that reminds us that our worth is inherent, we are more than our bodies, and we are connected to everyone and everything.

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6// Work to change the systems in place that deeply affect the health and wellness of our culture and community.

Socioeconomic status is the leading determinant of health. Accordingly, we must work to shift these issues on a systemic level if we truly care about our health and the health of those around us. There are systems in place that can’t be “love + light”ed away, and we all have a responsibility to pull apart our own oppressive beliefs and work toward amplifying the perspectives of those who experience this system differently.

The shift: Realize that representation matters – if we want to feel normal and acceptable in our various forms, we need to SEE those forms and diverse paths to health. Start with your social media feed by including a wide range of body shapes, sizes, races, abilities, and gender expressions, and enter into those spaces with the intention of listening. As you learn, commit to engaging those who share your social identity in conversations that question your current health and wellness beliefs. Be an active catalyst for change.

BEST OF THE NUMINOUS 2018

This year rocked us to our personal and collective cosmic cores. From sex tarot 101 to the future of masculinity, our Best of the Numinous 2018 charts the course …

Photo: NordWood Themes

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1// Spread ‘Em: Sex Tarot 101: Alessandra Calderin gave us a crash course in casting cards between the sheets …

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2// Healing From Trauma With Psychedelics: Psychiatrist Will Siu, MD, shared insights into a very human way to heal …

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3// How To Work With Your Lilith Sign: Rebecca Farrar’s astrological guide led us back to our unbreakable inner wildness, during a year when we needed it most …

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4// Is Visiting Mexico City’s Sonora Market Spiritual Appropriation?: During a journey of spiritual self-discovery, Danielle Dorsey shared why she decided not to visit the famously witchy landmark …

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5// How Body Positivity Can Unlock Your Intuition: After a lifetime of food issues, Jillian Murphy discovered that living fully in her own skin was the key to her magic …

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6// Work Your Saturn Sign & Feel Solid As A Rock: As Saturn transited its home turf of Capricorn, this astro guide helped us harness our biggest growth opportunities …

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7// Coming Home To My Hoodoo Roots: Growing up British but with her family history in Mauritius, Stephanie Victoire’s journey to reconnect with her Hoodoo roots finally led her home …

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8// Why Radical Dharma Is Your 2018 ‘Must Read’: This incomparable text tapped eradicating systemic racism as THE healing issue of our times …

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9// Holy F*ck: How To Reach EcstasyAlexandra Roxo revealed that experiencing ecstasy is the key to strengthening our channel …

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10// How To Explain Your Spiritual Awakening To Your Religious Family: In a deeply polarizing climate, Fundamentalist turned Now Ager, Kate Forristall, gave us a primer in navigating the spiritual-religious divide …

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11// What Is The Future of Masculinity?: As we grappled with how to dismantle patriarchal oppression, trans man and diversity and inclusion activist, Aaron Rose, shared his vision for the future of masculinity …

HOW BODY POSITIVITY CAN UNLOCK YOUR INTUITION

After a lifetime of food issues, Jillian Murphy discovered that living fully in her own skin was the key to her magic. She shares how body positivity can unlock your intuition …

Photo of Jillian by Wild Little Hearts Photography

“Before you can hear, much less follow, the voice of your soul, you have to win back your body.” – Meggan Watterson

I remember the day I first abandoned my body. 

I was 8 years old and visiting the mysterious temple my mother escaped to every evening when my dad got home from work—she called this evasive place of worship “the gym.” It was a Saturday open house and I was an immediate convert. The place was magical – dusty rose carpet, slick chrome and mirrors, George Michael pumping through the speakers, and LYCRA. So much lycra! (It was the 80s, k?)

I could tell right away that this was the place for me—a space of transformation, potential, and movie-worthy —this was a place where life happened. I grabbed a pop and a hotdog and then I naively hopped up on the scale where they were weighing everyone. And that’s where “It” got me.

As I scarfed my lunch, the two staff members in charge of weighing me began sniggering. Whispering about something clearly “adding 5 pounds” while looking at my body.

I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on but I knew the joke was on me. And I knew it was bad. Bad enough to remember but never ever talk about, until 25 years later, when I finally started to heal my relationship with food and with my own shape and size.

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Coming face to face with “it” … 
“It” is not that creepy clown from the Stephen King movie you’re picturing. No, no, the “It” I speak of is much worse—its name is diet culture and it spews a thin-is-best, fatphobic, classist, able-ist, racist, gender-biased rhetoric where the gold standard of beauty, body, and more recently “wellness,” is blatantly clear, objectively unhealthy, and unavailable to most.

Beyond the gym, there were many other moments when “It” got me, some that obvious, highlighted in Technicolor and frozen in time—a mental photo album created to prove my lack—while others were so subtle I internalized them without realizing, recognizing the damage only in hindsight.

From health messaging at school and dieting advice from teen magazines, to negative looks from boys and the admiration of “beautiful” girls in front of me, the signs were everywhere.  

Once, I remember hearing an older male cousin condescendingly laugh about the shape of a specific woman – stating that “to be attractive to men your shoulders needed to be at least “X”cm wider than your waist. Though I thought it harsh, I internalized the comment as though it were about me. In a diet culture with rigid beauty ideals, no woman is left unscathed.

Everywhere, the message I absorbed was: you are not good enough. More specifically: your body is not good enough.  

Even more specifically: your body is not good enough and, as a female, it’s your personal responsibility to take charge of your weight and beauty and behavior and do what it takes until you fit the ideal lest you remain unworthy forever. Also, hot sticks of processed meat are un-ladylike.

Photo of Jillian by Wild Little Hearts Photography

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Your intuition lives in your flesh …
It might look like a criticism, a comment, a side-eye (sometimes much worse), and it makes you gasp, the foul gas of “you’re not good enough” filling your lungs and seeping into your tissues. From that day on, the myth of diet culture is no longer just a story around you, it is a story about you.

You disconnect. You abandon your physical self. You override your female knowing that your curvy, lumpy, bumpy body is beautiful and normal and you do your best to crush the voice that says “I’m hungry” or “carbs would be nice” because that voice is clearly an idiot that doesn’t know bikini season is coming up.

The result? Food issues, yes. But diet culture doesn’t just destroy our relationship with food and distort our body image—it separates us from the most powerful ally we have—our inner knowing.  

Your intuition lives in your flesh and speaks to you through your body. She is nourished by pleasure, abundance, approval, and desire.

When she has been dampened and starved into submission, you are left living a storyline that keeps you doubtful, unsteady, competitive, and unsure. An ideal that keeps you distracted from your most important work in the world and suggests your worth is up for debate.

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Amplify the whisper …
When we discourage (read: flat out ignore) the whisper of biological feedback that tells us we need more calories or carbs or a day of rest—we simultaneously diminish the whisper that helps us discern and decide in all areas of our lives.

These whispers are one in the same. Learning to hear and trust the signals from our very intelligent, self-regulating, female appetites is a super-powered short cut, reconnecting us to our broader inner knowing. It amplifies the whisper.

I lost so much time sacrificing my wellbeing and connection to self in the pursuit of worthiness via weight loss and superficial beauty. I made bad decisions. I was distracted. I lost time. I learned slowly that, in order to write a new storyline for myself, I would need the power of my intuition and that the first step in rebuilding a connection with my soul voice was winning back my body.

Photo of Jillian & family by Wild Little Hearts Photography

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Here’s how to start amplifying the whisper and winning back your own body …

1// Give up the pursuit of weight-loss. The pursuit of weight loss is THE thing that disconnects us and keep us looking outside of ourselves for shoddy solutions. Weight-loss attempts fail over 90% of the time, long-term, and the collateral damage is your relationship with food and your connection to your inner knowing. Start by pretending that you aren’t in control of your weight (because you really aren’t) and that your only goal is to feel vibrant and energetic and joyful in your body.

2// Counter the deprivation narrative. Tuning into our hunger and reliably feeding our bodies is the first step in repairing the collateral damage of deprivation and moving towards a more intuitive relationship with food.

Start the process of consistent nourishment by connecting with your hunger signals. See if you can rate your hunger on a scale of 0-10 (0 = not hungry at all, 10 = “hungry,” low blood sugar, shaky). Can you notice the subtle differences between a 4 and a 7, or do you regularly swing from overstuffed to starving?

3//Discover your delicious. The basics when it comes to nutrition and movement have been well understood and unchanging for generations – move your body regularly, get fresh air, drink water, eat lots of plants and unprocessed foods – not too little, not too much, and honor your mental/emotional need for pleasurable, celebratory foods.

Now, from this magical place—without all the rigid rules, “shoulds”, and fears—what do you feel like eating? How do you feel like eating it? How do you want to move your body and for how long?

*Note: There is a good chance you have NO IDEA. Start by asking the questions and experimenting. Follow your curiosity and see how it goes—maybe you hate plain raw carrots but you love them roasted or with dip (Hot tip: DIP IS DELICIOUS). Allow yourself to try new things and neutrally observe how your body feels.

4// Fully live with the beautiful bod you’ve got. When your physical appearance stops representing your entire worth and is, instead, just a fun outward expression of your personality, the game changes. Start living the life you aspire to have when you are in the perfect body and watch the shift!

Make a list of all the activities you are waiting to do when you lose the weight, get more toned, have your nose fixed, are more perfect, etc. Make the list as exhaustive as possible. Next step? Start doing all of those things IMMEDIATELY. Wear the red lipstick, rock the shorts, eat the gelato, show your navel, go on the date, try the tap class, climb a mountain, go back to school. Do it all!

Dr. Jillian Murphy is a registered, licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. She has dedicated the past 8 years to studying intuitive eating and body image, and works with diverse, smart, health-conscious, women who are DONE WITH DIETING, and looking to get out of their heads and re-connect with their bodies. Follow her on Instagram, listen for more wisdom on her Podcast, and join The Food Freedom/Body Love Collective, her monthly membership space that provides you with the tools, strategies, support, and community you need to live healthfully in the body you are IN!