MY MYSTICAL LIFE: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE THIN FROM WITHIN?

When I agreed to co-host the launch of a book called “Thin From Within,” it was because I wanted to talk about what makes that word so triggering—and to confront our collective conditioning about body-image, weight, and food …

When I announced that I was going to be co-hosting the launch of my friend Robyn Youkilis’s new book, Thin From Within, I was expecting something of a backlash. This platform, which is so much about healing and self-acceptance, promoting a weight-loss program? Only one person actually reached out on Instagram to voice her concerns, to which I replied: “I hear you, thank you. Because we really need to talk about this.”

*Since writing this post, many more people have also let me know that my supporting Robyn’s book has been disappointing (at best) and / or been triggering for them. Over the past week, thanks to conversations sparked by this incredible, conscious and loving community, I have learned so much about the issues with promoting thinness and the thin ideal—even when approached from a holistic angle. Conversations that have been uncomfortable, confrontational, and absolutely VITAL. Not only for me as I grow into my role as a leader in the wellness space, but also as a human being with all my own messy and imperfect feelings about body-image. 

In response, I have decided to add some of these key learnings to my original piece—which I am including in bold below. Inclusivity and integrity are two of the core values of this platform. I am aware that the layers of complexity and shadow surrounding this issue mean I cannot possibly speak to each and every reader individually with my words here—but my hope is that sharing my own journey towards cultivating more awareness about the issues herein, may help others to do the same. 

Yes, it seems counter-intuitive. My own eating disorder history aside (more on that in a minute), the whole message of my book is that true health, happiness, confidence and wholeness, is the result of peeling back the layers of conditioning we’re subjected to from birth. Including, for example, the toxic message that to be beautiful, valued, and loved, our body must look a certain way and never exceed a certain number on a scale.

But the fact that our thinking about “thinness,” as women and as a society, is so fraught and so emotionally charged, is exactly the reason it was a HELL YES when Robyn asked me to co-host her launch. Anywhere there is a stigma, a taboo-the places our pain points are most easily triggered-is exactly where we need to be focusing our awareness.

*The HELL YES came from deep in my Soul—because it knew I still had so much to heal from personally when it comes to body image. That there is so much shadow work for me still to do here. They say you are not in a position to teach from your experience until it has been fully integrated and healed, and it was only after posting this article—which made me sick with nerves—that I realized how far I still had to go …

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Thinness, and what that word means to me, had also been on my mind the past year. The stress of having my book come out had led to me losing weight “naturally” for the first time ever. Meaning I was so frantic juggling everything (extreme feelings of vulnerability about sharing my most personal work to date included), I would literally forget to eat. When I had an appetite, that is. Whereas lately, it had gone the other way—meaning when things got chaotic I saw food as both pleasure and fuel, a comfort and a way to nourish and get back into my body.

This mentality is one of the reasons I’d considered myself fully “healed” from my teenage eating disorder. An anorexic, I spent the ages 16 through 20 living mainly on apples, milky lattes, and the occasional muffin or handful of dried prunes (I was chronically constipated, of course). For those who know my story, these were the “Capricorn” years.

After I left him, I found a way of eating just enough of certain “safe” foods to maintain a consistent size 2 frame. My body a tool to help me gain favor with my new fashion industry friends. As far as I was concerned, this meant I’d “got over” my issues. I never had any therapy or even really acknowledged to myself that my ongoing obsession with thinness was problematic. Not least because, as far as I could tell, my body image issues were nothing out of the ordinary.

*I have bolded a key line here. The fact I had never dug into the root of my issues—or acknowledged the “thin privilege” that I have benefited from as a result of my body shape, natural or as a result of disordered eating—makes me absolutely under-qualified to speak on this issue. Writing this post was a clumsy first step towards educating myself—since my aim was to spark a conversation that I and my readers could learn from. I am committed to educating myself fully on body-image going forward so that I can speak to this from an empowering and inclusive place. However, I also acknowledge that my own thin privilege makes me not the best spokesperson. Means that whatever my own issues, I cannot know how it feels to have been shamed, name-called, or discriminated against because of my size. And I so am also investigating ways to invite people representing all different body types to share their stories here instead.

I also found this great article on thin privilege, which everybody needs to read.

Being in an abusive relationship, coupled with my Aries competitiveness, meant I might have taken things a little further. But as far as I could see, the vast majority of women I knew (and plenty of men) felt exactly the same about thinness as me—that it was our desired / required body shape, and one which invariably meant constant, careful monitoring of our calorie intake.

A war against weight we were all obediently waging together, without ever questioning how we even came to be enlisted.

*Questioning the reasons for society’s and my own obsession with thinness has been painful and humbling—as I can now see clearly the inherent fat phobia in the pursuit of the thin ideal. Fat phobia that is RAMPANT and that goes largely unchecked in our society. I’m handing over to Jillian Murphy from Food Freedom Body Love here, who helped me understand this better: “THIN is not an ideal. It’s also not shameful. It’s just a state of being that is available to some humans but not others. Unfortunately, especially for women, THIN has come to mean superior (smarter, more together, more in control, more desirable, healthier, more fit, etc etc etc) and women are consistently encouraged to do things that are detrimental to their physical mental, emotional, and spiritual health in order to achieve the thin ideal—which may or may not ever even be possible, and most definitively does not directly result in any of those aspired qualities.” (Jill’s full comment on this post is below)

But over the years, as my career progressed, my self-confidence grew, and I began to value my peace of mind over the number on a scale, I slowly let go of all that. Including the scales themselves. Began to focus on eating “healthy.” Without thinking too much about it, my weight steadied out at where it had been after my 16-year-old body first began to bloom into womanhood. A comfortable size 4-6.

*There was no reason for me to include a “number” here—especially since I just shared how part of my healing was letting go of scales and mirrors. Numbers just create more comparison which is sheer poison when it comes to body image pride.

My “disordered” history with food was firmly in my past. Or so I thought.

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Cut to the summer of 2016. At the age of 40, I have purchased my first ever pair of denim hotpants … and I feel fucking GREAT in them. Sexy and strong and sassy. For the first time in my life, I even like the way my legs look in short-shorts and flat shoes. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I got weighed when I went for a health check and discovered I was 10lbs heavier than I had ever been.

*More numbers—ugh, this is my old magazine industry conditioning showing. It makes me so mad when magazine interviews always list a woman’s age, but rarely do the same with men. And I just did it here. Again, ugh.

It was in this moment that I truly understood what always felt like kind of a lame cliché-that “thin” (or rather, the desirable attributes we have attached to what is actually just an innocent adjective) is a feeling. Sexy, strong, sassy. How I felt at my heaviest weight ever. This was a cause for celebration, surely!

*Thin IS just an adjective—but not such an innocent one thanks to the layers of meaning we have learned to attach to it. I also can see now how sharing my personal experience of being “thin” or “heavier” here is problematic, as it further emphasizes the dangerous messaging that feeling a certain way is a result of being a certain size.  

No. Seeing that number on the doctor’s scale, my immediate reaction was “WTF. That can’t be.” Meaning, that is not a number that my body is allowed to be. The ancient conditioning hadn’t gone anywhere. I’d just got so confident and happy in myself (having shifted my career in alignment with my purpose and done a shit-ton of healing work on myself, for example), that it no longer had any hold over me.

The weight I went on to lose the following summer, following my book launch? Part of me, the part that never actually healed after all, welcomed the nausea and the insanity. Was secretly stoked that the intense heat of my anxiety appeared to effortlessly melt those extra 10lbs from my frame. There was even a certain Angelina Jolie-style glamor to it; as if this was how brave women let the world know we still had some fight in us, despite our suffering.

*This is where I began to think more deeply about WHY we are so afraid of fat. Why fatness is equated with laziness and self-indulgence, while thinness is upheld as virtue. I think this ultimately comes down to control. We, women in particular, have internalized the message that to control our appetite, our desires and our needs is “good,” while to acknowledge our hunger / needs (for food, recognition, to say no, to claim space, to relax, to come, to create), and to demand that our needs be met, is not only unacceptable—but something to be afraid of. I posted about this on Instagram a few weeks back, after I first agreed to help Robyn with her launch, along with this quote from Naomi Wolf: “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.” 

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Looking at pictures taken then, I see a thin woman. Meaning, a weak, fragile, undernourished woman (just some other adjectives for “thin”). A woman that I am ALSO learning I must love and accept as part of me, as much as I do her sexy, sassy, strong, 10lbs heavier counterpart. The past year has taught me that healing my weight and body image issues cannot mean locking the thin me away in the past and throwing away the key. Impossible, since the key—the shame and vulnerability that unlocks her padded cell—is also a part of me.

And so, it was a “YES” when Robyn asked me to co-host her launch. I even had her use one of my “thin” pictures in the artwork for the event (above).

*I have removed this image. I had thought that explaining how I really felt at my thinnest (weak, fragile etc.) would expose how this “look” is NOT ideal—but ultimately I was just sharing another picture of a thin white woman, and perpetuating the problem. In the words of one reader: “If I’m to be brutally honest, viewing that poster my thought was, ‘easy for them to talk about eating healthily and loving yourself when they’re both skinny.’ It made me feel less-than.” This has made me think much more carefully about how I can create a more visually diverse platform that is truly inclusive and empowering to all. 

The title of her book may be triggering, but without acknowledging the part of me—of us—that loads the word thin with generations of personal and societal pain, it will always be there, starving for our love and attention, and silently screaming to be heard. To give that part of us what she (or he) needs in order to be nourished, we first have to learn to listen—to find out what it is she believes “thinness” will fix. 

There is nothing inherently evil or wrong about wanting to lose weight. People will buy Robyn’s book for all kinds of personal reasons, some from a place of deep self-love, and some from a place of weakness and fragility. But what they will find within, is a program designed to help them: “finally feel the lightness you’ve been searching for on the scale.” Meaning, a way of thinking about food that has nothing to do with numbers and targets, and is all about addressing the emotional and physical dis-ease of traditional dieting (yes, especially supposedly “healthy” juice cleanses and Whole 30s).

*Robyn is a smart, loving, and inspiring voice in the wellness landscape. Yes, she too benefits from her thin privilege, and in deep conversations we have had this past week about what’s come up for her since bringing this book out, she has acknowledged her own naiveté in thinking that the title would not elicit such a charged response. At her launch, she shared how she initially said “no” when her publisher asked her to write a weight-loss book—but then realized she could use this as a way to talk instead about how to shed emotional weight. Problematic, still, as it still implies that “less weight” is “good.” But also, considering the dominant mainstream messaging about weight and body image, a step in the right direction. Robyn has also thanked me (and the Numinous community!) for helping take this conversation deeper than perhaps she ever intended—as her Soul intention is also to help end our collective fucked-up-ness about body image and food. 

As leaders, and as humans, neither of us are perfect. The best we can do when we make a mistake, or discover a blind spot, is to see it as an opportunity to become stronger and wiser. I’m going to end with this quote from Anne Richards, the second female governor of Texas, as shared by the IG account @words_of_women: “I believe in recovery, and as a role model I have the responsibility to let young people know that you can make a mistake and come back from it.” Not only that, but to use we’ve learned to help us all to heal.

I also acknowledge that this is a complex and multi-faceted issue. This post in itself may have been triggering for some, and it contains generalizations that are a reflection of my personal experiences—also that I have my own blindspots about this issue, which I am seeking to overcome. But wherever you are at in your personal journey with food, weight and body image, know that we are all in this together—and that more honest we can be with ourselves and each other about it, the more resilient to our thin-conditioning we will become.

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Thank you, my Numinous community, for your conscientious, intelligent, and ultimately loving feedback on this piece. I wanted to start a real conversation about these issues, and you have stepped up to the plate! I am expecting further comments of course, and welcome those which are in service of the core values of this platform—which center around healing and growth through awareness. I love you. 

COMFORTABLY NUMB: EAT THE PAIN AWAY

Is our obsession with healthy food just another way to eat the pain away, asks Kate Atkinson? Images: Instagram.com/dishpigs

“Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard! “

Lionel Bart, Oliver – Food, Glorious Food Lyrics, 1968.

Cut to the twenty first century: “I’ll have the burger please. Only I won’t have the bun. Or do you have gluten free bread? Wheat gives me hives. Does it have seeds in it too? Where was the meat farmed? Were the cows happy, like REALLY happy? I mean, ecstatic. Oh and can you make sure there isn’t any cheese on there? I’m allergic to dairy. My whole face turns bright yellow when I eat it. Actually I’ll just have some lettuce, thanks.”

To quote the Miranda July film title, this has begun to sound just a little like me and you and everyone we know. And apologies in advance to all my vegan, gluten-free friends out there, but can we just take a step back from obsessing over every morsel that goes in our mouth for a moment?

I’ll preface this by admitting I ate gluten-free bread the other morning (and full disclosure, it was really not as good as sourdough). Why? Because I’d travelled from the NY winter (read: seven layers of clothes + one extra layer of fat) to my home town of sunny Sydney, and found I was suddenly hyper aware of what I ate. But how many of us actually have a serious intolerance to gluten i.e. celiac? Why not just say we feel fat, and are convinced for some reason that “gluten-free” also means less calories?

Here’s some food for thought: are we depriving ourselves of the snacks we know and have always loved, inventing all sorts of conditions, because we’re ashamed to admit that actually we just really want to be perfect? Ashamed of looking stupid and being so susceptible to the unattainable ideals we’re pushed, since we all know perfection is impossible.

As ballet coach Thomas Leroy says to an emaciated Natalie Portman in Black Swan: “Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence! Very few have it in them.” And when it comes food, I think we should do likewise.

Back in high school, the pursuit of body-perfection meant doing star jumps in the toilet cubicles and puking when we thought no one is looking. Not me personally, but many girls I knew.

Now we’re all grown up, its our addiction to false nutrition bullshit that’s feeding the same appetite for fear. See the modern malaise of Orthorexia nervosa – literally translating as “proper appetite”, and a pathological fixation with eating only “healthy food,” that has aptly been described as “a disease disguised as a virtue”.

A condition in its infancy, Orthorexia is not yet recognized as a psychiatric disorder – but I see focussing so thoroughly on virtuous eating as just another way of distracting ourselves from our reality, and numbing what’s really going on.

I believe perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order – and deprivation just another means of exercising control in a world of imperfect unknowns. On a parallel with OCD, it’s a way of ignoring our pain and conforming to perceived societal norms…but what for exactly? To maintain the body of a 12-year-old who’s never even menstruated, or, come to think of it, slept with a man who told them they had a great ass?

A friend of mine, Georgia Ashdown, has recently started a blog in Australia called Dish-Pig as a way of exploring women’s relationship with food. Her crowd are foodies, but they aren’t obsessive, and while they’re all about sustainability and conscious eating, they also champion the enjoyment of food in a progressive way. Think hot babes (US Vogue are fans) eating ACTUAL food, not cotton wool!

I think it’s time for a new language around food. Most women (myself included) have a long way to go in learning to truly love  our own bodies. With so much social conditioning about we should look under our clothes, how can we not feel terrible when we see ourselves in the mirror naked?

By realizing none of this shit actually matters, because it really, really doesn’t. By remembering we are not the women being forced to marry suicide bombers in ISIS. By taking the time to tell each other how great our asses look. By realizing that it is totally normal and acceptable to pig out sometimes and not rush to justify it to others and ourselves. By no more comparing ourselves to celebrities or impossibly thin friends. By reading up properly on food, not just jumping on the latest fad diet when it comes along. By realizing that the people you want to look good for really DON’t care – they just want you to be happy in your own skin.

There are so many things in the world we can’t control. A talking head that no one can quite believe has been given an international stage. Gun laws that mean your four-year-old is able to shoot you. Climate change. Terrorism. Police brutality.

Can’t we just enjoy and be grateful for the simple pleasures we have?

To quote political activist and author Anne Lamott:

“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is you will die anyway, and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

We are all enough. More than enough. So isn’t it time we ate enough, too, and stopped picking toppings off our pizza? It’s getting really, really boring.

THE GOOD KARMA DIET: 4 WAYS TO EAT FOR BETTER KARMA

In conversation with Victoria Moran, author of The Good Karma Diet (aka the book that changed my life – this week). PLUS 4 ways to eat for better karma. By Ruby Warrington. Artwork: Raw Vegan Blonde

When I saw a flyer for a book called The Good Karma Diet, being a good Buddhist (kinda) I had to check it out. It went on to mark a turning point in my personal food history.

I’ve been “pescetarian” for six years (fish aren’t mammals, it was different I used to tell myself), and stopped eating dairy after I started breaking out in these weird eczema-like rashes after my move from London to NYC.

And if going fully vegan sounded like the logical next step – ethically, environmentally, politically, and for my health – it was also going to be really inconvenient. I mean, have you looked at a restaurant menu lately?

But then I read The Good Karma Diet, and all that fell away. Besides the very well documented health benefits, I think it was reading this that finally swung it: ”

So I reached out to the author Victoria Moran, a vegan for 25 years years and 60-something-going-on-30. Below is what she said about the karma of going vegan:

In a sentence, how is veganism a spiritual practise?
Everything we know about spirituality or religion is a matter of faith or belief, except for one great certainty: kindness is divine; this is veganism.

What are 5 surprising side-effects of going vegan?
– A more open heart – to both human and non-human animals.
– An incredible community to be a part of – I chuckle to myself sometimes that I have so many “cool” friends of all ages, even though I wasn’t at all part of the “in crowd” back in school when that mattered so much.
– There are so many aspects of vegan living to discover beyond just food. It takes some getting used to – buying mascara at the same store where you buy nutritional yeast! – but once you do, you learn that cruelty-free and toxin-free often go together.
– Feeling better because you’re vegan makes you want to feel better still, so it inspires an interest in exercise and alternative healthcare and other avenues to ever greater wellbeing.
– The gift of simplicity comes with a vegan lifestyle. When you know your life is dedicated to the wellbeing of others, petty stresses aren’t as stressful as they once were and it’s easier to enjoy the little things.

But wait, I live in NYC.
Personally, I don’t go to a lot of “regular” restaurants since, for me, they’re not regular at all! If I go to a place that serves meat, it’s usually Indian or Italian or Mexican or Asian or Ethiopian, so there are plenty of vegan choices. If I have to order sides, I order sides. I don’t ever eat before I go out. I trust that when it’s time to eat, something appropriate will be there. I’ve never been disappointed.

And how can I be a good vegan guest?
Once people understand that this is a serious choice for you, either a moral imperative or an important health decision, most are happy to accommodate, especially is you offer to bring a dish to share. Another good tip is not to get involved in detailed answers about why you’re vegan when other people are eating their non-vegan foods. Something along the lines of “I just feel better eating this way” should suffice for mealtime conversation. If someone is seriously interested, they’ll seek you out privately and you can share all you know.

What kind of good karma have you experienced since going vegan?
The first thing I noticed was the lifting of a great burden that I hadn’t realized I was carrying, the burden of responsibility I bore for the suffering others had been forced to endure on my behalf. Then, on a very practical level, the extra weight I’d dealt with since early childhood, except for respites of “dieting,” came off and has stayed away. I also find I get happier as time goes by. I’m in my mid-60s and in good health, with a tremendous amount of meaning and purpose and adventure in my life.

Read on below for an excerpt from The Good Karma Diet, on 4 ways to eat for better karma.

The Whole-Foods Plant-Based Diet (WFPB)
The Whole-Foods Plant-Based Diet (WFPB) is the popular term coined by nutritional biochemist T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., lead researcher of the China Study, the largest population-based nutritional study ever conducted. In The Low-Carb Fraud, Dr. Campbell and Howard Jacobson, Ph.D., define the WFPB diet as: “whole foods…as close to their natural state as possible. A wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds make up the bulk of the diet. It includes no refined products, such as white sugar or white flour; no additives, preservatives, or other chemical concoctions…no refined fat, including olive or coconut oils; and minimal – or better yet, no – consumption of animal products, perhaps 0 to 5 percent of total calories at most.”

The Starch Solution
John McDougall, MD, the California internist who’s devoted his career to healing people from the chronic diseases of Western civilization, takes a very low-fat approach and celebrates the basic starches—rice, wheat, potatoes, barley, taro, and so forth—that have supported humanity for eons. Vegetables, fruits, and beans comprise the rest of the diet. He named a book for this: The Starch Solution.

The Esselstyn Approach
The Cleveland Clinic research study done by Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD, showed how an oil-free, whole-foods, plant-exclusive diet with plenty of greens was capable of reversing heart disease in patients whose cardiologists could no longer help them. He expounds on his long-term study and its results in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

His son, Rip, a handsome endurance athlete and former firefighter, takes the same approach and calls it “plant-strong” in his books, The Engine 2 Diet and My Beef With Meat. (The Campbell and Esselstyn plans are virtually identical, and the McDougall plan is very similar, all emphasizing whole, plant foods and no oil. This way of eating was showcased in the popular documentary and subsequent bestselling book, Forks Over Knives.)

The Nutritarian Diet
Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of the NY Times bestseller, Eat to Live, recommends a “nutritarian” diet built primarily around vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Whole grains are allowed, but not emphasized, and moderate consumption of nuts and seeds is encouraged. He suggests getting at least ninety percent of calories from whole plant foods, leaving up to ten percent for the occasional indulgence and for animal products for those who aren’t going to part with them entirely. In my practice as a holistic health counselor and vegan lifestyle coach, I found that clients did extremely well with this approach.

Plant-Based, Lower-Carb
A newer player on the vegan field is a higher-protein, higher-fat, lower-carbohydrate rendition of a way of eating that is still, by definition, high in naturally occurring carbohydrate because that is the nutritive property that predominates in most plant foods. If you’ve read a lot of diet books, this sounds bad (“The carbs are coming! Run for the hills!”) but it’s actually good. We’re designed to function on a diet that derives most of its calories from the naturally occurring carbohydrates in plant foods. Attempting to avoid all carbohydrates because refined sugar and white bread aren’t good for you would be like avoiding marriage because some men beat their wives.

Despite the profusion of laboratory and epidemiological studies supporting the efficacy of the approaches outlined earlier, some people feel that they do better with a little more protein and fat. Their predilection was given scientific backup by David J.A. Jenkins, MD, Ph.D. (he developed the concept of the glycemic index) who advocates for a plant-based diet favoring non-starchy vegetables, soy foods and mock meats, lower-carb beans (mung, great Northern, lima, fava), nuts, seeds, and avocado, and low-sugar fruits, such as berries. This diet has been called “Eco Atkins.”

Excerpted from THE GOOD KARMA DIET: Eat Gently, Feel Amazing, Age in Slow Motion by Victoria Moran, with the permission of Tarcher/Penguin, a division of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2015

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