On the first full day of the conference, two different women looked at my name tag and confirmed that I had written the response to the listserv posting, “When Your Mother Says You’re Fat” that talked about my mother’s undiagnosed bulimia and how she hated me for “my fatness.” Both women said they had promised themselves to hug me every day at the conference. I let them embrace me and tried to soak up their offer of that maternal milk of affection and comfort. I don’t even remember if I put my arms around them, I just felt like a little girl getting loved “just for being” for a few moments and it was a very strange and very good feeling. My big, closed mouth grin felt as though it was coming from my stomach and heart, each organ pulling up a side of my mouth. When I saw those two women the next morning, I reminded them of their hugging vow and I sipped from their cup of sweet mother’s milk again.
Another of the dramatic personal and professional experiences I had at the conference was the realization of the connection between HAES® and intuitive eating. I spend so much of my personal and professional life resisting the “you BETTER be on a diet if you’re fat otherwise you deserve to die” prolific media/cultural message that I focused on not weight loss dieting but eating mostly proteins and complex carbs. I thought dietitians were people who put you on a diet…more “eat saltless, non-fat, non-sweet”(i.e. YUCK!) commandments that made me feel deprived and failed to make me lose weight after a life of yo-yo dieting. At the conference the HAES® dietitians I met and who presented were nothing like that.
Though I had done an intuitive eating CD course, ASDAH Conference dietitians expounded upon the principle. In fact, I bought Judith Matz’s The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care because Matz emanates gentle and powerful love. She’s one of those people who look deeply into your eyes with empathy and loving listening so I wanted her to sign my book and I wanted to support her and ASDAH with my purchase. However once I started reading the book I realized that I helped myself more than anyone else by buying it.
The book gives me a great answer for the shamers who ask me after I’ve tried to explain HAES, in incredulous tones, “So you just eat whatever you want?!” Now using page 208 of The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, I calmly tell them I am making myself physically and emotionally healthier by normalizing my relationship to food, dealing directly with my feelings, moving my body and improving my self-esteem through self-acceptance. I was doing those things before the conference but now I have the words for it, a deeper scientific foundation for the strategy and the laugh-out-loud directive from Judith Matz that says while I’m going through the process (and I may be for the rest of my life on some level or at least as long as I am eating HA!) – It’s none of my business what I weigh!
Three months earlier at the Popular Culture/American Culture conference in Washington, D.C. I had the wonderful feeling twice of eating with Fat Studies colleagues and enjoying the bizarre feeling that no one would be criticizing me in word, gesture or scolding look about what I ate or didn’t eat. However the ASDAH conference brought this healing wonderment to a, “whole, ‘nother, level,” as we say in my culture. At conferences I usually bring protein drinks, protein bars, fruit, nuts, etc. If I don’t eat all of a meal I bring it back to my room. I put the food in baggies in an ice bucket if there is no refrigerator. I bring a bigger purse and put food in my bag so that I have something “legal”/healthy, filling and available if I get hungry. I expected food at the ASDAH conference to be the same, maybe Danish and coffee for breakfast/snacks.
To my delight, halfway through the conference I realized that not only was I supported by the understanding that no one would be criticizing what I chose to eat but there was also a seemingly unlimited amount of a variety of tasty food. This of course in addition to my not having to plan, prepare, cook, and clean to feed myself. This non-judgment, encouragement to nourish myself and stress free availability of tasty food alone provided a sense of support and peace I cannot remember experiencing in my life. I’m still trying to replicate that incredible peace at least when I’m home but it ain’t easy.
Another way the conference gave me a sense of support and peace was when Lisa Kantor, Esq. gave me some informal advice of what to do if my doctor’s office persisted in saying they would force me to be weighed because the insurance company would soon refuse to cover my expenses without an updated weight. Kantor said I should continue to stand my ground and if the insurance company refused to pay for my care because of it, I should explore suing them and she would help. Ah, so when I face the white coats I’m no longer as alone as I seem!
Presenters emphasized that weight stigmatizing increases depression and likely leads to higher weights. I saw my research and activism work has a place in the necessary media literacy regarding HAES. The “intersectionality” breakout group brought up some sensitive and important issues about remembering that higher weight harassment affects those of all races, sexual orientations, etc. It also gave me an opportunity to introduce my hurdles race track layered model of unearned privilege and media stigma.
Julie Norman’s end of day yoga sessions reminded me to literally “keep my heart lifted,” and I promised myself to do the “joy breath” we learned every day for the rest of my life. Dr. Lucy Aphramor’s exercise about choosing a word symbolizing what we’d like to have to fight weight stigma and promote HAES® and listing images for each sense that would represent the word inspired this end of ASDAH Educational Conference 2013 poem:
RISING WITH THE NEW BREAD
The marching band came back to town,
Weeds they trample will,
Rise again this afternoon.
I will be,
Eating fresh baked bread,
With bacon and fresh brewed coffee,
You fixed for me,
As satisfied as I am,
You let your hand rest,
In the small of my back.