“Does it matter if you gain weight?” I mumbled under my breath in between bites of my breakfast sandwich last Sunday. I was at a restaurant having brunch with six women to celebrate a dear friend. Minutes earlier, the conversation had turned a corner to an all-too-familiar topics: weight loss, exercise, getting in shape and fighting the inevitable aging process in our bodies.

You know exactly what I’m talking about- the moment when incredibly intelligent, accomplished, badass, sexy and otherwise confident women start down the rabbit hole of bashing their bodies in solidarity. I hear it almost daily, both in my profession and my personal life. I sat quietly for a few minutes, thinking to myself, “Don’t get on your soapbox, exhibit some restraint, Lisa. They’re just having brunch and talking like girls do.”

Well, those who know me know that restraint isn’t one of my strengths. “Does it matter if you gain weight?” I repeated after listening to one of my friend’s fears about her metabolism slowing down as she approaches forty.

I was met with silence. I looked up from my plate and everyone at the table was staring at me as if I just said something profound. “Wait, what do you mean? Say more!” they asked. Cue the moment I gladly took a giant leap onto my soapbox and launched into the Lisa Mareb version of a TEDtalk on diet culture and fatphobia.

Unless you’re an eating disorder professional (and even if you are!) aware of the institutionalized weight stigma that exists in our current diet culture, you likely are bombarded daily with messages about your weight and your body that have slowly seeped their way into your own belief system. Namely: Don’t be big, eat less/exercise more, be ashamed of your body, shrink your body… but not too much and perhaps one of the most devastating- for the love of God, don’t gain weight and don’t get fat!

The intense fear of weight gain is something that many of my clients suffer from, regardless of their size. We know that eating disorders develop and exist for many reasons, not just because we live in a culture where, somewhere along the line, we bought into the myth that weight gain equals one of the worst possible things that could happen to you. However, this crippling fear of weight gain permeates all aspects of our society and leads us further away from our soul’s passion- which I’m fairly certain isn’t to shrink itself. It’s my belief that our souls have far more important missions.

So what do we do? How do we combat the fatphobia that inundates our daily lives? In my sessions, I start with awareness and education- that diet culture is an actual thing contributing to our suffering. Lately, I’ve been encouraging my clients to use their preferred social media venue to educate themselves. I’m a big fan of Christy Harrington’s Food Psych podcast and Instagram account, both of which boldly tackle the diet industry in a manner that I find incredibly empowering.  Surround yourself with similar and like-minded humans, and know you get to set boundaries with those friends or family who are on diets or exercise to shrink their bodies. Examine your relationship with exercise and ask yourself if you’re moving in a way that truly fills your soul. Work with your therapist around your own fatphobia and be curious about where your own fear about weight gain lies. And mostly- know that there’s hope- with education, support, community and counseling, I firmly believe that we can heal our relationships with our bodies, disengage from the traps of diet culture and live our lives loudly and boldly. Because, to reference one of my favorite quotes, “life is too short to spend another day at war with yourself.”

Lisa Mareb is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorders Specialist and Supervisor at Embrace Strength Counseling in Westminster, Colorado. Lisa is committed to helping you build a more fulfilling and passionate relationship with your mind, body, food and spirit. Lisa specializes in eating disorders, anxiety, depression, personality disorders and life transitions. She also offers clinical, licensure and CEDS supervision to professionals. Lisa offers in-person and telehealth services and has daytime and evening availability. To schedule an appointment with Lisa, contact us at 303.720.9424.

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