Health at Every Size

How to Support a Loved One's Body Liberation Journey

Written by: Neathery Falchuk
February 15, 2022
Health at Every Size

How to Support a Loved One's Body Liberation Journey

Written by: Neathery Falchuk
February 15, 2022

Well hello there!

If you're here reading this, odds are you have a loved one who has sent this your way. This guide is meant to offer a starting point for those who have loved ones adventuring through their body liberation journey. As a therapist who specializes in body liberation and disordered eating, I have spent thousands of hours witnessing my clients navigate asking for more support from their loved ones. I know personally and professionally how monumental it is for someone's healing to be understood and validated. Your loved one has sent you this guide as an offering for connection. They care about you and your relationship and want to feel even closer to you. If you're still here reading this, then I know you care about your loved one too.

First, A Disclaimer

This guide is a starting point. It is impossible for me to speak to every individual relationship so please take what works for you and your loved one and leave the rest. Additionally, this is purely for educational learning and is not intended to be used for any medical, legal, mental health, financial, or otherwise liable purposes. To have specific guidance on your unique relationship, you will need to initiate services with a service provider in your area and this post is not a substitute or replacement of said services.

How to Support a Loved One's Body Liberation Journey

Let's begin with setting an intention and with inviting yourself to take a deep, slow breath. Are you at a point in your day where you can receive this offering? It's totally okay if you need to bookmark this and come back when you are able to! I will be sharing information that is likely new to you and when we receive new information, our brains have to work a bit harder to make sense of it all. If you're ready to dive in, ground yourself in your WHY. Why are you reading this? Maybe your response is "because I was asked to"- which is a valid reason! Yet I encourage you to keep in mind that by taking time to learn more about how to support your loved one, you are wanting a deeper connection in your relationship. There are a million things you could be doing and yet here you are! By taking the time to read this guide, you are already showing your loved one how much you care. I can assure you that not everyone is open to learning more and I want to thank you for showing up not just for your loved one, but for yourself and for every BODY.

“As we learn to make peace with our bodies and make peace with other people’s bodies, we create an opening to create a more just and equitable world.” -Sonya Renee Taylor

Access our resource guide curated for you to get started on learning more about body liberation

  1. Beginner's Mind

This guide exists because this information is new and is opposite to everything we have been socialized to believe is true. It makes sense for you to experience disbelief, debate, and denial. Before I found body liberation, I too operated from the belief that our bodies were supposed to be small and that our health was directly related to the size of our bodies. I invite you to take a pause anytime you notice the part of you that wants to discredit the information here. Let this part know that you will fact check it all and instead of immediately discounting what you read, take the stance of a curious scientist who is simply collecting data.

Practice tip: Imagine you are on a game show and to win $78 billion you need to make the case FOR body liberation. Take the time to listen and learn as if $78 billion depends on it. (Note: $78 billion is how much the diet industry in the US was worth in 2019 per the the US Weight Loss and Diet Control Market Report).

  1. Compassion

You're reading this because you care. Allow your compassion to continue to lead the way. You might be on your own body liberation journey. You might not even know that you have a body. You might not have any body shame at all. This is a messy process and we all have our own unique relationship to our bodies and our own Body Story that is influenced by who we are and the life we have lived. Some of you might hold significant privilege just based on your identities and some of you might also hold non-dominant identities and have experienced oppression. Who we are and how society treats us will shape how we feel in our bodies. Rooting in our common humanity allows us to soften and help cultivate a world where everyone can feel at home in their own body.

Practice tip: Repeat this out loud: "Lived experience is evidence". While there is plenty of science to back up the anti-diet and body liberation movements, all that matters right now is the experience of your loved one. Listen to them and truly hear their story, their pain, and their liberation without debating it. For most people working on reclaiming their body, this is about having a meaningful and satisfying life- which includes their relationship with you! Remind them about how much you love them and ask them how you can show your support. You don't have to immediately agree with this philosophy but you do need to connect with your loved one and validate their experience. This is a lonely and painful journey, at first, and they need you. Relationship health is all about being able to grow TOGETHER and this is a time to show your loved one that you are on this journey with them.

  1. "But What About...?", the Power of Google, and Doing Your Own Work

You probably have a TON of questions! This makes so much sense and I am all in favor of these questions. Yet, your loved one is not the person to go to for a debate or for facts. Honestly, they have so much to deal with on their own right now that typically these types of conversations cause distress and even possibly derails their healing. It is very common to dismiss new information and when this happens for you I invite you to revisit step #1. Conversations with your loved one are more connecting when centered on support, validation, and truly getting to know them better. Google is a great place to start with your questions and I've even gone one step further and have created a curated resource guide for you to get started with. There is a wealth of information for you to learn from and even more importantly to UNlearn from. I cannot emphasize enough how critical this step is. I of course wish for you to experience your own body liberation and I also really want you to be able to support your loved one. This is a HUGE step and it will take time and intentionally seeking out information. Because this will go against everything our society espouses, I recommend working with your own body liberation providers who can explain this in more detail while also honoring your own Body Story.

Practice tip: Commit to your relationship and honor how important it is for you to meet your loved one where they are. This is not about a difference of what movie to watch. This is about how we exist in the world and your loved one is well on their way to a more embodied life. Will you join them? Make your way through our resource guide while maintaining a beginner's mind and a compassionate heart. Let them know what you read or listen to and that you are taking steps to understand and learn more. This step is about ACTION and I can pretty much guarantee your relationship will deepen if you demonstrate that you are being proactive in learning more.

"When people say they want to lose weight, they often mean I want to be respected. I want to be loved. I want to be seen. I want liberation from fear and self-loathing. Weight loss culture will never give us those things because it is founded on fear/hate-based systems like sexism, racism, classism, and ableism."- Virgie Tovar
  1. The Science of Intentional Weight Loss and the Origins of Anti-Fatness

Our resource guide will have plenty for you to explore around this so I will be brief here. There is literally NO evidence that shows people who intentionally lose weight (typically by dieting) sustain their weight loss beyond 2 years. 95% of people who diet will gain back any weight lost and two-thirds of these people will gain more weight than they originally lost. Our bodies are amazing and are put into a survival response when we experience a famine (our bodies don't know that dieting is an intentional famine). This survival response will signal to our brain that we NEED TO EAT RIGHT NOW and this is when dieters experience food cravings, irritability, fatigue, dehydration, and so so much more. It's not that we are not "disciplined" enough to sustain dieting behaviors. It's that our body literally is designed to prevent the consequences that come with dieting.

Our bodies also detect not just physical nutrition deprivation but also psychological deprivation. This means that even thinking about food restriction will send the body into a survival response. This very fact is why it's so important to divest from the belief that dieting and intentional weight loss are measures of health. Even if you don't actively engage in restricting your food, just believing that some foods are "good" and some are "bad" will send your body into a survival response which increases the level of stress on the body. This increased allostatic load on the body and the fluctuations of weight loss and weight gain are the factors directly responsible for health outcomes such as increased risk for hypertension, impaired glucose metabolism, suppressed immune functioning, and so much more.

So why do we have an obsession with weight loss if science proves it is ineffective? Fat bodies have always existed and were historically seen as symbols of fertility, wealth, and wisdom. It wasn't until the 1800s that fatness was weaponized to differentiate Black and Brown bodies from white bodies and essentially was a means of justifying enslavement. Thinner and slender bodies were associated with whiteness and of being superior. The BMI was actually a formula designed to measure demographics and has no foundation in measuring health. Over time, the literature shows a shift in discourse and "race" was replaced with "health". A main argument of body liberation and fat acceptance is "but what about health?". It is clear that since the emergence of race science, health and well-being have never been the focus. And it still isn't the focus. Our obsession with thinness only perpetuates the myth of white superiority, patriarchy, cisgender and heteronormativity, ableism, and capitalism.

Practice tip: Take a deep breath. There is SO much here in Step 4 that your brain is likely feeling mushy. When I present this material in a training, this part takes me at least 3 hours to get through so you likely have way more questions than answers- and that's the point. Take a moment to stand up and stretch. Get some water and then return to this guide. And pause. Notice what is coming up for you and invite yourself to stay curious. What support do YOU need through this process of unlearning? Make sure you also are nurturing yourself and have your own support system in place.

  1. Nutrition 101

The messages we receive about food and nutrition are wrong and harmful. Much like step #4, this information goes against what you likely have been taught about food, nutrition, exercise, and bodies. I have been so grateful to work alongside expert dietitians to learn about the nuances of nutrition science. The most important message I hope to convey here is that every single person will have their own individual needs and relationship to food. I see our individual relationship to food as unique as our fingerprints- never the same. Our guide will offer a plethora of resources for further learning.

Practice tip: Reflect on your own food philosophy and contemplate or journal about the questions below. These are also great questions to explore with your loved one so you both can learn more about your own individual relationship to food and body.

  • How do you feel about your current relationship to food?
  • What did you learn about food and bodies growing up?
  • How do your cultural experiences influence your relationship to food and your body?
  • If you could eat anything right now and be guaranteed it wouldn't affect your health, your weight or your reputation, what do you want to eat?
  • Separate from food, what are other ways you nourish yourself?
  1. Things You Can Do Right Now

It will take time to fully explore our resource guide and you might be wondering what you can do right away to support your loved one. I'm glad you asked! While I hope you do go through our guide and get your own support for this process, if nothing else, the following suggestions are a great way to support your loved one. I encourage you to adopt these practices widely in your life and, at the very least, certainly when you are with your loved one.

No, thanks

  • Making any comments about food at all. Even the comments you might think are helpful.
  • Making any comments about bodies at all. Even the comments you might think are helpful.
  • Having scales visible in your home.
  • Talking about anything related to diet culture.
  • Talking about exercise as a means of weight loss or for "making up" for food eaten.
  • Tracking food, calories, weight, exercise, etc.
  • Debating with your loved one about food and bodies.

Yes, please!

  • Creating a food neutral environment (ex: the choice for a cupcake is equivalent to the choice for broccoli).
  • Seating options that don't have arms, are wide, and have a higher weight capacity. Ensure anywhere you go also has inclusive seating options.
  • Collaborating on groceries or meals so there is a wide variety of food options.
  • Making space for meals/snacks every 2-3 hours.
  • Regularly checking in with your loved one about how you are supporting them and if there is anything you can do differently.
  • Normalize and neutralize the fact that bodies change.
  • Listen and validate your loved one when they share with you about their struggles. (ex: "That makes sense. We've been given harmful messages about our bodies. I'm here with you.")
  • Offer to be a support person for medical visits.

Putting It All Together

This is a lot. I know. If you have more questions than answers, I know I've done my job. As you navigate our resource guide, there are 3 qualities that can serve as the foundation for how to support your loved one. 1) Curiosity: act as if you are a scientist wanting to study and learn more. No judge or jury mentality; 2) Compassion: support your loved one and honor that they are their own expert and have their unique Body Story that likely is filled with painful experiences; and 3) Connection: be there for your loved one above all else. Your presence matters more than any words so remind yourself it's perfectly okay to say "I need some time to do my own learning but I am here to support you every step of the way. Thank you for letting me in on your journey."

Moment of Gratitude

I am deeply thankful you have made your way through this guide. I created this offering after hearing countless stories of clients who have loved ones who do not know how to support them and ultimately end up struggling even more. The fact that you have made it to the end of this guide is so important that I want to say thank YOU. Thank you for wanting to support your loved one. I truly believe that this support acts as a ripple effect into the world and cultivates a culture of care for ALL bodies. Thank you for being a part of this change.

Access our resource guide here!

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