Julie Duffy Dillon is a Registered Dietitian, Eating Disorder Specialist, and Food Behavior Expert and has been helping people heal their relationship with food for over 15 years. She is trained as a mental health counselor and supervises dietitians and other health professionals to use weight inclusive and attuned eating strategies. Based in North Carolina, Julie owns BirdHouse Nutrition Therapy, a premier source of eating disorder treatment and prevention. She also produces and hosts the Love Food podcast.
In This Episode, You Will Learn:
- Why Julie isn’t a fan of dieting even though she’s a Registered Dietitian.
- All about an approach to eating (and life) called Food Peace.
- How intuitive eating provides freedom.
- Julie’s online course focused on Polycycstic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Food Peace.
Connect with Julie:
- Love Food Podcast
- BirdHouse Nutrition Therapy
- PCOS and Food Peace (online course)
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Julie, thanks so much for taking time to hang with me today. I appreciate it.
I am so excited to chat with you, David. Thank you for inviting me to sit here and talk.
We all know there are a million diets on the market, keto is huge right now. Why are you not a fan of that approach to eating? You’re a dietician, help us out. We need to lose some weight here. We need to get in shape.
Right, I mean, diet is in the name of my profession, so you’d think I’d be all for diets, right?
Yeah, you should be a professional dieter.
Oh, goodness. Well, I feel like all of us are professional dieters because right now the diet industry is a 70 billion dollar industry. There’s a lot of people who make their living this way, including dieticians. We have supplements, point systems, meal replacements, coaches, gyms, meal plans and anything that we can think of that people have invented to help us lower our weight.
We can’t deny how our body weights have changed over the last few decades but originally, we started it for health reasons and what has happened after my twenty years working in this industry, I’ve noticed that it’s not about health anymore and it’s really just about lowering weight. It’s become really hard to tease that apart and I think that it’s really important to. We have even gone to doing things like amputating a perfectly healthy organ in the name of changing weight, right? Of course, it’s gastric bypass, but it’s basically amputating part of an organ.
You need to amputate my mouth to quit eating.
Please don’t do that, no. A lot of what I think has happened, is that the diet industry has become really savvy. I often refer to them as seductive. They have this kind of seductive way of using this tool that we have found through research that doesn’t work for most people. Certainly, it works for some and that’s great, but for most people it’s not going to work long-term. Looking five years out, most people are not going to be able to maintain the weight that they lost even if they keep doing the diet. It doesn’t really seem to matter in the research. But yet, somehow the diet industry in their seduction, has convinced us that it’s our fault that it doesn’t work.
I often think about, what if I went and bought a new phone and as I brought the phone home, it kept dropping my calls. I don’t just automatically think, “Oh, I must be a bad phone user.” No, I would go back to the phone place or the Verizon or Sprint store, wherever I bought the phone and say, “Hey, my phone’s not working,” and they’d give me a new phone. And if that kept dropping calls, I wouldn’t blame it on myself, I’d say, “This is the stupid phone.” Diets are the same way. It’s this product that we buy and it doesn’t work for most of us, but somehow again, we’ve been convinced that it’s our fault.
We don’t want to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results, isn’t that some kind of saying that we like to say? And so, I think it’s important, especially working as a dietician for the last twenty years, to just recognize that diets don’t work. No matter what we call them, whether it’s a lifestyle change or just doing something a little different. For most people, in the end, it’s just going to lead to weight cycling and weight cycling is often called “yo-yo dieting”. Weight cycling is actually really harmful and I’ve come to appreciate as a dietician that it promotes things like high blood pressure, high insulin levels, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and it promotes depression. All the things that we blame on higher weight, literally could be caused by the weight cycling; the actual thing we think we are doing to help our weight.
I remember learning early on that instead of the diet industry, it really should be called the weight cycling industry. I heard that from a psychologist, her name’s Deb Burgard. We have other ways to promote health and it can be really hard because there’s so many different issues that are interwoven with weight besides health, like how we treat people of size. And so, walking away from diets – I would love you to run away from diets, but moving away from them can be a really hard sell because we’re treated differently when we’re smaller. That’s really part of my work. Helping people in that place when they’ve realized, “Diets haven’t worked for me, let’s find a new way.” That’s where my work is and that’s why I do it.
What you’re telling me is that you don’t want me to eat a certain way? If I do that and I lose the weight, if I kept eating that way, I’d gain the weight back? Help me understand this, how are you saying diets don’t work?
Just a side note, I grew up super skinny. I got made fun of in the opposite direction because I was so thin. I’m 6’5”, I was 175 when my wife and I got married twenty-five years ago. I got up to 255 and I just recently lost 65 pounds by dieting in a certain way. I’ve lost weight in the past and so I’ve been that person that’s gone up and down. I see other people in my life and their weight goes up and down. So, when you say that diets don’t work, are you saying, even if we changed our way of eating long-term, we’re probably going to gain the weight back?
I think how you said that, we may need to tease apart a little bit because there’s a lot of nuance in weight loss diets. So, if we change the way we’re eating, it just depends on how it’s done. We have to keep in mind for you or someone listening, they may have changed their weight through dieting and it may have worked long-term. There’s are definitely some people that it has worked for but for most people, it hasn’t. So, first off, I think that’s a really important thing to say. I certainly have worked with people, who over the long-term, from a bird’s eye view, their eating has changed but the way they’ve done it has been more aligned with how their body needs it to be, instead of following some kind of prescribed way.
I think what’s important to tease apart is the way we eat and the behavior, because weight loss is not a behavior. It’s not a behavior because people can eat a different way. We could all eat the same thing and move the same way and we’re still going to look different and we’re going to have different weights. And so, when we eat a certain way, it may or may not result in weight loss. I don’t know about you and your journey, but maybe you got frustrated at times because you had to change your eating and then you’re thinking, “Oh, my gosh. The scale hasn’t changed at all.” And even though you may have felt better, had more energy and felt stronger, but then not seeing the scale move, for a lot of my clients what happens is that ends up making them try harder and torture their body and do things that are really hardcore. Then in the end they can’t keep that up because it’s just not something that they can do because it hurts.
Even more, to what you were saying, if we continue practicing the same behaviors and measuring the weight loss along the way, five years out for most people, even if they’re still practicing those same behaviors, the weight will be regained. How many of those people depends on what research you read; you’ll see anywhere from 80 to 95% of people. And when you look at diet studies and weight science, it’s complicated because a lot of the diet products do their own research or they fund certain researchers that are on their board. So, it’s like, “Can I really trust the guy whose mortgage is paid by this diet company?”
Even diet companies who have published research, they’ll say twenty percent are long-term successful, which means five years out, twenty percent of people who try the diet are maintaining that weight loss. So, that’s why I say it’s so complicated. People can certainly change the way they’re eating but whether they lose weight is not really promised. We can’t even say with science that it will stay off. But a person can definitely improve their health with behavior change for sure.
Are you saying that weight doesn’t matter?
I do think weight has a relationship to health, but I don’t think it’s causational or it hasn’t been proven yet in research. Proving weight causes health problems has not been done yet, which is really interesting because I feel like that’s how our brains have been programmed to think. We all have these tapes in our head that say that’s a part of it, but weight science research is correlational. I didn’t excel in my statistics class, but I do remember learning on the first day that correlation does not equal causation. So, it just means there’s a relationship there.
In my work I specialize in helping people with a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, also known as PCOS and this condition has high circulating insulin levels. A lot of us have heard about insulin now and one thing we know about insulin is that it’s a growth hormone. And so, people who have this hormonal condition, it starts in their hypothalamus but eventually hormones go out of range in a way they’re not supposed to, including insulin. This is what causes the weight to go up, but people often are told that their weight is causing the problem. But really the higher insulin is causing the weight to go up. It’s really just a way to know that somethings going on. It’s not the cause, it’s just an effect and it’s also not the blame. Focusing on the weight doesn’t change the insulin levels long-term. We’ve got to figure out how to lower the insulin levels, not the weight.
One of the things that you’re really bringing to the forefront here is less of a health issue and more of a cultural and perception and a sales issue. I just interviewed Rebecca Bedford last week and she goes by the moniker, “Being an SSBBW”. I had never heard that term before but it means “super-sized, big, beautiful woman” and we were just exploring some of these issues with her about being, in her words, an SSBBW.
Help me understand your perspective on the way that our culture views weight. I know we can boil it down to skinny is better, but unpack that for us a little bit. How does our culture see that?
I’m excited to listen to that interview, by the way. I’m excited that you’re having these conversations. They’re very progressive and also uncomfortable because they challenge the way that our brains are wired to respond to certain bodies. I think if we just pause when we think of someone in a thin body, what are the adjectives that we chose to describe? I call myself a fat activist and I’m someone that believes in body liberation. I believe everyone should feel at home in their own skin but even I still have these really crappy tapes in my head as well. And so, when I think of thin, I think of someone who has all her stuff together. Someone who’s disciplined. Someone who’s smart. Someone who is married. Someone who has lots of friends. And then when we think of someone in a larger body, the stereotype is often the opposite because that’s the dichotomy that we live in, right? So, someone who is maybe not in a relationship, doesn’t have their stuff together, undisciplined and not smart.
Here’s the thing, I’ve worked for twenty years with people who don’t have my lived experience. If someone’s listening and they don’t know me, I’ve always been in a smaller body. If you line up all my ancestors, they’re probably all looking gangly just like me. So, my lived experience does not match the people that I usually work with. Listening to people that I work with in larger bodies who’ve always been in larger bodies and probably always will be and always should be, they’re smart and they have a lot of things together. They have advanced degrees. They’re in marriages, have fabulous sex. They’re doing all the things that people think that people in larger bodies can’t do. I really think it comes down to this weight science that’s been pushed by the diet industry that has made us have these stereotypes and bigotry about different body sizes.
As a dietician, I think health is important and I also think everyone deserves to go to the doctor and get comprehensive health care. But what I’m learning from my clients is that they’ll go to the doctor knowing they have strep throat, but then the doctor will give them a diet to follow and even allude that it’s because of their size that they got strep throat. No, we don’t get strep throat from our body size. That doesn’t happen. What people will do is they will avoid things. They’ll avoid medical care. They may avoid relationships. And just by looking a little bit further down the road, you can see how that ends up becoming an issue where certain bodies then are prized and certain bodies are marginalized. Fat bodies have become marginalized in our world and that does not promote health. We know marginalization of people who are not supported promotes high blood pressure, high cholesterol and all these things that we think is behind weight. That’s just really unfortunate.
It’s going to take a while and even for me I’ve had to really sit with some really uncomfortable things that I’ve done and said about larger bodies and that feels really awful. Besides being a dietician, I’m also a counsellor and there’s a term called “cognitive dissonance”. It was something I learned a lot about in my counselling training and I have a feeling you did too in your pastoral training. Sitting with that uncomfortable feeling of believing one thing and also believing in another thing that conflict with each other and you are kind of forced to choose a side. I think that’s where we are right now. We have to decide, are we going to support all bodies to get dignified care and life access? Or are we going to keep pushing this narrative that weight loss is the most important thing?
You use a certain term on your website and in your work called, “Food Peace”. What does food peace mean?
Food peace is really a journey of coming home to your body and feeling safe there. It’s a process of unlearning what the diet industry has seduced us with and relearning to eat according to what we were born with. Our body was born with knowing how to maintain our health and how to know when something is fearful or not safe. We are born having these instincts. We are also born knowing how to live in harmony and balance and be energized. But again, we’ve had this seduction and we start to think, “Oh, we need to eat this way. We can’t trust ourselves.” So, unlearning this process, it starts with moving away from diets. I call this the step of body respect and even if we still want to weigh less or we can’t accept our body, it’s okay. It’s just finding a way to just come to terms that diets haven’t worked for an individual. And again, it’s worked for some people but not for everyone. And for most people listening, they’re going to be like, “Oh, yup. I’ve tried everything and I’ve yo-yo dieted my whole life.”
Even if a person wants to weigh less, it’s about coming to this place of, “I just need to respect my body for at least three to six months and sit with the weight science and really explore it from my own history.” What often comes from this place is a lot of anger. I know a lot of your listeners are women and for those of us socialized as girls and women, we often are taught to not handle anger very well. I’m even tiptoeing around it right now. We’re taught that it’s not okay to be angry and it can feel weird and uncomfortable but it’s this process of releasing the anger that doesn’t belong on us. We didn’t cause this problem to our body. It’s these systems. And so, naming those systems like we’re doing in this conversation, can really help with that release. From there, food peace then looks like repairing how your brain and your body responds to food and reconnecting to those systems we were born with. And then, because this is a social justice issue, food peace is also about rallying around other people who are also doing this work and other people who are invested in body liberation, body positivity and supporting other people and marginalized bodies to find access to food peace.
When you’re talking about body positivity and food peace, my mind automatically thinks about the way that I was brought up. I was brought up in a conservative home and we really didn’t talk about our bodies that much. The way that you’re talking about bodies is much more of a comfortable approach. How would you describe the way that you talk about bodies? Have you always talked about bodies that way? Or is that something that developed over time in your life? Did you grow up in a home that was comfortable talking about these things?
I was brought up in a conservative home as well and I also went to conservative schooling. I was lucky and privileged in many ways because again, I’ve always been in a smaller body, I’m white and cisgendered. There’s a lot of things that I’ve never really had to struggle with. I was also brought up in a home where dieting wasn’t really talked about. There was some talk of certain bodies being better than others, but nothing else. There was no deep introspection on, “Trust your body,” or anything like that. So, that’s something that has really developed over time and thankfully I’ve been able to stand on the shoulders of other people who’ve been able to help me to understand what it looks like to feel more liberated in one’s body and what people would need. I have to listen a lot to people who have different life experiences but certainly, it’s something that’s developed over the last twenty years and by studying other people.
Here’s the thing, even if those of us who are brought up in conservative kind of places or people who were brought up in progressive places, fat phobia or the marginalization of larger bodies happens in every house. The demarginalization is not something that you’ll find in most places yet and that is sad to me because even in the most sacred places, if we go to church, I often will hear the person behind the microphone talking about diets or wanting to be thinner or making fun of bodies. Or if we go to a yoga or mediation class, it’s often talked about. Even if we want to go to the movies, fat phobia and making fun of fat bodies is a really great joke. It’s an easy joke, right?
It takes a lot of studying and learning and I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of us who do this work have either come from a place where we were taught how to diet or it was normal and we’re trying to break that pattern. No matter what kind of house you came from, it’s possible. Especially if your listeners tend to have a more conservative foundation, there are people who work in this realm who have a more conservative look, using maybe a Christian based or Bible based method who do this work. If that is the kind of conservative that you’re talking about, I’m happy to share any of those resources if you or your listeners are wanting to know more about that.
There is a book that I know was super popular since the mid-nineties and it’s all about eating intuitively. What does it mean to eat intuitively? How would that help us develop food peace?
Intuitive Eating was written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. Evelyn Tribole actually lives in Orange County near you. It was written by two dieticians in the mid-nineties, like you said, and intuitive eating is this method that has ten principals. It’s become kind of like this Bible of eating disorder recovery and coming back to yourself. It is known most for eating according to hunger and stopping when we’re full. But of their ten principals, those are only two of them. The foundation of intuitive eating is something that’s really important, and that is unconditional permission to eat. Unconditional permission to eat whatever food you have around.
Oh, my. What the heck?
I know, isn’t that so scary? It’s almost laughable, right? It’s the thing that most people get tripped up on but it’s the most important and the shortest step in the process. It seems the most ludicrous, but what we know from food research is, that it’s really important. If you want to have a really nice deep sleep, but for someone like me it’s super exciting, it’s food habituation research. This is where people study how often someone is exposed to a food and how their brain or their body or their mood is reacting to that food. When we have a food like pizza, pizza is something that people often feel like, “Oh, I can’t eat pizza.” It’s too scary and when you eat it one time and you haven’t had it for six months, it’s like, “Oh, my Lord. I need to eat lots of pizza,” and the person can’t stop. That’s really normal because from food habituation research, what they’ve found is the more a person is exposed to food, the more boring that food becomes.
This kind of dips into food addiction research and food addiction research in the beginning was really exciting because it was like, “Oh, my, look at this. Our body responds to sugar,” or any other foods that they’re researching, “Just like cocaine or heroin.” When we looked at the research however, they were not controlling for certain variables. Again, this becomes very technical because we tend to have to go down to the nuance level, but in the end what we found is that research wasn’t controlling for habituation. So, if someone was not allowing certain foods like chocolate and then they were exposed to it, of course it was like heroin to their brain. But if they were allowed around that food and they had access to it and they had unconditional permission to eat the food, then it wasn’t that big of a deal. It doesn’t mean that we don’t enjoy it but it is just not as exciting.
Now, the other thing people often bring up is, if I can eat as much chocolate or pizza or whatever food that a person really feels addicted to, “I’m going to be so unhealthy. That’s going to affect my blood sugar and things like that.” What’s really important to keep in mind is that if a person only ate pizza every day, all day long, they’re going to feel pretty awful. Wouldn’t you think?
Pizza is probably the number one food that you see in food habituation research because a lot of the research is done on college campuses. I remember when I was in college that a free meal of pizza was the draw of all draws for anything. So, they recruit students by saying, “If you come, we’ll give you free pizza for dinner.” What they found is that eventually people didn’t want it anymore. It became something that made them feel gross. And so, when we don’t blame ourselves for not being able to stop eating it and instead just notice how our body responds, we’ll be able to self-regulate in the way that’s best for us. Also, it’s different because to a fifteen year old, eating a whole pizza is going to feel a lot different than me at forty-four eating a whole pizza. I’m going to feel awful. One piece, I feel great. Two pieces, I’m okay. Three pieces, “I don’t feel good anymore.” That’s just me and my body, but when I was fifteen, it was energizing all the way.
Intuitive eating really is relying more on your body and having permission to do that. It gets kind of hairy when we think about social justice issues like access to food and poverty. And so, that unconditional permission also has to also do with, “Hey, you only have boxed macaroni and cheese for the next week because that’s all you have in your budget,” and that’s okay. Getting enough fuel is the most important thing. That’s an issue that we can talk about for hours and hours but it’s really important to have that peace. I know that unconditional permission is a tripped up place, but it’s very important.
That’s fascinating. I’ve lost a lot of weight, probably thousands of pounds over the years but when I was losing this weight that I most recently lost, I lost the weight primarily by eliminating a lot of breads from my diet; breads, fried foods and sweets. I don’t eat a lot of sweets but I love fried foods and breads. A number of years ago when I cut out breads for the first time, I realized that I could eat a large meal and if it didn’t have bread, I did not feel heavy or bloated or weighted afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, I love bread, I love pizza. I love all of those things but when I eat it, I feel bad. I feel bloated inside versus I could have that same hamburger wrapped in lettuce instead of bread and feel completely different. I love the way that the bread tastes. I love whatever it does to my brain but what it does to my body within fifteen to thirty minutes, I don’t like that. But I see my son, he’s sixteen and he can eat massive amounts of pizza. I used to be able to do that and I didn’t even feel bad. What is that? Now I’m forty-six and I eat it and I feel horrible. Why is that? Can you explain to me what’s going on in my body?
Here’s the thing, none of us are getting out of here alive, right? All of our bodies are changing, we’re getting older and that’s not a bad thing but our body, in order to survive getting older, it goes through changes. When we’re in a place of growth during adolescence and through our twenties, because they’re finding now, we go through adolescence until at least twenty-five, our body uses the insulin differently because it is a growth hormone. We’re needing to grow. I’m almost forty-four, so in our forties, our body just doesn’t need it in the same way. What is really interesting is everyone is different in that regard. I think what you have found with eating certain foods and them making you feel bloated, there could be many different things going on with that but restriction of carbohydrates ends up releasing a ton of fluid in our body. Then when we eat bread again, you’ll find that the glycogen stores that get fueled end up bringing some water with it. That leads to a puffiness and it’ll be softer around our stomach area, but that’s doesn’t necessarily means there’s more adipose tissue there. It’s just that it’s more hydrated and our body’s prepared for a time where we may need a spurt of energy if we need to run from a lion or something like that. It’s our primal kind of brain.
As time goes on, our body just doesn’t need the same amount and so, our eating does evolve. When we stay connected to it, it’s not this violent assault of, “Oh, we must omit it all.” For some people, they’re so afraid, especially our teenagers. They’re unfortunately hearing from us that we need to be afraid of getting old because our body doesn’t use the food the same and how horrible that is. But when we teach people to just trust their body to tell them what they need, there ends up being a more gradual kind of change. For my clients, especially people with this polycystic ovarian syndrome who have very high insulin levels, the insulin level changes and you’re noticing how that feels in your body. This is probably behind what I think you’re experiencing – not the PCOS, but the insulin changes.
I hope I don’t have PCOS. That would be…
Well, there is a male version that they’re studying at this point. So, I think there is another one. But we all have insulin and what happens is for many of them, they’re told that they should cut out carbs and sugar to treat that condition because of the insulin. But really it feels like torture for them to do that because when we have insulin that high, it makes every cell in our body crave carbohydrates and it’s a very primal kind of thing. It’s not just you and I having a craving. It’s like, “I’m going to die if I don’t have it.” And so, when we find ways to lower insulin, for a lot of my clients once their insulin levels are lower, they don’t want many carbs and it’s not from a place of, “I can’t have it.” It’s just that while eating it, it may taste good but about ten minutes after eating they feel sluggish and have no energy and, “I can’t do that and go to work.” So, they may have a slice of cake at a wedding because it’s a wedding and it’s exciting and it doesn’t matter if they’re tired afterwards but having it in the middle of the day when they have to go to court and do something where they have to think or be on their feet, they’re not going to want to have it then because it’s going to make them tired and not be on their A game. It’s coming from a different place.
So, the permission is still there but you begin to think, “But do I want it?” And it sounds like you’ve come to this place of, “I don’t like how I feel.” What may end up happening, if it comes from a place of restriction and punishment, eventually the time away from carbohydrates might make you feel like you want them more. Carbohydrates in particular, is one that neurologically, we are wired to crave. If you think about any culture around the globe, carbohydrates are the foundation. I think about rice in Asian countries. I’m half Irish and potatoes. I live in the South with biscuits. We have carbohydrates everywhere, right? What happens is when our body is not getting enough glucose to our brain – we need 40 to 60% of our energy every day in the form of glucose for our brain or we go brain dead while we sleep. So, what our brain will do is release this chemical called “neuropeptide Y” that tells every cell in our body to crave carbohydrates.
As we get older, we don’t need as much so the craving won’t be as high but eventually it will add up. For my clients, what I encourage them to do when they’re in a place of worrying, “Well, I need to be able to go to weddings and eat the cake. I need to have permission to be flexible because I can’t be all or nothing with it,” then we practice allowing it and let their body go through the reaction, which is exciting but also scary. The reaction can be uncontrolled eating or binging and that’s just the normal reaction to a deprived brain and that neuropeptide Y. Over time with permission, it does go away.
So, what if I don’t want to diet? I’ve tried dieting in the past but yet I don’t like the way that my body looks? You can call it cultural, you can call it personal, but I just don’t like the way my body looks. What would you suggest if I don’t want to diet?
Most people I work with are in that place. They’re in that place of, “I don’t want to diet anymore because the thought of going on another diet is just exhausting, scary and I know it’s not going to work. But I don’t like my body. I hate my body.” I think it’s important to question, “When did you learn that your body was wrong? Who did you learn it from? How long have you known this? And what’s the reason behind it?” And it’s going to be different for everyone. People of color. People who are living in poverty. People who are in a larger body. It’s going to be different then someone who looks more like me who is white and financially able to have some flexibility. It’s going to be a different kind of experience to move away from diets.
What I often will use as my bartering, “Hey, just try this for a little bit. Let yourself not diet for three to six months. Try to do some of the work of healing.” And again, it’s more about respecting your body and sitting with the weight science I was talking about earlier. It’s acknowledging that your body shouldn’t have to be tortured to experience health. It’s about coming to peace with maybe this is what your body is going to look like. I don’t know what it will look like on the other side. Some people’s weights go down with this but some peoples don’t and some people’s body weights go up. It just kind of depends. We can’t predict it. For now, it’s almost like, “What can you do just to stop pursuing weight loss?” And then learning about where you got all this information from. From there, I believe in body autonomy. People get to decide what they want to do next. So, if they want to diet, they want to diet. And if they’re wanting to take another step, “I’ll hold your hand. Let’s just do the next step as big or as little as you want to go, to help you feel more at home in your skin, whatever your skin or suit looks like.”
So much of what you’re talking about feels like a lack of peace. If I don’t like my body, if I’m restricting, that’s so non-peaceful. That’s so stressful. It feels like so much anxiety in the way that I’m eating but also in the way that I perceive my body. I recognize as you’re talking, I’m thinking, “Yeah, I have some lack of peace in my life about my body,” and I’m wondering what percentage of our culture has a lack of peace when it comes to their food and their bodies. That percentage has got to be 99.5%.
At least 99%. I haven’t met anybody yet who feels totally okay in their body all of the time. I don’t think we live in a world that allows that anymore, which makes this very complicated. That’s why that unconditional permission to eat concept is so hard. We really are having to give up a lot to do that. And you know, the thing I think is tricky about what you’re talking about and the chaotic side of dealing and living with food in this kind of diet-y way, is in the beginning it’s not like that, right? I feel like the beginning of a diet is exciting and there’s almost this calm that comes over you. It’s hopeful and again, I always think it’s seductive. It’s, “Ooh, if I do this, everything’s going to fit into place. I’m going to get XYZ. I’m going to finally be healthy,” maybe that’s part of it. Or, “I’m going to find a partner.” “I’m going to get a job.” “I’m going to get noticed.” Or, “I’m going to be able to go travel the world because there will be seats to accommodate my body.” So, I think in the beginning it feels really nice but then continuing on, usually about the sixth month in – to some people it’s more like three months into a diet, it can become quite uncomfortable and chaotic and certainly by the year mark, again, for at least 80% of people it’s going to feel chaotic, like you said. And then to have to do that over and over again, that is exhausting.
Right, the diet basically allows me to feel like I’m in control and then when I don’t feel like I can control it anymore, that’s where I feel like the anxiety and stress and chaos comes in.
Yes, I call that the “should eat fantasy compliance”. It’s like that’s the villain here. We feel like we should behave a certain way and if we just follow these rules and comply, we will have all the things we want. If we just comply, we’ll be able to get it. It’s like this monster that’s basically convinced us all to do it and it’s going to give us everything we want. But in reality, it just makes us feel awful.
When you scroll through social media, see advertisements on billboards, open up a magazine or watch a movie and you see this messaging – because the messaging that you’re talking about is everywhere, how do you personally deal with that? How do you process that?
It’s exhausting and the most challenging part for me is the fact that I have two children; they are eleven and six. They’re learning about diet culture and how certain bodies are prized over others but I’ve also taught them to spot those things and they’ll name it when they hear certain bodies being made fun of in a movie and they’ll want to walk out. They don’t want to hear it. Just like how we would hear other kind of bigotry and not be okay with it. But yet, it’s really, really hard. I do go to therapy. I get supervision, which is a therapist getting your own therapy through someone helping you do better therapy.
I do a lot of my own work and I rest a lot. I take naps and I make sure that I have time in the day to just sit and be. And honestly, I don’t read a lot of magazines. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I don’t use a lot of the media that is going to make my body feel less than. I’m starting to get more exposed to feeling not at home in my skin because of the aging process and I don’t like that. I want to stay in my body and stay embodied, so I just don’t want to consume that kind of media. It doesn’t mean that I don’t consume a lot. Honestly, when it comes down to it, lots of books, whether they’re like just regular novels or self-help books, that stuff’s in there and it’s disappointing. It also means that there’s a lot of work to do and I will work as long as I want. There’s lots and lots of stuff to do.
One of the things that you’ve mentioned in our conversation is polycystic ovarian syndrome. I know you have an online course that helps people that are experiencing that. Can you just re-explain what PCOS is and how your course might be able to help someone who’s dealing with that?
Polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS is an endocrine disorder that has metabolic and reproductive consequences. A lot of people connect it with infertility because it’s the number one cause of ovulatory infertility. It also affects things like mood because it starts in the hypothalamus. It’s mostly genetic but unfortunately because insulin levels are involved, a lot of people end up being at higher weights and they’re told that they should just lose weight to treat it. Or their weight changes and no one investigates to see if this condition is going on. It ends up perpetuating this really torturous cycle with food and exercise and people literally practice an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa in order to treat the condition but they still feel crummy.
When I started specializing in eating disorders, after I finished my degree in counselling and had been practicing as a dietician for a while, that’s all I really wanted to work in but I kept seeing these people with PCOS and I’m like, “I need to figure out what to do.” So, I came up with this twelve step system where I help people promote health with PCOS and help them move away from diets at the same time. It’s an online course that a person can just download and do whenever they want. There’s monthly Q&A calls, so we can have check-ins. But because I’ve been working with people individually, it’s really cool to see people going through these twelve steps all over the world and be able to feel more at home in their own skin. I love that they can basically show to their doctor, whether or not they lose weight, they’re like, “My fertility is improving. I have more energy. Insulin levels are down. I don’t have diabetes.” All these things that they’ve been so afraid of, they’re able to find ways to treat it without dieting and really healing instead. And so, if anyone is interested, there’s more information on it at www.pcosandfoodpeace.com.
If somebody maybe hasn’t been tested for PCOS, is there a test?
It’s more a combination of symptoms? Is that how it’s diagnosed?
Yes, so far it is. It’s unfortunately a really poorly understood condition. One in five of those who are biologically female at birth or named as female at birth are affected by this condition. It’s something that a lot of people experience and unfortunately not a lot of research dollars are going into it. But for right now, it’s really just a set of symptoms and a diagnosis of exclusion, which that stinks in itself. But if someone has signs of high androgens, where their testosterone levels are high or other androgen levels are high and they may have extra hair on their face or losing hair on their head, that’s a sign of it. Also, there are issues with fertility or their periods or things like that, that’s another sign of it. If you go to my website www.juliedillonrd.com/pcos, you’ll find some more information about how to actually figure out if you have it or not. Or what to take to your doctor to see if you have it.
Great, and I know that you also have a specialized version of the course for dieticians.
I do, yeah.
We’ll make sure that we link to both of those for people. Julie, I’m very intrigued by your work. I think what you’re doing is great. Do you take clients from a distance? Or do you only work with people locally?
That’s great, if you’re listening and if you sense that you might have an eating disorder or if you are wanting to deal with intuitive eating and developing food peace in your life, we want you to get in contact with Julie.
Julie, wow, look at you. You are doing amazing things in the world. Helping us all feel better about ourselves and getting healthy and not dieting. No more dieting. You can eat whatever you want. I’m going to go have something fried today for lunch.
Then let your body tell you how you experience it.
I’m going to feel horrible except when I’m eating it’s going to be so fun. I joke with my wife except I know this is not a joke. I know it’s very serious but my sense of humor is a little off. It’s a little whacky. If you listen to any of our episodes, I’ll usually ask something crazy. But I told my wife after we eat a big meal, “You know, I should really start throwing up afterwards. I don’t know what you call that, but I think that would be good for me because then I could eat more.” And then she just says, “No”.
You know, that’s seriously one of the worst things a person could do and it doesn’t work anyway. That’s a serious pathological condition. The part of the brain giving you that as an option is actually a part of chronic dieting.
Oh, my gosh. Now you’re diagnosing me. Look at this, you’re coming after me now.
Sometimes our humor tells us our answers.
Alright, well, I’m going to go suck on some celery. Julie, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much.