I really had to pinch myself when Kelsey Miller replied to my insta message agreeing to be part of my ‘A 5 minute juice with…’ series! At the beginning of March I read her book ‘Big Girl: How I gave up dieting and got a life’. Undoubtedly one of the most moving reads for me in a long time, the words elucidated a whole range of emotions from laughter to shedding a tear or two. I both learnt from, and could relate to Kelsey’s story and felt touched by her honest accounts of body dissatisfaction, yoyo dieting and letting food take over her life!
Having been named a Body Image Hero by The Huffington Post I was desperate to speak to Kelsey about her journey, what she’s learnt from ditching diets, how she practices intuitive eating and her views on the pressures of social media. We juiced…..
So Kelsey, you’re allowed to invite 5 other people to dinner, they can be absolutely anyone you like fictional, real, past, present, who would they be?
I have to come up with a better answer for this question. Whenever someone asks me about my “fantasy dinner guests” I panic, as if it’s really going to happen and I’d better not screw this up. For now, I’m going to say: Emma Woodhouse to make the intros and keep the conversation going, Marcella Hazan to make the food, Anne Boleyn to gossip with, Garry Winogrand to take the pictures, and my friend Jon to keep me company.
I am the biggest fan of your book “Big Girl, how I ditched the diet and got a life.” Can you tell our readers a little bit about it and the incredible journey you’ve been on?
Thank you! Well, without giving too much away, I was a lifelong dieter whose life was dictated by the scale, the size of my dress, and how many calories/carbs/points I had left on any given day. I hit bottom at 29 — just ran out of the ability to do it anymore. So, I had to find a new way to eat and to live. But, as ever, it wasn’t just about the food. Big Girl is about what happened when I had to untangle food from everything else in my life.
Intuitive eating is becoming a more popular term. However, I do worry people that people endorse “eat intuitively” without know what it really means or what it might mean to others in different contexts. What has intuitive eating come to mean for you and how has it helped you?
Well, I think intuitive eating allows for a degree of interpretation and adaptation, but I agree with you that it can (and often is) misused by people who think they can define it however they want. You see a lot of people who, early on in the process, try to turn it into another form of dieting, for example. It’s a slippery slope. Simply put, intuitive eating is diet deprogramming. It’s an approach that’s meant to teach you how to eat like a normal person (recognizing that normalized eating isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing), without the influence of diet culture. It’s also sometimes used in the treatment of eating disorders. It relies on fundamental principles like permission to eat and honoring hunger. It sounds vaguely crunchy and new age-y, but it’s really just about getting back in touch with your most basic instincts and common sense about food.
Do you think the journey would have been possible without your intuitive eating coach Theresa? In other words, can we really just be telling people to eat intuitively?
Oh, no, I needed help and structure. I definitely think it’s possible to learn and practice intuitive eating without a coach, simply by reading the book and doing your own research. But that really depends on what kind of learner you are, how deeply rooted your issues are, how much time and energy you have to invest in this, etc. I knew I was the kind of person who would just put the book down and walk away. I knew my well-honed denial mechanism and my total lack of self-trust would undermine me. I needed Theresa, for sure, and I’m so damn lucky I was able to work with her. (That said, not everyone can feasibly work with an eating coach, and I want to add that there are a lot of groups and other resources that can provide structure if you need it. Check out the intuitive eating online community!)
In your book, you describe your relationship with food as disordered.
So often today however, when people with “eating disorders” visit their GP, they are turned away unless they’re underweight and have a low BMI. What are your thoughts on this and do you think it’s a problem?
Absolutely. We have a cultural idea of what a disordered eater looks like, and those who don’t match that image often slip through the cracks. It’s not just larger-bodied people either. So many people with eating disorders look “normal,” and because they’re often masters at keeping the disordered behavior hidden (and because there are symptoms that might not show up during a routine physical) I think primary care physicians often miss these cases. Furthermore, I don’t know that it would occur to many people that they should even bring this up with their regular doctor, even if they did want to seek help. Again, our cultural concept of ED means that we often treat these disorders differently from other medical issues. They are, of course, in many ways, but that doesn’t mean a medical doctor can’t and shouldn’t be screening for them. I highly recommend that everyone who grew up watching those Lifetime movies about ED read Kelsey Osgood’s book, How To Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia. It gives incredible insight on this issue and it’s an absolutely fascinating read.
Kelsey in the book you talk a lot about how low body confidence stopped you from living life to the full, what advice would you give anyone who feels inhibited by their body shape?
This is hard, because you can’t really talk someone out of this mindset. At least, I know I couldn’t have been talked out of it. The best thing I could say is: Don’t wait. Stop waiting, right now. Your life is flying by whether you like it or not, so oh my God, do not wait for your body to look any particular way before you start living your life. Bodies change. Confidence comes and goes. If you have to fake it, fake it. Just go outside and live.
As a child your carers often gave you food as a treat or emotional support. What advice might you give to parents bringing up young children, especially in an age where social media will likely only make us feel more insecure?
I’m always nervous giving advice to parents because I’m not yet one myself. And I cannot imagine how hard it is to handle all this food and body business as a parent. The first thing I would say is, I’m 1000% sure you’re doing your best. Other than that, I think probably the best advice would be to just work on these issues within yourself. Kids (and adults, honestly) pick up on the behavior modeled for them, and that’s a much stronger influence than the instructions they’re given.
Your book touches on some poignant examples of fat stigma for example with the acting agency and sex in the city internship. What do you think society can do as a collective to value everybody shape?
Oy. Well, first thing’s first: We need to individually start confronting our own unconscious bias. We can have all the plus-size models and fat TV characters we want, but nothing is ever really going to change until and unless we all shine a light on those ugly internalized biases within ourselves. Let’s start with that and take it from there.
In the book Harry sounds like an absolute hero, and kind, tentative and loyal partner. However, so often we cultivate our bodies to be deemed sexually desirable. What have you learnt from being with someone who loves you for you?
I think the first and biggest lesson I learned is that you actually can love another person before you love yourself — but it’s really uncomfortable for both of you. If you don’t do the work of accepting yourself, you’ll be in a constant battle with your romantic partner. It’s the worst. Self-acceptance is hard, but no, it’s not as hard as creating intimacy with someone when you cannot stand to be looked at, let alone touched.
Part the way through the book you get instagram! What advice would you give to any young girls feeling the pressure of social media and beauty culture?
Social media gets a lot of (well deserved) heat for the way it makes us compare ourselves to one another, and constantly focus on appearance. But I think Instagram in particular can be a pretty powerful tool that can be used for good as well. I really curate my feed to make sure that, if I’m staring at my phone all day, at least I’m staring the kind of world I’d like to see. I want to see diversity of all kinds, I want to see things that aren’t retouched, glammed up faces, or even faces at all. I want to be reminded of how large and old the world is, and I want to be reminded that there are people out there who share my values. I would suggest that anyone — young kids, older adults — be mindful of the visuals they put in front of themselves. Use these platforms to show yourself a world you’d like to see, and to remind yourself of all the people and experiences that are different from you and yours.
Kelsey started her writing career as Refinery29’s first staff writer, eventually rising to the role of Senior Features Writer. There, she founded The Anti-Diet Project, one of the website’s most successful franchises. She is the writer behind some of Refinery29’s most popular and recognized stories on a variety of topics, as well as a creative leader in such groundbreaking initiatives as The 67% Project. She remains a senior contributor to the website, while now writing for other outlets in print and online as well.