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**trigger warning – food pictures and descriptions below**

One thing I’ve been trying to do this summer is get back to back to eating in a way that lines up more closely with my ethical system. Obviously, there is the veganism. But, there are other things too – like going to the farmer’s market, eating organic (or, as organic as I can afford), focusing on whole foods (by which I mean unprocessed foods, not the store), aaaaaannnnnd cooking!!! Cooking is still largely overwhelming to me. Something about combining ingredients and trying to count it all creates very high levels of anxiety, confusion, etc. Portioning is also difficult, so I eat more pre-portioned things than I would like, because of the trash associated with it. But, I figure, the first aim is that the food has to get into my body, and for now if that means I have some frozen Amy’s meals or some pre-portioned things, I’m going to let that be okay.

I am, however, making progress now that it’s summer. I have more time to plan food, deal with the anxiety, go to farmer’s markets, etc. One thing I’ve learned is that when I reincoporate something back into my diet – tempeh, most recently – I need to eat it a few days in a row if it’s going to “stick.” Also, as an incentive to cook, I bought myself a new cast-iron skillet. For a while, I wouldn’t let myself cook in cast-iron because it’s the “best/healthiest” way to cook because supposedly you actually get more iron in your diet that way.

With cooking, if I stick to whole, vegan ingredients (and not too many ingredients or it gets overwhelming), I’m actually starting to get some enjoyment out of it again. And I’m actually starting to feel good about what I’m putting in my body. I had forgotten what this felt like.

So, for example, one of my new favs to cook is a vegan tofu scramble:

It includes: lite firm tofu, tomatoes, cilantro, onions, mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, Spike seasoning, Bragg’s essential aminos, garlic, dried basil, Daiya vegan “cheese” sprinkled on top (gotta get that endurance fuel!*)

This is a meal that I have come to feel good about. At some point I need to be able to use regular (not lite) tofu, and oil (not just pan spray), but this is a big step. I hadn’t let myself eat this (too nourishing) in probably a year or so. Maybe a bit more. Now it’s pretty thoroughly reincorporated.

And then there’s traveling when vegan and in recovery. I’m going to D.C. for a few days and I have absolutely no idea what the food situation will be, the availability of vegan food, etc. So, my RD and I did some planning. My packing chaos looks like this:

Let’s just say: 8 soymilks to stand-in for supplements, some granola (new food!), vegan Luna bars, vegan Clif bar & Clif zbars, fruit leather, Annie’s vegan gummy bunnies (new food!), chocolate covered soy nuts (new food! And yes, I’m super annoyed they’re south beach as well), vegan nu go bars (my fav protein bar), vegan wheat crackers, primal strips (vegan jerky), electrolyte water (no dehydration for me!). This is more than I would normally take for four days, but since the availability of vegan food is questionable at best, I am prepared for a worst-case scenario in which I have significant trouble meeting my nutritional needs at meals. Some of these foods are highly processed (the bars, ahem), but overall, they’re foods that I feel good about putting in my body and I feel secure knowing that I have the means to stick to vegan foods so that I don’t have to deal with the anxiety/frustration/disappointment in straying from that.

So, I’ve been thinking about veganism and the role that it plays in my recovery – specifically in regard to choice. First and foremost, let me reiterate: I am an ethical vegan. My veganism extends beyond my food choices – I don’t wear animal products (leather, wool, silk), and all of my personal care products (shampoo, soap, shaving cream, make-up, etc.) are vegan. But, in the eating disorder world, veganism is often equated with restricting (Aimee Liu makes this mistake in Gaining, a book which I otherwise thoroughly LOVE). Yes, being vegan limits your choices. If you’re not vegan, think about your favorite restaurant. Think about what options on the menu would and would not be viable if you’re vegan.

This is what gets a lot of people up in arms. The response often is, “You just want to be vegan so you can restrict!” Of course there are some people who are ill who use veganism/vegetarianism in that way. But, the restriction is not about the vegetarianism. It’s about the eating disorder. And if one is going to actively engage in the eating disorder, one is going to actively engage. Claiming veganism might make it a bit harder to spot to other people, but the restriction is about the eating disorder, not the veganism, and if one is determined, it will happen, vegan or not.

So, let’s think about dopamine now. One of the posts that I linked in my last post – Structured on the ED Bites blog by Carrie Arnold – discusses the fact that people recovering from Anorexia Nervosa often need a meal plan because our brains process dopamine differently, and therefore we have very little gauge of whether we are making “the right” decision. So, without that internal gauge of “Yes, this is good” or “No, this is harmful,” decision making can quickly become overwhelming. So, that’s why many patients may find it helpful to have a meal plan to help them structure and guide the the decision making process. Carrie Arnold also talks about how choices often need to be limited – the example that she uses is that instead of saying “What kind of grain would you like with dinner?,” it might be more helpful for someone recovering from anorexia to be asked “Would you like rice or pasta?” (I think that this must be partially why grocery stores are so daunting for so many of us. SUCH an overabundance of options.  – What do I choose? Am I making the right choice? How do I know? Should I get this or this . . . or this . . . or that?!) I’ve seen my RD use this tactic with people when they’re struggling with meeting their meal plan in nutrition group – if they need more, she just comes over to them with a couple of options and says “Choose one” or “Choose two.” Or, she might say, “Would you like nuts or a supplement?” But it’s never, “How do you want to make up for that?” because . . . so many options! How would one know what decision to make?

So, what if the structure of veganism isn’t bad? For me, the fact that being vegan often pares down an overwhelming abundance of choice is really, really helpful. Sometimes when I go to strictly vegan restaurants, I get someone paralyzed by the multitude of choices (What do I get? What if I don’t choose the right thing? What if I think I know what I want, but I don’t? What if I want something else after I’ve already ordered? What if I want two things? How do I pick? Etc., etc.) It’s too much; I can’t gauge if I’m making the right choice. I think that further into recovery, this will improve as I keep having healthy choices externally reinforced by my treatment team. And it’s better than it used to be. But, what if one of the fringe benefits of ethical veganism is helping reduce the anxiety of overwhelming choice? What if veganism *in recovery* actually makes eating more manageable, not more restrictive? What if people with eating disorders are actually capable of having ethical/spiritual/moral beliefs that affect what they good about putting in their bodies, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post?

What if the fact that so many people go through at least a “phase” of vegetarianism in recovery is about making overwhelming choices more manageable? What if those of us in recovery need ongoing methods to help structure our decision-making? Is that really so bad?

I was catching up on my google reader (I’m WAY behind, clearly) and saw that the executive director of my treatment center got coverage on the ED Bites blog, by the wonderful Carrie Arnold. (I’m sure some of you follow this blog; it’s a well-known one!) In fact, she liked her presentation at the 2010 Salzburg International Conference on Eating Disorders so much that she dedicated two posts to it. Yay!

Post #1 is on “The Noisy Brain,” eating disorders, and eating disorder recovery. Found here: ed-bites.blogspot.com/2010/06/noisy-brain.html

Post #2 is on the need for structure and meal plans in anorexia recovery specifically, and it talks about how neurochemistry impacts decision-making, etc. Found here: ed-bites.blogspot.com/2010/06/structured.html

I commented on the entries, under this blogger name – Sayhealth. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I feel so absent! I have so much that I want to write about, but alas, midterms hit last week. For me, that meant my own midterms as well as grading student papers! It’s been a bit daunting. But, I think I’m in the clear – at least for another week or so.

I’m off to a conference later today – The National Women’s Studies Association – in Atlanta. wOOt! Come on, weather in the 70s! 🙂 Hopefully it also means I’ll have some downtime to blog. Some things I’m thinking about – ideas sparked from other blogs (Surfacing after Silence and When Ed Moved In) as well as some things that have come up in support group, with friends, etc – are:

– The role of humor in e.d. treatment and recovery.

– Eating disorders as a “choice”

– Eating disorders, eating disorder recovery, and identity.

– Importance of liking, and feeling liked by, treatment providers.

I’m also WAAAAY behind on reading blogs, so I suspect I’ll be thinking about more as I catch up. And I still need to reply to a couple of comments on my last post! If any of these topics pique your interest, or if you have any thoughts about them, please let me know!

Well, actually I’m not. I’d like to, but I don’t have a horse. Also, I don’t really know how to ride. I’ve only done it a handful of times, and I’m *still* amazed that I didn’t bounce right out of the seat when I hit a canter.

I want to address this article about eating disorders and equine assisted psychotherapy (EAP) that is circulating the internet at an impressively fast rate!

First, let me locate myself so that you know where I’m coming from. I have not participated in EAP. Do I think it would be beneficial for me? Absolutely. Do I think I can recover without it? Of course. Though EAP might be helpful for me personally, I know I can recover without it because I recognize that EAP is one tool among many for treating people with eating disorders, and not a primary treatment. Though I’ve never worked with animals as a client, I am very interested in the use of therapy animals to promote healing. There’s a very good chance that I will incorporate animals into my own clinical practice someday.

What shocks me about this article is not it’s skepticism – many people are skeptical of EAP, and I think that’s largely because it’s true that not a whole lot of research has been done on it. However, not a whole lot of research has been done on the use of DBT with people with eating disorders,* and yet the author of the article is willing to jump on board with that (he even considers it an empirically-supported treatment, even as he recognizes that the empirical evidence has serious holes). No, what shocks me is that people are backing this article even though the author has a very clear, very strong bias. I know that science isn’t bias-free. I absolutely think our cultural and individual values will influence what we find and what we look for.

But, really, in this article, in the *third* sentence, he describes the reaction of him and his wife as “appalled.” Okay, he’s not a fan. I get it. But, seriously, if this article were on DBT and the author made such a strong, negative pre-judgement about the use of that therapy, I’d hope that people would be as skeptical of the author’s biased viewpoint as they are of the therapy. Or at least, I hope they’d take it with a salt lick.

He makes the point that EAP is said to be helpful for a wide-range of mental illnesses. Perhaps this is presumptuous. Perhaps it is not. It’s hard to say without the research. But, CBT has been shown to be effective for a whole host of mental illnesses, and yet that’s not questioned in the same way. And yes, we have research to support CBT. But CBT did not magically become effective when the research said it was. It was ALREADY effective, just like EAP might be. Maybe EAP is effective for some disorders, maybe not for others. Maybe it’s effective for some clients, but not for others. But what is the harm in having more therapeutic tools and experiences at our disposal? And have we considered that perhaps there’s not a whole lot of research on EAP because it’s so often stigmatized, or delegitimized before its researched? (This is not the first article I’ve seen like this recently.)

The thing is, EAP, like DBT actually, is not meant to be a “first-line” therapy in the treatment of eating disorders. It is meant to supplement other modes of treatment. And yes, there is not a lot of evidence for that. And, at the same time, it doesn’t take a whole lot of expertise to look around and see that for some, working with or being in the presence of animals helps them to open up in ways that they might generally feel unsafe doing. Obviously this is not true of everyone, and just like every treatment method used for eating disorders, EAP should not be used for everyone. It’s not a panacea. Nor is DBT. Nor is CBT. Nor is re-feeding. Nor is FBT. Nor is psychotherapy. Nor is nutritional counseling. If there is one thing we know about eating disorder treatment, it is that, more often than not, treatment requires multiple kinds of care and multiple therapeutic modalities to be effective.

So is the jury still out on EAP? Sure. Is it still out on DBT? Yes. Is the neuroscience that many of us are rallying behind still quite new? Yes. But one of these things is not like the other. Why the premature writing off of EAP? Sure, there needs to be more research done. Absolutely. But what if we left the possibility open of having another way to heal people, rather than having such a strong (and premature) bias against it? Frankly, the fact that the research is yet to be done also means that we haven’t proven that it doesn’t work. It could be incredibly effective for treating eating disorders, and we wouldn’t know that yet either.

Every treatment had a time when it lacked evidence. Every one. That’s the nature of research. So, personally, I’m going to support the use of EAP for clients who feel it would be helpful. If you ask me, the more treatment methods there are, the better equipped we’ll be to meet the individual needs of clients who are fighting this devastating illness!

* I have nothing against the use of DBT in e.d. treatment. I’m actually a proponent of it, and I personally have benefited immensely from having DBT be part of my current treatment. That said, there really is very little evidence to prove it’s efficacy for e.d. treatment yet. The small amount of literature that is there is focused mostly on bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. But someone has to be the pioneer if a treatment will ever gain empirical support!

First of all, thank you all for your comments on the last post! I decided not to respond on that post because it was really about hearing others’ opinions, and I did not want to impose my own.

I will, however, proceed to do that now. 😉 Thank you for humoring me!

Like a few of you said, I absolutely agree that patients/clients should have input as far as whether or not they know their weight. And, I acknowledge that this can be a challenge, especially with patients who are having trouble separating what is best for them and what is best for the eating disorder. When I had my intake with my current nutritionist, we went to the scale, and she just said something like, “We do blind weight here.” It wasn’t presented as a choice, though obviously if I had protested, we could have discussed it (I know that she lets others see their weight because not knowing triggers them). But, I didn’t protest because I was RELIEVED. I know that she if she had presented seeing my weight as a choice, I would have chosen to see it. My motives in seeing would have been driven by the e.d., as I know that I do better with blind weights. But, at that time, I didn’t have control over the e.d.; I would have looked because that’s what Ed wanted. I needed her to take control over Ed by making the decision to do blind weight, because I was not capable of doing so at the time.

I think that, for patients in the later stages of recovery, the decision about whether or not they see their weight should be made in collaboration with their treatment team. I fail to see how wrestling control and agency away from a patient in this area would be helpful to recovery. So, if a patient wants to know her/his weight, and if the treatment team agrees that it is for recovery-positive reasons, I absolutely think that the patient’s weight should not be kept from her/him.

That said, I also think that a patient should not be forced to see her/his weight. This recently happened to a friend of mine, which is what inspired this post, and it was incredibly detrimental to her, and bolstered her e.d. And I actually think that it’s quite possible to go for a very long period of time without knowing one’s weight. I went for a period of years without knowing, and now, unless I let myself look at a GP appointment, I don’t know what it is. If a patient chooses to continue with blind weights, yes, it will take a bit of a commitment to maintain that outside of the treatment center – they will have to ask to skip being weighed or be weighed backwards at Dr. appointments, they will have to commit to not buying a scale, etc. – but it really is very do-able. And there are other ways to gauge one’s weight that allow a bit more for natural fluctuations in weight – how one’s clothing fits, for example. I think we confront the reality of our weight and/or changing weight everyday, whether or not we label it with a number. And I think that, for someone who continues to choose blind weight, if she/he does encounter a number unexpectedly (on a doctor’s chart, for example), if treatment has been truly effective, she/he will be able to cope productively.

Personally, I’m glad that my team enforced blind weight when i needed them to, and I am glad I’m able to choose to continue with it. AND, I’m glad that for other people, they us different methods – one’s that are more effective. I guess this goes back to my firm belief that, generally speaking, e.d. treatment – including whether or not patients know their weight – needs to be about the individual, rather than about blanket policies.

 

Well. I finally got the time to read this great NY Times Article, Understanding the Anxious Mind. It’s long, but totally worth a read – thanks to edbites and Laura Collins for bringing this article to my attention!

What I really appreciate about this article is the way that it complicates both the biological model and the behavioral/environmental model of anxiety and brings them into dialogue with each other. It’s a desperately needed approach! The article demonstrates that biology/temperament may very well predispose a person to anxiety, but this biology is not destiny and these things are also difficult to quantify in a lab setting that is “artificial.” That’s a *very* rough and reductive summary of the nine page article, so I’d suggest you read it! 🙂

Anyway, some lingering questions that I have:

– The article clearly shows that while we may be able to see clearly neurological, structural, and tempermental paredispositions in people with anxiety, it also shows that many learn to manage this anxiety. For many, though anxiety might be present, it does not negatively impact their daily lives as they mature. So, one may have the biological predisposition, but she/he may not outwardly display anxiety, and she/he may not even necessarily feel heightened anxiety. I wonder, does this work the other way around? Can someone *without* the biological and tempermental predictors for anxiety learn anxiety – from their environment, caretakers, mentors, experiences, etc.? Can anxiety develop via experience/environment, without the biological predisposition?

– What are the implications for this as far as child psychology, parenting, family, etc.? The article shows that the jury is still out in regard to what are the most effective ways to nurture a child with anxiety so that the anxiety becomes manageable (I was a bit miffed at how quickly they feel into the individualist mindset with this). But, I assume that more theories and studies about this will follow. So, if a child shows these predisposition to anxiety, do parents have a responsibility to “deal” with it? Do doctors? Psychologists? How do we stress the important role of parents/caretakers/families in helping anxious children, without playing the blame game? (i.e. “Your child has specific needs that can be best met in this way.” v. “You didn’t raise your child ‘correctly’ so now she/he is an anxious adult!”) Obviously, though, a lot more work needs to be done on the behavioral/environmental side of this before they can draw any conclusions about what is helpful/necessary.

– How does this research impact eating disorders specifically? Research as shown that – at the very least in anorexia nervosa, which tends to be the most researched e.d. (though it’s the least prevalent statistically) – there are certain biological/genetic markers that may predispose someone to develop AN. So, my first question works for e.d.’s as well. Not *everyone* who holds these genetic/biological markers develops full-blown AN. So, there must be other factors involved. If someone can have biological markers, but not develop the full-blown disorder, can this too work the other way around?  Can someone develop the disorder without the biological predispositions? How? Why?

– How does an e.d. exacerbate anxiety? It is clear that when an e.d. is active, many other psychological implications follow – depression and anxiety, for example. This happens for a number of reasons having do to w/ (mal)nutrition & the effects on the brain, added stress in social situations, an increasingly rigid need for routine and order, etc., etc. How do clinicians and treatment providers acknowledge the anxiety and depression without falling into the trap of assuming it underlies the e.d.? For example, for some patients, the e.d. may be a way to cope with anxiety and depression that are already (and perhaps biologically) present, yet for others, the anxiety and depression are a symptom of the e.d. (and perhaps they do not have the biology for it). I have seen, more than once, people medically treated for anxiety and/or depression because it is assumed to be a chemical imbalance, yet in the long run, the medication has proven unnecessary b/c the anxiety and/or depression was a symptom of the e.d. and “cleared up” as the e.d. was treated. Yet, for others, an inherent biological predisposition to anxiety and/or depression may mean that medication is the most effective treatment. How can treatment providers best navigate this delicate balance?

– Are there temperamental signifiers that we should be looking at for people with eating disorders? Certainly many “personality traits” have been outlined for people w/ anorexia  and a bit for people with other e.d.’s (though, again, I wish there were more research for the other eating disorders!). For example, we often hear of people with AN as being ambitious/driven, type A, perfectionist, obsessive, etc., etc. Using myself as an example, I have always been on the “stoic” side of normal. Even as a baby, according to my parents, I was not as expressive as some (I did not laugh or cry as easily as many babies). I remember very clearly that as a young child (we’re talking preschool age) I expected myself to individually manage my emotions and keep them internal, so as to avoid burdening or worrying people. I was often asked if I was “sad” as a child, but I wasn’t sad. I was just stoic! I have no doubt that this internalizing of emotions and perhaps this inherent “stoic” temperament was influential in my development of an e.d. If we do find temperamental markers for the array of eating disorders, again, what implicaitons does this have for parents, caretakers, (mental) health care workers, etc.? If we find temperamental markers, can potential e.d. behaviors be rerouted before they start? Can a certain kind of environment based on tempermanet cut e.d.’s off at the pass, so to speak?

– The article stated that anxious people with high intelligence tended to be better at managing their anxiety. If there’s one thing we often hear about eating disordered people, it is that we are “highly intelligent.” I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard something to the effect of, “But you’re so smart! How could you do this?!” Given that many people with eating disorders ARE highly intelligent AND highly anxious, what is the disconnect here? Why are these two characteristics so disproportionatly and concurrently present in people with eating disorders when intelligence seems to beneficially mediate anxiety in the more general population?

As always, the more “empirical” research there is, the more questions I have! And wow. This was much longer than I anticipated!

I came across this article a few days ago, and I’ve been dying to respond to it! Should Gyms Intervene If Someone Has an Eating Disorder?

Though the author debates both sides of the question and does not explicitly stated his opinion one way or another, in my reading, it seemed that he was leaning toward the position that the gym should intervene in some way.

I think there are a number of things to be considered here. First, what would intervening do? And the author, to his credit, does consider this. Personally, speaking, if I was working out out a gym and a random employee confronted me (even if sensitively) about my weight loss, I don’t know what it would accomplish. Mostly likely, it would succeed in making me feel embarrassed enough to switch gyms, where my “secret” was not known. We need to remember that eating disorders still carry a stigma. They shouldn’t – there is nothing shameful or “wrong” about having an eating disorder – but they do. To approach someone that you don’t know well and confront them about an eating disorder, while sometimes necessary and beneficial, also has a high risk of backfiring because it is likely that the person will feel embarrassed or shameful. The thing about eating disorders is that yes, in some cases, they are a very visible disease. For me, that is one of the hardest things – people assume that they can tell how well I’m doing (or not doing) by my weight. And it often means that I’m “confronted” with concern or questions if I lose a lot. When that has happened – especially when it has involved someone whom I don’t know all that well – it has felt sort of like that dream where you end up at school or work and find that you’re naked.

I think that if a gym were to decide a member needs to be checked in with, that should ideally come from someone who has an established relationship with the member – a personal trainer, a nutritionist who might work at the gym, etc. I think that it puts an e.d. person in a difficult position to approach them about having an e.d. without having the proper sort of relationship with them to really offer personal support (i.e. a gym manager who doesn’t work closely with members).

The author of the article writes, “when gyms fail to intervene with members who are below a healthy body weight, they risk becoming complicit in the delusions held by these individuals, strengthening the perception that more exercise and weight loss is needed. Not only does this harm the person with the eating disorder, it has the potential to harm other members of the gym who may begin to see the person’s behaviour as normal or even exemplary.”

The thing is, with an eating disorder, the “delusions” are already in place, though they may vary by type/severity of eating disorder, as well as by individuals. Gyms may foster a competitive atmosphere, and atmosphere that can be triggering based on the “perfection” of bodies, etc., etc. But, the “delusions” are going to be there whether or not the gym steps in. And the author needs to remember that “I’m worried about you working out so much because of your weight and eating habits” can sound like a compliment if the eating disorder gets a hold of it!

He makes an interesting point about potential harm to other members of the gym. Certainly, an eating disordered person can be triggering to other people. In my experience, however, the people who get triggered are the people who already having an eating disorder and/or serious body image concerns. In my discussions with people, it seems that most healthy people (by which I mean they are e.d.-free) feel sad and/or scared for an obviously eating disordered person, rather than envious. I also think that the problem is not having an eating disordered person present, but rather, a lack of knowledge and education about how severe and deadly eating disorders are. We live in a climate that glamorizes eating disorders and fosters envy of them. In my view, that is the problem, rather than the presence of an eating disordered person.

Perhaps my biggest critique of the article is that it bolsters the assumption that we can tell if someone has an eating disorder simply by the way she or he looks. And, yes, in some cases, we can make an educated guess based on a person’s appearance. But eating disorders are not always visible. In fact, as most people with eating disorders maintain a weight in the “health” range, they more often than not invisible. In fact, one of the most dangerous things to pair with exercise is purging, and though some anorexics do purge, most bulimics are at a “normal” weight, or are even a bit “overweight.” My guess is that the issue of eating disorders and gym memberships runs much deeper and is much more complex than the author realizes (and he does mention this).

So, should a gym intervene if they suspect someone has an eating disorder? I’m not sure. I think that if there is someone at the gym who has a long-lasting, one-one relationship with an at-risk member and can offer support, then it might be helpful if that person approached the member non-conversationally and appropriately. Should a gym employee who does not know the member well approach them? I don’t know.  I worry that that would only encourage further isolation and alienation.

I am totally supportive, however, of gyms having info available on eating disorders and treatment resources. I also think it would be incredibly progressive if gyms had e.d. and body image educational programs as well as nutrition education/counseling, etc. I think it’s important for people working in health and fitness to help promote an environment of holistic prevention.

This post was sparked by this discussion.

I have a lot of thoughts about privilege. I will try to be concise, though I may not succeed. I am perhaps, well, privileged when it comes to thinking about privilege. Both my B.A. and M.A. are in Women’s Studies, and I’m now working toward a Ph.D. in WS. This means that I have read A LOT about privilege. It means that I am talking about privilege on an almost daily basis. I teach about privilege. I think (and worry) about privilege and my own privilege pretty much incessantly.

I was first introduced to the theoretical concept of privilege as an undergrad WS student. The article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh was my first encounter. If interested, you can find it here.

Privilege is not an easy thing to come to terms with. I struggled with it, for sure. My initial reaction to the concept of white privilege was, “But, I’m not racist! I don’t want this privilege! I didn’t ask for it, and I don’t condone it!” And, all of those things are still true. I’m not racist. I don’t want this privilege. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t condone it. AND I still have it. It’s not my choice. Whether I approve or not, our society treats people differently based on the color of their skin. My skin color, being white, affords me certain privileges as I move through my day to day. Some privileges I can perhaps acknowledge and work to change – I can, for example, choose to study and learn the history of groups other than white (male) Americans. I can then work to combat privilege further by sharing what I’ve learned, whether that is in the class I teach, with a child, or with a peer. I also think that acknowledging, interrogating, and being willing to discuss systems of privilege – and this includes owning up to our own privilege – is a way to combat it.

I am privileged in many ways, and I am disadvantaged in others. In the US, I am privileged because of my race, my class, and my physical and mental abilities. I am very privileged in regard to education. I have conflicted privilege in regard to sexuality – I am bisexual (not privileged), yet my partner is male (heterosexual privilege). I am disadvantaged in regard to gender. Globally speaking, I am among the most privileged.

And there is still another way in which I am privileged. I’m thin. I have thin privilege. For example, when getting on a crowded bus this morning, I did not have to worry about getting dirty looks because my body took up “too much” room. 700 Stories did a great job of outlining some concrete examples of thin privilege in her blog post on the subject.

I can add some more. Because of my thin privilege:

A) I can walk down the street without fear of being harrassed about my weight. (I might be harassed for other reasons, but that has  to do w/ the fact that I don’t have male privilege).

B) I don’t have to worry about being fired from a job due to my weight. I don’t have to worry about not being hired due to my weight.

C) I don’t have to worry that a desk at school, a seat on the bus, a seat in the movie theater, a seat on an airplane, a seat on an amusement park ride, etc., will be too small.

D) I don’t have to worry about people eyeing what is in my grocery cart.

E) I don’t have to worry that – when being introduced to new people – they will make judgements about me or my lifestyle based on my size.

F) I’m not stared at, snickered at, or self-conscoius when I work out.

G) People don’t assume that I’m not physically fit or that I’m lazy because of my weight. In fact, people might assume that I am fit, or at least active.

H) I can wear a bathing suit in public w/out the fear of being scrutinized.

I) If I (hypothetically) had a child and treated her to ice cream or sweets, my parenting skills would not be judged.

I could go on. But you get the point.

Personally, for me, my thin privilege is in some ways the hardest to come to terms with. This is true on a number of levels. I was a chubby young child, and an overweight pre-teen, early teen. Since the age of 16, I have ranged from underweight to obese, and everywhere in between. My body’s set point is somewhere around a bmi of 24/25. So, on the high end of normal, low end of overweight. I am not at my set point now. I am not underweight, but I am certainly “thin” by pretty much any definition. And I know how much  privilege it affords. I can walk into any store (unless it is a “specialty  store” for “plus-sized” women), and know without a doubt that they will have my size. I also know that – more often than not – the employees at that store will be helpful, will approach me with a smile, and will not rush me out because I do not fit their store’s “image.” I know that – on a day to day basis – people are MUCH nicer to me when I am thin. I wish it wasn’t true. But, it is. I wish that I wasn’t bolstering the system by maintaining a lower weight than my body wants. But, I am. I wish that thin privilege didn’t make my recovery more difficult. But, it does. It’s not fun to admit.

What we need to keep in mind is that, privilege (thin or otherwise) is NOT about placing blame. It is not about faulting the individual. It’s not really about the individual, actually. Yes, of course oppression and privilege have very concrete ramifications for individuals, don’t get me wrong. But privilege really operates at a much larger level. Privilege and oppression are rooted in societal ideologies, values, structures, and institutions; they are systematic. In many ways, oppression and privilege are two sides of the same societal coin. They are beyond the level of the individual, though individuals, often through no fault or intention of their own, are implicated.

Also keep in mind that the acknowledgment of thin privilege – or oppression generally – does not negate individual suffering. OF COURSE thin people can internalize messages of self-doubt or self-hatred. OF COURSE thin people can be victims of abuse. OF COURSE thin people may feel self-conscious sometimes. OF COURSE a thin person with an e.d. is genuinely in pain. Every person is going to have some suffering, some pain, some hardship – and hopefully lots of joy – in her or his lifetime. Acknowledging and interrogating privilege does not deny or undo that.

And, also keep mind, these systems are not isolated. They weave an incredibly complex web. Like I stated above, I may not be harrassed walking down the street because of my weight, but I may very well be cat-called because we still live in a patriarchal society that normalizes the sexualization and objectification of women. I may even been judged because I am thin – and this can connect to thin privilege too. This judgement may come from others who notice my thin privilege and are (rightfully) hurt that they do not share it. This judgement might be out of concern if someone knows about my eating disorder (which ties into society/oppression/privilege in a number of ways). Or, this judgement might be outside of the realm of privilege/oppression. Not *everything* fits; there are always exceptions. Or, something may seem like it doesn’t fit, and upon further inspection we realize that it is the result of an different and/or interlocking system of disadvantage/privilege. Thin privilege doesn’t operate in a vacuum. No privilege does. These societal structures, systems, and ideologies are always mediated by each other, by individuals, by subject positions, by material realities, and by the fact that they are constantly in flux.

As far as I’m concerned, denying privilege – whether that is thin privilege, white privilege, heterosexual privilege, male privilege, beauty privilege, ableist privilege, Christian privilege, class privilege, etc., etc. – is not helpful. If we do not interrogate these systems and acknowledge our own position in them (even if that position is difficult to reconcile with), we allow them to continue unquestioned, unchallenged, and unseen.