This week, as we dive into the topics of body image & diet culture, we sat down with Emily Van. Emily runs the account @donutsoverdietculture on Instagram and is doing an incredible job advocating for body acceptance, after experiencing diet culture first hand. Read more about Emily below!
1. Why do conversations matter to you?
Genuine conversations are something that, I believe, have become somewhat extinct. In this world that we live in, we have such a hard time just genuinely being present with someone. We have such difficulty with being able to just listen, genuinely listen, without formulating our responses or thinking about someone else entirely. I believe, however, that this is something that we can revive. Conversations, holding space for others and being able to speak our truth, bonds us as humans. People need to be heard and felt heard. People need to speak their truth and have a safe space to do that.
2. How did you start your platform and what ignited your passion to fight diet culture? How did you start @donutsoverdietculture?
A year and a half ago, I fought my body the hardest I have ever fought it before (and I have been fighting it for most of my life). I ignored my hunger, I lived on intensely distorted percentages of macronutrients and calories, I pushed my body when my body begged me to rest and did other harmful things to my body I will not mention here. (Note: I had been doing this torture cycle to myself for most of my life, not just a year and a half ago, this is just when my “a-ha” moment was.)
I shrank myself to a size that my body and mind could not thrive in. In this size, I thought, surely, all my problems would be magically solved: my self-esteem issues, relationship issues, financial issues even. After all, that is that we have been taught, ”if I can get into that size #, everything will just magically fall into place. If I can hate myself enough, maybe I can get into a version of myself that I love. If I can torture myself enough, I can be happy.” Typing this now, it seems so f-ed up. But since “go”, everything, EVERYTHING, in this culture around us, has told us that this message was true. Times that I have not been able to get into that size #, that was because of a personal failure. I just was not dedicated enough to hating my current self, so my problems would continue until I could stay focused, until I could have some self control.
Well, a year and a half ago, I fought my body hard enough to get into that size # and all my theories on my happiness all came crashing down. Reality hit me in the face, the reality that I still, even at this ‘magical’ pants size, hated myself. It wasn’t the pants that need to change, it was my mindset.
(Call in the therapists! Call in the social support! Call in the body positive warriors!)
After burning through a few books (The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner, Body Positive Power by Megan Crabbe, The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America by Virginia Sole-Smith), it hit me again: The problem is not my body, the problem is the culture. The problem is that everywhere we turn in the media, we are being told “here is what is wrong with you, and here is how you fix it (in just 4 easy installments of $49.99).”
I started looking at women around me, around me in real life, women that I admired. I turned to instagram body positive superheroes. I started looking to kind humans just on the street in day-to-day life and realizing “damn, NO one looks like this model that diet culture is trying to shove us into.” I started feeding my body. I started moving my body as a sort of gratitude practice, being thankful that it can move the way that it does. I started looking at myself in the mirror and giving myself affirmations. I stopped calorie and nutrient counting and I started just living. And guess what happened when I started doing all this? Did all my problems go away? My relational, self-esteem and financial problems? Hell no! They were all still present and accounted for!
But there was a huge shift, a shift in how I saw myself and a shift in how I could address these problems in a realistic manner. It had to start with self-like, self-love took A LOT more time and therapeutic intervention. Some days are easier than others, but I am thankful for this journey. Part of my recovery was Instagram trolling to lift myself up during hard days. Instead of looking at fitness posts by women that I would never look like (even if I ate and worked out exactly as they did, that was just not my body), I started looking at body positive art.
And just like that @donutsoverdietculture was born. I still consider myself in the early stages of this journey. I still have a long way to go, but I am so glad that you all are here with me.
3. How can we change the conversation surrounding diet culture today?
Changing any narrative that is as prevalent and normalized as diet culture is will take time and frankly, grit. I think that it really starts with the pillars that this platform is upholding, and that is: education, conversation, vulnerability and courage. You have to be vulnerable and courageous to stand up to the normalized narrative that is diet culture and say “this is harmful.” One of the things that makes diet culture so dangerous is that it exists invisibly in plane sight. What I mean by that, is that when something is considered the norm, it goes unquestioned or often even unnoticed. For the majority of my life I starved myself, harmed myself, pushed myself to fit into that magical size # without ever stopping to think “why”. Why is this size # the magical size?! Why is the size I am in now not magical? The beauty industry spends BILLIONS of dollars to make sure that we internalize that message: I am not enough at the (size, shape, age, skin tone/color, whatever) I am at now. Diet culture is so toxic because it affects us without us even noticing it. But, a shift is coming and it is bad news for diet culture: We see you. We see the messages you are trying to have us internalize and we are not putting up with this bullshit any longer. We need to educate, have open and truthful conversations and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and courageous if we want to see change.
4. How can we start more conversations about the topics of body image, diet culture & distorted eating?
This topic, at least for me, can be so emotionally charged. So my advice, warriors, do your research. Reading the three books I mentioned earlier (The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner, Body Postive Power by Megan Crabbe, The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America by Virginia Sole-Smith) gave me some important tools to engage in conversations about diet culture: the historical context of diet culture, scientific studies and outcomes of diets studied and why they don’t work, biological reasons for weight loss and gain, why BMI is bullshit, the profits that really come from diet culture, etc. I really feel like education is key. We need to be able to discuss this topic passionately and give our own stories as part of the conversation but having historical and scientific backup helps keep me grounded in a highly emotional topic.
But always, speak your truth and don’t be afraid to be heard.
5. How can our audience get connected with you?
Please reach out to me on Instagram @donutsoverdietculture. Remember: You are enough.
Thank you for reading this and for the wonderful opportunity, The Conversationalist.