For the next few weeks, we will be exploring the idea of “Fat Activism” and how the body positivity movement has influenced people to stand up to diet-culture and attacks on “obesity”. I know that for some people the word “fat” can be scary, triggering, and hurtful. The purpose of this series is to take the sting and derogatory nature out of the word.
“Fat” is a descriptor, just like tall, short, red, square, or triangular.
I pondered whether a series of interviews that use the word “fat” would be contrary to the guidelines. It was a struggle for me to make this decision. People with body dysmorphia often use the word to describe how they are feeling about their bodies and reading the word “fat” could be very uncomfortable. I also thought about the bodies of people who do not present as the stereotype of someone with an eating disorder. I thought about all the people living in bigger bodies who are feeling/being judged, and having their struggles invalidated.
NOTE: We also briefly discussed Binge Eating Disorder which is a disorder that can exist in any body. BED cannot be “seen” by looking at a person and I do not want this interview to make it appear otherwise. There are, however, people living in bigger bodies, who are struggling with BED and are unable to seek or receive support and treatment due to stereotypes and lack of understanding In the case of this interview, Amee is speaking as someone who has experienced, and now treats, BED. Please do not misinterpret this as diagnostic criteria, or as stereotypes. Many people in larger bodies do not have BED and many people with BED do not live in larger bodies. This is an extremely important concept to understand both in society and in the medical community.
My decision did not come easily. I came to the conclusion that this topic is important and necessary to further the conversation about people with Eating Disorders who live in bigger bodies, or who chose to use the word fat. And for those people living in bigger bodies who are called “fat”. My hope is that someone living in a bigger body, who is struggling with an Eating Disorder, and is afraid to seek support because of judgement, experiences, and prejudice, will read this and feel one step closer to seeking advice and support for their illness – your body is valid, your Eating Disorder is valid, you are valid.
Remember to nourish your body, mind, and spirit,
Interview with Amee Severson
“With a mission to break the stereotype that all RD’s live in small bodies and only eat certain foods, Amee cultivates rebellion and liberation on social media, showcasing the possibility for health and happiness in any body. Amee encourages the belief that food can be enjoyed without guilt or shame. She believes that recovery from disordered eating is possible for everyone and that every person deserves to feel trust in their body. Amee doesn’t believe in one-size-fits-all nutrition and health, so she works with clients to make health and nutrition fit into their current life, not the other way around. Amee Severson is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist whose work focuses on body positivity, fat acceptance, and intuitive eating through a social justice lens. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food and Nutrition, is a dietitian registered, and is currently working toward becoming a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. Amee found Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size when she was recovering from her own disordered eating. After striving for years for weight loss – and pummelling herself with guilt and shame – Amee decided to support others in the quest for peace and normalcy in their bodies and with food. Amee has a passion for banishing the stigma around weight and “wellness” and uses social media and her work with clients to spread that message.”
What led you to the concept/community/activism of body positivity?
My own recovery led me to this work. I realized that just healing my own relationship wasn’t enough for me to be healed, and it hasn’t seemed to be enough for my clients either, we need to change the culture in a way to make it safe to exist in all different kinds of bodies.
Why do you use the word “fat”? Why does it matter?
I use the word fat as a way to reclaim it. It started out very intentional. And now, its second nature. I am fat, so it doesn’t feel derogatory or anything other than a description of what I am. It matters because it helps to take the power away from the word. For me, yes and for others. This culture flings fat around as an insult and thin is often synonymous with beautiful or something in that realm. But fat is just a thing. I can be fat and beautiful, funny, successful… all of that because being fat doesn’t negate any of that.
Have you or someone you know ever had an experience where a doctor has marginalized you/them because of body size?
My first incredibly damaging appointment with a doctor when I experienced marginalization was when I was about 12 or 13. I was going to a sports medicine appointment for my physical to be cleared to do dance team at my high school. I had been dancing for years and had no concerns going in because I felt healthy and confident about dance. I didn’t even bring my mom with me. I got there and the only thing that seemed important to him was that I was ‘overweight’ and it was really, really important to him that I lost weight. I don’t think he acknowledged once what I was there for other than signing my form. He kept telling me that I should already be dieting. I think that’s when I first made the decision to always tell doctor’s pre-emptively about the weight loss attempts I was doing, because I didn’t want to be lectured anymore. This wasn’t the last time. Far from it. But it was the first. There was a period of time that no matter what I did, weight loss was always brought up. And I know that I’m not alone in these experiences. I also know that my experiences are mild compared to what some folks have experienced. In the medical world, there are a lot of conversations about how fat people are “unhealthy” but it is hardly ever acknowledged that often these folks are afraid to seek medical care. Are afraid of not being taken seriously. We know as a professional (healthcare in general) that when someone doesn’t visit a doctor regularly and perform preventative care, they are more likely to develop an illness. Yet, we haven’t discussed the reason that fat folks are less likely to visit doctors. It’s not because “we don’t care” it’s because there is so much shame and stigma in going to the doctor. That for some folks, it can take an awful lot to get them to go. Fat folks are marginalized. Fat women are further marginalized and fat black women are even further marginalized.
Have you or someone you know ever been marginalized or verbally attacked because of body size?
I have been privileged enough to have few experiences around this. I do know folks that have been scoffed at or given unsolicited weight loss advice on the street or in restaurants. I have also heard folks use blatantly cruel language around fat folks or just straight up ignore the fat folks around them.
When you think about an Eating Disorder, what image comes to mind?
Unfortunately, like most of the folks living in this culture, my image of an eating disorder has been clouded by the culture and my first thought is the stereotype. Then I remember that not only did I have an eating disorder, I know so many folks who don’t fit that image. It is so damaging to have that be the face of the suffering we all find at the hands of eating disorders.
Can you explain your knowledge about Binge Eating Disorder?
Yes. I treat BED and I also lived with BED for many years. Unfortunately, Its not talked about much in the professional world (outside of HAES spaces). I think the professional community (non-HAES spaces in particular) view BED as a less immediate concern. Like those suffering with BED are less sick. So we have put less effort into treatment options. And the non-HAES spaces also treat BED as a “weight problem” at the end of it all. Which is so damaging and so backwards. I think we are starting to see more and more folks talk about BED and the reach it can have. Something that is often overlooked, especially in non-HAES spaces is that BED is related to restriction. It doesn’t “count” as compensation to the DSM but there is compensation. And that restriction leads to further binging and feeling out of control and just confirming that something is wrong. A huge misconception in treatment as well is that at some point in recovery, folks with BED – and especially fat folks with BED – will need to diet or “change their lifestyle” in order to prevent gaining “too much weight”. This is allowing the ED to live. It’s encouraging and prescribing disordered behaviors in folks who need the same respect and care as folks who are in smaller bodies. BED doesn’t have one look. Eating disorders don’t have just one look.
What do you think “fat activism” means and why is it important?
I see Fat Activism as the push to stop forcing fat bodies and marginalized bodies into the margin. To stop making them the problem. To make the world safer to just be fat. Because body diversity is a real thing and it deserves to be treated like a real thing. Without Fat Activism, we will continue to marginalize these bodies and push them farther and farther into those margins.
What message are you trying to convey on social media?
I am trying to convey the message that body diversity is normal. That dietitians can exist in fat bodies. Fat bodies can exist without trying to change.
If you could talk to childhood you, what would you tell them about their body and body image?
That I didn’t need to change my body. I didn’t need to spend so much time trying to fade away and hating myself. I was perfectly okay. I didn’t need to follow in the footsteps of everyone in my family and diet. And I didn’t need to fit some impossible standard for myself in order to deserve any love or respect.
Thank you Amee, for taking the time to answer my questions, and for the work that you do with your clients. Next week we will hear from Vanessa Nilissen.