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Fat Phobia, an Interview with Victoria Welsby

For years, Victoria struggled with the idea that thinness would give her everything she wanted. Happiness, self-acceptance, money, love. She associated all of these magical things with being thin...only to find out that they don't have any real connection!

The Fierce Fatty Victoria Welsby

Victoria and I recently sat down and talked about fat phobia, as well as the beliefs we all have about the size of our bodies. Listen in to hear Victoria’s tips about how we can start examining our thoughts about body size. (And since many of us are still at home, not surrounded by other people or regular distractions, this is a great time to question our own body beliefs!) Maybe we want to change some of our thoughts about our body size, and how we’re “supposed” to look. 

Just a quick note that the Food Freedom and Body Confidence Challenge is available on demand! If you could use a little something new (and positive) in your life right now, this will be perfect for you! It can all be done from the comfort of home, so it’s a perfect coronavirus activity.

Let’s Meet Victoria!

To break the ice, I asked her:

What’s the craziest diet or diet related thing you’ve ever done? 

Well…Victoria shares that she first started dieting when she was a child. At the time, she thought that diets meant eating “bland” food. She would eat pasta with no sauce, or even uncooked noodles! She thought less flavor = less calories. I can resonate; back in the day, fat free graham crackers were my big “treat”. Wow! Glad I’ve moved past those days (Listen in for some crazy tidbits about Mr. Graham’s original intentions with the graham cracker!)

Now, Victoria calls herself “the fierce fatty”, and she helps people feel confident in their bodies and around food. She also teaches on topics like fat phobia, intuitive eating, body confidence & fat acceptance, and more. However, she hasn’t always been fat positive! In fact, she shares she used to struggle with quite a bit of self-loathing herself.

Breaking Old Patterns

Victoria is British, and was brought up in poverty. She had a lot of food insecurity, based on both her own size as a larger child, and her family’s lack of financial resources. She always knew her body was “bad” because it was bigger. In addition, she had an intuitive sense that she shouldn’t be showing her body or stomach, as she senses it would embarrass people to see her belly.

By 17, Victoria was homeless. She was also dating a 30 year old abusive alcoholic. Her self-esteem was so low that she didn’t think her situation was really that bad. As someone who was “fat” and “ugly”, she felt glad she had as much as she had (basically, someone who was willing to be in a relationship with someone “like her”).

One day, however, she read on the internet that it was okay to be fat. She also read that she was NOT addicted to food, and that dieting didn’t work. Those messages kicked off her entire journey of becoming a coach and starting to spread her message. (Along the way, she gave an amazing TED Talk; I’d encourage you to check it out!)

Intuitive eating has been a huge part of her journey as well! She shares that when we deeply tie food to a fear of gaining weight, we cannot truly eat intuitively. Why? Because we are constantly struggling against an inner critic that is fearful that if we eat that next bite, or that slice of cake, that we will gain weight. And when we are restricting food based on our own fear of getting bigger, we aren’t able to listen to what our body is telling us about her needs and desires.

Happy in a Fat Body

Victoria is open about the fact that she has no desire to lose weight. In fact, she confidently states that she is happy living in a fat body.

Often, society seems to be shocked by this message. Even if people don’t overtly judge her for being overweight, there is often a sense that she “should” be working towards being thinner. But she’s not! She’s embraced being “the fierce fatty” and doesn’t want to become a smaller person.

That didn’t come about overnight though!

For years, Victoria struggled with the idea that thinness would give her everything she wanted. Happiness, self-acceptance, money, love. She associated all of these magical things with being thin.

At some point, she had even lost weight. And…nothing happened. She had worked so hard, and at the end of it all she found she still hated her body.

This revelation led her into researching fat, and fat phobia. She wanted to know where the message that you shouldn’t be fat came from, and if it was true. After all, most of us feel that we “know” being fat is unhealthy, bad, wrong, and undesirable. But how do we really know that is true?

For example, society tells us unequivocally that fat is unhealthy. That’s not accurate! Victoria suggests Health at Every Size for anyone who believes there is a direct link between health and size. (Spoiler: There’s not!)

Health is incredibly complicated, and what makes someone “healthy” or well has nothing to do with body size. Rather, it has much more to do with socioeconomic status. For example, health outcomes for women of color are not as good as outcomes for white women. It has nothing to do with size, and everything to do with bias within the health system. (And there are a lot of biases!)

Even if being fat was causing you to have health issues, the honest truth is that dieting doesn’t work as a “cure” for fat anyways. Choosing to force yourself into a diet can be stressful and unproductive; it makes things worse, not better.

Dismantle the Source

Victoria started working on dismantling the source of these powerful, negative messages that she had received about fat.

In doing so, she eliminated fat-phobic messages from her life as much as possible. Although she can’t avoid all social messaging, she does what she can to change to the message she receives about fat bodies. That includes following body positive accounts on social media, and letting her friends know that diet talk isn’t welcome. (There are so many better things to discuss!)

Now, when she sees a fat body, she feels her natural reaction is to see it as just…a body.

This is, in part, because she’s able to see each body as distinct and beautiful as it really is. Instead of thinking of what a body “should” look like, she appreciates what they actually DO look like. This has led her to understand that WE have the power to decide what we want to believe about our bodies. By adjusting the messages she was taking in and choosing to reevaluate what she valued, she revolutionized her viewpoint!

Sometimes, however, she admits that getting away from harmful messages can be hard.

For example, fat people often don’t want to go to the doctor because they know that they are going to be pushed into a diet plan. When something as big as an entire national medical system is feeding you a message that is harmful, it can be hard to avoid. However, you can do your best to understand facts and reality in order to guard against the automatic assumptions that it’s so easy to make about fat.

Doing the Work

I’m working with a lot of intuitive eaters who want to feel more confident around food, but who also struggle a lot with body confidence. Victoria shares that we are terrified of being fat (or becoming fatter) because of our fat-phobic society.

In many ways, this is attached to our desire to be loved and accepted. We want others to receive us well, and we can hear their criticisms in our minds when we gain weight. We fear that they’ll judge us, or think about us differently, if we become fat.

All too often, questions of worth begin to come up when we think about weight. But are we really less worthy just because we weight more (or less)? Are we better people when we weigh less? Are we actually happier?

If we’re honest, we don’t need to lose weight to be the best versions of ourselves! In fact, we can be fully, authentically ourselves at any size. Rather than striving towards an ideal that doesn’t ultimately serve us, we should question why we want what we think we want. What are we really trying to get? What are we afraid of?

We ALL have fat phobic beliefs. Why? Because we live in a society that constantly sends us messages about losing weight and avoiding being fat. Victoria’s advice? Get behind the bullshit! Ask the hard questions, and don’t be afraid to tune out messaging that isn’t serving you.

At the end of the day, one of the best things you can do is to find out what will make you happy, and do that.

Victoria shares that something that makes her really happy is to do some gratitude journaling every night. It’s a way of remembering all that is good in her life (and about her body), regardless of how she may have felt throughout the day. This has also helped remind her of the things in her life that really matter and bring her joy.

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