Behaviors such as binge eating, compulsive overeating, emotional eating and food obsessions are part of systems of power that rank human bodies by size and race and create an illusion that health and virtue are obtained by being thin. Being controlled by size and food is still an accepted way of controlling the futures of women, leading them to wait to have the lives they deserve and desire until they can change their size.
What you’ll learn in this podcast:
1. Is the BMI a racist measurement?
2. Why is it so hard to give up binging?
3. How graham crackers started as a diet food.
4. How diets fail us, while making us feel we are failures.
Mentioned on the Show:
If you’re interested in learning more about food addiction, enter the book sweepstakes to win a copy of The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook.
Schedule a free consult to discuss your food and body image issues: https://findingyouranchor.as.me/CONSULT
To learn more about The Anchor Program a 12-week non-diet program offering ONLINE group and individual sessions for the treatment of binge eating, emotional eating, food addiction and compulsive overeating. Want to learn more about the Anchor Program? https://AnchorProgram.com
Welcome to episode number 89 of the Dr. Carolyn Coker Ross Show. Today, we will be talking about eating disorders, ethnicity, and trauma, and I have a special guest, Dr. Jillian Murphy. She is a registered Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, and also has a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Kinesiology. She has dedicated the past eight years to studying the psychology of eating, the relationship between weight and health, intuitive eating and the most in the know strategies for exiting the diet cycle. She is currently training under Ellyn Satter to further her expertise in the area of childhood feeding and growth. And she works from a health at every size perspective. I’m really looking forward to talking to her, and I hope you will, stay tuned.
Welcome to the Dr. Carolyn Coker Ross show. I’m Dr. Carolyn and I’m a medical doctor who specializes in treating eating disorders and addictions. I’ve been working with individuals with binge eating disorder, compulsive overeating, food addiction, and emotional eating for over 20 years. I’m also the founder of The Anchor Program an international online non diet coaching program for people with food and body image issues that you can access from the comfort of your own home. Please check out my books, The Emotional Eating Workbook, The Binge Eating and Compulsive Overeating Workbook and my latest book, The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook. I’m on a mission to help individuals just like you transform your relationship with food and with your body.
Dr. Carolyn: Hi Everyone and welcome to the show Jillian.
Dr. Jillian: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Dr. Carolyn: Wow. So how did you get into this work? Can you say a little bit about what attracted you to doing this?
Dr. Carolyn: Yeah, sure. So I think like most people, it was personal and professional. In my early twenties, I suffered from an eating disorder that we now know is orthorexia, but wasn’t recognized at the time. So a lot of anxiety and fear around how clean my food was. This was when I was just getting in. I always thought I would go into medicine. I got interested in naturopathic medicine and as part of that started going down that rabbit hole of like food and the body. And for me, it went really far and it became sort of a, an obsessive sort of anxiety disorder. And so it was a really interesting thing to work myself out of that while also studying naturopathic medicine and studying food and the effects of food on the body. And I think I did a fairly good job of working my way out of it. Cause like I said, it wasn’t well-recognized at the time. But for me, the even deeper work happened after I had my second baby and weight didn’t come off the way it had with the first baby or the way that I had been tooled. And it really shed light on some of the ongoing misunderstandings that I had about body and weight and food and movement and health.
Dr. Carolyn: Yeah. Let’s talk about some of those misunderstandings. What are some of the things you learned from your personal experience, but also that you’re seeing with your own clients?
Dr. Jillian: Yeah, at that time, I think I had thought that I’d worked myself out of this like food issue, but the underlying continued misunderstanding that my weight was a direct reflection of my health and that any change in my weight was a representation that there was something wrong with my health. And so as I tried to get the weight off after that body, I started to notice myself going down those not so healthy holes again that I had done in my early 20s. And I, you know, worked with someone and I did a lot of research and this was when I really found help at every size and began to understand that like, oh my gosh, health and weight are not synonymous. And actually sometimes when we are in the pursuit of weight loss, we do things that are not very healthy for us.
Dr. Carolyn: Lots of times.
Dr. Jillian: Lot of times, exactly, lots of times. And for me, it was just a big awakening in terms of the patients that I was working with. Because even though I was attempting to not sell weight loss in my practice, it was inherently baked in to the health message. And so I had to do some really big untangling in my work and really shift my message.
Dr. Carolyn: I think a lot of healthcare practitioners have had to go through that. And I liked the way you say it untangling because health and weight are so in tangled in medicine in general, that it’s very difficult to have a conversation or to even talk about health without people wanting to lose weight. And I know that there’s a term now that’s called healthism, which is pointing to what you’re talking about, which is that people are saying, oh no, I don’t want to lose weight just because I want to look good. I want to lose weight for my health. And that’s the new way of saying, you know, I want to go on a diet centrally.
Dr. Jillian: Yeah. As a naturophath that is very much the population that I end up working with. And so that’s a huge part of my work is that untangling process, because they’re individuals who do want to be healthy, um, and they can’t understand, I know all the right things to do. I know all the things I should be doing. Why am I not doing them? And so a big part of my work is pulling these things apart and understanding what behaviors they’re engaged in that actually are helpful. And what are about control really? And it could be about weight or it could be about that virtue signaling with food that, that is often happening in the health and wellness world right now, right?
Dr. Carolyn: Say what the virtue signaling means. I haven’t heard that term before.
Dr. Jillian: Well, it comes from Ellyn, Satter’s work and it’s this, um, moral, high grounding basically. And like I eat a certain way therefore I’m a better person. And this becomes additionally problematic because it’s really hard to give up on certain ways of eating even when it’s not working for you. If you think that your goodness as a human being, your intelligence.
Dr. Carolyn: Your virtue
Dr. Jillian: Yeah. It’s tangled up in the food that you eat.
Dr. Carolyn: Actually that goes back centuries. And it, it also dovetails with a lot of what we’re learning now about how BMI came about and how racist BMI is. And this whole thing I think was iterated in streamer’s book, where she talks about how this, what you’ve called virtue signaling positioned white women as virtuous, if they are thin, uh, Christian, moral, et cetera. But then this was, uh, a big part of being able to even say, you were a good Christian. So if you’re not thin you, you don’t love God enough for you not praying hard enough or something like that. And then on the other juxtaposed against that was black women who were seen as not as virtuous because of their larger size or different body shape and it’s continued to this day.
Dr. Jillian: Right. It must be their fault because of their inferiority as a human being. And it, and it paved the way for all kinds of dehumanizing belief systems and practices that are just a logical and they’re, they’re not scientific and they’re not true and they don’t make sense, but yeah, it was very much about separating European women, white women from immigrants and women of different color. And then yes, Sylvester Graham, you know, if we go all the way back to that Graham cracker, which was actually a really awful diety blend cracker that he used to sell, you know, we used to sell as part of his restrictive diet plan to control sexuality and to control virtuousness.
Dr. Carolyn: Well, but then there are some Moore’s yeah, yeah. Made the grant, the grant a lot more sinful. Right.
Dr. Jillian: Yeah. And it became a more delicious thing over time. You know, it was really this very blend, but yeah, you’re totally right. Like the roots of this, we can say it’s for health, but you’re right. It was abelist, it was classist, it was racist. It was like, so many of the isms are baked into the current health and wellness system. Right.
Dr. Carolyn: You know, I think the thing that always amazes me is, you know, a lot of people, um, during, especially in the United States, I don’t know how the protests have played out in Canada, but in the United States, you know, there has been a lot of pushback from white women who, you know, many of whom identify as conservative women and so on against the protest. And I think it’s the same kind of mentality that was set up by these, you know, strategist to which held when white women down, as much as they held black women down. Do you know what I’m saying?
Dr. Jillian Yeah. Is it black lives matter protest. Um, yeah. And that idea of like, like being against the violence of the protest will not acknowledging the centuries of violence that’s been imposed on bodies. And that there’s a real difference in, you know, acting out and pushing back against systems of oppression that literally are dehumanizing versus breaking a window of a store. Like these are different things and applying them is wrong to making them the same thing as wrong.
Dr. Carolyn: But I think I’m not saying it, uh, as well as I should it be able to say it, but the other part of it is this notion that, uh, this like black lives matter is a black struggle. So it doesn’t have anything to do with, you know, white folks or white women, but the same oppression that happens with black people also happens in some degree, not, not exactly the same degree, but uh, against white women and, and this struggle to be always be thin and be virtuous is a perfect example of that because it has led to white women developing, you know, hundreds of years of eating disorder, behavior and body hatred.
Dr. Jillian Yeah. Sonya Renee Taylor talks about this and it’s like, I think what you’re saying, I think I’m getting is like, there’s this idea that there are systems and structures of power in place that rank human bodies and it ranks human bodies based on race, but also ability and thinness and many other things and, and gender and sexuality is also one of those things. And that, you know, I think Sonya Renee Taylor talks about the fact that it’s and I talk about it in my work often, this idea of like, it’s difficult to unhook from those systems of power when you have the illusion of benefiting from it in some way. And so it’s like I have this access as a white woman. If I can keep myself thin enough, I have access to these terrible strings of power. It’s like this pitiful, but I’ll take it. If I can just hang on to this and maintain my stature in the system, I’ll take it because it’s all I’ve been told I can get. And yet, really Naomi Wolf writes about this as well. We really benefit when we unhook from the system and we unhook from the ranking of human bodies. That’s when we really win when you’re within it, you’re always at the mercy.
Dr. Carolyn: Yes, exactly. And you know, that, I think the way to control women has always been about controlling women’s bodies. You know, the abortion struggle as an example of that. Uh, we have a challenge now in the United States to overweight, but being thin. Yeah. I think is the Primo that women of all sizes shapes and colors have been controlled by “the system”.
Dr. Jillian: Yeah. It’s about obedience, right? It’s how obedient are you? How good? Or like, again, it plays into that whole virtue as good or you, how smarter you, how much willpower do you have?
Dr. Carolyn: There’s, slut-shaming against women who express their sexuality. There’s also other ways that the virtue of women has been challenged throughout the centuries. But I think weight is one of the biggest political ways women are kept under control.
Dr. Jillian: And one of the, I mean, not that these other ways have totally dissolved because they absolutely haven’t, but it’s one of the most, um, it remains one of the most socially acceptable ways to control, right? Like it’s, it’s still thought of by large groups of people as, and, and professionals as resolutely, helpful to continue to be controlled by weight and food.
Dr. Carolyn: And that’s one of the reasons why I got into the work that I do and became a non-diet practitioner, because I have worked with literally thousands of women over the 30 plus years, I’ve been in medicine who have spent so much money, so much of their time. So much of their energy who have limited themselves from reaching out for a bigger career or for a relationship, or, you know, fill in the blank because they were waiting to get them. And they didn’t feel that they could have what the life they really wanted unless they were thin. And that’s, you know, it’s unbelievable that intelligent, bright, you know, heartfelt women with so much to offer would be putting so much of, we would be putting so much of our time and energy into obsessing, literally about food and weight.
Dr. Jillian: Yeah. One of the reasons that I put in my bio, I talk about a little bit about, you know, I work with smart diverse women, you know, it’s to highlight the fact that a lot of the women that I work with are incredibly intelligent and effective and successful. And so this becomes the one thing that they don’t understand why they’re failing at it because that’s the trick of diet culture, right? 90% of people fail at it, but it makes every person feel like they are individually failing. And because of the virtuousness that we’ve been talking about, there’s so much shame involved that nobody wants to take a look at it. Right. And so I always say like, there was no box on the multiple choice test that said, I could just choose maybe my body is fine after I had a baby and some weight stayed on, but there was no, there was no vocabulary for that. There was no option.
Dr. Carolyn: And they’re no movie stars who are coming in the media and saying, yeah, I have stretch marks. I’m okay with that or my belly is a little saggy and it’s okay.
Dr. Jillian: I have a belly, it’s always framed as a problem. And yet you, I, I guess one of the processes of my, my personal work has been to accept that I’m, I’m a bit of an apple shape and I exercise every day and I eat well and I take care of myself. And occasionally someone stops me to say, when are you due, you know? And it used to be something that would kill me, but through the work I realized, that’s their miscon. They have, they have been brainwashed to believe that any time a woman has a belly, despite the fact that we’re surrounded by women with bellies, I know there’s a problem. And I understand that for some people they’re pregnant and for some people there could be a problem, but it’s not the truth of, you know, it’s not the fact.
Dr. Carolyn: And it’s not who you are either. It shouldn’t define who you are, whether or not you have a belly, let’s look at the male population. How many men.
Dr. Jillian: I would say Alec Baldwin is allowed to have a belly.
Dr. Carolyn: That’s a good example.
Dr. Jillian: So I just, you know, now through pulling apart the shame, I’m no longer embarrassed. I just sort of say, you know, if somebody says it to me, I say, Nope, that’s just my body. I have a belly. A lot of women have bellies and we just move on.
Dr. Carolyn: What I don’t think a lot of women realize is that first of all, the diet industry would collapse. If women just stood up and said, no, I’m done with dieting. If you know, if women across the globe just said, you know what I’m done? And that would collapse because it’s built on the model that women have to fail in order for the diet industry to make money. And most of my clients never have. They’ve never thought about that, but $65 billion in the United States, that’s how big the diet is. And so I think it’s, it’s important to bring these subjects up, but I think it’s also on the flip side, important to address people’s yearning for this dream of being accepted. Because really to be thin, like we talked about earlier is really a desire to be accepted, to be valued in society. And that is the measure that has been set for women. So we can’t blame ourselves for, you know, wanting that,
Dr. Jillian: Yeah, it’s this, it’s this added layer, especially for women who are working very hard to be, you know, feminists and like aware. And it becomes this really challenging thing because it’s like, I know I shouldn’t care about this, but I do. So now I have the pain of caring about it and not measuring up to the ideal. And then the added pain layered on top of me, the pressure, the responsibility of somehow being above it.
Dr. Carolyn: That’s right. Cause health at every size can be a pressure too, for women.
Dr. Jillian: Absolutely.
Dr. Carolyn: Like you said, I shouldn’t be feeling bad about how I look and yet I do. And that’s why I frame it as a dream. It’s maybe a dream that started in childhood even where, you know, little girls who were, you know, a little bigger than their peers were teased and bullied, and then it carries on into adulthood. And so we need to help women. I think, reframe that dream rather than, um, you know, saying there’s something wrong with you because you keep wanting to lose weight. Yeah. Really validate. I spent a lot of time validating the reality that there is social privilege that comes with having that cultural ideal body. And it is a social privilege because it is inherently unavailable to most, right? Like the, the, you know, Rubenesque the sort of like bought cellie bodies, stopped being in vogue. The moment it became all too common to be able to achieve it. Right. And so the body ideal is, is evolved, has evolved and will constantly evolve to be something that is challenging to get. And that’s why it holds social privilege. Right. And so it is a real thing to want to have that body because they’re social privilege. But at what point, you know, the work I do is like, at what point are you sacrificing so much of your life?
Dr. Carolyn: What is the cost? The cost point is the cost became the reward. And I think that’s where a lot of women are, but it takes them decades to get there. They have been on 50 different diets and finally they wake up one morning and say, you know, this, I just can’t do this anymore. Or I see that there’s something more behind it. And that’s when the real change happens is when you get to that point, I just wish it could be a little bit sooner than what it is.
Dr. Jillian: But I think we just have to keep having the conversations, because like I said, there’s just so little vocabulary for most of them. And, you know, sometimes a criticism that I will get in my work is can’t you just support all women. And if women want to lose weight, can’t you just support those women too. And I will say, yup, I can, if those women understand that there is an option to not be on that diet rollercoaster for the rest of their life. If they really understand that their health and their wellbeing and their access to joy and success and fun, and all of these things is possible without being on that roller coaster. And they still choose the rollercoaster and they understand all of the consequences of that rollercoaster and they still make a choice. Sure. But I think that most women don’t have the vocabulary and they don’t understand, and there are choices.
Dr. Carolyn: It may be, it also may be too much to ask. I can think of a couple of my clients who’ve been through the anchor program, which is my online program for eating disorder. And one of them had been in the program for, uh, probably a year and a half and just was still really struggling with, uh, her behaviors, you know, bingeing and, and, uh, just, uh, snacking all day. And all of those things and mostly was struggling with, uh, dealing with her trauma. And cause when we talk about behaviors for me, that’s just really a smoke screen for what’s going on in the background. And, you know, trauma takes time and effort to, you know, to, to heal. And so she was struggling with dealing with the trauma that she had been through. And, you know, at many points, people, the trial can take so long that people just want to give up and say, well, if I just lose weight, I don’t have to deal with the trauma. So she got to the point where her doctors had multiple doctors that she was seeing told her, you have to lose weight for your health. And she and I had many conversations, which she was very, you know, open about it. We listened and went back and forth. But at the end of the day, she decided to have bariatric surgery. So I didn’t throw her out and say, I didn’t say you’re wrong. You’re a bad person. You, you know, you’re giving in to the diet culture, all of those. No. I said, I support whatever you decide. And you know, I’m basically I’m here for you.
Dr. Jillian: Yeah.
Dr. Carolyn: I think however, there is a segment of people who work in this field who are, you know, much more militant about kind of demanding that women understand this and realize they can be healthy no matter what their size. I feel like women should make their own choices.
Dr. Jillian: Yeah. I’m all about the like I’m human centered, right. And I understand part of my work is like really, really, really exploring the complexities of like food. Isn’t just fuel, it’s complex. It’s bio-psycho-social. And so is our relationship to body and the world. And depending on childhood experiences, depending on layers of marginalization and oppression, there’s lots of reasons why people might choose again for me, it, which sounds very similar to your approach. It’s about presenting all of the options, understanding the consequences. And then if you have to go down that route for whatever reason, how do I support you? We all know anyone who works in this deal, the bariatric surgery may result in some weight loss. It doesn’t result in a better relationship with body or food. So that works still needs to happen. Right. And, and yeah, I, I am, I’m totally in agreement. Like I think that the choices that people make are complex, it’s all about presenting the options, understanding the benefits, the consequences, the results, and then how do we help support people to do as well as they can in their bodies.
Dr. Carolyn: And to gain freedom from body hatred? Well, Jillian Murphy, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you and I’m really glad to have had you on the show. And maybe we can get you to come back again and talk some more about these issues.
Dr. Jillian: Yeah. I could talk for hours anytime.
Dr. Carolyn: Okay. We’ll talk to you soon.
Dr. Jillian: Bye.
Well, I have to say that was a wonderfully surprising interview with Dr. Jillian Murphy. And I really love the fact that she has studied in such depth. That is relationship between weight and health and is also a person who has a social justice perspective on weight. I hope that’s opened up some space for you to look at your own individual issues with food and body image and that it’s given you some knowledge in which to make the decisions that you want to make about your relationship with food. So if you enjoyed the podcast, please give us a review. Please share the podcast. I want to remind everyone that the sweepstakes for a copy of my book, The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook is still ongoing. And I’ve put in the show notes, a link for you to enter that sweepstakes. So look for that and then join us next time for episode number 90, where we will be talking about binge disorder and why the BMI is racist signing off. This is Dr. Carolyn.