I trust you to stop sacrificing yourself
I care deeply about gender equality and women’s health. I also know that women are taught to people please since they are toddlers.
Lately, I have seen an influx of people with conditions of the ovaries or uterus seeking out my services who are being ignored, told to try weight watchers, not being listened to, and given random anecdotal stories from their doctor. I just heard an absurd story from a patient with fibroids about how the super smart doc says “NO!” to prunes at the store because they have too much sugar… what? Is that medical advice?
No, this part is not new, sadly. I’ve been hearing stories like this since I started my practice.
What is new is that women+ are no longer taking this shit
They KNOW they are being given.. um, shall we say ‘incomplete’ advice instead of continuing to internalize the idea that they are a problem. They know that they don’t need to restrict their food intake or exercise obsessively in order to be healthy. They know that just because one doctor says something doesn’t mean it’s right for them.
I wish I could say this was the case with all my patients, but unfortunately it is not. So many of us still believe the notion that we are a burden, need to apologize constantly, and make others comfortable, even at our expense.
Wouldn’t want to upset my doctor, so I’ll just let them ignore me, gaslight me, and give me cookie-cutter, weird diet advice. Tell me to lose weight without asking me what I’m eating, how I’m moving, or how many times I’ve already tried.
Wouldn’t want to upset my father, so I’ll just continue to let him shame me for ‘eating too much’ or not tell my mom to f off when she says… ‘Are you sure you should be eating that?’.
Dear friends, that’s enough
You are the expert on your body. You can tell your doc what you know, what you know won’t work, and what you need. You can say “No thanks” to being weighed if it upsets you or if you don’t want to talk about your weight, since being weighed at the doctor’s office is only occasionally medically necessary. You are not an inconvenience or a problem. You are wise, wiser than you know.
According to many women’s health experts, our bodily and emotional wisdom is an essential part of health and healing. Our need for rest, good nutrition, autonomy, and creativity are important for our health.
Maybe one reason that we don’t have simple answers or explanations for so many women’s health problems, like fibroids, PCOS, endometriosis, etc. is that these solutions leave out an essential part of helping people with uterus’. Perhaps an underlying trigger may be the many ways we internalize the harms of the patriarchy.
Now, I am not a doctor. But here’s what I see with my patients:
- They have hormonal or uterus-related problems AND they are not thin: they are told to lose weight without fail or questions about their diet or exercise patterns. They are told their increased or higher weight caused their health condition and that is what they need to do to fix it, not that perhaps there is another potential problem or solution.
- They are being gaslit in their own body, told their symptoms aren’t real.
- They are left to google “diet for endometriosis” and get endless health gurus telling them to cut out everything and eat only berries and beef jerky. They are rarely given advice that doesn’t include losing weight, taking birth control, and just dealing with it until they want to get pregnant.
What if they don’t want to get pregnant? What if losing weight doesn’t work, if it’s impossible without drastic, dangerous measures? What if restricting one’s diet is too mentally and emotionally taxing for one’s life? And what if the thought of cutting out carbs makes you just want to eat cake?
Are we eating our feelings instead of feeling them?
I think that often, yes we are. Food is soothing, friendly, and will not talk back or tell you it needs you. It will not blame you for being too much or shame you for not doing enough. Emotional eating is a widely misunderstood phenomenon.
Eating emotionally is normal and we shouldn’t get rid of. Eating for celebration and communion are often life’s most precious moments. Feeling comforted by your favorite food, sharing sweets with a friend or child, all of this is good. And healthy people do it too.
But eating INSTEAD OF FEELING your uncomfortable feelings is a habit one can get into for many reasons, including being told that your feelings are not important, silly, or ‘too much’. Eating to soothe uncomfortable body image thoughts is a way of rebelling against what you think you ‘should’ be doing.
You ‘should’ be eating less.
But instead you eat more.
This is how restriction backfires. Restricting food intake, restricting ourselves from living the way we want, doing the things we desire, speaking up for ourselves – these are all ways that we hold in our feelings. And food is a great, temporary salve. I think that the stress of being diagnosed with a health condition and only being told to lose weight to fix it is a heavy emotional burden, especially for someone who has ‘struggled’ with their weight, or has a history of disordered eating.
The more you restrict your food intake, the more likely you are to eat emotionally. The more you restrict the joy and pleasure and autonomy and creativity that your body wants – either because the patriarchy has shut you down, or some other system is telling you that your needs and desires don’t matter as much as someone else’s, the more you will seek emotional support elsewhere. Here’s something else I wrote about emotional eating.
How you can take a full-life, full-body approach
to care for your reproductive health:
Somatics are hot right now for a reason. Our bodies feel. Become aware of how harmful, male-dominated situations actually feel in your body. Don’t ignore those heart-pings when someone interrupts you to talk down to you, looks at you sideways for ‘wearing that’, or assumes you don’t know something because you’re not a man.
Let yourself feel these sadnesses. You can handle it. It’s much better for your body than telling yourself it “doesn’t matter”. I enjoyed The Wisdom Of Your Body by Hillary McBride, PhD, which has lots of helpful guidance for how to get in touch with the felt-sense of our emotions.
If you have a health condition and you have been told to lose weight or cut out x,y,z from a doctor, here’s what I want you to know:
💗 You can use a weight-neutral approach to any health condition you are dealing with, and if you are a person with a uterus and a hormone-related health condition – I lovingly suggest you to take a step back from your weight, especially if you have lost and gained weight many times in your life.
💗 I urge you to look at how you’re feeling your feelings, how you’re speaking up for yourself, and how you’re getting your emotional needs met.
💗 Do you have trauma around your gender? Abuse or neglect (or just being told to stop being ‘so emotional’ because you’re a girl?) What if that was the case and you didn’t even feel like a girl? How confusing.
💗 Try not to feel guilty for getting enough sleep. Try not to keep doing all of the emotional labor in your household or in your relationships.
Compassionately notice how you’ve internalized the patriarchy. Check out these cool resources. Maybe your husband or dad (good luck with that one) can take an ‘undoing patriarchy’ online course. Bear Hebert has one they’re re-releasing next year, I hear. Bell hooks also has a book on this.
Find sustainable, gentle ways to move your body in ways that feel good and affirm your incredible body every week. If your relationship with food is on the rocks, if you’ve weight cycled a bunch in your life, if you have a tendency to binge eat, do not do an elimination diet.
Do not restrict your food intake, but add things like cruciferous vegetables, nuts & seeds, and healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and flax seeds. Diet does matter, just not more than everything else. Here’s a recipe for an extremely yummy nut mixture that is great on sweet things and savory. Do try it.
Eat more nuts but don’t let them be boring
I’ve been asked about seed cycling by three people in the past month. It’s a hot trend, and I get it. We want to use food to improve our health. And you can! Eating more nuts – I’m talking daily or on most days – is a great way to up your healthy fat intake and add antioxidants to your routine. You could even add turmeric to this for an anti-inflammatory bonus.
Adapted from Bon Appetit
- parchment paper, tin foil, or oil for your cookie sheet
- 2 eggs, separated because you’re just using the egg white. (freeze the yolks or use them in caesar dressing… yum)
- 2 teaspoons sweetener (agave, maple syrup, or honey)
- 1 teaspoon garam masala or curry powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or less if you hate spice, but this is pretty mild)
- 1/2 cup each of pumpkin seeds, cashews, and sunflower seeds (you can really use whatever nuts and seeds you like here)
- mix egg white, sweetener, and spices in a bowl
- add nuts and mix, spread on a baking sheet on foil or parchment paper
- bake at 300 F for 20-25 minutes, tossing once in the middle of that
- let cool on the baking sheet and then put in container
These are perfect on oatmeal, on a salad, chopped up on chicken and rice, eaten as a snack (with an apple – perfect pairing), and I’m sure in so many other ways.
Asking for what I need is not asking for too much
I’m learning a lot. I get excited when I find new ways to grow and evolve and become a better version of myself. I’ve had to unlearn the ways I’ve been told women are supposed to partner up and make families and that men are supposed to make the money, be good with money.
I’ve had to unlearn the ways that I was silently taught that asking for what I need was asking too much. Unlearning this has been wildly impactful for my relationships; romantic, family, friends – all so much better because of it. And I’m more free.
But I’ll also say, it’s uncomfortable.
Looking at my privilege and the ways I’ve perpetuated harm because of that privilege, and the ways in which I’ve been oppressed has hurt me. It’s all hard.
ut it’s also freeing. As cheesy as it sounds, knowledge is power. I believe the more people who can take an honest look, the closer we’ll get to a world that we all want to live in. Where fewer people suffer and more people thrive.
And in the words of Sonya Renee Taylor, your body is not an apology.
tldr: Things are happening, gender power structures are shifting. Your body will benefit from looking at the ways this shows up for you at the doctors office, and in your healthcare. Talk to your dad about the patriarchy. Nuts are good for your hormones, make them spicy. Make yourself spicy.
Emily Van Eck, MS, RDN specializes in intuitive eating, mindfulness-based eating practices, embodiment with food and movement, and healing from years of weight-bias and disordered eating. She helps womxn find balance, consistency, and peace with their eating habits so they can feel confident to get outta their heads and into their bodies. Emily is a registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor with a master’s degree in nutrition science. Read more about her here.