Ep. 122: Unlearning Diet Culture with Alissa Rumsey

Alissa Rumsey is a registered dietician. She’s been in the intuitive eating space for years, and I’ve been following her for a quite a while myself. It’s a huge honor to have her on the podcast today. Alissa has a weight-inclusive nutrition practice, and recently published a new book, Unapologetic Eating. In this interview we talked about the unlearning you have to do as part of leaving dieting behind. Alissa has an awesome process for helping people become unapologetic eaters, and we get into that as well!

When you grab my latest offer, you can get started unlearning your old beliefs and kicking dieting to the curb! I’m offering two lost-cost, drop-in coaching calls. These are for women who are ready to start loving their bodies (Body Image Call) and stop emotional eating (Emotional Eating Call). If you’d like to see what coaching could be like, this offer is for you! Feel free to take advantage of whichever call topic resonated most with you (or grab them both if you’re ready to really dive deep)!

Becoming a Nutrition Therapist

Although she’s officially a registered dietitian, Alissa prefers to use the term nutrition therapist because she feels it better encapsulates what she does with her clients. She’s also a certified intuitive eating counselor. Her weight-inclusive nutrition practice is located virtually, and she offers 1:1 guidance for those looking to liberate themselves from dieting!

As a young kid, Alissa didn’t have many external inputs around her eating and body size. She didn’t experience shifts (and increased stressors) around eating and body size until mid-way through high school. She stopped playing basketball as she was going through puberty, and gained weight.

Looking back she can see that the transition of puberty and the decrease in movement would have clearly and naturally led to weight gain. Living through it, however, she was concerned and started dieting. She also got a job at a gym, and became fascinated in health and nutrition.

Ultimately, her career as a dietitian started from a very disordered place of eating and exercising. Her thoughts were often consumed about guilt connected to eating and movement. She found her identity getting wrapped up in being the “healthy” person, and she felt pressured to maintain a certain image.

Shifting Perspectives on Diet Culture

When Alissa started working in the ICU of a local hospital, she found it an interesting change of speed. She was used to focusing on ways people could decrease calories or size, but in the ICU the focus was often on ways to get people to consume enough nutrients. Their more urgent physical needs shifted the dietary focus in a positive way.

During this time Alissa was also lucky to be surrounded by roommates and co-workers who had healthy relationships with food. Slowly her own perspective changed, and she found herself migrating towards intuitive eating naturally.

A few years later, she discovered the official intuitive eating framework. After a bit more learning, she was sold. Intuitive eating made so much natural sense, and she knew she needed to incorporate it into her work. Weight stigma, size bias, and misleading information about the connection between health and weight captured her interest, and she knew she couldn’t simply look away.

Thankfully, Alissa notes that many programs now have more information about intuitive eating and the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement. No one was talking about those things when Alissa was going through school. Now, they’re becoming more recognized!

Unapologetic Eating

Alissa’s new book, Unapologetic Eating, is available now!

When you’re ready to let go of dieting, there is a lot of unlearning that needs to happen. Ultimately, unlearning diet culture is a huge part of being able to become an unapologetic eater.

Alissa notes that everything we think we know about food, nutrition, health, wellness, and body size is something we’re taught at one point or another. That means we have a LOT of deeply held beliefs about these things! Because our culture is very anti-fat, that means we’ve been programmed to elevate certain bodies and devalue others.

These are considered implicit biases because we don’t really think about them. They’ve just been instilled within us, and it’s key that we take the time to unlearn them if we want to become free.

Alissa also reminds us that growth is often uncomfortable! She recognizes that she holds a lot of body privilege as someone who is white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, and straight sized. Readers may find themselves learning new information that challenges their perceptions of how worthy, valuable, or superior some of these culturally privileged indicators really are – and that can be unsettling.

Read with an open mind, and be willing to explore new ideas and ask the hard questions!

Unlearning Diet Culture

Alissa had built a whole identify around being “a healthy dieting”. As she started unlearning diet culture, she had to realize that those identity markers weren’t as important as she had once made them.

Releasing them, however, meant that she had find new ways of thinking about and understanding herself. She also had to confront a lot of old beliefs in order to begin to reconnect with her own body, needs, and feelings.

That might require questioning old beliefs. You need to be willing to consider where your current beliefs have come from, and the impact they may be having on the way you’re living. Eventually, you’ll find yourself wanting to know: What can I do about this?

Alissa thinks of that as the opportunity to go even deeper! There is so much to delve into when it comes to raising awareness, and it’s an ongoing process. Unpacking your own history with dieting, nutrition, body-love, and more yields all sorts of amazing information about who you are, what beliefs you hold, and how dieting may have contributed to your life as coping mechanism.

It’s Not Linear

None of this is linear! Start where you are, and lean into what you’re learning. As you deepen your awareness, you’ll find continual areas that you want to continue shifting and changing.

Once you recognize a thought pattern or belief that you want to change, Alissa recommends trying the opposite and seeing what happens! Self-compassion is key here, as well as paying attention to your body and listening to the signals that are being sent.

You have to get comfortable with sitting in things as well! The answers you find in the process of unlearning diet culture are rarely black & white or binary. Instead, there are many shades of grey, many ways of being, and many paths to understanding. The more you learn about yourself, your body, and your mind, the more ability you’ll have to build new patterns and create change!

Alissa’s Intuitive Eating Framework

Unapologetic Eating is set up in four sections: Fixing, Allowing, Feeling, Growing. Those sections mirror her intuitive eating framework as well.

In Fixing, the focus is on understanding the history of dieting, nutrition, and body-acceptance. Unlearning these parts of diet culture are really foundational. Clients (and readers) are asked to consider how that information plays into their own experiences and lived reality when it comes to food, body-confidence, and so on.

Once that is understand, they can move into Allowing themselves to begin creating changes. What will it look like to do something different? To reconnect to the self?

The changes that occur during Allowing lead naturally into Feeling. As you start feeling into your body, you’ll often start to feel other emotions. Often, this is really uncomfortable. Self-compassion, honoring and respecting your body, and sitting with hard things are all key parts of feeling.

Finally, there is a chance to really start Growing. Once you’re done trying to fix yourself, begin to allow yourself to be, feel your feelings and reconnect to your body….

You get to grow into the fullest version of yourself. How do you want to eat? Who are you? What do you want to do? There is so much to dig into here – embodiment, self-expression, passion, desire – and it’s really powerful to explore it all!

Food can be an amazing entry point to learning more about the Self! The journey is so powerful. You don’t need to fix yourself, and once you stop trying — so much in your life opens up!

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