A while ago when I asked you guys what people you’d like me to interview, there are were many requests for Michelle Allison, aka The Fat Nutritionist. I’ve been a big fan of Allison’s blog and work for a long time now. Her approach to eating is sensible, flexible, fun and truly nourishing. She also supports Health At Every Size.
I’m really honored to present my interview with Allison, who, again, I think, is doing incredible and very necessary work. We live in a very restrictive culture when it comes to eating, and it’s so refreshing (and a relief!) to know that people like Allison are helping individuals mend their relationships with food and their bodies.
Below, Allison reveals the biggest myths about healthy eating, what inspired her to become a nutritionist and why she picked the name “The Fat Nutritionist.”
This will be a three-part series, so stay tuned tomorrow and Thursday for the rest.
Q: What do you think are the biggest myths about healthy eating or healthy nutrition?
A: I think the biggest myth is that there are universally good and bad foods. This is not true! Different people in different situations do well with different foods.
There are conditions for which highly-processed food (the current cultural “bad food” – which, believe it or not, was considered superior, healthy and pure by the Victorians) is really a good option, especially if it is calorie-dense for a relatively small volume of food.
This can be incredibly useful for people undergoing cancer treatment, or people with inflammatory bowel disease who have trouble absorbing nutrients, and for people recovering from restrictive eating disorders who need extra calories and fat as part of recovery.
When you are hungry, any food is preferable to no food. (Unless you’re allergic to something!)
The runner-up myth would be that healthy eating has to be complicated, and involve lots of rules and micromanagement. I think all theories about nutrition and healthy eating are imperfect, and that it’s best to 1) get as wide a variety of food as you can enjoy and tolerate, and 2) to trust your gut, literally.
Eat what feels satisfying, is pleasurable, and helps you feel good. It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that – if it did, humans would have died out long ago, because all these nutrition theories really only cropped up during the 20th century. That’s 49,900 years of eating without any nutritional guidance! And yet somehow we survived.
Q: What inspired you to become a nutritionist?
A: I originally got interested in nutrition, as many people do, while I was on a diet to lose weight. It was puzzling to me how many contradictory theories were out there about what we were supposed to eat, and all the warnings were so dire.
“Eat X or you will DIE!!!” But then someone else would be saying, “Don’t eat X or you will DIE!!!” I really got it into my head that I wanted to study it and figure out The One True Answer to what we should eat.
Shortly thereafter, I discovered the Health at Every Size approach and intuitive eating, which basically says that there is no One True Answer.
Then I also got involved in fat acceptance, which is a social justice movement aiming to eliminate one form of appearance-based discrimination. Since I think discrimination based on appearance, ethnicity, religion, sex and gender presentation, and sexual orientation is wrong, it just made sense to me that maintaining prejudices based on stereotypes and using that as a way to discriminate against people based on their body size and shape is also wrong.
And I wanted to get involved in that, and help people of all sizes make the transition to intuitive eating. That’s when I actually decided to go to university and get a degree in nutrition.
Q: Why did you decide to call yourself “The Fat Nutritionist”?
A: First of all, because it’s true – I’m fat. Second, because using the term “fat” and openly identifying as such reflects my political stance – that it’s not wrong or bad to be a fat person, and the word should not carry negative connotations any more than “tall” or “brown-haired” or “slender.” The fat acceptance movement seeks to reclaim the word, and I’m down with that.
The third reason is that the phrase itself, a fat nutritionist, carries a specific symbolism in our culture. I have heard, and lots of people may have heard, stories and anecdotes from people about how they met a fat nutritionist, with the assumption being that OF COURSE a fat person can’t possibly know anything about nutrition. Or that they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, so to speak.
But fat people’s brains are just as good as other people’s, and of course a fat person can understand nutrition just as well as anyone else.
Because I don’t do weight loss counseling at all, and I don’t promote weight loss in any way, I’m in the unique position of being able to identify myself as a fat nutritionist who isn’t being inconsistent with my ideals – I think people can learn to eat well at any size, and my own weight does not reflect poorly on my knowledge of nutrition. I’ve been thin and I’ve been fat, and I didn’t magically turn stupid because I gained weight.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2 of our interview!