An Open Letter to Iskra Lawrence and Self Magazine from a Registered Dietitian

Dear Iskra and Self Magazine,

As my parents used to say, “I am not mad at you; I’m disappointed.” I’m deeply disappointed that you decided to include a diet plan in your New Year’s Challenge. Although you revoked this meal plan, you decided to include it in the first place. Iskra, how could you approve a diet plan that includes less than 1500 calories when you have suffered from an eating disorder and are a NEDA ambassador? How could you encourage your 2.9 million followers who idolize you as a recovery warrior to follow any sort of restrictive meal plan? Do you honestly believe that your intention was to provide “healthy” meal ideas for your followers, when many of them suffer from eating disorders that involve a skewed perspective of healthy? You have now made the dire mistake of tying “healthy” to restriction. Your attempt to undo the damage with your statement did not undo much of anything. Millions of women who already struggle with body image now believe that since you endorsed this meal plan, it must be the ideal. Women, especially those with eating disorders, do not forget numbers. 1500 calories per day will stick with them. The foods you included will become safe foods for them. The foods you did not include that they consume may now become fear foods because they were not in your plan. Does this seem extreme? Maybe. But eating disorders are both extreme and common. The minds of those with eating disorders are distorted and obsessive. You of all people should understand this. The information you provided through Self Magazine is triggering, unhealthy, and disappointing. If you consider yourself a body-positive Aerie Real model, you need to consider that diet challenges are far from body-positive. I understand that it is each person’s choice whether or not to follow a diet challenge. However, for women with eating disorders, dieting may not be a choice. Even for women without eating disorders, dieting is the main cause of eating disorders. In fact, 25% of dieters later develop eating disorders. What happened to intuitive eating and exercise, self-love, and self-care? It is your responsibility as a celebrity and advocate of eating disorder recovery to promote health and wellness. So many women will blindly follow what you do because “Iskra is happily in recovery and she can follow this meal plan.” This diet you have created is not conducive to recovery; it is conducive to relapse. From now on I ask that you remember your mindset in the depths of your eating disorder before publishing any materials. I wish you and all of your followers health and wellness – in its true meaning.

Best, Kaleigh Kessler, RD



Photo credits: Iskra Lawrence’s instagram account

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Ending the food talk this holiday season

The holidays are upon us all, which means endless parties, family events, and social gatherings (read: food). Somehow during the holiday season, negative food talk becomes more acceptable. I constantly hear comments such as, “I need to go for a run before eating all of this food!” or “I don’t even want to know how many calories are in this meal.” While some may view these comments as harmless small talk, they can be especially dangerous for those who have dealt with eating disorders or body image issues. The holidays should be enjoyable, but many end up feeling a sense of dread over the impending meals that seem to surround every social gathering. We need to take away focus from food. We need to turn that focus to what is really important. We need to promote uplifting conversation that does not revolve around food. But how do we do this?

Stop labeling food as “good” or “bad”

When did food become a moral issue? So often people translate foods into messages about themselves. “I am good if I eat foods that I have labeled healthy.” “I am bad if I eat foods that are higher in fat, sugar, or calories.” This is simply not true. View food as essential nourishment for the body that comes in many forms. Food is vegetables. Food is cookies. Food is anything that you can eat. Food provides energy. Food provides essential vitamins and minerals. Food keeps you alive. Our bodies need (and can handle) all different types of food. No one food is inherently “good” or “bad.” You can eat what you want without dwelling, compensating, or talking about it with others. When you end food labeling, you allow yourself to enjoy all types of food without feeling morally tied to your diet.

Show gratitude

When you replace anxiety with gratitude, you allow yourself to fully engage in the moment. When you replace fear with hope, you open yourself up to allow positive feelings in. When you replace obsessiveness with thankfulness, the holidays become less about the food in front of you and more about the people next to you. Take a look around. Dwell in what calms your soul. Engage in those around you. Get lost in conversation with your grandpa. Run around with your little cousins. Spend hours talking with your best friend. Be thankful for your warm house and nourishing food. Let love in. Show gratitude for all that surrounds you this holiday season – including your food. See each moment, meal, and person as a gift and a blessing.

Practice mindfulness

In order to become mindful of your food, you must allow your body to take over. Engage all of your senses. View food as delicious, nourishing, and interesting. Allow yourself to enjoy the smell of turkey roasting in the oven all day. Allow yourself to enjoy the way the food looks on the table. Allow yourself to enjoy the taste of every bite of food. When you become involved in the eating process, you savor your food more and do not feel the need to view food as your enemy. And the more you internally enjoy your food, the less likely you are to talk about it with others.

This holiday season open up room for what really matters. The food is simply an accessory to each party and social event. The food is not the center. Don’t make it more than it is. End the food talk by stopping food labeling, showing gratitude, and practicing mindfulness. Count blessings, not calories. Measure fun, not your waistline. Food will retreat into the background of your holiday celebrations – right where it belongs.

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Losing weight is not your purpose

So often people associate weight loss with success and happiness. The first thing people ask when I tell them I’m a dietitian is, “Oh so can you help me lose 10 pounds?” I watch people spend their lives on apps like MyFitnessPal, wishing to lose just one more pound. I see before and after pictures on social media constantly. I read articles talking about reasons to lose weight, and what you will gain when you lose. Up to 82% of women always feel as though they could lose weight.

Well from my experience, when you lose weight, you lose much more than just weight. You lose focus. You lose passion. You lose perspective. You become selfish. You become so entrapped in your own little calorie counting, exercise-obsessed world that you forget your own purpose and leave others behind.

This is not to say that it is not medically necessary for some people to lose weight. As a registered dietitian, I have seen hundreds of people for this sole reason. But what about your average-weight college student who wants to lose weight just to look more like her friends? Or your mom who wants to lose weight just to fit into a clothing size she wore 20 years ago? Or your little sister who read an article in Seventeen magazine about weight loss strategies? So many people have made weight loss their goal, when it is something that they have no business doing.

Losing weight is not your purpose.

Counting calories is not your life’s work.

The scale is not your report card.

Running on the treadmill is not your soul’s call.

Surely, you were built for something much greater.

When you starve yourself, you feed your selfishness. You replace the desire to do things for others with the desire to fix yourself. Losing weight is not a cure for negative body image, stress, toxic relationships, or unhappiness. Focus on what your body can do, not on how much it weighs. You decide what’s more important: a numerical value of your gravitational pull, or a numerical value of the amount of people you have helped, cared for, and loved. What if instead of focusing on losing that next pound, you focused on achieving that next dream? What if you replaced the effort to count calories with effort to count blessings? What if you took the time spent excessively exercising and used it to serve others?

It is up to you where you choose to spend your energy. And here’s a big hint: no matter how much weight you lose, you will never be satisfied. You will always be left feeling empty, reaching for the next lowest calorie level or goal weight that will never be good enough. Before you try to lose another pound, consider what it really is you’re trying to gain. Place your energy into something meaningful. Find your passion and give it all you’ve got. Turn your gaze inward, and find your true calling. Whatever it may be, it is not weight loss. After all, your body is temporary, but the impact you make on others is eternal.

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