How often have you said, “I can’t. I’m on a diet.” ? If you’re like most of it, the answer is way, way too often. Same for how often do you weigh yourself, obsess about food, calorie restrict…we could go on and on, but we won’t because we know you know. How many times have you said, “There has to be a better way!”? Us too, and that led us to the amazingly talented Kelsey Miller. Kelsey graduated from Boston University with a BS in Film & Television. She began her career in the film production industry before transitioning to full-time writing. Soon after joining the staff of Refinery29, she created The Anti-Diet Project, one of the website’s most popular franchises. She is currently a Senior Features Writer and lives in Brooklyn. She is also the author of the recently published book, Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting And Got A Life:
1. What is The Anti-Diet Project?
I created The Anti-Diet Project the very day I hit bottom with dieting. It began as simply a chronicle of the lessons I learned after I quit diets and began to practice intuitive eating, create a rational relationship with fitness, and above all, learn body acceptance.
2. What inspired to you stop dieting? What does that mean exactly, and did you really stop?
Like so many people, I’d spent my entire conscious life in the destructive cycle of dieting, disordered eating and exercising — and shame of course. Shame and self-loathing are the fuel that keep that cycle going. When I was 29, I was just done. It happened when I was in the middle of some “warrior workout” class and felt myself physically unable to keep going. All at once I realized I was unable to keep going down this path, both literally and metaphorically. I’d devoted my life to the false promise of diet culture, and all it had done was leave me miserable and unhealthy. It was like an attack of common sense: I knew that, of course, there had to be another way.
Intuitive eating was my way out. It’s simply a practice that teaches you to eat like a normal, rational person again. Most of us (even those who don’t have serious issues with food or body image) are influenced by the ever-present diet trends and pressures of the day. Intuitive eating is like diet deprogramming. It helps you learn to treat food with neutrality and eat in a way that satisfies your needs and desires. It’s incredibly simple, really, but most of us aren’t used to thinking of eating as a simple thing anymore.
3. Do you ever have moments of doubt? If so, how do you handle them?
Oh absolutely. When you’ve spent your entire life living by other people’s food rules, it feels crazy to let go of all of that and have only yourself to rely on. Furthermore, we live in a world where food rules are the norm and everyone is always supposed to be trying to lose weight. I felt like a total weirdo for just eating what I wanted to eat, and for deliberately taking the focus off weight.
I suppose I “handled” the doubt the same way we all do: I freaked out occasionally, I second guessed myself, and then I asked myself to consider the alternative: Should I go back to my old life? But there was no question. I didn’t even have the ability to go back. Another thing I did was rely on help. This is not my strong suit, but getting help was the only way I was able to do this. I worked with a dietitian/eating coach who specializes in intuitive eating and I sought out others who were doing the same work I was. There’s a vast community of people who reject the diet mentality and embrace body positivity, but you have to seek it out. When I did, I felt much less alone — and that was and remains one of the most important things I did for myself.
4. Seriously, how do you know what to eat every day?
Haha, I guess I just wake up in the morning and ask myself, “How hungry am I? What am I hungry for? What do I have in the house?” Now, of course, it’s more automatic, but at the beginning it really was me asking those questions (sometimes out loud). One of the most important skills my eating coach ever taught me was to approach my eating habits with curiosity, rather than judgment. That allowed me to learn so much about what makes my body feel fueled and satisfied. It helped me rediscover foods I thought I didn’t like and also realize that some of the foods I ate routinely were just not satisfying. It took a lot of time and mindfulness, and I still feel like I’m gathering data on myself. But I have a much clearer sense of what works for me.
For example, if I don’t have protein first thing in the morning, I know I’ll feel peckish all day. I also know I crave a little something sweet to make a meal feel complete. So, I usually eat soft boiled eggs with toast and jam in the morning. It’s not part of a plan (and if I want something else on any given day, I’ll have it). It’s just that it satisfies my body’s needs and my personal preferences. Plus, it’s quick and easy, which is also a priority first thing in the morning. Another thing I learned from this is that food is not the only priority in our lives. It’s easy to forget that when there’s so much focus on what we eat. Sometimes there’s a more important task at hand, and your meal has to work around that. But food is meant to support our lives, not the other way around.
5. What’s it like being a public figure? Do you ever have days where you are just not into it, and if so, how do you psych yourself up?
Wow, that makes me sound very grand! I suppose I have a degree of visibility, but I’m not Beyonce (not yet. Just kidding. Kind of.). Most of the time when people come up to me or reach out to me online, it’s because they’ve been where I’ve been, and they want to share that with me. It’s incredible when that happens, and it just reminds me (and them, I hope) how not alone we are. So, yes, there are days when I don’t even feel like engaging on Instagram, let alone engaging with people one-on-one. But even on those days, when someone reaches out, I can’t help but feel a rush of happiness and excitement. That connection itself psychs me up.
6. In your book you wrote about being vigilant about working out. Are you still? Why is it important? What’s your favorite workout?
Hmm, I don’t think I’d use the word “vigilant,” though I did make a deliberate commitment to my personal fitness when I began this journey. As with food, I’d gone through extreme phases with exercising — it had always been all-or-nothing. I needed to learn, first, how to be consistently active, and second, what “being active” really meant. We have this picture that fitness looks a certain way and a fit person looks a certain way. I personally love my gym, but also recognize that taking a long walk, swimming in the ocean, or even playing a crazy game of ping pong with my friends is also “being active.” It’s so important to widen the sphere of what activity looks like, and also recognize that we all have different bodies and different goals.
For instance, I recently went to Capri with my boyfriend, and we took this long walk (more like “hike”) from the beach all the way up the top of the town. It was all stairs, and it was hard! So, now my goal is to make my body more efficient at that kind of exercise, specifically. I’m integrating more StairMaster into my gym workouts and taking the stairs more often.
7. How do you handle the haters? How do you keep them from shaking your self-confidence?
Some days are better than others. I can normally deflect the real, true trolls, but sometimes I’m more sensitive. It’s important to notice those times when I’m vulnerable and take steps to protect myself from the BS I don’t need to see. I also try to engage with the people in my actual life more. It’s easy to believe an anonymous jerk on the internet if you just sit there and hold it inside yourself. If you reach out to a friend and say, “Can you believe this jerk?!” it puts it all into perspective. And it reminds you that there are so many people in your life (and in the world) who understand and support you.
8. What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you since you started The Anti-Diet Project and published your book?
I think those are the most exciting things in and of themselves, actually! I mean, I have this incredible platform where I get to share this message with millions of readers. And I got to write a book! I’m an author! It still doesn’t feel real sometimes. I’ll see the book at a bookstore, open it to a random page, and be like, “I wrote that sentence on my clunky old laptop while sitting on my bed in yoga pants. HOW on earth did it wind up on a bookshelf?!” It’s crazy. It’s wonderful.
9. Favorite quote or other inspiration?
I recently read a headline that said something like, “Here Are The Three Most Motivational Words: You’re Gonna Die.” Dark? Yes. But when I read it, everything else seemed so much lighter, all of a sudden. For months, I’d been sweating a new book idea, worrying if it was the right idea, if it was good enough, etc. After I saw that stupid headline I thought, “Who cares? I’m gonna die one day, so why not just start writing this idea and see where it goes? What’s the worst case scenario? It’s not good enough? Oh well! You’ll think of another.” Mortality is a great way of reminding yourself that failure is so, so unimportant. Just try everything you want to try. If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, great — you’re still alive and that means you have another shot.
10. Thoughts on food porn? Is obsessing over food pics healthy?
I think food porn is a problem that we all play into without even recognizing it. We create it in so many different ways, but one of the most obvious is social media. 15 years ago, if you’d whipped out a camera at brunch and taken a photo of your meal, you’d have looked like a lunatic. Now, everyone pauses before they eat to make sure the meal has been properly lit, staged, and documented. It’s bonkers. And it fetishizes food in a way that can only feed into our unhealthy relationship with it. That’s not to say that there aren’t certain foods or meals that are meaningful to us. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with sharing those moments online. But not every bagel deserves a spotlight. It’s just a bagel, not The Most Important Bagel In America. And listen, I catch myself doing this too! But I really try to limit my participation in food porn. If something is truly exceptional, or if I have something to say about it, then I may do a post. But every time I post a food picture, I try to ask myself why I’m doing it.
11. When you aren’t working, what’s your favorite thing to be doing?
Mostly just spending time with my friends and my boyfriend. I love low-key weekends most of all: Making dinner with my friends while we catch each other up, then watching a dumb movie. Sometimes my boyfriend and I will pick a random historical site and go be tourists in our own city for a day, which is pretty great. I’m really into Marcella Hazan lately, and sometimes I’ll spend a Sunday afternoon/evening working on one of her recipes (which can take for-ev-er). That’s the kind of meal I’d photograph. I don’t believe in fetishizing food, but I do believe that good quality, well-prepared food, is a wonderful thing. Making a great meal like that feels exceptionally nourishing, because it is. I love doing that for myself and for the people I care about. That’s what comfort food is to me.
12. What does She’s Fit to Lead mean to you? How does someone become Fit to Lead?
When I hear that term, I think of all the potential waiting to burst forth. So many of us, particularly young women, are filled to the brim with ability and wisdom, and sometimes it takes extra effort to push through insecurity and expectations and really express those things. I think we become fit to lead when we actively support each other — and when we ourselves lead by example. We need more role models, and if you don’t have one, be the role model yourself. I’m not saying it’s easy, or even fair, but it’s worth it.
Well, we’re pretty sure we found ourselves an amazing role model. Be sure to check out The Anti Diet Project on Refinery 29 to learn more. Thank you Kelsey, and welcome to The Fit List.