Dear Virgie,

I’m a fat babe who kissed dieting goodbye a few years ago. It’s bad for my mental and physical health, so good riddance! My dilemma is this: I have chronic IBS and heartburn, and the best way to deal with these digestive complaints is through the elimination of problematic foods. My entire being protests loudly against any sort of restrictions (read: DIETS! RUN!), but my symptoms are very uncomfortable, and I want to figure out how to take care of my body without the rest of me revolting (i.e. compulsively eating the foods that cause said symptoms). 

Any advice for this babe?




Hey, ghorl!

I learned this saying from one of my favorite people in the world. He has a lot of anxiety, has been in a lot of therapy and self-identifies as “crazy.” He told me one of the most important things he ever learned in group therapy was this saying: “the opposite of crazy is still crazy.”

It took me a long time to really understand what this phrase means, but I finally got to the heart of it earlier this year. So let me break it down for your case:

Diets are the epitome of sheer bullshit insanity, but doing the absolute and 100% utter opposite of dieting – including not listening to your body when it’s telling you certain foods and behaviors don’t work for you, for instance – is also sheer bullshit insanity. 

In either case, you are living your life under rules on polar opposites of a shitty spectrum. This is ultimately unsustainable and unpleasant.

So, here goes my advice:

  1. Let go of “all or nothing” thinking

I am no stranger to the type of thinking that goes something like “dieting is terrible, and so I am going to live my life in total rebellion of diet culture. TAKE THAT, JUICING.” Or, “my mother lives her life as an emotional doormat and so I am going to take literally nothing but submission from anyone.” That shit is my JAM, boo. Why? Because that’s how people who have been through some hard stuff often deal with life. This is what life in black and white looks like. There’s no gray because gray is too exhausting, too confusing and too scary.

It is really hard to let go of this type of thinking because it’s often what we have used for a loooong time to survive. But if you can, take a tiny little step away from that style of thinking, and allow yourself to see the gray. In your case the gray looks like prioritizing what makes your body feel good because that’s THE POINT of all this body positive/anti-dieting stuff anyway, right? To live a life on your terms, centering your pleasure, well-being, and comfort.

2. It’s ok to do what you need to feel your best

You don’t need to get permission from me or anyone else. Likewise, you don’t need to get forgiveness from me or anyone else. It’s possible that you’re concerned about what others might think if you avoid or choose certain foods over others, but a lot of times we are our own worst enemies. IBS and heartburn suck. Taking care of your IBS and heartburn are really worthwhile pursuits. Prioritize them.

3. Be compassionate about your fears

I TOTALLY get your anxieties and fears that doing any kind of selective eating will send you barreling down the rabbit hole of dieting again. It’s very scary to imagine ourselves back in that place, especially if we just managed to pull ourselves out of that hole. I think it’s important to be patient and compassionate with yourself about those fears, but also to remember that you are going to be ok. You made a choice to stop dieting, and that choice isn’t going to disappear because you decide to take care of your IBS and heartburn.

4. Practice having a less fraught relationship to food

This kind of goes back to what I was saying at the start, but it’s very, very important to remember that one of the reasons that dieting is so problematic is that it promotes a pathological relationship with food. But check it out: refusing to listen to the signals your body is telling you about food is also pathological. I don’t mean to freak you out, I’m just saying that rather than looking at food and thinking “WHAT DOES THIS CHOICE MEAN?!” look at food as simply food – a thing we consume to give us nourishment, make us feel pleasure, help us not starve, keep our brains alert, bring us closer together to family and friends. Food – in its most basic form – is ALL GOOD. It’s the culture that takes this amazing thing and turns it into our worst nightmare. It’s important to remember: food is just food. It doesn’t have the power to make you a good or bad person, a better or worse activist or anything else.

Eat in a way that makes you feel good. I think food would totally agree with me on this.




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Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com