In our continuing series of interviews of people we admire for their work to help women who struggle with eating, exercise and body image, I’m happy to present Julie Duffy Dillon, MS, RD, NCC, LDN, CEDRD, owner of Birdhouse Nutrition Therapy in North Carolina and host of the enlightening podcast Love, Food. Julie is also the featured nutritionist on the reality tv show My Big Fat Fabulous Life. We hope you’ll tune in to both for compassionate insight and support in freeing yourself from eating and weight worries.
We’re so pleased to feature you here on A Weight Lifted, Julie. Let’s start with explaining the type of work you do and who your “typical” clients are.
I work with individuals and groups affected by a complicated relationship with food whether from an eating disorder, medical conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or living in this diet-obsessed world.
My typical clients are women dissatisfied with their body shape and at diet rock bottom. They’ve dieted their whole life and may or may not be in the throes as an eating disorder.
Many say during our first meetings that they are just so tired of fighting–their body and with food–yet feel at a loss for how to eat without a diet. They so yearn to be a normal eater yet think that is impossible especially for them.
I hope I help them reconnect to their own innate wisdom for health and peace.
You definitely describe the women who come to Green Mountain and some of the goals of our work, too. Why were you drawn to work in this area?
I stumbled upon the degree in nutrition yet had a passion for therapeutic styles and psychology. I specifically did not want to work with disordered eating yet felt drawn to working with children and teens in larger bodies. This was when I was still helping people pursue weight loss in the name of health and noticed the stress, oppression, and complicated family dynamics in the patients’ families.
Putting these all together provoked me to pursue a masters degree in mental health counseling. I put my nutrition career on hold and found myself in my first post grad job working with eating disorders. I took the job because I needed a paycheck yet found I loved working with the clients with eating disorders.
This ignited my career passions and for the first time I felt congruent with my personal food beliefs and what I was telling clients. I had never been on a diet and did not appreciate the good food/bad food discussions. Working within eating disorders brought me to Intuitive Eating, which I credit for not quitting my career in nutrition!
This also brought me to weight neutral non-diet approaches and opened my eyes to the research on size oppression and the damage of diets. It was at this point I vowed to never promote the harmful diets again. Unfortunately, I had to quit this job in order to do so yet I haven’t looked back since!
You’ve made a big contribution to getting the word out about a different way to approach self-care through your work on the reality tv show My Big Fat Fabulous Life. What was it like working on the show? Did you run into any challenges you didn’t expect?
I was nervous to work on MBFFL. I am not one to prefer speaking on camera and knew that I could end up looking goofy in front of millions!
I felt it would be risky yet I took the jump because I believe body acceptance and respect promotes healing and health. I didn’t want to hear yet another dietitian giving a fat woman another diet or the “Eat this. Not that.” speech.
I didn’t want to hear the food police telling Whitney that she needs to try harder and she wasn’t taking her health seriously.
She, and every woman I work with, are always thinking about this. Pushing it in her face would only promote more shame, oppression, and disease.
We as a nation have heard all the diet messages and it doesn’t work. It hurts health AND promotes weight gain long term. I felt a duty to step up and speak for the women in fat bodies that have always been told they were unacceptable. I wanted to tell them (and Whitney!) that I accept them, they deserve health, and I respect them.
I did MBFFL for another reason: I knew that as a 40-year-old mom of two in a small southern town I would probably never be asked again. I have certainly aged out of Real World!
Filming was fun and awkward. We filmed in my office that usually just has two or three people in it. The meetings cover lots of personal information so it was weird meeting a new client with two cameras and a sound guy hovering over us. Luckily, Whitney made me feel comfortable right away.
Once we started talking I realized her story was exactly like all the other people I have worked with over the years. The only difference was she filmed her life for us all to see and judge.
You’ve also recently launched a podcast called Love, Food, in which Food takes the place of Dear Abby. Where did you get such a clever idea?
Thank you for calling it clever!
I have been listening to podcasts since 2006 and always enjoyed talk radio. I wanted to start a podcast about Intuitive Eating or body image in 2007 yet I ended up starting a family instead. Creating, producing, writing, and hosting a podcast takes creativity and energy. These are things I knew I would not have while raising little babies!
After I filmed MBFFL, I was energized to spread more of the food peace message AND my youngest was sleeping well as a two year old. I knew I was ready. I wanted to reach more than just the folks in Greensboro and hopefully educate health care providers on this important matter.
I started listening to podcasts about podcasting. I took lots of walks with my dog letting myself meditate on how I would map out a show. I also wanted to make it different than the other wonderful podcasts on body image and nutrition.
A tough part of podcasts is getting listener input to make the episodes meaningful so I realized I could best serve the people I wanted to help by asking what they need. I wanted to make the show moving, intimate, and useful and having my audience write the questions really enhances this intention.
Many people wonder why I have people write to food. I am trained as a mental health counselor, and in grad school I fell in love with narrative therapy. It’s a non-blaming approach allowing clients to separate themselves from a problem and utilize their own skills to let it no longer define them.
We dietitians specializing in eating disorders often have clients write a letter to the eating disorder to tell them where we would like it to go (the curb!). This is such a healing experience and I thought clients writing a letter to food would allow the healing process to begin whether I read their letter or not. And, food writing back would allow me to intentionally sum up my key points and therapeutically put the experiences in a box and tie the bow.
I hope it helps my audience, whether they write a letter or not, to walk a bit more peacefully in their own skin and with their eating experiences.
What would you say most listeners of Love, Food struggle with in their own eating – and what do you think caused that struggle?
I get letters from people from all walks of life and in fat or thin bodies or anywhere in between. Yet the questions say they feel shame for their struggle and they just want to eat normally.
I get the sense that our world with its fat-phobia thinks enhancing that shame will make people choose healthier ways of living. That somehow making people feel bad will make them more motivated.
Shame never promotes health.
It is only in acceptance and respect that a person can feel at home in their own skin. We take better care of our body and mind when our soul feels empowered in its earth suit.
I work from person-centered theory whose founding father is Carl Rogers. He says, “When we accept ourselves as we are, that is when we can change.” This quote is my personal mantra and is a part of my work everyday.
What do you wish everyone knew about food, mindful or intuitive eating, or the Health at Every Size® approach?
I wish everyone knew you cannot tell a person’s health by looking at them.
Marilyn Wann says the only thing we know by looking at a fat person is your degree of size discrimination.
As a person works toward self-acceptance and respect, I see behaviors change including less disordered eating, more mindful eating, and health-promoting movement.
This may or may not change one’s weight. Weight loss doesn’t equate to finally being at a place of health. I think being stuck in this belief promotes disease and oppresses people in larger bodies.
What is your favorite Love, Food podcast so far?
I have two! I am proud of the episode that includes a letter from a fat nutrition student (episode 8).
I was lucky enough to speak with Glenys Oyston, RD to help me answer the letter. She generously shared her experiences as a fat nutrition student and dietitian which I think needs to be heard.
Diversity makes every industry stronger yet some dietitians vocally disagree with allowing fat dietitians to practice. This is wrong and I enthusiastically answered this letter so I could let the universe know how I disagree. I have gotten many letters from students and health care providers in larger bodies letting me know how helpful it was for them.
I love the podcast where I answered a letter with Kari Anderson from Green Mountain at Fox Run (episode 20). [Note from Marsha: We did not ask Julie to say this!)
The letter writer feels stuck in the binge eating cycle and experiences so much shame. I think anyone who has a complicated relationship with food will benefit from Kari’s wisdom in honoring the function of the food relationship and how to move forward.
It is now the first one I recommend to my clients!